Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time.
—A. Bartlett Giamatti
Meteorological summer ended on September 1 at midnight. Astronomical summer ended this morning, September 22, at 9:30. The Mets’ summer barely happened at all.
The baseball season, such as it’s been, began July 24 and if it didn’t end last night, we know it’s going, going, gone as of Sunday. It will continue tournament-style for sixteen of thirty major league teams next week. The Mets will be one of the fourteen uninvolved. Mathematical elimination has got its mask over its mouth. The nose will be covered any night now.
It’s been a substantial disappointment when you look at the record (24-30) and recall all the opportunities to garner momentum that went awry. With six games to go, the Mets have yet to win more than three in a row. All they can do from here until Sunday is win three in a row and three in a row again. That will leave them with as many losses as wins and no guarantee that such a stretch will lift them into the NL’s top eight. And though they finished out the two most dreadful seasons for which I’ve been baseball-conscious, 1979 and 1993, on six-game winning streaks, I don’t see how this 2020 team suddenly catches fire and puts it to good use as fall takes full effect.
Still, the Mets of the summer of ’20 haven’t been wholly for naught. The Mets of the summer of ’20 gave us regular appointments with Jacob deGrom , and when you’ve got Jake, you’ve got it all. Except a win, maybe, but we memorized the lyrics to that summer song many moons ago. On Monday night, Jake was close to his usual self. He struck out 14 Tampa Bay Rays in seven innings and lit up the Citi Field radar while doing so. Jacob deGrom is 32 and throwing harder than ever. The late start to both his major league career and his 2020 campaign have apparently served his velocity well. Of 112 pitches delivered, maybe a couple were what deGrom termed “mistakes”. UPS should be so accurate with its deliveries. Giving up four hits while being otherwise overwhelming and winding up with a loss as a result evokes the line about the 1985 Mets finishing three games out: surely they’d have taken the division if not for 24-game winner Doc Gooden losing those four times.
The visiting Rays have their ways, even against literally the best of pitchers. Most of us have no idea who they are until they’re done bumping elbows in victory, yet anonymity seems to work in their favor. The about-to-be AL East champs touched down in Flushing and proceeded to do just enough to edge their opponents, 2-1 . They countered deGrom with a walk, a double and a sac fly in the second; a leadoff home run from Nate Lowe-household name Nate Lowe in the fourth; some smothering defense — specifically Willy Adames diving and keeping Jeff McNeil’s ball up the middle from leaving the infield with the bases loaded in the fifth, thereby preventing a second, tying run from scoring; and a grab bag of relievers who tamed the Mets from the evening’s first pitch through its last.
The Mets had Jacob deGrom going seven and fanning fourteen? The Rays had Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson, Josh Fleming, Diego Castillo, Ryan Sherriff and Nick Anderson. Our certified awesome one against their relatively random six shouldn’t have been a fair fight, but the Rays are skilled at opening (openering?) and bullpenning lineups to death. The St. Pete sextet shut down the Mets on a shared four-hitter. Pete Alonso looked more lost than usual. Michael Conforto was unavailable altogether. Guillermo Heredia …who? If you never heard of Guillermo Heredia, Met No. 1,111 on your chronological franchise scorecard, before last night, perhaps all you need to know is he used to be a Ray, so no wonder you never heard of him before last night.
Guillermo Heredia played center for the Mets Monday, having been called up to replace Jake Marisnick, who has a tight hamstring, and then inserted for Conforto, who also has a tight hamstring. A good, loose hamstring goes a long way in getting a person into the Mets lineup these dwindling days of 2020. A decent sense of the moment will have the rest of us in front of our television or by our radio for the duration. It hasn’t been much of a summer, but we might as well savor what little autumn we’re about to get before it vanishes from our midst.