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Streaks Strike Once More

The hardest-to-ignore streak extant in Metsdom met its most stubborn if most obscure in Milwaukee Saturday night. Both involved losing.

The one you can’t miss measures five. For the fifth consecutive season, the New York Mets will not be going to the playoffs. They will not enter the postseason as a Wild Card and they will not represent the National League East as its division champion. They will, as they have at the end of every season since 2017, go home. Their streak of not reaching every team’s nominal goal is not the longest in the majors, but it has suddenly become long. The back-to-back playoff years of 2015 and 2016 have grown distant. In 2022, we’ll be six years removed from our last visit to at least one additional October date. That’s as long as we went between postseasons on the journey from the heights of Bobby Valentine in 2000 to the peak of Willie Randolph in 2006, with traffic en route slowing to a crawl on the Art Howe Bridge.

It’s long enough. It’s not episodic anymore. It’s chronic. Others are or will be in. We won’t. This has been glaringly apparent for weeks. It went official late Saturday afternoon when the Phillies beat the Pirates, rendering whatever the Mets did against the Brewers Saturday night altogether meaningless from an aspirational standpoint.

Date of death, on the Metropolitan calendar, can be expressed as somewhere between Game 153 and Game 154. MLB business closed on Friday night with the 73-80 Mets still faintly alive. By comparison, the Mets were totally out of it after 146 games in 2017, 150 games in 2018 and a hearty 158 games in feisty 2019. Last year, in the moribund 60-game season in which eight teams in each league were invited to a contingency tourney, they were eliminated in their 58th game.

They took the field for Game 154 of 2021 expired. They took the field for Game 154 of 2021 anyway. They played the kind of game mathematically eliminated teams play [1], losing, 2-1, to the Brewers, a team that has already qualified for the postseason and should be clinching first place any day now, perhaps this afternoon; the Cardinals never lose, but the Brewers do have one more game left with the Mets.

Rich Hill, picked up for a pennant race that coincidentally shriveled soon after his arrival, pitched pretty well. He didn’t win, because as a Met Rich Hill [2] literally never wins. Eleven starts, no victories. In his eleventh start, Rich gave up only two hits, but walked four. One of the hits drove in two of the walks, accounting for Milwaukee’s two runs. The Mets got one of them back on a Javy Baez RBI single. Wisconsin boos Baez every time he shows his old Chicago face. Javy succeeds for New York nonetheless. It’s nice to feel some pulse from somebody on this team. Hill’s had one. The 41-year-old hurler even bunted his way on in the fifth and advanced to second before being stranded there, just like a real Met batter turned baserunner. Then Hill went back to the mound, threw a scoreless frame and departed unrewarded, just as we will after Game 162.

Four Met relievers showed good stuff as the game went on. Aaron Loup [3] (0.98 ERA) in the sixth. Trevor May [4] in the seventh. Seth Lugo [5] in the eighth. Jerry Blevins [6] in the booth. Jerry retired shortly after this season started, resisting the pull of the alternate site. The Mets had their main lefty in Loup and Blevins decided the chances of a second getting a call weren’t worth the trouble of staying warm in Syracuse. WCBS, however, found it could use another voice and got the old southpaw up. As Ed Coleman’s guest analyst, Jerry came across as he has ever since we got to know him a little in 2015: friendly, funny, savvy, a cut above.

The Mets were a cut below in their penultimate game in Milwaukee. The Mets are always a cut below in their penultimate game in Milwaukee. The streak of not making the playoffs you can’t help but notice, especially if you plan on tuning into 880 AM the week after next expecting to hear Mets baseball. The other streak, the obscure one, lurks only for the vigilant. In 2009, the Mets played a three-game series at Miller Park. They lost the second — or second-to-last. That strain of performance has held up for more than a decade. Every series the Mets played at Miller Park in 2010s, whether it ran three games or four, they lost its penultimate game. The last time, on a Saturday night in May of 2019 when I struggled to stay vigilant, the second-to-last game required 18 innings and 322 minutes to lose, 3-2. The next afternoon I prepped for a colonoscopy. The experiences were similar.

After no trips to the Midwest in short, regional 2020, the Mets finally returned to Ueckerville in late 2021. The ballpark is now named for an insurance outfit. The Mets dutifully renewed their policy of always losing before packing, though this time they completed their Saturday night futility in a swift 3:16. This is the first series Rich Hill has pitched in Milwaukee as a Met, the first series played as a Met there by Javy Baez and Aaron Loup, the first series managed there by Luis Rojas. The faces change. The Mets don’t, not in twelve consecutive penultimate games at the same venue. That’s more consecutive penultimate Milwaukee losses than there’ve been non-wins for Rich Hill in Rich Hill starts. It’s just twelve games spread over thirteen seasons, but it strikes me as astounding.

From a broader perspective, the Mets not making the playoffs over five consecutive seasons…well, that’s less astounding. And that’s a bummer.