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Standing in the Shadows of 2019

The Mets shuffled off from Buffalo with one more loss than win for their weekend’s work and three fewer games remaining on their truncated schedule, thereby humbling their already modest postseason chances. Not that they were much to begin with, but sooner or later, you can take only so much comfort from relative proximity to a final playoff spot when you can’t string together more than a couple of wins at a time.

Sunday’s attempt to capture their series versus the Blue Jays dissipated quickly, as an onslaught of hits (8) against old nemesis Hyun-Jin Ryu produced a paucity of runs (1). Maybe there would have been more scoring early, but the mysteriously reappeared Todd Frazier [1] ran the Mets out of their first-inning rally, and opportunities grew less plentiful from there. David Peterson [2] returned to a more competent form than we last witnessed from the rookie — 5 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 R — but the pieces refused to be put together overall. Relievers Brad Brach [3] and Jared Hughes [4] let the Jays do the walking, then the hitting. Toruffalo’s lead grew to an insurmountable 7-1 before settling in at a final of 7-3 [5].

Despite dropping ten of their past sixteen contests, the Mets remain sorta, kinda in it. Five games under .500 with two weeks to go doesn’t necessarily disqualify you in 2020. It actually keeps you viable, just two games behind the least worst among the jumble of NL pretenders. Get hot, hope others in your lax bracket don’t and maybe you’ve got something there. Or as Leo McGarry once told Jed Bartlet, “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it till you make it.”

Sound like a plan? Not really. But it hasn’t stopped us from pinning our hopes on fragile bulletin boards before. It was only last September that we had no real chance at making the playoffs, yet we hung in with the illusion that we might for as long as we could. The sight of Ryu was a reminder of one of the high points [6] derived from late 2019’s power of positive thinking. On this very date, September 14, Ryu of the Dodgers dueled deGrom of the Mets at Citi Field. It was indeed a genuine modern pitchers’ duel. Both aces went seven innings. Neither man gave up a run or a walk. Rajai Davis doubled with the bases loaded off Julio Urias to supply all the offense the Mets would get and need. The 3-0 win that Saturday night placed us three out of a Wild Card, statistically further than we are now from this year’s version of an October lottery ticket, but it felt a great deal more real. We had played for five-and-a-half months. We had a winning record. We had withstood Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It’s hard to believe I’m feeling nostalgic for an also-ran stretch run of incredibly recent vintage, but it felt real enough. The next night, an ESPN Sunday, had that do-or-die September quality to it. We didn’t quite do, losing in heartbreaking fashion to L.A., but we weren’t dead yet. Or maybe we were but refused to sign the death certificate. After being throttled in Colorado on Monday night, we were ready to call it a year. Then we won on Tuesday night, so we called it no such thing. And on Wednesday afternoon in Denver, when we came dramatically from behind to beat the Rockies once more, the race was as on as it could be [6]. We were still three out and there even fewer games left with which to gain ground, but what’s the point of staying mathematically alive in September if you’re not going to milk it for all it’s worth?

The milking yielded little in the way of sustenance after Colorado. The Mets went to Cincinnati and didn’t sweep, which is what they pretty much had to do to maintain the contention illusion. After losing on Saturday afternoon to the Reds and slipping 4½ out with eight to play, Todd Frazier put on a brave face. “I felt like we had to go 9-1, so here’s our one,” he said. “Let’s roll from here.” The roll never came. The Mets were eliminated at home a few nights later.

During the early portion of this year’s Spring Training, before we knew nobody was training for anything, I saw Seth Lugo [7] interviewed on SNY. Whatever he said didn’t stay with me. The image that accompanied his appearance, however, has lingered in my consciousness. It was a clip of Seth striking out a batter at Coors Field in that Wednesday afternoon game. It wasn’t identified by a graphic, but I recognized the situation. I recognized the shadows. September shadows. Pennant race shadows. The Mets’ chances didn’t exist beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the shadows knew they were still in it. Being still in it is its own triumph in September. That image of the shadows falling over home plate at Coors Field while Seth Lugo gave the Mets two innings to keep us incrementally alive kept me going as much as anything during baseball’s hiatus. Those shadows were where I wanted to get back to once baseball got back. Arrive alive at that juncture where the shadows encroach and keep rolling this time — if there was to be a “this time” in 2020.

This time isn’t much. There was a shadow over home plate not long after the 3:07 PM start in Buffalo on Sunday, but the minor league park there doesn’t have multiple tiers, so the effect of the shadow was negligible. As is the feeling that the Mets are still in it. Sometimes it seems the only commonality between the Mets of this September and last September is an overreliance on Todd Frazier.