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The Cosmos Is Ruled by Whimsy and Chance

James McCann [1] sure has some strange at-bats.

I’m not talking about the crotch readjustment before every pitch, which I really want Steve Gelbs to inquire about one day. (Did his Little League coach try to get him to stop? Has his mom and/or wife ever wished he wouldn’t?) I’m talking about the fact that the Mets’ primary catcher has a fair number of at-bats where he looks absolutely hopeless for the first few pitches, so much so that you briefly wonder if he’s holding the bat upside down. There’s often a whiff on a ball past him, a wild swing at a ball out of the strike zone, and then either a desperate flick foul or a half-swing at bait that winds up barely held in check.

McCann had another one of those ABs in the seventh inning Tuesday night against Charlie Morton [2] and the Braves, with the Mets down 3-0: He swung through a cutter on the outside corner, whiffed on a curve below the strike zone that he couldn’t have hit with an oar, and then managed not to be lured by a cutter in the dirt. There were no outs and McCann was the tying run, following a single by Dom Smith [3] (on a curveball, no less) and a walk to Kevin Pillar [4]. But it looked hopeless — so hopeless that I turned to Joshua, sitting next to me on our couch, and opined that it would be kinder if McCann just struck out.

And yet, McCann also has a fair number of ABs that start like the above, but end with him grinding more pitches out of the guy on the mound, evening up the count or staying alive until he gets something he can handle and puts it in play. It’s almost like another guy takes over at the point of no return and starts a salvage operation, one that often goes better than you’d expect.

On Tuesday night, ahead on McCann 1-2, Morton threw another cutter. This one was low in the strike zone but had too much plate. McCann made contact and I thought it was a fly ball to the warning track — not ideal but at least not fatal. Instead, it carried over the fence and the game was tied. I looked at the TV for a moment and then threw up my hands and laughed at the futility of trying to predict a cosmos ruled by whimsy and chance.

Like that McCann at bat which had gone from hapless to heroic in a single pitch.

Like the Mets once again doing absolutely nothing for the first six innings, then awakening from their offensive nap, looking at their bats with belated realization as to their purpose, and getting to work.

Like the team’s strange inability — in defiance of recent history, career statlines and basic sense — to hit pitches with a wrinkle, regardless of spin rates, artificial assistance or the CV of those throwing them. (The Athletic’s Tim Britton digs into this curious problem today [5], which should be your latest reminder to subscribe.)

Like Tylor Megill [6]‘s second straight impressive/disappointing start against Atlanta. You could basically have photocopied his debut, minus the offensive support from teammates, subbing a three-run homer by Ozzie Albies [7] for a two-run homer by Ender Inciarte [8] as the only blemish.

While we’re talking randomness, add the amoeba-shaped strike zone of home-plate ump Andy Beck, who I kept expecting to pull up his mask and reveal himself as Angel Hernandez on a Coals to Newcastle vacation. That was a little too much whimsy and chance for me, actually. (To be mildly fair, Beck seemed to get better acquainted with the boundaries of the strike zone in the final couple of innings.)

Anyway, McCann hit the ball over the fence, sending Morton packing in favor of A.J. Minter [9], who gave up a scorching double to Jose Peraza [10] and a go-ahead hit to Francisco Lindor [11]. The Mets, perhaps startled by this sudden change of fortunes, scored no more runs and handed the game to Seth Lugo [12] and Edwin Diaz [13]. Lugo somehow wandered through a fair-sized rainstorm without getting wet, giving up hard contact all over the place with no damage, and I held my breath as Diaz began his labors — it’s statistically unsupported as well as spiritually unfair, but I don’t think I will ever trust Diaz, no matter how deeply he buries the disaster that was 2019.

Diaz, indeed, almost blew the game with a fastball that caught way too much plate and was socked down the right-field line by Ehire Adrianza [14], missing the foul pole by a couple of feet. Somehow, though, that was the extent of the damage: Diaz retired Adrianza on a less frightening flyout, then coaxed first-pitch outs from Pablo Sandoval [15] and Ronald Acuna Jr. [16]

The Mets had won [17], though I still wasn’t quite sure how they’d done that. After Tuesday night’s game, I’m not quite sure about anything.

* * *

Here’s a Twitter moment that crystallized something for me. Todd Radom [18], the ace designer of team logos and identities who’s also a first-rate baseball historian, tweeted out [19] this description of Mets’ colors and logo from an early media guide:

Explanation of origins of Mets logo [20]

I’d seen that before, and so I added my own little amplification, which is that New York City’s official colors come from the Dutch Republic’s 17th century flag, which is derived from the flag of William of Orange, the father of Dutch independence, who died in 1584. I love the historical connections there, and the odd fact that it gives quite a pedigree to an expansion team that can’t hurt curveballs.

But that’s not why I added this little bit you’re reading now. It’s that I realized something new. I grew up reading the story that the Mets took Dodger blue and Giant orange as their colors, but after re-reading that blurb from the team, I doubt it’s true. I think the connection is a bit of opportunistic, after-the-fact sis boom baa added by an astute PR man — that note about “further significance” has, well, further significance — and the real story is simpler. Blue and orange were chosen because they were New York City’s colors (beating out the pink and black of the Payson family’s stable silks), the NY logo was nicked from the Giants (in an era when logos were reused and shared in ways that wouldn’t happen today), and that’s a wrap.

Hey, even if I’m right, it still counts as a happy accident. The cosmos does allow those, even for Mets fans.