It was the “Mambo No. 5” game. That’s one of the two ways I differentiate it from all the other games I’ve attended. In the seventh-inning stretch, they played “Mambo No. 5,” the very contemporary and very kitschy song Lou Bega was making famous late in the summer of 1999. I don’t know why they went with Bega that Sunday afternoon at Shea. Maybe the other Lou — Monte — needed a blow. It was a day game after a night game. If a little rest was good enough for Mike Piazza, it was good enough for “Lazy Mary”.
This was the only time I remember “Mambo No. 5” following “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”. It is a very silly song, but I liked hearing it that day. The mischievous bravado, the extensive roll call of Bega’s romantic interests and the bouncy trumpet break in particular fit the prevailing Zeitgeist between the top and bottom of the seventh. The Mets, winners of 15 of their previous 23, were ahead of the Rockies, 6-2; if they held on, and if the Diamondbacks could come back on the Braves (which they would), we’d pull to within 2½ of the Eastern Division lead. The mood in the park was truly festive. A party atmosphere had pervaded Shea since the bottom of the fifth.
That was when the party started. That was when the other way that differentiates the game of September 5, 1999, came to the fore. That was when Darryl Hamilton made an enormous difference in the fate of the 1999 Mets.
That wasn’t the only time, mind you. Darryl had come over in one of the flurry of deadline deals Steve Phillips pulled off. Hamilton was the new part-time center fielder, arriving from Colorado — coincidentally the opposition on September 5 — in exchange for Brian McRae. There were others in the deal, but it was basically McRae, a lingering disappointment, for Hamilton, a veteran brought in to shore up a squishy position. Hamilton, a lefty, shared center with another newly minted Met, righthanded-hitting Shawon Dunston. The platoon took. From the moment they became Mets to the end of the regular season, Hamilton batted .339, while Dunston hit .344.
Yet it was during the fifth inning on September 5 when Hamilton inscribed his signature on the 1999 season. The bases were loaded, the Mets were up, 2-0, and he swung at a one-oh pitch from Darryl Kile. It left the ballpark. The Mets’ lead increased to 6-0 on Darryl Hamilton’s grand slam.
Just as there was never a party like a Shea Stadium party, there is no home run like a grand slam home run. Darryl Hamilton was why “Mambo No. 5” could play over the PA two innings later and it could feel so apropos. With a little bit of Hamilton in our lives, we were winning by a comfortable margin. Masato Yoshii returned to the mound in the sixth and gave back two of the runs when he surrendered a homer to Vinny Castilla, but otherwise, the Met edge was safe. Hamilton provided four runs and the Mets won by four.
It was just one win in a season when the Mets got through 162 games with 96 wins. Except without Darryl’s slam, maybe the Mets lose on September 5. Maybe it’s a 2-2 game when Lou Bega takes center stage in the middle of the seventh. Maybe the Rockies find a third run in extra innings and the Mets don’t score again and, as a result, on October 3 the Mets have 95 wins. That would have been a very damaging development in retrospect, because the Mets needed every last one of their 96 victories to ultimately tie the Reds for the Wild Card. With 96, they got to a 163rd game. With a win in that 163rd game, they got to the postseason. From there, we had ten more October games in which magic would be manufactured and memories would be made — memories that warm our hearts to this very day and will no doubt continue to for as long as we take baseball to our hearts.
It was six weeks from Hamilton’s grand slam home run to Robin Ventura’s grand slam single. Theoretically we’d have gotten to the latter without the former, but somehow I doubt it.
When we ask ourselves during less rewarding spans why we remain fans, we know it’s because of years like 1999 and stretch drives to which every Met contributed, whether they were a part of our team while it was coming together or showed up just in time to give it that extra nudge to get it over the top. It’s quite conceivable that without Darryl Hamilton, the phrase “1999 Mets” doesn’t mean what it does to us today.
It’s just as conceivable that without Darryl Hamilton, the title “2000 National League Champions” belongs elsewhere. Instead, because of the instant Hamilton came off the bench; delivered a two-out, tenth-inning double off Felix Rodriguez in San Francisco; and scored on Jay Payton’s succeeding single, the pennant eventually became ours. This was Game Two of the NLDS. The Mets had lost Game One. Armando Benitez gave up a gut-punch three-run shot to J.T. Snow in the bottom of the ninth, one that allowed the Giants to tie the second game at four. The momentum had shifted. The Mets couldn’t afford to go home down oh-two in a best-of-five series.
Though we can’t deal definitively in what-ifs, we do know what did definitively happen. Hamilton doubled, scored and put the Mets ahead. The Mets won that game. They won the next two. They won that series and the series thereafter and they ended a 14-year World Series drought. That was the last time the Mets got that far in any year.
We indulge the cliché that it takes 25 men, usually more, to win anything meaningful in this game. One of those men, two years running, was Darryl Hamilton. He was a part of two of the most wonderful teams this franchise ever produced. In years when everything had to go right for them to go as far as they did, Darryl made the kinds of differences you can put your finger on…the kinds of differences you know by heart.
Today, we learned Darryl Hamilton, 50, was killed by his girlfriend in a murder-suicide in Texas, leaving behind a baby boy barely over a year old. It is horrible news from a human standpoint. It would be no matter who we were talking about. It turns out we’re talking about a ballplayer whose name stays with us, whose image we can call up instantly, whose accomplishments in the uniform of the team we call ours meant something special to us.
Nobody who knew Darryl Hamilton personally from his playing days or his more recent broadcasting career is recalling him with anything but heartbroken affection. He was, by all accounts, a good man. He is, in our recollections, a vital Met who helped make us feel like winners. It’s hardly the most important thing by which to measure a life, but when you know of somebody primarily because of what he did as a baseball player, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to recall.
I must have been inspired by the incessant promotional buzz generated by those Steve Miller Band concert spots, because in the spirit of the narrator of “Abracadabra,” I tried to conjure some rah. Maybe even some rah-rah. Undeterred by the six deadly frames that preceded them, I threw myself into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings Sunday.
I rode Matt Harvey’s right arm as far as it would take me.
I took solace in Alex Torres’s left arm making things bad but not measurably worse.
I dared to dream John Mayberry could deliver PDQ (or at least RFD).
I saw in Carlos Torres a savior and a harbinger.
I believed Curtis Granderson could be transcendent, Juan Lagares an agent of change, Lucas Duda a genuine threat and Michael Cuddyer…
Well, I wasn’t terribly confident Michael Cuddyer was going to do much of anything, but I also didn’t think he’d hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the ninth, the game, the series and the weekend with absolutely nothing to show for it in the win column and a surfeit of dreck stuffed into the doubt column.
There is much to doubt in these second-place Mets, starting with their ability to ever see the light of first again. They probably won’t. Using the three-game series just completed and thoroughly lost in Atlanta as a gauge, they’ll be lucky to be the second-place Mets by this time next week. True, they’re playing the lousy Brewers at Steve Miller Park next, followed by the lousy Reds at Citi Field — where they apparently benefit from reduced proneness to exhaustion — but then again, those teams will be playing the Mets.
The Braves may not be an authentic contender, but when you sweep the team ahead of you and you pull to within a half-game of that team, who is to doubt the Braves? With the lost weekend now over, they’re only relevant in that if the Mets don’t find somebody or figure out something, they’ll be one more team shoving the Mets further back in the playoff processional, and once you’ve faded from first and drifted from Wild Card territory…well, you know what all those years we’ve just gone through felt like?
Welcome back to the age of jive.
There are no doubt sophisticated metrics by which it could be shown the Mets aren’t nearly as bad as I’m convinced again that they are, let alone as bad as they’ve demonstrated themselves to be on this 0-5 thus far road trip (a.k.a. Gary Cohen’s brilliantly timed vacation). You could start with 36-35, a record that indicates this very team has won more game than it has lost since the commencement of the current season. That, like Harvey’s right arm, will only take you so far. Since cresting at 13-3, the Mets have won 23 games and lost 32. That extrapolates over 162 games to horrible.
The truth of the 2015 Mets probably lies somewhere north of the 68-win pace they’ve operated at since April 24, but I don’t see holding them to the standard of their record over slightly more than a third of the current season as somehow unfair. This is the team that’s going out and playing the games that count. In a parallel universe in which all variables are delightfully controlled, nobody vital has been injured, everybody worthwhile has been inked to sub-market contracts and distant potential has translated into immediately pleasing reality, the Mets are probably kicking Atlanta ass and taking Washington names.
In this one, they’ve scored 13 runs in their past 66 innings and looked like rank amateurs for the better part of a week.
Sunday was what certain segments of the northeastern United States used to celebrate as Harvey Day. The remnants of its sacred implications could be easily inferred, as its namesake persevered through two stressful innings then cruised through the next four. The seventh presented the Rubicon challenge — Ryan Lavarnway doubled with two out, pinch-hitter Pedro Ciriaco up — and the pitcher was unable to cross it successfully. The pinch-hitter singled to center, the center fielder with a once thunderous arm that seems destined for surgical rejiggering couldn’t throw out the torpid runner at home and that was that for Matt.
Until this point in the game, I was resigned to another one of these types of losses, yet I let out a truly anguished “NOOO!!!” when Lavarnway’s molasses-like form blobbed across the plate. Two nights earlier, it was dismaying to watch Jacob deGrom removed for some chump reliever when the game was better off in his hands. Now Harvey was getting the chance to keep the Mets alive. It didn’t pay off.
I assumed Alex Torres would make things worse as soon as he could, and he tried, issuing consecutive walks to load the bases, but when he got Kelly Johnson to fly out instead of grand slam, I thought maybe I’d been too hasty in judging the Mets totally futile. When Eric Campbell doubled with two out in the top of the eighth to raise his batting average to a rousing .177, I thought maybe we weren’t done. John Mayberry came up and I really began to imagine crazy things. Didn’t Mayberry hit a home run here in April? Doesn’t Mayberry have some kind of track record that made him appealing enough to sign in the offseason? Aren’t there fairies flying through the air who watch over babies and puppies and kittens and baseball teams with adorable baseball-headed mascots?
Yeah, I was carried away with the Mayberry fever. Johnny struck out. But so did Nick Markakis and Juan Uribe, victimized by Carlos Torres to start the bottom of the eighth, and when ol’ Central Time (my personal nickname for the reliever with the initials CT) teased an easy grounder back to the mound from Andrelton Simmons, I thought I saw something fantastical developing. The Mets would rally in the ninth, Parnell would come on for the save, we’d bemoan Harvey’s non-decisioned fate, but otherwise talk about character and resilience, and with Milwaukee and Cincinnati on the schedule and the knowledge Max Scherzer can’t flirt with perfection more than once every five or six days, everything that wasn’t hunky would be dory. The Maverick is back!
I can convince myself of anything if I really want it. I wanted Granderson’s leadoff single to augur great things. I wanted Lagares’s breathtaking bunt to represent a marker in the turnaround of 2015, one that would be featured in the highlight download narrated by Len Cariou this November (“When things were at their bleakest, it was Juan who found a way to set up a win…”) First and second, none out, Lucas Duda, who hit 30 home runs last year and rates a growth chart next week, up. Has Lucas Duda grown enough to produce what Cariou and the rest of us would call the biggest blast of the season?
No. Just another flyout. But still two outs to play with. And once Cuddyer didn’t completely kill the ninth by not hitting into a DP, maybe Flores, the focal point of so much frustration of late, would…
What’s that? Cuddyer did the one thing he absolutely couldn’t do in that spot? He grounded into a game-ending double play?
The Mets went back to sucking with that ground ball. Or they never stopped sucking despite amassing three base hits in their final two innings. They lost, 1-0. Harvey, who pitched extremely well, joined deGrom, who also pitched extremely well, as an absorber of loss in Atlanta. In between them, Noah Syndergaard had his ERA fluffed up a bit. Thus, your three shiningest hopes on this otherwise mostly dim roster had their utility snuffed out. And if deGrom, Syndergaard and Harvey are going to start three consecutive games and the Mets are going to win none of them, what exactly is there to expect from the remaining 91 games?
“Anything” is the correct/hopeful answer. A three-game sweep at the hands of a divisional rival whose signature chant evokes such pleasant associations (genocide, Chipper Jones) only seems prohibitive in its prevention of possibilities. I distinctly recall a similar weekend in Atlanta from fourteen years ago. Technically, it was a weekend at Shea, but I was in Atlanta on business watching on TV. The 2001 Mets were flailing and failing. The Braves were that era’s Nationals. Alex Escobar was that year’s Michael Conforto, the guy we couldn’t wait to bring up. In fact we brought up Alex Escobar.
He didn’t help. Nothing did. The Mets lost three straight, fell double-digits out of first and all looked lost. A Mets fan spending a weekend in Atlanta found it was a destination that provided limited fun then, too. Three months later, however, the Mets were in the thick of a September pennant race against those very same Braves. There’s not a huge moral to this, given that the 2001 Mets came up short in their valiant last-minute run at a division title, but they did make it more exciting than we could’ve imagined in June and at this point, I’d take having something to look forward to beyond constant entreaties to come out to Citi Field this Saturday to watch somebody who hasn’t had a big hit since 1982.
I’m referring, of course, to Michael Cuddyer.
Disgust and frustration at least make for lively conversation. Hear for yourself as I join Jason and Shannon Shark for the non-Star Wars portion of the latest episode of “I’d Just As Soon Kiss a Mookiee” here.
The Mets work on Father’s Day, so it’s not surprising to look back and find they occasionally did something memorable come the third Sunday in June. Marv Throneberry legendarily didn’t touch first (or second) in 1962. Jim Bunning didn’t allow any Met to touch first in 1964. Somewhere in the middle of the 1980s, Ralph Kiner forever altered Mets fan greetings across the generations by wishing all you fathers out there a happy birthday. At the end of that decade, the Mets sent Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell on a Father’s Day journey to Philadelphia.
Mike Piazza made a late Father’s Day gift out of an immensely whackable Sunday night Carlos Almanzar pitch in 2001. Robinson Cancel arose from astounding obscurity to deliver a doubleheader split in 2008. In 2013, Kirk Nieuwenhuis blasted a three-run homer with two out and the Mets down two to Carlos Marmol and the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth. That touched off a raucous home plate celebration that in turn touched off Bob Costas’s “decline of Western civilization” dig that in turn touched off a reassuring surge of Mets fan indignation (we could make fun of us, but screw that guy).
Then there was Father’s Day 1990, which you might not remember as a milestone — the Mets beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh, Doc’s fastball measuring 100 MPH on the overamped Three Rivers gun — but I sure as hell do, because that was the day that my mother died. In terms of these sorts of Hallmark events, that removed Mother’s Day from my personal calendar forever after. By Father’s Day 1991, however, things were back to fairly normal on a personal level. I wished my dad a Happy Father’s Day and he said thank you.
Twenty-five years later, we continue that particular annual exchange, but it’s not so simple this year. As you might know from reading this blog over the last month, my dad underwent very serious surgery in May. It’s safe to say it pre-emptively saved his life. A month later, he’s still on the comeback trail, so when I see him later today, it will be in a different space than usual, both literally and figuratively. But he continues to come along, so for that I am grateful, just as I am grateful to those of you who continue to inquire into his well-being.
As you know, because the Mets need to play another team whenever they do have a game, other teams work Father’s Day, too. I thought it appropriate to share with you the thoughts of another son, a fellow Long Islander whose father brought him into baseball, albeit not into Mets baseball, but given the geography and the history, a version spiritually close enough.
Gary Mintz is the president of the New York Giants Preservation Society and quite the San Francisco Giants fan (not to mention quite the good guy). He never saw the New York Giants play, but he’s made it one of his life’s priorities to preserve their legacy. It all goes back to his dad.
I’ll let Gary tell the rest of the story in what he calls An Ode to a Real Giant.
Seems to be there are a lot of giants worth wishing well to today.
My dad was Louis Mintz. Family man, librarian at the New York Public Library for over 40 years, father, Giants Fan. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him. He was always upbeat with an infectious smile that stayed with him even as cancer ravaged his body. Nobody ever said a bad word about him, the testament to his greatness. He loved my mom, loved his three boys, my wife, and worshipped the ground of his three granddaughters (his girlies, my daughters) and his grandson.
Then there were the Giants. His love of the New York Giants somehow continued when the orange and black moved to San Francisco. I, wanting to be like him, started following the San Francisco Giants in 1969. Up until 2010, I claimed it was the only wrong thing my father ever did. That all changed of course when Nelson Cruz swung and missed on a Brian Wilson pitch on November 1, 2010. It was the most compelling moment of my sports life as a fan. Forty-one years I waited, forty-one years!! In one night, all the hurt and pain was suddenly gone. Then viola!! The Giants stun the baseball world by winning it all again in 2012. Two World Championships in three years!! UNBELIEVABLE!! Then 2014!! Make it three World Series championships in five years!!
My only regret is that “Sweet Lou” wasn’t around to savor it with me as he passed in 2003. I wish we could have talked about it, laughed about it and reminisced about it. When the World Series Trophy Tour stopped in Manhattan in January 2011, January 2013, and January 2015, he surely would have treasured the moments as I did with my wife and my daughters. To think he would have met and shook hands with his idol Willie Mays. Willie Mays, the GREAT ONE!! How was I allowed to take a photo with him? That was supposed to be something my dad did!!
I became associated with the New York/San Francisco Giants because of my love and admiration for this man. Growing up I would hear him say things that would just pop out of the air for no apparent rhyme or reason. There would be the names that he would spew. Alvin “Blackie” Dark; Monte I“rrrrrrrrr”vin, whom he called at times the “Orange Cutie” (evidently Monte Irvin’s nickname); Bobby Thomson, “The Flying Scot”; Sal “The Barber” Maglie; Bill “The Cricket” Rigney; and just plain “Willie,” no need for any other name as I knew who he meant. Then there were the little sayings, the old “PG’s,” “The June Swoon,” and as Frankie Frisch would say, “Oh those bases on balls.” Occasionally he would sing the Giants theme song, “We’re calling all fans, all you Giants ball fans, come watch the home-team going places, round those bases.” He in fact once wrote a letter to the San Francisco Giants asking them for the recording, unfortunately to no avail. Then there was his mimicking Mel Ott’s leg lift and Hoyt Wilhelm’s grip. Legendary!
Dad would often tell me how the fans had to leave the stadium through the center field gate which meant walking on the field. He told me that he was once spiked by Johnny Beradino near the second base bag. He would also see doubleheaders often going from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium (or the other way around, not sure) via the Macombs Dam Bridge to see both the football and baseball Giants on the same Sunday afternoon.
My dad left me and his family way too early.
When the Giants finally won in 2010, I planted a little World Series Flag by his grave. It still waves proudly there today along with the 2012 flag and the recently added 2014 flag, a trilogy so to speak. I needed him to know his impact on me and how “we” finally did it. I miss the many times, even as an adult when he would say to me after I was forlorn over a loss, “What are you worried about? Do they worry about you?” Although I am now somehow middle-aged, I still hope I can be half the man he was. There were the Giants from the Polo Grounds, the Giants in San Francisco, and all the legendary players who donned the Giants uniform in both places. For my money though, my dad, Louis Mintz, was the greatest Giant of them all!
Happy Father’s Day to you all!
The bad taste of Friday night’s Mets disaster lingered into Saturday, with Twitter moaning and comment sniping and unhappiness all around.
Fortunately, I thought, there’s another ballgame today. Because one of the least-celebrated but most important aspects of baseball is that winning fixes things. A crisp win is like a cleansing breeze that airs out everything and leaves you feeling renewed.
And for a little while there, it looked like we’d get that cleansing breeze — why, the Mets immediately scored two runs, doubling their output from last night.
But the wind turned foul. And by the end, we were stuck — almost unimaginably — with a game that was worse than Friday’s.
Some of the things that happened were just bad luck, such as the fourth-inning Baltimore chop from Eury Perez that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead and left a sweat-drenched Noah Syndergaard to flail his hands in helpless dismay.
Or another unlucky play, one that initially looked far worse: In the sixth, Pedro Ciriaco lofted a fly ball to Michael Cuddyer in left. It didn’t look deep enough to score A. J. Pierzynski, but the 38-year-old catcher was sent anyway. Cuddyer’s throw beat him, but was up the line, and Pierzynski’s torso snapped Travis d’Arnaud‘s arm back, flipping the baseball into the dirt and spinning d’Arnaud onto his face with his elbow as a fulcrum. It looked Cliff Floyd bad at the beginning, bad enough that Pierzynski lingered by home plate to check on a fellow member of the backstop fraternity. X-rays revealed a hyperextended elbow instead of a break, which is bad but shouldn’t be disastrous — though no Met fan who remembers David Wright‘s exit because of what we thought was a mild hamstring strain should take much solace in “bad but shouldn’t be disastrous.”
Other things that happened were unfortunate but understandable. Syndergaard, for instance, had one of those nights that a 22-year-old pitcher will have — no command, no confidence in his pitches, and no answers after things went awry. Syndergaard is in the rotation to stay, and deservedly so, but he’s got things to learn and lumps to take during the lessons.
That, unfortunately, brings us to the end of the unlucky and understandable. Because the other things that went awry were the product of unacceptably stupid baseball.
Take Dilson Herrera not covering second on a steal attempt, leading to d’Arnaud firing a ball through the comically large space between Herrera and initial shortstop Ruben Tejada. That sent Jace Peterson to third, setting up a tie game.
Or take Juan Lagares inexplicably trying to barehand Andrelton Simmons‘ single to center an inning later, allowing two runners to advance and leading to two runs.
Or, perhaps most amazingly, take whatever it was Eric Campbell thought he was doing in the sixth: With the bases loaded and time to get Simmons at home, Campbell stepped on third for a force, letting an insurance run score. That one sent Jim Duquette into Ojeda Mode on the SNY postgame, pointing out (correctly) that a high-school player needs to know what to do in that situation.
I mean, the Mets had just intentionally walked the bases loaded!
On my couch, I was gaping at the screen like Dallas Green after the early-90s Mets did something so mind-bogglingly dumb that he couldn’t even manage to be angry about it.
It probably won’t be remembered, but the Mets actually did mount an eighth-inning rally, with Lucas Duda singling through the teeth of the shift and Cuddyer whacking a ball into the 5.5 hole. It looked like it was going to be first and third and nobody out, but Juan Uribe smothered the ball, starting a double play and killing whatever slim hopes were left to us. Instead of a rally, we got a hideous baseball morality play: Hey, look! Defense! It’s important!
So what to do now? The blithe answer is to review this little thing I posted yesterday. Failing that, wait until Tuesday. That’s when Daniel Murphy should return, presumably to take over third base.
Wilmer Flores isn’t going to move off short, so there’s no point asking — the Mets are sticking with that experiment. Which I reluctantly agree with: Flores is one of the only semi-capable bats in the lineup, and I wouldn’t disrupt his development at the plate or in the field (where he is progressing, albeit painfully) by moving him off the position.
That leaves second, which a few days ago I would have handed to Herrera for the duration. But no more: I think Dilson has a bright future, and we should remember he’s still very young, but he’s struggling at the plate and making dopey lapses in the field. He should fix those things in Vegas, with Tejada taking over. (Unless the Mets want to give Matt Reynolds a try, which would be fine with me.) Campbell, meanwhile, simply has to be kept away from third base, having repeatedly shown that he’s unreliable even on routine plays.
Yes, it really has come to believing that Daniel Murphy, avatar of baseball chaos, will stabilize the infield defense. Amazin’, as we used to say in better circumstances.
Ranked in order of importance:
1) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
2) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
3) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
4) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
5) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
6) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
7) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
8) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
9) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
10) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
11) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
12) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
13) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
14) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
15) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
16) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
17) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
18) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
19) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
20) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
21) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
22) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
23) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
24) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
25) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
26) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
27) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
28) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
29) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
30) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
31) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
32) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
33) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
34) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
35) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
36) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
37) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
38) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
39) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
40) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
41) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
42) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
43) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
44) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
45) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
46) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
47) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
48) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
49) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
50) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
51) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
52) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
53) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
54) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
55) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
56) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
57) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
58) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
59) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
60) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
61) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
62) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
63) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
64) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
65) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
66) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
67) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
68) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
69) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
70) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
71) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
72) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
73) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
74) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
75) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
76) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
77) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
78) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
79) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
80) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
81) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
82) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
83) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
84) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
85) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
86) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
87) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
88) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
89) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
90) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
91) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
92) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
93) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
94) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
95) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
96) The Wilpons are broke and MLB doesn’t care.
97) The current offense doesn’t score enough runs.
98) As a shortstop Wilmer Flores is both inexperienced and limited.
99) Terry Collins overmanages.
100) Anything related to lineup construction.
Marv Throneberry, legend has it, was once crestfallen to discover that his birthday cake had been devoured by his Mets teammates before he got a piece — to which Casey Stengel cracked that “we wuz gonna give you a piece, Marv, but we wuz afraid you would drop it.”
I don’t know if the Mets got Jacob deGrom a cake for his birthday last night in Atlanta, but if so here’s hoping his infielders were kept away from it.
Don’t blame deGrom, who scattered four hits over 7 1/3 terrific innings. Blame his feckless teammates, who didn’t hit all night and then undid the birthday boy’s work in a gag job of an eighth inning.
After Andrelton Simmons crushed a hanging curve for a leadoff double (OK, that one’s on Jake), Eury Perez bunted to the left of the mound. DeGrom grabbed the ball and had a play at third, but Ruben Tejada had broke in and the base was unguarded. DeGrom looked helplessly at Simmons for a moment and took the out at first. Afterwards, Terry Collins said Tejada made the right play and deGrom praised the bunt, which was good organizational omerta on both their parts and also bullshit: Tejada didn’t think about deGrom’s fielding ability and failed to react to the play as it developed, because he’s a lunkhead.
The next batter was Pedro Ciriaco, a punchless hitter who doesn’t know how to walk and looked overmatched against deGrom. He grounded weakly to short. Wilmer Flores looked Simmons back, but took too long while Ciriaco was doing the only thing he can do, which is run fast. He beat the play to first.
Collins removed deGrom, who’d thrown 97 pitches, in favor of Sean Gilmartin. Gilmartin, to nobody’s particular surprise, promptly gave up a double to Jace Peterson, and the Mets had turned their 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit and a loss. Overmanaging, I’d say — give me a tired deGrom over a perky Gilmartin any day — but the kind of overmanaging every manager does, and not worth losing your mind about.
(If you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s a further breakdown of the breakdowns penned by Adam Rubin. I don’t agree that there’s any blame to lay at Juan Lagares‘s feet, but it’s a damning read anyway.)
Afterwards, the amount of alibi-ing and teeth-gritting before the cameras was remarkable, and the Mets’ stories weren’t exactly straight. Poor deGrom’s interview was particularly painful to watch; our favorite Ford pitchman is a good teammate but a bad liar, repeatedly offering SNY a frozen smile and an all-too-quick look anywhere else as he was asked how frustrating it was to play in front of these clowns. (That’s a slight paraphrase.) I just laughed when Terry said Jeurys Familia cramped up and it was nothing serious, followed by the closer talking about a tight groin. God only knows what that means, but it was the perfect end to the evening.
What is there to say that hasn’t been said innumerable times already during this strange season? The only thing I can think of is to note that this season feels so off-kilter primarily because the Mets are simultaneously horrible and in first place.
Maybe that’s what we need to think about more. The key to understanding 2015 isn’t to conclude that the Mets are better than we think they are, because they’re not. It’s not to argue that the little black cloud of Met pessimism has made us unreliable chroniclers, though that’s probably true.
The key to understanding 2015 is that the Nationals suck. They should be in first place by a healthy margin and complaining about having to share a division with two horrible teams and two medicore ones. If that were happening, we wouldn’t be confused about what kind of year this is — we’d be arguing tepidly about whether the Mets are good mediocre or bad mediocre. Instead, the Nats are part of the tire fire that is the National League East — in fact, they’re its most disappointing and underwhelming club.
That’s the gift we’ve been given, whatever our birthday is. After we drop it and it breaks, we should remember that it was kind of a crappy gift anyway.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Mets made a trade in December 2012. Nobody ever mentions it every five minutes, so it might be unfamiliar to you.
The Mets sent R.A. Dickey, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, plus two catchers with very large mitts, to the Toronto Blue Jays. Here is who the Mets received in return, either directly or eventually, as a result of this trade:
Dr. Alfred Bellows
Harry M. Stevens
Harry S Truman
and Pellets the Nervous Rabbit
Yes, it was that productive a trade for the Mets. It is celebrated often, especially when d’Arnaud, Syndergaard and Herrera do something spectacular. The swap looks better and better with every passing second. The Mets sent a 38-year-old knuckleballer who was never going to be as amazing as he had just been to the Jays for everybody in their minor league system plus Buck. And Buck they paired with Marlon Byrd to turn into everybody in the Bucs’ minor league system.
Genius, absolute genius. Truly the stuff of mavericks. Sure, we had to surrender the most fascinating, complex and articulate 20-game winner since John Locke (who won 23 for the English Enlightenments twice), but how much more extensive was R.A. going to make our vocabulary? We learned to use words like “propensity,” “inconsequential” and “nuances” in a baseball context thanks to Dickey, but we also had to speak in phrases like, “Oy, who’s catching tonight — Thole or the other one?” Whatever we had to give up in syllables we’d make up for behind the plate.
Plus Syndergaard’s a pretty substantial mouthful himself.
Dickey in Toronto hasn’t been Dickey in New York and not just because of having to pass through customs. R.A. requires optimal circumstances to succeed. Everything clicked perfectly in Flushing in 2012. What were the odds they’d keep clicking with such precision, especially considering everything would have to be converted into metric? Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad bet to go out and get him at hefty costs, even if the deal looks awfully lopsided now. It was a win-now trade for the Jays.
They haven’t won yet. They’re in the thick of the American League East race despite being no more than North American, but they’re still waiting for their first postseason appearance since Joe Carter touched ’em all in 1993, when Syndergaard was one and Herrera was not at all. Maybe Dickey will help get them where they long to go. Or maybe all Dickey will leave them with is a dog-eared Thesaurus, allowing the Ontario fans to look up synonyms for “frustrating” in the years ahead while they watch Noah and Travis lead the Mets to October after October.
In the interim, perhaps the one game that will wind up telling the respective final-standings tales of the 2015 Mets (36-32) and Jays (36-32) took place Thursday night at Rogers Centre, when R.A. Dickey thoroughly extinguished his former club to help his current club to a 7-1 victory that couldn’t have been any easier to attain had the hosts opted to play it in Barcaloungers. Dickey was his old self (despite dealing with some very fresh, very tough personal hurt). We know what that can be. He threw seven-and-a-third innings. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth or a run until the eighth. He did walk the bases loaded in the second, setting up the perfect opportunity for Curtis Granderson, but R.A. struck him out. It was one of seven K’s for Dickey on the night — and one of 4,000 for Curtis on the year. After the game, R.A. even rolled out one of his favorite terms for his performance; he deemed it “trustworthy”.
He used both his pitching skills and his language skills to remind the Mets what they gave up when they sent him packing. If that’s not an R.A. Dickey “in your face!” I don’t know what is.
One loss by no means invalidates the greatest trade ever made. The Mets gave up something and got a lot of good things in return. Sometimes, though, something can come back to briefly bite you — as well as temporarily gnaw, momentarily masticate and fleetingly chomp you — if just to remind you pulling off enormous heists are possible, but messy getaways tend to be inevitable.
I didn’t get a chance to include this in yesterday’s consideration of Nelson Doubleday, so I’ll present a link to it here: Marty Noble offers a characteristically wonderful collection of recollections regarding the late owner’s time with the Mets. Treat yourself and read it.
“In ‘reel’ life,” Jeff Merron noted in an ESPN critique of Bull Durham’s depiction of how baseball actually works, “[Nuke] LaLoosh is promoted from A ball to the majors in the span of a few months.” But in reality, “It’s almost unheard of — especially for a pitcher who struggled part of the season in A ball — to make such a jump.”
Nuke LaLoosh was portrayed by Tim Robbins, a real-life Mets fan and the closest I could come up with as a precedent for what 22-year-old Akeel Morris tried to do Wednesday night in Toronto. The differences in their tales, beyond fiction and what actually happened, were stark. For example, LaLoosh walked 18 and struck out 18 in his Bulls debut, the cinematic Carolina League being notorious for its disregard of pitch counts. Morris, meanwhile, wasn’t having such control problems down at St. Lucie. He was having a whale of a season when the bullpen-stressed Mets reached down and called him up for what seemed like the hell of it.
The Mets, trailing by three in the eighth, gave Morris a chance at Rogers Centre. Everybody deserves a chance. The view to Akeel, however, obliterated any chance the Mets had of coming back on the Blue Jays. The kid faced eight batters and retired two. Five of his runners scored. His earned run average, a spiffy 1.69 in 24 Single-A appearances, sits at 997.
Sorry, that’s his chronological rank in the countup toward One Thousand Mets. Morris’s MLB ERA is impolite to mention in public. Hopefully when he comes back — he was dispatched to Double-A Binghamton after the 8-0 loss went final — he’ll cash in on the chance to lower it. (If it goes any higher, he ain’t getting too many more chances.)
The lesson to be derived from the two-thirds of an inning Akeel Morris pitched in the bigs may be pitching in the bigs isn’t as easy as it looks. He’s a young man with good stuff and it got lit up by batters who knew what they were doing against a pitcher who had every reason to develop nervous knots, let alone heebie-jeebies. Perhaps Ron Shelton should have been brought on to consult.
Yes, the movies can make narratives flow with ease. Perhaps a screenwriter as accomplished as Shelton would have a simple time portraying the Met tenure of former chairman of the board Nelson Doubleday, who died yesterday at 81.
The treatment wouldn’t be a problem. We’d pitch as our leading character a rich guy. GWM — Guy With Money, as the joke went in Kiss Me Guido. The hook is he has a famous last name, maybe the most famous last name in baseball. The most mythic, at any rate. The catch is he’s generations removed from his great, great, however many great uncles it was who made the name famous. Our affably clubby leading man is running a company that’s very successful, but he gets involved in baseball despite not having much obvious inclination toward it.
“This is New York,” he declares, “and New York is a bigger deal than any other city. This is a National League city just waiting to be tapped. We feel we are going to do very well with it.”
So he decides to buy a team. To buy the team, he needs a partner. The partner is his diametric opposite. Didn’t come from money, made his own. One has the wealth and bearing. The other fancies himself a scrapper, a hustler. Together they have just enough to take over this team, which is a real fixer-upper. Our protagonist is the front man, the man with most of the scratch, but his partner keeps his hands on the wheel, too. They don’t always get along, but they get things done. They not only begin to fix up their depressed property, but they start to get the goat of their rival across town.
Did I mention there was a rival? There has to be. The antagonist also has money — you need a lot to play at their level — but he’s full of bluster. Our guy doesn’t operate that way. Our guy stays out of the spotlight, but he knows how to write the checks. He hires a sharp fellow to improve his product, he lets his partner do whatever it is he does and he proves to whoever doubted him that he’s a worthy heir to his legendary baseball ancestor.
In the climactic scene, Our Hero has accomplished what he set out to do. His blustery rival has been vanquished. His depressed property has been beautified. His product is the best in the land. He and his partner raise a trophy in unison. They have indeed, as promised at the beginning of the movie, done very well with it. Crowds cheer, confetti falls…roll credits.
If you’re not one for details, that’s more or less how it worked for Nelson Doubleday, who was the lead man in buying the Mets in 1980 and oversaw a complete turnaround of the franchise that culminated in a world championship in his seventh season at the helm. If he did anything wrong prior to that magic moment in October of 1986, we never heard about it. He and Fred Wilpon were, to the rest of us, polite presences who gave Frank Cashen the resources he needed to build a winner, and otherwise won our affection by not doing anything to lose it. Together they weren’t George Steinbrenner, which was considered an enormous asset in those days.
In the popular imagination, it was Doubleday’s team. Doubleday was the name that drew attention in 1980. Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball, but since when did baseball care to separate myth from history? The fact that somebody named Doubleday rode in and rescued the Mets made his participation just that much juicier. The fact that he and Wilpon, however they divided their responsibilities, succeeded ensured we’d always view the two of them as heroic.
Always doesn’t always last. The sequel to the Doubleday story didn’t yield a plot so easily followed. The Mets fell apart in the early 1990s. If it wasn’t necessarily Doubleday’s fault, it’s not like he didn’t own half the team when it happened. It’s also not like there weren’t rather unsavory statements attributed to him behind the scenes. “Behind the scenes” was a compliment in the context of not being Steinbrenner. It also allowed his alleged impolitic words to be sort of wished away. Oh, that’s just Nelson after a cocktail or two, his partner was willing to rationalize. And by then, his partner couldn’t stand him, so how bad could what was said to have been said been?
Doubleday and Wilpon stayed together even as it became well known they wanted no part of one another. They attempted to sell the team to an outside entity, Cablevision, in the late 1990s, but it didn’t happen. Nelson also made improving the team while he owned it a priority. It is the stuff of Abner-ian legend that it was Doubleday, not Wilpon, who demanded every effort be made to acquire a suddenly available Mike Piazza in 1998. Mike was acquired, the Mets moved up accordingly and the next we saw of Nelson Doubleday, he was hoisting a league championship trophy in 2000.
Soon thereafter, the tension between partners became too much to bear. Nelson didn’t want to hang in there. Fred had no intention of going away. Nelson sold to Fred in 2002. Nelson said some more memorable things a little later. These were fun to repeat in mixed company, the best of them being, “Run for the hills, boys,” as his way of warning that his former partner’s son’s increased role in operating the New York Mets might not be good news for all concerned.
Doubleday’s stature grew in proportion to the length of his absence from the club he left. Nobody viewed Wilpon as heroic by the 2010s. If only Doubleday still owned the team was the collective wishful thinking of Mets fans. If was an understandable impulse. Nelson didn’t have to go to a Bernie Madoff. Nelson didn’t seem to place his childhood Dodgers in front of the team he actually owned. Nelson saved the day twice, once by buying the team, once by securing Piazza. Once he was gone, Nelson Doubleday could do no wrong.
I’m not sure how accurate that was in real life, but for today, I’m willing to go with that story.
And then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world
We would take long walks by the river
Or just sit for hours
Gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day
He went away
And I thought I’d die
But I didn’t
And when I didn’t
I said to myself
“Is that all there is to love?”
—Peggy Lee, with a little help from Leiber & Stoller
When I learned Dillon Gee was designated for assignment, I felt genuine sorrow. Gee, I declared to anybody who was listening, had been among my favorite Mets of recent years, which wasn’t an easy status to attain. The recent years of Mets baseball haven’t been among my favorite to experience.
Still, you gotta have a soft spot for somebody. One of mine, when pressed to think about it, was for Dillon, the bulldog competitor, smart pitcher, menschy Met who took the ball every fifth day when healthy, even if he couldn’t quite take being bounced into a nonexistent role in the current rotation. The apparent end of his line here shouldn’t represent Gee’s dot on the Mets time-space continuum. He was better than our last sightings of him would indicate.
The moment I’m moved to remember where Gee is concerned came last May. Dillon was on the DL, but hanging around before a game against the Dodgers. It was one of those Blogger Nights when at some point Mets PR folks realize they have a couple of fistfuls of quasi-media types on their hands and nothing to do with them once home BP ends. Inevitably, somebody grabs an injured Met who doesn’t have to get ready for the action just ahead. On this night, Dillon was available and willing to stand in the tunnel between the clubhouse and the dugout and chat.
We surrounded the righty and let loose our general cascade of casually informed questions. You know, how’s the rehab coming, how do you like New York, what are you doing for dinner (OK, nobody asked that). Gee was amenable and articulate, but it was the way he answered a semi-throwaway that got my attention. I asked, in light of Jacob deGrom’s recent promotion, if the kid had been giving you guys any hitting tips, ha ha. You might recall that as 2014 got underway, no Met pitcher had done anything at bat until the unheralded rookie came up and got Mets hurlers off their collective schneid more than six weeks into the season.
“We just suck at it,” Dillon said of Met pitchers hitting. He wasn’t chuckling, he wasn’t going for shock value. He was expressing the obvious honestly, then expounding a bit on the subject before being ushered offstage.
Dillon most definitely did not suck at what he did, save for his awkward final appearances as a Met, final assuming the DFA takes and he winds up somewhere else. You never know with these designations for assignment. Kirk Nieuwenhuis was recently DFA’d, yet after a brief sojourn to Anaheim to check in on Collin Cowgill, he’s once again headquartered in Las Vegas behind the “activate in case of emergency” glass. But it doesn’t feel like Dillon Gee will be back with the Mets, so it feels right to remember him as something of a personal favorite while he’s still more or less top of mind.
Because if you ask me in a few weeks when he’s safely and I sincerely hope (unless he lands with a team I can’t stand) productively ensconced elsewhere, I probably won’t be thinking all that much about Dillon Gee. If the Mets continue to win in heartening fashion, as they’ve done three games in a row, then Dillon will have faded quickly from our Met consciousness. And if the Mets revert to the form that’s annoyed us intermittently since things began otherwise promisingly this season, then I imagine the subject of Dillon Gee will arise only in the idealized hypothetical, as in “…and they let Dillon Gee go, too!” Either way, we’re not likely to sit here and dwell on Dillon.
We’re not miserable human beings. We’re just being fans. The game moves too fast to dwell on those who fall away in quest of better things. If we’re fully invested in our team, business always edges emotion, sort of like the Mets edged the Blue Jays by one run Tuesday night. I’m a fairly emotional fan given to endless spells of dwelling on certain personally beloved Mets who are taken away from me without my implied consent — sometimes dwelling for decades on end — but ultimately I check the standings, check the score and root like hell for whoever’s wearing the uniform today.
I’ve had five “favorite” Mets in my now 47 seasons of fandom. I’ve had hundreds of guys I’ve liked or liked a lot, but only five I’ve identified strongly as My Favorite Player in a given period of play. None of them is a Met as we speak. None of them was when I took a phone call this past Spring Training from a ticket rep trying to sell me a package. Part of his script was to engage me as if he knew what he was talking about.
“So when was the last time you were out at Citi Field?” he asked.
“September 28,” I answered cheerily.
“You know, Closing Day…the last game of last season?”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I’ve only been working here since November.”
Anyway, the ticket rep asked me how long I’ve been a Mets fan and I gave him a condensed version of my origin story: 1969, six years old, world champions, still with them. He asked me who my favorite player was. Tom Seaver, I told him. Of course it’s Tom Seaver. You pick a favorite player at six and are still rooting for his team when you’re 52, you don’t automatically turn him in for a newer model just because his warranty expired.
He wanted to know who my favorite player was on the current team. That I had to think about. I realized, as of March 2015, I didn’t necessarily have one. I groped about the roster in my mind. I said I liked Gee (he was pitching on SNY while we spoke, so that probably helped) and I was excited about Harvey coming back, and “of course you can’t go wrong with David Wright,” which got no response from the guy, who was then on to the variety of ticket packages that could meet my needs and budget.
I interrupted him: “Oh, Juan Lagares — he’s my favorite.”
That also got no response, because we were deep into the selling portion of the conversation. While there was no transaction completed between us, I did realize that I must not really be that into Lagares if it didn’t occur to me to mention him right off the bat (or glove). I love his defense and I am affectionate toward his potential, but the title of Favorite Met remains vacant.
Unless you count Jose Reyes, who’s been my Favorite Met since 2003, and my Favorite Met in exile since 2012.
Don’t let the past
Remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
— Crosby, Stills & Nash…mostly Stephen Stills
Yeah, this isn’t about Dillon Gee. This is about Jose Reyes, who visited Citi Field this week for the first time since he was a Miami Marlin, which was a bad dream that didn’t discourage my ardor for the shortstop of my subconscious. I still can’t look at Reyes as a Blue Jay and not see a Met, the same way I couldn’t look at Seaver as a Red, Gooden as an I forget what, Brogna as a Phillie or Alfonzo as a Giant and not see a Met. Those were my other Favorite Mets, the guys between Seaver and Reyes. Those were the ones whose removals without my say-so irked me the most. Those were the ones who took a long time to be replaced in my heart of hearts.
But they’re also the ones I functionally got over because I had to. Because I was a Mets fan. Because I needed the Mets to win tonight and convince me that they might win come October, whichever October it was. There were only a few Octobers in which that seemed like a realistic goal when Reyes was here, but he was square in the middle of it. Jose and David and the Carloses and Pedro and some other Mets I couldn’t get enough of, but Jose more than the rest. He was my guy. He helped me get over Fonzie, who helped me get over Rico, who helped me get over Doc, who helped me get over Tom’s second departure (I’m still not quite past the first one from 38 years ago this week).
Then he wasn’t here and I moped throughout 2012, not particularly caring if the Mets without Reyes prevailed when they played the Marlins with Reyes that year. I hated the Marlins, but I couldn’t root against Reyes. I wanted him to go 5-for-5 and score five runs every time we faced them. If we happened to win 6-5, that would be nominally preferable, but mostly, give or take an R.A. Dickey decision, I wanted Jose to succeed.
This does not mean
I don’t love you
Yes, and for always
These days I want the Mets to succeed. I want the Mets to be what the Chicago Blackhawks and Golden State Warriors have been on successive evenings, evenings when the most I hoped Jose would generate at Citi Field were two triples, two singles, four stolen bases and absolutely no runs scored. I want champions in Flushing again. We’re going on 29 years without, you might have noticed.
Watching the awarding of championship trophies to championship teams who aren’t the New York Mets was, as it has been since October 27, 1986, bracing. There have been 113 titles earned in the four major North American team sports following the 1986 World Series. I’ve seen 53 different franchises toast ultimate victory since the Mets last did. I’ve seen champagne gush, parades jam downtowns, commemorative caps go on sale, trophies passed from hand to gleeful hand. The Mets were part of none of it (except for that one time they were the runner-up).
I’ve been wanting to be a part of that scene again for 29 years. Victories like the one over the Blue Jays — Matt Harvey returning to Dark Knight dominance; Bobby Parnell materializing from out of the shadows to save Matt’s W; Wilmer Flores continuing to muscle the ball if not do everything else certain other shortstops used to do with élan — are giving me hope that I might get my wish in the present era, maybe even before the wish turns 30. My hopes might be dangerously out of control after a three-game winning streak, but what a trilogy it’s been. The Mets could have very easily lost on Sunday, on Monday and on Tuesday. The Mets lost on none of those days. It’s not so much, per the middle of April, that this feels different. This feels warmly familiar to the way it was when the way it was was the way it was supposed to be. These are the Mets I know and love in my soul. These are the Mets I love when I know they are capable of coming from behind and just as capable of not blowing from ahead.
This is Mets baseball at its spiritually finest. This, maybe, could be the stuff of The Year The Mets Lost Last Place. Never once, in my last seven years of cheering for the Mets, have I felt so good.
For the first time, I don’t miss Jose Reyes quite so much.
Blue Jays came a-courtin’ Monday night. They know how to woo the Mets on the Mets’ home turf, especially as the hour grows late. As they had on nine previous Shea-based occasions, they brought a ripe opportunity for the Mets to win. The Mets graciously accepted what the Jays presented them and said “thank you very much yet again, kind birdies.”
It was kind of the Jays, wasn’t it? They could have extended their own winning streak to an unimaginable (to us) twelve; instead they enabled to the Mets to create a streak of their own: two wins in a row, two exhilarating comebacks in a row.
Everything they say about Canadians being so nice is apparently true.
The Jays weren’t necessarily so generous all night. Mark Buehrle was stingy and Jose Bautista was greedy. Noah Syndergaard was everything a Jays fan could have hoped for when Toronto drafted him in 2010…and everything that same Jays fan might have rued when his team sent him to our team in 2012.
Noah went six, struck out eleven, allowed but two hits and laid down a bunt even. When he finished pitching, he and the Mets trailed, 1-0. When Carlos Torres followed him to the mound, he and the Mets led, 2-1. Buehrle might have dolloped out few baserunners but eventually quit being perfect. A helpful throwing error from another wonderful if geographically misplaced Canadian (Jose Reyes) set up consecutive doubles and the two six-inning runs that put Noah in position to win the game.
Bautista, the five-minute Met from 2004, had other ideas, tagging Jeurys Familia in the ninth for a very sneaky home run just over the fence in the left field corner. Earlier Bautista hit one to Astoria, meaning it was 2-2 and the Mets and Jays were bound for extras.
Extras in Queens is usually where the Mets shine when they take on this particular opponent, though it should be admitted that “usually” equals that game in 1999 in which Bobby V donned the fake mustache. That one went fourteen, foiled David Wells, featured Pat Mahomes and the Mets won, 4-3. This one got to eleven and appeared futile when Curtis Granderson couldn’t throw out Ezequiel Carrera at the plate. Of course he couldn’t. You know what they say in the battery business: some run on Energizer, some run on Duracell, but all run on Granderson.
That likely would’ve been most of that, except the Jays wouldn’t let the Mets go gently into that good night. In the bottom of the eleventh, after Juan Lagares was nabbed on a brilliant play by second baseman Danny Valencia, Ruben Tejada walked. Michael Cuddyer then hit the double play ground ball that was about to end the Mets evening when Valencia undid his good from two batters before and didn’t bother throwing to second. If he had, it’s 4-6-3, good night New York, let’s see if we can catch the end of the Stanley Cup (Canadians love that stuff). Instead, Valencia got it in his mind to tag Tejada, while Tejada — not lately anybody’s idea of heady — got it in his mind to make himself untaggable.
Ruben wiggled and jiggled and wriggled and Valencia was easily distracted. Eventually he got some combination of mitt and ball on the baserunner’s body, but it took so long that it provided ample running time for Cuddyer to cross the first base bag. In the fifth, when the Mets had their very first baserunner, I noticed something similar. Lucas Duda was on second with two out. Dilson Herrera grounded to third baseman Josh Donaldson. All Donaldson had to do was throw to first. Instead, he saw Duda trundling in his vicinity and thought tagging him would be a better option. He missed Lucas. He was able to get Dilson, but it was a waste of motion. The same team impulse to tag instead of throw came back to bite them six innings later.
Fellas, a word of friendly advice for when you go back to playing everybody else (because we’d be plenty happy if you won the A.L. East): leave the tagging to Bautista.
With a two-out baserunner, the Mets had a chance. They had Duda up. John Gibbons had an idea. Duda traditionally pulls the ball, so let’s take every Jay fielder dating back to Barry Bonnell and shift them so far to the right they can shake hands with the ghost of William F. Buckley. This clever defensive strategy put Jays closer Brett Cecil squarely on the firing line when Duda — who is not nearly as predictable as opposing managers tend to think — flared a 3-2 pitch to left that probably could have been caught or at least contained by a reasonably positioned glove.
Instead, the shift wound up handing Cecil his beanie. Cuddyer got to racing around the bases and scored all the way from first on what was ruled a single. Duda lumbered to second on the futile throw to the plate and, lo and behold, the camouflaged Mets revealed themselves in a 3-3 tie.
Exit Cecil. Enter the next victim, Liam Hendriks, who threw one pitch. Wilmer Flores stroked it directly up the middle to score Duda with the winning run. The Mets won, 4-3, just as they had on June 9, 1999. No facial hair constructed from eyeblack. No sunglasses at night. Just 25 Mets not named Dillon Gee who were dressed to go Jay hunting and did so very successfully.
Of course they didn’t have to exert themselves all that much toward the end of the hunt. The Jays jumped in a barrel and invited their hosts to take aim and fire. It would have been undiplomatic to have refused.