I wish the Mets weren’t already out of the pennant race.
They’re not. They’re two games out.
I wish the Mets weren’t always getting their brains beaten in by the Washington Nationals.
They haven’t. They’ve split eight games this season thus far, winning the one last night.
I wish the Mets weren’t always falling apart after the All-Star break.
They aren’t. They’re two and three and have a chance for a .500 trip.
I wish the Mets didn’t have to rely on total deadwood coming off their bench.
They didn’t, at least last night. Eric Campbell, who, granted, isn’t much of a player, got a huge pinch-hit to key Tuesday’s 7-2 win.
I wish for once that when the Mets take a tenuous lead that they could maybe add on to it.
They did. They tacked on four in the ninth to put last night’s game out of reach.
I wish the bullpen wasn’t always blowing it.
It isn’t. After Jacob deGrom threw his usual sparkling start, Jenrry Mejia and Bobby Parnell provided a solid bridge to Jeurys Familia. Both of them have been mostly terrific since returning.
I wish Terry wasn’t using Alex Torres every frigging night.
He isn’t. Alex Torres didn’t pitch last night.
I wish the Mets wouldn’t lose every close game they’re in.
They don’t. Not only did they pull away at the end last night but they pulled out an eighteen-inning nailbiter on Sunday. It was by no means aesthetically beautiful, but they did wind up with more runs than the Cardinals, which has to count for something. It does actually. It counts for a win.
I wish the Mets could play a meaningful game in late July.
They are. The game today is as big as any as they’ve played in seven years. Win it and they’re just one game out.
I wish the Mets wouldn’t be doomed if they lose the rubber game against the Nats.
They won’t be. Even a loss would put them only three back with more than two months to go. By not being swept, at the very minimum they stay afloat. They have a chance to do much more.
I wish the Mets would go out and get somebody.
Me too. They still might. I’m not holding my breath, but the trading deadline is nine days away and supposedly they’re talking to people. It’s not like anybody else has already made a deal since the break.
I wish the Mets would give me nothing to complain about.
No you don’t.
Perhaps you remember when you could cure what momentarily ailed a television set by whacking it on the side. It did the trick maybe once in twenty tries, but the memory of it working that one time stayed with you. So if your reception was erratic, your rabbit ears weren’t hearing your pleas and neither the vertical nor horizontal hold allowed you to get a good grip, you’d just give it a good zetz, and…
Hey! Grab the phone book and look up TV repairmen!
Matt Harvey already famously went into the shop and came back as close to as good as new as we could reasonably ask for, but still, sometimes the big picture comes in a little snowy, a little jumpy, not exactly crisp. I find myself wanting to give him the kind of purposeful, light zetz formerly reserved for the old RCA to help him tune in properly. I know he’s not a television, but I yearn deeply for him to be the best thing on mine.
Monday night in Washington, as the Mets braced for the challenge of the first relatively enormous series they’ve played during the Obama administration (which itself is in its seventh season on the air), the Nationals zetzed Matt Harvey early. It also didn’t help that the connections between a few of the batted balls he allowed and the Met defense around him desperately needed tightening. The signal was clear enough to see that this wasn’t going to be a Dark Knight kind of night.
With the Mets down by five and the pitcher’s spot coming around in the top of the fourth there were two programming options: pinch-hit for Harvey and insert Alex Torres — the one pitcher you wanted nowhere near Sunday’s long day’s schlep into night — or stick with Harvey, because since when do the Mets have a pinch-hitter? Besides, the memory of those few times in many tries that Matt helped his own cause stayed with you. Terry let Harvey hit, and Harvey drove in two runs.
The Mets were sort of back in the game and Harvey was back in the driver’s seat, pitching in brilliant, living color from the fourth to the seventh. If only the game had been joined already in progress, it would have won its time slot. Instead, the Mets never scored again, Torres left his usual blotchy mark on the proceedings and the Mets wound up losing by five en route to falling behind by three.
But we did get Harvey to come in perfectly for a while. I hope we can have that again next time he’s on.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of John Daly, host of CBS’s What’s My Line?, introducing his broadcast of Sunday night, May 31, 1964, with the honest admission that he’d been backstage watching the most “marvelous” — or in one retelling “fantastic” — baseball game between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants just before coming on the air that evening. Why, it had been going on for hours and was still going on well past regulation, here at 10:30 PM on the East Coast. Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen fretted that John must stop expressing his fascination at once, for if he extolled its virtues any further, he would risk chasing Metropolitan Area viewers from their show on Channel 2 to that very game on Channel 9!
Which there was plenty of time to do, given that the game in question — the second half of a doubleheader that commenced a little after one o’clock that afternoon — would march on toward 11:30 and total 23 innings before it was all over. Legend has it that countless dials clicked seven notches up the VHF spectrum to see what exactly at Shea Stadium had Daly so riled up, and there went the rating for that night’s What’s My Line?
In our splintered media universe of more than a half-century later, one wonders if anybody anywhere who wasn’t already watching our Metsies go similarly long last night opted to set aside whatever popular culture he or she was consuming in order to sample a taste of extra, extra innings 2015 Mets-style. If so enticed, did they find it marvelous? Was it fantastic?
If you were new to baseball and tuned in to decipher the fuss inherent in an endless 1-1 game, I can’t imagine it necessarily sold you on the virtues of the National Pastime. And if you are a hardened fan of several decades, chances are you were tempted to weep — or maybe just sigh a lot — for the farce your beloved game had become. Still, no matter why you found yourself watching the Mets and Cardinals from Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon deep into Sunday evening, I can’t imagine you could pull yourself away.
That is the appeal of the marathon game, no matter how poorly it is executed (and no matter how much you believe its participants should be executed, or at least designated for assignment). It keeps going. Even if you maintain a severe rooting interest, you are torn between wanting the definitive run scored by your team and desiring no such thing because then it will be over. You may have things to do, places to go, people to see, but never mind all of those concerns. You are ensconced in what is becoming one of the longest baseball games you will ever experience.
Deep down, you don’t want it to end.
The Mets and Cards were cooperating with your wishes. They weren’t going anywhere for the bulk of six hours and neither were you. Certainly Mets batters weren’t going any further than third base, for that was the signature of this particular marathon dance between ancient rivals. This one wasn’t about spectacular fielding or dazzling strategy or mano-a-mano slugging. It was only sort of about clutch pitching; the pitching was effective as far as it went, but it was difficult to ascertain whether the pitching was smothering the hitting or the hitting was absolutely useless.
There were plenty of hits, actually: sixteen from the Mets, thirteen from the Cardinals. We learned Saturday night that hits don’t necessarily lead to runs. The Mets accumulated a dozen hits in the game before this one but scored only twice. The Mets are expert practitioners in the art of making copious amounts of noise without creating a discernible sound. Except for the sound of silence. If you attached a microphone to home plate in hopes of hearing the bottom of a spike cross it, you wouldn’t hear a peep.
We know how the Mets can be. What was the Cardinals’ excuse? Aren’t the Cardinals the best team in baseball, with the best fans in baseball, with the best opposition research in baseball? Shouldn’t have they hacked into the Mets’ mainframe for at least one run during the first dozen innings when the Mets were depositing and abandoning everybody from Wilmer Flores (stranded after a one-out double in the second) to Kirk Nieuwehnhuis (stranded after a one-out double in the twelfth)?
Credit Jon Niese, he who regularly pitches without support or particular joie de vivre, for the first seven-and-two-thirds of scoreless ball. It was a grim task, but there is no one more suited for sucking the action out of a baseball game played under unyielding clouds. Niese was grimly great for as long as Terry Collins would allow him to be. It wasn’t until the eighth, when he hit Randall Grichuk (and who among us hasn’t wanted to do that to the latest word in Met-killing?) that he was removed to make way for his fellow veteran, Bobby Parnell. Like Niese, Parnell has been a stoic Met since Shea Stadium stood. Unlike Niese, Parnell hasn’t shaved since Citi Field was built.
No situation was too hairy for Parnell. He struck out the dangerous Jhonny Peralta — all Cardinals are dangerous — and it was off to the torpid races from there. The Mets had a chance to go ahead in the ninth, if you interpret a baserunner as synonymous with a chance. Eric Campbell walked with one out. He was still on first with two out when he decided stealing was the better part of valor. Kevin Siegrist picked him off and was in the dugout enjoying a cool beverage before Soup was tagged out at second.
And on they went. The Met relief corps — Parnell in the ninth; Jenrry Mejia for the next two, Hansel Robles during the inning after that — kept the Cardinals at bay. The Cardinals seemed determined to disavow their Runnin’ Redbirds reputation and jogged as slowly as possible on most of their own batted balls. Everybody had an excuse. Yadier Molina was tired from squatting. Matt Holliday was recovering from injury. Carlos Villanueva was a pitcher. Even the Best Fans In Baseball booed impatiently when Villanueva didn’t take advantage of a potential infield flub in the twelfth…and much of the crowd that remained by then was sticking around for the sharing of postgame Christian Day testimony.
Thou shalt not pass on scoring opportunities was the key commandment of a game schlepping into the thirteenth. The Mets, at last, heard The Word, because they jumped on the energy-conserving Villanueva pronto. Curtis Granderson, an interloper into the festivities (having been initially sat in deference to Cy Young…check that Tim Cooney starting for the Cardinals), lashed a leadoff single that Curtis deemed worth stretching into something more. He sped up and was safe at second. While Keith Hernandez was in the booth audibly moaning for “a whiskey — please,” Granderson helped himself and made his own double.
Kevin Plawecki was up next and found the first significant hole of the day, not counting the 24 holes in all those doughnuts on the scoreboard. Kevin’s grounder darted between Kolten Wong at second and Mark Reynolds at first. Granderson, who had earlier attempted to inject life into listlessness with an unlikely stolen base, kept running as the rest of St. Louis sleepwalked. He scored an actual run. The Mets had an actual lead.
The Mets liked the sensation so much, they tried to extend it. Ruben Tejada singled Plawecki to third. A sacrifice fly would make it 2-0, so on the off chance that the next Met pitcher gave up a leadoff home run, the Mets would still be out in front. Campbell tried his best to make a worthwhile out, but his fly ball to right was too short to send Kevin home. Juan Lagares, in one of his ten at-bats, made one of his eight outs, also not long enough to aid the greater cause. Daniel Murphy was intentionally walked, bringing up Robles’s spot. Collins looked down his bench, shrugged and called for Johnny Monell.
Monell popped up. The Mets didn’t tack on an insurance run. Disappointing, but not unexpected. Prior to Plawecki’s hit, the Mets were 0-for-Ever with runners in scoring position or, really, any position. Still, a 1-0 lead was better than a perpetual 0-0 tie, and besides, Jeurys Familia, the All-Star in everything but being named one, was coming into pitch. Familia had saved the last four wins the Mets had compiled. He couldn’t have been any better rested, not having worked in a week. All he had to do was…
Oh, you know what he did. He gave up a leadoff home run to Wong in the bottom of the thirteenth. He had to. A thirteen-inning, 1-0 win would have been relatively simple. On the other hand, a thirteen-inning, 2-1 loss would have been brutally painful. Familia played his role perfectly. He put two more runners on before striking out Tommy Pham to guarantee a fourteenth inning.
There are exceptions to every rule, but extra-inning games don’t start running toward marathon status until they reach fourteen. Keith could sigh and moan and ache for the sanctity of the game he held dear every eight seconds, but until we knew we had a fourteenth inning — by which the time the LOB had been declared the official state bird of Flushing — we couldn’t be sure we were experiencing something we’d be referencing way down the road. Like the 23-inning game from 1964. Or the 25-inning game from 1974. Or the 19-inning game from 1985 that ended with fireworks at four in the morning. Or the 20-inning game at this very ballpark in 2010, one that also nibbled the edges of sanity with its offensive ineptitude, except Fox did that one, so we couldn’t sit inside Keith Hernandez’s head and watch it ooze out of his ears.
SNY was blessedly on the air Sunday and Keith’s disdain was running wild in the streets of downtown St. Louis. Thank heaven for small favors.
Now that Collins and Mike Matheny were legitimately low on personnel, a technically dull game was promising to get incredibly interesting. Matheny would eventually turn to starter Carlos Martinez. Terry went with perpetual mystery guest Sean Gilmartin, a pitcher whose identity would surely stump Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf. Gilmartin, in case you’ve forgotten, is the pitcher who keeps pitching for the Mets because he was obtained in the Rule 5 draft. Rule 5 specifies that you must keep Sean Gilmartin on your roster all year long. Rule 6 delineates that you keep forgetting who Sean Gilmartin is.
Gilmartin pitches very well for someone who barely exists. He took care of the Cards with ease in the fourteenth and fifteenth and worked out of a bit of a jam in the sixteenth. Martinez, who came on in the fifteenth, had the easier job. He had to face the Mets, the pennant contenders who’d left eighteen runners on base thus far on top of the eleven from the night before, all while scoring a grand total of three runs in 23 innings.
That’s a lot of zeroes to get to a 1-1 tie, but it takes a lot of nothing to go a long way when you’re running a Metsian marathon. Martinez was no less successful than his seven pitching predecessors. A double play erased a hint of an uprising in the fifteenth; a single to Gilmartin (!) and a walk to Lucas Duda (a.k.a. Lucas Nada or Lucas Do Nothing; I haven’t decided) led to three meek outs in the sixteenth; the theatrical loading of the bases in the seventeenth, featuring an intentional walk to Murphy to set up an unintentional walk to pinch-hitter Jacob deGrom (!!) merely served to adorn Lucas’s two-out strikeout.
Carlos Torres, whom I tend to refer to as Carlos Tsuris so as to distinguish him from his non-biological brother Alex Tsuris, shook off his distinguishing family trait and didn’t bring the Mets trouble when he replaced Gilmartin in the seventeenth. C. Tsuris struck out his first two batters, surrendered a base hit, but then benefited from Plawecki’s gunning down of Peralta in an attempted steal of second. Molina may be the bee’s knees of catchers over the last decade, but Yadier was outshone in this particular marathon by young Kevin. Perhaps had Aaron Heilman pitched, it would have been a different story.
At last, a different chapter unfolded from all those that had preceded it. The eighteenth inning brought a sustained Met offensive onslaught. Flores singled. Granderson singled. Plawecki bunted and confounded Martinez. The bases were loaded again, with absolutely nobody out. The sport would be legally compelled to fold operations if the Mets couldn’t push one lousy run across.
Two were forthcoming, one via Tejada sacrifice fly, one via Campbell suicide squeeze. The latter couldn’t stand as an isolated moment of triumph, however, as good ol’ Soup got himself thrown out at first upon further review mostly because he slowed down en route to glance over his shoulder at the play at the plate. Terrible baseball instincts, but perfectly understandable from a human standpoint. If you cling to a spot on the sub-.200 Met bench of 2015, maybe you should eschew the best advice of Satchel Paige and look back; something ought to be gaining on you.
With a third run in and a franchise record-tying 25th runner left on base (yes, the Mets had done this before), all that could go wrong instead went uneventfully right. Carlos Torres — in for Carlos Tsuris — set down what was left of the Cardinals in order and the Mets had themselves a 3-1 win that took eighteen innings, ran five hours and fifty-five minutes and, with the notable exception of Keith Hernandez’s will to live, rendered no casualties. The Christian Day pilgrims, like the nocturnal fireworks enthusiasts of Atlanta, indeed stayed inside the park to hear special guest testifier Kurt Warner share his “incredible story,” which certainly had a new coda to it after that long an afternoon and early evening.
The entire package was billed in advance by the Cardinals sales office as “a wonderful day of faith and baseball”. Considering Sunday’s particulars and how it all worked out from our perspective — frustration, followed by aggravation, followed by deliverance, followed by a flight to take on an alleged powerhouse first-place club still only two games ahead of ours in the standings — we can’t say there wasn’t truth in that advertising.
Losing by ten runs once you’ve fallen behind by four in the first inning isn’t better than many things, but based on recent, compelling evidence, it sure beats losing by one run when the tying run stands on third base. A 12-2 loss attributable primarily to Bartolo Colon simply not having it is almost relaxing in that it doesn’t have to serve as a referendum on the near-term fate of Metsopotamia. As long as you don’t make a habit of it, you ought to be able to shake it off without it turning your lights out.
“Shake it off,” along with its sibling “walk it off” and its cousin “rub some dirt on it,” are baseball aphorisms to live by. Going out there and getting after ’em is as valued an activity as there in the 162-game season. Consider, for example, Terry Collins’s assessment of one of his players after it was announced that player was going to be sidelined for a spell:
“You know what? He gets hurt. And when he gets hurt, it’s legit. It’s not like this guy’s got a bump and he won’t take two aspirin to come back the next day. This guy, it’s legit. We’ll just wait the two weeks and hopefully get him back and we’ll continue to move forward.”
The player, you might have inferred, was Travis d’Arnaud. The statement dates to June 23, which is now almost four weeks ago. No, d’Arnaud’s not back as soon as regulatorily possible. No, no Met ever is. Yes, the Mets appear comical when they offer a best guess as to a player’s return and then he’s nowhere to be found when that estimated time arrives.
It’s a silly, little dance the Mets have never figured out how to untangle themselves from. The “Prevention & Recovery” signs that dot the path to the home clubhouse are about as effective at fighting injury risk as President’ Ford’s WIN buttons were at Whipping Inflation Now four decades ago. I wish the Mets would just say, “He’ll be back when he’s back,” for whomever is out for an undetermined interval. Can your doctor give you a precise timetable regarding the healing of what ails you? Does your employer report rough guesstimates on your not so well being to a world full of strangers?
It’s always cathartic to poke fun at the Mets’ inability to cure and communicate, but never mind that for the moment. I’m more interested in Travis d’Arnaud the player than Travis d’Arnaud the latest example of what always seems to go wrong. Travis d’Arnaud, you’ve surely noticed, was an essential part of this team when it was playing its best, which has made him an enormous part of this team when he hasn’t been playing at all.
Nobody ever looks better than someone who’s missing from the passenger manifest of a potentially sinking ship. To be clear, the Mets — regardless of the assessment offered by Jim Breuer’s cat Peanut — aren’t by any means sunk, but the offense rarely stays afloat without great struggle. They’ve produced four runs in their first eighteen innings — two Friday, two Saturday — out of the second-half gate, enough to get them beat by one and then by ten. The ten-run pounding was the aberration. The scoring of two or fewer runs, however, has occurred 36 times in 91 games thus far this year. D’Arnaud has played in 19 games in 2015; the Mets scored more than two in 16 of them.
Slapdash but not necessarily misleading conclusion: we need Travis back.
He’s not here because he’s hurt. No doubt it’s legit. No doubt he’d take his two aspirin, rub the requisite dirt on whatever’s aching (one of his elbows, in case you’ve forgotten) and strap it on the way players are admired industrywide for doing. There are stirrings that he’s en route to being en route. May there be a ship for him to help right by the time his route to return is complete.
Longer term, the phrase we find ourselves using is “injury prone,” as in “Travis d’Arnaud is injury prone.” If I may pull the ol’ “the dictionary defines…” trope off the shelf, the dictionary defines prone as “likely to or liable to suffer from, do, or experience something, typically something regrettable or unwelcome”.
Is Travis d’Arnaud prone to injuries just because he gets injured? Does the sprained left elbow of June have anything to do with the bone bruise to his right wrist he suffered in May while rehabbing the fractured right pinkie of April? Is any of it related to the bone chip in his right elbow from last September? Or the concussion from last May? Or the broken left foot he endured two years ago at Las Vegas? Or the torn left knee ligament the year before that when he was still in the Blue Jay organization?
Does all of that add up to “injury prone,” or is it just a collection of bad stuff happening to the same guy? D’Arnaud plays the position on the diamond most fraught with danger, yet not all of what’s gone wrong has had to do with catching. The elbow sprain was diagnosed after a home plate collision (those still transpire, despite rules attempting to eliminate them) with A.J. Pierzynski. But the pinkie fractured while he batted. The business with the wrist also came while hitting. The bone chip, removed in the offseason, wasn’t traced to a specific catching incident. The concussion surely was (a result of a backswing), and that left foot broke while he was in pursuit of a foul ball. His knee ligament, however, tore when he was a baserunner attempting to break up a double play.
You’d think this series of shots to the anatomy would take a terrible toll on the progress of a young player. Yet every time we see Travis hit, Travis is substantially better than he was before the last time we saw Travis disabled. If Travis hadn’t been hitting so well prior to his two 2015 DL stints, we wouldn’t be reflexively listing him as one of the most important ingredients we’ve been missing every time things refuse to go as well as we wish they would.
Unlucky? Absolutely. Chronic? Doesn’t seem to be. Better off doing anything but catching? It’s tempting to say yes, but the kid’s been a catcher his whole life and seems to be a perfectly good one. The Mets have Kevin Plawecki, another catcher whose promise continues to peek through the development process, which adds to the intrigue of what to do with the both of them come the day both of them are healthy and fully ready to contribute at the major league level.
But injury prone? Unless a spell was cast on Travis by the same unforgiving witch who drilled holes in the Mets’ bats before they were shipped to St. Louis, that seems a rather medieval prognosis. I hear “injury prone” and I think back a third-of-a-century or so to another promising young player, albeit not one of the baseball variety. I think back to Phil Simms, the quarterback who seemed poised to lead the New York Giants out of the dark ages.
Simms was a surprise No. 1 pick by one of the perpetually beleaguered local football franchises in 1979. He sat on the bench while his team limped to its usual stumbling start. With nothing to lose and the future to gain, coach Ray Perkins handed the QB job to Phil. He was a revelation, reeling off four consecutive victories and raising our hopes like crazy. Maybe the Giants — playoffless since 1963, with only two winning seasons notched along the way — wouldn’t be horrible forever.
Yet no glide path to glory presented itself. Phil struggled some in 1980; separated a shoulder in 1981; tore a knee ligament in 1982; and whacked his throwing thumb on a defender’s helmet in 1983. Simms was no longer the golden boy about to lead us to the promised land. He was termed injury prone. You couldn’t count on Phil Simms if he was always going to get hurt, you know.
And then? And then Phil Simms stopped getting hurt. He had a spectacular season in 1984, a very good one in 1985 and a championship campaign in 1986, culminating in arguably the greatest day any quarterback has ever enjoyed in a Super Bowl. Simms completed 22 of 25 passes and indeed led the Giants to the promised land.
The injury prone tag blew away. Phil wasn’t prone to injuries. He just happened to have endured more than his share of them in a compressed period of time. It wasn’t a permanent condition.
This old story from another sport reminds us sometimes the worst outcome doesn’t happen just because all available evidence suggests it will. Sometimes all available evidence isn’t foolproof or necessarily relevant. Sometimes the two weeks that become four weeks eventually become no more weeks of waiting.
We’re waiting for that to be the case with Travis d’Arnaud. When it does happen, it will be great to see what he can really do.
During yet another scintillating replay review Friday night, we learned Keith Hernandez spent part of his All-Star break pulling weeds. Not by himself, mind you. He was assisting Maggie, “the gal that oversees my property,” in getting the job done, which, as Gary Cohen pointed out, was “lovely” of him. It’s lovely, too, to know that Keith can contract for certain services which he used to have to badger friends and acquaintances to complete.
You know that if Keith is moving these days, he doesn’t have to convince some fella he just met at the gym to give him a hand the way he did when he’d been retired from baseball for just a couple of years. And if Maggie didn’t know a guy to put him in touch with, Keith certainly has the Franchise Four juice to stride into the Mets clubhouse and enlist someone there to help him.
You think a big, strapping, young buck like Noah Syndergaard is going to turn down Mr. Hernandez? Listed at 6’ 6” and 240, Thor would find Keith’s furniture a breeze to transport. Two dressers, a box spring attached to a headboard, a twelve-piece sectional, the convertible sofa that tends to open up, even the three-inch thick marble coffee table obtained in Italy…22-year-old Noah could handle all of that up and down the stairs of any three-story brownstone Keith throws at him.
I could definitely see Syndergaard carrying all kinds of weighty objects — but you can’t expect him to carry a feather-light attack all by his lonesome.
These regular Friday night engagements Noah has had with opposing batters haven’t put a noticeable strain on our promising pitcher’s physical capacity, but I worry about him throwing his psyche out of whack. Of late, the Mets have provided him with two runs against the Reds, two against the Dodgers, a gargantuan four against Arizona. Those were veritable bounties considering that in each of those outings, Noah allowed only one run apiece. It’s a skinflint’s formula for winning, but it worked across three consecutive starts.
It can only work for so long. Sometimes you have to have help. Sometimes you need Maggie to make a call.
Almost nobody in the Mets clubhouse came to the aid of Mr. Syndergaard on this Friday night in St. Louis. While he was all but singlehandedly keeping the mighty Cardinals at bay, the Met hitters remained lost in their collective weeds. Curtis Granderson provided a leadoff home run versus Lance Lynn. Then everybody called it a day before the sun went down.
Noah could deal with the paucity of support for only so long. The first five innings, he put up zeroes. In the sixth, the Cardinals got a little lucky. Kolten Wong dropped a ball between Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares. Flores rushed back, Lagares forward. I thought getting in Juan’s way was counterproductive, but Wilmer was trying his defensive best and Juan, probably aching more than we know, has never been defensively worse (because we’ve never seen him defensively bad at all). Next thing you now, Wong is stealing his way to second. Ruben Tejada can’t corral Kevin Plawecki’s throw and Flores is not properly backing him up, thus Wong lands on third. Matt Holliday’s sharp grounder to first could have been thrown home by Lucas Duda — Wong wasn’t exactly making a direct beeline to the plate — but Lucas opted to step on the bag instead.
One run. It shouldn’t have presented a definitive impediment to success, but one run scored off a Mets starter is as daunting to move as a three-inch thick coffee table shipped over from Italy. The Cardinals got no more than a little lucky, but the Mets can’t afford to abet anybody’s good fortune. It was 1-1, and Syndergaard hadn’t really done anything wrong.
Then he did. He dared to give up a home run to Jhonny Peralta. Just like that, he was in a 2-1 hole. What were the odds his teammates would rally to pull him out?
Long to non-existent. Noah left after seven, still trailing, 2-1. The increasingly obscure back end of the Mets bullpen gave up another run in the eighth to make it 3-1. In the ninth, the Mets were poised to disappear altogether, but because they’re the Mets, for better and worse, they wouldn’t and couldn’t go quietly. They shouldn’t. They should get runners on base. Which they did in their own lucky fashion. With one out against not quite right Trevor Rosenthal, Duda outmuscled the shift for a single and Plawecki received a Wongish gift that turned into his own base hit. We had first and second. Maybe something was happening.
Bob Geren, ostensibly pushing the buttons because baseball’s amphetamine ban apparently doesn’t extend to bantam rooster managers who don’t care for a given ball/strike call, went all out. He pinch-ran the modestly paced Eric Campbell for molasses-slow Plawecki. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who seems to have reverted to pumpkin status (.135), fought a seven-pitch good fight against Rosenthal, but fanned for the third time on the night. Two out.
Then opportunity: a wild pitch eluded the loathsome Yadier Molina. Runners on second and third. The Mets had to take advantage. If this were, as I wished to imagine it, a preview of the 2015 NLDS, you have to grab whatever the Cardinals give you. You have to make your own luck. And, somehow, the Mets sort of did in their limited capacity to generate scoring threats. Ruben artfully placed a tepid ground ball beyond the grasp of Rosenthal. It died in the middle infield. Duda scored. Campbell moved up to third. It was 3-2.
This was the perfect spot for the Mets to bring that professional bat off the bench, the one Sandy Alderson secured over the All-Star break, the one a team that packs this much pitching needs if it is going to truly approach the second half of the season as a contender.
Instead, Geren sent up John Mayberry (.188). His other options were Johnny Monell (.195) and Danny Muno (.120). He might as well have asked Keith for Maggie’s number.
Everything has to go practically perfectly for the offensively fragile Mets to make up a two-run deficit in one inning. They were handed three, maybe four breaks by the Cardinals. If Rosenthal wasn’t going to favor them with a balk, they needed to make one good thing happen by themselves. They needed somebody to connect for a base hit with a man on third. They needed somebody capable of doing that in the first place.
Instead, they went with Mayberry, who hung in with the All-Star closer for nine pitches. On the ninth pitch, he struck out to lower his average to .186 and leave the Mets one run to the rear. Syndergaard took the loss. He carried the Mets through seven. You’d think somebody could’ve picked him up for once.
The goal of every baseball fan this time of year is to endure the All-Star break while complaining about its existence as much as possible. It’s interminable, it’s endless, it’s too long. Find some more synonyms. Traditionally, by Wednesday it’s completely outlived its utility, yet they went and extended it a few years ago to Thursday. What a cruel and unusual trick to pull on us smack in the middle of the summer.
Yet this All-Star break has been the best All-Star break ever, and I almost don’t want it to stop. Consider the context:
The Mets won their last game in San Francisco two Wednesdays ago. Jacob deGrom struck out ten. Eric Campbell homered.
The Mets were off on the Thursday that followed.
The Mets won last Friday. Noah Syndergaard struck out thirteen. Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer homered.
The Mets won Saturday. Matt Harvey struck out nine and homered, as did Duda and Ruben Tejada (hit home runs, that is).
The Mets won Sunday. Kirk Nieuwehnhuis homered three times. Daniel Murphy homered once. Jon Niese was perfectly serviceable and Jeurys Familia registered his fourth consecutive save.
The Mets were off on Monday. Jacob deGrom was about as perfect as could be during the All-Star Game Tuesday, striking out three batters on ten pitches and stealing Fox’s “look at how young everybody is!” promo. Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza and David Wright were announced as the Mets’ Franchise Four and, by my reckoning, they were the four who most deserved the designation (as the key players in each of the four eras when the Mets won something), no matter the emptiness of the exercise.
The Mets were off on Wednesday, allowing us to bask in deGrom’s deGrominance of deAmerican League. The Mets were off on Thursday, permitting us ample time to at least skim Tom Verducci’s profile of “the Flushing Six” starters in the new SI and process John Smoltz’s assessment that the Mets pitchers of today are a) “way better” than his Atlanta staff of yesteryear and b) possess “more talent than we could ever have”. (We were also offered independent testimony that it’s more emotionally satisfying to be a Mets fan than any locally available alternative — hell, there’s even a t-shirt confirming our fun-ness as fact.)
To sum up, the Mets presently linger at a moment in time during which their best pitcher this season was the starriest of all the stars; their overall starting pitching has been identified by trusted sources as among the best that’s ever been; they homer whenever they play; they win whenever they play; and nine days have passed since they lost. Also, they are very close to the leads in the two playoff races in which they are contending.
Why would we ever want this moment to end?
Oh right, because we like baseball.
Still, this is almost better than baseball. This is baseball without the risk. All we needed to make this break perfect was a break from not adding any offensive talent to the big-league roster, but given recent trends, we’re gonna hit five home runs in St. Louis tonight, six tomorrow and seven Sunday. Even if that projection somehow doesn’t hold, we still have hope that maybe something will be done by July 31. We’ve always had that hope, but usually expressed with a layer of hostility. This week, we’re too mellow to be too hostile. It’s more like, “Oh, this pitching is so good…hey, you know what would really make it awesome? Some hitting!”
Then we turn over to get back to soaking in the rays of the mid-July when the Mets simply didn’t lose. Glad we’ll have games again, but it’s kind of a shame this feeling can’t help but evaporate.
Before I learned to stop worrying and love the All-Star break, I contributed a few words to the latest edition of On The Sports Lines, accessible here. Tune in around the 11:00 mark for my thoughts on our Mets.
I’m still kvelling from Jacob deGrom in the All-Star Game last night. Seriously. I should be more upset that the National League did not uphold the honor of the essentially meaningless midseason exhibition (home field, schmome field; Mets in five), but p’shaw! to that. A decision for Jacob would have been swell and an MVP trophy would have been sparkling, but we have something better than any of that.
We have a legend. We’ll be talking about that time Jacob deGrom blew away the American League on ten pitches for three strikeouts in the sixth inning of the 2015 All-Star Game in the runup to every All-Star Game for the next couple of generations. There may not have been a Ruth, Gehrig or Foxx — or even a Parrish, Lemon or Davis — among the hapless trio of Stephen Vogt, Jason Kipnis and Jose Iglesias, but that’s who the junior circuit offered up as its best, and deGrom overmatched each of them.
When you’re wandering the desert from the last game before the break to the first game after the break, about the only thing that makes life worth living is when your team’s lone representative enters the only game in between. Jacob simply taking the mound would have more or less satisfied me. Instead we got way more. We got a little extra dose of franchise history to go with our recent run of high-maintenance pitchers homering once and sub-Mendoza bench players homering thrice, and we got it with the whole baseball world watching.
As Met All-Star moments go, this rivaled Lee Mazzilli taking Jim Kern deep and walking with the bases loaded versus Ron Guidry. In 1979, I was upset Mazz got jobbed out of the MVP by Dave Parker’s cannon of an arm. Thirty-six years later, I find the performance to be its own reward. Man, I must be maturing.
I’ve never called any pitcher “filthy” or “dirty,” mostly because I don’t talk like a anchor candidate SNY deemed too lame to host SportsNite, but for the first time Tuesday night, I was moved to blurt out, “THAT WAS NASTY!” to the television. I mean such a nice boy, but such nasty stuff. “LOOK! LOOK AT WHAT HE’S DOING!” I advised Stephanie, who was already pretty charmed by Jacob’s cameo in the Fox promo that featured youthful All-Stars who didn’t know what to make of old technology. Our youngster held a rotary phone and expressed total bafflement with what it was for.
Yet when he got the call, he really knew how to dial it up.
I’ve never understood the concept behind the phrase, “…and in twenty years, a hundred-thousand people are going to claim they were at this game.” Why, I’ve wondered, would anyone say he personally eyewitnessed an event he didn’t see for himself? What’s the payoff in that? Perhaps the status of proximity to history carried more cachet before everything was televised. You’d flaunt your alleged bona fides convincingly enough and maybe that would allow you to hold court at your corner tavern for a few minutes.
“I saw Louis knock out Schmeling!”
“You betcha! Got the champ’s sweat all over me!”
“WOW! CAN I TOUCH IT?!?!”
At which point, the worst that could happen would be you’d be trumped by the next tall-taleteller to walk through the door.
“Big deal…I knocked out that big dumb palooka before Louis ever laid a hand on him. Softened him up for the Brown Bomber. Took out that jerk Mussolini in three rounds, too. And I got Lend-Lease through Congress for President Roosevelt on my way over here tonight.”
Then came television, which I would think leveled the spectating playing field; in a sense, we all have ringside seats. The same medium also rendered relatively moot the “where were you when…?” question regarding dramatic championship-type moments, because you could simply answer “I was watching it on TV, having checked my local listings for time and channel.” If it’s truly important to prove you were, as Mike Francesa might haughtily put it, “in the building” where something big happened, nowadays you can produce the image you captured on your camera phone. It’ll show you were there, but it’ll also show you probably didn’t see what you were photographing, consumed as you were by your picture-taking.
It’s never occurred to me say I was at some game I never was. But I will tell you, if indeed it applies, that I was almost at some game I never was. It’s kind of a hollow boast, but sometimes it has the benefit of truth to it. In that sense, I’m a little like Kramer from the pilot episode of Seinfeld, when it was still called The Seinfeld Chronicles. In the fifth scene, we learn Jerry is a Mets fan, as he answers the phone, not with “Hello,” but, “If you know what happened in the Mets game, don’t say anything, I taped it.”
Jerry’s precautions go for naught when his across-the-hall neighbor knocks (yes, knocks) and expresses his frustration that, “Boy, the Mets blew it tonight, huh?” For the record on July 5, 1989, the night NBC gave The Seinfeld Chronicles its initial airing, the Mets lost at the Astrodome, 6-5. Kramer wasn’t so specific in his spoiler to let Jerry know Ron Darling gave up five runs and eleven hits in four-and-two-third innings, but he did add something that didn’t show up in the box score.
“Y’know,” Kramer revealed, “I almost wound up going to that game.”
“Yeah, you almost went to the game,” Jerry replied as if he’d heard it all before. “You haven’t been out of the building in ten years!”
I get out more often than proto-Kramer (a.k.a. Kessler) did. I got out Saturday, for instance. I really was at that game. I saw Matt Harvey homer. It was real and it was spectacular.
As for Sunday…well, I almost wound up going to that game. Plans were made, but then plans had to be unmade. My would-be companion and I agreed to try it again on a future date. No biggie, from my perspective. I had looked forward to seeing my friend, but I was sufficiently baseball-sated from Harvey’s homering heroics and, besides, I wasn’t exactly revving on all cylinders come Sunday morning. I was drowsy enough by noon to lay down and attempt a little pregame nap; honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised had I slept soundly into the middle innings. As a hedge against total immersion in dreamland, I left WOR on in case I stirred. Perhaps I would make out through my own personal fog if I was missing anything.
I was dozing maybe a half-hour before I thought I heard Howie and Josh going on about a home run that might not be a home run. The conditional dinger was under official review. Years ago, David Letterman had a bit that labeled “the most boring play in baseball” the pop fly to deep short. Watching umpires listen on headsets to other umpires rewinding video has replaced it. The process is even more scintillating on radio.
Our announcers know how to vamp much better than MLB does. Howie delved into Joe Torre’s role in reducing Shea’s down-the-line dimensions by three feet, while Josh noticed the telltale peanut shells that scattered when the ball under review landed. At last, they reported the home run that might have been a double was really a home run after all, thus Kirk Nieuwenhuis had just scored the first run of the game.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered?
In the major leagues?
For the Mets?
Was I awake?
I rubbed my eyes and determined I was. And apparently Kirk had done what it was said he had done. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising, given the ability of a blind pig to now and then belt an acorn out of the park. Besides, how much of a home run could it have been considering they had to watch it over and over again to confirm what it was? Was it a matter of being sure the ball cleared the orange stripe in left or were the replay umps in Manhattan too stunned by the idea of Kirk Nieuwenhuis going deep to speak?
To be fair, Kirk entered the 2015 season with thirteen home runs on his lifetime ledger. To be just as fair, Kirk Nieuwenhuis entered Sunday’s action an .091 hitter for the Mets, with none of his four National League hits having gone over any fence anywhere.
Talk about somebody being almost at a Mets game. For a player with three partial seasons under his belt — including a decently productive one in 2014 — Kirk showed almost as little staying power as home run power during the first half of this year. The Mets designated him for assignment in May. His assignment — go be an Angel, Kirk — failed miserably. The Angels Harry Chiti’d him back to the Mets. The Mets Vegas’d him back to the 51s. This career path indicated he should have been landing in the Atlantic League this weekend.
Instead he was recalled by the Mets. It was difficult to recall why, but here he was, on Sunday, starting in left and swatting, just barely, his first home run of the season.
If Kirk Nieuwenhuis could show up at Citi Field and do that, the least I could do was give up my nap and station myself by the television to see if anything else noteworthy would happen.
Oh, it did. Kirk hit a second home run the inning after he hit his first. This one required no replay review, except for admiration’s sake. And now that Kirk Nieuwenhuis was a two-homer slugger, how could you nod off now? He could become the first Met to hit three home runs in one home game.
Only kidding. There was no way that was going to happen. First off, he was Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
I didn’t have a second reason.
From July 11, 1973, through July 11, 2015, I’d attended 598 regular-season Met home games. In none of those contests did a Met hit three home runs. Nor did they in any of the home games I didn’t attend (and would never say I had). This wasn’t quite up there with “no Met has ever thrown a no-hitter” — which one finally did in another game I almost went to — but it was a curiosity of at least the second order. Nine Mets belted three home runs in games elsewhere, but not here.
The closest it came to happening, by my reckoning, was a Shea Sunday against Cincinnati in 1997. Todd Hundley had two, and Joe and I were sure we were going to see a third, if only Hundley could get to the plate one more time. The Mets were up, 10-1, in the bottom of the eighth. There were two out. Todd was on deck. All we needed was for the man ahead of Todd in the lineup to get aboard John Olerud, a classic on-base machine, was the No. 3 batter that day. Todd was hitting cleanup. It was perfect.
Except with that nine-run lead, Bobby Valentine had already opted to rest Oly, thus the man up ahead of Hundley was Shawn Gilbert, 32-year-old rookie who’d notched six entire at-bats to that point in the season. Gilbert flied out to end the eighth. Hundley never batted, never hit that third home run. The three home runs at home thing would go unsolved deep into the following century.
Earlier that year, in 1997, I was part of the crowd at Tiger Stadium the night Bobby Higginson hit three home runs against Met pitching. I was so lost in sightseeing the old ballpark that I didn’t really notice what Higginson was accomplishing, or maybe I just didn’t want to notice amid what became a 14-0 bludgeoning of Mark Clark & Co. Eighteen summers before that, at Shea, I saw an all-time popular Met hit three home runs. The Met in question was Dave Kingman. Unfortunately, Sky was wearing a Cubs uniform then; more fortunately that Saturday in 1979, John Stearns and Lee Mazzilli also homered and the Mets won, 6-4.
I wasn’t at this game featuring Nieuwenhuis’s utterly unforeseen revival, but I was at those games. I’m not making it up. Why would I? Why would anybody?
Why was Kirk Nieuwenhuis sitting on two home runs for the day with a chance to become the first home Met to hit three on Sunday? I have no idea about any of those answers, but when you’ve been DFA’d and waived and optioned and whatever it is they can do to you when your major league existence has turned severely marginal, yet you get to stand in against a pitcher with a bat in your hand, I suppose anything is possible.
So it was in the fifth inning. That’s when Kirk Nieuwenhuis did to Randall Delgado what he’d done twice to Rubby De La Rosa. He hit a home run. This one had plenty adequate distance. It just had to stay fair. It did, bouncing off the screen of the right field pole. It counted just like the first two.
It was Kirk’s third home run of the day. He came out of the dugout and took a curtain call. They could have taken the entire day out of play at that point and sent it to Cooperstown, but the rest of the game between the Mets and the Diamondbacks had to continue. Though Kirk had three homers, and Daniel Murphy one, it wasn’t exactly a rout in progress. Jon Niese and three relievers who’ve each been Met closers had to retire enough Arizona batters to effect a sweep.
After Niese exited and before Bobby Parnell and Jeurys Familia entered, Jenrry Mejia finished the seventh. It was easy to spurn Mejia in April when the team was going gangbusters and Jenrry was sullied by a PED suspension. It was as easy as dismissing Kirk Nieuwenhuis as something akin to useless. In the fifth, we learned a little forgiveness goes a long way…goes a long way three times, in fact. We were able to use a lot of Nieuwenhuis and a little Mejia and just enough of everybody else to take a 5-3 victory over the Diamondbacks into the All-Star break.
Your New York Mets of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jenrry Mejia and whoever steps up next are on a four-game winning streak, having taken seven of nine overall. The 7-2 makes for a nice bookend to the 13-3 that started the season, especially if you’re willing to not stress the 27-37 in between those opening and closing acts. These Mets can be a little extreme, you know. For example, in just these past couple of weeks, they’ve gone from never homering at all to doing nothing but homering — homering and pitching and solidifying in subtle ways.
For all the pitiable intervals they (and we) have endured, they end this portion of the schedule five games over .500, two games behind the division-leading Nationals and one game in back of the Cubs for the second Wild Card. They’re closer to alive and well than they are to dead and buried. They have a tough slate immediately ahead, one chock full of first-place teams, but exposure to most of the National League to date indicates there’s nobody they can’t compete against.
You don’t gotta believe, but if you can legitimately say you saw (or heard) Kirk Nieuwenhuis homer three times in one game, then you can’t say anything where these Mets are concerned is impossible.
Before Saturday’s game, I noticed a new billboard plastered along the avenue of commerce that serves as Citi Field’s outfield fence. It touted EAST COAST POWER & GAS. Clearly it referred to the home team’s starting pitcher.
Good to see the Mets making some very bold statements.
Offspeed blends notwithstanding, we know Matt Harvey can bring the gas. Nine strikeouts over seven increasingly impressive innings attested to his most important renewable resource and his ability to turn it into an adequately efficiently fuel capable of generating just enough electricity to keep an entire stadium operating at a low hum. Matt’s first two batters walked and homered, staking the Diamondbacks to a distressingly quick 2-0 lead. Matt’s next 26 batters, including the seven who reached base via single or walk, failed to score behind them. At 109 pitches over seven frames, it may not have been classically clean-burning, but it surely proved sustainable.
You can’t talk about Harvey without talking about his pitching, but now that we’ve talked about his pitching, we can talk about his hitting.
Matt Harvey has power. We usually mean he has the power to attract attention, mostly through his pitching, sometimes through whatever magnetism separates very good pitchers from highly marketable commodities. As a product, Harvey tested through the roof in 2013. As a pitcher, Harvey’s admitted to experiencing “more ups and downs than I expected or wanted” in 2015, his first season after Tommy John surgery. Pitchers are entitled to feel their way back. We get antsy, however, when highly marketable commodities show flaws.
On the other hand, we get giddy when we discover they come fully loaded with features we’d only dreamed about.
Did you know Matt Harvey can hit home runs? Well, he can hit a home run, but now that he’s hit one, I’m sure he can hit more. Of course I’m sure. The whole point of a Matt Harvey is to be absolutely certain of what he can do. Other Mets give you an idea they can do something spectacular and you hopefully infer that maybe they can do more. Harvey does something once and you assume he will repeat it, enhance it and draw disproportionate notice for it.
As he should. We need a guy like that, and not just for the thrill having a guy like that. He lets as many as 24 other Mets, regardless of how well (or poorly) they’re doing, fly under radar, which probably doesn’t bother too many of them. The radar is too busy trying track Harvey.
Saturday he hit a ball where the radar couldn’t automatically detect it. He hit it over the outfield fence, the same one that promised EAST COAST POWER & GAS. Not over that sign, precisely, but the effect was the same: powerful.
I was going to say “explosive,” but you don’t want that from a source of power, let alone gas, do you?
I’ve been on hand for several Met pitcher home runs over the years and they usually follow the same trajectory. There’s a swing; there’s a fly ball usually closely parallel to a nearby foul line; the ball sort of hangs in the air for a minute as if it doesn’t know what it’s doing aloft. The ball is all like, “What — where do I go now?” It’s almost embarrassed by the attention. Eventually it has no choice but to quit traveling and land somewhere in the stands. The pitcher who hit it seems equally embarrassed as if he didn’t mean to hit it and now doesn’t mean to trot. (Somebody should check the parking lot where Shea used to stand — John Maine may be still circling the bases from 2007.)
It wasn’t like that with Matt Harvey’s fifth-inning home run. Matt Harvey’s fifth-inning home run was a solid line drive. From my perch high in 512, I knew it was going somewhere. I figured double off the wall if it didn’t caught, which would have sucked. Actually, because it was the pitcher…particularly because it was this pitcher…it would have sucked just a little had it been merely a double. Eric Campbell was on first and quite possibly would have scored the tying run had it been a double, but still. Matt has doubled five times in his career. He’d never homered. Put aside what you know about fractions. A double wouldn’t have been half as good as a home run here.
And then it was gone. Or it seemed to be. David Peralta, who hit the home run that put Harvey behind in the first inning, was determinedly gesticulating. Way up in Row 12, I thought he was insisting it bounced over the advertising-laden wall for a ground-rule double. Then I remembered it’s 2015 and what you can’t keep from going out of the park you can always try to bring back by video replay review.
Now I got it. There’s that orange stripe, then there’s that railing, there’s some kid with a glove. If I were David Peralta, assuming I wasn’t deeply ashamed of myself for having homered off of Matt Harvey earlier, I guess I’d gesticulate determinedly and beg intrusive technology to give my team back those extra two bases. Harvey would be on second, which would be kind of cool, except Campbell would go to third, and the Mets would still be down, 2-1, and Juan Lagares — for whose bobblehead my pal Joe and I were in attendance in the first place — would be up and Patrick Corbin would get out of the inning because, let’s face it, Corbin was mostly impenetrable until the fifth and Lagares’s bobblehead didn’t exactly portray him with a bat in his hands. Lucas Duda had gotten to Corbin to start the inning, but otherwise the Mets were being the Mets: all pitch, very little hit, how about some luck?
You don’t need luck when the cameras capture reality. Harvey’s liner was well above that orange stripe and was going to hit that railing if the kid with that glove hadn’t made a nice (if not Lagarish) catch. It was still a home run hit by the starting pitcher. It was almost a second home run hit by the starting pitcher in my mind, considering my initial confusion. Joe and I high-fived a few extra times to certify that it really and truly counted as four legitimate bases.
Harvey didn’t seem the least bit shy about circling them, by the way.
I mentioned Duda homered, his second in two days. Also, Ruben Tejada hit a home run in the sixth; it carried like the kind Bobby Jones hit that one time in 1999. Bobby Parnell and Jeurys Familia provided solid relief. Tejada and Wilmer Flores continued to look like a steady double play combination. Lagares didn’t hit at all, but his bobblehead was properly fitted with a nifty Gold Glove. Jacob deGrom smilingly accepted our applause when he was presented his All-Star batting practice jersey (appropriate given how Met pitchers obviously make good use of their BP). So yes, there were other Mets who were elements of Saturday’s winning experience — but they all flew under radar.
Who notices anybody else when Matt Harvey is in full flight?
Given Harvey’s recent inability to replicate 2013 on command, I’ll admit to a little worry as the game developed. Matt was down 2-0 and looked (to me) uncomfortable. Dan Warthen had to visit the mound. I half-expected Ray Ramirez to follow. Where Ray Ramirez goes, the Grim Reaper is bound to check in soon enough. None of that happened, and Harvey found his groove, but I wasn’t taking any chances. My own fully reasonable concession to superstition was to delete the phrase “Harvey Day” from my vocabulary, whether spoken or electronic. It seemed a bit dated suddenly, like the NEW TWERK CITY tank top I saw some girl wearing inside the Herald Square station the other day. Besides, every time I psyched myself up for Harvey Day, either he’d get hit surprisingly hard or it would rain incessantly.
Thing is, you can’t let a Harvey start pass you by as if it’s just another day. The home run that put him (and, oh yeah, his team) ahead reminded me attention must be paid. When he returned to pitching in the sixth and seventh, it was Harvey Day as it ever was. If I’d brought a cowl, I would have donned it in salute. After he threw his 109th pitch, the 4-6-3 grounder that got him through the seventh, I leapt to my feet in applause, then stayed on my feet to stretch. When “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” got rolling, I heard myself ad-lib an admittedly cringey lyric without even intending to:
Root, root, root
For MATT HAAAR-VEEE!!!
And, of course, the rest of the home team. You know, the guys who play baseball alongside Matt Harvey. They may not get entire days, but they have their moments, too.
The pitching’s too good to ever get too down. There’s not a Shaun Marcum reclamation project in the bunch, no Chris Capuano dutifully sucking up innings as if that’s the goal of any given game. One start you get Jacob deGrom, who opposing batters can’t hit; next game it’s Noah Syndergaard, who they can’t touch.
In between, you hear bad news about Steven Matz, yet even as you process it for discouraging words, aggravatingly fluid timetables and comprehension that something initially reported as a little nagging became a full-blown sidelining injury, you can cope, because it’s pitching — and pitching here is plentiful.
Almost as plentiful as uncertainty about how to process this Mets season.
Syndergaard should be all a Mets fan should want to talk about at this moment. Syndergaard Thors his way to the mound and hammers the Diamondbacks. He gives up a run in the first and then none for the next seven. He scatters four hits. He walks only two. He strikes out thirteen.
He strikes out thirteen.
Thanks to the proprietary, complex algorithms inherent in the patent-pending Six-Man Rotation, Noah’s weekly night to pitch has become Friday. Nobody’s lighted Friday night this bright since Coach Eric Taylor was molding young Texans not much Syndergaard’s junior. In his previous two episodes, Noah stifled the Reds and shut down the Dodgers. The D’backs offered about as much resistance. On a staff without All-Star deGrom and pre-lat Matz — never mind social media gadfly Harvey and, for that matter, unsuccessfully hashtagged closer Familia — we’d be buckling in for the Thor ride of a lifetime and gleefully screaming “WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!.”
A forest of pitching, however, almost obscures how beautiful each individual tree is when it is in bloom. Make no mistake, Syndergaard’s branches are exploding with promising new growth every start. He’s getting better all the time, not unlike deGrom was a year ago and continues to now.
This is a helluva baseline for a baseball team. It’s almost become a lock that the starter will go, at minimum, six, and give up, at maximum, three. It’s probably not a normal state, yet we treat it as if it is.
Never scoring enough in support of our starters also seems the uncomfortable norm, but that’s not always going to be the case. These Mets who never put enough runs on the board have, in fact, put enough runs on the board for two consecutive wins. I think they call that a streak. These same Mets have won five of seven. I think they call that a trend. If not for shrinking into their shell like a frightened turtle at the sight of the Cubs, the Mets as a whole — that’s the anemic Met offense in concert with the powerful Met pitching — would stand out as one of the hotter teams in the sport over the past two weeks.
Alas, the Mets have a hole, measuring on most nights from the top to the bottom of their order. Yet when just a little goes right…when Lucas Duda remembers how to drive a pitch…when Michael Cuddyer stands on one good leg and one leg that’s barely good enough…when Kevin Plawecki’s sinuses clear up…when Daniel Murphy dives down long enough to get lucky…the Mets may not become unbeatable, but they don’t get beaten.
Those perfectly crafted Washington Nationals are two games away in the Eastern Division. Two. Two lousy games, or the same distance from which the Chicago Cubs peer back at us in the other potential Met playoff chase. Sounds close enough to make a summer of it. Yet ESPN’s Mark Simon tells us why it’s a fool’s errand to even fathom making up two games with 75 to play. The Wall Street Journal’s Brian Costa says there is no song and dance sincere enough to make us take the Mets’ chances seriously.
I don’t need well-credentialed baseball writers to keep me grounded. I’ve been here. I’ve seen the Mets creep around viability in recent years. I’ve seen the Mets do just enough to make me think maybe there’s a corner about to be turned, only to have the concrete and the clay beneath my feet begin to crumble.
But this is the year when, for a while, it felt different, no? Then it felt all too familiar. Then, though, there was a twist. There was deGrom reaching elite status and Syndergaard rocketing up the rotation and Niese maybe not relentlessly disappointing us as usual and Colon still riding that donkey pretty effectively and Harvey struggling a bit as he continues to find himself, but if Harvey struggling a bit amounts to the most of your starting pitching problems, then you don’t really have starting pitching problems, Matz’s absence notwithstanding. I was falling in love with East Setauket Steve, but at this point two weeks ago, he had pitched exactly as many innings for the Mets as Sidd Finch.
And with pitching like that — and perhaps just enough going right when you’re two games away from the almighty Washington Nationals with 75 games to go — how exactly do you not find a way to derive a few encouraging words?
How do the Mets not use the twenty days between this very moment and the trading deadline to enhance themselves at least along the edges?
How is there not one help-us-now player among 29 other organizations just waiting to be plucked?
I’m not asking for a superstar ingeniously wrangled with magic beans and Dillon Gee. I’m just asking for a little assistance, a utilityman of true utility, one stinking bat that doesn’t splinter at the sight of .200.
Who is that guy and how do we get him? My job is to hope within reason. It’s this front office’s job to make good on my reasonable hope. As a lusty Duck Phillips suggested to Peggy Olson when she tried to beg off a Friday afternoon rendezvous on account of too much work to do, “C’mon creative. Be creative.”
Somebody wrote a book about how creative this front office is. It needs an addendum for the paperback version.
You don’t have to pick up Troy Tulowitzki, throw his back legs over your shoulder and drag him Pete Campbell fantasy-style through the snow to Citi Field, but my goodness, is it that hard (and that expensive) to hunt down a 2015 version of, say, Bob Bailor? A bench player whose talents transcend those of Danny Muno is not an unreasonable request. Marginal upgrades aren’t necessarily insignificant when the margin is two games. To shrug, “ah, you know, we made a couple of calls, but nobody would immediately give us what we wanted for almost nothing, so we gave up,” and point to 2016 as The Year is to abdicate responsibility.
Same goes for we the people who call ourselves Mets fans. Two games. It’s after the halfway point. It’s not two games heading in the wrong direction, either. The Nationals have had every opportunity to bury all competition. They have neglected to follow through and somehow we remain a going part of their lives. The Cubs hold a 7-0 edge in intramural competition, yet we sit stubbornly in their rearview mirror. Teams like the Braves, the Giants and the Diamondbacks have been poised to blow right by us. They haven’t.
All those clubs, good if flawed clubs, have weapons that could destroy us if deployed properly. And us? We have deGrom and Syndergaard and Harvey and Familia and too many decent-plus players who are due to get going. We’re good if flawed. We could use a little help. A little. Give us that and I don’t think the final 75 games are doomed to the status of full-priced glorified scrimmages.
Listen, I’m not by nature optimistic where the Mets are concerned, or at least I’m not any longer. Too much has beaten the Met optimism out of me. I should be ready to pack it in while waiting for Matz’s lat to heal; knowing Wright’s spine lacks proper width; never sure where d’Arnaud is on the recovery spectrum; being reminded Jerry Blevins is weeks, months, years away from returning (it’s been so long since he’s pitched that his general manager called him “Jeremy” yesterday). Trust me, if the Mets follow up their current 5-2 stretch with a 2-15 funk, I’ll be leading the reflexive retreat into innate 21st-century Mets fan pessimism. Honestly, it would be easier to just default into here-we-go-again mode than get even my reasonable hopes up, knowing there’s every possibility they will crash as they usually do.
But at two games out with 75 to play and this kind of pitching, that’s not a good look for us.
Ed Kranepool knows something about Mets teams overcoming unflattering perceptions, let alone daunting margins. Listen to what he has to say when he joins Michael Garry, author of Game Of My Life, at the Book Revue in Huntington, Monday night at 7 PM. Michael and Ed will be talking Mets history and signing copies of that very fine book.