I’d like to teach the Mets to score with regularity. I’d like for them to cross the plate and do it constantly.
Or at least while Matt Harvey is on the mound.
Monday night the Mets did eventually find a second run to keep the one they’d rustled up ten innings earlier company. By then, they and the Cardinals had played fourteen innings — five more than is generally required, six after Dr. Harvey left his moundtop lab, where he was expertly dissecting St. Louis batters to further advance the cause of humanity.
Harvey (8 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 9 SO, 0 R) logged another start that was as dominant as it had to be without quite being all-encompassing awesome. He doesn’t seem as Dark Knight confounding as he did before they (oh, by the way) operated on his elbow, yet look at what he does. There are small clumps of baserunners, but they don’t much go anywhere. It gets later, he gets better. Someone flashes a stat that he’s not so dazzling when he surpasses 100 pitches. He surpassed 100 pitches against the Cardinals. His 105th pitch retired Matt Holliday and produced an eighth zero for the top line on the scoreboard. Matt gave himself a quick clap into his glove as he exited.
I hope he didn’t pump his fist through a wall when the top of the ninth came around and Jeurys Familia couldn’t do for him what he’d been doing for Met starters all season. The Cardinals scratched out the one run that kept Harvey from notching a sixth win and kept those of us who can’t turn away from Mets baseball tuned in for a couple more hours.
Eventually we arrived at an unambiguous ending. Without much offensive exertion (walk, walk, grounder, intentional walk), the Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourteenth, when it was still 1-1. John Mayberry, Jr., pinch-hit and rolled a ball to a spot that kept Eric Campbell from being thrown out at home, which is to say he drove in the winning run, but that somehow doesn’t sound like something John Mayberry, Jr., would do. But he did, and the Mets won in fourteen, 2-1.
Carlos Torres got the win. He pitched two flawless innings. Alex Torres and Hansel Robles were similarly effective. They were about as good as Matt Harvey. I suppose we could say all of them were matched by John Lackey and the five Redbird relievers who preceded the fourteenth. We have to give those guys credit, right? I mean they allowed the Mets one run through thirteen. That’s some kind of pitching, too.
But if we do that, we can’t moan about how the Mets barely hit and make our gripes stick — and we love doing that. The Cardinals have scary bats by both reputation and performance; five of their starters are hitting .298 or better. The Mets’ pinch-hitters from last night currently sport averages of .083, .079 and .139. The guy who got the winning hit is Mr. .139. The .079 guy, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, is probably about to be the guy who shuffles off this Metsian coil to make room for Darrell Ceciliani. Who’s Darrell Ceciliani? He’s the guy from Las Vegas who has a low bar to clear in terms of Met bench contributions.
There are a few flickers of light emerging among the Met regulars, but Monday night was a four-hour, fourteen-minute brownout, another caper in which they expertly camouflaged their offensive capabilities. In the end, the Mets saw their way clear to two runs, which was enough to achieve the objective of the evening — winning. It would’ve been much nicer had the win been affixed to Harvey’s record. We know pitcher wins are antiquated nonsense, but they still get kept track of. Harvey has thrown sixteen consecutive scoreless innings, fifteen of them in his last two starts. The Mets are 1-1 in those starts. Harvey is 0-0. His season ERA has dipped in that time from 2.72 to 1.98.
Something doesn’t quite add up there. But what else in the world of Met aces is new?
They didn’t much hype The First Home Start In The New York Mets Career Of Noah Syndergaard, did they? Just as well. When they hype that sort of thing, it seems to implode. They hyped Matt Harvey’s Citi Field debut in 2012 and it was one of the worst outings he’s ever thrown. They hyped Zack Wheeler’s Citi Field debut in 2013 and that Sunday afternoon ended with Anthony Recker pitching.
On the other hand, over these past four seasons, the Mets called up Collin McHugh, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard and when they were needed to pitch in Flushing, they were more or less told, “Have at it.” There was no special t-shirt deal, no cringey slogan, no sound of Lou Gramm narrating that this here feels like the first time.
Syndergaard (like Harvey and Wheeler) had gotten the hard part out of the way on the road, but still, pitching in front of your prospective fans is a distinction unto itself. I’d add “…in New York,” but I don’t really believe that. If you’re pitching in Times Square, c. 1975, that would be an urban challenge. Pitching in the aspirationally adorable fauxback ballpark where as many people seem to come to chow down as they do to root on doesn’t strike me as inflicting an extra layer of stress. The “New York fans” concept, at least as it applies to Citi Field, is a self-flattering myth. Don’t be fooled by the oddball rabid caller to sports talk radio. Having now attended 187 post-Shea home games since 2009, I will testify that relatively few who pay their way in are out for blood. At our worst, we’re morosely disengaged. At our best, we’re surprisingly cheerful.
Must be the food that settles our nerves.
Today we welcomed Syndergaard warmly. Those who understood that this was our first official up-close look were enthusiastic. Those who didn’t know what was going on could amuse themselves in gourmet hamburger lines. It left more room for the rest of us to feast our eyes on the Noah kid in town.
Impressions from the eighth row of Section 519: Syndergaard — I’m going to resist this Thor thing for now — looks as much like a starting pitcher as any I’ve seen in recent years, and, as noted above, we’ve seen quite a few begin to make a mark for themselves. He looks like the kind of pitcher I’d hate for the Mets to face. He looks like he knows what he’s doing out there, which surprises me a little, what with the intermittent bulletins about his “maturity” issues (a.k.a. he tweeted too much). I don’t know how stern his stuff is for 22, but there was no questioning his jib’s cut in his second major league start.
The Brewers are presently at the bottom of the N.L. Central barrel, but a lineup with Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Gomez is test enough, and Syndergaard acquitted himself beautifully for six innings. The sixth, of course, was the inning to beware. Not only might have his gas gauge begun to point to dangerously low, but he had to recover from the sight of Gomez on the ground, a victim of one of the rookie’s fastballs that ran far too up and a little too in.
If a New York ballpark was the cauldron of hostility lazy narratives make it out to be, then I doubt the crowd would have applauded three different times in support of Carlos’s well-being: once when we saw bodily movement, once he sat up, once when he walked off the field. Gomez’s Met pedigree isn’t so deep that we wouldn’t have been decent about his condition without it. Fortunately, Carlos reported being all right, and when we got back to the game, a contrite Noah resumed his assignment.
Milwaukee had two on with nobody out after the scary HBP. Syndergaard struck out the next batter, Khris Davis. Braun nicked him for a RBI single to right, but he took care of the capable Adam Lind and then Ramirez, allowing Noah to exit to knowing applause. He was up, 5-1, and on a glide path toward his first major league and Citi Field win.
The reflexive fears that the Mets wouldn’t “save some of that” for Sunday after the delightful 14-run outburst of Saturday night proved unfounded. They tallied nine fewer times, but more than enough was provided for one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball to defeat the one of the worst teams in the sport. Nobody in our lineup is hitting .300 and few are topping .250, but at least for the time being, the Mets have returned to the mode where they’re getting done what must be done. My buddy Joe and I agreed that this was a game that cried out to be broken decisively open, but once Syndergaard was through six, we and our 32,000 friends could relax and enjoy…despite the disturbing omission of Bobby Darin’s “Sunday In New York,” a Shea/Citi Sunday staple for the previous 14 seasons, from the PA menu. Small thing, but I loved hearing it, especially on those baseball Sundays when it was warm like it was today and the Mets were winning like they were today.
Missing musical cue notwithstanding, no complaints on this Sunday in New York, when Noah Syndergaard made a debut that was more auspicious than conspicuous. It wasn’t a laugher, but it was definitely a smiler.
Life’s a ball, let it fall in your lap.
A laugher after a long stretch of laughees? Turns out it makes for some complicated emotions.
After the Mets scored a lone run early, I sourly thought, “Well Jacob deGrom, there’s your offense.” I also thought that our long-legged, long-haired rookie of the year in recovery looked a lot better than he had in recent outings. It was a thought that I backed away from like I’d put my hand on a blazing stove. I’d thought Noah Syndergaard looked pretty great in Chicago. I’d counseled myself to think well of Jonathon Niese for looking good against the Cubs.
Both thoughts had been precursors to disasters of various sorts. I stopped thinking good things and watched warily, certain that bad things would happen and the night would end with a discussion of the first-place Nationals.
And then the Mets decided to drive in runs for half an hour.
They sent 16 men to the plate, which is batting around and then some no matter what side of the 9/10 divide you stand on. The ninth-place hitter — Wilmer Flores — drove a grand slam into the Party City deck. The pitcher got two hits in the inning. There were deep drives but also balls served over the infield. It was like some baseball madman took all the luck that had been missing during our Chicago horror show and crammed it into one half-inning.
I’ve seen three of the Mets’ four innings in which they scored 10 runs or more. (I don’t remember the 1979 uprising against the Reds, though my blog partner might.) The 10-run demolition of the Braves in 2000 is tied with the Grand Slam Single for the greatest baseball moment of my fandom, the perfect sublimation of weeks of agony into a few seconds of pure joy. The 11-run, double-grand-slam ambush of the Cubs in ’06, on the other hand, was baseball goofiness, like finding the cheat code on a videogame.
This 10-run inning? It was … odd. There was happiness, of course — scoring 10 in an inning is always going to be satisfying. But there was annoyance, too — where the hell had this been for the last week, when the Mets weren’t just losing but sleepwalking through awful, unwatchable games? There was the familiar baseball fear that one was seeing a homestand’s worth of runs thrown around like singles at a strip bar, which is arrant nonsense but also impossible not to think. And, in an All-Star display of Mets fan paranoia, I was sure that the Mets would keep hitting and hitting while the rain intensified at Citi Field, leaving deGrom to struggle in the top of the fifth, the Brewers to try every stalling technique up to and including lost contact lenses, and the umps ordering the tarp brought out, after which it would stay deep into the night.
The game would be washed away. The 10-run inning that disappeared would become one of those secret handshakes shared by doleful Mets fans, and trotted out by columnists to demonstrate the depth of our despairing craziness.
The rain didn’t go away, but limited itself to trudging overhead the way we had in Chicago. DeGrom pitched just fine, and the Mets even put up another half-week’s worth of offense on the way to a win. Even a Madoff-era Mets fan can be too pessimistic.
1. Bartolo Colon sucked.
2. Wilmer Flores made another error.
3. The bats did zero against a guy who came in with an ERA north of 7.
4. Dilson Herrera, one of the only players worth watching in this disaster, broke his fingertip and is headed for the DL.
5. Herrera will be replaced on the roster not by Matt Reynolds but by Eric Campbell. because when things are going great you don’t rock the boat.
6. I could go on, but fuck this bullshit. It’s still early; go salvage your Friday night.
7. Oh wait, it’s raining.
Precedents don’t necessarily prove anything. All they tell us is whether something happened before, and it’s up to us if we want to take our clues from there.
Here’s the precedent that’s gonna kill us: If we fall out of first place — and, based on the results from Chicago and everything that’s been going on with Washington, it seems a matter of hours before we do — there’s no chance we’re getting back in.
That’s not a prediction. That’s the precedent. It’s not guaranteed; it’s just that there has never been a season in which the Mets (once the season is more than a couple of weeks old) have grabbed hold of a division lead, let go of it and gotten it back.
Think about it through the prism of our five division titles:
1969: The Mets famously took first place (“LOOK WHO’S NO. 1”) following Game 140, the first half of their September 10 doubleheader versus the Expos. They kept first place by sweeping Montreal and they never relinquished it.
1973: You Gotta Believe that when the Mets won their fourth in a row from the Pirates on September 21 — Game 154 — they moved into first place and didn’t for a second move out.
1986: After Game 10, April 22, the Mets were tied for first with the Cardinals. The Mets were off on April 23. The Cardinals weren’t. They played and they lost, ceding the top of the N.L. East to their archrivals in advance of New York’s eleventh game of the season. The only things anybody else saw from there on out were the Mets’ tail lights disappearing in the distance.
1988: The Mets passed the Pirates on May 3, Game 24. Nobody passed the Mets thereafter.
2006: It wasn’t wire-to-wire, but it was close enough. The Mets became a first-place club on April 6, Game 3. They stayed a first-place club clear through October 1, Game 162.
And in seasons when the Mets did take a lead on the East but stepped aside to let somebody else get ahead of them? Those seasons exist, plenty of them. But you don’t see them listed above with the Met division-winners, do you? It’s possible for such a scenario to unfold and not destroy any thought of finishing first. Teams dip out of first place and then climb back in for keeps with regularity. None of those teams, however, has been the Mets.
The 2015 Mets grabbed a piece of first place on April 15 — Game 9 — and gathered in all of it the next night. We are now past Game 35 and the Mets are still the sole occupants of the divisional penthouse. I doubt any of us were expecting to be there at all, so if we’re not ensconced for the long haul, you can’t say we didn’t see it coming.
What we can see coming is the Washington Nationals in our rearview mirror. They were eight back about eight minutes ago (technically on April 27, after both they and we had played 20 games). Pending Thursday night’s West Coast action or rainy lack thereof, the Mets’ lead is down to one game. The Nats have been playing as they were projected to. The Mets have, as the saying goes, come back to earth.
I think we can all agree, based on the last four games’ worth of said plunge, that earth is overrated.
If you watched the Mets lose every game they played this week at Wrigley Field, you’d probably also agree that this is all transitory bookkeeping. If the season were to end right now, the Mets would be in line to be division champs, but it would be one of those deals where the official scorer would use his discretion to award the win to somebody else. Besides, the way the Mets are playing, can you buy the Mets as a champion of even a short season? Or a short-season league? Could you see them prevailing in the New York-Penn right now?
The key phrase there is “right now”. As they say on Avenue Q, being absolutely terrible at most phases of the game is only for now…maybe. When your team isn’t hitting, it’s hard to imagine they ever will again. When your players’ heads aren’t fully engaged in the game, it’s hard to see them getting fundamentals religion. When just enough can go wrong on the mound, it’s hard to take solace in the notion that with pitching like the Mets have, they’ll never have a long losing streak.
They’re in the midst of a four-game losing streak as we speak. Thursday’s starter, Jon Niese, did nothing to halt it at three. This was the game in which the Mets hit for a while — three solo homers and a rare John Mayberry RBI sighting — but it wasn’t enough. We’re in one of those stretches where nothing is enough. The Mets, at the moment, have a surfeit of nothing.
Turning around this prevailing trend would help the first-place precedent immensely. If they don’t stop being a first-place club, well, duh, they won’t stop being a first-place club. If they do, they’ll have to shatter precedent to resume being a first-place club. The way things are going, if precedent is shattered, precedent will wind up on the DL for three months.
Now that I’ve got us all in a good mood, how about a precedent that indicates we’re not dead yet? Perhaps it will turn that Chicago frown upside down.
We were swept four games at Wrigley Field. That’s the good news? Not exactly, but it’s not the end of our hopes and dreams, assuming we’re not hoping for and dreaming of only first place. This very month fifteen years ago, you see, the Mets were on another road trip, this one to San Francisco. It was 2000, the first year of Phone Company Park, and the Mets had four games with the Giants on their schedule.
The Mets arrived by the Bay and nearly drowned. They lost all four. They looked horrible in doing so (hard not to). And then what happened? Long story short, the Mets won the Wild Card and happened to beat the Giants in the playoffs en route to making the World Series.
There ya go: proof that being on the wrong end of a four-game sweep doesn’t bury your season in this modern age. Actually, if you look at the trajectory of the last Met team to raise a pennant, you see some similarities to the current edition. After stumbling around a bit, the 2000 Mets surged as April ensued, putting nine consecutive wins together at one point. Next thing you knew, though, there was the beautiful new ballpark in San Francisco and an ugly beatdown at the hands of the home team. The Mets couldn’t have seemed less likely to be playing deep into October.
But they did. They were good enough to have won nine in a row. They were good enough to rebound from a bad trip. A decade-and-a-half later, they could use a Piazza, sure, but they do have a Harvey and they can’t possibly be as dismal as they looked at Wrigley. What’s more, unlike in 2000, two Wild Cards are available these days. The Mets already have a better record than every Wild Card contender in the National League.
And every team in the N.L. East! It’s easy to forget that after what we just saw.
We didn’t solve any of the issues plaguing the Mets but we did have a whole lot of fun talking about it on the Rising Apple Podcast. Listen in here.
Last year the Mets looked kind of OK in the early going. On May 26 they lost a horrific 5-3 game to the Pirates, dropping their record to 22-28, but then won six of their next seven, including three of four in Philadelphia, lifting their record to 28-29. So they rolled into Chicago to take on the hapless Cubs, and all in all we were feeling pretty good about things. Win the series and they’d be at .500, and then we’d see.
They lost all three games at Wrigley. In the opener Zack Wheeler flirted with a no-hitter, which he didn’t get (if he had we’d all remember), but the Mets took a 1-0 lead to the eighth. Chris Coghlin hit a home run off Josh Edgin and the lead was gone. In the bottom of the ninth some lousy Mets defense and lousy Scott Rice pitching lost the game. The next day the roof caved in on Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dana Eveland and Jeurys Familia in the fifth and the Cubs won 5-4. In the finale the Mets erased a 4-0 deficit, after which Vic Black immediately gave up a home run to Anthony Rizzo. Two more runs scored off Jenrry Mejia in the ninth and the Mets were toast. They slumped off to San Francisco and lost all three games. From that point on, 2014 became a narrative about what would happen in some other year.
Which brings us to this year’s visit to Wrigley.
Matt Harvey didn’t have a no-hitter to flirt with, but he was pretty amazing anyway, carving up Cubs and leaving with a 1-0 lead. Carlos Torres came on in the eighth and gave up a game-tying single to Dexter Fowler, then got into trouble again in the ninth. The Mets summoned Familia, sent Johnny Monell in to catch for the first time in orange and blue (he did fine), and even tried various five-man infields, but Familia gave up a bases-loaded, one-out walk to Coghlan and we were beaten.
We’ve lost three in a row at Wrigley (and, IIRC, the last 452,315), we’re scoring less than three runs a game in May, and the Nationals are just 1.5 games behind us.
Blame the cruelty Terry Collins has inflicted on Torres’s arm. Blame the spaghetti-at-the-wall nature of relievers. Blame the inert bats. Blame the pretty decent ballclub currently occupying the DL. I don’t want to get into the blame game. I just want to not think about this game, or the Cubs, or Wrigley Field, or how this series feels exactly like the last time we arrived at Wrigley Field with pretensions of being something other than a first draft of something a long way from completion.
If you’ve had your fill of Wrigley like I have, too bad. They’ll be back at it at 2 p.m. tomorrow. So SNY told me while I was still reeling. The promo should have come with a trigger warning.
“It was a start. I believe in starts. Once you have the start, the rest is inevitable.”
—Joey “The Lips” Fagan, The Commitments
Presumably somebody somewhere waited breathlessly for Bob Moorhead to make his major league debut, but it seems safe to say he didn’t carry quite the cachet to his impending initiation that Noah Syndergaard did going into Tuesday night. Besides, whatever Moorhead’s qualities as a pitcher, his big moment was bound to be obscured by a much bigger one.
Moorhead, you see, stepped up to the big leagues on April 11, 1962, and if that date looks familiar, you’ve been paying attention. That was the day 14 players made their Mets debut. That was the day the Mets made their debut. It was Game One for the franchise, Game One for all of us, really. But it couldn’t have been a bigger deal for anybody whose spikes were on the ground than it was for Bob.
Bob Moorhead was the only one of the extremely Original Mets — those who participated in Loss One (11-4 at St. Louis) — who had never played in a major league game before. Remember the historical wrap on the 1962 Mets: they valued veteran familiarity over youthful promise, believing the best way to distract fans and buy time was to serve up recognizable names to our fair city’s disenfranchised National League diehards. That goes a long way toward explaining the presence of Hodges and Zimmer and Ashburn and so on. Still, expansion begets a widening of the job market. There was a net of 50 new positions to be filled in New York and Houston; the Mets were bound to break in somebody who’d never been a major leaguer before.
Their first somebody was Bob Moorhead, righthanded relief pitcher from Chambersburg, Penn., selected out of the Cincinnati system in the 1961 Rule 5 draft, which (in the spirit of Sean Gilmartin) heavily implies the Mets were compelled to keep him on their roster throughout 1962 if they wanted to keep him at all.
So they did. Moorhead made the Mets in Spring Training and was put to work as soon as possible. In that inaugural game, he became Casey Stengel’s first relief pitcher. Roger Craig, another of those veterans with a presumably marketable pedigree, had given up five runs in the Mets’ first three innings. Stengel pinch-hit for his starter in the top of the fourth and inserted the rookie reliever in the bottom of the frame.
The game was 5-3 when Bob entered in the fourth, 10-4 when he left after the sixth. No, it wasn’t a storybook big league debut for Moorhead, but his foot was in the door. The late Bob Moorhead didn’t help the Mets win on April 11, 1962 — or win very often in general — but he served a valuable purpose in the greater scheme of things. He nudged that door open for other neophytes to get their shot as Mets.
After Moorhead came Ray Daviault, Jim Hickman and Rod Kanehl in the April days ahead, Rick Herrscher that August and, representing the first marker toward the Met long haul, Ed Kranepool in September. Ron Hunt and Cleon Jones headlined another class of new big leaguers in 1963. Within a couple of years, Mets fans would begin to anticipate and welcome youngsters who’d make their impressions stick: Ron Swoboda, Tug McGraw and Bud Harrelson in 1965; Nolan Ryan in 1966; Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Ken Boswell in 1967…and before you knew it, it was 1969.
In between were a lot of Mets who made it in the sense that they reached the big leagues for the first time as Mets, which is surely an accomplishment unto itself, but the record would indicate they weren’t exactly avatars of longevity. In later decades, the shall we say Moorhead-to-Seaver ratio wouldn’t be any more overwhelming in the Mets’ favor. Now and then, a Matlack, a Milner, maybe a Mazzilli would shine; more often, you’d be saying a nearly simultaneous “hi” and “bye” to Brian Ostrosser or Brock Pemberton or Butch Benton. Even during the span when the Mets were busily producing and promoting another round of future champions — 14 members of the 1986 postseason roster rose to the majors as Mets — they had their fair share of discards. Some turned into trade bait. Some went basically nowhere. But there was always another one coming. And if you were human, you got a little extra excited to see each of them show up, show his stuff and show enough to keep you excited for the next show.
From Bob Moorhead on that first day in 1962 to Noah Syndergaard last night in 2015, there have been 360 Mets who made their major league debuts as Mets. That includes the Rule 5 guys acquired from other organizations; the Japanese imports who were rookies more on a technicality than in practice; the kids who were signed by somebody else who didn’t mind swapping them early for players they deemed necessary to obtain right away; and, most alluringly, the homegrown super prospects the Mets nurtured from first professional contract onward. Like Strawberry and Gooden way back when. Like Harvey not all that long ago. Like that.
Syndergaard isn’t like that because he was traded to the Mets from Toronto when the Blue Jays decided they had to have R.A. Dickey, a pretty desirable commodity in the wake of his 2012 Cy Young season. Dickey was how the Mets got Travis d’Arnaud, too. That kind of deal netted us the likes of Ron Darling long ago: top draft pick for Texas in 1981, Met minor leaguer by 1982, a Met taking on and setting down Rose, Morgan and Schmidt in order as of September 1983. Once you’re literally and figuratively in our system, we want you up with us; once you’re up, you’re ours. When we talked about all our young pitchers thirty-plus years ago, we didn’t hold Ronnie’s Rangers birth certificate against him.
In that same vein, we haven’t much thought of Noah as erstwhile Blue Jay property. Instead, we circled his name in the media guides of our mind as a future Met of the best kind, the kind we were looking forward to seeing ASAP, the kind whose advancement we grew impatient over. It wasn’t that Noah, 22 on his most recent birthday, was rudely keeping us waiting. He was just developing. That’s the word they use in baseball. “The Mets are developing young talent.” All teams do it. Some teams do it to great effect. Since the 2012 season began, the Mets can be said to have developed 31 players en route to MLB debuts as Mets. Some have already washed out. Some are struggling to get back. Some are momentarily on the mend.
Some are becoming the core of this team in 2015 and figure to be the core of this team clear to 2020 at the very least. This series at Wrigley Field features the cream of that crop, even if they haven’t necessarily been at their best. Noah Syndergaard is the latest in that line, the line that stretches back through Plawecki and Herrera and deGrom and d’Arnaud and Flores and Wheeler and Lagares and Familia and Harvey…clear back to Bob Moorhead.
The first appearance by the 360th Met to make a first major league appearance as a Met was as scintillating as it had to be. Syndergaard — who arrived with his very own widely disseminated nickname in tow — has stuff, all right, and he seems to know how to use it. He kept the Cubs, no pikers in the young talent department themselves, from scoring for five innings; the hand-operated scoreboard might as well have renamed the Thorboard. The kid worked himself out of trouble (some self-imposed, some inflicted on him by his defense) a couple of times. A couple of times he dominated. Eventually, he proved himself indisputably a rookie pitching for the first time against top-level competition. The Cubs couldn’t be contained in the sixth and Noah had to leave trailing, 3-0. Jake Arrieta wasn’t giving the Mets anything, so even a polymorphic reincarnation of Seaver, Gooden and Harvey would have been challenged to prevail.
The Mets went on to lose Noah Syndergaard’s big league debut, 6-1. In the present, it’s more discouraging for the hitless-wonder offense than it is for the pitcher who kept the team viable as long as he could. In the bigger picture still in the process of being sketched, we are reminded what is beautiful about rooting for a team that keeps bringing up players we’ve never seen, particularly the ones who are said to be potentially very good, even if we are initially permitted only a glimpse of their most outstanding qualities.
The beauty part is they’re probably gonna keep getting better and, until further notice, they’re gonna keep being Mets.
Coincidentally debuting the same week as Syndergaard is a podcast called I’d Just As Soon Kiss A Mookiee, the hybrid brainchild of Shannon Shark and Jason Fry. It’s half Mets, half Star Wars. I listened to half of it (you can guess which half) and I adored what I heard. You might like all of it. Listen here.
“I hit behind Yogi in one ballgame […] somebody threw him a fastball up in his eyes and Yogi banged it up the middle for a single and I was sitting there on deck going, ‘This is not a game for which I’m familiar…good god.’ To bat behind Yogi Berra, that was awesome.”
It wasn’t Gary Kroll’s day. Facing the Reds at Crosley Field on Saturday, May 1, 1965, he was touched for a home run in the second by Leo Cardenas and then roughed up in the fourth: an RBI double to Pete Rose, a three-run homer to Vada Pinson and another he left on base that came around to score after he was pulled. The Mets trailed 6-1 in the fourth.
Casey Stengel would be using his bullpen plenty. Al Jackson finished out the fourth. Larry Bearnarth took the fifth (and was tagged for two more runs). Jim Bethke, at 18 the youngest pitcher the Mets would ever use, held the fort in the sixth and seventh, but as was usually the case, circa 1965, there wasn’t all that much fort to hold. It was 8-2, Cincinnati. Bethke had done nice work, but after throwing two innings the night before and two innings here today, there was the matter of his young right arm to consider. When his turn came up in the top of the eighth — Joe Christopher on first, two out — Stengel called on a pinch-hitter.
He called on Yogi Berra.
Berra was hired to coach, a personnel matter that was considered a publicity coup. He was Yogi Berra. He needed no introduction, not after 18 seasons playing with New York’s American League franchise, picking up along the way world championships, All-Star appearances and MVP awards the way other catchers picked up passed balls. Yogi was so highly thought of that his previous employer chose him as its manager in 1964.
All Berra did in that role was lead them to another pennant and the seventh game of the World Series. Yet he was dismissed. Stengel — who had managed the man with great delight for a dozen seasons— was happy to snatch him up. The whole transaction couldn’t help but make the Mets look good. The Mets had Casey and Yogi. The Mets had the most quotable, most lovable brain trust imaginable.
They didn’t necessarily plan to have an extra catcher. Yogi finished playing in 1963, but these were the Mets, who could always use another catcher. They could always use another anything, really, but having in their infancy and toddlerhood sifted through the Choo Choo Colemans and the Chris Cannizzaros; the Hobie Landriths and the Harry Chitis; the Hawk Taylors and the Sammy Taylors — to say nothing of assorted Joe Pignatanos, Joe Ginsbergs and Jesse Gonders — the Mets behind the plate were where the Rolling Stones were about to be on the radio that summer.
In a perpetual state of dissatisfaction.
So Yogi, at 39 years, 11 months and 19 days of age, consented to be activated. And on this Saturday afternoon in Southern Ohio, he officially became the 94th Met in team history. Berra stepped in against Sammy Ellis and proceeded to ground to first base. Gordy Coleman handled the ball cleanly and stepped on the bag, three-unassisted.
The Mets went on to lose, 9-2. Berra got into three more games over the next eight days — catching twice and pinch-hitting once — before re-retiring, this time for good. He was granted his release as a player on May 11 and resumed coaching full-time. The next day, while holding down the first base box, he celebrated his 40th birthday.
That was May 12, 1965, exactly fifty years ago. That means Yogi Berra has just turned 90 — or the rough equivalent of five ’65 Bethkes. Having participated in that game at Crosley Field made him a Met, and having made it this far means he is the first Met to have ever reached a 90th birthday. Only three Mets (Warren Spahn, Gene Woodling and Gil Hodges) were born before him. None has lasted as long as him.
Coincidentally, Yogi’s Mets playing debut came exactly 900 Mets ago, chronologically speaking. Johnny Monell, also a catcher by trade, pinch-hit this past Saturday night and became Met No. 994 in the annals. Tonight we are slated to be formally introduced to Met No. 995, a young feller by the name of Noah Syndergaard, born August 29, 1992. To date, only one Met (Dilson Herrera) has been born after him. It remains to see how long Noah lasts. We hope his overall run unfurls as lengthily and successfully as Yogi’s in and out of the game.
Though, let’s face it, that’s a pretty high standard.
Yogi Berra was one of the greatest catchers ever, and by dint of that brief 1965 stint, forever holds the honor of first Met player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Richie Ashburn, Duke Snider and Spahn each debuted as Mets before Berra, but Yogi got his Cooperstown call first. We’d love to tell you that it was Yogi’s two hits in nine Met at-bats that sealed the deal, or that his plaque lovingly details the events of May 4, 1965, when he caught Al Jackson’s 11-strikeout complete game victory over the Phillies at Shea — or even that what ultimately won him election in January 1972 was the fine job he had done coaching first base for Stengel, Wes Westrum, Salty Parker and Hodges — but we can’t. Yogi Berra had ascended to the cusp of baseball immortality before he ever played for the Mets.
But he did play for the Mets, and no one who can say that has lived a life quite so long.
(Good thoughts at this time as well to Berra’s batterymate Jackson, truly a Met for all ages.)
Hang with ’em.
It was one of the first bits of baseball advice I gave Joshua to pass along to the little figures on the TV who can’t hear us. Blasted a ball up the gap that the right fielder barely speared at a dead run? Hang with ’em. Laser beam perfectly intersected by the apex of the shortstop’s leap? Hang with ’em. Shot right up the middle that vanished into the pitcher’s mitt like a magic trick, leaving the batter out before he even drops his lumber? Hang with ’em.
Things will even out. Good execution, poor results. The worm will turn.
One reason baseball is so full of cliches is that it’s maddeningly fickle — an unfair game, as Rod Kanehl sagely noted once upon a time. Poor preparation and awareness may be rewarded; Herculean efforts and perfect approaches may be punished. There is no defense against this perversity except a dogged belief that the baseball universe bends towards … well, not justice exactly, but a cosmic evening out. Cliches are comfort, the only part of the sport that can be made predictable and orderly.
Tonight’s game, in a half-reconfigured Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out, was actually kind of fun — well, in theory. Jacob deGrom is experiencing growing pains, trying to navigate poor location with his fastball and an apparent lack of confidence in his offspeed pitches. The Cubs leapt on him early, with Kris Bryant hitting his first hometown homer on the first night the left-field bleachers had been reoccupied. Bryant’s Wrigley Field homers will soon become a blur of bad news for visiting teams, but this one was special even without the theater — I was standing in the kitchen and my head jerked up at the sound of bat hitting ball. It was a sound Buck O’Neil would have appreciated, the sound of the hardest thing to do in sports done perfectly. With the crowd still buzzing about Bryant’s heroics, the rapidly maturing Anthony Rizzo then demolished another baseball, sending this one into the yet-to-be-reoccupied right-field bleachers.
DeGrom looked like he’d soon be watching the rest from a dugout slouch, but he managed to hang around and Terry Collins seemed determined to make the game a learning experience for him. DeGrom nearly crumbled in the fourth, but erased Rizzo on a two-out, bases-loaded grounder. Meanwhile, the Mets had stopped fishing so avidly for Lester’s slider and curve and started seeking aid from Andy Fletcher’s strike zone, which was both undersized and given to butterfly-like wanderings. Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores went back to back themselves in the sixth, and somehow the Mets were within one with Dilson Herrera on second, Ruben Tejada called on to pinch-hit, and Lester fighting a losing battle against the urge to rush home plate and body-slam Fletcher. Tejada was called out on a pitch that looked low, which seemed like an injustice until you thought about all the other pitches Mets hadn’t been called out on that looked perfectly fine.
Still, the Mets were down by a skinny run with a better bullpen than the Cubs and nine outs to play with. Which seemed doable. Too bad the Big Hang With ‘Em was soon to begin.
In the eighth, Michael Cuddyer led off with a single and Duda absolutely vaporized a ball down the right-field line. It was headed into the corner, or possibly through the brick wall and into a nearby bar, or possibly it would carve a smoking tunnel through the Earth and emerge somewhere in Michigan. Unless, of course, it crashed straight into Rizzo’s glove, allowing him to double up Cuddyer.
Ugh. Hang with ’em, Lucas.
Were we done? Not hardly. Curtis Granderson worked a walk to start the ninth, bringing up Herrera — who smoked a ball to the left of second base. Despite being the apple of our off-season eye, Starlin Castro hasn’t exactly been the anti-Flores at short so far, and this ball was past him. Somehow Castro corralled it to force Granderson at second.
Ugh. Hang with ’em, Dilson.
Johnny Monell was our last chance, and he smacked a hard grounder — right, inevitably, at Addison Russell. Russell surrounded it, started the double play, and we were done.
During my postgame sulking, I saw this from MetsProspectHub: The Mets are 5th in line-drive percentage at 22.6% and 21st in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) at .281. As MPH put it, “they haven’t just been unlucky. They’ve been STUPIDLY unlucky.”
Or as I’d put it, hang with ’em.
Any baseball game is a good one, of course, but the Mets played a fun one against the Phils on Sunday — you had some exciting home runs and other big hits, good starting pitching, some nifty plays in the field, and drama. Though not too much drama. You also had contributions from people you expected and ones you didn’t. Which was a useful reminder that teams with October aspirations get there by relying on a lot more than eight members of the starting lineup and five starting pitchers. They need a lot more than 25 guys, even — you’ll need noteworthy performances from momentary relievers, infield fill-ins, third catchers, spot starters and more. Here’s a roll call for Sunday’s game, from the expected to the less so:
Bartolo Colon: The big man, noted at 210 by an apparently straight-faced Ron Darling before game time, wasn’t masterful but was his usual fuss-free self, fanning six to move to 6-1 on the season. (Less amusing: His inability to get a bunt down in the fifth with the Mets down 2-1.) But still: Bartolo Colon has walked one guy in 2015. One! And to think a lot of us were bemoaning that second year of his contract.
Curtis Granderson: Colon’s failure bunting didn’t matter thanks to Granderson, who hit a laser-beam home run off fellow base-trotter Chad Billingsley to put the Mets back up 3-2. I’ll take more of that, please.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: It hasn’t been a season to remember for Kirk, who shaved off baseball’s best beard and then had to confront an unhirsute batting average. But Nieuwenhuis got it done Sunday, with an RBI double, an alert steal of third that became a run when Darrin Rupp threw the ball down the line, and a skidding catch in foul territory for the final at-bat of the game. He also allowed the Phils a potentially critical free base with an ill-advised throw home, but on balance it was a good day for a player who needed a good day really badly.
Johnny Monell: Spring training’s star began his Mets career with a good at-bat Saturday, then collected his first hit today with an eighth-inning double off Jeanmar Gomez, one of those balls in the gap that seems to speed up once it hits grass. Doubles for your side are by definition good things, but this one was critical, bringing in Anthony Recker and Ruben Tejada to turn a 5-4 Mets lead into something more comfortably Colonesque. And when was the last time you saw one backup catcher drive in another backup catcher? Get Elias on the phone!
Ruben Tejada: Man, dude has more lives than a whole litter of cats. On Saturday night Tejada saved the Mets from disaster in the eighth with a backhand stab in the hole, then coolly got his bearings for a quick flip to Dilson Herrera and an amazingly welcome 6-4-3 double play. On Sunday, Jeurys Familia began the ninth inning by allowing a single to Carlos Hernandez. A fielder’s choice replaced Hernandez with Carlos Ruiz, but then Ben Revere hit a Baltimore chop to the lip of the infield at second. That threatened to bring Freddy Galvis to the plate as the tying run, but Tejada somehow used his glove like a Ping-Pong paddle, goosing it to Duda for the out. The play looked like an optical illusion — the ball barely registered as in Tejada’s glove at all.
Ryan Howard: No, this doesn’t say Alex Torres, because the smaller, beturbaned member of the Torri is a hot mess right now, unable to locate the plate. After Saturday night’s horrifying walkfest, Terry Collins went back to Torres in the eighth with one out and the tying run on second. Torres immediately walked Revere, which is basically impossible. He retired Galvis, but his pitches kept sailing inside to left-handed hitters, and he hit Chase Utley to load the bases. That brought up Ryan Howard, and surely Collins would remove Torres and go to Sean Gilmartin. Nope; Terry stuck with Torres and his suddenly theoretical grasp of the strike zone. So Howard, a 12-year veteran, inexplicably swung at the first pitch, grounding out to Duda and short-circuiting the Phils’ chances for the day. Amazing.
Angel Hernandez: Every Mets fan’s favorite umpire made his presence known early, ruling Revere safe on the first play in the bottom of the first. Um, no. Replay showed Angel was wrong, which was doubly delicious for Mets fans. If Major League Baseball would like to improve the world’s greatest sport, it could do so very quickly by
throwing Angel Hernandez into a pit of wolves telling Angel Hernandez to find another line of work. Failing that, at least we have replay — though Angel, rather memorably, turned to replay and still managed to screw up a home-run call in Cleveland two years ago, boning the A’s out of a ninth-inning tie. If that seems impossible, well, like so much else about this game Angel Hernandez is amazing in his own way. |