What was Chipper Jones doing in the Mets clubhouse before Saturday night’s game at Turner Field? Presumably signing over the deed on the joint to the visiting team.
Remember when Larry was loathed and Turner was terrifying? Vaguely. Like the Atlanta Braves who made the National League Eastern Division their private hunting preserve, it all seems a very long time ago.
Turner Field will stand after 2016, but the Braves won’t remain. They’re racing as fast as one can in I-85 traffic to escape what Google Maps refers to as their “nostalgia-filled modern baseball stadium” and vamoose to Sun Trust Park, where the Atlanta Braves will play as the Atlanta Braves despite not technically playing in Atlanta.
Which is fine with us, provided they continue to by no means resemble the Braves we spent a generation fearing and loathing, a tradition for which no Mets fan in his Wright mind will conjure a whit of modern nostalgia. Those Braves who made Turner Field synonymous with pain have taken a powder…which is what the Mets ground their former tormentors into Saturday night.
That makes it two wins in a row in this series and six overall, dating back to last September. It’s not enough. It can never be enough. The Mets won 8-2 on Saturday? Win 18-2 on Sunday. Sweep the four games slated in late June by larger margins. Upon return in September for the final three Mets-Braves games in Turner Field history, do to the Braves what Warden Norton threatened to do to Andy Dufresne toward the end of The Shawshank Redemption, a film that, coincidentally, was also set in a house of horrors.
Seal it off, brick by brick. Have a little baseball barbecue in the yard. They’ll see the flames for miles. We’ll “dance around it like wild Injuns,” to use the distasteful vernacular that is still evoked down Atlanta way by all that awful chopping and chanting.
The warden in Shawshank is not a suitable role model for our boys, neither in outcome nor demeanor, but the Mets were the nice guys for years at Turner Field, and until very recently, nice guys finished second over and over again. Before the Braves completely abandoned the pretense of competitive viability, they had taken five of their first six home games against the Mets in 2015, a pace completely in line with most everything that unfolded between the erstwhile rivals from September 1997 forward.
The Mets actually won their first-ever series at Turner Field, taking three out of four right after the All-Star break nineteen years ago. They capped it with a thrilling comeback victory on Sunday Night Baseball, hurtling over a first-inning 6-0 deficit to win in ten, 7-6. Bobby Jones buckled down after a nightmare beginning and persevered through seven innings. Butch Huskey clobbered a pair of home runs and drove in five. Alex Ochoa put the Mets ahead with a solo blast. John Franco wriggled out of John Franco-type trouble to nail down the save for Greg McMichael. It was a quintessential 1997 Mets triumph.
It was also the Mets’ last win at Turner Field until 2006. Or so it felt. No need to catalogue, at the moment, the 103 regular-season losses that accumulated between ’97 and ’15, nor delve deeply into the three postseason shortfalls that did a number on us in the fall of ’99. The fact that the Mets won 56 games prior to their current on-site six-game winning streak no doubt leaves you with the same thought it leaves me:
The Mets won 56 games at Turner Field?
They did. There were the aforementioned three in that misleading jaunty first voyage to the Ted; and three at the tail end of 2014, just when the Braves were completely evaporating from contention; and another three in the joyous summer of ’06, the first of a few times we thought for sure we’d never have to deal with Turner Field as Turner Field again.
The ballpark has been in business for two decades and, if pressed, I can probably identify most of the Met wins there, less from the power of memory than the fact that there haven’t been all that many Met wins to remember. Considering that the Mets visit for nine or ten games a year every year, keeping track of “all’ their victories isn’t much of a challenge. Or it wasn’t until now, when the Mets have stopped losing at Turner Field and can soon stop playing at Turner Field.
I’d like to go full-gloat, but I’ll ease up because the stadium will continue to host the Mets, and why get on its bad side? We may need wins in Atlanta before they load up the trucks and move to Cobb…County, that is. These are good times, but the evil spirits that have enveloped the edifice since that pair of September nights in 1997 when the Braves outscored the Mets 21-6 and squeezed the life out of what was left of our faint Wild Card hopes are only an overconfident stir away.
The scalping of ’97 was a veritable smoke signal of what to come. It was before 1998; and Angel Hernandez; and the three losses that closed the season and the books on our playoff chances again; and 1999; and Chipper; and Kenny; and the pennant that wasn’t; and 2000; and the division title that got away; and 2001; and Brian Jordan deleting for the second time in six days what could have been one the greatest New York baseball stories ever written; and…
Sorry. I said I wasn’t going to do that. Let’s stay in the present. Let’s stay with country squire Larry Jones dropping by to pay his respects to fellow North Floridian Jacob deGrom. Let’s revel in Steven Matz easing from jams with minimal damage. Let’s make culturally appropriate arm gestures to salute David Wright’s timely two-out, two-run double. Let’s celebrate the middle infield of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker and how they field fine and hit far. Let’s tip a cap toward Juan Lagares making the most of an unplanned appearance in the starting lineup.
Let’s keep doing at Turner Field what we never did with regularity when Turner Field was in its prime. Let’s leave it a house of happy.
Immense thanks to Gary Cohen for offering such a generous appraisal of our blog and my new book on the air Saturday night — and heartfelt gratitude, too, to all who asked on social media, “Hey, didja hear that?” (Sure did.)
You’re already reading Faith and Fear, so you might as well get in on Amazin’ Again. The story of how the 2015 Mets brought the magic back to Queens is readily available from your high-profile online booksellers, and you can obtain a signed, personalized copy by visiting my sister’s eBay page.
I think you’ll enjoy it as much as you enjoy the Mets pounding the Braves.
Matt Harvey? Not fixed.
If anything, Harvey looked worse than he did in Cleveland. The velocity was up a little, perhaps, but still not where it needs to be, and the pitches were up a lot. Harvey staggered through five innings, bailed out by Yoenis Cespedes‘s insane throw to the plate and a bit of luck. With a little less luck, Jace Peterson blasts the floater of a breaking ball that was Harvey’s last pitch of the fourth inning for a game-tying pinch-hit three-run homer; Cespedes’s throw was a mighty and marvelous thing, but I cringed to see Travis d’Arnaud‘s mitt on the wrong side of an onrushing Nick Markakis. D’Arnaud held on and didn’t get hurt, two things that haven’t always been true. Happily, Harvey was out of the inning; mercifully, he was out of the game.
I shouldn’t be too apocalyptic: pitching’s really difficult, and making progress on mechanical adjustments isn’t like throwing a switch. Harvey had some stretches where his pitches were down in the zone and had bite. Maybe he’ll have more stretches like that, gain back a few ticks on the fastball with more work, and start missing bats again. Or maybe — and honestly, this seems like the more likely outcome — something’s physically wrong, and the Mets will get Harvey to admit it so they can work on getting it put right.
The Mets won in part because Curtis Granderson was awesome and Cespy made that glorious throw. But they also won because the Braves are crummy, to use a technical term. This is an undermanned ball club enduring the barren part of a rebuild before they decamp to suburbia and get reinforcements from the minors. Bud Norris is a tomato-can hurler there to eat innings, mark time and hopefully teach the young guys something along the way — an unfortunate, sometimes admirable role recently played for our side by the likes of Tim Redding and Livan Hernandez. Norris’s outing actually was a lot like Harvey’s — his breaking stuff was lacking and his pitches were elevated — but Norris isn’t as good as even a diminished Harvey, the hitters supporting him aren’t as good as the Mets’, and he made bad pitches at bad times, scoreboardly speaking.
Still, the Mets won. And hey, Harvey’s endured an entire career worth of ulcerous 2-1 and 3-2 losses and so deserved a 5-and-fly victory. Watch baseball for even a few weeks and you’ll understand that unfairness is part of its fabric. Ask Michael Conforto, who began his night with a single and then spent the rest of it working good counts, pulverizing baseballs … and watching them sizzle into Atlanta gloves. Each time, Conforto trudged back to the dugout looking alternately amused and affronted.
Sometimes you do everything right and go 1 for 5. Or you stagger through 101 so-so pitches and walk off the winner. Baseball, man.
Welcome to Flashback Friday, where a prospective champion and a musical monarch are gonna show us what it’s all about.
New York Mets pitchers and catchers reported to St. Petersburg for the club’s 25th Spring Training on Friday, February 21, 1986. The very next day, “Kiss” became the 18th single recorded by the artist known as Prince to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
Coincidence? I think not.
It didn’t occur to me then, but the explosion of “Kiss” onto radio and music television predicted the Met season ahead. I don’t know how I missed it, considering that in late February, throughout March, and well into April, I had two things on my mind more than any other: that song and that team.
Seriously, that’s how much I embraced both, even if the 1986 Mets weren’t yet officially “the 1986 Mets”. You knew they’d be something special as soon as they coalesced into a regulation 24-man unit and began playing games that counted. As for “Kiss,” it was championship-caliber to me from the first moment it infiltrated my ears. It stands eternally as my favorite song from the last year the Mets won the World Series and ranks as No. 14 on my personal Top 1,000 Songs of what I like to call “All Time” (1972-1999).
It didn’t take me long to get to know “Kiss”. About a second-and-a-half of strumming. Maybe a half-second grunt too identifiable to be emanating from anybody else’s throat. If you didn’t know you were listening to a Prince song by the third second of “Kiss,” then you either hadn’t been alive lately or had been off on an extraordinarily long road trip. Prince was in the midst of a run of about a half-decade or so that, in a baseball context, best recalls Pujols in the 2000s or Gehrig in the 1930s. There was nobody whose stats in the middle of the 1980s were as pervasive in the game as Prince’s sound was on the radio from roughly 1983 through 1987, maybe longer.
Others had a few more and higher-charting hits to their name during the same golden pop music age, but nobody had so many protégés, so many clients, so many acolytes, so many imitators. The radio was all Prince half the time, even when there wasn’t a Prince record in heaviest rotation.
Though you never had to wait long for one of those. The man pulled off the trick of being prolific and ubiquitous, yet having every new release come off as an absolute event.
“Prince has a new album!”
“Prince has a new single!”
“Prince a new video for the new single from his new album which is the soundtrack for his new movie!”
Prince was everywhere without particularly going out of his way to be anywhere. The world came unto (or un2) Prince and it was a joy fantastic.
As were our 1986 Mets, even when they had 162 games remaining on their schedule. The Mets of the mid-’80s had blossomed into that kind of happening. 1984 was a critical success. 1985 was a pop sensation. By 1986, they were in their “what can they possibly do next to top what they’ve already?” phase.
Exactly like Prince at exactly the instant “Kiss” broke. He wasn’t two years’ removed from the release of Purple Rain. Not even a year had passed since Around the World in a Day. “America,” his previous single, which came from that last album, spent its final week on the Hot 100 at the end of November. Three months hadn’t gone by and Prince was all new again. There’d be a film called Under the Cherry Moon (which he’d direct and star in). Serving as its de facto soundtrack would be Parade, whose cover featured Prince, pictured from the midriff up, looking not much like he did for the prior album, an appearance different from the one before.
In 2004, speaking to the twists and turns of his career to date, Prince told the Washington Post, “Once you’ve done anything, to do it again ain’t no big deal, you feel me? […] It’s like, OK, what’s the next thing?”
Every creative person who will never lay claim to anything akin to his depth, breadth or output feels Prince there. He had been one of the two or three most enormous stars in the world in 1984 as Purple Rain enveloped the cultural consciousness. He could have issued a veritable sequel to cash in. He could have hibernated and ruminated and made his public wait. Nah, screw that. Prince was here to make music, so he made an album in 1985 that was distinct from his blockbuster from 1984, and he prepared an album for 1986 that encapsulated a whole different vibe from 1985’s.
Yet it was still quite clearly a Prince album filled with Prince songs dripping with the Prince sound. He knew how to move on to the next thing while not losing the essential qualities that defined the preceding things, just as Purple Rain stepped into another realm from 1999 — his 1982 album that blew up in 1983 and couldn’t be mistaken for its predecessors from the late ’70s and earlier ’80s — yet was very much part of the Prince family.
And oh yeah, he was all of 26 years old as 1986 dawned. Plus he generally played every instrument himself on his records.
Parade wasn’t what came before, but as I said, two to three seconds into its first single, there was no mistaking who was at the helm. Prince was always inviting us to a party. This one was at once intimate, cheeky and, if not “Delirious,” sneakily hilarious.
After a stuttering bit of synth-play that establishes a bass-free bass line, Prince outlines the parameters of his party nine seconds in:
You don’t have to be beautiful
To turn me on
I just need your body baby
From dusk till dawn
Prince could’ve moaned those lyrics. Had it appealed to him musically, he would have. Instead, he effected a light, frothy tone, making an extremely Princelike proposition in the poppiest way possible.
You don’t need experience
To turn me out
You just leave it all up to me
I’m gonna show you what it’s all about
If you’re not paying attention, you’d think Prince wants to take the object of his intentions to the sock hop. No, he has a heavier night in mind. But what makes his approach refreshing is his declaration to love you just the way you are.
You don’t have to be rich
To be my girl
You don’t have to be cool
To rule my world
Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your
He probably wants more than a peck on the cheek, but this evening, he is by no means living in a material world and thus is not clamoring for a material girl who needs to put on airs. Just be yourself, baby.
Popular music’s reigning lothario couldn’t be much more feminist.
Not that Prince doesn’t adhere to a strict personal code of conduct and request that you abide by it as well.
You got to not talk dirty, baby
If you wanna impress me
You can’t be too flirty, mama
I know how to undress me
Our host suggests some activities for our gathering.
I want to be your fantasy
Maybe you could be mine
Then his fetish for courtesy is displayed…courteously.
You could leave it all up to me
We could have a good time
We’ve only been at Prince’s party for 103 seconds, yet he has thoughtfully and cleverly laid out an irresistible agenda, set it to an irresistible beat and layered it with an irresistible message.
Who could resist a “Kiss” like that?
I couldn’t (though I don’t think it’s me, his quasi-namesake, he was trying to woo). The nation’s radio programmers and record-buyers were plenty charmed by his entreaty. From its debut at No. 52, “Kiss,” technically by Prince and the Revolution, climbed the charts steadily. It was inside the Top 40 with a bullet the week ending March 8, which was the very same day the Mets commenced their exhibition slate at Al Lang Stadium versus their co-tenants, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets were anxious to kiss off the Cardinals altogether following the resolution of the 1985 season, a pulsating campaign during which the Mets won 98 games yet it wasn’t quite enough for a divisional crown.
In 1986, the Mets wanted to be unstoppable. Unstoppable like Prince. Unstoppable like “Kiss,” which continued to soar on Billboard while Davey Johnson sorted out his personnel: 28 to 15 to 10 to 5 to 3 on the eve of their season opener in Pittsburgh. Prince was equally indefatigable within the space of what was now his ninth Top 10 smash.
After a marvelously flighty guitar break, Prince returns at 2:45 to reiterate his preferences for the remainder of the affair.
Women not girls rule my world
I said they rule my world
Act your age, mama
Not your shoe size
Maybe we could do the twirl
Granted, “act your age, not your shoe size” was likely lifted from a sixth-grade playground dialogue, but right in the middle of a Prince come-on, the protagonist is cracking a joke. For someone who barely smiled in his major motion picture debut, the effect is revelatory. Maybe Prince is of our world after all.
You don’t have to watch Dynasty
To have an attitude
Whoa! Hold up! Prince knows from Dynasty? Not only does he invoke one of the Greed Decade’s iconic television programs — No. 7 for the 1985-86 season, according to A.C. Nielsen — but he does so to stinging effect. I didn’t watch Dynasty, but I knew what it represented. Everybody in the mid-1980s did. I had no idea Prince was at least a little like everybody while he was completely immersed in being Prince. It was as if he was letting us know he was more accessible than we would have otherwise imagined.
Another revelation. Another great line. Y’know what? Prince is pretty goddamn funny and more subtle about it than I would’ve guessed.
You just leave it all up to me
My love will be your food
We should all be so lucky to subsist on a figurative diet of Prince Rogers Nelson’s affections. Musically and lyrically, I kept going back to the buffet for another helping. He didn’t care about status. He didn’t care about astrology. He didn’t want a Joan Collins wanna-be. He just wanted my extra time. He got all 3:46 of it every time “Kiss” announced its presence with authority on whatever station was brilliant enough to play it as winter turned to spring, as Spring Training turned to baseball for keeps.
Which doesn’t even bring into account the video. The video! The video is one of the most extraordinary clips ever made. I’m sure it was filmed in some exotic Far East locale, never mind that it’s most likely a soundstage in Minnesota. Prince is prancing about with purpose. Wendy of the Revolution remains glued to a stool, bringing the licks and fending off the gaze. There’s a mystery lady who you know is going to wind up ruling Prince’s world, regardless of sign. The video for “Kiss” is the musical version of what was said about Darryl Strawberry’s every at-bat, that you would make sure you were watching every one of them because you didn’t want to miss something you’d never forget.
Except Darryl sometimes struck out or flied to right. Prince always had a hit, always gave you a good time, always got the girl…I mean woman.
On April 19, 1986, “Kiss” became the No. 1 song in the land for the first of two consecutive weeks. On April 23, the New York Mets became the sole occupants of first place in their division for the balance of 1986.
Prince’s job was done here.
Aside from bursting out of every speaker in the known universe while the season was in its gestation phase and subsequent nascence, there’s another reason I believe “Kiss” predicted what the 1986 Mets were about to turn into. During March, I visited Florida, staying with a college friend who was engaged to a girl who revealed, during one of MTV’s airings of “Kiss,” that she didn’t care for Prince.
Well, I countered as casually as I could, Prince writes; sings; plays all those instruments; dances; produces; acts; and just created this mesmerizing video we are enjoying for the umpteenth time this week. Other than that, I Princesplained, he’s not really that good.
She dropped the subject. About a year later, my college friend broke off the engagement, decided to spend the ensuing summer in New York and wound up introducing me to the woman who became my wife. I don’t know that there’s a direct connection from one Prince to another, but there ya go.
But that’s not my point. My point is Prince could do it all and do all of it better than anybody else on the scene. That’s what the Mets did in their genre in those days. No team appreciably outperformed the Mets in any facet of the game. No team performed so many facets of the game together nearly as well. And no team that good ever drew you in like the Mets of that era. Perhaps you could make a case for one of the non-Joan Collins dynasty franchises having been more accomplished, but nobody ever had the kind of…I wanna say “attitude” about it the Mets had it, just to be cute, but, really, the word I seek is aura.
Those Mets were an aura unto themselves.
The night Gary Carter died, SNY showed (and unfortunately hasn’t since repeated) the game in which he made his Met debut. That was Opening Day 1985, the season before the season, if you will. They weren’t the 1986 Mets, but most of the pieces were in place. And as I watched this collection of Mets ply their craft from the vantage point of February 2012, I was legitimately astonished. This team had Carter and Gooden and Strawberry and Hernandez and Wilson and Backman and Orosco and Johnson and Foster and was about to introduce McDowell and was a month away from bringing up Dykstra. The vintage broadcast aired in standard definition, but the Mets of that era were hi-def all the way. And we got to watch them every night as if you could be so lucky to have that as your team for a couple of years — as if the world just routinely handed you a ticket to such wonders and instructed you to do no more with it than enjoy.
It was like that listening to and watching Prince. I’m saying it now because he died yesterday at fifty-bleeping-seven years old, but it’s something I knew if didn’t always fully appreciate while his career was in progress. I probably took it for granted when his music was everywhere. There were always new Prince records and new records Prince had a hand in guiding and they were on constantly and, after a while, you didn’t consider this an unusual state of affairs. Parade gave way to Sign O’ The Times, which gave way to Lovesexy, and the hits…as well as a stream of perfectly worthy non-hits…just kept coming. Prince, emblematic of his time yet transcendently timeless, continued to make music. He stayed famous mostly for music he had made a long time before, but I don’t think we ever forgot who he was, even as our attention inevitably drifted to other sources of fascination.
You receive a sad, shocking alert about the passing of a public figure you admired and you are, understandably, shocked and saddened. The purple lining? Maybe you find yourself flashing back to that moment that made this moment matter, that moment when all you wanted to do was listen to Prince’s great new song and watch the Mets start their next great season.
I’m sorry it went down like this
But someone had to lose
It’s the nature of the business…
—Glenn Frey, “Smuggler’s Blues”
My premonition called me in the middle innings Wednesday night from the Molly Pitcher rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. He used a pay phone. He runs a very old-school operation.
“The Mets,” he said over a not-so-clear connection. “They’re gonna get it. At the end.” Then he hung up.
Wait, did he say “at the end” or “in the end”? Either way, it didn’t sound too good.
The premonition wasn’t very specific about what was gonna happen, but he left me clues.
Home runs overturned to doubles because some jamoke sticks a glove over the wall from the wrong direction.
A runner on third with nobody out not scoring.
Colon (helluva guy) swinging at outside breaking stuff to the point where it wasn’t amusing.
A ball that just kept carrying that winds up tying the game for them.
A leadoff double from the d’Arnaud kid, who’s maybe finally heating up, going to waste for us.
A double play not made.
Back-to-back home runs that built no momentum.
Strikeout upon strikeout against a bullpen stocked with palookas nobody’s heard of.
Seventeen freaking strikeouts in all.
Their old, used-up catcher Ruiz, who word on the street had it was retired and living with a full-time nurse in Clearwater, gets three hits, or almost as many as Walker, who got four, but scored only once, which makes sense, ’cause the Mets got 14 hits but left 12 on and with runners in goddamn scoring position batted 2-for-14, one of which was the home run by Cabrera that replay review said was a double, and Cabrera winds up being the guy who gets left on third with nobody out.
Yeah, there were clues. Yet somehow the Mets led the Phillies, 4-3, in the fifth, in the sixth, in the seventh…but the premonition had been emphatic. It was gonna happen in the end. Or did he say at the end?
Sure enough, the Phillies tie it in the seventh. Blevins, who never gives up a thing to lefties, gives up a double to a lefty, Lough. Reed, who often gives up something when there’s a runner on base, gives up an RBI single to Bourjos. Bourjos was batting ninth the whole game. He’s not a pitcher. The last time the Phillies sent out a lineup with a non-pitcher batting ninth, the hitter who went last was named Bud Harrelson.
I told ya there were clues.
Even still, when Bastardo threw two shutout innings and we got through nine and it was 4-4, I thought maybe the premonition was putting me on. We hadn’t gotten in or at the end. Then I remembered: extras. Extra innings. They play those goddamn things in Philadelphia like they don’t play ’em anywhere else. They played ’em last year. They played ’em the year before that. They played ’em again Wednesday night.
Top of the tenth, another double for the d’Arnaud kid. Didn’t matter. The Mets left him on second, again, when Flores hits a tricky grounder that doesn’t fool Galvis, and Galvis throws out Wilmer. Bowa…Rollins…Steve Jeltz…Kevin Stocker…what is it about Phillie shortstops besides Bud Harrelson that makes an otherwise upstanding citizen wanna commit antisocial behavior?
Bottom of the tenth, that Henderson guy works out of a little trouble. Good to see. Maybe it’ll mean something in the eleventh.
Top of the eleventh, Granderson starts to get his kinda game in gear. He walks to lead off. Wright, who owns the joint, crushes one to deep center. I mean deep. So deep you won’t gotta review nothin’. Then the freaking ball dies at the track. Earlier there was that ball Galvis hit that just kept going. It became a two-run homer. This one didn’t and wasn’t. Nevertheless, Granderson tags and moves to second, which is so heads-up I could look past that funny business about what he puts on his feet. Bad break for David, but Curtis just did something good. But then Conforto strikes out looking and Cespedes — like Duda, so hot lately — strikes out swinging.
Bottom of the eleventh. Ah, I don’t wanna talk about the bottom of the eleventh. Robles in. Galvis all Rollinsy. A screwy intentional walk. A freaking wild pitch. A foul pop the Captain misses by six inches. Then Bourjos, the nine hitter, poking a ball Wright gets to but can’t do anything useful with. Freaking Galvis crosses the freaking plate and the Mets lose, 5-4.
Let’s just say the premonition wasn’t kidding. The Mets, they got it in the end. The wrong end. Sometimes you just have a premonition that that’s how it’s gonna go down.
I missed the first Met home run of Tuesday night while I was consumed by the culinary arts. I missed the second Met home run of Tuesday night because I was standing in line waiting to partake of the democratic process.
Don’t worry, the Mets said — we’ll make more. And I approve that message.
If you like your sample sizes small but powerful, Philadelphia’s the place you oughta be. It’s an ophthalmologist’s dream. Everybody sees a pitch he likes and everybody swats it for four bags. The Mets stroked six home runs Tuesday night on top of four from Monday. The Pennsylvania primary isn’t until next week, but it appears the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard is already feeling the burn.
The Mets are the same team that struck us as so crummy as recently as a week ago, and the Phillies are the same team that dealt them fits the weekend before last. We were in the midst of bemoaning a 2-5 start then. We’ve since won five of six, the latest victory revealing itself to be of the 11-1 variety. Some small sample sizes are more delectable than others.
Conforto, with the two-run jack (while I was cooking), and Cespedes, with the three-run bomb (while I was voting), I didn’t see except on replay. Walker and Duda and Walker again and Granderson I observed live and reveled accordingly. The sum total was highly productive and the aesthetics were astounding. You never get tired of watching your team hit home runs.
You do, however (especially if you’re a Mets fan), begin to fret that so many home runs might be too many home runs, and not just in the reflexive “same some of that for tomorrow” sense. What is it the carnival-barker philosopher king suggested about winning…oh yeah, that if you do much of it, you will become bored by it. Tedium stemming from Met slugging doesn’t worry me, though I do find it a tad disconcerting to ponder the possibility that when baseballs inevitably stop flying off of Met bats and out of parks like those in Cleveland and Philly, they won’t land anywhere where they’ll do us much good.
Tuesday night, the Mets produced all eleven of their runs via the homer. And that’s a problem…how? I’m not sure, yet as a born-again home cook, I understand that you’ve gotta vary the recipe now and then. Maybe mix in a few more singles and doubles? Not instead of homers, but in addition to?
Or just keep pounding the ball out of sight. That’s always plenty tasty.
It was particularly satisfying to drive Vincent Velasquez from the scene of so many previous crimes. That kid shut us down at Citi Field, then did the same to the Padres. No point building up a legend in our own division. And speaking of legends, let’s hear it for Logan Verrett, the veritable Seventh Beatle of our already immortal starting rotation. Logan is an afterthought all-star, ostensibly lower on the depth chart than still-rehabbing Zack Wheeler, even. Nobody asked this son of a Leach to squeeze into the class portrait, but based on his first two starts — 12 IP, 0 R, 9 H, 3 BB, 10 SO — somebody needs to Photoshop him in.
For the moment, he’s a seat-filler, one of those indistinguishable gents who slips into a star’s chair at the Oscars or Tonys so everything looks full when the director pans to the crowd. Our crowd should be giving Verrett a standing ovation for making Jacob deGrom missed on principle, not for performance. It is the fate of the spot starter to retreat into the wings until something else goes terribly wrong. We are left to appreciate Logan for what he’s done in Jake’s absence, yet kind of hope we don’t have to find him on the mound too often too soon.
As long as we’re providing plaudits for supporting roles beautifully portrayed, how about a few bouquets tossed at late-inning replacement Juan Lagares’s feet for the way he came off the Ordinary List and displayed the defense that not long ago made him a Metsopotamian cause? I’m not sure where the Juan with whom we fell in love went for the (ahem) bulk of 2015, but the original version appears to be back and on the prowl for the prevention of home runs, which can be such nasty buggers when they’re launched by the wrong team.
True, the Mets’ eighth-inning ten-run lead was reasonably secure when Maikel Franco drove the final two-on, two-out mop-up pitch from Rafael Montero (apparently the Pete Best of his generation) over the center field wall, yet how could you not ooh and aah at Lagares playing a little fence ballet and taking the homer away? It was swiped so efficiently that the candy had time to bid adieu to the baby.
Juan, we thank you, and Rafael’s ERA — down to 11.57 from 13.50 in its own small but disturbing sample size — thanks you.
And I thank Bill Donohue for having me on WGBB Sportstalk1240 a couple of nights ago to discuss Amazin’ Again. You can listen in on our lively Mets conversation here. If you seek a signed copy of my book, bless you…and order one here.
That was me early in tonight’s game while I watched Noah Syndergaard mow down Phillies with his ludicrously unfair arsenal of pitches. I could have waxed admiring about his curve ball too except I was out of characters.
(David Wright compared Syndergaard to a videogame player too, but I was there first, so nyaah-nyaah to our captain. Um, even if he did hit two home runs while I sprawled on a couch and tweeted.)
This was an intriguingly odd baseball game, what with the two teams collecting 17 hits and fanning 25 times and the Mets’ scoring consisting of four solo home runs and a cue-shot double by Lucas Duda against the shift. The most intriguing aspect for me was Philadelphia’s Jerad Eickhoff playing hedgehog to Syndergaard’s fox, a strategy that for a while looked like it might work.
Here’s your scouting report: Eickhoff was throwing his curve ball when he needed a strike. Whatever Met was at the plate knew it, you knew it, I knew it, the loudmouth guy in the good seats who kept barking attempted witticisms knew it, the little animated whale that briefly and bafflingly pinged around on SNY’s feed knew it, Cindy from Lee’s Toyota in her pretend Yankees uniform knew it, and all the Flyers fans getting ready to throw stuff on the ice across the street from Citizens Bank Ballpark knew it.
It didn’t matter, because that curve was hellaciously good, good enough for Eickhoff to hang around for seven fine innings and depart with the Mets on the plus side of an awfully thin 2-1 lead.
Enter the Philadelphia bullpen, though, and oh well. First David Hernandez gave up an absolute howitzer of a line-drive home run by Duda, one heralded by some Phillie fan’s mocking invocation of “DOOOO-DA” a nanosecond before Duda reduced the ball to a cloud of vaguely horsehide-scented mist. (Don’t you wish that could always happen?) Then Neil Walker once again played perfectly fine second fiddle, connecting for a home run to left that only seemed pedestrian because of what it followed. In the ninth, Wright capped things by hitting his second home run of the game, this one off Elvis Araujo, whose name Gary Cohen of course pronounces exquisitely while I can barely type it.
Can you imagine what numbers Wright would have put up if he’d made his 2004 debut as a Phillie in this park and stayed after that? Philadelphia fans would argue over Wright or Mike Schmidt while we bemoaned having run through 712 mostly lousy third basemen. We’d also have come up with half-assed reasons that Wright was loathsome, which makes for an amusing thought exercise. Um, he wipes his nose on his jersey or something before each pitch? Yeah, that’s kind of gross. David Wright is a Phillie snot rag!
Nah, it wouldn’t work. We’d just be bummed that he wasn’t ours.
Happily, he is. The Mets are .500, Syndergaard is a monster, Duda looks alive and reports of Wright’s professional death have been somewhat exaggerated. Funny how a couple of days can change one’s outlook on things.
The Mets won a game with me recapping, so I guess I can stay!
So can Steven Matz, who rebounded rather nicely from a horror show of a beginning to his 2016 season. Matz’s Sunday outing began with disquieting similarities to Matt Harvey‘s start on Saturday: he was cruising along but telegraphing his off-speed stuff, and you had to wonder what would happen the second time through the order.
The answer: not much.
The Mets scoring six runs before the Indians had a baserunner certainly helped, and was a luxury not given Harvey. Maybe not having to wait around for a week and a half between pitching assignments did too.
As diehards we’ve heard about Matz forever: he was signed in 2009 and lost two full seasons to Tommy John surgery, not starting in pro ball until 2012. Given all that drama, it’s easy to forget Matz won’t turn 25 until just before Memorial Day, or that his entire major-league body of work before this year consisted of nine starts — three of them in the postseason. We’ve gotten used to flamethrowers reaching Triple-A, grousing briefly about being bored, then coming up and making you say ooh in short order. That happened with Matz too, amazing even Grandpa Bert, but the kid’s entitled — as we all should be — to some scuffling and growing pains. Simply put, we’ve gotten a bit spoiled since Harvey arrived to give notice that there were new sheriffs in town.
Michael Conforto‘s a newcomer too, just two seasons removed from patrolling a different New York park with the Brooklyn Cyclones. But every time the Mets treat him gingerly, you wonder why: he’s been a platoon player despite hitting lefties well in the minors, and stuck low in the order despite his obvious skills with the bat. Keith Hernandez has repeatedly called Conforto the best hitter on the team, which I’d agree with: beyond Conforto’s God-given bat speed and power, his sense of the strike zone could have been borrowed from Edgardo Alfonzo or the Shea model of David Wright. Conforto rarely turns in an at-bat where he hasn’t maximized his chance to succeed, leveraging a hitter’s count and forcing the pitcher to risk a mistake. Today’s work: ringing double to right-center on a 3-1 pitch, hard-hit ball down the line an inning later on a 1-0 pitch, 2-1 flyout to deep left. Conforto’s assignment to the third slot in the lineup has been billed as a Cleveland-only thing, but like Keith I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays there for a generation.
Oh, and points for the Cleveland crowd: the Mets’ win was helped considerably by poor Rajai Davis losing two balls in the sun, but when Marlon Byrd was similarly undone, there was Davis streaking in from center field to save the play, to cheers that had only a mild tinge of irony. Baseball specializes in these short stories, these bite-sized passion plays that you appreciate at the time even though you’ll forget them within a couple of days. Up six it was easy to be magnanimous and smile at a player claiming a bit of redemption.
Before we go: Your baseball library could do with some excellent additions. Besides Amazin’ Again, by the esteemed Mr. Prince, check out The Arm by Jeff Passan. It’s a terrific overview of elbow injuries, why they happen, how they’re fixed and what — if anything — baseball can do to reduce their frequency. The Arm is a must-read for any fan who knows that sense of dread at the sight of a young starter shaking his arm on the mound, which is to say all of us; it’s carefully researched but also grippingly told. You’ll be riveted by the story of how Tommy John met Frank Jobe and root for Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey as they struggle physically and mentally to return and recapture what they’d been.
Tonight your still-winless recapper takes on the question all of us are suddenly forced to take on: What’s wrong with Matt Harvey?
To be sure, it’s April. If you’re panicking in April, you’re either new to this or ought to broaden your interests. Walking across Brooklyn on a beautiful day, Joshua and I had a long discussion about small sample sizes and the 2016 Mets. My kid is sound in terms of numeracy (particularly compared with me) and admires and craves logic, yet he’s also 13 and so is developing a teen predilection for alerting the populace to imminent apocalypses. These two impulses don’t play nicely together, and there wasn’t much I could do except shrug and say we’d see.
Harvey had sounded invulnerable on MLB At Bat, but when we got home he got dented, then dinged, and finally driven from the game, leaving the Mets trying to make up a sobering deficit and falling short. The loss kept them below .500 and created a boom market in worried Harvey analysis.
What’s wrong? Dan Warthen thinks it’s a mechanical flaw and says they’re working on it. He sees that flaw as most pronounced in the stretch. The Indians’ postgame comments also focused on the two faces of Harvey: from the windup (bestial) and from the stretch (beatable).
Maybe … but even when Harvey was in his full windup and blitzing through the lineup, the velocity on the fastball wasn’t there. Harvey was sitting at 92 to 93 and hitting 94, instead of 95 to 96 and hitting 97. He befuddled the Indians once through the order and then got whacked, with Jose Ramirez and old friend Juan Uribe and annoyingly competent Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli and Yan Gomes doing rude things that caused neck strain and mound-kicking.
And the velocity hasn’t been there all spring.
So what does that mean? Maybe it’s a hangover from 2015 being so happily extended — Jacob deGrom‘s velocity has also been lacking in the early going. (Though for now please save your concerns for deGrom the person instead of deGrom the pitcher.) If that’s the case, the smart money says the missing velocity should report for duty, late but much welcomed.
I sure hope the smart money’s right. Because pitchers break, in ways big and small. If this were one of those ubiquitous GEICO ads, right about now someone would say it’s what they do. Having a staff of young fireballers who are also students of their craft is surpassingly rare; having such a staff stay consistently healthy is rarer still.
At least the bats are showing signs of escaping their spring torpor, which is probably just a narrative lover’s way of saying the cosmic random-number generator has been more favorable of late. Yoenis Cespedes‘s eighth-inning home run off Bryan Shaw wasn’t quite in the same bat-flip-worthy pantheon as his NLDS vaporization of an Alex Wood fastball, but it was still a mighty thing; Neil Walker‘s home run to the other field two batters later didn’t have quite the same thunder and panache but still added up to 421 feet of good news.
But the Mets still came up short, so enough with the good news. The scenarios for a second straight glorious orange and blue season all begin with dominant starting pitching; if that’s not in the offing, the scenarios are rather less glorious.
Again, though, it’s April. All we can do is what I reluctantly recommended to Joshua: shrug and say that we’ll see.
The night started with 42s everywhere and ended with a 7 in your scorebook. I couldn’t miss the former on Jackie Robinson Day, but had to look up the latter, as sensory overload must have gotten to me, sending this correspondent nodding off to dreamland as the bottom of the eighth commenced. The last thing I remember was being told Addison Reed was coming in to pitch with a four-run lead. The next thing I heard was the Mets held on, 6-5.
I wondered how in hell the Mets nearly blew their second badly needed win in a row and how many pitchers had to use how many pitches to defend it, but then I closed my eyes, grasped the bottom line and fell back asleep until Hozzie the Feline Alarm Clock woke me aggressively for extracurricular feeding purposes (his, not mine).
The Mets indeed held on, 6-5. It wasn’t a dream, though from the details I missed gathering live, it appears it could have been a nightmare. The nether regions of the Cleveland Indians’ half of the box score — until last night I had little reason to concern myself with what the Tribe’s got goin’ on down there — has apparently been established as a haven for ex-Mets carrying a grudge against their old comrades. Funny, I remember liking Marlon Byrd and Juan Uribe when they were two of us, yet they conspired late in the proceedings with a single and then a walk to almost unravel all the good that had been done by those who still wear Met uniforms; they even got Collin Cowgill involved at the last minute as a pinch-runner.
Nevertheless, Jeurys Familia, on his fifteenth pitch to his fourth batter, crafted the one out he was asked to obtain in relief of Reed (twenty pitches, eight batters, five outs, three runs that included Carlos Santana’s two-run black magic homer to make it 6-4), inducing Jose Ramirez to fly to left, which sealed the deal at 6-5.
And that was the stuff I slept through. The part I was awake for through 7½ innings encompassed a hive of activity intriguing enough to make a fan feel as if he would miss something if he changed the channel or, heaven forefend, actually got up off the couch.
First off, there was 42 on the mound, 42 behind the plate, 42 at first, 42 around in right, 42 ready to come off the bench, 42 warming in the pen, 42 bringing out the lineup card, where he shook hands with his opposite number, who was also one of many 42s on his side. Major League Baseball decided the best way to salute the player who opened the door to diversifying the sport was to have everybody look the same from the back, and thus was born an annual tradition that blends good intentions with so-so aesthetics. Anything that gets dozens of broadcast crews talking and presumably millions of fans thinking about Jackie Robinson is for the better. As Ken Burns demonstrated again this week, you can’t tell his story enough in a country for which integration of baseball was but one small albeit significant step on a road that never really ends.
On the other hand, everybody wearing the same number at the same time in a game where the eye is trained to identify players by their numbers veers to the confusing and counterproductive, particularly during those intervals when somebody is running or throwing or entering on behalf of a not particularly recognizable opponent. We don’t see the Tribe very often and we’ve hardly seen anybody two weeks into the new season. On April 15, we don’t see anybody’s name because “42” must be, by fiat, stitched alone on all those jerseys.
It made tracking Indians who weren’t once Mets impossible without graphics. Every Met, meanwhile, triggered for me a Ron Hodges flashback. Some years, I see Ron Taylor or Butch Huskey. Friday night, perhaps because the shade of road grays matched what was in vogue from 1973 to 1984, everybody looked like a lefthanded backup catcher perpetually batting .228 with one homer and nine RBIs.
Coincidentally, those stats pretty well described the entire 2016 Mets’ offensive output entering Friday night, yet the latest iteration of Terry’s Terrors powered up like it was paying tribute to Gil Hodges. Four home runs flew off of Met bats, a couple climbing high enough to clear the ostentatiously tall left field wall of Progressive Field, a venue named for a capitalist enterprise, but you gotta wonder how the presidential candidate who proudly campaigns as a democratic socialist never held a rally there. Our particularly partisan concern, however, is that the Mets did rally rousingly, or at least homered enough so they could take a lead that was too big to fail. With Michael Conforto (now and perhaps forever batting third), Alejandro De Aza, Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker all going very deep, you could have not noticed the zero hits in ten at-bats they generated with runners in scoring position…and forgotten how two of those who slugged — Walker and De Aza — got themselves thrown out on close calls at the plate.
Details, details. There was so much to admire as we were being reminded what happens when Mets swing and connect and score all in one fluid, majestic motion. Despite the untimely hitting otherwise and the unsuccessful baserunning twice (one such episode confirmed by instant replay, which couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with a nine-inning contest requiring 217 minutes to complete), six runs are six runs, and as long as our pitchers didn’t give up more than five, the means of production proved highly efficient.
Taking care of the first five-and-a-third innings from the mound was Bartolo Colon, pitching in Cleveland fourteen seasons after the Indians traded him to Montreal. Compare that to Nolan Ryan in 1988 starting against the Mets seventeen years after they traded him to the Angels, or Jesse Orosco getting a big out at Shea in 2003 as a Padre sixteen years past his most recent Met assignment, and you find yourself even more impressed. When you’re invoking lords of longevity like Ryan and Orosco, you know the company Colon is keeping is enduringly elite.
The Indians received three players with loads of upside yet untapped — Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee — and had to give up only a pitcher pushing thirty who could have left only how many years, really? Cleveland’s haul has long been celebrated as theft, given the futures their trio revealed, while the Expos couldn’t ride Colon’s experienced arm to a Wild Card in 2002. But despite what was accomplished by those other guys, and even though Montreal was soon without Colon or anybody else at Olympic Stadium, how could anybody in 2016 look at a transaction that grants somebody use of Bartolo Colon and mark it as anything less than a draw?
Bartolo Colon: still pitching.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching in Cleveland, if not for Cleveland.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching while wearing his age on his Jackie Robinson Day uni.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching while no longer remotely resembling the Bart 1.0 featured in all that footage SNY dug up from the end of the last century.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching well nineteen years past his major league debut.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching as a former Expo when there are no longer any active big leaguers answering to that description.
Bartolo Colon: still pitching well enough and long enough on a given Friday night to rack up a 219th lifetime win, or as many as Pedro Martinez collected in a Hall of Fame career, second only to Juan Marichal among Dominican-born pitchers.
Never mind that the collective WAR to come that Montreal gave up when it sent Lee, Phillips and Sizemore to Cleveland dwarfs Colon on even his shall we say biggest day. Colon is still having big days. And he’s having them for us.
Three other lingering thoughts from before I shut my eyes prior to Familia slamming the door:
1) Colon’s fellow 1990s Tribesman, Keith Hernandez, never sounds happier than when he tabs a player of tenure “a veteran,” which was how he pardoned De Aza running the Mets out of a seventh run, attempting to go first to home on Curtis Granderson’s single to right. He also never sounds more wistful than when he invokes the phrase “used to be”. The Gospel According to Keith implies baseball peaked when Bob Gibson was putting him in his rookie place, and it’s all been a steady decline, for the sport and the society that surrounds it, ever since. Friday night Keith blamed bloggers, Tweetsters, basically anybody who has lately expressed a Mets opinion without benefit of a newspaper column for raising Terry Collins’s hackles over bullpen use and perhaps overuse. The subtext was, in essence, you fans should really shut up and let the professionals take care of business. At times like these, it is helpful to remember a) some player turned analyst who was never as spectacular as Keith at either discipline probably put forth the same sorts of criticisms of modernity in Keith’s day, declaring that the current era (1974-1990 in Hernandez’s case) was a travesty compared to the way things used to be; and b) he’s Keith Hernandez.
Honestly, the second thing is all I have to keep in mind.
2) David Wright, who has worn 42 once a year for so many years that it looks almost normal on him, is having throwing problems that may never go away. One assumes this is stenosis’s doing, which is not just a shame for all the infield outs that will go unmade, but doubly vicious when you hark back to how hard he worked to stop making the routine throwing errors that plagued the early stages of his career. But man, as could be seen when Yan Gomes reached on an E-5 to start the bottom of the sixth, he does not look good slinging that ball across the diamond.
3) Curtis Granderson is The Man in so many ways. Nobody works harder at fan relations. Nobody sounds smoother conducting himself with the media. Nobody, based on the torrent of public relations email we receive, does more to promote baseball in his ostensible off hours. He even jacked his average up past .100 Friday night. But the long version of the Curtis Granderson Sock Day commercial is a narrative disaster.
In it, we see a mostly fully home-uniformed Curtis keeping loose by running barefoot sprints back and forth in front of the team clothes dryer. The time posted on the screen is 7:07 PM, the conceit being his socks better be dry soon because the game is about to start. Sure enough, Alex Anthony can be heard announcing that now leading off for the Mets is the right fielder, No. 3…and we watch Curtis grab his socks and dash toward the field.
It’s terrific to see the Mets get creative with these spots — the Syndergaarden Gnome is an instant classic — but instead of motivating me to be one of the first 15,000 through the gates on May 1 to pick up my pair of Curtis Granderson baseball socks, it has me wondering if anybody was manning right while Grandy’s socks dried. First pitch is 7:10 PM; first batter is the visiting team’s leadoff hitter. Given the setup, the top of the first is clearly at hand and therefore Curtis has to be in right. (I’ve already ruled out “all this occurs within a ghastly dystopian future where the designated hitter has been inflicted upon National League parks, all clubhouse staff has been let go and, oh yeah, Bryce Harper is forever 23 and therefore always getting better” as an explanation, for Anthony has already mentioned Granderson is playing right.) Unless a special arrangement was made to have the Mets wear their home uniforms and bring along Citi Field’s public address announcer to a road game, there is no way this otherwise admirable and amusing commercial makes a lick of sense in terms of story.
Well, it doesn’t.
A few notes to pass along regarding Amazin’ Again, my book on how the 2015 Mets brought the magic, not to mention a pennant, back to Queens.
1) For those who are kind enough to ask, yes, you can get a personally inscribed signed copy. It’s available via the Team Amazin’ store on eBay, which is run by my lovely sister, so why don’t you do the kid a favor and check the page out? I’ll write anything you like, other than an early surrender for 2016.
2) This Sunday night at 8:30 EDT, I’m scheduled to discuss my book with Bill Donohue on Sportstalk1240, a.k.a. Long Island’s own WGBB-AM, a station I grew up listening to for music in fourth grade and school closings in junior high (ninth grade was a very snowy year).
3) And speaking of Long Island, I will be speaking on Long Island next month, appearing at beautiful Turn of the Corkscrew in Rockville Centre, Monday night, May 16 at 7 PM. I’ll be mentioning this again down the road because I’m very excited to be part of the books-and-wine motif that the Corkscrew folks have created. I’m particularly delighted because a) I have often been asked when I, native son of the South Shore, might be doing a Long Island appearance; and b) not only is this a terrific venue, but it’s one that is actually near where I live. So come on out to my veritable backyard for a little food, a little drink and a lot of Mets (on a night when our team is conveniently off).