There are many previews of the 2015 World Series that pits the New York Mets against the Kansas City Royals floating around. I’ll go with Rob Emproto’s. Rob (Rob E. in the comments section) is my friend of 23 years as of this month — Torborg to Terry; Gooden to deGrom; “we just got Tony Fernandez” to “we shouldn’t get rid of Wilmer Flores”. He understands baseball as well as anybody I’ve ever known. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but I always assume they’re well-founded and I inevitably go back and check my proverbial math if he’s come up with a different answer from mine.
Rob shared a brief World Series analysis this morning with the longstanding email group we’ve been a part of since the last time the Mets were in the Fall Classic. I liked it enough to want to share it with you. Rob said that would be OK by him. If Rob says it’s OK, then it must be.
Here, then, is The Rob Emproto World Series preview.
The Royals are a really good team, and they do everything right, but their starting pitching isn’t strong. The question here is, “Can the Royals keep doing all those right things offensively against elite pitchers that they haven’t faced before?” You’re talking about guys with stuff AND command, not just hard-throwers. If they are able to run up pitch counts and get the starters out of the game early while their own pitchers keep the game close, the Mets will have a problem. By the way, the Mets are familiar with all the Royals starters except Ventura as they are all ex-NLers.
The old adages are: “Good pitching beats good hitting” and “When hitters are seeing pitchers for the first time, the pitcher has the advantage.” Many people are betting that the Royals are going to turn that around, and that their experience last year will trump the Met pitchers’ inexperience this year. I really haven’t seen any indication that these guys are going to fold. They went head-to-head with Kershaw and Greinke, played a deciding game in L.A. vs. Greinke, played a loaded Cubs lineup that swept them during the season, beat the hottest pitcher in baseball, and won two games on the road in a building they were 0-for-the-last-two-years in. It’s not like the road has been soft.
Yes, the Royals get the bat on the ball and move guys over and run. They are going to have to do that against Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz. All the other parts of their game hinge on them having good at-bats against those guys (and stringing them together), while Volquez, Cueto, Ventura, and Chris Young match them. I’m biased of course, but that seems to be asking a lot. Also, keep in mind the Mets have faced three non-elite pitchers so far. They knocked Brett Anderson out after 3, Jason Hammel out in the second, and Kyle Hendricks pitched OK but only made it through 4. They’re not just PITCHING; the Mets are doing a lot of things well, too.
Last year the Royals faced Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson, Vogelsong. This ain’t gonna be the same. This is going to be like facing Bumgarner every game. If both teams are at the top of their games, the Mets should have the advantage.
The Royals are excellent, and they can certainly win. But if I were a neutral betting man (I am neither), you bet on the pitching here (and the disparity between the starting pitching).
Hosmer the Cat (a.k.a. Hozzie) rightfully turns his back on Hosmer the first baseman (a.k.a. the enemy).
As we approach the never previously calculated New York Mets Championship Equinox — Saturday at 9:53 PM EDT is the moment between the final pitch of the pennant-clincher and the first pitch of the World Series — we inevitably shift from the portion of the postseason where we’re exceedingly happy to be where we are to the time when we dwell on whether we can climb that one final step higher.
I like where we are, but I really want to be up there. That’s been the goal all along, but peering looking too far ahead, never mind above, makes my baseball instincts dizzy. And though I never doubted the Mets could be here when this postseason commenced, it never quite occurred to me they would.
The Mets are in the World Series. I like to keep reminding myself. You don’t mind, do you? Perhaps you’ve been elbowing your brain in the ribs telling yourself the same thing since 11:39 PM EDT Wednesday. Perhaps you’ve got tendonitis and a headache from such unusual activity. That’s OK. We’re all out of practice at this and we have all these off days to root ourselves into World Series condition.
The Mets are in the World Series. Y’know what? That doesn’t hurt at all.
Not much about 2015 evokes 2000, but I do clearly remember my favorite part of winning the pennant then was early in the interregnum between the NLCS and the World Series, specifically that period when there was only one known component of the Fall Classic — us. I sort of hoped for a Players Association wildcat strike to materialize, because if the American League failed to send a representative, we’d be world champions by default.
The second that ALCS was over, the fun was curtailed. It wasn’t the impending matchup that bummed me out — I thought we’d beat the other team that year; it was how we had to share the municipal stage with two-time defending world champions and all the oxygen they sucked up in those days. The bulk of that week cast the Mets as visitors to New York. I felt more cheated by the city’s zeitgeist surrounding my team’s first World Series appearance in fourteen years than I did by pinstriped hotheads flinging bat barrels and not facing ejection.
This is so different. The distance from Flushing, Queens, to Kansas City, Missouri, is approximately 1,200 miles. I know of one Royals fan who lives in New Jersey. There may be another. Otherwise, the Mets being in the World Series overwhelms New York, just as it did during the three instances prior to 2000 when the Mets made it.
That’s what I’ve been waiting fifteen years for. I’ve been waiting to turn on the radio one of the mornings between the NLCS and the World Series and hear a well-produced if horribly conceived frontrunning song parody. In this case it was WCBS-FM recasting “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls as “We Love The Mets”.
How do you not go with “It’s Raining Mets”? Seriously? There was, however, a line in there that beseeched, “God bless Daniel Murphy,” so clearly it has redeeming features. Still, where was this “love” for the Mets when our fellas could have used a little extra affection? Why wasn’t 101.1 FM “Hungry Like The Murph” when he was throwing to the wrong base and not appearing nightly in a cluster of high-fives?
Ah, everybody loves a winner almost as much we love this winner. Thus, everything since Wednesday night has been raining Mets. The bandwagon is rolling, and I say hop on board. Apparel nobody has ever commented on in my neck of the woods has been attracting steady streams of enthusiastic approval. Local media that acted as if there was only one baseball team in town…well, they were right, weren’t they? It’s just that it’s a different baseball team than they had led themselves to believe. As Designated Mets Fan in certain spheres, I am congratulated and wished further luck constantly, not extended condolences and told not to take it so hard.
Every afternoon during this admittedly disturbingly lengthy layoff between Game Five and Game One, the Mets show up at Citi Field, put on fresh blue hooded sweatshirts and run around doing baseball stuff. They do this in late October and every move they make is reported on breathlessly. It’s like Spring Training that matters. It’s like baseball season never ended.
It didn’t. Not the Mets’ version.
Hockey crowds cheer them. Talk show crowds adore them. Sandwiches honor them. It’s as if those of us who act like this 24/7/365 (366 in leap years) wandered into a shampoo commercial and we told two friends, and they told two friends and now an entire region is friends with the Mets — and not just the Facebook kind.
This is a nice place to be, but I don’t want to live here. I want to live up there. Gotta take that extra step. It really hit me when I saw a picture of Citi Field with the 2015 NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS logo plastered on its left field exterior. Very pretty. Not pretty enough.
That’s when the competitive clock was set earnestly in motion. Gotta upgrade that sign, I said. Gotta.
I feasted as best as I could off “National League Champions” post-2000. I still proudly display in my office the TD Waterhouse-sponsored mini-flag I was handed at the Home Opener in 2001. I was grateful the Mets accomplished that much the year before, but it was never fully satisfying. A pennant is something beautiful, but a world championship is simply gorgeous. “Hello, gorgeous,” I want to say at some point after the next four to seven games. I’ve been waiting 29 years to have that conversation. Some of you have been waiting longer than you’ve been alive. Whatever your age, you’ve waited long enough.
At last, we know our obstacle, our non-archrivals, the Kansas City Royals. There is lit’rally nothing relevant I can tell you about the Mets’ history with their fellow expansioneers the Royals that you don’t already know. There really is nothing relevant to know. There have been nine games total between them, which is about as close to a pure World Series as you can get amid the ongoing Interleague plague. Only three have taken place since this blog has existed and none of them lately. You’re no doubt familiar with Foy for Otis, Hearn for Cone, the Bret Saberhagen deal, maybe a few other players with shared affiliations.
None of it is relevant, but it’s fine to know. The Royals having valiantly filled the role of enemy-of-our-enemies versus the Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals eons ago is fine to know, but it’s not relevant, either, no more relevant than my lingering animus for the Cubs was going into the NLCS. For what little it’s worth, I’m no longer harboring Cubbie grudges from 1969, 1984, whenever. For what even less it’s worth, my second-hand fondness for the Royals and Don Denkinger sticking it to Whitey Herzog and St. Louis in 1985 doesn’t fill me with any conflicting emotions as Tuesday 8:07 PM EDT nears.
Good old Royals. They’re the enemy now. They have to be. If my cat Hosmer — a.k.a. Hozzie — didn’t have the beverage-inspired name way before I’d heard of the Kansas City first baseman Hosmer, I’d probably be tempted to change it to Murph (which, incidentally, was the runner-up feline name choice in 2002; for Bob, not Daniel). If I still had the Royals t-shirt I purchased at a Wichita-area Walmart in the late ’90s, I’d briefly consider defacing it. If the Royals live up to their billing, I’ll be mighty mopey.
As I would be if the Blue Jays had alighted in the World Series. They worried me. The Royals worry me. Of course they do. It’s how the postseason is supposed to work. Every opponent looms as trouble. The Cubs loomed as trouble. They were like one of those storms for which you lay in bottled water and flashlight batteries and brace for the worst until you hear on TV that Hurricane Schwarber has changed course and blown out to sea. It wasn’t a waste to worry then, though. Whatever typical playoff anxiety went unused in the last round will remain stockpiled and be reinforced for this one.
We dodged Irene where I live. We stayed alert for Sandy regardless. We’ll be ready for the Royals now. That’s we, as in the fans, who put on sometimes frightfully worn blue hooded sweatshirts and hum along to those awful retrofitted song parodies and decide if we’d rather try the Matz or the deGrom next time we find ourselves in East Setauket, which will likely be never, but you can’t be too careful. I know logically our thoughts do not influence the actions of the Mets, but what did I just say? You can’t be too careful.
Also, I can’t say “thank you” enough for the heartfelt wishes and generous sentiments expressed over the past couple of days regarding my dad. The stories you saw fit to share about your families and what the Mets have meant to you in that context touched me very deeply. Wherever your loved ones are in the games ahead, I’m glad that in some genuine sense they will be very much with you. We all deserve to take in a Mets World Series with those who mean the most to us.
The temptation after a night like Wednesday, when the New York Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs, 8-3, at Wrigley Field to sweep the National League Championship Series in four straight games and claim the fifth pennant in franchise history is to say this is what makes being a Mets fan worthwhile.
Nonsense. It’s been worthwhile all along.
It was worthwhile the first time you picked up something resembling a ball or a bat and identified with the man on TV, the one who threw the ball faster or swung the bat harder than you ever could.
It was worthwhile when you decided that it might be fun to play baseball, but that watching baseball with all your heart and all your soul would be more your forte.
It was worthwhile when you discovered you could wear shirts and caps with the same letters the players on your team wore and you could collect pictures of those players and you could read about them and you could keep watching them on TV and once in a while, if you were lucky, you could go and see them play their games in person.
It was really worthwhile to learn it wasn’t just you who enjoyed these things. You were part of a community, a tribe, something bigger than yourself. Those who shared your enthusiasm for this stuff were not necessarily exactly like you, but they were close enough. And you grew close to them.
In winter, you counted the days until the next baseball season with them. Through spring and summer and into fall, you counted the years until the next great baseball season with them. You reassured each other one was coming. Until it did, you enjoyed as best you could the ones you were given.
You enjoyed the year after your team last went to the World Series. The team sort of went into the toilet early and often in 2001, but you never stopped going to games with your friends, never stopped conceiving of ways the team could fight their way back into a race. To your surprise, they scratched and clawed and made an otherwise horrible September briefly beautiful. They didn’t win anything, but it was still worthwhile.
You enjoyed the years that followed: 2002, 2003, 2004. You didn’t enjoy them that much, because your team never came close to returning to the World Series, but there were still the trappings of a baseball season. There were trips to the ballpark and nights you’d tune in and players you started to pick out as your next favorites. You had no illusions, but you never gave up.
You enjoyed your first hint that things might really get better, in 2005. You enjoyed writing about the goings of old heroes and the comings of new hopes. You enjoyed writing about all of it.
You enjoyed coming so close to the World Series you could taste it. In your heart, you know 2006 was the year; it just got misplaced along the time-space continuum. Then again, the time-space continuum has proven to be a little overrated.
You enjoyed, in the perverse way only your kind could, falling tantalizingly short in 2007 and 2008. There’s at least a couple of songs that say something about it feeling so good to hurt so bad. That was those years. You doubt anyone not immersed in what you’ve been immersed in could understand that feeling something — even feeling something awful — was better than feeling nothing at all. Good thing you know others who are immersed the way you are. Anybody else would think you were nuts.
You enjoyed trying to feel something for your team after it stopped coming close. You were more sour than the naked eye could have divined in 2009 and 2010 and 2011…and 2012 and 2013 and deep into 2014. But it never occurred to you your team wasn’t part of your life, and you never for a second didn’t feel at home with the people who weren’t necessarily exactly like you, but they understood what you were going through better than anybody else could. They were going through it, too.
Because they were close enough. They were close to you and you were close to them and together you dreamed of a night when your team would do something that was becoming unfathomable to the lot of you, like making it to a World Series.
All of that was worthwhile. It was worthwhile whenever you started rooting for the New York Mets. It was worthwhile when the Mets couldn’t win a pennant in the 14 seasons that succeeded 2000. It was worthwhile as the Mets went about coalescing into the kind of team that could win a pennant in 2015.
When the Mets did win that pennant, after sweeping the Cubs…yeah, that was worthwhile, too.
For those of you who endured some or most or all of the pennant drought that left us high and dry for fifteen long years in the autumnal baseball desert, congratulations. For those of you who got a load of the Mets maybe two weeks or two months ago and thought “that sure looks like fun, I wanna be a part of it,” congratulations to you, too. You chose wisely. Hope you’ll stick around.
For those of you who’ve been at this forever, who can remember not just the last National League championship before the current one but the ones that preceded it, congratulations on a lifetime well spent. You and I know this isn’t just about the pennants and it’s not just about the waiting for the pennants. It’s about every bit of faith and community and bucking each other up and laughing to keep from crying and keeping each other going and moaning and griping because we’re human and coming back for more because we’re Mets fans.
For those of you who are Daniel Murphy (.529, a home run every night), thank you.
For those of you who are Daniel Murphy’s teammates, what’s it like knowing Daniel Murphy? It must be an incredible sensation to be near that much greatness every day. If you’ve touched Daniel Murphy, can we touch you? By all means apply some Neosporin first, because if you’ve touched Daniel Murphy, you’re probably going to need to salve those burns. No baseball player has ever been hotter than the 2015 NLCS MVP.
Murph, a Met since 2008, didn’t do it alone, but you had the sense he could have had it been necessary. It wasn’t. He won the pennant alongside David Wright, from 2004; and Jon Niese, from 2008; and Lucas Duda (author of five essential Game Four RBIs) from 2010; not to mention a procession of Mets who began to stream into our consciousness in 2012 and 2013 when we were convinced a season like 2015 was still light years away: Nieuwenhuis, Harvey, Familia, Lagares, Flores, d’Arnaud. It wasn’t seamless and it didn’t always register as logical as 2013 became 2014 — Why Granderson? Why Colon? Who’s deGrom? — but something was happening. Even as we alternated in our derision and dismissiveness (defense mechanisms as much as the products of dispassionate analysis), the Metscape was shifting.
Onto it strode Michael Cuddyer, Sean Gilmartin, Kevin Plawecki, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard, Yoenis Cespedes, Addison Reed and — because Juan Uribe and Ruben Tejada were hurting — Matt Reynolds. Half the team was new for 2015. They had never lost with the Mets. They joined a cluster of players who had matured and persevered and survived until they could win as Mets. It wasn’t an obvious championship roster until you watched them play as one under Terry Collins, perhaps the most underestimated manager in modern major league history.
Once they all came together and showed what they could do, there was no doubt. Same as there were no losses to the Cubs. Same as there was no feeling like that we felt when Jeurys Familia struck out Dexter Fowler looking on October 21, 2015 — with the respective exceptions of Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Jesse Orosco and Mike Hampton retiring Tony Gonzalez, Dan Driessen, Kevin Bass and Rick Wilkins under similar circumstances in 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000.
Those were the first four seasons in which the New York Mets ever won the National League pennant. First four. As of 2015, there’s a fifth. You’ll have to revise the total that’s been ingrained into you for a generation. You’ve been so used to saying the Mets have been to the World Series four times. Now you’ll have to say five. I’m sure you can make the adjustment. The Mets adjusted from perennial losers to dynamic winners in 2015. We Mets fans adjusted from thinking this fifth pennant might never get here to embracing it as it arrived: built by Alderson; shaped by Collins; earned by pitching; secured by Murphness; sprayed by champagne; baptized by tears.
We never had to change our ways, though. We may not have always believed, but we were always capable of Believing. It was in us the whole time. Our capability just had to be tapped.
I Believed sometime in late August. I must have. It was one of those nights when I was visiting my dad in the hospital. He was being difficult, to put it mildly. This was when he was recovering from pneumonia and heading for another round of rehab. He didn’t seem much interested in recovering or rehabilitating. He had undergone brain surgery in May, worked hard to regain his ability to walk in June, submitted himself to radiation and chemotherapy in July and seemed to be doing all right until the middle of August. Then came pneumonia and the hospital and a will to live that was crumbling.
This was also when he decided he liked having his son visit to watch the first-place Mets with him. His son thus played the only motivational card he had at his disposal. Dad, he said, I want to watch the Mets in the World Series with you, but you have to get better so I can watch it with you at home. At the very least, it made him less difficult that night.
It’s two months later. He’s not home. Rehab was too much for him. Instead, he’s in what they call palliative care, where they just try to make a person in his situation “comfortable”. But you know what he’s looking forward to doing with me this coming Tuesday night, and what I’m looking forward to doing with him? Just like we did for Game Five of the NLDS and Game Three of the NLCS, we will be getting together to watch Game One of the World Series — Mets-Royals, Mets-Blue Jays, whichever. I promised it to him as if it was mine to promise in August, and these Mets made it a deliverable reality in October.
That makes this pennant a little extra worthwhile for me, just as this pennant makes being a Mets fan a little extra worthwhile for all of us. We’d still be this and do this without this, but getting to have this?
It really gives you something to Believe in, doesn’t it?
The Mets have used a simple formula to get past the Dodgers and 3/4 of the way past the Cubs:
- Combine great starting pitching with a shutdown ninth inning.
- Wait for Daniel Murphy to do something awesome.
It’s worked pretty well … but the Mets are adding ingredients to the recipe.
We’ll get back to the latest legends of Murphtober and the work of Jacob deGrom in a moment, but first, the new ingredients.
In Game 3 against L.A., Yoenis Cespedes launched a ball into the Citi Field night that threatened the International Space Station — perhaps the longest, loudest, exclamation-pointiest homer I’ve ever seen at our park. After that, though, Cespedes looked like every swing was an attempt at a sequel, with underwhelming results.
Tonight Cespedes lashed a ball up the gap to give the Mets a first-inning lead, just missed a home run in the third, slapped one past second in the sixth, and hit a scorching line drive that ate up Kyle Schwarber for a single, however generously scored, in the seventh. Oh, and he stole third with one out in that wacky sixth and then tormented Trevor Cahill and Miguel Montero, scooting home on Michael Conforto‘s strikeout that bounded off between the Cubs’ on-deck circle and the big 14 for Ernie Banks to give the Mets the lead.
Another potent addition to the mix: David Wright. I’d had a feeling Wright would come around: He was working good counts and controlling the strike zone. But the small sample sizes of the postseason can be cruel as well as kind: Sometimes you’re not around long enough for the numbers to even out. So it was great to see David collect three hits, with a pair of identical line singles over shortstop and a hustle double down the left-field line. If the Mets can add a couple of hot bats to the insanity that is Murphtober, well, look out anybody and everybody.
Not that we aren’t pretty close to that point already. DeGrom had a somewhat similar game to the finale in L.A., albeit with fewer hairsbreadth escapes, which was just fine with me — he was searching for his fastball early and dealing with constant traffic, but toughed it out until the fastball clicked and let him zip through a couple of final innings.
And Murph? Well, my goodness, what can you say at this point? The latest home run was the headline-grabber, but the more impressive feat was that trip around the bases in the seventh. He ground out a tough at-bat against Travis Wood, then busted his butt to first on a little bounder to Kris Bryant, turning the Cubs third baseman’s brief feel for the seams into an infield hit. When Schwarber couldn’t corral Cespedes’s liner Murph went from first to third, never stopping on a ball that landed at Schwarber’s feet. Then he got a great break on Lucas Duda‘s high bounce to Anthony Rizzo, sliding home an inch ahead of Montero’s tag. Seeing the ball well is one thing, but Murph essentially willed himself through 360 feet of basepaths there.
That inning also erased the sour taste of the weird ending to the sixth. Conforto’s run-scoring strikeout may well join the decades-long litany of head-shakery for Cubs fans, but Wilmer Flores‘s roller into the ivy threatened to do the same for our side, with a hard-earned run snatched away — properly according to the Wrigley Field ground rules but appallingly according to common sense. After having disposed of a parade of Cy Young-caliber pitchers, were the Mets really going to be undone by vegetation?
The heroics of Murph & Co. made that but a passing bit of paranoia. De Grom turned in a strong final inning, Tyler Clippard worked around a Dexter Fowler double, and Jeurys Familia completed his task before the encroaching rain threw a joker into the deck.
And so, tomorrow. A ballyhooed New York team that’s playing golf right now could tell you that taking the first three in a best-of-seven is no guarantee of anything. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Nothing. But young fireballer Steven Matz gets the ball, while Murph and Cespedes and Wright and the rest of the gang get the bats, and Familia will be ready for the call. And that’s a formula that’s worked pretty well so far.
The Greatest Show on Murph continues. Every postseason night, a supremely credentialed starting pitcher faces the New York Mets and every postseason night, Daniel Murphy trumps that ace, converting him into just another overwhelmed spectator craning his neck in a venue jammed with gobsmacked gawkers. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and now Jake Arrieta have each been left a standing-room ticket by the Met second baseman. It entitles the bearer to reluctantly stand on the mound, glumly turn his head and helplessly watch the ball he threw leave the ballpark.
The crowd goes wild. The pitcher goes silent, wondering where his intimidating persona, his sterling résumé and his best stuff went.
It went that-a-way…over that fence over there. See? See? Go ahead, watch the replay. It’s really cool…unless you’re the pitcher who gave it up. But don’t feel bad if you are, though. You’re in really distinguished company.
Murph’s glitzy pass list duplicates his October victim list. A home run a game against any pitcher at any time of year would be pretty impressive. What Daniel is destined to imprint itself on the consciousness of a franchise and its legion of fans for all of baseball eternity. If someday you have trouble recalling what you’ve been seeing from Murphy in this particular string of playoff games, either get yourself tested for memory maladies or reconsider your self-identification.
No Mets fan should ever forget any of this.
The best part about Daniel Murphy is he’s part of a set. He comes with 24 teammates, several of whom do significant things to help Murph’s team win the most important games of the year, the kinds of games the vast majority of them had never participated in as recently as two weeks ago. These days, they’re all decorated postseason veterans, having already won one series; the first two games in a second series; and the chance to return to New York as champions of their league.
They’re not there yet. Make no mistake, no matter how succulent the math seems. After beating the Chicago Cubs, 4-1, in Sunday’s NLCS Game Two, the Mets hold a two-nothing series lead. That’s halfway to the World Series, but it might as well be a world away. Two more wins are needed. The sooner they are attained the better. The longer it takes, the more fraught the journey becomes. Just ask the 2003 Cubs, who led the then Florida Marlins three games to one in the National League Championship Series well before anybody had ever heard the name Steve Bartman. Their 2015 descendants aren’t here by accident. They’re dangerous as is and now they’re cornered.
Thus, there should be no letting up, not by the Mets, not by we who root for the Mets. Our job in these two home games just played was to give our team all the support we could muster. I can attest from personal experience that we full-throated our role on Saturday night. Sunday I could gauge from TV and radio (via volume-muted, DVR-manipulated TBS video synced as best as possible to WOR’s delayed audio feed over SiriusXM) that 44,000 were, in the favored phrase of Keith Hernandez, on point again. With the action shifting from Citi Field to Wrigley Field, our mission is less about twirling towels than tending karma.
No kidding. Let’s not think potentially harmful thoughts like “I hope the long layoff doesn’t hurt them going into the Series.” Some idiot who looks an awful lot like me found himself thinking that for two seconds late Sunday night and then properly berated himself for getting waaaay ahead of the present. The present, up 2-0 on the 97-win Cubs after withstanding Lester and Arrieta, is a precious enough gift.
Besides, why would we want to rush through this? This part is incredibly sweet. We gotta savor it.
Gotta savor Noah Syndergaard’s Norse god poise and 9K heat in Arctic conditions.
Gotta savor David Wright slowly climbing out of his morass to drive in the first run of the night.
Gotta savor Curtis Granderson always making something happen, whether stealing a base at third or a home run at the wall.
Gotta savor Yoenis Cespedes — who now gets pitched to because Cy Young candidates no longer want any part of Daniel Murphy — placing a grounder in just the right spot to bring home Grandy the thief.
Gotta savor that relief pitching: Jon Niese for an out, Addison Reed for a perfect inning, Tyler Clippard for a security blanket and Jeurys Familia for a Mets-record fourth postseason save, or one fewer save than Murph has hit homers.
Told ya Daniel had help.
Gotta savor the entire experience of what’s going on around us. Sunday I savored from great seats in Section Living Room, which it took me a moment to adjust to. Having been fortunate enough to find my way into the first three Citi Field games this postseason (thanks again to my dear friends the Chapmans for two of them and good buddy Larry Arnold for the other), I went from thinking it unusual to be in a ballpark this time of year to processing it as second-nature — sort of like it’s gone from strange that the Mets are in the playoffs to…no, that’s still a little strange. Anyway, not having had any ticket-lottery luck for NLCS Game Two, I felt a little off knowing I wouldn’t be bundling up and screaming at Cubs.
Then I felt warm and didn’t altogether mind that I wouldn’t be sitting outside, except for one detail. I worried that I was endangering the cause we hold dear by not subjecting my ass and assorted other body parts to a live reboot of Frozen.
I realized the last time the Mets played a postseason home game I didn’t attend, it was Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS, which we lost, and that the previous times before that I hadn’t had tickets for Shea postseason games were the last two World Series contests there in 2000. We lost both of those. It’s not that the Mets win every high-stakes time I show up (they’re 12-4 with me since 1999), but they hadn’t won with me not there since the Subway Series hadn’t gone completely off the rails. I wasn’t silly enough to believe I brought the Mets good luck. I was, however, silly enough to believe maybe I warded off evil spirits.
Silly me. That’s what Daniel Murphy does. He also wards off outstanding pitching.
My not taking direct part in the wintry autumnal festival Sunday night didn’t impact the Mets in any tangible way. As for Saturday night, geez, that was ice-cold fun. Everything Citi Field told Shea Stadium last week remained true. It’s an epic place for an epic event when it’s filled with epic fans, and I’ll count myself as one of 44,000 of that species for these purposes. So much standing and roaring. So much blue and orange (the latter receiving my blessing in the New York Times, which you can read here in case you’re curious). So much clapping for two strikes and high-fiving on strike three. So much good feeling behind so much chanting.
So much chanting “LET’S GO METS!” which really struck me as Matt Harvey was giving way to Familia. “Let’s Go Mets” is our signature signoff. It is the quintessential Met sentiment — our aloha, our shalom. We say it and type it and acronym it so often that sometimes we overlook its inspirational power when it’s unleashed in its natural habitat, which is the meadow of Flushing in the month of October. The video boards had nothing on improvisation on Saturday night. What can we do for our Mets as our Mets are doing everything for us? We can Let’s Go on their behalf. And we did, repeatedly, right up until Familia went and got us a last out.
I can’t wait for Game Three of the NLCS and to immerse myself in whatever the Mets can win from there. Yet I’m in no rush to let this October go. Can’t we and Murph just live here?
The physicist Leonard Mlodinow has something to say about baseball narratives. This is from The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (via this Freaknonomics post):
…if one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a seven-game series about four times out of 10. And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, two out of three times they meet, the inferior team will still win a seven-game series about once every five match-ups. There is really no way for a sports league to change this. In the lopsided 2/3-probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time. And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed!
If you’re a person who uses TL;DR unironically, well, I’m gonna guess you don’t read our blog anyway. But just in case, here’s the TL;DR for what Mlodinow is saying: The postseason is a crapshoot.
Some fans find that depressing; they feel like they may as well spend October watching the dice tumble. I get that, but I don’t agree. I find this essential randomness freeing. You get into the postseason and then you let it rip for the one to 20 extra games you’re given while your bitter rivals from the regular season hit the golf course. Every one of the 10 teams still standing after 162 games has a real chance at immortality, from the gleaming juggernaut that cruised through September to the flawed but scrappy outfit that snuck into that second wild-card spot on the final day.
If your team is the one to end its year without a final L, there’ll be a trophy and a parade and a Sports Illustrated subscription so you can get the leatherbound special issue and dopey commemoratives to snap up and a lifetime of the sweetest memories, little bits of recollection that will make you quietly tear up years from now while riding the bus or raking leaves or waiting in line at the DMV.
And if not — if the season ends with a tomorrow-denying loss, as nine of the 10 postseasons must? Well, every game past No. 162 was a free spin of the wheel, class outside, the ice-cream truck giving out samples, a company-wide holiday, an extra day of vacation due to the blizzard back home.
There’s another lesson I take from the essential randomness at work in October, though, and that’s to cock a skeptical eyebrow at whatever comes out of baseball’s collective analysis factory.
Grant Bisbee, writer of the superlative Giants site McCovey Chronicles, gets this perfectly in looking back at the Mets-Dodgers NLDS. You should read the whole thing, because to me it’s how modern baseball writing should work — it looks at pitch diagrams and randomness instead of ginning up some Just So Story about grit and heart and blahblahblah and arglebargle. But it’s in no way cold. To the contrary, Bisbee’s take is rich and funny and steeped in the joy of baseball. Here’s the part that’s really stuck with me:
Murphy fouled off the best pitch he saw on Thursday night. He took the second-best pitch he saw. He still hit for three legs of the cycle and stole a base he had no business stealing. The Dodgers will have five months to prepare for the next season and figure out how to fix what went wrong, but how do you prepare for a magical Daniel Murphy? How do you fix that?
If the Dodgers can find a way (relax — they can’t), here’s hoping they don’t tell the Cubs. Because Murphtober remains in full effect, to our delirious delight.
In Game 1 Murph’s Murphtastic doings bookended a taut duel between Matt Harvey and the Cubs’ parade of terrifying young sluggers. In the bottom of the first he crushed a 1-1 cutter from Jon Lester off the facing of the Pepsi Porch, sending Citi Field’s frozen fans into a frenzy; in the ninth, with Tommy La Stella at the plate as the tying run, he laid out for a hot smash to his left, jerking his glove up while plowing into the turf. Ball snagged, he then bounded to his feet to hurl the ball to Lucas Duda for the win.
In the postgame press conference, someone asked Murph if he was aware of the significance of the name “Murphy” in the Cubs’ annals of tragedy. While Harvey smiled imperiously next to him, Murph hesitated and then fessed up: “Is that the name of the goat?”
Yes. Yes it is.
Those who have seen the full spectrum of Murphitude know that for all his current heroics, Murph could easily be the goat once again before October ends. But as Murph kept saying in interviews — both insistently and endearingly — this isn’t all about him.
Harvey was terrific from the get-go, showing the Cubs a baffling array of change-ups, sliders and fastballs, all of which he could command early. He got some help — the Cubs scorched a number of balls right at Met defenders — but that’s part of the game too. Harvey seemed to falter in the middle innings, losing a few ticks and degrees of precision off the fastball, but the uncertainty he’d put in the Cubs’ minds helped him push through, finishing an impressive seventh and then facing two batters in the eighth before Kyle Schwarber turned a baseball into a space probe and signaled that Harvey’s night should end.
An at-bat you might not have noticed came in the fourth, when Harvey went to a 2-1 count to Kris Bryant with the Mets up 1-0. Bryant was sitting on a 2-1 pitch, but Harvey was able to put it on the corner. Instead of lining it up the gap or rocketing it over the fence, Bryant fouled it off — and two pitches later Harvey threw him a change-up on the inner edge of the plate, which he swung through. It was a strikeout collected in the fourth but earned in the first, when Bryant watched Harvey bedevil Dexter Fowler and Schwarber with changes and sliders and then grounded out on a curveball.
There were other heroics. In the bottom of the sixth, Travis d’Arnaud launched a massive home run to dead center field that caromed off the apple — something d’Arnaud admitted he’d tried and failed to do in many a batting practice. Juan Lagares misplayed a ball into a game-tying double in the top of the fifth but singled in the bottom of that inning, coming home on Curtis Granderson‘s single. In the seventh that duo was at it again: Lagares stole third, then beat Schwarber’s throw home for a Granderson sac fly and a critical insurance run. (Nice send by Tim Teufel, by the way.) Yoenis Cespedes has been taking wild hacks at the plate but gunned down Starlin Castro at the plate in that fifth to keep the game tied. And of course there was Jeurys Familia, this time only called on for four outs, the last of which was secured so memorably by Murph.
Can Murph conjure up more Murphtober magic against Jake Arrieta? Well, who’s to say a man who helped defeat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke can’t handle another ace? And it’s October. Anything can happen in October, including things that defy rational explanation.
If this is all a dream, well, please don’t pinch Murph and wake him up. Please don’t pinch any of us. Because it’s a good dream.
It’s a small detail from a big night, no more than a leaf on a tree in the forest of delight that emanated from Chavez Ravine Thursday night as the New York Mets defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2, to advance to the National League Championship Series. But the detail tells us a little something.
Get out your scorecards and note these plays:
Bottom of the third: Kike Hernandez out (2), 1-6-3.
Bottom of the seventh: Howie Kendrick out, 1-3.
Bottom of the eighth: Andre Ethier out, 1-3.
Those were four of 27 outs, all of them recorded because three different Met pitchers handled their position cleanly. SIMPLE TASK COMPLETED will never be mistaken for clickbait.
Yet if you can remember all the way back to 2014, this was a Met problem. Met pitchers made throws to bases adventures. In October of 2015, in the biggest game the Mets played in nine years, it was all very routine. No ball was flung down a line, none sailed into center.
Small detail, but a larger story. The Mets, who we would have had a hard time imagining playing for such high stakes one October ago, got better at various aspects of their trade. Their pitchers got better at fielding their position. Their second baseman got better at thinking while in motion. Their manager got better at deciding who should be on the mound when.
The Mets got better and better as 2015 progressed and now they are at the precipice of proving themselves best in their league.
You might have expected it, but you probably didn’t. For the longest time — in general and specifically within the cauldron of a hyperstressful deciding NLDS game — you more likely expected the worst, not so much from a reflexively fatalistic point of view, but just because the Mets of recent vintage have so rarely inspired confidence.
Do you doubt them now?
You might, and that’s your prerogative. It was easy to doubt them not that many hours ago when most of them were going down in orderly procession against Zack Greinke, the starting pitcher who had posted the lowest regular-season ERA baseball had seen since the prime of young Doc Gooden. The Mets had just lost to his even more accomplished rotationmate Clayton Kershaw. It was brick wall after brick wall where Dodger pitching was concerned. The Mets were simply to going to bang their heads against it until you couldn’t stand the pain.
Or so, perhaps, you thought. And, really, you were 88.88% right if you did. Greinke absolutely dominated eight of the nine batters in the Mets lineup. They were all but uniformly helpless against him. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom, our best hope, was distressingly ordinary. DeGrom was the All-Star who had struck out the side on ten pitches, the ace who overshadowed Kershaw in Game One. To the naked eye in the first inning in Game Five, he was a Matsuzaka or Harang, some journeyman attempting to eat up innings while we dealt with the indigestion. We learned to deal with that brand of acid reflux at the tail end of all those Terry Collins Septembers to which he had grown numbly accustomed as the 2010s approached mid-decade.
This was not one of those nights that permitted that sort of performance. Collins doesn’t manage that kind of team anymore. And deGrom isn’t that kind of pitcher, even if he appeared to pitch like one. He did eat up innings, as it turned out. The first one wasn’t very tasty — two runs allowed to the Dodgers, negating an early 1-0 Mets lead — and he was eternally plagued by baserunners.
Yet the baserunners were halted in their tracks.
• First and second in the first, two runs in, deGrom strikes out the next two.
• First and second in the second, two more Ks.
• First and second in the third, deGrom gets that double play ball, which he fired perfectly to Wilmer Flores, who relayed it to Lucas Duda.
• A runner makes it to third in the fourth, but deGrom strikes out Corey Seager to end the threat.
• Justin Turner, .526-hitting virus for whom there was no known cure, doubles with one out in the fifth, but he goes no further.
DeGrom looked as if he would go no further than the second inning. It would have been an understandable hook for Collins to deploy. There was no wiggle room in a Game Five. Appropriately enough, Collins decided not to wiggle. He went with his best pitcher. He stuck with deGrom. His faith was rewarded.
In the meantime, Greinke toyed with every Met but one. But sometimes one is all it takes.
Daniel Murphy was responsible for every strand of the Met offense Thursday night. His double to left center brought home Curtis Granderson (who had reached on a replay-reviewed infield single that somehow didn’t award Chase Utley second) in the first. Murph’s extra-base hit so fired up his teammates that they strode to the plate and made eight consecutive outs. They composed the 88.88% of the lineup that couldn’t touch Greinke. When you get the Mets and the Dodgers together in the playoffs, you’re best off not mentioning “88” once, let alone twice.
But quicker than you could say “Orel Hershiser,” Murphy stealthily sparked the Met attack. Never mind that Murphy hardly does anything stealthily. You notice him when he’s succeeding. You really notice him when he’s essentially stepping on rakes, Sideshow Bob-style. You want to love him. Sometimes you merely endure him.
You’ll have nothing but love for Daniel Murphy the rest of your life now…at least until the next rake inevitably takes his measure.
Murphy leads off the fourth by becoming the first Met baserunner since himself. He singles. With one out, Duda walks. That puts Murphy on third.
Second. You mean second.
No, I mean third.
Well, Murphy meant third, because he realized that with the Dodger infielders in one of those obnoxious shifts designed to prevent Duda from singling — as if Lucas (.111) was capable of such a feat in this series — no Dodger would be covering third.
Hence, Murph went for it. He trotted nonchalantly to second when ball four was called and then sprinted to third.
And he was safe.
Holy crap, it was fair to think, Murph just outsmarted an entire baseball team.
So much for the sanctity of the Dodger Way.
Daniel stood on third with less than two out, which in a game of Greinke Versus The World is incredibly valuable. Now the Mets didn’t need one of those base hits they couldn’t get without Murph batting. All they needed was the right kind of out. Outs were a commodity they could manufacture like crazy against Greinke.
Travis d’Arnaud (.158) could be depended upon to make an out…the right kind, to right field. He flied to Ethier deep enough to score the heady Murphy with the tying run. Not sure which was more newsworthy: Greinke allowing a second earned run or Murph meriting being described as heady.
The game wasn’t necessarily won there, but it was kept from being lost. The Dodgers had punched themselves silly. DeGrom played rope-a-dope. Then Murphy parachuted into the ring when nobody was looking.
Still, it was difficult to picture a TKO of Greinke was in the offing. After Murphy stole third and a run, the Mets made five more outs in a row, taking them to the sixth, still tied. If only Murph could come up again and create more magic.
Murph came up again and created more magic. He homered to right on a three-two count. Taking on a pitcher who gave up one-and-two-thirds runs every nine innings during the regular season, Daniel accounted for three earned runs in three plate appearances.
And just like that, the Mets had a lead of 3-2. Except there was no sense of “and just like that” to how they did it. Greinke did almost nothing wrong. He’s as good a pitcher as there is, yet it was his line that read as distressingly ordinary. Sure, he struck out nine in six-and-two-thirds, and when he was Murphless, he was almost flawless, but you can’t dominate only eight members of a nine-Met lineup.
DeGrom? He spent six innings in a slog. Even his one clean frame, the sixth, was nearly undone at its end when Greinke of all batters took him deep to right. Granderson caught that ball, though, and allowed Jacob to go to the dugout with the best so-so outing you’ll ever thank your lucky stars for. Six hits, three walks, impending doom…but only those two runs from the first inning. DeGrom left as a winning pitcher in every sense of the phrase.
He didn’t outpitch Greinke. He outperformed him.
Meanwhile, Collins didn’t panic. He could have pulled deGrom. A different manager might have looked at the odds in the second and done just that. This was lose-and-go-home territory. A fancy switch in which you replace a starting pitcher with another starting pitcher isn’t merely fashionable in October. It is perfectly reasonable.
But it didn’t happen, not until the seventh, when the several-times-warmed Noah Syndergaard was inserted in deGrom’s place. Syndergaard is a rookie and a starter. He had never pitched relief in the majors. He was being told to partake of this exceedingly novel experience in the seventh inning of the fifth game of a five-game playoff series. Syndergaard’s stuff runs rings around that of every pitcher Collins would normally use in a seventh inning, but this seventh inning was unlike all that had preceded them in 2015.
Which makes for a fascinating quandary: Do you use your best arm in an unfamiliar circumstance because it’s the most important game of the year?
Answer A is yes, because it’s the best arm you’ve got and the game is too important to screw around.
Answer is B is no, because it’s an unfamiliar circumstance and the game is too important to screw around.
Collins, urged on by Dan Warthen, went with A. After a season when one of the most vexing subplots was “who will relieve in the seventh?” the manager chose someone who had never relieved in the seventh.
The best arm trumped the unfamiliar circumstance. Syndergaard was Syndergaard. Kendrick hit him that 1-3 grounder; Seager struck out; menacing Adrian Gonzalez walked; Turner at last swung and missed.
Noah Syndergaard kept a 3-2 game 3-2. Then he was removed, which at first brush seemed absurd. You have this golden-armed, overpowering 23-year-old who regularly throws a hundred pitches and you sit him after seventeen?
You do. Terry got what he needed from Thor. He got the seventh. Syndergaard let it all hang out. Now it was time for…
Again, they’re doing what they never do. When the Mets go to Jeurys in the eighth with two outs or one out it’s treated as breaking news; you wait for Wolf Blitzer to interview a hologram of Hoyt Wilhelm. That’s during the season. This is during the postseason. With well-rested bullpen professionals (not to mention almost all other starting hands on deck) you pick now to get a jump on closing the door? You ask Familia to get six outs when you never ask Familia to get six outs?
In another era, that was standard procedure. We who lived through that era love to point to it as proof of when firemen were firemen and relievers’ arms were shipped directly from Akron, Ohio, rubber capital of North America. We assumed those days were gone forever.
We stand corrected.
Familia treated the eighth like he treats most ninths. Like they’re no problem. He got his grounder back to the mound, then a liner to left, then (from classic miscreant Jimmy Rollins) a hot grounder to first, smothered and snuffed out by Duda, who was in there for his glove.
Despite all the State Farm and GEICO ads that inundate us every commercial break for six going on seven months, the Mets opted not to invest in a policy. They simply refused to insure their lead with an additional run. The offense had been Murphy and practically nothing but Murphy all night and, really, the entirety of the Dodger affair. There were flashes from others, but several Mets chose the National League Division Series as a great time to fall into or stay in a slump. An enormous part of that was the presence of Kershaw and Greinke, but a few extra runs here and there would have been helpful. Except for Game Three, those runs never came.
With no cushion provided, Familia returned to the mound for the ninth with the same 3-2 lead that had been effect since the sixth. His first assignment was retiring the loathsome Chase Utley, who shouldn’t have been wearing any uniform this week other than an orange jumpsuit. Utley gave a ball a ride to right, but then the ball said, no thanks, I’ll get out here, and fell into Granderson’s glove. Met karma intact, Jeurys reared back and struck out A.J. Ellis and then Kendrick.
Oh, by the way, that was the 27th out. The Mets had won the game and the series, both by a score of 3-2. The next sight you saw was their entire roster forming a ball of human Silly Putty. The next sound you heard was — for the 18th time in franchise history — the spritzing of champagne over everybody and everything orange, blue and otherwise. The next thought you had was “tonight the Dodgers, Saturday the Cubs.”
Then you thought a little more and tried to understand what you had just witnessed over five games, particularly inside the fifth game.
The Mets did not let you down.
The manager made more right moves than wrong ones.
The pitchers threw almost exclusively extraordinary innings.
The second baseman was, after a career that’s come off more as blooper reel than highlight film, a net Met positive.
Nobody particularly screwed up, or at least not enough to blow anything that couldn’t be fixed.
Your New York Mets, who you were not used to seeing in the glowingest of lights and who you quietly assumed you wouldn’t see at this time of year for many Octobers to come, were postseason winners. They had already won a division; now they had won a division series and were sanctioned to pursue a pennant. Four teams in all of the major leagues are still playing baseball. One of them is the Mets.
I’d say, “imagine that,” but you don’t have to imagine. It’s really happening.
One of the underrated facets of your team being in the postseason is the off day. Fans of the Nationals, the Braves and other N.L. East also-rans are long past the point of off days. Cardinals fans are plum out of them as are those who lived and, at last, died with the Rangers and the Astros.
We, by dint of the Mets staying busy, got to take advantage of an off day on Wednesday. We might not instinctively welcome the time away from the task at hand, but cooling our heels on an October off day is far better than being planted prematurely in the midst of an offseason.
When the Mets are playing playoff games, everything else is shunted to the side. When the Mets are traveling to their next playoff game, we live our lives for a few hours, cramming in all our secondary priorities, from breathing on down to sleeping — whatever gets us to the next game in one relatively sound piece.
My off day was spoken for several months in advance. In June, Stephanie and I bought tickets to see Steely Dan at the Beacon Theatre on October 14. It should have been an easy call. We love Steely Dan. Though we’ve caught Donald Fagen in other guises, we’d never seen Steely Dan. Of course this performance was an object of our desire. There were decent tickets available at a decent price, so what would stop us?
October. October made me hesitate to commit to something that wasn’t the Mets, even in June. I won’t say “I knew the Mets would be playing,” because every year I hesitate to commit to plans in October. Even if you basically know the Mets won’t be playing, you never know. Or you try not to admit to yourself that you know. This past June, the Mets were hanging tough near the top of their division. Never mind that we were conditioned to consider the idea of them still playing in October as likely a scenario as Fagen and Walter Becker going back to their old school.
The Mets might make the playoffs, therefore we can’t do anything else…no, you can’t think like that in June. You can and you do, but you can’t. It’s not healthy. Get the tickets for October 14, I told Stephanie. Let’s see what happens.
Luck happened. The Mets made the playoffs. Our show landed on an off day, the day between Game Four in New York and Game Five in Los Angeles. It would drag me away from two compelling ALDS finales, as it turned out, but you can’t have your Dan and eat it, too.
Due respect to the Jays and the Royals, this was the right decision. Steely Dan was everything I dreamed of live and then some. But I’m not here to give you a concert review, except for two highlights.
1) From the scalper outside the Beacon who proudly modeled his Mike Piazza giveaway tee from Closing Day 2013; to the unusually friendly and steadfastly supportive security personnel at the door; clear through to the postshow men’s room line, my Mets jacket elicited nothing but the most positive of reactions.
“Let me ask you one question” one of the theatre guards inquired theatrically. “Do you Believe?”
“I’ve Believed all my life,” I assured him.
Over and over, my fellow concertgoers tossed me stray Let’s Go Metses, and I responded enthusiastically in kind. You see someone in team garb when that team is fiercely competing for a championship, you figuratively (and sometimes literally) slap him on the back to signify we’re all in this together. I’ve been wearing that particular jacket as a matter of course since 1998 and generally it’s invisible to passersby — though occasionally it and its wearer are offered commentary indicating pity/derision.
Not this October.
2) The penultimate song of Steely Dan’s set was “My Old School,” which I’d been waiting for all night. Actually, I’d been waiting for it ever since I knew who the Mets would be playing in the National League Division Series, because when Fagen commenced the final verse with, “California/tumbles into the sea…” I shouted my approval and applauded wildly.
I’d love to tell you a “BEAT L.A.!” chant swept the Beacon balcony from there, but it was a primarily private moment, albeit shared implicitly with Stephanie on my left and our friend Mark on my right. They figured out what I was up to without requesting clarification. Anybody who knows a Mets fan who wears a seventeen-year-old Mets jacket everywhere — whether the Mets are in the playoffs or not — understands our kind might be granted an off day in the midst of the postseason, but we never really take days off from our Mets.
Especially in October. Especially in this October, which picks up again for us tonight at due-to-tumble Dodger Stadium before continuing over the weekend in Flushing.
What, you thought I was kidding around with the security guard? I have Believed all my life, so I’m sure as hell not going to stop now. We’ve got Jacob deGrom and one game to win. We’ve got every reason to Believe.
Oh no, negative thinking won’t do. And you know we’re going back to Citi Field.
Baseball is a game played nine to a side, with wheeling motion and shifting fielding assignments and set plays and so much else. But each play starts not with nine people doing multiple things, but with one person doing one thing: The pitcher takes the ball and throws it in the direction of home plate.
When the pitcher does that ineffectively, it leads to a whole lot of stuff happening. When he does it effectively, things are much simpler.
Clayton Kershaw‘s really good at throwing a baseball in the direction of home plate.
Last Friday, in Game 1 of the NLDS, Kershaw was merely pretty good at that; Tuesday night, in Game 4, he was a whole lot better. The difference, as noted by David Wright, was that on Friday Kershaw didn’t have very good command of his curveball. The Mets could basically ignore that pitch and did so, driving up Kershaw’s pitch count, trying to force him to throw fastballs in hitters’ counts, and hunting mistakes. On Tuesday Kershaw had the fastball, curve and slider all working, which neutralized the plan that had worked four days earlier. The Mets did their best but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Everything else about Tuesday night’s game was a footnote. Steven Matz was pretty good for a guy who hadn’t thrown a pitch in anger in nearly three weeks, but wound up undone by one unfortunate inning. In the third, Matz hung a curve to Kershaw for a one-out hit, got the second out on a fielder’s choice, surrendered a single to Howie Kendrick, was nicked for a run on a bloop that Adrian Gonzalez sent into no-man’s land, and then elevated a change-up in the strike zone that former friend Justin Turner whacked down the left-field line, where Yoenis Cespedes played it like a man trying to pick up a spitting cat. Two bad pitches; three runs, no other damage. Those kind of innings happen to everybody; when they happen to you against Clayton Kershaw you’re probably going to lose.
The Mets tried to break through against Kershaw in the seventh, turning Citi Field into a cauldron of noise — including both of your bloggers, sitting side by side in the Promenade thanks to kindly reader Larry Arnold, where we were screaming and twirling orange rally towels for all we were worth.
Whatever happens come Thursday, October has provided gratifying proof that Citi Field can indeed get its roar on if the faithful are given something to roar about. Kudos, also, to the Mets for tidying up aspects of their operation that have too often been shabby. On both Monday and Tuesday security lines moved quickly, the maroon jackets were professional and cordial, and the Mets did an admirable job showcasing their own history, with flashbacks to previous postseasons, listings of Opening Day lineups through the ages (with accompanying yearbook covers), and Rusty Staub, John Franco, Edgardo Alfonzo, Ed Charles and Ron Swoboda as visiting dignitaries.
On Tuesday night Swoboda and his wife appeared on the Kiss Cam with a note congratulating them on their 50th anniversary, which was good attention to detail; better was seeing Charles and Swoboda introduced to the strains of “Heart,” the Damn Yankees chestnut sung … let’s say enthusiastically by the Miracle Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show in October 1969. That was so deft a historically minded touch that I asked Greg if he’d been freelancing for the Mets and was keeping mum about it. (For the record, he denied it.)
But back to the seventh. Kershaw fumbled a Cespedes bleeder for a leadoff single, followed by Travis d’Arnaud fouling out and Lucas Duda hitting the first pitch on the screws — but lining it to the center fielder. Wilmer Flores worked a 2-0 count and scorched a ball towards third, where it spun Turner around. Plenty of times such hot shots eat up a third baseman, leaving the ball bounding into the outfield and sending runners flying around the bases. This wasn’t one of those times; Turner smothered the ball, took a moment to reorient himself and threw Wilmer out.
In the eighth, Curtis Granderson worked a two-out walk against Chris Hatcher, followed by Wright walking against Kenley Jansen, followed by Daniel Murphy working the count to 3-2. That sent the volume in the park zooming again, and the ball Murph hit looked good off the bat. But it was all angle and no anger; when it came down in Yasiel Puig‘s glove it was like someone had unplugged Citi Field’s speakers. We slumped in our seats and waited and trudged off to a ferociously overcrowded 7 train.
And now we’ll wait until Thursday. The Mets have a game to play, with Jacob deGrom taking on Zack Greinke. If they lose, a heartening and exhilarating season will come to an end sooner than we would have wished; if they win, more baseball awaits us and them.
That’s simple too.
Justin Arnold knows how to dress for a Mets playoff game. He and his dad know how to bring their team luck, too.
Wanted to thank one of the 44,000 fans who made Citi Field a special place to be for Game Three, Justin Arnold. That’s him, between me on the right and his dad, Larry, a faithful reader of Faith and Fear, on the left. Justin came all the way up from the Washington area (where there’s no baseball at the moment) to bring good luck to his Metsies Monday night. His pop’s not such a bad guy, either. Jason and I and the other 44,000 or so on hand tonight will do our best to keep the luck going.
Let’s Go Mets, as if you didn’t already know.