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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Haunting

The Mets were on YouTube Wednesday. I have no idea how that went, which is probably for the best, since that was a game crying out for some combination of Gary, Keith and Ron to provide perspective and perhaps solace, following the absurd bullshit of Tuesday night. The two factoids that will haunt me: The Mets had taken leads of six runs or more to the ninth inning 806 times in their history and been 806-0, and FanGraphs gave them a 99.3 percent chance of winning going to the ninth.

Yeah, both of those are gonna leave a mark.

I can’t complain about YouTube muscling out our regulars because I was finishing up moving my kid into his dorm room and then driving back to New York from north of Boston. I was done with dad duties a little after noon, so Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo were my company for most of the trip back to New York — and yes, sometimes a nine-inning game taking its sweet time actually can be a good thing.

Howie and Wayne’s broadcast was a haunted affair — I don’t think there was a half-inning that got assessed on its own merits, as most every baserunner and out came with a reference to Tuesday’s horror show. Which was entirely appropriate: An 806-1 shot coming disastrously home plays havoc with a pennant race, blows apart the foundations of fan expectations, and has to weigh heavily on a baseball team, whether or not it’s fighting for its postseason life.

Fanwise, I found myself in a place that was both strange and yet utterly logical. I listened to the first half of the game grimly and warily, deriving no joy from Zack Wheeler repeatedly dodging bullets, from Juan Lagares‘ surprise homer to tie the game, or from Robinson Cano‘s homer to give the Mets a two-run lead. Surely I was being maneuvered into position for another sock to the jaw, meaning it was vital for me to see it coming and be ready to yank my chin back. These were the Mets and they were going to betray me, and if I wasn’t braced for impact, that was on me. When it happened, I’d want to end the rental car’s journey at the bottom of Long Island Sound, but doing that would be both undignified and pathetic. Here lies Jason Fry, who was somehow surprised by a loss a day after his terrible baseball team blew a six-run lead in the ninth. I know, right? I mean, it’s sad and all, but he didn’t see that one coming?

As has so often been the case in this strange, maddening but rarely boring Mets season, it was Pete Alonso who made me cheer up a little and start listening to the game like it was just a goddamn game. Alonso’s fifth-inning homer was a line drive right down the left-field line, a trajectory initially baffling to Howie and Wayne, and forgivably so because what precedent is there for Pete Alonso? That was No. 45 for the Polar Bear, it gave the Mets a 4-1 lead, and it gave me permission to think that maybe, just maybe, this might not end horribly.

So of course the Mets ran up their lead to six runs (dun dun dun DUNNNNN) and put in one of their two dumpster-fire relievers. Edwin Diaz has gotten the majority of the scathing headlines, but Jeurys Familia‘s year has been equally terrible. Seriously, has any team gone into a season with two guys who were effective closers the previous season — not three or four years ago, an eternity in closer time, but the previous fucking season — only to watch both of them turn into Rich Rodriguez? Anyway, Familia was horrible, giving back half the Mets’ lead and almost causing me to rage out and abandon my car in Waterbury to spend the rest of my days under a bridge screaming at passers-by. (“Why does that angry man keep saying we’re all Armandos and out to get him?”) Luis Avilan cleaned up Familia’s mess, and then it was time for the Mets to figure out some way (any way) to get nine outs.

Seth Lugo got six of them, the consequences of which we won’t know until Friday, and then Justin Wilson was called upon for the final three, which of course had to be Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki, the AKA The Three Nationals of Recent Apocalypse. Wilson walked Suzuki (after making him belly-flop in the dirt, to my childish satisfaction) but retired Victor Robles and the Mets had won.

They won as I was nearing the Whitestone Bridge, leaving me groping for perspective. On the one hand, the Mets went 4-2 against the Phils and Nats, a scenario any of us would probably have taken a week ago. On the other, their two losses both came at the hands of their most radioactive relievers, a problem that isn’t getting solved until winter, and they’re running out of time to overtake the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Phillies and Cubs. The Cubs and Brewers will now play four games, and the Mets should probably root for the Brewers to sweep while they keep pace with them, and meanwhile hope that … you get the idea.

Tuesday’s debacle wasn’t Elimination Day, which is about math, but it was Execution Day, which is about belief. Before Tuesday, in my heart of hearts I insisted the Mets would somehow win through even though that was a secret hope I reserved for myself and wouldn’t admit publicly; now I don’t see a way they can do that.

Still, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Mets had been blown out a day after the horrors of that ninth inning, and I think I would have been more sad for them than angry at them. And that didn’t happen. Maybe it’s a baseball cliche, but they really are a resilient bunch. I’ve counted them out a number of times, and damned if they don’t keep getting up.

* * *

One nice storyline about the 2019 Mets did come to a sad end: Wilson Ramos‘s hitting streak ended at 26 games. But the Buffalo came within a whisper of extending it: In the ninth, Ramos fell behind 1-2 against Sean Doolittle, fouled off four balls and whacked the ninth pitch of the at-bat up the middle, only to watch Howie Kendrick flop on his belly to corral it and throw Ramos out by half a step.

It was a noble end for a pretty amazing accomplishment. Twenty-six games with a safety is quite something even if you’re a lithe shortstop who burns up the bases; Ramos goes around them like a man tasked with delivering a refrigerator to a fourth-floor walkup. That didn’t stop him; neither did having to keep the streak alive in four games where he didn’t start. Ramos has some deficiencies behind the plate — I wonder if Rene Rivera might help both Familia and Diaz — but after years of catchers as offensive black holes, his presence in the lineup has been a pleasure.

And while I’ll find a way to like most anybody who’s a reliable hitter (OK, maybe not you, Jeff Kent), Ramos goes about his business with a hint of ironic detachment, a glint in the eye and an angle at the corner of the mouth that’s more smirk than smile. You don’t get to be a 32-year-old catcher without having seen some shit, and Ramos carries himself like a man who knows baseball is glorious and wonderful but also cruel and unfair and so takes what comes, because that’s the only way a wise man can play this game and not have it drive him crazy.

Jordan Vu All Over Again

On a scale of 1 to 10, Tuesday night’s inarguably epic Mets defeat at Washington, in which for the first time in their history they gave up a ninth-inning lead of six runs to lose ASAP, was a Brian Jordan. The second Brian Jordan Game, to be exact, September 29, 2001, Mets leading the Braves, 5-1, heading to the bottom of the ninth at Turner Field, about to trim Atlanta’s lead to three games in the National League East with the series finale the next day and one more week to go in the exhilarating race to make something out of the big nothing that had been the 2001 season not to mention inject that particular autumn in New York with a shot of joy it could really use.

That’s all that was going on when Armando Benitez took the ball in a non-save situation after Al Leiter threw eight four-hit innings, his only blemish a third-inning solo home run to Julio Franco. Closers in non-save situations could be dicey — and Benitez was Benitez — but c’mon. The Mets were winning by four a game they had to win. The Mets had gotten to this weekend by winning 25 of 31 games. It was 25 of 32 after Steve Trachsel lost Friday night, but that was all right. The Mets were resilient (an irresistible metaphor for a New York team at that moment). Brian Jordan had engineered a briefly dispiriting defeat the previous Sunday at Shea: a homer off Benitez in the ninth as part of a three-run rally that tied what also seemed like a sure Mets win that had been started and steered expertly by Leiter for eight innings; and a homer in the eleventh off Jerrod Riggan that gave John Smoltz a lead to lock down. The season seemed all but over when the former NL Cy Young awardee, rejuvenated as an elite reliever, flied out pinch-hitter Mark Johnson to end a 5-4 momentum-squelching debacle.

Yet those Mets had been all about momentum, beginning on August 18, clear up to September 9, then — after a week when baseball wasn’t played because are you kidding? — somehow picking up all over again on September 17, even if baseball seemed incredibly unimportant. Seemed? Was. But the Mets played and the Mets won before the first Brian Jordan Game, September 23, and after the first Brian Jordan Game. They went to Montreal and swept the Expos, allowing them to arrive in Atlanta three games from first place, a week-and-a-half from conceivably forging a miracle that would take its place alongside 1969 and 1973, maybe above it. The Mets were winning for New York in September 2001. It still wasn’t important, but there they were, doing it. How could it not be important?

On Saturday, September 29, 2001, at Turner Field, which was well-established as “Turner Field” in the Met mindset, Benitez began the ninth by giving up a single to Andruw Jones. Jones took second on defensive indifference. Armando then struck out Ken Caminiti. True, Javy Lopez singled in Jones to make it 5-2, but Armando followed the RBI by striking out pinch-hitter Dave Martinez. Two outs, runner on first, three-run lead.

Keith Lockhart walked.

Marcus Giles doubled, scoring Lopez and Lockhart. It was 5-4.

Julio Franco was intentionally walked to set up a double play; Bobby Cox pinch-ran Jesse Garcia.

Bobby Valentine replaced Benitez with John Franco, the Mets closer from 1990 until an injury and Armando’s subsequent lights-out work nudged him to a setup role in the middle of 1999. Franco, as of September 29, 2001, had accumulated 422 major league saves, albeit only two of them that year.

Pinch-hitter Wes Helms walked on a full count to load the bases.

Jordan was up. Franco got two strikes on him. All it would take was one more strike to preserve the 5-4 win, move the Mets to within three games of first place with seven games to go, maybe send the Braves reeling and the Mets surging. Anything was possible.

Including, as it turned out, the second Brian Jordan Game, so named because Jordan belted Franco’s next and last pitch over the Turner Field wall for a grand slam, accounting for the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runs of the bottom of the ninth inning. The Braves only needed the first two, but they all crossed the plate. The Mets lost, 8-5.

And, like Diana Morales in A Chorus Line, I felt nothing. Nothing. It was as if a vital organ had been removed from inside of me. All that I had poured into being a Mets fan over the previous five seasons, dating back to the renaissance of 1997; through the replenishing successes that were laced with agonizing near-misses in 1998, 1999 and 2000; and this season when the Mets buried themselves early and often yet somehow emerged a legitimate September contender against the most horrible municipal backdrop imaginable, had all dissipated into a void.

We had won 25 of 33. We were four out with seven to play. We could still pick up a game on the Braves on Sunday. The Pirates and Expos, two very beatable teams, were due at Shea. Anything had been possible. Anything, technically, was still possible.

“But I felt nothing. Except the feeling that this bullshit was absurd.”

The Mets did indeed beat the Braves on Sunday, September 30, 2001, 9-6. It had been 9-3 in the eighth, but Brian Jordan swatted a three-run homer off Grant Roberts to close the gap. Armando Benitez, in his 73rd appearance of an incredibly long season, struck out the Atlanta side — Julio Franco looking, Keith Lockhart swinging, Dave Martinez swinging — to record his 43rd save, the most by any Met reliever until Jeurys Familia surpassed his record fifteen years later. It was the last time Benitez would pitch in 2001, the last time he’d come to the mound in a cap bearing the FDNY logo. Every Met paid homage to the first responders that way every game. Major League Baseball didn’t necessarily approve the gesture. The Mets didn’t care. Or the Mets cared too much for their city and those who gave their lives in an effort to rescue its citizens to bother heeding directives from MLB.

The caps and the thought behind them were hard to miss. You could get riled up at Benitez and John Franco (who was done pitching until 2003, thanks to impending Tommy John surgery) and all the other relievers who gave up home runs to Brian Jordan. You could fume that the Mets, as was regularly the case in the tumultuous Bobby V era, couldn’t beat the Braves when it really, really mattered. But you couldn’t stay mad at them.

When they returned to Shea, the Mets went quietly. They were eliminated by Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, October 2. They completed their appointed rounds against Montreal on Sunday afternoon, October 7. They finished the 2001 season 82-80, six games out with none to play. The same day they stopped playing baseball, America went to war in Afghanistan. On Thursday, September 20, one night before baseball would be played in New York for the first time since September 11, President Bush went before a joint session of Congress and signaled his intentions for taking on the terrorists behind the deadly attacks on four commercial airliners, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes,” Bush said. “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.” Eighteen years later, America’s military involvement in Afghanistan is not finished.

Bush’s speech was well-received. On the same Sunday that his words would be put into action — as the Mets were bowing to the Expos to close out their schedule — the New York Times Magazine ran a behind-the-scenes piece examining how the address came together. In “The Making of the Speech,” it was revealed that a quote from Franklin Roosevelt was suggested for inclusion: “We defend and we build a way of life, not for America alone, but for all mankind.” But it was discarded, according to those in the room because, “The president didn’t want to quote anyone else.” I found that choice curious, given the opportunity to draw a parallel between the challenges that faced the United States in World War II after Pearl Harbor created a global conflict the nation could no longer avoid and the current situation. Yet I also kind of saw what I hoped was Bush’s point beyond personal hubris: that not every current situation necessarily arrives equipped with an easily analogous precedent…and that every calamity and the challenges it presents is unique unto itself.

The 2019 Mets could have been construed as done on Thursday, August 29, when Jacob deGrom pitched effectively against the Chicago Cubs for six innings, only to surrender a three-run homer to the previously obscure Victor Caratini in the seventh. Caratini had reached deGrom for a home run earlier, a solo shot. The Mets, as they generally don’t, didn’t score for deGrom all night, save for a J.D. Davis dinger in the first. The three-run job was decisive. The Mets lost, 4-1, and we were swept three straight by the team they were ostensibly chasing for the second Wild Card in the National League. It was their sixth loss in a row overall, dropping them five games behind Chicago with three teams between them besides. “Good night, sweet Metsies”, I tweeted as Caratini’s second home run left the yard, carrying with it, I believed in my bones, our dwindling playoff hopes.

Yet the truth was our hopes hadn’t fully dwindled. Twenty-nine games remained. The Mets traveled to Philadelphia and took two of three from one of the teams directly in their Wild Card path. On Labor Day, they alighted in Washington and trounced the Nats, possessors of the first Wild Card and their likely foe in the Wild Card Game should the Mets make it that far. They had picked up a game on the Cubs since the previous Thursday. It wasn’t much, and they hadn’t passed anybody among the Phillies, Brewers or Diamondbacks, but September was young and twenty-five games remained as of Tuesday, September 3. Just keep winning, and the hopes that once appeared dwindled could just as easily reverse and grow.

DeGrom was starting again. Despite everything we say about the Mets inevitably finding a way not to take advantage of the presence of their defending Cy Young award-winner, you couldn’t have asked for a better chance. You also couldn’t have asked for a more implacable starting pitcher on the other end. The Nationals were going with Max Scherzer, who has a few Cy Youngs himself. Scherzer flashed the Cy Young form more convincingly, keeping the Mets hitless through three. DeGrom was in scuffle mode. Not struggling, but definitely scuffling, looking uncomfortable and allowing extra-base hits accurately described as ringing. A lesser pitcher would have melted. Jacob hung tough and kept the Mets within one run of Scherzer.

In the fourth, the Mets jumped on Max, first-pitch swinging and connecting. Pete Alonso singled. Michael Conforto singled. Wilson Ramos, hitting streak climbing to 26, doubled to tie the game. Brandon Nimmo needed four pitches to deliver a sac fly that put the Mets ahead. Joe Panik needed just one to crush his first Met homer and furnish deGrom with a 4-1 lead.

Jake hung in. Still not at his finest, but good enough. He produced a pair of double-play balls as needed. Kurt Suzuki reached him for an RBI single in the sixth, but that was it (tip of the cap to Matt Adams running the bases in a back-and-forth motion and therefore short-circuiting further damage). The Mets got through seven with a 4-2 lead, then increased it when Jeff McNeil homered off Roenis Elias to lead off the eighth. Ninety-five pitches of scuffling in, Mickey Callaway couldn’t have asked for a better transition to sufficiently rested Seth Lugo.

Instead, deGrom was sent out to start the eighth. I thought of Grady Little extending Pedro Martinez a bit too far in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, but precedent is neither exact nor everything. Jacob deGrom, like Pedro Martinez, is never the worst bet in the house.

Jake gave up a little ground ball to Anthony Rendon that Todd Frazier couldn’t wrap a hand around. It became an infield hit. There are worse things that Rendon can do. Juan Soto could do no worse than smash a two-run homer to bring the Nats to within 5-4. That’s exactly what he did on deGrom’s hundredth and final pitch. Out went the ace of our rotation, in came the ace of our bullpen. Seth needed ten pitches to create three popouts.

Machinations over who would pitch for the Mets quickly morphed into a state of superfluousness, because in the top of the ninth, the visitors battered those who pitched for the Nats. Elias was the victim of another leadoff homer, this one to the resuscitated Nimmo. After Panik singled, Davey Martinez — who was the Dave Martinez in the middle of the bottom of the ninth of the second Brian Jordan Game — brought in Daniel Hudson. The Mets proceeded to sail on Hudson. A wild pitch. An error. A walk. An incredibly baffling error of omission by Trea Turner who didn’t turn an easily turnable 6-4-3 double play, instead throwing to first with one out. McNeil responded by singling in two more runs and Alonso followed with his 44th home run of the season, the Polar Bear marking Nationals Park as his territory for the first time since the 2018 Futures Game. Heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Mets held a lead of 10-4.

In a parallel universe, we question the wisdom of Callaway wasting Lugo’s precious pitches with a six-run lead. Mickey won’t use Seth on consecutive days. He has to be careful with his de facto closer’s right shoulder. The six-run lead provided the skipper with an excuse for removing Lugo at once and returning him to his glass case. Still, this was September. These were important games. If the manager were tempted to stretch Lugo, this was the month to do it. A day game awaited Wednesday. It would sure be nice to have Seth available had he thrown just those ten pitches in the eighth inning Tuesday. But nailing down a win that isn’t yet won is also important. Could you really blame Callaway for keeping Lugo in with a six-run lead? So what if it was Mets 10 Nats 4? Three outs are three outs. Better to let Seth get them and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

That’s a helluva parallel universe. I don’t know how we get there other than in theory. In the only universe we’ve got, Mickey did, in fact, remove Seth Lugo with a six-run lead, entrusting it instead to Paul Sewald. Sewald had pitched well enough upon his latest promotion from Triple-A to earn trust. “Owns a 1.23 ERA (one earned run/7.1 innings) with a walk and 13 strikeouts over his last six appearances,” per the game notes the Mets communications staff e-mailed on Tuesday afternoon.

Sewald’s first batter was Victor Robles, who led off with an infield single. Pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick next sent a ball to deep right, but Conforto caught it for the first out. Turner, making amends for his botched DP in the top of the inning, hit one Conforto couldn’t catch. It went for a double that scored Robles to make it 10-5. No biggie, I figured. All it cost us was an easy CB radio joke.

Asdrubal Cabrera, who had greeted his former teammate deGrom in the first with one of those ringing doubles, came through off Sewald, too, singling Turner to third. Rendon, the heart of any order, beat Paul with a single to left, bringing in Trea. It was 10-6. It was time for Sewald to go.

Luis Avilán was called on for the express purpose of retiring Soto, who isn’t old enough to clearly remember Brian Jordan. Juan will turn 21 on Christmas Day. On Tuesday night, he stuffed his stocking with a single to right, loading the bases and ending Luis’s evening. The next batter for Washington would be Ryan Zimmerman, a part of their organization since shortly after it migrated from Montreal in 2005. He’d be facing Edwin Diaz, about whom I came to a swift decision: if he got out of this, I’d pretend to forget everything Edwin did wrong prior to getting out of this. Diaz blew saves left, right and center back when we still thought of Seth Lugo as one on his setup guys. But there’d been much talk about the erstwhile Seattle saver having gotten his slider back. Phil Regan worked with him diligently. DeGrom offered a valuable tip. During the Cubs series, in the rainy game when I had a very good look at him from behind home plate, I saw the Mariner monster I’d heard so much about last winter. He really did seem to have his act reconvened. Diaz was gonna be fine. This was gonna be fine. It was still Mets 10 Nats 6.

Except Zimmerman, David Wright’s good childhood friend (I wondered who the Captain was rooting for here if he was watching) doubled quite convincingly. Asdrubal scored. Anthony scored. Juan was on third. We see the Nats enough to be on a first-name basis with them. We were hoping to address them personally in early October in that Wild Card Game. That was a ways off, but at the very least, we had an appointment to try and sweep them Wednesday. That framework was in the bag at 10-4, good buddy. It still seemed reasonably certain at 10-6. But now it was 10-8, Nationals were on second and third and Suzuki was due up.

You know how you see one random player do one random thing in one random game and you never forget it and your impression of that player’s capabilities are forever more colored by that one random thing? I saw Kurt Suzuki homer off R.A. Dickey for the Oakland A’s at Citi Field on June 22, 2011. It was Suzuki’s only hit that night. He was batting .225 when the game was over, a game the Mets won in thirteen. Nevertheless, I became certain from there on out that Kurt Suzuki was put on this earth to kill the Mets. I seem to recall him doing so for the Braves the last couple of years. I seem to recall every Braves catcher since Javy Lopez doing so for the last couple of decades, actually, so I can’t say my impression fully meets reality. Kurt is a lifetime .244 hitter against the Mets.

That’s after last night. That’s after I thought, at the sight of him stepping in against Diaz, “Well, we’re screwed.” Which we were, because it’s also after Suzuki ended his eight-pitch, full-count at-bat by cranking Diaz’s last pitch into the left field grandstand for a three-run home run.

The Mets lost, 11-10. The score rang a bell. They’d lost 11-10 games six previous times, according to Baseball Reference. The first one was the one resonating in memory: Expos 11 Mets 10, April 8, 1969, the first game of the season fifty years ago, the first game the Expos ever played. Exactly five months later, Jerry Koosman would be knocking down Ron Santo and the Mets would be on the verge of taking first place from the Cubs, a feat they would accomplish two nights hence by sweeping the very same Expos in a twi-night doubleheader at Shea. In between April 8 and September 10 there was a black cat and plenty of time to make up for an 11-10 defeat.

This 11-10 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Expos once removed doesn’t have a lot of time on the other side of it. While the Mets were blowing the largest ninth-inning lead they’ve ever blown (after scoring five in the top of the ninth, no less), everybody they are chasing won, leaving the Mets five games back with twenty-four to go. Most post-Diaz games this year, the Mets have evinced an undisturbed attitude. Baseball, they explained in so many words, is one game after another, and you shake off the last game and go play the next game. It’s an attitude that’s served them well.

Some of the Mets said something like that Tuesday night, but not without implying this might be different. Brandon Nimmo, the heretofore happiest man in baseball, confessed, “It kind of seemed like a bad dream,” and for a change he wasn’t smiling.

Me, I felt nothing — except the feeling that this bullshit was absurd.

Execution Day (Is Not Today)

With the Mets in a pennant race again, I’ve been remembering all the little stresses that come with meaningful games in September.

Here’s one of them: Getting to within an hour or two of the game and thinking that this could be Execution Day — the day where, if they don’t win, you can pretty much write them off.

On Sunday, you probably heard if you didn’t see with your own eyes, the Mets flubbed a chance to move within three of the Cubs and half a game of the Phillies. The damage was lessened by the Cubs and Diamondbacks losing … if you discount the fact that another day was lost from the calendar, which is increasingly hard to do as September rolls along.

Anyway, the schedule dictated that Sunday night’s dispiriting loss and missed opportunity would be followed a day game in another city against a red-hot baseball team. That sounded like a recipe for another loss, and then the Mets would be facing Max Scherzer, and … well, yeah, maybe Monday was Execution Day, the day belief put its neck on the chopping block.

But baseball, as always, is a funny thing.

I wasn’t particularly surprised that Noah Syndergaard came out looking to put a hurt on some unfortunate enemy nine, as his implosion against the Cubs struck me as more lousy luck and bad defense than anything else. And, indeed, Syndergaard carved up the Nats. He gave up a leadoff single to Trea Turner, then retired the next 16, and ended with 90 pitches and seven spotless innings.

Meanwhile, the Mets ambushed Joe Ross — whose curveball looked positively vicious early — with contributions from up and down the lineup. J.D. Davis looked rejuvenated after an off-day in Philly, while Brandon Nimmo burned up 15 pitches in his first two ABs and then doubled on the first pitch he saw in his third appearance, which is pretty much the classic mix of Nimmoesque (Brandonian?) patience and aggression that we’ve missed all summer. Joe Panik and Rene Rivera had RBIs, and Jeff McNeil cracked a homer that he desperately needed for his own sanity. Seriously, McNeil grounded out to the pitcher to end the second, stranding two, and I was a little worried that he might implode into a neutron star of self-loathing.

Instead of two crushing losses in 18 hours, the Mets wiped the slate clean — or at least cleanish — with a laugher. That would make no sense in fiction, but in baseball it’s just a “well, of course,” because anyone who tries to outguess this sport will soon make a fool of himself or herself.

The rest of Labor Day’s wild-card machinations weren’t particularly Mets-friendly, as the Cubs, Phillies and Diamondbacks all won, meaning the Mets only made up ground on the Brewers. That’s another one of the stresses of being a team on the bubble in September — hoping the scoreboard will give you a triple-bank shot in the standings. And, of course, time claimed another of its daily victories.

Tomorrow the Mets send Jacob deGrom out to face Scherzer. Maybe events will conspire to make that feel like Execution Day. Or maybe it will be the day after that. Or maybe the Mets will keep avoiding that date, ducking the hangman while he’s busy elsewhere.

All we know is this, and it’s a good thing to know: Execution Day? It wasn’t today.

Silent Movie

Sometimes life — by which I mean, “that stuff scheduled around baseball games” — gets in the way.

First there was dinner, then a podcast interview. I moved what I could thanks to the kindness of other folks involved, but only so much movement was possible, and the Mets would have to take a back seat to non-baseball events.

Which was OK, because over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping tabs on what’s happening in that metaphorical back seat. At dinner, I had Gameday tucked between my knees, a little glowing rectangle of tidings from the baseball world. My kid was a beat ahead — I hadn’t known it, but it turns out At Bat notifications go out a second or two before Gameday. So I knew if Joshua grabbed for his phone (he’s still working on subtlety, but so was I at 16), it was time for me to put down my fork, scoot my shoulders back and peek down between my knees for an update.

We got back to my in-laws’ house with the Phillies up 2-1, which was worrisome but hardly seemed insurmountable. Except now I was scheduled to be interviewed for a Star Wars podcast. My answer: ESPN with the sound off.

I could follow what was going on, but I needed about two-thirds of my brain to respect my interviewers and talk Star Wars without sounding like a total idiot. Which seemed unfortunate but turned out to be a kindness, because it meant only one-third of my brain wound up freaking out at the Mets and Mickey Callaway.

I actually don’t have a problem with bunting with first and second and nobody out. Or at least I don’t think I do.

The Mets absolutely needed to score at least one run, and the base-out matrix tells you that the bunt slightly elevated their chances of scoring at least one. It’s not a big difference — an additional 6.6 percent — but it’s there, making the call statistically defensible. (Having a minimally competent position player bunt with none out and a runner on first, on the other hand, is not defensible — it actually decreases the odds of scoring at least one run.)

Yes, the Mets had just six outs left to burn and handed the Phils one of them for free. Yes, they were on the road, where conventional wisdom says you play for the win and not the tie. Yes, the base-out matrix also tells you that the bunt cuts the number of runs you’ll score on average in that situation. Yes, those are a fair number of yes-es. But even as someone often driven to frothing rage by bunting, I can squint and understand the decision: tie things up, hold the line, and take another shot at that beleaguered Phillies pen. (Incidentally, Gabe Kapler took Zach Eflin out after 84 pitches despite having given up only three hits, lest you think only our manager does odd things.)

Nor do I have a problem with resting J.D. Davis in the Sunday game, though I came to that conclusion reluctantly and it took me a little longer to get there. Davis looked a little heavy-legged to me in the first two games of the Philly series, and presumably he’ll now be in there for the Monday day game against the Nats.

Opting for Daniel Zamora against Bryce Harper, though? That one bugged me. Callaway said Justin Wilson was unavailable, but Wilson hadn’t thrown an unreasonable number of pitches over the last few games, and he’s a far better bet than Zamora to get the inning off to a clean start. Speaking more generally, it’s now September and the Mets are fighting for their postseason lives. If you’re going to push Wilson past his comfort zone, isn’t a 2-2 game where a win brings you to within three of the wild card the time to do that?

(But wait, Jace — didn’t you just have no objection to resting J.D.? Yeah, I did say that, didn’t I? Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have changed my mind again.)

Granted, the Mets could done any number of things to make that eighth inning a sideshow instead of the main event. They could have done more in a bandbox against Eflin, whose campaign hadn’t exactly been stellar so far. Brandon Nimmo could have thrown to the proper base as things unraveled. (Welcome back anyway, Brandon — our smilingest Met did work a seven-pitch walk.) Jeff McNeil could have delivered the hit we so often expect from him (and perhaps have come to take for granted). Jeurys Familia could have not walked the first batter he faced, as he’s done far too often, and could have thrown Scott Kingery something other than the same pitch he’d just thrown him in much the same location.

But still, throwing a brand-new callup with a mixed track record out there against Bryce Freaking Harper with everything on the line? Shit, Mickey, really?

As it was, the Cubs and Diamondbacks both lost, which limits the damage somewhat. But it’s another opportunity not seized and another day off the calendar, and all too soon that will be damage enough. Or maybe it already has been, and we just don’t know it yet.

The ’05 Model

Congratulations, fellow Mets fans, we did it. We made it to September and we still have standings to pore over (don’t “pour” over them; they’ll just get wet). On Sunday morning, September 1, the 2019 Mets are four games removed from a playoff spot with four weeks to go in the regular season. It’s four large games, considering the three they recently lost to the team in possession of that playoff spot, and there are a few too many competitors for comfort as we peer out across this final month, but it’s September and we’re in it. As we were reminded last couple of Septembers, that’s a baseball joy only intermittently accessible to the likes of us.

For the privilege of saying “four games out” this fine Sunday in New York, we can thank several Mets from a lovely Saturday in Philadelphia, none more so than Wilson Ramos, four-for-five, and now on a 24-game hitting streak. This would have tied the Mets’ single-season record had Moises Alou not shattered the standard set by Hubie Brooks in 1984 and matched by Mike Piazza in 1999 by hitting in 30 straight in 2007. I phrase it as awkwardly as I do because I find relatively few of a diehard bent join me in having any recollection that Moises Alou hit in 30 consecutive games as a New York Met. But he did. Moises was 41 and on practically his last legs — his last everything, really — but his bat was eternally young and inextinguishably hot. Alou may have invented the fire emoji. He may have invented fire. I tell ya, that guy was old.

The collective incognizance of Alou’s feat a scant dozen seasons after the fact probably has something to do with the circumstances in which he forged it. The date it began, August 23, 2007, the Mets were in first place by a sizable margin. The date it crested, September 26, 2007, they were barely hanging on. On the first night in a month that Moises took an ohfer, the Mets found themselves with unwanted Philadelphia company at the top of their division. The next night, the Mets found themselves in second place. Two days later, that, and not in the playoffs, is where the Mets’ season ended.

Rest assured, however, the Collapse of 2007, the tertiary details of which you may have reflexively repressed from your memory, would not have occurred had the Mets had a few more Alous in their employ that September. Moises slashed and burned at the rate of .403/.445/.588 over his thirty games of hitting without pause. His accumulation of age and his absorption of mileage made the heat his lumber generated all the more remarkable. Moises Alou was out much of 2007. He’d be out most of 2008 to the point of disappearing by the middle of June. He’d been plying his craft on behalf of nearly half the member clubs of the National League since 1990, which was longer ago in 2007 than 2007 is long ago in 2019. What I remember most about the hitting streak, beyond the fact that it happened; that it was impressive; and that it alone couldn’t stave off disaster, was that the new Met record-holder conveyed the sentiment that he wished it wasn’t necessary. When Kevin Burkhardt interviewed him about how well he was going, Moises didn’t resort to clichés about seeing the ball well or being happy to help the team. Practically gasping for breath, Alou admitted he was, in so many words, gassed from playing every single day. I could feel him eyeing the bench longingly and lovingly.

Assured rest seemed to be what Moises craved most. After Game 162, he and his teammates would be granted an offseason’s worth of it. After 135 games of 2019, Wilson Ramos and the rest of the Mets are still striving to play more than their scheduled allotment. Good for them. The untimely lull in their fortunes versus the Braves and Cubs that erased so much of their encouraging progress killed neither them nor their desire to keep going. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s made them stronger, yet for two games they’ve effectively outmuscled the Phillies, one of the several obstacles that stands in the way of their full recovery within those nice, dry standings we continue to pore over because we’re a part of them, too.

On Saturday, our spiritually indefatigable Metsies stuck it pretty good to the Charmless Brycemen of the Delaware Valley, prevailing, 6-3, on the strength of the many.

• On the aforementioned Buffalo at his Moisesiest.

• On five sound innings from Long Island’s Own Steven Matz, who hung in south of the 631 until LIOSM realized in the sixth that he was totally out of his area code.

• On “old friend” Jason Vargas, whom we may have unfriended when we traded him, yet he definitely did us a solid by being VERY VARGAS as the Phillie starter and reliable pin cushion (4+ IP, 9 H 3 BB, 1 HBP).

• On critical middle-innings relief work from a bullpen whose setup component no longer automatically connects at Citizens Bank Park to a bright red button marked IMPLODE.

• On Six-Out Seth Lugo, who lived up to the nickname Mickey Callaway and I are determined to pin on him.

• On a calm and stable two-RBI double from Joe Panik, who now and then proves more of a San Francisco treat than Rice-A-Roni.

• And on Todd Frazier, national spokesman for those presumed dead but aren’t yet. Todd followed his two-homer performance from Friday with three hits, two runs driven in and a leaping grab of a bases-load liner struck by Cesar Hernandez that could have completely changed the tenor of this column. Legendary Little League veteran that he is, Todd seems to respond positively to playing in the same state that encompasses Williamsport.

The Mets not only arrived in September 2019 reasonably vital, they fended off a trip back in time to another September that may ultimately be their destiny. When they were losing their sixth in a row this past week, I was convinced I knew where they were going.

They were going to 2005. The 2019 Mets were the 2005 Mets incarnate. They still may be. At this moment, they even have the same record as them: 69-66 after 135 games. It’s the same record achieved at this juncture by the Mets of 1971, 1976 and 2016, but the similarity I’ve sensed in the present is of a piece solely with 2005.

Two-Thousand Five is so long ago that Moises Alou was still in his thirties and only on his sixth team. It is so long ago that one of the San Francisco Giants who was playing alongside All-Star Moises Alou (.321/.400/.518 at age 39) was Edgardo Alfonzo. Alfonzo was in the third year of a four-year deal I still stubbornly resented the Mets not giving Fonzie, even though Fonzie was never quite the force with San Fran that he was in Flushing. On Friday, we hit the twenty-year anniversary of Fonzie’s 6-for-6, three-homer night in Houston, a milestone rightly celebrated and praised on SNY. With Edgardo ensconced as the Cyclones manager after serving as a Mets ambassador, it feels as much like Fonzie never left as it does Alou was never here, a sensation I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed in 2002 we’d ever glean again. Some Mets should never be out of the fold. Alphabetically and otherwise, that list begins with Alfonzo, even if it doesn’t wind its way through Alou. (Apologies to Agbayani, who oughta be up there, too.)

I digress, and that’s fine, because it’s Sunday morning going on Sunday afternoon and the Mets don’t play until Sunday night. The only good thing about the Mets playing Sunday night is I can write on Sunday morning and not be certain nobody will read what I wrote come 1:10 first pitch. So relax and keep reading. The larger point embedded in my digression is that in 2005, the Mets were not only 69-66 like they are in 2019, they alighted there in a disturbingly similar fashion. For most of 2005, the Mets didn’t much foreshadow 2019. The 2019 Mets were hopeless for months on end, then incandescent. The 2005 Mets were equal parts promising and frustrating. When I say “equal parts,” I’m being absolutely accurate. The 2005 Mets held a .500 record on 27 separate occasions, 25 of them in the first two-thirds of the season. Every time we thought they were ready to fade away, they took off. Every time we thought they were ready to take off, they stalled.

Then they got going enough to make us believe (oh, that word) that maybe they’d figured out how to win. The 2005 Mets grew so hot in late August that Moises Alou would have thought twice about touching them. These were the days of Mike Jacobs and Victor Diaz torching Bank One Ballpark so badly that the Diamondbacks had to rechristen it Chase Field; of Steve Trachsel emerging as a welcome sight from the disabled list and bolstering a starting reputation fronted by future Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine before the latter changed the spelling of his name; of emerging wunderkinder Jose Reyes and David Wright; of Cliff Floyd being such a hard act to follow that the Mets would two Novembers hence sign the one and only Moises Alou to follow him.

The Mets were doing really well. They got to eight games over .500. They took on the Phillies in a crucial Wild Card race matchup at Shea. Ramon Castro hit a dramatic home run. The Mets moved to within a half-game of “if the playoffs were to begin today” glory. Visions of a September to Remember™ danced in our heads.

Suddenly, the music stopped. After the Castro bomb detonated, the 2005 Mets commenced to fizzle, losing the last two games of that Phillies series and continuing to lose. They got to September in decent enough shape, but by the time the kids in Steven Matz’s neighborhood were grimly gathering at the bus stop for another year of school, the baseball season had gone shapeless. On September 8, the team that had been eight games over was a .500 enterprise again: 70-70 and trending both downward and backward. It began to feel a lot — A LOT — like the preceding Septembers. Septembers 2002, 2003 and 2004 were relentlessly depressing. So was September 2005. As of September 15, the Mets were 71-75, and nobody in these parts was any longer tracking the standings.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to cruelest oblivion. The 2005 Mets came back to life. Not enough to create the kind of ending that doesn’t require recounting fourteen Septembers hence, but rewarding in the moment. The Mets got their act together again and inflicted inconvenience on everybody they played. Pedro shut out the first-place Braves. Glavine, or the Manchurian Brave as he we used to call him before we settled on Gl@v!ne, tossed a complete game against his first and future ballclub. The Mets would beat the Marlins a couple of walkoffs when the Marlins were in their last weeks of behaving like a normal franchise and actually attempting to contend. The same Mets who dissipated shortly before Labor Day reached .500 at 77-77 and kept going. They even managed to thoroughly spoil the Phillies’ Wild Card aspirations — and the Phillies were just as annoying in 2005 as they’d be in 2007, if not yet as good at it.

It was a grand Metropolitan finish, a rise from the depths of 71-75 to a plateau of 83-79, the official record of so-so Mets teams, previously inscribed into the book of franchise life by the 1970 Mets and 1971 Mets, the epitome of so-so Mets teams. Those were the teams that cemented my Mets fandom following 1969, so I was fine with so-so. I thought 83-79, after 71-75, after 68-60, was splendid.

More splendid was what happened after 2005 — 2006 happened. I don’t know that there was an absolutely inarguable throughline from finishing strong after falling apart in 2005 to the blazing start that never cooled in 2006, but in 2006 I thought so. Changes for the better would be made during the winter in between, but to me, the 2006 Mets were the 2005 Mets enhanced, the 2005 Mets matured. To me, the 2005 Mets, once their loftiest goals proved unreachable, were a dress rehearsal for the 2006 Mets. To me, despite the notoriety associated with a certain NLCS Game Seven, the 2006 Mets are the best Mets I’ve seen since taking up blogging…which is something we did here in 2005, which might be why that swoon and subsequent resuscitation stay with me so vividly.

It may not be September 2005 in September 2019. It could be a superior September, a September that establishes a precedent we invoke in a far sunnier context in some later September. I’d prefer the downward and backward trending inherent in losing 19 of 22 between August 27 and September 15 be completely avoided. I’d prefer to keep poring over the standings for more than historical reference purposes. After these last two games in Philly, I’ve stopped giving up until further notice.

But if all the September 2019 Mets can do is point me toward next year the way September 2005 did…well, fellow Mets fans, rest assured, I will take it.

Only Mostly Dead

When is taking an 11-1 lead to the ninth inning not a laugher?

The answer isn’t “when you give the ball to Chris Mazza and wind up wondering if he can get three outs before the other guys score 10,” though Friday night’s game felt that way for a fidgety spell. No, the answer is when that 11-1 score masks the fact that the game was 1-0 Phils going to the seventh and then tied going to the eighth, before the Mets put up five spots in the last two innings, with Todd Frazier connecting for three-run homers in each.

Call it an exhaler, maybe.

Much of Friday night’s game was a taut pitcher’s duel between Zack Wheeler, armed with a high, riding fastball, and Aaron Nola, armed with an evil change-up. Both used those key pitches to great effect. Wheeler was scratched for a run in the fifth, when J.T. Realmuto hit a bloop that Michael Conforto skidded on his belly to catch, with the annoyingly competent Adam Haseley just beating his desperate heave home. After a spell of by now familiar frustration, the Mets countered in the seventh, when Wilson Ramos came off the bench with the bases loaded and one out and smacked a liner over the head of Cesar Hernandez at second. (That’s a 23-game hitting streak for the Buffalo, made even more impressive by the fact that he’s kept it alive by collecting hits in four games that he didn’t start.)

Wheeler is impressive when he has all the pitches in his formidable arsenal in hand, but that goes without saying. He was even more impressive Friday night because he had to battle, stranding leadoff runners in the first, third, and sixth.

The same fate awaited Justin Wilson, who entered a 1-1 game in the seventh and promptly surrendered a single to Corey Dickerson. But Wilson went to work, fanning Realmuto and coaxing a double-play ball from Bryce Harper. (Harper had the kind of night that can make even young fans feel grumpy and old, striking out twice and hitting into a double play before collecting an RBI double off Mazza while everyone in the Mets dugout was studiously averting their eyes.) In the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, Amed Rosario — who’d missed a hanging curve from Nola an inning earlier — walloped a Mike Morin slider up the middle for two runs. Frazier was next, and connected with a Jared Hughes sinker for a low line drive over the left-field fence.

That sound you heard from a decent-sized minority in Citizens Bank Park and from a fair number of couches in the tri-state area was the whoops and yells of a fan base that could finally exhale after a week of hopes that curdled into frustration and despair.

It felt like an echo of a night that’s somehow become 20 years ago. In September 1999, the Mets dropped seven in a row, one of those awful stretches in which your favorite team has seemingly forgotten how to play baseball. Into Shea came the Braves and Greg Maddux, looking to extinguish the Mets’ hopes. Emily and Greg and I were in the park, so tight with anxiety that we could barely cheer. The Mets trailed 2-1 in the fourth, because of course they did, and then came an avalanche of unthinkables: Darryl Hamilton single, Roger Cedeno single, Rey Ordonez single, Al Leiter bloop single (yes really — and it tied the game too), Rickey Henderson two-run single, Edgardo Alfonzo single. Now it was 4-2, the bases were loaded, and we were howling — but the game was still tight and nothing had gone right for a week, leaving us still worried and begging for release. Then John Olerud hit an 0-1 pitch over the fence for a grand slam, popping the cork on a week’s worth of emotions and unleashing bedlam, pandemonium and about a million stored-up furies.

That Mets team went on to play in October, fighting bravely until the last in an amazing though ultimately agonizing NLCS. This team’s fate is uncertain, but it faces a hard road. With the Cubs and Diamondbacks both winning, the Mets’ rewards were scant for a Friday night well spent: They drew even with the Brewers and to within two of the Phillies, remaining five out of that second wild card.

But such are the perils of squandering opportunities as time dwindles. However hard the road, the Mets won and let us all exhale. And maybe start to believe again, just a little. (Did you see J.D. Davis‘s great throw to the plate? Didn’t Edwin Diaz look like his old self?)

Why not? After all, this is a franchise that’s known a fairy tale or two. Remember The Princess Bride? Westley gets killed, but his friends bring his body to a healer (played by annoying mercenary Billy Crystal, but never mind that for a moment), who proclaims that Westley’s only mostly dead. All dead, he explains, means there’s nothing that can be done, but mostly dead is slightly alive.

Mostly dead is slightly alive. Maybe that doesn’t scream out to be a t-shirt slogan, but when you’re five out on the eve of September you take what you can get, and see what tomorrow might bring.

They All Hurt

On the way out to Citi Field Thursday night, I tweeted that this was the Helm’s Deep of the Mets’ 2019 season. For those unfamiliar with The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep is the redoubt to which the hard-pressed warriors of Rohan retreat, fortifying it and making a last stand against the forces of evil.

I also tweeted that my choice of metaphor meant Jacob deGrom was Aragorn, and that I was pretty good with that.

Well, tonight’s Two Towers remake was a bleak snuff film when we all needed a soaring epic adventure. Helm’s Deep has been overrun, orcs are rampaging across the land, and the heroes are being led away in chains. The Mets have lost six in a row and fallen five games back of the second wild card. Playoffs? The team is a skinny game over .500, not exactly a breeding ground for postseason fever.

The game started heroically enough, with J.D. Davis demolishing a Jon Lester cutter. We were sitting in the Promenade in fair territory, a vantage point from which left field and most of center are but rumors, but Davis’s drive had a significant-looking trajectory even from above, and the cheers from sections better favored by Citi Field’s architects told us the happy news we had suspected. But Victor Caratini — subbing for Anthony Rizzo — hit a high slider into Soda Corner just a few minutes later to tie the game, and then returned five innings later to hit essentially the same pitch over the same fence, except this time there were two Cubs on base.

That, for all intents and purposes, was the ballgame and most likely the season.

It was a strange game throughout. DeGrom looked dominant for most of the game — he didn’t need to pitch from the stretch until the seventh — only to be felled by two lightning bolts from a backup player. Lester, meanwhile, was battling traffic the entire time, but wound up only surrendering the solo shot to Davis. Things felt off-kilter in the stands too — there were far too many Cubs fans for anyone’s liking, making the kind of joyful noise you make when your team has a chance to sweep, while we Mets rooters were radiating wariness at the beginning and despair at the end. Caratini’s second homer was one of those moments where you can feel the air get sucked out of a crowd, a collective gut shot that leaves 20,000-odd people flattened and silent.

On the subway, my kid gamely worked on constructing scenarios where all was not lost and the Mets have a run to October in them after all. And you know what? He might be right. (And even if he’s not, hope is free.) But the Mets’ situation is not what it was six games ago. Before those six games, they just needed to play well to have a real chance at playing a 163rd game. Now, they need to play well and get help — not just a little help, but a fair amount of it, and in the right combinations. Meanwhile, their list of adversaries has grown to include not just the four teams that need to be caught, but also time — and at this point in the season, time reduces your elimination number each and every night.

The story of 2019 isn’t over yet, but in all likelihood it will come down to a week at the end of August, and a high-flying team that lost its wings. But even if it’s so, I’ll remember this team fondly, from the post-All-Star rocket ride where they were nightly miracle workers to all the young players who made big strides. I’ll still grin like a fool watching Pete Alonso highlights and J.D. Davis’s goofy machismo, and nod approvingly at Jeff McNeil hitting everything in sight and Michael Conforto‘s unexpected shirtless interview and the Mets bench making zoologically inaccurate buffalo horns for Wilson Ramos. All those things happened, and being there to see them was a delight. Watching the team thud back to Earth with five weeks to go has not been a delight, to put it mildly, but it doesn’t erase any of the joy that preceded it.

Heading back across Queens on the 7 train, I was sad in a way baseball hasn’t made me feel in quite a while, hanging on the straphangers’ rail with my head bowed, thinking about chances lost and what might have been. But the vast majority of baseball seasons end with a night that’s sad. Sometimes that night comes in late October, when you barf up a World Series on muffed grounders and sentimental managing and ill-advised quick pitches. Sometimes it all falls apart in late September, for the second straight year with the same lowly team playing the role of assassin. Those sad nights leave a mark — oh, they most definitely do. But sometimes that sad night comes in June, when you realize everything is not, in fact, going to work out the way you persuaded yourself was at least vaguely possible in March. And sometimes it’s something in between those extremes, with a complicated feeling to match.

The point is that they all hurt, and that hurt is part of the game. That sugar high you get from a pinch-me reverse-gravity ninth-inning comeback or the improbable victory you stayed for when the rest of the section left? That rush wouldn’t be anywhere near as sweet without the grinding lows of fifth innings that take half an hour and 10-2 losses that never felt that close. And those very occasional trophies hoisted amid arcs of Champagne and plastic sheeting over lockers? They’d be cheap without all the seasons that ended in silent and somber clubhouses, however much you wanted the story to end differently.

Rainy Night in Flushing

First, it rained. Of course it rained. It wouldn’t have been a rainy Wednesday night without the rain. Rain delayed the start of the Mets-Cubs game twelve minutes, which was fine, because my pal Rob texted me that he was stuck in traffic and hence wasn’t going to meet me by the Apple as arranged in time for us to see first pitch. It’s been the summer of first pitches missed. Five weeks ago, my pal Matt was stuck in traffic and we missed the entire first inning. For someone who has never driven to Citi Field, I certainly find myself affected by pregame traffic. That hot day in July, the Mets scored four runs off San Diego while Matt snaked his way into the parking lot, and nobody scored during the eight innings of the resulting Mets 4-0 win while we were present. A seven-game winning streak ensued, followed by a loss, followed by eight more wins in a row. Missing that first inning versus the Padres was what you call a pleasant problem.

The twelve-minute delay wasn’t long enough to ward off the Cubs, apparently. I say “apparently” because I’m not certain of all the details of the first inning in Flushing Wednesday night. Rob showed up with the game in progress. We hoofed it ASAP to the Seaver entrance, a privilege afforded by our uncommonly swanky tickets. Rob was impressed with the accommodations. “I usually go in the Gl@v!ne entrance,” he noted.

Rob had no idea how prescient he was.

Once inside the Seaver entrance, we grabbed a glance of a monitor. The Cubs had already scored a run off Noah Syndergaard and had a couple of runners on. While we lined up for the elevator, we noticed the score was suddenly 2-0, Cubs. Then we realized lining up for an elevator was a fool’s errand when all we needed was a staircase for the one flight up to the seats our uncommonly swanky tickets afforded us. The decision to climb was also facilitated by some Seaver entrance patron who had barked at me when he thought I was trying to cut his precious elevator line when, in fact, I had no idea New Yorkers waited on (or in) line for an elevator and I thought we were all bunching up like normal people. “Screw this guy,” I more or less said, “let’s take the stairs.”

Rob suggested that when we beat this guy upstairs by taking the stairs, we should wait where he’d be getting off the elevator and make it clear we made it up there first despite the order he imposed on his spiffy queue. But that wasn’t our mission. We had seats to sit in and a game to catch up to. It would take some doing to understand what we were missing, because right about the time a few Cubs fans graciously stood long enough to permit passage into our row, it was becoming 4-0. Later encounters with those Cubs fans would indicate they weren’t the most gracious sorts. Perhaps they were standing to applaud their team. I still wasn’t sure what exactly was taking place on the field, except that it wasn’t good.

Seated, Rob and I got our bearings. Great seats, thanks to another pal, Brian, who had furnished us with these tickets. Brian and Mitch were inside enjoying a quick first-inning dinner without the agita of what we were digesting in front of us: the Cubs extending their top-of-the-first inning lead to 6-0, runner after runner, run upon run. By the time all four of us were together in the tenth row from home plate, basically directly behind home plate (seriously swanky), the reality of the situation set in: we had all filtered in via the Gl@v!ne entrance.

Seven runs in the top of the first twelve years ago as a season’s fate died on the vine. Rob brought it up when it hit 6-0. Brian brought it up when he and Mitch sat down. The worst beginning to any Mets game ever invoked twice, independently, in a span of maybe two minutes. Infamy was in the air. Also, rain. That dainty delay of twelve minutes would seem inadequate as Morton’s Salt signed a sponsorship deal for the innings to come. “When it rains, it pours.” I pulled from my security-imposed tote bag my trusty blue SiriusXM disposable poncho. It was handed to me on Mets Plaza prior to the Home Opener in 2011. I never disposed of it. It dries quite nicely. It got quite a workout during the summer of 2015 and we won a pennant. It got quite a workout Wednesday night as it began to hit me in full that we probably won’t win another this year.

Say, I still haven’t mentioned how exactly the Mets fell behind, 6-0, in the first, or, for that matter, 8-1 in the second or 10-1 in the third. I never really absorbed that top of the first. My poncho absorbed rain better than I absorbed normally pertinent details. The tops of the second and third, I can definitively report, seemed to involve hard-hit balls and plays not made and, in the literal middle of the wet field, Syndergaard. Still pitching, eh? Even Willie Randolph knew enough to take out T#m Gl@v!ne on September 30, 2007, after Gl@v!ne was down, 5-0, with the bases loaded one-third of an inning into Shea Stadium’s longest afternoon. Jorge Sosa would come in and give up two more runs in the first. They’d be charged to Gl@v!ne. Good. It wasn’t like we were ever gonna see that guy in our uniform again.

Syndergaard we’ll be seeing in a few days. Gotta care for and feed the sometimes delicate ecosystem that is Thor. Noah can dominate a game like nobody else. He can also pitch into the teeth of a struggle. He’s never 10 runs in 3 innings bad. Nobody is. Yet he was. Mickey left him in there to find himself at various intervals when there seemed good reason to remove him. I say “seemed” because the first inning was a rumor to me and the second and third were rainy blurs.

Still, this may have been the first recorded case of Mets fans asking one another, “What’s the matter with Callaway leaving Syndergaard in and not going to his bullpen sooner?” Oh, that Mets bullpen! When its first representative appeared in the person of Paul Sewald (0-13 lifetime, but let’s not mention that every time he pokes his head into the action, though that’s exactly what I do), I was just relieved that Noah was being relieved. Per Bob Murphy’s always useful instructions, I fastened my seatbelt for further Cubbie onslaught.

It never came. We received two highly competent innings from a heretofore inept pitcher, aided mightily by the outstanding defensive center fielder Juan Lagares, who a) should be stationed in center every single game and b) never bat if at all possible. Lagares led off the fifth and grounded out to keep the game 10-1. Then the Mets promotions people descended en masse from the mists of my always active memory to hand out a passel of bumper stickers left over from 1983, the ones that read, “NOW THE FUN STARTS.”

Yes! Fun! It was 10-1, I was all wet, I was silently composing today’s column about how the Mets’ improbable charge at a 2019 Wild Card died on the moist grass of Citi Field this sodden Wednesday night (prospective headline: “Requiem for a Contender”)…and Fun! Upper-case that bad boy! Exclamation point! That’s how much Fun! we were in for.

Todd Frazier pinch-hit for Sewald. Todd Frazier is from Toms River and is known as the Toddfather. Those facts were handy to an enthusiastic fellow in the row behind us who repeatedly blurted out (reblurted?) whatever one or two things he knew about any given Met over and over again as he urged each and every one of them to “GET A BASE KNOCK!” Dude also knew his baseball slang. But, hey, that’s OK, because we’re not at a baseball game to be silent, to stew, to invoke T#m Gl@v!ne, to self-appoint ourselves captain of the elevator line, to not stand to let somebody into your row (go back to Joliet, you dullards). We’re at a ballgame to tell the “TODDFATHER!” to “DO IT FOR TOMS RIVER!”

Frazier did as he was told, bopping a Kyle Hendricks 86 MPH sinker off the top of the left field wall, where it struck the orange line. I know it was an 86 MPH sinker because it’s amazing the things you can look up the day after the game. The orange line thing was more mysterious. The Toddfather landed at second with a double. Brian wanted to know why it wasn’t a homer, given the orange line’s role in its destination. Isn’t the orange line there to denote a home run? Perhaps, I pondered, but then how is it Dave Augustine’s ball off the top of the wall on September 20, 1973 (no orange line in those days, but same basic spot), wasn’t ruled a home run? Instead, as every schoolchild in the Metropolitan Area recounted at the bus stop the next morning, it popped into Cleon Jones’s glove, Jones relayed it to Garrett and Garrett zipped it to Ron Hodges, and Richie Zisk, no match in a foot race for Wilson Ramos, was out at the plate.

Four innings after we all fished Gl@v!ne out of our shared Mets fan experience, we were square inside You Gotta Believe territory. Isn’t being a Mets fan baseball like it oughta be?

Mickey Callaway saw Frazier’s double as Brian did. He challenged the call so that it could be converted into a home run. Somebody in Chelsea watched multiple angles and said, “nah, Augustine,” or something like that. Frazier was on second.

Then he was across the plate because Jeff McNeil homered directly after him. J.D. Davis homered directly after McNeil. The rest of the fifth inning would encompass a single from Michael Conforto, an inadvertent plunking of Ramos (hitting streak already up to 21), an RBI single from Joe Panik, Joe Maddon’s seen-enough dismissal of Hendricks despite a large lead and a decision within one out’s reach (because winning the game is the thing in late August, Mickey) and an Amed Rosario single that drove in deceptively swift Ramos.

Holy fudge, the Mets, so recently hopeless at 10-1, were back in the game at 10-6 and shoving hope in our eager faces. It was only the fifth inning, but what a fifth inning. This was a fifth inning you could shake off your poncho during and luxuriate in. This was the second half of the Mets season writ microcosmically — the good part, the part when the Mets won seven in a row, fifteen of sixteen, twenty-one of twenty-six. Not the part where we were swept by the Braves, lost Tuesday night to the Cubs, and trailed Chicago by nine to prematurely entomb Wednesday.

The guy behind us kept yelling encouraging messages at the Mets and unflattering descriptions of each Cub. The Cubs fans nearby wore punims that meshed nicely with their blue jerseys. Baserunner after baserunner emerged for the home team. Maddon and his lieutenants trudged to the mound so often that they used up every visit the silly rule governing such temperature-takings allotted them. Sewald’s successors were every bit as effective as Sewald, which sounds like a terrible insult, but I swear I mean it as a compliment. Brad Brach, Edwin Diaz (three swinging strikeouts!!!), Luis Avilán…each was awesome, each kept the Cubs from coming close to scoring ever again. Rainy, depressing Wednesday had morphed into a zesty evening brimming with vim and vigor. You never would have guessed the Mets were once down, 10-1. You might have guessed the Mets were going to win, 11-10.

The actual answer amid all those guesses was the Mets lost, 10-7. So many baserunners, so few key base knocks after the fifth. The fifth became the sixth through ninth. One run on five hits, two walks and a Cubs error. The very guy you wanted up in any inning always seemed to be left standing in the on-deck circle. With two out in the ninth, McNeil (3-for-5 and in possession of the National League’s highest batting average) indeed stood nearby as Frazier flied out to end the game. At least the Cubs and their fans, having hung on for dear life, didn’t seem to revel in their victory. All hail scant consolation!

It was fun there for a while, yet the same four-game deficit that loomed when Syndergaard departed was now set in stone. The same Wild Card bid looked more improbable than it had at any time since that golden 21-5 stretch got snarled in traffic out on the Whitestone Expressway. Lose this game, I thought throughout the dreary afternoon, and we’re about done. Well, we lost it. But we’re not done, I don’t think. I mean, yeah, maybe we are, but I don’t think it. Not after that fifth inning. Not after making up most of that margin. Not with deGrom going tonight. Not with Gl@vine leaving the psychic premises so soon and Zisk getting thrown out at the plate seeming relevant. Brian judged this game we had sat and soaked through among the Mets’ most stinging ever. “Not even in our bottom thousand,” I countered.

Did I mention deGrom is going tonight and if we win we can move back to within three of the lead for the second Wild Card? Once you dry off, you really do gotta believe at least a little.

Parts Fulfilling, Sum Inadequate

Pete Alonso’s team record-setting 42nd home run.
Wilson Ramos’s 20th consecutive game with a base hit.
Chris Mazza’s stirrups and how he gets them.

Weave those three uplifting elements into a broader story about a hypothetical magnificent Mets win achieved amid a sizzling Mets playoff chase and you’ve got some late-August iconography for the ages. Isolate them from the actual dispiriting Mets loss in which they we witnessed them, and what you’re left with are three uplifting elements in search of a better mood.

Lest we be overtaken by sullenness, how about a huzzah for Pete? Forty-two huzzahs, to be exact. Fifty-eight seasons of Mets baseball, and we saw something Tuesday night that never crossed our path during the first fifty-seven. Like just about all of Pete’s previous 41 home runs, No. 42, when struck in the fourth inning, was enormous in form and impact. It shot out to right-center like a comet; it crashed into a barrier a couple of planets from home plate; it shoved a couple of fellas of genuine Met renown a respectful notch downward in our statistical annals; and it pushed the Mets ahead of the Cubs, 1-0.

The tingle associated with Alonso surpassing Todd Hundley’s 1996 and Carlos Beltran’s 2006 totals was tangible but, in the scheme of 2019 things, inevitably transient. Marcus Stroman, who pitches brilliantly within innings without pitching many brilliant innings, gave back the lead in the fifth via a double to Victor Caratini — a ball Juan Lagares might have nabbed in midair but center fielder du jour Michael Conforto couldn’t quite track down — and an immediately subsequent two-run home run to Addison Russell. As if to emphasize this was no lone blemish, Stroman allowed another pair of runs the same way in the sixth: a double to Kris Bryant, then a homer to Javy Baez. Marcus has been far more invigorating presence than Jason Vargas ever was, yet barely a whit more effective.

Yu Darvish, meanwhile, went largely unbothered by the Alonso-free portion of the Met lineup the rest of the evening. There was a Conforto leadoff triple in the second that echoed one Daniel Murphy walloped versus the Cubs in during September 2008’s doomed pennant quest in that Murphy never advanced from third, either. There was Ramos producing a pair of singles, chugging along with the longest in-season hitting streak by a Met since Moises Alou dedicated practically his last breaths to warding off the Collapse of 2007 and hit in 30 in a row. But nobody drove in Ramos either time he reached base. For SNY viewers, there was a delightful tidbit reported by Steve Gelbs regarding Mazza’s handsome orange-and-blue striped socks and stirrups, which the journeyman ordered off Amazon because, as a journeyman, he doesn’t believe he can count on any given team’s clubhouse man to provide him just the look he likes.

Whether Mazza (2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) pitching in the eighth inning of a mustish-win game that was still close was a look we cottoned to was another matter. The Mets entered Tuesday night two games behind the Cubs for the Second Wild Card lead. The opportunity to make up serious ground was at hand. Maybe it didn’t matter that Mickey Callaway opted for the …and the rest section of Gilligan’s Bullpen, given that Darvish was mostly impervious to Met attack. Still, it was kind of a weird spot for Mazza’s admirably outfitted ankles to make an appearance

Because these Mets are these Mets, they exhibited a modicum of fight in the ninth inning. J.D. Davis homered off Brandon Kintzler, and you got your hopes up for a half-a-sec, but by then, there were two out and the Mets were down by three and never mind. Cubs 5 Mets 2; margin 3 GB. Alonso’s record, Ramos’s streak, Mazza’s socks and the small favors inherent in losses by the Phillies and Brewers would have to do for feelgood filler in a series opener that, if not a punch to the gut, served as an elbow to the ribs.

Enough with the painful Met-aphors. Enough with the painful Met losses. Win on Wednesday.

Burn After Losing

If MLB plans to sell gameworn home team apparel from this past weekend’s Mets-Braves series at Citi Field, it had better come in an urn. There should be nothing but ashes left from those ghastly ghostly getups that we never need see again. They weren’t pleasant to squint at as you tried to figure who was warming up in the bullpen and goodness knows — save for a home run here and there — few pleasant associations are to be derived from the sight of them.

As for the third and hopefully final game in which those uniforms were modeled, I’m far more mellow on the substance than I am the style. This is not an upvote for getting swept, but Sunday’s affair struck me as just one of those things. Sometimes you wind up in a pitchers’ duel and half of that time you’re likely to wind up on the short end of it. It’s happened to Mets teams en route to fantastic finishes just as it’s happened to Mets teams going nowhere. It’s happened and it happens.

Dallas Keuchel stymied the Mets completely. Steven Matz did the same to the Braves, except for a high fly to left that carried. Had Josh Donaldson not sussed out a jet stream that allowed his second-inning would-be putout to clear a wall, LIOSM would have been home free until a blister ended his day. Still, he had a splendid outing: six innings, one hit that wasn’t Donaldson’s dinger, and a sense that if Steven’s the lesser link in our rotation, our rotation must be pretty good.

Keuchel, though, gave up no balls that traveled as far Donaldson’s. Lots of ground balls “tailor-made” for double plays, as Keith Hernandez kept emphasizing. Nobody saw fit to sign Keuchel for the longest time when he sat untouched on the free agent market, yet the Braves were eventually smart enough to grab not only the pitcher but his tailor.

Matzie left the game down, 1-0. Paul Sewald entered the game and instantly doubled the deficit. Donaldson again. This time there was no rationalizing the ball’s flight. It was the kind of bomb some people think you could aim at a hurricane to make it go away. The Bringer of Rain is probably capable of climate change on his own, provided a Met pitcher is on his radar. Donaldson has hit nine home runs against the Mets this year. That’s practically Stargell-level harassment.

Despite making it 2-0 as soon as he showed his face, Paulie wasn’t abysmal. He hasn’t been in his umpteenth return from Triple-A. Who knows, maybe he’ll be the Mets righty who comes up from the minors, finds his form for more than five minutes and makes a positive impact in that pesky bullpen of ours. Why not dream big?

The bottom of the ninth represented a bit of a revelation from my perspective. In this year of the home run, I’ve been as prone as anyone to fall in love with the mere idea of one big swing being all we need. It’s a very tempting proposition. Those 41 the Polar Bear has pounded have been plenty fun. So have the two we’ve witnessed from Jacob deGrom. Nothing wrong with a Mets home run, right? Only problem is they are not conjured just because we want them to be. For thirty-one consecutive innings versus Atlanta, I wanted them to be. We got only two. Now, in the ninth inning on Sunday, I found myself a mantra.

“Baserunner.” I just kept saying it with every new batter, every few pitches. I didn’t ask Pete Alonso to go unconscionably deep. Get on, I asked. Be a baserunner. And Pete responded affirmatively, doubling off Mark Melancon.

“Baserunner.” I tried it again, this time with Michael Conforto. The suggestion wasn’t as well received, as Forto grounded out. But J.D. Davis (who earlier hit a Donaldson-like fly to left that didn’t travel suitably far) was on board. He singled to center, sending Alonso to third.

“Baserunner.” Todd Frazier — the Toddfather — was not an unalloyed success but proved useful in the overall quest of the ninth inning, which was tying the game. Frazier grounded into a fielder’s choice that offed J.D. at second, but also got Pete across the plate. We were still down, but not by as much. At 2-1, with Frazier on first, you could see a happy ending as easily as you could see the names on the back of the ivory jerseys. It took some doing, but I swear you could do it.

“Baserunner.” Wilson Ramos, who had been given a little R&R with René Rivera back in town, pinch-hit for Juan Lagares. Ramos was on an 18-game hitting streak. Tough to ask him to maintain it by coming in cold in the ninth. Tougher to ask him to keep awake a game that had slept the afternoon away. But what’s tougher than a Buffalo? Wilson singled. Todd was on second.

“Baserunner.” Due up next was the starting catcher Rivera, whose second Mets tenure commenced once Tomás Nido went to the concussion IL, but Mickey Callaway opted for Joe Panik as pinch-hitter. Panik or no Panik, calm and cool is what I was determined to remain, sticking with my mantra. Don’t be a hero, Joe. Just get on base.

Panik was neither a hero nor a baserunner. He grounded out to end the threat, the game, the series and the unfortunate sweep. Oh well. Couldn’t do anything about the first two games by Sunday and Sunday’s game, we’ve established, was just one of those things. Still, I liked the ninth-inning rally. It seemed to encompass the right idea. Or maybe I thought I had the right idea and decided I’d project. Whichever. The Mets just lost three games to the Braves and are pretty much unharmed (if not much aided) in their pursuit of the Wild Card. They’re two behind the Cubs, who were swept by Washington, and we’ve got those very same Cubs coming to Citi Field, where normally we don’t get swept and usually we wear sharp-looking duds.

So let’s look sharp, get some baserunners, drive them in and win the next game we play. Surely the Mets are aware of what they should do. I’m just here for the helpful reminders.