You don’t see too many games like we saw Friday night at Coors Field, and — as the Irish Rovers could tell you — you’re never gonna see no unicorn. But if you see the Mets win by a score you’ve never seen them win by before and there’s no telling if or when you’ll ever see them win by it again, well, lads and lassies, I believe we can call that a Unicorn Score.
To be clear, let’s define our term.
Unicorn Score: a score by which the Mets win once and never again. There are scores by which the Mets have lost once and never again (26-7 springs immediately to mind from June 11, 1985), but we’re not worried about those right now and will leave those unnamed. This is all about the Mets winning. As we’ve learned this season, the Mets winning is a much more embraceable topic than the Mets losing.
We’ll take the Mets winning by any score we can get it, of course. With immense help from Baseball Reference, we know the Mets have won 286 regular-season and three postseason games by a score of 3-2, the most common tally of triumph in franchise history. As you’d expect from baseball in general and this team specifically, when they win, they win without a lot of runs being scattered about. The next-most common path to prevailing is by 2-1: 240 in the regular season, three times post. Then it’s 4-3, 4-2, 5-4…you know, baseball scores.
Shutouts are a little less regular. We haven’t seen a 1-0 win this year, but there have been 128 overall, the last of them coming courtesy of Zack Wheeler in Miami on June 19, 2014. You’re about as likely to get a 3-0 win as you are one by a final of 5-1 or 6-2 or 6-3. The Mets have won games by those fairly mundane numbers just a bit less than a hundred times each.
It begins to get a bit more unorthodox as the run totals commence to piling up. For example, the Mets have won 7-3 seventy times, none more recently than August 16, 2014. A 6-0 whitewashing has occurred to the good 57 times, though the last of them transpired September 26, 2012 (David Wright set the Met career record for base hits).
Pot luck kicks in when offenses heat up. There have been 35 wins by 8-7, for example; only a half-dozen 11-7 wins; and 33 rather random 9-3 victories. Some scores are definitely infrequent and seemingly out of fashion. The Mets have won five 13-2 games but not one in the past fifteen years. They’ve been waiting for their tenth 12-4 win since 2007. Their last 13-3 Happy Recap was their seventh, but it came when Bob Murphy was still on call, in 2000.
On June 28, 2011, the Mets pounded the Tigers, 14-3, marking the last time a Unicorn Score was removed from the books, for it was the second time the Mets had won by 14-3. Call it a Uniclone, perhaps. If it’s happened more than once, it can’t be a Unicorn Score.
There are now 23 Unicorn Scores in Mets history. There were 22 until Mets 14 Rockies 9 on August 21, 2015. Think about it: the Mets are in their 54th year and have won 4,103 games in the regular season along with 43 in the postseason and it took them this long to register a 14-9 victory. How is that possible?
How is it possible that some people think they’ve seen a unicorn? Sometimes you don’t ask why, and you go with the legend.
Make no mistake: the games attached to some of these scores are the stuff of legend.
• 19-1. If you’ve been even a modestly attentive student of Mets lore, you’ll recognize that as the score by which your beloved Amazins crushed the woebegone Cubs on May 26, 1964, which was the breeding ground for the most oft-repeated possibly apocryphal tale in team history. Guy calls newspaper; guy asks how Mets did today; guy is told Mets scored 19 runs; guy asks “did they win?”
• 16-13. Fireworks Night. Atlanta. Nineteen innings. The Fourth and Fifth of July. 1985. Need we say more?
• 11-10. You know that doubleheader in which Robin Ventura belted a grand slam in each game? You know that first game SNY shows now and then as a Mets Classic? That’s the final score from May 20, 1999.
Other Unicorn Scores may not ring instant bells, but several of their games are intrinsic to Mets history. Take the 15-5 victory over St. Louis from October 3, 1964. That was the Saturday after the Friday when the Mets beat the Cardinals, 1-0, just as the Cardinals were on the verge of clinching the National League flag. Suddenly the lowly Mets were clipping the wings of those soaring Redbirds, allowing Cincy and Philly a last gasp at tying for first. Eventually, Bob Gibson restored order, but oh how that 15-5 Unicorn gave ol’ St. Louie a scare. It was the first time the Mets injected themselves into a pennant race, even if it was just as prospective spoiler.
Or maybe you’re aware the most runs the Mets ever scored in a given game was 23, on August 16, 1987 (the day of the so-called Harmonic Convergence, appropriately enough), at Chicago. You think there’s been another 23-10 game in Mets history? There hasn’t. That total broke the previous record, accomplished in a 20-6 thumping of the Braves at Atlanta on August 7, 1971. It was also the only 20-6 thumping the Mets ever issued.
The first Unicorn Score, ergo the oldest, surviving Unicorn Score is 13-12, achieved in the second game of the May 12, 1963 doubleheader at the Polo Grounds against the Reds. Duke Snider blasted a three-run homer, Hot Rod Kanehl absorbed a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and Tracy Stallard pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out rookie second baseman Pete Rose, who had reached base four times in the game. It was the 54th win in franchise history, meaning the Mets have won more than 4,000 games since, yet none of them by a 13-12 final.
You never know when you’re gonna see one of those Unicorns and you never know when you’re never gonna see it again.
Given that these Unicorns have a mind of their own, it’s little wonder that whole eras will pass without a single sighting. Between 1964 and 1985, there was only one. Between 1992 and 1999, there were none. Yet since 1999, we’ve had thirteen, a veritable Unicorn stampede. The last before the night Yoenis Cespedes went satisfyingly deep three times occurred on May 13, 2014, the 12-7 smackdown of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, during the series when Curtis Granderson remembered how to hit. That was the fourth consecutive Interleague Unicorn, following the 16-5 shellacking of chilly Minnesota on April 12, 2013, and veritable home-and-home hat-handings to Detroit (16-9 at Comerica Park on June 29, 2011; and 14-6 at Citi Field on June 22, 2010).
Shea’s last Unicorn Score was a 13-10 slugging of the pre-hype Nationals, on September 10, 2008, which sounds about right for those bullpen-deprived Mets days. Dodger Stadium, like Shea, forever carries a reputation as a pitcher’s park, but tell that to July 19, 2007, when the Mets loved L.A. by an unprecedented and since unmatched 13-9 score. New York staked starter T#m Gl@vine to leads of 6-0 and 9-4, but the future Hall of Famer couldn’t make it out of the third. Bartolo Colon, who couldn’t make it out of fourth in Denver, at least had the excuse of pitching in infamously thin air. Aaron Sele, who almost never pitched when the Mets weren’t losing, was credited with the win Gl@vine was incapable of capturing eight years ago.
Mike Pelfrey’s debut appeared amid a big, strapping Unicorn Score of 17-3 over the Marlins during the nightcap of the July 8, 2006, doubleheader. Eight days later (7/16/2006), the Mets anagrammed that score, taking their only 13-7 win ever, again over the Cubs, again at Wrigley, this time by scoring eleven runs in an inning for also the only time in their history. Less than a year earlier (8/24/2005), with Mike Jacobs in his finest fettle, the Mets mashed the Diamondbacks into Diamondbits, 18-4.
You never saw that again. Or all that much of Mike Jacobs.
Unicorn Scores disprove assumptions. For example, “Bobby Bonilla never did a bleepity-bleep thing as a Met” is disproved by the 15-1 proceedings of June 6, 1992, a Saturday night at Pittsburgh when Bonilla stuck it to his old team by going 4-for-4 and driving in four runs. Unicorn Scores have also been shown to make Mets teams dangerously giddy. The Mets posted their one and only 15-11 victory at Philadelphia on June 16, 1989. So carried away were they that the next day they swapped Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to those very same Phillies for Juan Samuel.
You can’t say the Mets never won a 19-8 decision — they did, once, over the Cubs on June 12, 1990. Dave Magadan drove in six runs and, ultimately, Mike Marshall out of the organization.
You can’t say the Mets never high-fived voluminously after delivering a 13-1 thrashing — they did, once, against the Cardinals, on September 7, 1989. Reliever Julio Machado made his debut, backing his first batter, Tom Pagnozzi, off the plate right away, despite entering the ninth with a twelve-run lead. The “Iguana Man” might have had more of a taste for blood than could’ve been imagined.
You can’t say there’s no 15-8 throttling in the Mets’ portfolio — there is, one, throttled upon those historically hapless Cubs, on April 23, 2000. Five Unicorns have bitten the Cubs hard over the years, though this was the only episode in which they got chomped on in New York, thus no alibis about the wind blowing out will be accepted.
And you can say the Mets beat somebody, 13-5. They did it to the Cards on August 3, 2003. Unlike most of the action I’ve described above, I have no particular recollection of this game, nor has it ever jumped out of the archives in my research. But it really does exist. Tony Clark homered twice and drove in five; Jason Phillips and Cliff Floyd chipped in three hits apiece; and Jeremy Griffiths picked up on his one and only major league win…in the one and only 13-5 game his team ever won.
It doesn’t get much Unicornier than that.
I’m not sure what game the Mets and Rockies were playing out there in Denver, but it sure didn’t look much like baseball.
“Playing pinball,” Keith Hernandez blurted on a night he seemed alternately entertained and horrified by the bloodletting down there on the field. That’s pretty close, I suppose. Still, whatever the game was, I’m glad the Mets won it — even if they had to sandwich mini-laughers around a near-death experience to do so.
I mean, my goodness. Twenty-three runs on 29 hits. Sixteen of those hits were for extra bases. Eight of them were home runs. There was no full inning without scoring by one team or the other. There were just three 1-2-3 innings — Christian Bergman in the top of the fifth, Sean Gilmartin in the bottom of the sixth, and Jeurys Familia to end the game. All three of them should receive miniature Cy Young awards. If you took your eyes off the action for a minute you’d turn around to see outfielders chasing a ball up the gap or a pitcher turning away in disgust. It wasn’t safe out there for anyone paid to throw a baseball in anger.
The apex predator to worry about was Yoenis Cespedes, who’s probably thinking that Coors Field might be a pretty good place to set up shop next year. After his second-inning grand slam off the luckless Jon Gray, I asked Twitter how one says “throw that weak-ass shit again, meat” in Spanish. (If you’re curious, I’m told it’s Tirela Otra vez y come mierda, which roughly translates as “pull again and eat shit.” Definitely the spirit.)
Cespedes wasn’t done — he’d crack two more home runs, resulting in the curious stat that the generally underpowered Mets are the first team since the ’11 Brewers to have three different guys hit three home runs in one game. (Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are your other ’15 fence-busters.) With Cespedes rather terrifyingly locked in, it seemed entirely possible that he might become the first Met (and 17th player in big-league history) to hit four. In the top of the eighth Cespedes poked a single through the right side against Tommy Kahnle (pronounced KAIN-lee, for some reason), making him 5-for-5. He came up again in the ninth with a chance to a) hit that fourth home run; b) tie Edgardo Alfonzo with a 6-for-6 night; or c) stroke a triple for the Mets’ 11th cycle. Unfortunately the outcome was d) watch the ball just get intercepted by Carlos Gonzalez‘s glove, because CarGo hates fun.
It was a good night to be a pitcher; not so much to be a pitcher. Poor Bartolo Colon looked like an infantryman sent out to clear mines even before he threw his first pitch; a flyball pitcher and this particular night was not a kindly combination. Colon was excused after 3 2/3 rather terrible innings and being hit by a pitch that made his forearm look like someone had inflated a water balloon beneath the skin.
The heroics of Cespedes and his supporting cast (including Michael Conforto, who hit the most impressive homer of the night) somewhat obscured the fact that the Mets managed give up a six-run lead. It was 8-7 when Gilmartin arrived to try to clean up Colon’s mess and should arguably have been worse than it wound up. In the fifth Gilmartin gave up a single, followed by a game-tying triple. He struck out Brooks Barnes, but pinch-hitter Kyle Parker hit a medium-depth to Curtis Granderson, who has a shallow-depth arm. Say what you will about Granderson, but he makes the most of his abilities: He Granderson positioned himself perfectly and put everything he had behind a one-hop throw to Travis d’Arnaud, but the ball took an odd bounce and Nick Hundley gave d’Arnaud a neat little deke as he slid into home, with one leg coming forward and one pulling back and a hand emerging from the windmilling legs to snatch at the plate. D’Arnaud tagged something, at some point, and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in New York while Schrodinger’s Mets were half-on and half-off the field, the out was confirmed as such.
Was it so? Well … they said it was, didn’t they? Let’s leave it at that. They said it was, and so it was the Mets’ turn to blast away at the paddles and plungers and hope nothing flashed tilt so that someone unplugged the machine and sent everybody home to do something more productive. It wasn’t elegant, but we ended the night with the high score. Hell, you could look it up, even if you’ll barely believe it.
For whatever reason, that game had loss written all over it the moment Jonathan Schoop hit Noah Syndergaard‘s worst pitch of the night over the fence. The Mets kept whacking away at the Orioles, but Syndergaard was gone (nearly 100 pitches on a soppingly hot night) and the bullpen was doing bullpen things, and you knew there were teeth out there in the darkness somewhere.
I didn’t think the fatal blow would be a 365-foot homer tucked neatly over the left-field fence by a guy who’d never hit one in the big leagues before, but that’s for the coroner to note. The Mets were beaten, and a couple of hours later so were the Rockies. You can’t complain too vociferously when losing four of five only means a game off your lead, but ouch — the Nationals in our rearview mirror are now 20% closer than they were last time we checked.
Syndergaard’s evening was an interesting one. If the Mets were scuffling along at .500 and fighting the Braves for scraps, I suspect I’d wax lyrical about bumps in the road and lessons learned by young pitchers, like I did last time but more somberly. Syndergaard struggled through the first, survived it somehow, then seemed to find some extra ticks and movement on the fastball and locate the release point on the curve. Then he was untouchable for a long stretch, with Schoop in particular looking pitiably helpless against the curve.
“Noah could throw that pitch all night,” I told my wife, “and that guy would never hit it.”
Which was true. But by “that pitch” I meant the breaking ball that darted sideways across the plate, away from a right-handed hitter, and dove out of the strike zone. Not that same breaking ball fired from the wrong release point and with no break, so it hung like an autumn moon on Schoop’s hands for a long terrible moment before becoming a souvenir.
Ouch, like I said above.
An August pennant race means there are no moral victories, no sage commentary about the future of young pitchers. There’s just a loss coupled with an enemy win, and however much profanity you need to add to that.
But let’s talk about what’s probably really worrying you. How about the fact that our bullpen has given up 13 earned runs in the last 18 1/3 innings? That’s … not good.
Here’s the key question: Is that the sign of a decent bullpen having a bad stretch, or a bad one showing its true face? In other words, is the glass half-empty or GODDAMNIT THERE’S A CRACK IN IT AND IT’S HALF-EMPTY BECAUSE THE WATER’S RUNNING OUT AND WHAT’S THE USE IF YOU NEED ME I’LL BE SULKING IN THE GARAGE. <DOOR SLAMS>
Relief pitchers, just like lineups, have stretches where all the individual pitchers can do no wrong and stretches when they can’t get out of their own way. The Mets are possibly just dealing with one of the latter periods. In which case I feel at least cautiously optimistic that they’ll come out of it — that we’ll get better things from Hansel Robles, and less scary shakiness from Jeurys Familia, and continued decency from Tyler Clippard, plus maybe Sean Gilmartin getting more responsibility and doing OK with it, and some help from new faces such as Logan Verrett and Erik Goeddel. (If you want to be mad at someone, once again, be mad at Jenrry Mejia, whose astonishing idiocy kicked over a whole line of dominoes.)
The numbers so far this year would back up that optimism — the Mets’ pen’s been pretty solid.
But on the other hand, maybe the Mets’ pen isn’t that good, and those numbers indicate we’ve seen the best of it, and the next five weeks will be a painful regression to the mean. I’ve seen that scenario too — it was called 2008, and it sucked.
Positivity, right? We’re still playing with house money, and there’s a soft schedule ahead, and an off-day tomorrow, which the Mets could use. Except, well, I just caught myself thinking that the Mets could sure use Monday’s off-day.
Buckle up. Whatever happens, it’ll make sense when it’s done.
Instead of settling an old score, the Orioles wound up losing by it to the Mets all over again.
O’s, say, they could see. The O’s could see the first-place Mets coming. It was more twilight’s last gleaming than dawn’s early light, considering the overcast skies and 46-minute precautionary delay before a single pitch was thrown Tuesday night, but once a second pitch was thrown, the Mets led Baltimore in Baltimore, 1-0. Curtis Granderson’s seventh leadoff home run of 2015 had seen to that.
Baltimore had seen worse. Baltimore had been seeing worse since September of 1814, when the British attacked and the Americans defended and Francis Scott Key was inspired. Baltimore hung in there those nights. The town withstood 5,000 enemy troops and a royal bombardment. Surely a solo blast cheered by an invading 7 Line Army wasn’t necessarily cause for calamitous concern.
But modern-day Baltimore might never have anticipated anything so perilous as the pitching of Jacob deGrom, whose broad slider and bright fastball will take the fight out of any batting battalion. Backed by another Grandersonian rocket aimed squarely over Camden Yards’s ramparts — and aided by Jonathan Schoop’s less than gleaming defense — deGrom gallantly streamed to a 3-1 lead through seven-and-two-thirds innings, his ERA descending to the nearly unheard of depths of 1.98.
Jacob’s commander proceeded to nervously remove him from the Interleague fight, much to the Mets’ potential peril (Brigadier General Collins certainly drew my red glare). Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia each gave signs of bursting in air, but with the bullpen having been buttressed by another couple of runs in the top of the ninth, the scoreboard gave proof that our lead was still there.
In the end, the Mets defeated the Orioles, 5-3, the same glorious score by which the same combatants completed the final battle of their War of 1969. Oh, say, that championship banner did yet wave o’er the land of the Shea, where the Mets had ten days earlier secured a flag at home from the Braves. A new one so proudly we’d hail might wave somewhere nearby soon, but one baseball skirmish at a time.
History doesn’t always repeat itself, but sometimes it provides a damn fine echo.
Hard to fathom that baseball grapples with a pace-of-game problem when a season that you could swear just started is almost three-quarters over.
It goes quickly, doesn’t it? There are 44 games remaining in this one, not counting anything that gets added on for good behavior. You know it was a veritable five minutes ago that we were counting down the days until Pitchers & Catchers, then the hours until Opening Day. By the end of this week, 75% of that same season for which we waited forever and a day to commence will have been crossed off the pocket schedule
This is a familiar August lament. Summer’s too short. Back to school ads (even for those of us decades removed from the looseleaf binder and pencil case demographic) beckon unbelievably quickly. Fall previews are churning out as we speak. It’s as predictable as it is sickening.
Yet let’s not kid ourselves, no matter our certainty that baseball and life whoosh too briskly by. It gets long out there. It’s a season that goes six months and 162 games and it tends to squeeze every drop of motion and emotion out of its contents.
As evidence, I present the first 118 games of the 2015 campaign.
• Opening Day. Mets win. They haven’t lost, ergo they can never lose.
• The first loss. Well, there goes the magic carpet ride.
• The third game, a.k.a. the first Harvey Day. Harvey’s back! Harvey’s unbeatable! We’re unbeatable!
• Two days later, two losses in the books. Groan, groan, groan.
• Eleven games later, the Mets literally can’t lose. How many World Series tickets should I order?
• Strangely enough, the Mets can lose and often do. Their eleven-game winning streak is snapped and their brand of unbeatable ball reverts to distressingly ordinary for a spell. Not much of a season, huh?
• We kicked the Phillies’ ass! We were swept by the Cubs! We scored ten runs in one inning versus the Brewers! We split with the big, bad Cardinals! We were swept by the Pirates! We swept the Phillies! We’re good! We’re bad! We’re…what are we?
• For a while we can’t hit, except when we can. We pitch like crazy, but what good is that if we can’t hit like professionals? Have you seen these lineups we’re trotting out? And now we can’t win at all. We’ve just lost seven in a row…DOOM!
• We swept the Reds. WE’RE BACK!
• We were swept by the Cubs. AGAIN.
• Oh crap, we have to go to California and play the Dodgers and Giants and that’s gonna be the end of us…hey, we won four out of six and THEN came home and swept the Diamondbacks. Maybe we’re not so bad!
• What a gauntlet after the All-Star break. Lose two in St. Louis, then win a really long game in St. Louis, but because it dragged so interminably, it didn’t really feel like much of a win, so we can’t count it as such. Then our all-or-nothing showdown in Washington, where Harvey (whatever happened to him?) gets lit up early and we split the first two and blow the third, and then it’s home to play Los Angeles and it will be more of the same.
• Until it’s not and we make some moves and we throttle the Dodgers one night and we come back against the Dodgers the next day and we shut down San Diego and everything’s great…except we lose to San Diego and ultimately inaccurate rumors swirl and the press is awkwardly briefed and we look ridiculous and we lose another to the Padres in embarrassing fashion, and what was going to be a good season is rapidly swirling down the drain unless that no-account GM of ours makes another move.
• That no-account GM of ours makes an astounding move just in time for another all-or-nothing showdown with Washington, and this one is real and it’s spectacular and there’s no stopping us, mostly, until the Pirates come to town and beat us two close ones and pull away in the third one, despite the gritty efforts of that Harvey fellow, who’s totally back.
All of these sea changes have occurred in the course of the very same baseball season. The Mets have led their division by as many as 4½ and they have trailed their division’s leader by as many as 4½. Strengths have been weaknesses and weaknesses have been strengths and foes thought formidable have proved flimsy and those we’ve wished to immediately dismiss have revived themselves nicely — same as us when we’ve considered ourselves practical goners.
A long season encompasses so much baseball and, with it, a surfeit of temporary permanents. Sunday the Mets gave little indication they’re a first-place club, but they remain a first-place club. As recently as Thursday they appeared invincible. As recently as Saturday they appeared comparable to the National League elites. It’s Monday and we’re hoping they can pull themselves together when next they play on Tuesday.
This is normal, this is natural, this is the way we are. Maybe the only hitch in our mood swing is that we don’t realize it. Seasons encompass twists, turns, spinouts and straightaways. You’re sure you’ve figured it out only to realize it eludes comprehension because there are 162 opportunities capable of completely baffling you.
The Mets, though, are a first-place club. They do lead the presumed mighty Nationals by 4½ games. The Nationals looked D.O.A. in April and resembled a lock by the Fourth of July. They are, as we speak, the hollowest of logs, the paperest of tigers. The Giants swept them like the Pirates swept us, except the Nats were barely present for their series, whereas the Mets didn’t mentally head for the exits this weekend until the vengeful Citi Field tarp briefly covered the infield with distressingly awful juju.
What I think we’ve seen, after 118 games, is that we root for a pretty good team capable of playing some very good ball, but also prone to exposing its flaws, which isn’t a crime, because flaws are inherent in both baseball players and human beings. Their primary rival is one enormous flaw wrapped like a rubber band around a wad of counterfeit hundred-dollar bills. We could’ve sworn the Nationals were legal tender. Maybe they still will be. It’s a long season for them, too.
In the meantime, the Mets could use a little tightening. Get Duda back, because Cespedes without Duda isn’t much better than Duda without Cespedes (and we saw how well that worked for four months). Get Wright back, because Uribe is a helluva fill-in but a little too irregular to be a regular at this stage of his career. Leave Parnell’s name off the travel manifest to Baltimore and beyond if at all possible. One hopes they minimize the flawfulness that’s going to arise in the course of 44 games and maximize the skill sets that set up them up pretty darn nicely across 118 games.
The first-place Mets are a reality. The division champion Mets can be a reality. But there’s still a long way to go.
- A night after making solid contact but coming up short, Michael Conforto showed why he merits all the excitement, mashing a rising line drive off Charlie Morton that hissed over the fence above the Mo’s Zone. (Not sure it’s still called that; quite sure I don’t care.) That tied the game at 3 and allowed the Mets and Pirates to play on into the night. On and on and on into the night.
- Yoenis Cespedes uncorking an unbelievable throw from the deep outfield to nail a thoroughly startled Sean Rodriguez at third. If you missed it, don’t worry — you’ll be seeing it on highlight reels for a long time.
- The Mets’ bullpen gamely holding the fort while waiting for the offense to reappear, with Carlos Torres, Tyler Clippard, Jeurys Familia, Hansel Robles combining for six scoreless innings, followed by one by Sean Gilmartin (and one that, alas, was not scoreless).
- Jon Niese recovering from an early bout of Nieseness to pitch effectively, as he’s done for months now.
- The Giants continuing to whup the Nationals, who fell to .500 with their loss in San Francisco. Yes, the Mets have missed a chance to put even more space between themselves and the Nats these last two nights. But the Nats have lost something even more precious at this point in the season: time to fix whatever it is that’s ailing them.
- Morton being even more effective than Niese, mixing a bowling-ball sinker with a darting curve and sending Met after Met departing home plate disconsolately.
- Gilmartin finally crumbling in the 14th, with an anti-assist to the Mets’ defense, plus a side of bad luck. Gilmartin’s been useful this year — certainly worth a Rule 5 pick — but that was unfortunate.
- Niese falling into old bad habits I’d persuaded myself he’d grown out of. Yes, the pitch Bob Davidson called ball four on Andrew McCutchen in the first should have been strike three and the end of the inning. But Niese then flipped in a nothing, call-this-a-ball fastball to Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez, not one to examine the dental work of the equine prize presented to him, walloped Niese’s pitch over the fence. It’s not fair to say it was the difference in the game, but it is fair to say that Niese lost his cool, his focus and a chance to escape the inning unscored on.
- Davidson’s wandering, approximately rectangular strike zone. Niese wasn’t the only one upset with him. Multiple players had reason to be.
- Whatever the hell Daniel Murphy thought he was doing in the 14th. Murph is an alternately entertaining and exasperating avatar of chaos, but not even he can rewrite the law of physics.
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By all means debate, cite evidence/strong feelings and take issue with each other’s points. But don’t make it personal. We don’t do that here. We’re all Mets fans and can disagree while being friendly.
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After I got home and watched the replay, Michael Conforto’s one-on, two-out, ninth-inning drive to left-center proved ordinary. It was a deep fly ball but quite catchable, and sure enough Andrew McCutchen caught it to send Friday’s Mets-Pirates game to the tenth inning, knotted at one.
From Row 21 of Section 109, however, it looked perfect. Too perfect, in retrospect. Who wouldn’t want the Mets’ top draft pick of 2014 to deliver a signature blow and add another chapter to 2015’s improbable first-place story? And if you happened to be monitoring the flight of the ball alongside somebody who was wearing a recently purchased CONFORTO 30 t-shirt…somebody who had a few hours earlier posed for a picture with his shirt’s namesake…c’mon, who could ask for anything more?
So we — that would be me and Citi Field goodwill ambassador Skid (who swears he never wears shirts with players names normally, but on impulse he bought the rookie’s) and Mike, who’s visiting Skid from California — asked for simply that. We asked for Michael Conforto, in his fifteenth major league game and his second pinch-hitting appearance, to provide the proverbial storybook ending. The ball he hit appeared standsbound off the bat. We wished it and we hoped it toward the Party City Deck. We wanted it to be a gala ball.
But it wasn’t. It was an out. The rule about not always getting what you want held, just like the 1-1 score, at least until the tenth. Then Bobby Parnell came apart, which led to Pittsburgh taking a 3-1 lead that withstood a mild Met rally and resulted in a 3-2 defeat for the home team.
Which was an aggravating if not crying shame (save your tears for September devastations, if necessary). This was one of those games that sat there for the taking all night, yet it got left on the table. Once it sunk in that it was no longer within Metropolitan grasp, that instead the Pirates snatched it, absconded with it and ferried it into their clubhouse for their own nefarious purposes, the bastards, this game officially became the most frustrating loss in modern Citi Field history. Modern Citi Field history only dates back to the last Nationals series, so you might also say it was the only loss in modern Citi Field history.
I’ve seen the Mets lose in distressing fashion at Citi Field before, but what were the consequences prior to this year, exactly? That instead of languishing in fourth place, they’d languish slightly deeper in fourth place? Even horrible losses registered as late as July 30 of this year — like the one Jeurys Familia enabled between rain delays on that very date — tended to be suffered on their own demerits.
But now we’re in the Met Games Matter portion of Citi Field’s life. All Met games matter, but everything since July 31 is being played out in authentic pursuit of the playoffs. If you’re old enough to recall a time when the Mets chased pennants, you know a 3-2 loss in ten innings in August is different when it determines your immediate future, not just your draft positioning.
The Mets lost enough in 2013 to draft Conforto tenth overall in 2014. Smart move, losing those 88 games. Limited exposure to the left fielder shows us what a lively bat he carries and what a large clue he has when using it. Plus there’s a real spark to him, a twinkle in his eye, a sense that barely a year removed from college that he knows he belongs in the bigs.
Am I a scout? No.
Did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night? No (though I did fall asleep in a recliner around three in the morning).
But, because I’m lucky enough to know Skid, I was on the field for batting practice before Friday’s game. Skid won an MLB-sponsored contest of some sort that hinged, to a degree, on his excellent ballpark attendance record and his tenacity in “checking in” electronically. The powers that be provided him with field passes for BP. He invited Mike and me to join him.
You ever hang around watching city workers repair a pothole? That’s what BP is like up close, to be honest. There are various sets of barricades to keep gawkers at a safe distance from those who are going about their labors. They’re just trying to get their jobs done. If they wore orange vests and traversed asphalt, you wouldn’t give what they’re doing a second thought. But they’re wearing Mets gear and they’re on baseball field, so of course you gawk from behind your barricade and soak in the small miracle that is a ballpark coming to life.
You gawk at Jerry Blevins walking by with his left arm in a sling, neither slipping nor falling as he walked. How nice of Jerry to drop by and support his teammates and nod thanks to the fans who shout encouragement to get better soon. You have no idea at that moment that Jerry’s planning on ditching the sling and slinging four-seam fastballs before 2015 is over. From his arm and mouth to Dan Warthen’s ear, you suppose.
You gawk at Yoenis Cespedes dispatching baseballs far over the outfield fence, a phenomenon he’d repeat when the seats were occupied and the pitcher didn’t toss intentionally softly. I’ve been on the field for BP more than a dozen times over the years and I’ve never seen any Met mash a baseball like Yoenis did yesterday. That he did it against J.A. Happ when the scoreboard was lit was more important, but going yard in the empty yard was impressive on its own count.
You gawk at Curtis Granderson working the veritable rope line like a small-state governor seeking his third term. When it comes to fan relations, Curtis is running unopposed, yet takes nothing for granted. If you were eight years old and your teacher asked you to draw a “really good baseball player,” you’d draw Curtis Granderson. When Curtis Granderson was eight, I imagine, he started making lists of what he’d do when he became that really good baseball player. I’ve never seen anyone embrace those types of self-imposed responsibilities more diligently. He greets little kids as pals. He smiles broadly at ladies of a certain vintage. He signs anything and poses with everyone. He takes his time and is never perfunctory. It’s so beyond too good to be true it makes me cynically wonder what the hell he’s up to.
You gawk at Terry Collins taking a break from his Leader of Men duties to greet a handful of random well-wishers. Terry may or may not be an outstanding manager. He could have managed his bullpen a little quicker in the tenth last night, I thought (where’s Sparky Anderson’s legendarily quick hook when you need it?), but now and then I get a kick out of watching his self-awareness kick in. Like last night at the barricade as he made several civilians feel particularly valued for having been recognized by the skipper of their favorite ballclub. Like the last two Closing Days when he sprinted out to center to acknowledge the cheering endeavors of the 7 Line Army.
Those end-of-season’s greetings to the fans in the matching t-shirts reminded me of something Arnold Hano wrote about another set of fans in another set of bleachers at the end of another year. This was in September 1957, the last weekend the Giants would ever wind down a campaign at the Polo Grounds. Hano, covering the funereal proceedings for Sports Illustrated, met a woman named Freda Axler, who, between fits of inconsolability, pointed to the aisle near where she was stationed in Row D, Seat 20.
“See that?” she asked Hano. “D for Durocher,” the already erstwhile manager of the Giants. “Twenty. Two-oh. Durocher’s number was 2. When Leo was here, never a day went by he didn’t wave from the playing field and yell hello to Section 12.”
Freda Axler probably never forgot those waves, and those who Collins touched will long tell of the day they got to shake hands with the manager of the Mets. I usually get the sense Terry would be happier on a back field in Port St. Lucie advising some prospect to get a quicker prep step, but I appreciate his intermittently reaching out from behind his own barricade and filling the role of big city skipper with just enough aplomb.
My buddy Skid doesn’t seem the starstruck sort, but he’ll probably remember the day he decided to wear his Conforto tee and found himself a couple of feet from Conforto himself. At 22 and toting three weeks’ service time in the majors, young Michael probably doesn’t know he can just jog off the field when BP is over, that he doesn’t have to stop and chat with those regular people behind the barricade who are gawking at him. Or maybe he’s watched Curtis in action and is taking an encouraging cue. Or it could be they just teach excellent matters at Oregon State.
Regardless, Conforto lingered and Skid (once suitably nudged) couldn’t help himself. Look, he said to the Met on the other side of the barricade, I’m wearing your shirt. Conforto thought CONFORTO was quite cool. They had to pose for a picture. Ironically, Skid’s shirt has no number on the front and Michael’s BP warmup hid any evidence of a jersey, so their bond by garment is hidden in the photograph. What is easy to see is that unlike the other new, likely rented faces you had to gawk at twice to recognize fully during BP because they haven’t been Mets very long (and they, too, wore unnumbered warmups), Michael is slated to be a Met for years to come.
Conforto will drive other balls to deep left center. A few are bound to keep traveling.
The one in the ninth, though, wasn’t the bookend we wanted it to be. Skid and I were probably forcing the narrative: neat picture at 5:30, a walkoff highlight after the clock struck ten. Instead, it was — as Bruce Springsteen once tweaked a sitting president who claimed it was morning in America — “midnight, and, like, there’s a bad moon risin’.” In reality, the game was completed around 10:30, but our mood was pretty dark there at the end.
Argh, to put in Piratespeak. So frustrating. The Mets hit the ball well on and off all night, yet very little landed when and where we wanted it to after BP. Bartolo Colon, perhaps bucked up by the return of his gorgeous personal catcher Anthony Recker, pitched fairly beautifully for seven innings, allowing only one blemish in the form of Neil Walker’s home run in the top of the first. Happ, who’s been throwing baseballs at big leaguers roughly forever (yet ten years fewer than Bartolo), nixed every offensive effort the Mets generated, save for the one Yoenis took into his own hands to lead off the home sixth.
Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth. Familia pitched a scoreless ninth. Parnell couldn’t say the same in the tenth. Karma suggested this game was doomed once Conforto didn’t fully connect, but Bobby buried it for sure as soon as he appeared and showed absolutely nothing. Three consecutive Pirates made something of his nothing while we waited for Terry to send a lifeboat to the mound to rescue his drowning reliever. The S.S. Carlos Torres arrived a tad too late. The Mets attempted a bottom-of-the-tenth comeback, but like most of their offense Friday, it arrived ass-backwards, with never enough successful swings bunched together to meaningfully move a single needle. It was swell that Juan Lagares doubled off Mark Melancon, raced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Granderson’s sac fly, but you didn’t need to be Tim McCarver to tell yourself, “That run means nothing.”
This game meant something. This loss meant something, though thanks to Washington’s continued uncanny impression of the Cubs of ’69 (think Durocher waved to those kids at Camp Ojibwa, too?), it wasn’t felt in the immediate standings. The Mets’ N.L. East edge is still 4½, which is both considerable and shocking. Day by day I find myself in conversations regarding October, and not just to arrange leaf-peeping appointments. I try to tamp the tempting talk down as soon as I drift into it, for who are we, humble Mets fans, to be pitched “potential 2015 Postseason” ticket offers in the middle of August? Why, it’s as ridiculous as someone trying to sell you home heating oil while at a ballgame (that happened again last night).
But there those messages are, delivered brightly and confidently by Branden and Alexa on the 62% Larger Videoboard seemingly every other inning. And, all hard-earned common baseball sense notwithstanding, it doesn’t sound crazy in the context of the modern history of Citi Field. In the modern history of Citi Field, the Mets are a very good team. The Mets are a first-place team that doesn’t look fluky or transient sitting where they do, and the Mets fans — not just the stubbornly diehard but the ones whose heads were buried in texts or whose feet were planted in food lines only weeks ago — are fully absorbed.
It’s a tableau every bit as gorgeous as Anthony Recker.
There were more than 38,000 of us in the park last night, not counting the heating oil salesmen. The vast majority were all over this game, like they were all over the game I attended Wednesday night, because when you go to Citi Field to see the Mets play ball, nothing could be bigger than seeing the Mets play ball. This is not the Citi Field I once knew. This is a much better Citi Field. This is Citi Field breaking through the barricade of possibility and swarming toward the rope line of probability. Like Michael Conforto, we’re still getting used to being here, no matter how much we act as if we know what we’re doing.
That’s why the frustration was so enormous when we didn’t win in the ninth or keep from losing in the tenth. It was too perfect a night to not win.
Welcome to Flashback Friday, a dormant Faith and Fear in Flushing tradition revived this particular Friday in recognition of where we are now and how far we’ve come to get here.
If you have been to Citi Field in 2015 and been at your seat just before the home team’s lineup is formally introduced, perhaps you’ve noticed the slick trip through Mets history presented on the 62% Larger Videoboard. It starts with Bob Murphy’s voice and Casey Stengel’s face and it takes the attentive viewer on a journey through Met space and time, hitting most of the high points in franchise lore while gliding skillfully over most of the lesser moments.
That’s typical of how this team tells its story. It’s acceptable to acknowledge the losing years at the start. They’re colorful and they’re redeemed quickly enough. But then there are gaps. Eleven years are invisible between the clips of 1973 and the clips of 1984. The ’90s are absent until 1999. Mike Piazza’s September 2001 swing for the ages directly precedes the 2006 oasis of excellence as if they occurred during the same weekend. Then, save for evidence of a no-hitter in 2012, we’re on to basking in the accomplishments of our present-day Mets.
The spaces between make for curious voids. Unless you’re committed to telling a lovingly detailed story, you choose your spots. Grand Slam Singles and leaps at the left field wall are first-round draft choices for these sorts of productions. The seasons that yield little in the way of inarguably indelible images are left to fend for themselves in the collective memory.
On August 13, 2015, the New York Mets defeated the Colorado Rockies, 12-3, noteworthy enough in contemporary context given the Mets’ suddenly serious pursuit of a divisional title. From a historical perspective, we’ll find out in relatively short order if Thursday’s win represented one more step on a gilded path to greater glories or if it will stand an unwanted test of time akin to what happened the previous instance when Met wins outnumbered Met losses by precisely so many.
By sweeping the Rockies, the Mets moved to eleven games over .500 for the first time since June 27, 2010. Eleven games over .500 implies a good team is at work. If eleven games over .500 wasn’t emblematic of quality, it wouldn’t have proved an elusive milestone for more than five years of Mets baseball.
Yet the Met club that last moved that far above the break-even point doesn’t make as much as a cameo appearance in that Citi Field montage. With the exception of a couple of run-into-the-ground Mets Classics on SNY, you don’t see much evidence of the 2010 Mets a half-decade after the fact. No wonder, really. Nobody builds monuments to 79-83 campaigns.
The Mets don’t build literal monuments to much of their history (don’t try to meet me by the Tom Seaver statue tonight), but you know what I mean. 2010 lasted 162 games, and when it was over, it was done with. The Mets couldn’t have been any more definitive about putting it behind them when they justifiably dismissed their general manager and manager about two minutes after the season’s final out.
If 2015 is going to live on as “2015” — if it’s going to be a brand-name staple of video montages yet to come — maybe it’s not too early to mine a touch of vaguely wistful, reflexively self-effacing nostalgia for the years that made its emergence such a blessed event. Years like 2010. Credentials-enhancing years we maintained our Metsdom during while waiting to live and die in the middle of August, not just find our hopes dead. Character-building years we’ll look back on fuzzily, perhaps gauzily, and say, “I was here in the lean years. I was here in 2010. You wouldn’t believe what that was like.”
What was that like? Is too soon to remember? Is it too soon to have forgotten?
I’m not looking to make a case for 2010 as overly underappreciated, exactly. And I’m in too good a mood these days to shame the Mets’ generally amnesiac ways (plus the montage is a really well-produced video, regardless of omissions). But I am curious as to how seasons we lived in for six months at a time are allowed to slip away from our consciousness so easily.
Make no mistake about it: we lived in 2010. Of course we did. We live in every season as if it’s our permanent residence. We inhabit them fully. Each one is the most important season of our lives while it is in progress. Across the entirety of 2010, I sat at this very spot and, in concert with my blogging partner sitting in whatever spot he was in, set in type that entire April-to-October effort. It mattered to me. It mattered to you.
Then it mattered no more.
Weird how that happens. OK, maybe it’s not weird — 79-83, fourth place, all downhill from late June onward — but it happened…y’know? It happened to us. Every day of 2010, the Mets of 2010 were our cause, our concern, our pride, our bane. It feels fickle to not easily recall its highlights, to not substantively retain its content, to not willingly share its legends and lessons, such as they are.
Yet the montages go on without contributions from years like 1981 and 1995 and 2010, the last of which has aged just long enough to turn into the perennially neglected five-year-old who asks, as the franchise flips through the pages of its family album, “Hey, how come there are no pictures of me in there?”
Seems wrong somehow. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to unspool my own reel. (For what it’s worth, I’m working here strictly from memory; no archives, no Baseball-Reference.)
It’s Opening Day. Citi Field’s dimensions are still too expansive and its outfield walls are still too charcoal, but over in the Rotunda, there’s now a neat little team museum. The weather outside is unseasonably warm. The sun beats down on the Pepsi Porch. The Mets beat down on the Florida Marlins. Mike Jacobs, Gary Matthews and Frank Catalanotto dot the roster. The training and medical personnel are booed in a mostly good-natured vein. We were hurt in 2009. We’re reasonably healthy as 2010 gets going.
Ruben Tejada, 20, and Jenrry Mejia, 20, are among the newcomers. Jose Reyes, 26, returns a little late, but he’s back from his endless injuries at last and, for at least a few games, bats third.
There’s a Saturday in St. Louis that threatens to plod into Sunday. It goes 20 innings. Tony LaRussa employs position players as pitchers. The Mets win. It’s not impressive.
Two days later, Ike Davis appears. He is the future. He and Tejada and Reyes and David Wright hint that they will hold down the infield together for years to come.
Reyes is spotted tripling and leading off. Wright is homering consistently after doing no such thing in ’09. Big-ticket acquisition Jason Bay is off to kind of a slow start, but he’s a pro, he’ll get it together. Daniel Murphy, last year’s home run leader (12), isn’t around at all. He got hurt in Spring Training, went to the minors to learn second base and got hurt again. Good thing Tejada’s getting a shot, lest we be forced to get by solely with Alex Cora and Luis Castillo.
The Mets are suddenly unbeatable at home. Johan Santana is, as ever, The Man. Rod Barajas pours on the power. He and fellow grizzled backstop Henry Blanco end consecutive games with walkoff home runs. Ike is hitting and fielding. He flips over railings in pursuit of foul balls and he catches them as if by second-nature.
Catalanotto, Jacobs and Matthews disappear. Bay struggles. Oliver Perez and John Maine frustrate. Maine goes on the DL and never materializes again. He’s replaced by an itinerant knuckleballer named R.A. Dickey. Dickey impresses. So does Angel Pagan, blossoming after several seasons on the big league fringes. Pagan, playing plenty in place of an injured Carlos Beltran, runs out an inside-the-park home run one night in Washington, the same night he starts a triple play in the field behind Dickey. The Mets lose anyway.
Perez expends everybody’s patience. He belongs in Buffalo, but won’t accept a demotion. Jerry Manuel sentences him to the back of the bullpen. The rotation is now populated by Santana, Dickey, young Jon Niese (who tosses a one-hitter at the Padres), maturing Mike Pelfrey and import Hisanori Takahashi. Francisco Rodriguez is saving games. Pedro Feliciano is perpetually on call. The Mets are up and down, but definitely more up than down as the first half proceeds.
They hold big, bad Philadelphia scoreless for an entire series at Citi Field; Gary Cohen labels it the Goose Egg Sweep. They put on a gaudy, ultimately successful push to elect Wright to the All-Star team. They welcome Jerry Seinfeld to their TV booth. They sweep an Interleague road trip to the lesser precincts of the junior circuit. For a few hours one early evening, after Atlanta is beaten by the White Sox and before the Mets take on the Tigers, New York slides into first place. When Detroit prevails, New York slides right out.
Nevertheless, on June 27, they rise eleven games above .500 for the fourth time in 2010. Despite Bay never quite finding his footing, despite the money pit Perez has transformed into, despite Jeff Francoeur never having met a base he liked being on, it’s hard to not take the Mets seriously. They’re kind of contending for the playoffs.
Then they’re not. Their detachment from the pennant race is gradual, but the cracks surface. They lose three of four in Puerto Rico to the lousy Marlins. Tejada receives a game-ending pickoff throw at second to seal a victory over the lousy Nats on a Friday night, and Dickey outlasts phenomenal Stephen Strasburg in D.C. the next day, but K-Rod blows that one in the end. Johan hits a home run against Cincinnati, but the Reds take two of three in that series. The “buts” are beginning to have it.
After the All-Star Game — Jose accompanies David but doesn’t play as precaution against aggravating yet another nagging pain — the descent accelerates. Tim Lincecum beats Dickey at Phone Company Park (though not for postgame quotes). Bay’s head hits a wall at Dodger Stadium and it (and he) are done for the year. The Mets limp home from the West Coast barely standing straight. On the first night the Mets communications staff welcomes bloggers as media, they lose in thirteen innings. On the first day in eight years that the Mets induct new members into their Hall of Fame (Gooden, Strawberry, Cashen, D. Johnson), they lose by thirteen runs. Oliver Perez pitches in that one and is greeted accordingly.
As August unfolds, the Mets unravel. Whoever can be moved is moved. Barajas is sent to L.A. Frenchy Francoeur joins the Texas Rangers. Cora wanders off to the American League as well. K-Rod is provoked into throwing a punch at his de facto father-in-law. He’s arrested. Then he comes back. Then he gets hurt and is, like Bay, out for the year. So, by early September, is Santana, followed soon after by Mejia, who bounced from reliever to starter to good luck, kid, get better soon.
Youth is getting served now. Josh Thole starts behind the plate. Lucas Duda gets a look in the outfield. Dillon Gee is one of the starters, and a pretty promising one. Feliciano is still warming up in the pen. Beltran, aching but playing, takes an anonymous but public hit from management when he doesn’t show up at Walter Reed to greet veterans (he had another commitment). Yet it’s Beltran who slides hard against Philadelphia when no other Met wishes to retaliate for a cheap takeout slide against Tejada.
The final weeks of the season arrive. The Mets miss .500. They shuffle through the likes of Chris “The Animal” Carter, Joaquin Arias (no known nickname) and Mike Hessman, who hit a slew of home runs in the minors but exactly one as a Met. They continue to intermittently trot out Luis Castillo long past his best-used-by date. They give a shot to Luis Hernandez, a middle infielder of little renown. This Luis fouls a ball off his foot, then blasts a homer off the Braves. He limps around the bases and never plays in the majors again. The Mets lose.
Thole becomes their third catcher this year to slug a walkoff homer. Feliciano pitches in his 92nd game, breaking all his own crazy durability records. Dickey earns a three-year contract and approaches cult status. It takes fourteen increasingly chilly innings (accented by the unwanted presence of Oliver Perez when nobody else is available) to send these Mets into winter with a Closing Day loss. Our permanent residence reverts to the summer rental it was destined to be. The Mets improve by nine games over the previous season, but it’s not processed as momentum. Omar Minaya is replaced by Sandy Alderson. Jerry Manuel is replaced by Terry Collins. Inevitably, 2010 is replaced by 2011.
No doubt we’re in a better place now. Still, where we were then…it wasn’t all bad all the time. Surely there’s a picture around here somewhere.
In the early innings Thursday I tweeted out what I hoped would be reassuring counsel to Mets fans unhappy that we weren’t going to sweep four from the Rockies without a fair amount of work:
As I noted, Noah Syndergaard is 22 — and he’s a young 22 at that. By comparison, Matt Harvey is 26, while Jacob deGrom is 27. Whether you’re a flame-throwing pitcher or an acquisitions clerk, there’s a big difference between 22 and 26. You’re going to become a substantially different person just by having increased your days spent on Earth by nearly 20%, and you’re also going to learn critical lessons about your chosen profession.
Flame-throwing pitchers, like the rest of us, have to learn about getting along with colleagues and bosses. They also have to learn more specialized things. Their workplaces may have odd and unwritten codes of conduct governing lunch, for instance. That’s a relatively easy lesson; a harder one is learning that not even ungodly stuff will permit you to pitch in predictable patterns. Syndergaaard led with his fastball to excess against Tampa Bay and got smacked around; the same thing happened in the first against Colorado — he threw 10 of 12 fastballs and watched two of them disappear over the fence.
All part of the learning process. And hence my tweet.
There were things I didn’t expect, though. Like Syndergaard taking the lesson to heart in a matter of innings instead of days, for once. He gave up a single to Daniel Descalso to open the second, but then erased Descalso on a double play. Kyle Parker singled, but Syndergaard blew away opposing pitcher Eddie Butler — and didn’t allow another hit until his work was done after seven. He fed the Rockies curves and change-ups early, getting them off-balance, then erased them with that annihilating fastball.
The lesson: It’s nice to have the Hammer of Thor at your disposal, but it’s better to have a whole divine toolkit to choose from. Syndergaard learned today that you can write some pretty satisfying myths using the Screwdriver and Socket Wrench of Thor as well.
Meanwhile, the Mets were hitting the luckless Mr. Butler early and often. A trio of doubles in the first (Daniel Murphy, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson) made the Rockies’ lead disappear, two more (Yoenis Cespedes and Johnson again) followed in the third, and Curtis Granderson‘s fourth-inning homer signaled that the rout was on and the sweep was a reality.
A little more than a month ago (which is a lifetime in this topsy-turvy season), I lamented what the Mets could be if only they were capable of scoring four runs a game. Twelve a game? That will do.
Yes, that will do very nicely.
Citi Field is loud, and it’s wonderful.
I reflexively started to type “loud again,” then stopped myself. Because that wouldn’t have been true. Citi never has been loud. This is the first run of games in which the crowd is a factor, in which the buzz is focused on the field and the players are aware of it.
Citi Field started off dealt a lousy hand. It opened during a wrenching recession, the third pitch thrown in its official history became an enemy home run, management missteps alienated hardcore fans, and that first season began with months of weather that was lousy to the point of peculiar. By the time it warmed up, the Mets were broken and bad and the season was lost, leaving acres of those new green seats empty.
That was 2009, and the story hasn’t been fundamentally different at any point since. The Mets fixed some of their park’s flaws and we got used to some others, but the biggest problem came to seem intractable: the Mets were never good enough long enough for enough people to notice. That left Citi Field a reasonably nice place with lots of good food, a really big HD screen … and a baseball game somewhere in the middle of it.
The party started with Yoenis Cespedes and the Nationals arriving and hasn’t stopped. But Wednesday night was my first chance to see it for myself. I was sitting with my pal Jeff in the second row of the Pepsi Porch, barely in foul territory, and marveling at the sights and sounds around me.
First of all, I could see people. People in their seats, watching baseball. Sure, there were a few swathes of seats mostly unoccupied, but the field level was nearly full, and above that you saw blue and orange gear, waving arms, people getting up when the game demanded it, and directing their attention at the field.
And you could hear those people. The ones around us were talking about our young pitchers, and Cespedes and his contract, and David Wright down in St. Lucie, and the adventures of Wilmer Flores, and how the Nats might fare against Clayton Kershaw. (They lost, 3-0!) They were talking baseball, and cheering for it down on the field — roaring for it down on the field, in fact.
When Jacob deGrom reached two strikes they were up and howling for a third. When Juan Uribe rifled a ball over Charlie Blackmon‘s head in center they were yelling for Juan Lagares to hurry home, and then they did the same for Uribe when Michael Cuddyer smacked a ball into center. They roared for Cespedes’s first Citi Field clout (while wearing a yellow sleeve to match the feathers of a confused parakeet who’d taken up residence among the A/V cables), and at the end they stood and exhorted Jeurys Familia across the finish line.
Baseball is a different experience depending on whether you’re in the park or in front of the TV. I was 380-odd feet away in the Pepsi Porch, so don’t ask me to say anything smart about deGrom’s pitches — all I know is they resulted in Rockie after Rockie trudging away from home plate with barely used lumber. But the tradeoff was being borne up by the noise and fervor when deGrom was in a tight spot and looking for a little more life on the fastball, and being buffeted by the joy at seeing him find it.
None of the above is particularly extraordinary; it’s fun watching a good baseball team on a nice summer night as part of a big crowd. But it’s new for Citi Field — new, and oh so welcome.
I shed no tears for the demise of Shea, a battered rattletrap that exuded decay and bred hostility. But I have mourned the new place’s failure to engage us collectively, to feel like more than a short-term rental. Some of that failure reflects a sea change in parks and they crowds they attract: different economics and a different audience, the distraction of myriad non-baseball options, and the fact that we all now have ludicrously powerful pocket computers competing for our attention. But the real problem has been a lack of anything to engage us, to make us look up from our tweets and text messages and decide some other evening would be better for standing in line for burgers.
That’s no longer true. Now our eyes are on these Mets and their improbable summer story. We’ve found something that’s got us … well, that’s got us hollering and cheering and jumping in our seats, whether we’re butchers or bakers, or consultants or content providers. Some part of me had feared that never would happen again, that it had been lost somehow. But it’s not so. It’s happening right now — and however overdue it may be, it’s wonderful to find yourself part of it again.