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ABOUT US

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

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

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

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High Five!

When we’ve played this late into a year, we’ve been at our most Amazin’. Ours is the franchise over which Roger Angell once concluded, “The Mets go melodramatic in October, it’s in their genes…” He wrote that in 2001, specifically about a series of games from 1988, but also knowing the events of 2000 and 1999 remained fresh in the reader’s memory and that the lingering legacies of 1973 and 1969 were never far out of reach.

Ours were the Mets who never said die; who prevailed late, close and wet; who came out of nowhere and then wouldn’t go away. In the mind’s eye, ours will always be the team that is on in October.

On the televisions and tablets of today, however, we are pre-empted so TBS, Fox and something called Fox Sports 1 can bring you other teams doing what we were sure were once wholly Metsian things.

The Giants persevere past midnight. The Royals overcome resounding unlikelihood. The Cardinals keep boomeranging back. The Orioles are one of 24 franchises to have played a postseason game more recently than October 19, 2006.

All of baseball — save for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Astros and Padres — has practically conspired across eight Octobers to make the Mets look immaterial by comparison, but even as we sit on the sidelines and tune in to what others are up to, they can’t take this away from us:

The Mets are the best best-of-five team in major league history.

That’s right. The Mets, who haven’t been in the playoffs since Studio 60 was on the Sunset Strip, are still best at something when it comes to October. Namely, that when the difference between advancement and extinction depends of achieving three wins in five games, the Mets can’t be beat.

They’ve never been beat. In fact, we are on the fifth finger of perhaps the most impressive sequentially commemorative hand in what we’ll call modern baseball history this very day.

On October 6, 1969, the New York Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, 7-4, to win the National League Championship Series, three games to none.

On October 7, 2006, the New York Mets defeated the Los Angles Dodgers, 9-5, to win the National League Division Series, three games to none.

On October 8, 2000, the New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants, 4-0, to win the National League Division Series, three games to one.

On October 9, 1999, the New York Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-3, to win the National League Division Series, three games to one.

On October 10, 1973, the New York Mets defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 7-2, to win the National League Championship Series, three games to two.

Five of a kind! Or full house, NLDSes over NLCSes! The point is we’re unbeatable in a very specific kind of situation. Where there’ve been the Mets and a best-of-five — which was the LCS format from 1969 through 1984 and has been the LDS format since 1995 (as well as in Striketober 1981) — there’s been nothing but ultimate Met victory…in that very specific situation.

We’re not just the best at best-of-five. We’re the most infallible. Only the Marlins can say they have a perfect record in best-of-five series, but they’ve been in only two of them and, honestly, who can hear the Marlins say anything over that loud, garish home run sculpture in center field? The Blue Jays have also never lost a best-of-five series; they’ve never played one, having conveniently limited their postseason exposure pre-1985 and post-1993 to invisible.

Happy (slightly belated in some cases) 45th, 41st, 15th, 14th and 8th anniversaries to our best-of-five triumphs. May we get a shot at a sixth real soon.

Contemptible Familiarity

The last National League East team to advance in a postseason was the Philadelphia Phillies of 2010, who swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, the series that opened with Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter. The Phillies seemed on track to make their third consecutive World Series, but would be stopped cold by the San Francisco Giants.

In 2011, the Phillies lost their first-round set in a dramatic fifth game to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, the Atlanta Braves were bounced by the Cardinals in the new Wild Card game, after which St. Louis eliminated the Washington Nationals in a shocking NLDS finale. In 2013, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who did in the Braves in the opening round. Come 2014, the Nationals went down again in the LDS, this time to the Giants.

Of the last six instances in which an N.L. East team has appeared in the postseason, five were ended by either the Cardinals or the Giants. Thus, for their recurring roles as executioners of our most constant tormentors — recent Phillie, Brave and National regular-season success having been built in large part by stepping on the backs of the New York Mets — I thereby encourage a hearty round of congratulations to the teams from St. Louis and San Francisco for advancing to the 2014 National League Championship Series.

Huzzah!

Well, not so much “huzzah” for the Cardinals as “yeech” (residual thanks for those other years a little, but thanks for nothing vis-à-vis L.A.), but in the scheme of not them again, it’s hard to cleanly pick a side. We spend 162 games with our ire focused most frequently against division rivals. By the time they’ve outlasted us into October, we’ve likely burnished our resentment toward them to a high shine. Once they are ousted, even if it’s through none of our team’s doing, we revel in the Sheadenfreude of it. Eff you, Phillies/Braves/Nationals. You stomped on us all year. How do you like being on the other end of the stomp?

We could look at it differently. We could send our divisional representatives into postseason battle with our best wishes, urging them to do us proud, for now we rally around our flag, all for one, one for all…but we don’t. I tried it once or twice myself. In 1983, when the N.L. East champs were the Phillies, a team that had finished ahead of us for ten consecutive seasons, I consciously went this route. I loathed those Phillies, but was down on the Dodgers and felt no particular affinity for the Orioles, so I got behind “our” champions. The Wheeze Kids, as they were known (featuring Rose, Morgan and Perez in their dotage), lost the World Series in five. I tried to feel bad about it.

The next year I threw my provisional support to the Cubs in the same N.L. East vein even though the 1984 Cubs (and Met inexperience) had torpedoed the latter portion of what had been an Amazin’ summer. The whole country was swept up in “Cubbie Love,” as one newspaper I read called it. Maybe I was trying to hitch a pinky to that bandwagon; maybe I liked the idea that if the Cubs kept going, announcers would have to mention how they had to pass the up-and-coming Mets to win their division.

My attempt to engage in Cubbie Love was short-lived. Once the Cubs began blowing their two-oh lead in their best of five NLCS versus the Padres, I could feel a smile develop. Once the Cubs totally blew it and missed what was supposed to be their first World Series date since 1945, I could hear laughter emanating from deep within my Cub-hating soul. HAW-HAW!

By 1985, I reverted to resentful form and rooted against the then-division rival Cardinals after they nosed out the Mets. That’s more or less the tack I’ve taken ever since. There’ve been exceptions over the years. I generally liked the early-’70s Pirates; badly wanted the 1981 Expos to succeed in their split-season shot; was caught up in the Dykstra Phillies of 1993; got sucked into the absurdity of the Marlins in their two October appearances; and was genuinely curious to see how far this Nationals thing could run two years ago. I reserve the right to season my Metless postseason to taste, usually with little forethought. I don’t choose a team to root for when the Mets aren’t around — a team chooses me.

I’m not sure one has yet. In the American League, how do you choose between two fresh faces like those of the Royals and the Orioles? They are, in terms of the current era, new and novel. It was exciting to see them vanquish the Angels and Tigers, respectively, and I have nothing against the Angels and Tigers. They were just more familiar was all. We’d seen more of them in recent memory than we had K.C. and Baltimore. Naturally, I wanted to see more of K.C. and Baltimore.

On the other hand, who wants to see more of the Cardinals and Giants? Except for Cardinals and Giants fans, I mean? Those of us who are unaligned are entitled to think the TV listings are wrong to post “NEW” alongside the program descriptions for the upcoming NLCS, for surely SFG at STL is a repeat telecast. Plus, the Cardinals and Mets have enough history between them to make St. Louis legitimate anathema. The Giants? The Giants took six of seven from the Mets in 2014. That’s enough to make any Mets fan pause before rushing over to LinkedIn and enthusiastically endorsing San Francisco for its “Postseason Success” skill.

You can have it all ways if you wish — free country — but I’m going to come down on the side of the enemy of my enemy is…well, they’re all our enemies in the National League. Our closer enemies are the ones who play in nearest proximity to us. I don’t love the Giants when we cross paths because I don’t like anybody when we cross paths, but the Giants took out the dad-blasted Washington Nationals in four games. The same dad-blasted Washington Nationals who won approximately 483 of 19 games against the Mets this season, including 6,000 of 6,000 at Citi Field. I appreciate the Giants doing that so much I can’t get on board with the Giant half of the prevailing “not the Giants and Cardinals again” meme. I thank the Giants in 2014 for taking out the Nats as I thanked the Giants in 2010 for removing the Phillies.

What’s that? The Giants have won enough lately? It’s not their fault they’re biennially consistent. We should be plagued by such consistency. Besides, if it isn’t the Giants in the N.L., it’s the Cardinals. We don’t want that. I was going to add, “…do we?” but I doubt that’s necessary.

Omar Bagels

I keep a long list of phrases and ideas that I think might eventually come in handy in the writing of a team-specific baseball blog. Some I act on ASAP. Some I circle back to after a few weeks. Some linger unused until they’re too obscure or irrelevant to make much sense in a contemporary setting. For example, even what I consider my sharpest “Moises Alou sure is brittle” zinger from 2008 requires context that is no longer available on this platform.

Moises Alou looked out the window during the rain delay and he had to be moved to the 60-day DL.

See? Doesn’t really have the zing it would have had when Moises was playing. Or was supposed to be playing.

Here’s a pair of words I’ve been scrolling past for a quite a while: Omar bagels. So future anthropologists aren’t left to ponder the mysteries of such an otherwise inscrutable expression, I will explain. Omar bagels refers to the following colorful quote encapsulating alleged remarks offered as advice to the speaker:

“All I kept on hearing in the streets of New York when you get bagels in the morning was, ‘Omar, please address the bullpen.’ Well, to all you Mets fans, we’ve addressed the bullpen.”

Never mind the person disagreement between “I kept hearing” and “you get bagels” — and, for that matter, the past/present conflict (“kept” vs. “get”). Embedded in this rather self-serving anecdote like so many sesame seeds is real news about what was then the most beleaguered of beleaguered Met units, the team’s relief corps. Just how did Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets when he related the above tidbit on December 11, 2008, “address the bullpen”?

Apparently by clearing his throat and telling them to keep on sucking.

Actually, Minaya meant “address” as in directing efforts toward solving a problem. The problem was the Mets’ bullpen sucked to legendary proportions down the stretch in 2008. In bagel terms, the pitchers Omar provided Jerry Manuel to choose among were almost uniformly stale to the point of moldy or frighteningly underdone. At the close of business that season, he put aside the Pedro Feliciano bagel (you could never slather too many innings onto its left half) and otherwise mostly emptied the bin. Then he heated up the hot stove to bake a new batch.

Bagels in New York are the best bagels in the world, it is said, because of the water. The bullpen in Flushing was the worst bullpen in the world because no matter how Omar Minaya tried, he could never quite obtain the proper ingredients. But he did try. That December, he spent and traded his way to a bullpen transformation. He threw a couple of hot, steaming brown paper bags filled with cash at Frankie Rodriguez and then swapped out what he considered some spare lox to bring us, from Seattle by way of Cleveland or something like that, J.J. Putz and Sean Green. (Oh, and utility dude Jeremy Reed, whose throw past home plate at Dodger Stadium is still sailing.)

Long story short from a trade that encompassed three teams and a dozen players: the bullpen continued to suck in 2009 in a fashion reminiscent of 2008. Rodriguez wasn’t so bad (on the mound) for a while but he’d implode like most overpriced closers before his number was called for the last time. Still, K-Rod cost only money back when it was assumed the Mets had it. Putz and Green were the stuff of a blockbuster winter meetings acquisition, one of those exercises in which you had to give up something to get something.

The Mets got nothing. Nothing healthy in Putz’s case and nothing that delivered on its reported promise where Green was concerned. The 2009 Mets bullpen didn’t break as many hearts as 2008’s because there was little left to shatter. A touch of quality relief pitching might have kept Shea alive a week or two longer. In Citi Field’s first foreboding year, the only thing that would have saved the season was a shaman with a medical degree.

I wouldn’t have thought of Putz or Green or “Omar bagels” had Thursday’s ALDS action not included the Angels, Royals and Tigers, and even then I’d probably have left the lot of them in my subconscious had I not encountered this postseason note of postseason notes from USA Today’s Ted Berg:

Three guys the Mets traded for JJ Putz have played in postseason games today.

OK, I thought after I removed my right palm from my forehead, I know I just saw Joe Smith enter on the side of the Angels. Smith was a budding submariner who Omar had to include in order to bring back the bounty that was Putz and Green. He was 24 then and still seeking consistency. In a stretch run in which every reliever was culpable, you couldn’t avoid fuming at Smith a bit, but unlike the Scott Schoeneweises and Ricardo Rincons, he wasn’t at the end of his line. Why, by 2013, he’d be helping Cleveland to the American League Wild Card game. I liked young pup Smith as a latter-day Jeff Innis but I will admit to not crying myself a river upon his departure.

Kansas City’s starter Thursday was Jason Vargas. I saw Vargas muddle through a rare starting assignment against the Cubs in 2007. It turned into one of the best games I ever attended, but its glorious outcome had nothing to do with Vargas. I didn’t care that he was traded, either, even after he moved on and made something of himself. As with Smith, I accepted long ago that sometimes Mets you’re not projecting as stalwarts might get their acts together down the road. To be noble about it, those are simply the fortunes of the game.

But three Mets who were traded for Putz played yesterday? Was our old friend Ted certain? He wouldn’t have tweeted it if he wasn’t, but who was I missing from that trade?

Not Endy Chavez, who almost made the playoffs with the Mariners (and who — unlike Wright, Reyes, et al — did return to the postseason post-2006, first with the Rangers and then with the Orioles).

Not Mike Carp, who joined the ranks of Halloween Hindsight Haunters last October when the former Met minor leaguer who was never a Met major leaguer appeared in the World Series as a Boston Red Sock.

Not Aaron Heilman, for crissake

I looked up the three-sided trade in question to refresh my memory. Besides Smith, Vargas, Chavez, Carp and Heilman, we dispatched two other players, each of them just kids in December 2008: righthanded pitcher Maikel Cleto — most recently a White Sock, earlier a Cardinal who never made one of their many postseason rosters but presumably received a playoff share and maybe a World Series ring between 2011 and 2013 — and Ezequiel Carrera.

Ezequiel Carrera? The Tiger? Maybe not “the Tiger” in the Al Kaline sense, but the guy whose name I heard as Baltimore’s rout of Detroit was about to go final? The guy who walked to load the bases before the O’s nine-run lead went into the books?

Yes, that Ezequiel Carrera. We had him between 2005 and 2008. He climbed as high as St. Lucie before being tossed into that very same Putz-getting package. And now he was one-third of Ted’s trivial trio. They were players the Mets organization had under contract as a season ended crushingly close to a playoff spot. They were traded. They were in the playoffs in 2014. The Mets haven’t been in those things since 2006. They haven’t even been crushingly close. They looked good winning their 78th and 79th games last weekend and we were beside ourselves with joy. That’s how long it’s been. Maybe not Royals long (and the Royals do go long) but long enough.

If the Mets had never traded Joe Smith, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Aaron Heilman and Maikel Cleto, does history change for us? I’m somewhere between “how the hell would I know?” and “probably not” on that fleetingly burning question. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt to have kept Smith around. Vargas has endured as league-average, but he has endured. When they said “Carrera” on TBS, I wasn’t sure they hadn’t said “Cabrera,” so I won’t overstate his theoretical impact. And, honestly, I’m not itching to undo any trade that dispensed with Heilman.

Still, the Mets gave up seven players in one deal. Five of them have since participated in at least one postseason. Three of them were busy doing so yesterday.

Omar Minaya works for the Padres now. They seem to have a pretty solid bullpen, but I’ll bet he can’t find a decent bagel anywhere in San Diego.

Giant Embrace

My regular team is nowhere to be found this October. I don’t have a temporary team at the moment. Some years I enter the playoffs with a cause. This year I’m just happy to be here as an unaligned onlooker. Some team will reveal itself to me as situationally mine soon enough.

Wednesday night, however, I was with the Giants. I had to be. I was with the Giants fans.

Not all of them, mind you, but as agreeable as a sample as once could find in their former hometown. The occasion was the previously scheduled fall meeting of the New York Giants Preservation Society, an organization whose stated mission is “To remember, treasure and preserve the storied history of the Giants of the Polo Grounds.” We keep talking about those Giants and those Polo Grounds because if somebody doesn’t, nobody will overhear what a team they were and what a place they played in. The New York Giants haven’t convened for a game since September 29, 1957, yet when you get together those who remember, treasure and preserve them, they are not dead at the present time. They are as alive any other ballclub that’s idle today.

What made Wednesday night fortuitous was it turned out the New York Giants’ direct descendants (albeit 3,000 miles removed) were taking the field in Pittsburgh. Better yet, our meeting was a home game at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse on East 11th Street. If you haven’t been to Bergino, deprive yourself no longer. It is baseball Shangri-La, no matter your affiliation. Jay Goldberg created a home plate away from home plate, a perfect destination to scamper toward when your official season is over. The Mets were done Sunday. Jay always keeps the game going.

And there’s an even better “better yet” beyond the confluence of New York Giants lovers, San Francisco Giants rooters, Jay’s generosity and Jay’s TV. Our special guest speaker was Ed Lucas, a storyteller of the first order…and whoa, what a story this man had to tell us.

Ed was twelve years old in 1951 (you meet a lot of twelve-year-olds from 1951 when you gravitate to the New York Giants). On tomorrow’s date that year, you might have heard, the Giants won the pennant, the Giants won the pennant. Young Ed in Jersey City was so happy with the result, he ran out into the street to do what twelve-year-olds in 1951 or 1975 or maybe even today somewhere do as naturally can be: play ball. Kids, bats, balls, Branca throws, Thomson swings. Perfect, right?

The only item that didn’t fit into this scenario were Ed’s eyeglasses. He decided he could see better without ’em, being twelve and all. So he took ’em off to pitch. A line drive came right at him. It was practically the last thing he ever saw. He suffered detached retinas in both eyes and went blind.

That should be the saddest story you’ve ever read, but Ed tells a much happier one. Baseball, he said, took his sight, yet gave him a life. With the aid of some remarkable and famous friends he made along the way, but surely very much through his own perseverance, Ed built a career as a journalist in baseball and remains around the game today, working to help those for whom vision doesn’t exist. He told us all about it at Bergino Wednesday night.

If you thought the comeback in Kansas City the night before was inspirational, well, you hadn’t heard nothin’.

It would be tough for any ballgame to follow Ed — not to mention the Royals and A’s — and the Giants and Pirates weren’t really up to the task, yet when you were lucky enough to grab a seat in Jay Goldberg’s Baseball Shangri-La and sit among a blend of hardcore NY/SF Giants fans and friendly onlookers whose sole rooting interest is for baseball itself, then the N.L. Wild Card game made for a helluva closing act. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs with one swing, Madison Bumgarner allowed four hits in nine innings and the team that blazed through two of the previous four Octobers ushered in this one in black and orange style.

If Ike Davis had been playing for Pittsburgh, I might have made my evening’s allegiances a little more malleable, but Bumgarner’s left arm rendered Ike’s Pirate presence superfluous, so I went with the crowd, which was basically a dozen folks who enjoy every Giant jaunt into the postseason like they haven’t experienced one since 1954. I love the New York Giants, but I honestly don’t get too terribly worked up on behalf of the San Francisco version. Inevitably, I draw a little subtle ribbing regarding my own contemporary loyalties. For instance, one guy enjoyed teasing me over how far in back of the Giants the Mets finished…in 1962. Yet, really, these guys couldn’t be nicer as a group. During a commercial break, the society’s nurturer-in-chief, Gary Mintz, even went so far as to volunteer a Giants fan’s perspective on sitting at Shea on June 14, 1980. For us, it’s the Steve Henderson Game. To him, it was the Allen Ripley Game. To him, it’s a bit of a horror movie. For me, it’s the highlight of my adolescence.

This Giant victory over the Pirates, presumably overwhelming enough to compensate for the Pirates sticking it to the Giants in the 1971 NLCS, involved no late-inning Thomson or Hendu magic. But there was a moment at the end that truly sparkled. When the final out fell into Buster Posey’s mitt, I found myself on the periphery of a flurry of hugs, the kind that say, hey, all right, we made it, we moved on, we’re gonna keep playing! These were the kinds of hugs I was a more active participant in at a different kind of Giants playoff game fourteen Octobers ago. The Mets had put away the San Francisco interlopers in the NLDS at Shea. We’d made it, we were moving on, we were gonna keep playing. On October 8, 2000. I was too happy not to hug. To us, it’s the Bobby Jones Game. To Gary and the other guys, it was probably the Mark Gardner Game or something they consider best forgotten, though it probably isn’t, because when you’re a fan like we’re all fans, you don’t forget your heartbreaking losses.

Which is what makes the resounding triumphs that much sweeter.

Don't Sleep On The Royals

Directing 14/15ths of my baseball attention to 1/15th of the National League as I do, I can’t say I’m any kind of authority on what transpires in DH land. But I hear things. I heard, for instance, that the Oakland A’s were putting the finishing touches on a surefire run to the World Series when they traded Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester at the end of July. I heard that this was the move that had to be made, the one that was finally going to catapult Billy Beane’s “stuff” (family-friendly version) over the entangling isthmus of October.

Sometimes you’re not an authority but you have an authoritative sense that something’s a little off. The A’s had already traded for Jeff Samardzija. The A’s were so loaded with pitching that they could cast off talented Tommy Milone, pitcher of record on the winning side of Citi Field’s gloomiest afternoon ever. The A’s were famously (except in the movie version) loaded with pitching in the early 2000s when Beane’s teams went down as the leaves turned brown.

The A’s of today needed that much more pitching? The A’s didn’t need Cespedes, who — granted, in glorified batting practice — once conquered the far, foreboding reaches of Flushing like no man before or after him, save for every Washington National ever? Maybe people who watch the American League regularly know their territory better than I do.

But, it was confirmed Tuesday night, that a situationally unaligned baseball fan’s intuition is not to be underestimated. Actually, it was confirmed in August and September when, regardless of the contributions made by Lester (or Sam Fuld, whom the A’s picked up from Minnesota for Milone), Oakland slipped out of its seemingly secure perch atop the A.L. West and fell a mile below the Los Angeles Anaheims and nearly through the floor of the Wild Card race. The Wild Card, at its most noble, was designed as a safety net for 103-game winning outfits like the 1993 Giants, a powerhouse that had the misfortune of competing in the same division as the 104-game winning Braves when there were but two divisions in each league.

Twenty-one years later, the Wild Card emerged as the last refuge of lost souls. The ultimately 88-74 A’s collapsed like it was 2007 around here, yet hung on just enough to suggest maybe they’d have a little 1999 in them. Our 1999, I mean. Once you’re in what’s become “the tournament,” anything can happen. The Mets lost seven in a row fifteen Septembers ago and lived to play ball for several weeks thereafter as a born again Wild Card. The A’s of Lester and Fuld and Brandon “What’s Your Favorite Kind Of” Moss survived their plunge and bounced back to grab leads of 2-0 and 7-3 in their institutionalized play-in game. If they could nail down six tantalizing outs, they could seek to avenge the Angels the way the Mets long ago got one more shot at the Braves, an encounter that didn’t quite work out, but boy it was fun trying to make it happen.

At the wrong end of instant Wild Card history waited another set of lost souls, the 89-73 Kansas City Royals, framed in the Internet age as some sort of unfrozen caveman franchise. The Royals had won a World Series in 1985 and then, apparently, went on hiatus. The brief run-up to this showdown centered on “since 1985 this” and “since 1985 that” because since 1985, the Royals were very absent from games of surpassing heft. The most loyal denizens of western Missouri and eastern Kansas knew different, but save for producing the occasional Carlos Beltran and then sending him out into the world to seek his fortune, the Royals had ceased to exist at the time of year when profiles and stakes grew as high as the sky on the Fourth of July.

The first playoff game featuring the Kansas City Royals since…1985 kept this viewer entranced (the MVP of that World Series, Bret Saberhagen, would eventually pitch against fellow future Met Bartolo Colon, who won us a game Sunday, so really, how long ago could have 1985 been?). The principals and the setting alone made tuning in worthwhile, regardless of trajectories to come. The Royals? The A’s? In that ballpark with the fountains and the regal crest for a scoreboard? In prime time? You sure this wasn’t Monday Night Baseball circa 1976?

No sign of Howard Cosell or his yellow ABC blazer, so it must have been current. Moss hit a contemporary two-run homer in the top of the first. The Royals weren’t fazed and took a lead in the third. Lester settled in like the ace he was acquired to be. Big Game James Shields, proprietor of one of your more descriptive modern nicknames, gave his team five innings.

Then two A’s reached in the sixth, the Big Game guy was removed and a generally effective starting pitcher named Yordano Ventura was brought in by Ned Yost or perhaps accident to relieve. That, in essence, is how it got to be 7-3, A’s. (I’m no expert on the Royals bullpen, but if I’ve learned anything watching Terry Collins manage, it’s that you never bring in anybody not named Carlos Torres prior to the eighth.) Moss hit another home run, more A’s reached base and then scored after Ventura was replaced…it was good catching up with you, Kansas City. If you grow another Beltran, be sure to let us know.

As of the bottom of the eighth, this was going to be a great A’s story of redemption. Except for one thing. The TBS announcing crew was patting the Royals on the head and slingshotting them into next season. I’m pretty sure I heard Ron Darling say something to the effect of this Kansas City ballclub isn’t going anywhere, they definitely have a bright future.

Unaligned baseball fan intuition tingled. Announcers throwing dirt on playoff clubs who are still within a couple of swings of changing the conversation can only serve to change the conversation that much quicker. Thus, imbued with the sense that Darling and less listenable temporary buddies had tinkered with karma, I watched Lester not get out of the eighth and the Royals run like artificial turf had been reinstalled at Kauffman Stadium. Three different players stole a base; I’m not sure one of them wasn’t Willie Wilson. Kansas City pulled to within 7-6.

My eyelids lost their will more than the Royals ever did. As I was nodding off in the bottom of the ninth, the Royals tied it at seven. I ascertained it was still tied at seven when my eyelids gave me a reprieve in the eleventh. As bunts and thefts and blue blurred on the television, KC came from behind once more to prevail, 9-8, in twelve. I had no idea how it got to be 8-7 A’s, let alone 8-8 or 9-8 Royals (the same score Armando Benitez could not protect in the tenth inning of October 19, 1999), but I assumed Onix Concepcion was involved.

The last bottom of the twelfth this epic I slept through featured Carlton Fisk willing a fly ball over the Green Monster. I dozed that seventh-grade night at 6-6. I woke up moments after to discover there’d be a Game Seven of the 1975 World Series. In this case, there is no figurative tomorrow. It was Game One of one and only. Fine for Kansas City, which packs its magic for Disneyland. Terrible for Oakland, where the fans remain ridiculously hardy in the face of literal raw sewage, and the players — decade after decade — continue to undermine their general manager’s reputation at the worst possible moments. Something told me that if our fallen 2007 heroes and somehow landed in a hypothetical do-or-die Wild Card game that was five years from being invented, this was the outcome that would have awaited them. So thank you for that much, T#m Gl@v!ne, wherever you are.

What will happen over the rest of this postseason? My intuition isn’t saying just yet.

Meanwhile, as a Kansas City-based band we like would say, Jason’s got something to show you on the other side of the world.

The Other Hall of Fame

Did you know Japan has a Baseball Hall of Fame too? It does — and it’s pretty neat. Here’s a report, including a Mets sighting or two.

Celebrate Me Home

Singin’ to the world
It’s time we let the spirit come in
Let it come on in

Those 2014 New York Mets kept up their end of the minuscule bargain I struck with them in the middle of July. They had just come off a vigorous homestand in which they won seven of their previous eight games, and caught up in the uncommon giddiness of the moment, I made a simple proposal: Win more than half of your games after the All-Star break and you will have my renewed faith. No swirling down a second-half drain; no road trips to total oblivion; no overwhelming sense of “here we go again.” Sixty-seven games remained. All I wanted was thirty-four of those games to be won.

Guess what: the Mets just finished going 34-33. A deal, therefore, is a deal. For all my cynicism, my pessimism and my fatalism, I rise up as my team did between July 18 and September 28 — which is to say ever so slightly — and say, hey, all right, you guys are maybe not so bad.

Not so bad? Hell, they just played .507 ball for more than two months! That could be mistaken for good.

Let us sincerely celebrate what we got from these Mets toward the end of their schedule. On August 28, the Mets completed a characteristically sad three-game set versus the Braves, losing 6-1 and falling to 62-72. A familiar trap door beckoned inches beneath the feet of the Citi Field Mets, a bunch that had never encountered a finish line they couldn’t limp toward. If recent history was a guide, the Mets would crumple up and blow into Flushing Bay within a couple of weeks.

Recent history, however, got rewritten. Over their final month, these Mets, despite losing player after player to injury, won series after series. Two of three from the Phillies, the Marlins, the Reds and the Astros; three-game sweeps of the Rockies and the Braves. In between happier acts, there was a stumble against Miami and the usual annihilation at the hands of Washington. But I never demanded perfection, just competence. They couldn’t punch much above their weight class, yet they prevailed over opponents who through 2014 were more or less their peers. It might even be said that as this season ended, there was discovered an actual layer of National League baseball teams simply not as good as the New York Mets.

They didn’t win 90. They didn’t finish above or at .500. They went 79-83, encompassing a “second half” of 34-33 on the strength of a sometimes ragged sprint of 17-11.

To paraphrase a paraphrase, Game 162 represented a prime opportunity for the Mets to declare victory and go home.

I’m singin’ to the world
Everybody’s caught in the spin
Look at where we’ve been

Of course the Mets could have been on an 0-66 skid and I would have been at Citi Field for Closing Day. I haven’t missed the final regularly scheduled home game of a Mets season in 20 years. That sounds like an estimate, one of those sloppy rounding-offs people who don’t pause to accurately track time spout.

That’s not how I operate. Trust me: I’ve been to lit’rally the last 20 consecutive Closing Days at Shea Stadium and Citi Field, 22 in all. The streak commenced in 1995 and it has yet to stop. It might someday, but not because I’ll want it to.

Every baseball season stops someday, but not because I want it to. Baseball seasons that are magical stop. Baseball seasons that are horrible stop. Baseball seasons like 2014 that aren’t such hot stuff but are also verging on decent when you take the broad view stop, too. It’s the Rule of 162. You don’t bust past it except by extraordinary happenstance or exemplary performance. And even those types of seasons end. Baseball is perpetual in our minds and on our blog, but in Flushing, it expires after six months.

Leave it to me pour out the last drop. It’s what I do.

It’s what I did on October 1, 1995, when I just had to see a 14th game. My personal record at Shea that year was 6-7 and no way could I rest through winter knowing .500 might have been in my grasp. It took eleven innings for the Mets to top the disinterested Braves, 1-0. Atlanta was so flummoxed that they went on to win the World Series that October. My World Series was beating the Braves, 1-0.

As long as I’m cueing up the classics (you have somewhere else you have to be for six months?), my tearjerker ending was beating the Braves on Closing Day 1997, the year Met success was unqualified for the first time in what seemed like a generation but was only (only) seven years. The Mets weren’t supposed to be any good in 1997. They turned out to be very good. They got to the ninth inning of their final game, about to post win No. 88, and it was all too beautiful for me, so I did the only sensible thing. I started crying. I stopped a little while after I got home.

My suspenseful ending was beating the Pirates on Closing Day 1999, which was apparently 15 years ago. Melvin Mora was on third as the tying run. Bringing him home meant not being done with baseball. Brad Clontz delivered a wild pitch. The Mets weren’t done. They earned another game in Cincinnati, then a total of ten against Arizona and Atlanta. Those were the greatest weeks of my life as a Mets fan. They wouldn’t have happened without Closing Day 1999.

My cult classic was beating the Expos on Closing Day 2004. The 2004 Mets surprised some people in the first half, then lived down to general expectations in the second half. But the part toward the very end was positively redemptive. There was a Saturday in September when they spoiled the Cubs’ playoff chances — Victor Diaz! Craig Brazell! — and then eight days later there was that final Sunday that was final like nothing else I ever saw. Todd Zeile homered and called it a career. John Franco emerged from mothballs and wound down a Met tenure that dated back to Darryl and Doc. Art Howe…well, who cared about Art Howe, but he was gone after that day. So were the Montreal Expos as an entity, for gosh sake. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Closing Day 2004 was also the merged hello and goodbye of Joe Hietpas, the Met catcher who debuted by catching the final half-inning inning of Expo existence and ceased to be part of Major League Baseball at the exact same moment that Montreal did.

My disaster movie and sequel were Closing Days 2007 and 2008. I don’t feel like going into those.

Shea Stadium closed, Citi Field opened. The tradition extended. Pleasant Closing Days (Nelson Figueroa tossing a shutout in 2009). Aggravating Closing Days (Ollie Perez in the fourteenth inning in 2010). Seething Closing Days (Jose Reyes mostly vanishing just as he was triumphing in 2011). Boisterous Closing Days (R.A. Dickey capturing his twentieth in 2012). Closing Day of 2013 had its pomp, with Mike Piazza’s Mets Hall of Fame induction ceremony (a sweet echo of the sendoff we gave him on Closing Day 2005), and its circumstances worth noting (Eric Young swiping a stolen base title, Juan Lagares nailing another unsuspecting runner), but I remember feeling edgy and wanting the game — like the season it was sealing — to be over before it was over.

Not all Closing Days are created equal.

We’ve been runnin’ around
Year after year
Blinded with pride
Blinded with fear

In rough chronological order, here’s what I take away from Closing Day 2014:

• One Casey Stengel bobblehead that is a splendid tribute to Vice Principal Woodman from Welcome Back, Kotter, but doesn’t look a whole lot like the Ol’ Perfesser, a.k.a. the man who invented the Mets. I’d complain that somebody dropped the ball that contained the picture the bobblehead company was supposed to work from, but I still find it Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ that the ahistorical Mets of the 21st century bothered to attempt to honor Casey Stengel.

• One magnetic schedule. How odd to make the change on the side of the fridge in September rather than April.

• One MURPHY 28 t-shirt discounted from the Minneapolis All-Star Game. Investing in a player garment an hour before what could be his final game as a Met…well, tell it to the ALFONZO 13 t-shirt I bought in December 2002 and endures in my drawer to this day. Whether he gets a raise commensurate with his status from the Mets or is sent to seek his riches elsewhere, Daniel Murphy will always be the Mets’ 2014 All-Star. So the shirt’s OK by me.

• One “TRUE NEW YORKERS ARE METS FANS” towel under glass in the high-end merchandise section that bridges the team museum and the team store. That was a marketing slogan in April. It’s #NOWSTALGIA in September. Great how the homegrown 7 Line towel became the linen of choice across Metsopotamia in 2014. Astounding (even if it was precedented) to watch and listen to the 7 Line Army anchor the outfield for a third consecutive Closing Day. Great job, ladies and gentlemen. You were hailed from Excelsior.

• Two guys in Astros gear in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, paying their respects to the Polo Grounds portion of the Mets ballparks exhibit (not pictured: Ebbets Field; that’s because you’re soaking in it!), which moved me enough to approach them heartily and welcome them “back to the National League”. They worried their pitcher wouldn’t know how to hit, proving the MLB brainwashing has been getting to them. Their reaction should have been, “Thank you! We want back in full-time! Whither the Toy Cannon?” Points for them agreeing with my indisputable statement that the pitcher hitting is a small but essential part of “baseball how it’s supposed to be”. (I was going to say “baseball like it oughta be,” but why rub 1986 in the faces of Houstonians who aren’t Charlie Kerfeld?)

• One Mama’s of Corona turkey & mozzarella; one Daruma of Great Neck special sushi; one Box Frites sweet potato fries — all shared with my lovely wife for our last luncheon of 2014. “You can’t go wrong with the classics,” I said of Mama’s and Daruma, both of whom, like us, date to Shea.

• One gracious visit to our seats in 326 from Brian of Bayside, a FAFIF reader and social media correspondent whom I’d never met before and have spiritually kindreded with forever. Every time I meet a Mets fan whose experiences more or less align with mine, there is very little “getting to know”; we already know. Brian of Bayside sent Rusty Staub a get well card when he hurt his shoulder in the ’73 NLCS. Rusty sent Brian a thank you note. I send a thank you note right here, right now to all the Brians from Bayside for reading this blog and reaching out across the virtual world to say hi at Citi Field this season. I appreciate your friendship and your kindnesses.

• Several stops & chats with people I have met before and are now essential to my fandom. Sunday it was Matt, who not long ago witnessed deGrommian history with me; and Rich, who will find us another shortstop if it’s the last thing he does; and Coop, with whom I stepped around what appeared to be the unscrubbed blood of a fainted Mahomie from Saturday night; and Ed, who carried a “record” seven stuffed bears, and if Ed says it’s a record, it’s a record. Another thank you note to those who provide a comfortable backbeat to my season and my offseason. It’s always a pleasure.

• One speculation that in an alternate reality, David Wright annually records a message telling Mets fans that they’re simply the worst. In this reality, though, I watched him dutifully top off the Mets’ thank you video, as has been the Captain’s chore since Dennis Ribant handed it off to him in the mid-’60s. Players we’ll never see again and players who never spent a moment in close proximity to us expressed their gratitude to us while positioned in front of green screens. I suppose it’s a thoughtful gesture. Except for the “thank you” from David, which I’m convinced is thoughtful.

• One “goodbye and adios,” to use his smiling words, to Bobby Abreu, long ago an über-Phillie who tiptoed whenever confronted by an outfield fence, lately a beloved Met sage. I had the privilege Friday night of sitting in on the press conference during which Abreu announced his retirement. I was genuinely moved by how a well-compensated athlete teetered on tears in saying this was going to be it. I wanted to applaud his news, but I was in credentialed media mode (thanks to the Mets PR staff for that) and had to demonstrate quasi-professional reserve. Sunday, when I was back to being a no-strings-attached Mets fan, I stood and applauded Bobby’s first at-bat and his final hit. It had been ten Closing Days since Zeile went out with a flourish. It’s nice to see it can happen around here every decade on the four.

• One impressed nod of approval as I followed the progress of Jordan Zimmermann toward what became the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history. That’s ten seasons exactly (if not to the day) since the last day there were no Washington Nationals in the major league scheme of things. The Washington Nationals have inflicted ten consecutive L’s in my Log, so I’m not in the habit of exulting in their successes, but I had to clap for a no-hitter.

• One batting crown achieved for Jose Altuve. I remembered to clap for him at some point. Perhaps I was just clapping for myself for recognizing an Astro.

• Several glances at the out-of-town scoreboard to ascertain the hardening of the playoff picture. There was excitement Sunday morning that three Game 163s might occur. I figured none would, and none did. It just seemed too silly. I miss being part of a playoff picture.

• One “OH YES!” or something like that when Lucas Duda blasted — and I mean blasted — his 30th home run of the season. One final swing, one round number. That’s a Closing Day marker to savor. Like Olerud surpassing 100 RBIs in ’97. Like Dickey winning that 20th in ’12. Beyond the numbers, I turned my attention to the Met dugout and saw each of his teammates had hidden so Duda’s “car wash” attendants were limited to Murphy, who couldn’t duck out since he scored ahead of him. These rituals go over so much better with me now that they’re a 17-11 powerhouse.

• One very satisfied fan in 325, one section away from us, who started a commanding “DOO!” and received “DUH!” in return every time Lucas batted. Duda’s 30th home run was that guy’s grand slam.

• One home run ever hit by Ruben Tejada at Citi Field and it happened Sunday afternoon, shortly after Duda went deep. Note to self: check the night sky for Comet Kohoutek before going to sleep.

• One sad realization that the supposedly offensively inept Tejada batted 10 points higher than Granderson. And Ruben never saddled anybody with “True New Yorker” nonsense that, no matter how innocently it was uttered, yielded bad-taste loyalty oaths and towels that went straight to display case.

• One sighting of an authentic vintage item: a “1…since 1984” logoed shoulder bag in the men’s room on the third base side of Excelsior. Fans of a certain vintage will know what I’m describing. In 1989, Met marketers who couldn’t have been more fully full of themselves commissioned a competition for a graphic representation of the fact that the Mets had just completed five years with the best record in baseball. Not five straight world championships, mind you. This was the era of “excellence, again and again,” when it was impossible to imagine the Mets would ever backslide into the misery that preceded 1984. Yeah…anyway, you don’t see this logo much 25 years later, so I compliment the carrier of the bag, once he’s done washing his hands. He tells me that he’s had it since a particular night in 1990 when he was awarded it as Sharp Broadcaster of the Game and he got another one later that same season when he was chosen Sharp Broadcaster of the Year. I knew exactly the contest he was talking about and remembered each game he mentioned. Also, I agreed with his assessment that “1990 was a lot of fun.” Give or take a bag, he was me and I was him. (If he doesn’t regularly read this blog, something’s terribly wrong with the universe.)

• One last-inning infusion of beverages. Stephanie had gotten up at some point late but not that late and asked if I wanted anything. “A Diet Pepsi if you can find one,” I said. Citi Field vending in September is always a crapshoot, and it took her a while to hit paydirt. While she was gone, I paid top dollar (five of them, in fact) for a bottle of water from the guy who almost every game I’m at crosses my path and sells “PepsiWater…Agua.” Eventually Stephanie came back with a souvenir cup — featuring man of the hour Lucas Duda — filled to the rim with sugar-free cola. The season was almost over but it was time to start drinking in earnest.

• One tied-for-second finish with the formerly high and mighty, they think they’re so great but they’re not Atlanta Braves once L.J. Hoes flied out to EYJ in left field. (“It all comes down to L.J. Hoes,” I had informed Stephanie, post-soda shopping; “It always does,” she replied.) The Mets were a winning team from the All-Star break forward. They were a .500 team in my Log for the year, going into my spiral-bound notepad for ’14 at 14-14. Not a bad bounceback from 1-6 for me, never mind where the team was in late August. No, not bad at all. Good, even.

Singin’ to the world
What’s the point in puttin’ it down?
There’s so much love to share

These were Terry Collins’s best Mets yet, and all they accomplished across 162 games — each of which counted — was the very same record to which Jerry Manuel piloted his club in 2010. Manuel was let go. Collins was hired. Four years later, no winning seasons (though 4-0 on Closing Day, I must add). If this really is the 1983 we want it to be…even if it’s just 1982-and-a-half and prosperity proves no more than a couple of city blocks away, we’ll retroactively enshrine 2014 as the necessary next step, the foundation for the wonderful mid-decade renaissance that truly turned New York orange and blue.

I don’t totally buy that, but when Hoes flied out to EY, I was practically ready to run to the parking lot and start building a bandwagon. I couldn’t have been more charged up over a Closing Day win on top of a penultimate walkoff win on top of a solid, solid month of results. I didn’t exactly want 79-83 2014 to keep going but I couldn’t stand the idea of waiting for 0-0 2015.

We’re a few pieces and too many millions of dollars short of shattering the grass ceiling. We’re still prone to National sand being kicked in our face. The Mets played seven of the ten teams who will be proceeding to the postseason. Versus Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Angeles of Anaheim and Oakland, the Mets compiled 17 wins and 36 losses. There aren’t quite enough Houstons to compensate for such a shortfall.

But I didn’t care after the 27th out of the 162nd game. The Mets had won. The Mets were reasonable facsimiles of winners. The Mets had played baseball on a Sunday when I didn’t need long sleeves. The Mets opened their gates to me on 28 separate occasions in 2014. The Mets were about to close their gates behind me.

Thus, I lingered. I let Closing Day wash over me. I watched the handshake line. I listened to Abreu answer Steve Gelbs’s queries. I stepped down a few rows to take in whatever was going on to my right, my left, my directly below. Then I repeated the process before pulling myself and my stuff together.

I’m singin to the world
Don’t you see it all comes around?
The feeling’s everywhere

The 7 line — the train, not the army — is my inevitable postgame destination if I’m not getting a rare ride home. But not this postgame, I decided. C’mon, I said to Stephanie, let’s take a walk. Let’s go to the park. Flushing Meadows park, I meant. My official reason was it was a nice day and I’ve still got this rather voluminous amount of soda in this souvenir cup. My real reason was I did not want to put a lid on Closing Day.

It has to last. It’s the last ballgame on my docket until sometime in April. Probably Opening Day, the home version, on April 13, maybe a little after. That, according to my math, is a million years from now. New bats. Fresh arms. Healed shoulders. We hope. But it’s not happening on Sunday, September 28. Sunday, September 28, just happened. I don’t want it to slip into the past tense just because there’s a connection to be made at Woodside. My connection to Citi Field, which six seasons in I can’t quite love but I’m willing to acknowledge as preferable to anywhere else in my milieu, is too vital to me in the wake of Mets 8 Astros 3.

So we walked through the station formally known as Mets-Willets Point, past the LIRR and down into the park. We snapped some pictures. Stephanie frolicked in a fountain for a few minutes. We explored some ruins. I thought of my father taking the IRT east with his grandmother from Jackson Heights the summer he was 10 years old. He’d go to the 1939 World’s Fair every chance he got. He recalls it fondly 75 years later. A time capsule is ensconced at the edge of the park from that fair. I’ve never needed to open one. I’ve had my dad.

The park kept me near Citi Field but gave me other things to think about. Then, when we turned around and made our way toward public transportation, I saw the stadium rise over the horizon. “I wish it had a better name,” I told Stephanie, for I wanted to be excited that I’d found a new view of where the Mets play ball but I was just vaguely disdainful that I couldn’t see past the omnipresent corporate logo.

Yet I manage 28 times a year. I’ve managed to not be turned off by branding 182 games since the first official one I attended on April 16, 2009. I’ve spent the equivalent of an entire baseball season (when you factor in the off days) inside Citi Field. No. 183 feels far off, but it will arrive before we know it. No. 155 — Opening Day 2014 — arrived before we knew it 182 days ago and now it’s ancient history.

One thing in Citi Field’s favor despite it forever trailing in the adoration column behind its predecessor, the one whose passing occurred six years ago Sunday, on a Sunday (CitiVision’s “this date” feature skipped 2008). In 2014, I noticed I and others phasing out differentiation between it and Shea in terms of our stories. I started doing it in July, telling the fellow I was with about this game or that game from before 2009, yet pointing to a section of Citi Field as if that’s where I was for Mora or Zeile or 1997 or 1973. Maybe it’s just easier to explain in those terms.

Conversely, few were the games I attended in 2014 when I didn’t overhear a conversation that went something like this: “This place is great, but I miss Shea.” It struck me again and again how Shea has clinched its sentimental division into eternity, that Citi Field — particularly as it remains devoid of winning baseball — can’t catch up among the generations who grew up in the place next door. The generations growing up at Citi Field will have a different story, which is OK. My dad had the 1939 Fair. My sister had 1964’s. I had Shea, where I started going the summer I was 10 years old and kept going every chance I got. Billy Joel once told me we all need a room of our own.

We’ve been closin’ our eyes
Day after day
Covered in clouds
Losin’ our way

Still didn’t want to go home after the park. I called one more audible. Let’s take the train to 74th Street. Let’s go to Jackson Heights. Let’s try that Indian joint we walked by in May after we tried that other Indian joint. We tried it and we liked it and we were stuffed. Then, instead of climbing back on the 7 to Woodside, we opted for the E to Jamaica, hooking up with the LIRR there. We walked in our front door in the dark. I turned on the kitchen light and, for dramatic effect, declared that as soon as I put my bag down on this stool right here, the season is irretrievably over.

I put it down.

Hey, but it’s daybreak
If you wanna believe
It can be daybreak
Ain’t no time to grieve

I mentioned some names many paragraphs above in the context of Closing Day. I’d have to multiply by 28 to do the concept of thanking everybody who makes my life as a Mets fan a joy, and it appears I’ve already gone on for a while. Maybe those necessary six months have already passed while I’ve been sitting here writing.

Nope. Still dark outside.

Listen, thank you. Thank you if I’ve never met you but you read this. Thank you if I have met you and you read this. Thank you if we’ve shared innings and hours and words. Thank you to my eloquent partner in blogging of suddenly ten seasons. Thank you to my partner in everything else of more than twenty-seven years, right up to and including listening to me issue dramatic proclamations about plopping bags on stools. Thank you, 1969 Mets, for showing me how great all this could be. Thank you, 1970 Mets through 2013 Mets, for proving over and over how constant all this could be. Thank you, 2014 Mets, for being just good enough at the end to make me not consider leaving you one pitch sooner than I had to. Thank you, 2015 Mets, whoever you’ll be, wherever you finish.

I plan to meet you when you get there.

Said it’s daybreak
If you’ll only believe
And let it shine, shine, shine
All around the world

Seasons of Mets

One hundred sixty two games, figure three hours per game on average…

Twenty nine thousand
And six hundred minutes
Is about what we cover
In the course of a year
Twenty nine thousand
And six hundred minutes
Eventually wind up
Blogged by Faith and Fear

The rallies, the replays
The walkoffs, the West Coast start times
With Howie, with Gary
With overpriced beer
Those twenty nine thousand
And six hundred minutes
We write them all up
We write them right here

Twenty nine thousand
And six hundred minutes
Trying to track
Every strike, every ball
Twenty nine thousand
And six hundred minutes
How many deep flies
Are caught at the wall?

In rookies who show
And veterans who’ve left
In promising pitching
In offense bereft

It’s time now
I head out
To that place that’s next to Shea
Then contemplate
How it always ends
On a Closing Day

Lucas Duda Is the King of NutraSweet Pop

The Mets and Astros combined to throw 266 pitches tonight at Citi Field. For 265 of them — that’s 99.62% of the game if you’re mathematically inclined — the results were pretty much unbearable for Mets fans.

The preteen girls in the stands, most of whom were waiting to watch someone named Austin Mahone, unleashed 266,000 shrieks tonight at Citi Field. All 266,000 of them — that’s 100% if you’re mathematically inclined — were unbearable for everyone except besotted fans of Austin Mahone.

The original plan was for Emily, Joshua and I to go tonight. We didn’t for the usual bourgeois reasons — soccer game, looming deadlines, busy day tomorrow, plus not particularly wanting to be caught in a hormonal supervolcano. For 265 of the pitches thrown, it seemed like a good call. The Mets looked flat all night, unable to do anything — as seems to be so often true — with a 31-year-old roster-filler of a pitcher. Sam Deduno was great, I suppose, unless he was just pitching against a Mets team that looked ready for the far-from-the-bright-lights version of October.

Deduno’s teammates didn’t do much to support him except have luck on their side: In the sixth Dexter Fowler hit a ridiculous little roller up the third-base line, by which I mean that it rolled absurdly back and forth on the actual chalk, like some spheroid version of the CGI feather in Forrest Gump. Daniel Murphy — who looked amusingly disgusted all night — waved his hands halfheartedly at it, and the historically minded part of me desperately wanted Murph to hit the deck and try to blow the ball foul, a la Lenny Randle. He didn’t and the ball stayed fair — if untouched it would have somehow hopped up on the third-base bag and then rolled along the line to the outfield wall, possibly absorbing chalk like some kind of lunatic snowball until it threatened the life of Eric Young Jr.

Eight pitches later, inevitably, Jason Castro whacked a double to right and the Astros were up 1-0.

It sure looked like that would be it, and Rafael Montero would head into the offseason with his final memory a weird little game where nothing particularly bad happened except one thing that was enough to beat him. The shrieking escalated as the Mahomies — who are not, sad to say, a preteen tribe dedicated to searching out YouTube videos of former Met Pat Mahomes — got closer to their appointment with their idol.

I had despaired of seeing the Mets win, and the game was easily one of the most boring ones of the year, so I started rooting cruelly for the Mets to tie things up so the Mahomies would have to wait in the stands while the teams played four or five more hours of similarly wretched baseball.

Unless they decided the concert had to go on, which gave me an idea: A while back my friend Will and I went to a Brooklyn Cyclones game that went long enough so the postgame fireworks were going to bump up against Coney Island’s curfew. The rather amazing answer someone came up with was to begin the fireworks show during the game. Fireworks started exploding directly over the batter’s eye, sending clouds of smoke over the field, while the poor players tried to do something that’s difficult even when artillery isn’t bursting right behind the pitcher. I figured the Mets could do the same thing, wheeling Mahone’s stage into the outfield between the 13th and the 14th and then continuing the game, with music blasting and preteen girls screaming and outfielders doing their best to maneuver around or across a stage full of musicians. (“Sorry, Fowler — the bass player’s in play.”)

I did allow myself one happier fantasy, but it seemed like even more of a reach: Back in May 2001, Greg and I were in the stands at Shea for Merengue Night against the Marlins. Greg recently recalled this one for his own purposes — it featured Brad Penny hitting Tsuyoshi Shinjo, after which Todd Zeile hit a game-tying three-run homer and told Penny to “suck on that for Shinjo,” leading to a bunch of milling around and yelling. Timo Perez would then win the game in the 10th on a walkoff double.

It was fun eventually, but before that I mostly remember an unpleasant buzz in the stands all night. A large chunk of the boisterous crowd was interested in the music to come and not in the Mets, whom they regarded as an unwelcome warm-up act. An equally large chunk of the boisterous crowd was interested in the Mets, and regarded merengue as an unnecessary add-on, something between an annoyance and an alien invasion. There were partisans on either side of this divide who became less and less shy about broadcasting their opinions, and by the late innings too many of these folks were actively interested in finding someone to disagree with.

It was a tense scene, with nasty racial overtones threatening to boil over, and I was not excited about what might happen if the game went 14 or 15 innings. Timo’s hit made all the bad stuff vanish in an instant, like releasing a balloon. Timo was Dominican and he was a Met, so everyone was delighted. Someone in the crowd threw him a Dominican flag, which he ran around brandishing with an enormous grin. Dudes who’d been ready to slug each other a batter before were high-fiving thunderously, and as Greg and I headed for the ramps I screamed at everyone I passed that TIMO PEREZ IS THE KING OF MERENGUE!

Now, I doubt anyone at Citi Field tonight was worried about a massive brawl between Mahomies and Methomies. But as the Mets’ frustrations continued, I thought wistfully back to that night 13 years ago. Young tripled with one out in the ninth, but Murphy flied out to left and even the speedy EY had to hold. Up stepped Lucas Duda, who hasn’t hit much in September and was facing a lefty.

“Walk ‘em off, Lucas,” I said, but it was rote — there was zero conviction behind it. Tony Sipp threw a slider for ball one, the Mahomies shrieked for the 265,999th time, and then Sipp missed badly with a fastball slider.

Most of Duda’s home runs are big majestic things, high arcs destined for the front of Pepsi Porch or that indeterminate Citi Field neighborhood between the right-field stands and the Shea Bridge. Not this one — it was a screaming liner bound either for Utleyville or the visibly vibrating uvula of a Mahomie in foul territory. Duda’s blast banged off the screen on the foul pole, causing Methomies and Mahomies to greet the shared victory with delirious shrieking unison. The man himself skipped happily around the bases like some kind of terrifying mutant fawn, flung off his helmet to reveal his oddly muffinlike hair and leapt on the plate to be engulfed by his jubilant teammates.

And of course then I wish we’d gone. Perhaps I could have seen Lucas circling the field holding up a massive Austin Mahone banner. Or, failing that, I could have medium-fived 40 or 50 13-year-old girls, greeting each of them with the news: LUCAS DUDA IS THE KING OF NUTRASWEET POP!

Their Departures

Each year I find a page in a notebook and write the name of the year and METS at the top. If Opening Day is on TV, I sit there and write the players down in order of their appearance.

If the Mets hit first, the players go in the book in the order they bat, and it doesn’t count until you’ve come to the plate. If the Mets are in the field, said order (of everybody or the guys who didn’t bat already) goes like this: Pitcher first, since the game starts when he throws the ball. If the first pitch is put in play, the fielders go in the book in the order they touch the ball. If the first pitch isn’t put in play, the catcher is next, then the fielders in scorebook position order. (So shortstop after the third baseman.) One way or another, this process yields the first nine of the season. I put the date of the game to the left of the first Met of the year. Each Met gets an (N) if he’s new and a (D) if he’s a big-league debut. (If you’re keeping score, this year has yielded a relatively paltry 16 Ns and six Ds.)

That first game generally yields a few relievers, a pinch-hitter or two, and a defensive replacement. Five days or so into the season you’ve got a shrinking number of names per date and just a few players from the Opening Day slate of 25 yet to record. The backup catcher sometimes has to wait, along with a middle reliever or two. Sometimes the fifth starter has to twiddle his thumbs — or there’s a player being carried on the roster who’s not ready for duty but not on the DL. Sometimes there’s already been a roster juggle or two.

One way or another everyone gets recorded and pretty soon each new player has a date to himself. (This year’s book has an odd exception — May 15th saw the arrival of Jacob deGrom and the return of Juan Centeno and Josh Edgin.) The last Met on this year’s list is Dario Alvarez, who arrived on Sept. 3 and has logged a whole 1 1/3 innings since then. (Whatever happened to Wilfredo Tovar, anyway?)

It’s a fun ritual in April and dutiful recordkeeping after that. But in recent days I’ve been struck by the idea that there are goodbyes to go with all of these hellos.

This has been a September to dismember, with Met after Met hanging it up early because injuries became too much. David Wright is done. So is Vic Black. And Dana Eveland. And Juan Lagares. And Dilson Herrera, just when we were starting to fall in love with him. And deGrom, because he’s out of innings.

And now Travis d’Arnaud, because he needs elbow surgery.

Add in starting pitchers making their last appearances (barring, I suppose, some 28-inning catastrophe) and you’ve got fewer and fewer Mets with anything to add to their 2014 CVs. Opening Day starter Dillon Gee is done, disappointed in how things went. Zack Wheeler is done, with big steps forward to celebrate even as he knows he has stuff to work on. Jon Niese had to depart early tonight because of a racing heartbeat, which he says isn’t serious. I hope he’s correct. (I also hope he’s traded, but we’ve covered that.) Fill-in starter Rafael Montero will wrap up his year tomorrow, and then the starters will be down to Bartolo Colon.

And with Colon on the mound we’ll be down to other lasts. Middle relievers who come in and depart will be done not just for the day but for the year. Same for pinch-hitters, and guys subbed out for better defenders. Bobby Abreu‘s final act that day will be his final act as a big leaguer. Eventually, 2014 will have shrunk to a final nine. If the Mets are hitting, there will be a final batter. If the Mets are in the field, there will be a final play, a last ball thrown that matters. Maybe it will land in Matt den Dekker‘s glove. Or be secured by Lucas Duda. Or wind up nestled in Anthony Recker‘s mitt.

Whatever happens, the season will have shrunk to nothing. There will be no more records to keep. Until after the dark and the snow we find ourselves here again, to start anew.