Ryan Schimpf can blast home runs, but I’m not quite sure what he was doing in the bottom of the 11th, when Wilmer Flores hit a ground ball his way with runners on first and third and one out. James Loney, who moves at the approximate speed of a continental shelf, was the runner on first. Flores, whose foot speed is also best measured in global epochs, was headed that way. Schimpf fielded the ball and did what the textbook advised: get the lead runner at home. But the textbook’s author hadn’t imagined a plodding Pangaea of Mets in the neighborhood. Schimpf threw a Lucas Duda October strike homeward, nearly hitting a startled Neil Walker, and the Mets had won.
I don’t know, maybe Schimpf just wanted to see Styx.
This unexpected turn of events took the sting out of what had been another one of those nights for the Mets. They got off to a decent start, with newly re-returned Jose Reyes walking and scampering to third on a errant throw by the catcher and then scoring on Walker’s single. That looked like it might actually be enough for Jacob deGrom, who made us dream of a no-hitter before Schimpf ruined the fun in the fifth, and then surrendered the skinny lead on a Yangervis Solarte homer in the seventh.
In the bottom of the inning, the Mets did something they’ve rarely do: they picked up the shaggy pitcher who’s reclaimed the title of staff ace. Flores singled, Alejandro De Aza walked, and Travis d’Arnaud was called upon to bunt. One can argue about the wisdom of asking d’Arnaud to do so, but the base-out matrix does make the sac bunt a numerically defensible strategy in that situation — it increases the chance of scoring at least one run in the inning by a small but real 6.6 percent.
Anyway, d’Arnaud laid down a beautiful bunt, Kelly Johnson hit a sac fly, and the Mets seemed to be in business.
Except now it was Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia in the usual bind of Mets’ pitchers, needing to be perfect. Reed was, but Familia gave up a two-out blast to Wil Myers. Not so fast, Tommy Shaw and … um, you other current members of Styx. There was free baseball to be played.
Free baseball that somehow went the Mets’ way. Disaster seemed to be in the cards, with Gabriel Ynoa asked to make his big-league debut on a sticky night before a restive crowd that was tired of bad baseball. Shoved out in front of a firing squad, Ynoa earned a whatever-gun salute instead, with his first big-league strikeout capping a 1-2-3 inning. A few minutes later, Schimpf had happened and Ynoa had his first W.
It’s eminently possible Ynoa will never have another win that easy, but hey, they all count. And what’s true for pitchers is true of teams too. Schimpf should have thrown the ball to the shortstop, but he didn’t and the Mets won. When teams are going well we treat wins like that as signs of opportunism and relentlessness, the hallmarks of winning clubs. The Mets aren’t going well, but let’s not poor-mouth an honest-to-goodness victory because of that. They were due having the little black cloud take up residence over someone else’s head for a change.
Here’s your roundup of another thrilling day rooting for the incredible shrinking National League champs:
- Zack Wheeler‘s return to the mound was followed by not being able to throw because of elbow pain, so he’s off to see Dr. James Andrews. We’re all sure this will turn out great.
- The Mets sent Michael Conforto down to Vegas again, where he will hit .300. He’ll hit .300 either because a) in Triple-A he isn’t “pressing” or b) in Triple-A he’s away from a manager seemingly hell-bent on destroying his development via irregular playing time and self-fulfilling prophecies.
- Logan Verrett was horrible yet again, as he has been for four months, and was booed off the mound. Not to worry, as he’ll be replaced in the starting rotation by underachieving alibi-prone malcontent Jon Niese, last seen out-Verretting Verrett by giving up six runs in one inning. A steady diet of shit like this makes nihilism seem like a practical life philosophy.
- The rest of tonight’s game saw the Mets annoy a pig by smearing lipstick all over it. I’m genuinely baffled by those in attendance who remained. And so I salute you. You are the true diehards, the bleeders of orange and blue who remind us all that despite trying times … oh, enough of that bullshit. You’re crazy people twice over — crazy for joining a sadistic tropical death march in the first place and crazier for staying to watch the ship sink and sharks take down the survivors.
- The 2016 Mets are now officially below .500 at 57-58. Over their last 81 games — that’s a full half-season if you’re sighing at home — they’re 36-45. That gaudy-by-comparison 57-58 record is an illusion based on things done long ago by a team that no longer exists. You’re witnessing a 76-86 club finding its level. It hasn’t reached it yet.
I think that’s all the deplorable stuff that happened today, but if I missed anything, fear not: the Mehs will be back tomorrow to muddle around uselessly and depress us further. You’ve got 19 hours to do something life-affirming and not completely futile. Make the most of it.
Harry Truman trailed Thomas Dewey by five points in the final Gallup Poll of 1948. The New York Giants fell 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in the summer of 1951. I somehow passed geometry in ninth grade. Stories of extraordinary comebacks are woven lovingly into the American tapestry. A few stand out as legend. Y’know why? Because they don’t happen all the time.
On August 11, 2016, a former Speaker of the House invoked Truman ultimately defeating Dewey to suggest his favored presidential candidate of the moment isn’t necessarily in fatal electoral trouble. “Usually,” a trenchant Twitter observer countered, “the part of the campaign death rattle where partisans cite Truman & 1948 comes later.” That this extreme example emerged on the 65th anniversary of the sure-thing Dodgers expanding their lead over the Giants to its largest margin of the 1951 season may be an innocent coincidence or a harbinger of god-knows-what. That it also arrived on the very same day the Mets seemed to implicitly concede their 2016 campaign — or at least suspend active pursuit of the second National League Wild Card — perhaps reminds us how infrequently extraordinary comebacks come together.
I’m no geometrician, but the only angle I see that will connect the Mets to the playoffs is the line about it not being over till it’s over — which, conveniently, was drawn up in-house at Shea Stadium, so we have every right to cling to it. Again, though, that’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of legend doesn’t pop up every day.
You know who pops up every day? Met batters. They also strike out, ground out, fly out, and, if appearances are any indication, give up easily. I doubt they’re consciously throwing in the towel or waving the white flag, as both actions would require effort, but their collective demeanor does not inspire faithful fervor, let alone a modicum of confidence
On Thursday afternoon, the Mets lost to the Diamondbacks, 9-0. Noah Syndergaard wasn’t great. Jon Niese wasn’t good. The offense wasn’t present. I’d make the forfeit joke, but it’s been made already. I didn’t think we’d descend into are they even trying? territory in 2016, but their manager sort of went there in his postgame remarks, so we as mere fans don’t have to be overly polite.
The Mets looked beaten against the D’Backs the way lousy teams looked beaten against the Mets a year ago. Arizona, despite stealing away like the love child of Ron LeFlore and Robbie Dupree, is not roaring toward a Western Division title in case you were wondering. They reveled in a delightful (for them) three games at Citi Field, but otherwise they’ve endured a dreadful season. The Mets, meanwhile, front-loaded their joy into April and selected portions of May, June and earliest July. They’ve been nothing but dour since.
The “won” and “lost” columns contain absolutely equal quantities: 57 apiece. The Mets were nine games over .500 on July 7. They are nine games under .500 five weeks later. There’s a law of averages lurking somewhere inside those numbers, but a team that is 0-7 in its last seven one-run games seems determined to find a way to not win every chance it gets. They have famously not directly followed one win with another in more than a month and haven’t taken any of the past five series they’ve played.
Their relative proximity to the Wild Card — three games as of this writing with 48 to play (or ten games closer to Miami than old New York was to Brooklyn with 44 to go) — continues to tantalize, at least until you watch them conduct their on-field affairs for a month. The best that you can do between the moon and sullen Citi is attempt to conjure a scenario in which a procession of healed and hearty Mets march forth from the DL and into the lineup, proceeding to power themselves and their simultaneously rejuvenated teammates to heights the lot of them had forgotten they were capable of reaching. Reyes comes back, Cespedes comes back, Cabrera comes back, Wheeler comes back, the whole darn shootin’ match comes back. The Marlins, the Cardinals and the Pirates all find themselves stuck in the completive mud while the Mets hijack the first hovercraft they see and whoosh right by them.
It could happen. It could. It probably won’t, but it would be irresponsible of us not to entertain such a fantasy, just as it would be negligent of us to not consider that three out with 48 to play is simply another plot point on the downward graph that will have us six out with 42 to play, 10 out with 35 to play, whatever out with however many to play until sub-mediocrity lands upon its inevitable level.
You can blame the manager, because managers are hired to be blamed. You can absolve the manager, because though the manager wears a uniform, he does not swing ineffectually, pitch without fluidity or forget to go through the motions of holding opposing baserunners on. It’s probably partly Terry Collins’s doing that the Mets have been avoiding awesomeness for weeks on end, though it was probably also probably partly Terry Collins’s doing that the Mets soared above most of the N.L. pack for a spell. I almost wish I could rub two rhetorical sticks together and offer you a flaming hot take on the matter. All I will tell you is I don’t take other people’s livelihoods lightly, thus I’m probably not temperamentally suited to lead a #FireTerry torch patrol. Then again, I’m not exactly prepared to go all Tiananmen Square in his defense.
If the Mets as currently constituted were good enough to not be swept soundly by the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks, any manager could have guided them to a 1-2 record in their past three games. They’re not that good. Maybe they will be before it gets too late. Truman caught Dewey. The Giants caught the Dodgers. I eked out a 70 on the New York State Geometry Regents of June 1978, which served as my adolescence’s veritable Shot Heard Round the World. I wasn’t a witness to the first two miracles, but I can assure you I wouldn’t have bet an isosceles nickel on myself with 48 days to go in that particular school year.
Yet here I am today, complaining about the Mets, just like I did in ninth grade. Yes, that Regents Diploma really took me a long way.
Applause for Kelly Johnson, upon the ninth-inning, one-out, two-run home run that tied Wednesday night’s game, was hearty at schvitzy Citi Field but not universal. The Metsnoscenti recognized false hope as soon as they saw it. Huzzah, Kelly, for you did what you were supposed to do, what none of your teammates managed to do in the eight innings before, but by firing a cannon shot into the branded beverage pavilion, you also prolonged the inevitable.
This was not hindsight. My old buddy Jim predicted this turn of events hours before, when the Arizona Diamondbacks sat and sat some more on an early 1-0 lead. You just know, he said, that this is one of those games where the Mets will tie it in the ninth only to set up a loss that will feel far worse because it was tied. I’d credit Jim with outsize prognosticatory abilities, except I was thinking pretty much the same thing.
We’re all Kreskin with this team. We’ve all seen this movie, yet we keep coming back for the next show. Maybe they’ll change the ending, we try to convince ourselves. But they don’t.
Pick your precedent of choice to best explain the Diamondbacks’ twelve-inning 3-2 win. It wasn’t altogether different from any of the Mets’ one- or two-run losses of late. It reminded me a bit as well of the thirteen innings spent shaking my head at the Mets and White Sox at the beginning of June, mainly because my companion at that game departed an inning before the whole thing went into the dumper, just like Jim did Wednesday. Sticklers for facsimile might recollect along with me back to another Mets-Diamondbacks game, played at roughly the same juncture of a season that refused to kindly go away until it completely, grudgingly and scarringly disappeared.
August 3, 2002, first game of a Saturday doubleheader at Shea. In the bottom of the eighth, Edgardo Alfonzo launches a two-run homer. Talk about your huzzahs. The Mets take a 5-4 lead. Fonzie is so clutch. Now all that has to be done is record three outs in the top of the ninth. We’ll simply call on Armando Benitez, and…
Yeah, right. Craig Counsell leads off with a home run. We’re tied. We go to extras. Scott Strickland hits a guy, gives up a single and then a three-run bomb to Erubiel Durazo. Mets lose, 8-5. Mets lose the second game. Mets are swept in the series. Mets don’t recover until maybe 2005. No kidding.
But who requires precedent when the present is doing a splendid job of cultivating fresh agony? Johnson was The Man for a minute, just as Bartolo Colon was the Mets’ Big Sexy finger in the dike for seven innings of seven-hit ball. Bart, in his quest to defeat the only major league team he’d never beaten, gave up a single run. Silly veteran. Doesn’t he know one run is a trick too tough for the Mets to untangle? Especially when you’re facing Robbie Ray and his cabinet full of Cy Youngs?
Correction: Robbie Ray has no particular portfolio of success in his relatively brief major league career, and he entered the evening with a 4.83 ERA. His peripherals suggest he sucked a little less than that, but not nearly enough to shut out the (try to hold your laughter) Defending National League Champions (giggle) on three hits and no walks over seven innings.
Robbie Ray, not Randy Johnson, not Curt Schilling, not Brandon Webb, not Patrick Corbin before Tommy John. Robbie Fucking Ray. This is the fucking Diamondback the Mets couldn’t touch except to shake his hand in a complimentary fashion inning after inning as he set them down.
Jesus Marshmallow Fluff on three slices of Wonder Bread. I swear. I’d use real curse words there, but the Diamondbacks stole the rest of them when Travis d’Arnaud threw his Funk & Wagnalls into center.
The simple 2-0 loss toward which the Mets were on a glide path (Addison Reed having been less invincible than usual) was averted when Johnson took Jake Barrett to the soda pop palace. We’d be lobbying Congress for a commemorative Kelly Johnson Home Run postage stamp had it been followed by an additional run of some sort. Neil Walker, who was Tuesday night’s innocent hope-raiser, singled. Jay Bruce didn’t single, but he accidentally moved Walker to second on a groundout. A team that is seriously contending from two games out of a playoff spot — which is where the Mets found themselves entering the inaction thanks to a Marlin matinee loss — gets Walker home. Chip Hale, however, changed pitchers a few more times and ultimately arranged the matchup he wanted: anybody against a Met hitter.
We went to the tenth. Jeurys Familia joined us. It wasn’t a save situation, unless you count saving the season, then by all means, get Familia in there. Jeurys did what he could for two innings (approaching midnight in advance of a noon start). He and Colon could compare notes on keeping their team afloat with zero support, just as perhaps they swapped stories on their flight home from San Diego about not being used by their manager in the All-Star Game. The only Met who tried to help Familia on the offensive side of the ball, or at least the only one who succeeded a little, was the newest Met, rookie T.J. Rivera. Credit Rivera, Met third baseman No. 162 ever (so we have one for every game of a given year), with some nifty defense and his first major league hit, a single delivered to no avail leading off the home tenth. Also, T.J. comes to bat to Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s “Déjà Vu (Uptown Baby),” which samples Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” and had its video shot at Shea Stadium, so anything he does once he actually bats is a bonus in my book.
The Diamondbacks have a player named Oscar Hernandez. Did you know that? On a team swimming in interesting monikers — Tuffy Gosewisch; Socrates Brito; Phil Gosselin, your State Farm Agent of the Day for all your pinch-hitting needs, to judge by his Jumbotron portrait — Oscar Hernandez doesn’t necessarily stand out, but he’ll be wandering through our nightmares alongside Craig Counsell and Erubiel Durazo for a generation or two. Hernandez, who had never homered off anybody in the majors, did so versus Jerry Blevins (whose status as “not chopped liver” I’m beginning to reconsider) to start the twelfth. The Mets trailed by one. They stayed in that position through the bottom of the twelfth, confirming the 3-2 loss that left the Mets 2½ games and a million emotional miles out of the last Wild Card slot.
These Mets reminded me of a postseason team in one sense, for I was overcome by my own déjà vu, baby, when Wednesday was over. I hadn’t been up on the first base side of Promenade quite so late after a stinging loss since Game Four of the World Series. That night I was pretty certain 2015 had reached its death throes, though it would take one more game to make it official. This loss to the Diamondbacks had that much in common with that loss to the Royals. Here, of course, 49 games remain and one hot streak (or three lukewarm spurts) could conceivably make all the difference in determining 2016’s fate. But sooner or later, our boys have to actually win games by the plural. They’re not doing it and they’re not exactly throwing off sparks in their sputtering attempts to be victorious.
Your individual Defending National League Champions (snicker) are the worst offenders. D’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores and Curtis Granderson, honest-to-god baseball heroes this time last year, went a combined 0-for-13, each of them failing at the most crucial juncture they could uncover. Travis was a disaster with opposing runners on base as well. The D’Backs have been robbing him sight-impaired. Catchers may take too much blame for stolen bases, but d’Arnaud appears to be aiding and abetting the thefts, which have totaled nine in eleven attempts these past two nights.
The 2016 Mets have not swiped my affection for the game they attempt to play. I had a wonderful experience talking up their immediate predecessors at beautiful Little City Books in Hoboken on Monday night and appreciate all my Jersey compatriots for coming out. Stephanie and I were tickled to spend Tuesday night literally behind home plate (you may have seen us on camera) alongside our friends Rob and Ryder as we executed our seventh consecutive August good-time get-together. And on Wednesday, in seats generously passed along by the geographically absent but spiritually present birthday celebrant Skid Rowe (in a section adjacent to the heretofore uncrowned Queen of Beers; she wore a t-shirt that identified her as such), Jim offered a multi-inning interpretation of Lorinda de Roulet that Elaine Stritch would have envied on her best day. It’s only when the games end and the season’s aspirations wither with them that this whole Met thing grows inexorably morbid.
On Sunday Emily and I were driving across Pennsylvania when I realized it was time for the Mets game. I started to turn it on, then hesitated. My wife — who’d watched as I turned on Saturday night’s game just in time to see the Mets lose on a play at the plate that their manager saw no reason to challenge — raised an eyebrow and asked me if I really wanted to torture myself.
You know what? I didn’t. I found out later that the Mets had won, said “that’s nice” and got on with my day.
On Tuesday the Mets lost to the Diamondbacks. Neil Walker hit another big home run, but Hansel Robles came in and was jobbed by the ump and then torched by the visitors. The Mets then stopped hitting and that was that.
I know this team remains tantalizingly close to the second wild-card spot, but that says more about a wan wild-card chase then it does about the Mets. Only their record in long-ago April has kept them from sinking completely out of sight; they’ve have been bad since the calendar turned to May, their overall record a slow leak to who knows what miserable level. Their badness is somewhat forgivable, given that they’ve been savaged by injuries, but they’ve also been deeply boring — they’re uninspiring when they win and flat-out unwatchable when they don’t.
If this slow jog in pursuit of being named “second-least-mediocre mediocre National League team” inspires you, well, God bless. I don’t care and I’m no longer interested in pretending that I do.
So I’m going to write about something else instead: the three ballparks I just added to my MLB list, which now stands at 24. They were all a lot of fun to see, and each had some ideas the Mets would do well to emulate. They also had some surprises for me.
Our first stop was Progressive Field, the home of the Indians. It reminded me a little of Petco, with its white architecture and city view. (Greg’s take from the Jake days is here.)
Progressive has good food, kind and attentive folks on duty and is a fine setting for a ballgame. Where it really shines, though, is how it’s meshed the history of team and city. That starts with the statues outside — Larry Doby, Bob Feller and Jim Thome greet you — and continues inside. Walking the concourse, you run across features about Cleveland neighborhoods, tributes to players such as Feller and Nap Lajoie, and plaques commemorating great and even just strange moments in Indians history.
Upstairs there’s a simple, straightforward Indians museum and an Acela Club-style restaurant dedicated to Feller. Emily and I skulked around the latter two before realizing that since this wasn’t Citi Field, the staff was more interested in seeing if we needed anything than in policing where we should or shouldn’t be. (By the way, we only saw the Indians’ unfortunate Chief logo on a couple of t-shirts in an upper-deck store; the team’s clearly slowly phasing it out in favor of a plain red C that’s a likely placeholder for some new stab at a logo.)
Another thing we liked about Progressive Field: the A/V folks let the game breathe. You aren’t bombarded with replays, or music, or exhortations to do something. And guess what? The game works perfectly well when that stuff’s delivered in moderation.
What doesn’t work at Progressive Field? The only knock I’ll give is the upper levels are bland and missing the neat touches that make the field level so lively. (This is also the case at Petco.)
From Cleveland we headed for Detroit and Comerica Park, a stadium I’d never thought much about and so approached with few expectations.
Here’s Greg on Tiger Stadium, which he loved; I found myself loving its replacement. Comerica is an architectural gem, exuberantly crowned with tiger heads and Old English D tilework and bats-and-balls friezes — it looks like a revved-up 1930s project, with an army of WPA sculptors told to go bengallistic. Right now it’s still new, but it’ll age beautifully, with fans of the 2060s marveling that someone could have loved tigers that much.
Comerica doesn’t skimp on the details, but revels in them. For instance, the Corner Tap Room, a pub that’s half-in and half-out of the park, celebrates the Tigers’ former homes with exhibits, photos, and little touches such as flags that trace the evolution of the Tigers’ signature D. One side of the bar is labeled Michigan; the perpendicular side says Trumbull. Why can’t Citi Field do that? Rather than McFadden’s, a sterile barn that’s cut off from the park, have the Shea Club and the Polo Grounds as entry points to the new stadium and celebrations of the old ones.
Inside, Comerica continues to exult in its tiger theme — there’s a tiger carousel for kids (of whatever age) to ride, and the various bars feature tigers in different art styles. But the park doesn’t forget its team — each decade of Tigers history gets an exhibit with milestones, replica uniforms and much more besides: you can get a deep dive into franchise history by making a single circuit.
Comerica also zeroes in on a subtle but important idea: that the Tigers and Detroit are deeply interwoven and inextricable. My favorite touch: the Tigers, like the Mets and most modern teams, have a brickwalk with fan messages. But Comerica takes this commonplace theme a smart step further by mixing in bricks for each of the players in franchise history, putting Tigers and Tigers fans together.
Comerica’s presentation of the game itself needs a little work; they have an on-field “host” whose ubiquity is irritating. But that’s easy enough to fix, and what surrounds the game is really good. A park I’d never thought about turns out to be one of my favorites.
Our third stop was PNC Park, which I’d been pretty much assured would be either my favorite or runner-up to AT&T. So I was surprised to find that I merely liked it. To be clear, I liked it a lot; it’s just that I didn’t love it. (Greg weighs in here.)
Look, PNC does a lot right. It’s fun to walk in and out across the Roberto Clemente Bridge amid a sea — take the Citi Field stairways in full LET’S GO METS cry and turn that dial to 111. Folks in the park are helpful and attentive without being in your face, and there are interesting quirks that reward exploration. And yes, the setting is undeniably beautiful: the park frames the Pittsburgh skyline perfectly, and it’s fun to stroll along the promenade behind center field overlooking the river.
But I’m a little hesitant to award PNC the crown based on its city’s skyline — to borrow a line from recent politics, they didn’t build that. And while it took me a while, I eventually figured out what I felt was lacking about PNC: it doesn’t have enough Pirates in it.
Progressive Field is a valentine to Cleveland neighborhoods and Indians history; Comerica’s got tigers and Tigers competing to come out the wazoo. But PNC struck me as surprisingly lacking in team history — there’s a wan museum of sorts in the restaurant, but few of the exhibits and history lessons and little touches I’d found in Cleveland and Detroit.
That’s frankly baffling given the team’s rich history and the city’s full-throated love for that team. Why not take a page from Comerica and give fans a goofy, gaudy pirate ship that fires cannons after home runs? Or if that’s too much for you, at least fill the concourses with Piratesiana. Tell me about the nickname’s origins, Bing Crosby, Vern Law, the original Kiner’s Korner, Danny Murtaugh, “We Are Family,” the Stargell stars, the Cobra, Andy Van Slyke, the Killer Bs and so much more. Let me learn about that stuff and revel in it, so that I can moon over the history as much as I do over the prettier-than-a-postcard view.
(If you like, a full photo gallery‘s over here on my Facebook page.)
The Tigers lost a tough one on Sunday. Anibal Sanchez’s eight sterling innings went to waste, Francisco Rodriguez couldn’t maintain a ninth-inning tie, J.D. Martinez couldn’t unwrap a gift run in the eighth and the failure to cash in opportunity after opportunity was galling: three double plays in the first four innings and ten men left on base overall. How does a team go 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position and come up with only one run? When you have so many chances against a pitcher like Jacob deGrom, how do you let him off the hook? What’s wrong with the Tigers? Does Brad Ausmus even have a clue?
We don’t care about this angle, of course, but it’s easy to see how the “shoot!” lands on the other foot sometimes. Saturday night, the Mets wore it worst. Sunday afternoon, it was the Tigers’ turn. Both games could have gone either way. The latter went ours. We’ll take it.
All of what bugged Detroit satisfied us. We indeed outlasted Sanchez’s excellence, having only an extraordinarily welcome Michael Conforto opposite-field homer from the seventh to our credit after his eight innings on the Comerica mound. Perhaps Anibal was just that good. Perhaps the Met offense was just that bad. Perhaps, as Howie Rose suggested (once I had the sense to take refuge on radio from fill-in TV play-by-play), the mandated lack of amphetamines in baseball automatically saps the life from day games after night games.
DeGrom was doing his part splendidly enough, wriggling out of trouble and holding that Tiger attack to no runs until he was replaced by Jerry Blevins in the seventh, and Blevins let one of his three runners score. Jake’s pitch count and fastball were both rising and Blevins, the scouting report emphasizes, isn’t chopped liver. Nothing damaging was hit particularly hard, including the Ian Kinsler infield single that brought in the run that no-decisioned deGrom. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that gets you.
Another of those things seemed prepared to devour the Mets’ luck in the eighth when, with two on and two out, Casey McGehee — he’s played everywhere, man — grounded just enough out of range of James Loney’s grasp and Neil Walker’s glove to send a ball trickling into short right. Martinez, the man on second, was obviously going to trundle home. I could see it, you could see it, the only person who couldn’t see it was Martinez himself, who held up at third, either because he thought the ground ball was already corralled or he misread third base coach Dave Clark’s traffic signals. Clark seemed to want Martinez to keep going toward home and trail runner Justin Upton to stop at second. It was all hard to tell.
The only Tiger with a handle on the developing situation was a former one, right fielder Curtis Granderson. The third defender on the play was the one who picked up the ball and ran it in to the infield, effecting the rundown that nailed Martinez and kept the Tigers from taking the lead off Addison Reed. Surely the Mets were on the verge of being nicked to death, yet just as surely they escaped the blade.
See? It doesn’t only happen to us.
Rodriguez was asked to preserve a ninth-inning deadlock after not seamlessly closing out the two previous games. Ausmus loves his well, but it might’ve been dry. K-Rod hit leadoff man Alejandro De Aza on the arm on an oh-two count. Alejandro crumpled in pain. Terry Collins rushed out to ask a) if he was OK and b) if he was faster than Brandon Nimmo; Terry truly doesn’t know. De Aza answered affirmative to both of the above. Frankie stood on the mound during those several minutes of Met Q&A. Maybe it affected him. He threw ball one to the next batter, Walker, then a strike that was shipped directly out of the park. Neil sure loves a good Sunday pitch. The Mets led, 3-1, and didn’t give it back.
A superb win for the Mets. A better not-loss for the Mets. A terrible defeat for the Tigers in their quest to chase down the Indians, but we don’t see it that way. That’s fine, because we cultivate and nurture a myopic view of our games not to mention our world, but sometimes the most irritating setbacks irritate somebody else.
Hozzie update: He scratched at my elbow around 4:15 AM to wake me and get me to the kitchen for his desired feeding. Minutes later he scratched at my leg to let me know the transfer of food from can to plate to floor to him was taking too long. I instinctively kicked him away. This is the kind of theater we’ve rehearsed nightly for ages. It had been missing. I’m glad it’s returning…except he didn’t actually eat anything. One miracle at a time, as I like to say.
Hoboken update: Come see me at Little City Books (100 Bloomfield Street, corner of 1st and Bloomfield, across from City Hall) tonight at 7. We’ll talk Amazin’ Again, glorious 2015 Mets, frustrating 2016 Mets, any and all Mets you like. I look forward to stepping right up and greeting you there.
Perhaps it’s not a fortuitous weekend for the Mets to be playing the Tigers from my perspective given the condition of my eldest cat Hozzie. In a nutshell, the tabby who prefers to keep his own counsel when not expressing a desire to be fed and fed some more wasn’t doing great before the Mets arrived in Detroit and he got worse on Friday night, sort of like Met hitters against Justin Verlander. Sufficiently alarmed, Stephanie and I gathered our boy and shuttled him to an emergency vet. Bottom line: our indefatigable fourteen-year-old feline is still with us — destined to outlast Alex Rodriguez’s playing career, we trust — but almost wasn’t. The Original Hosmer’s condition continues to bear watching.
So, I suppose, does that of the often unwatchable Mets. They are two games above .500, which suggests chronic mediocrity, but only two games out of the second Wild Card, which means we can’t wholly dismiss their viability as a playoff contender. Nevertheless, extended exposure to games like Saturday night’s at Comerica Park would convince you to ask a kindly professional to please do the humane thing and send them on their way.
Then again, sending a Met on his way sealed last night’s doom as Tim Teufel waved Jay Bruce toward a home plate his foot never touched, ending a 6-5 defeat that would have fit snugly inside almost any unfulfilling Met season. I’ve seen this loss in years when a handful of reversed outcomes would have led to October appointments. I’ve seen this loss in years when the inability to execute led to the dismissal of managers, coaches and higher-ups. I’ve seen this loss in books that attempt to explain how nobody here could play this game.
This was the Ty Kelly of losses. You could plug it anywhere and it would look like it belonged.
Remember when Jay Bruce making a last out was a harbinger of celebration? The same man who fanned against Jeurys Familia in Cincinnati last September 26 rumbled toward tying the game this August 6, even though he’s more than a touch torpid on the basepaths. Rumble he did, nonetheless, surprising the viewer who was thinking Travis d’Arnaud’s single to right wasn’t that deep and that Bruce, who had been on second with two out, wasn’t that fast. J.D. Martinez threw, Jarrod Saltalamacchia planted and Bruce slid into tagged oblivion.
Unlike 1962 to fairly recently, you can pitch an official fit about how the catcher blocks or doesn’t block the plate if you maintain a video replay challenge (or if you flutter your eyelashes at an umpire; I’m not clear on all the rule’s nuances). Terry Collins, who grew up a Tigers fan in Michigan — so maybe at least his inner child enjoyed himself last night — still had a challenge at his disposal in the ninth inning. He could have sent two officials to their headsets, or a pay phone, or whatever contraption was handy to get the potential good word. Saltalamacchia’s block looked legal to me, but that never stopped the occupants of the bunker in Chelsea before. Terry could have thrown a Hail Salty and seen what modern technology gave him for his troubles. Like Casey Stengel in legend, however, he stayed asleep on the bench.
Bruce being too slow and/or not having enough access to the dish did not lose the Mets the game by its own self. It was just the final straw in a box full of them. Jay from Cincinnati was one of the reasons the Mets had been in the game, having launched a fourth-inning leadoff homer to tie the score at one, thus unleashing weekend fill-in Gary Apple’s signature home run call of “I am about to speak louder to signify something of consequence has occurred.” Apple is a studio host by trade, so it’s tough to blame him for his Detroit play-by-play coming up a few lengths shy of what might have been delivered by the late Ernie Harwell…or, for that matter, Comerica Park’s Ernie Harwell statue.
Bruce solo-homered in the fourth. Curtis Granderson solo-homered in the fifth. Logan Verrett imploded in between, his grasp on adequacy no longer sufficient to keep his team completive when he pitches. When Verrett bailed in the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers led by three with two on. Jon Niese entered and decided the concept of inheritance was somehow anathema to the core tenets of fairness and equality, which is to say he allowed singles to Tyler Collins and Miguel Cabrera, allowing both inherited runners to score.
So the Tigers led, 6-1, yet the Mets scratched and clawed (a skill set Hozzie possesses in spades) in their fashion. Grandy had made it 6-2. As the fifth continued, Kelly got himself an infield single, found himself on second after Matt Boyd walked Neil Walker, took third on Bruce’s succeeding fielder’s choice grounder, and came home when Wilmer Flores served a soft single into right. It was station-to-station baseball with stops in between, but son of a gun, the Mets built a run and trailed by only three, with two on for d’Arnaud.
D’Arnaud struck out, but still. The Mets, despite playing like the August 2016 Mets, were kind of in this game. I had a hunch they would be, mainly because Apple had previously announced the Tigers had “blown the game open,” which seemed premature, if understandable, since they featured Miguel Cabrera while we had Ty Kelly in left and René Rivera at designated hitter. The DH is a revolting position on principle, but if they’re gonna let ya have one, you maybe shouldn’t use your defensive-specialist backup catcher there.
Met lineups of late have reminded me of most every pack of baseball cards I’ve ever opened: a random assortment of vaguely familiar players from teams I don’t care about and, if I’m lucky, maybe one or two guys I immediately recognize as Mets. Saturday’s lineup veered to the surreal. Rivera as DH? Loney on the bench? Conforto and Nimmo sitting (lefty, schmefty), with Kelly in the outfield? One game in 162 and all that, but it was weird. Yet usually when a lineup makes little sense to the naked eye, you’re forced to look more closely. Rivera walked his first time up. Kelly, who runs his ass off so hard that first base coach Tom Goodwin is forced to collect it whether Ty is safe or out, was on base three times. The Mets were doing just enough to avert being blown away.
Despite Kelly’s walk, Walker’s single and a Tiger error in the first all going to waste. Despite leaving Rivera to rot on base in the second. Despite Matt Boyd imitating vintage Matt Harvey (remember him?) in the third. Despite Logan’s implosion in the fourth. Despite Niese visibly formulating a quote in his head regarding the difficulty of coming in with runners on in what’s essentially an unfamiliar role to him and he’s not used to the wind currents at Comerica and he had the same problem with the air conditioning in his hotel room as Keith Hernandez had in his, so he couldn’t get the proper amount of sleep…despite all that, the Mets were down by a conceivably surmountable three runs smack in the middle of the fifth.
Long man Niese kept the bases empty in the bottom of that inning, his first full inning of proprietary work. Boyd departed in favor of Alex Wilson to start the sixth. Third baseman Kelly Johnson singled. Michael Conforto, pinch-hitting for Rivera (some cool DH strategy here), also singled. Alas, shortstop Matt Reynolds grounded into the Metropolitan Special, a.k.a. a 6-4-3 double play, and Granderson grounded out, too.
Jonathon retired the first two batters in the home sixth before allowing a double to Ian Kinsler and a walk to Tyler Collins, bringing up Cabrera, at which point I was Googling “bookies” and “sure things,” yet to my shock and surprise, Miggy’s deep fly to right flew into Bruce’s glove. Niese had survived the Tiger attack. We, à la Hozzie, were somehow still alive.
Detroit brought out another Wilson, Justin Wilson, for the seventh. Now the fun started, as our ad agency declared it would in 1983. Kelly singles. Walker singles. Bruce grounds into what appears to be a 3-6-3 double play, already in progress, except Cabrera the first baseman conks Neil in the head as he approaches second and the ball bounces away. With fingers crossed that nobody was concussed, Walker makes it to third and Kelly hustles home. It’s 6-4. The Mets go for another double play when Flores grounds to third, yet somehow that ball clanks off a Tiger glove and Walker scores. The Mets have hit into two surefire double plays, registered two runs and have been debited no outs. It’s 6-5. The Mets are making this happen!
But wait. They’re the Mets. They know there’s a double play in there somewhere and ask the waiter if they can make a substitution on the Metropolitan Special. They are assured it’s all right. In that case, d’Arnaud says, I’ll have that, but please make mine a 4-6-3. It is so arranged; two out. Then Johnson grounds to second just in case. Third out. Met batters basically produced two hits and three DPs, yet had cut their deficit to one run. You were tempted to love this game a little.
The Temptations, though, don’t necessarily hold sway in Detroit these days. Hansel Robles nonethless tamed his share of Tigers in the bottom of the seventh. The Tigers called on yet another reliever for the eighth, Shane Greene. With one out, Loney pinch-hit for Reynolds and singled. Granderson then lined to Cabrera, who didn’t proceed to throw at anybody’s helmet. Instead, he put together an unassisted double play, something completely off the menu, but the Comerica kitchen can be very accommodating.
Three double plays in three consecutive innings, yet the Mets were still in it. Robles stayed on the mound for the bottom of the eighth and he soothed the savage beasts in order. Finally, the ninth, and the Ghost of K-Rod Past. Francisco Rodriguez extinguished Kelly, then Walker, but then Bruce confounded a shift to single through the vacated shortstop hole. Alejandro De Aza, exactly the kind of hitter who would homer off Rodriguez when Frankie was a Met, also singled. That set up the resolution that lurked in the shadows all night, even after the three DPs, even after the 1-for-11 with RISP as d’Arnaud stepped in to hit with two on and two out. The Mets could tie this game off their old closer, maybe win it. It’s what a team going somewhere does.
Do these Mets look like they’re going anywhere?
I’m going to Hoboken’s Little City Books Monday night at 7 PM to discuss my book, Amazin’ Again, and remember the good times of 2015. Here’s hoping your pets are doing well enough so that you can join me.
I went 615 miles to see the Mets and they didn’t look any better than they do at home.
More like the Mehs.
Meet the Mehs, meet the Mehs
It seems they’re half-asleep, the Mehs
A few months ago Emily and I decided on an August ballpark tour: fly to Cleveland and see a game, drive to Detroit for a game the next day, then a game in Pittsburgh. That would get me to three new stadiums, bringing my count to 24 of the 30 current MLB parks, we’d both get to finally see the much-celebrated PNC, and I’d set foot in Michigan, giving me 49 states visited. (If you’re curious, after tomorrow night the missing parks will be Miami, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Texas, the White Sox and the Reds; the missing state is Alaska.)
Cleveland-Detroit-Pittsburgh is literally a loopy way to see those three cities, but we juggled a bit for scheduling and because this way our second ballpark visit would feature the Mets, facing the Tigers at Comerica Park.
The trip’s been great. The Mets, though, were pretty much what we needed a vacation from.
You saw it: Noah Syndergaard was capable but inefficient, victimized by his own inability to hold runners and a mammoth home run. The Mets were awful with runners in scoring position, a familiar malady. They struck out and fussed irritably at the home-plate ump and lost without showing much of a pulse.
(Oh, and I went to get food right before Kelly Johnson homered, then returned — having forgotten forks — as Victor Martinez was trotting around the bases. So I managed to miss the vast majority of the action, as well as the approximately three minutes for which the Mets led.)
At least Comerica Park was worth the price of admission. It’s not the late, lamented Tiger Stadium, which I never saw but my blog partner adored, but it’s a pretty impressive place and will age beautifully.
I’ll have a full report later, when I can talk about Progressive Field and PNC as well, but Comerica does at least three things really well: a) it celebrates tigers, from the giant one outside the gates to the ones adorning the walls with baseballs gripped in their mouths and a ton of tigers inside; b) it celebrates Tigers, with nods to variants of the D, the old park, decades of history and franchise heroes; and c) it’s alive with the sense that the Tigers are Detroit and Detroit is the Tigers, inextricably woven together.
There are a bunch of things about Comerica that the Mets could and should copy; they’d help give Citi Field what it still lacks, which is a sense of the team that plays inside as a presence and a source of lore and love. More on that in a few days.
Then again, I saw the team that plays inside Citi Field, and right now they’re nothing to celebrate, wherever one happens to see them.
With one swing, Jay Bruce saved and screwed us all Thursday night. The National League RBI leader — with three crucial Met runs batted in on top of eighty from Cincinnati that do us no good whatsoever — blasted a three-run homer over Yankee Stadium’s center field fence to ensure Bartolo Colon’s vintage pitching performance would not go for naught. It’s called hitting with runners in scoring position, a discipline that has escaped other Met batters throughout 2016. Bruce put the Mets up, 4-0, en route to a rather routine 4-1 win over a rather routine opponent. Jay’s jack came off Nathan Eovaldi, who I should detest on sight for being a Yankee. A ballplayer being a Yankee doesn’t much ruffle my feathers these days (though I’m always willing to grandfather in a few old-time offenders). I detested Nathan Eovaldi on sight last night for having once been a Marlin.
The win wasn’t extraordinary in an artistic sense, but it kept the Mets from descending just a little more in their quest to continue operating as a playoff contender. By beating the ho-hum Yankees, they moved to within one game of the Cardinals and Marlins — or perhaps the Carlins, a team that wryly points out the absurdities of the sport it plays vis-à-vis other sports — for the final N.L. Wild Card spot. This is what we’re reduced to reaching for, but that’s all right. It wasn’t too many Augusts ago we were reaching for next year.
Thanks Jay. Now we have to keep taking your new team’s chances no less than semi-seriously, just when we were collectively ready to dismiss them…though that’s all right, too. It’s better than all right, really, considering the alternative.
Two-thirds of the season is complete. It’s inflection point time. I’ve watched several Mets teams teeter on the brink of de facto elimination at this juncture of the schedule and teeter hard. Their current record of 56-52 evokes numbers from summers past that were about to go hard or go home.
1975: 56-53 9½ GB
1989: 55-51 7 GB
1991: 57-50 5½ GB
2002: 55-51 4½ GB (WC)
2005: 57-54 3 GB (WC)
2011: 55-51 6½ GB (WC)
When next you enter Citi Field and examine the postseason banners affixed to the Excelsior level down the left field line, you won’t see any of the above campaigns represented. A couple of those years expired immediately. Others kept our ultimately illusory hopes up into September. In retrospect, most were wishes at best. But wishing as late as the first weekend of August beats giving up in early April.
The 2016 Mets’ record is comparable to all of the above, but the margin between us and whoever we have to catch, thanks to the expansion of the Wild Card in 2012, is smaller than any those previous Mets teams faced. And though there’s been dizzying roster fluctuation since Opening Day (only nine players have been active each and every game of this season), this version of the Mets still carries a World Series pedigree into battle every night. It doesn’t mean they won’t pay $2.75 for a subway ride, but one is willing to believe that somewhere deep down they know how to win.
That’s not a very analytical statement, yet I kind of believe it. It might not carry these Mets another third of the season into the postseason, but in the short term, it means taking them reasonably seriously. Despite the lack of hitting with runners on second and/or third. Despite the bone spurs. Despite the backs and necks and quads and thumb ligaments and intercostal strains and thoracic outlets and whatever else is ailing us. Despite the golf tempest in a teapot. Kelly Johnson lines one into bandiest section of the Bronx bandbox. Alejandro De Aza reincarnates himself as Tommie Agee. Jeurys Familia continues to rise from his annual late-July visit to the ashes. Like my eldest cat who’s been sluggish from the effects of a urinary tract infection, they were up and around a little more yesterday than they were the day before. Hozzie’s suddenly looking a little better and so are the Mets.
I’m not giving up on anybody.
I’ll throw this in as well: we owe the Mets a little faith after 2015, pending their ability to string together a pair or more of wins ASAP. Yeah, they suck often and it destroys us inside when they do, but tell me this Subway Series didn’t feel far different from all of its predecessors clear to last September. Did you hear anybody talk about these games against the Yankees as any kind of proving ground? Were the Mets framed as trying to measure up to the mighty Yankees? Was there any of that “the other team in town” BS floating around?
No. The Mets did away with all of that last year, and despite their inability to win more than two of four from their downsizing neighbors, it didn’t return. Sure, the Yankees have helped by attempting to commence their version of a Houston Astros tank-and-rebuild, but to listen to those with no pre-1996 memory of New York, the Yankees were supposed to be an eternal impenetrable fortress of municipal affection. Big brother, little brother, et al, as if 1969 and 1986, to name two extreme examples, never happened.
If I may contradict another Bruce, that’s not the way it is. The Mets did some substantial winning; the Yankees didn’t; the Yankees stopped automatically mattering on a grand scale.
To those who will reflexively respond, “I never cared what the Yankees did” — and there’s always a couple in every crowd — good for you and your evolved sense of perspective. I found their overbearing presence on the local baseball scene irritating and then some. I find them incredibly irrelevant in the present. Trading a couple of ace relievers for prospects at the deadline is the least of it. The Mets, despite a current record all of two games better than that of the Yankees, exist without apology or unflattering comparison in their city for the first time in a generation.
That’s worth a few more days or weeks of solidarity with our ballclub. That and being one game out of something with 54 to play.
I recall a social studies textbook from sixth grade that included an illustration of how Europeans saw the world pre-Columbus. The earth was flat in their estimation. At the edge of the ocean were monsters, ready to devour whoever was fool enough to sail too far from port. I’m sure it made sense to them. It makes no sense to believe that if we believe in our Mets, the same emotional fate will befall us. Let Us Believe! We might find a new land, revel in new treasures, plant our flag amid new experiences!
Or the monsters will swallow our hopes whole. I didn’t say it couldn’t happen. The Mets have left themselves with just the one option this year. Watching what Washington does is pointless at this point. I tuned into one of their games recently and I felt like Rudy in Rudy when the title character is told to get off the bus his high school has chartered for prospective Notre Dame students. The Mets don’t have the grades for Notre Dame, a.k.a. the division title. They barely have the grades for Joliet Community, a.k.a. the second Wild Card, but they haven’t been ruled academically ineligible yet.
It’ll take some doing. It’ll take some healing. It’ll take some hitting, pitching and fielding. All we on this side of the ball have to do is believe a little. I will until I can’t stand to anymore, which will probably be five minutes after we’re somewhere in the middle of that monster’s digestive tract.
That moment hasn’t arrived. Come sail away with me.
If you’re still on board after Sunday, come join me Monday night, 7 PM, at Little City Books in Hoboken when we either draw inspiration from or grow nostalgic for 2015 as I discuss, read from and sign copies of Amazin’ Again. Hoboken’s hMag was kind enough to conduct a Q&A with the author, which you can read here.
If you were looking for four hours that would renew your faith in the Mets, well, boy did you pick the wrong night.
First the Mets played a thoroughly inept game against the Yankees, one in which a) they were atrocious once more with runners in scoring position; b) Steven Matz underpitched Chad Green to put them in an inescapably deep hole; c) Wilmer Flores looked awful at shortstop, a position there’s no longer any sensible reason for him to be playing; and d) Hansel Robles suffered a mental breakdown in which he became convinced Mark Teixeira was stealing signs, had conspired to kill JFK and was ordering airlines to spray mind-control chemicals on American citizens.
It wasn’t the most heartbreaking or tragic loss of the season — the Mets’ chronic shabbiness no longer deserves that emotional weight — but it was certainly an embarrassing one.
Oh, and then Yoenis Cespedes was put on the DL. Yes, the same Yoenis Cespedes who hurt his quad in early July and could have been disabled for the All-Star break, but was instead allowed to play on one leg for nearly a month, with the kind of results you’d expect from a baseball player with three working limbs. So in addition to making a panicky trade that will leave them calling audibles for 2017, the Mets have now turned a two- or three-week absence for their only real hitter into a six or seven-week absence, one that will almost certainly doom their season. Fine work all around, gentlemen.
But then we should have seen that one coming, because this is the same way the Mets handled injuries all last summer. It’s what led to Clayton Kershaw facing a lineup that looked like a time capsule from the ’94 strike. Heck, it’s the same way they’ve handled injuries for years, because of stinginess or incompetence or some combination of the two. I’d huff and puff that surely this can’t continue, but anyone who roots for this team will tell you it obviously can. At this point, the crazy thing would be to imagine that one day it will actually change.