It’s not a new story any more. In fact it’s a well-worn tale on its way to becoming a cliche.
But that’s the fate of stories that resonate with people, that mean something. And this one does. It’s the one I keep coming back to. And it’s worth hearing again.
It’s the story of Wilmer Flores, sent away to Milwaukee with Zack Wheeler for Carlos Gomez. In theory, it was a trade designed to make everybody happy. Gomez would come back to his first team, a rambunctious colt grown into a high-wattage hitter and charismatic clubhouse figure. Wheeler would return next summer knowing that his new team had valued him enough to acquire him long months before he could again be useful. And Flores would escape a situation that had become frankly dysfunctional.
He wouldn’t have to keep learning to play a position he’d once been told to stop playing, with his every hesitation and mistake exposed in public and excoriated at top volume. He wouldn’t be asked, while already doing something extremely difficult, to also add muscle to a sick, sputtering offense. Instead of being expected to speed up a transformation into something he’d never been, he’d be accepted for just being Wilmer Flores.
Plenty of athletes would have jumped at the chance. But Wilmer Flores didn’t want to go. Despite everything that had happened, he wanted to stay with the professional family he’d been a part of since he was literally a child. Distraught and dismayed, he spent his final moments as a New York Met in tears — an ordeal that was public, just like the previous ones.
And then came a twist that would have made even a soap-opera fan incredulous. The done deal was undone. Forty-eight hours later, the Mets faced off against the Nationals, the kings of the N.L. East, with Flores at shortstop. In the 12th inning, with the game knotted at 1-1, he drove a ball into the Party City deck. With a horde of teammates awaiting him at home plate, Flores tossed his helmet away and then grabbed at his uniform, at the script word on his chest, the one that turned out to have meant as much to him as it has to us: METS.
That all happened the same crazy week of the season that saw the great-pitch, zero-hit 2015 Mets 1.0 rebooted as Mets 2.0. There was the arrival of Michael Conforto from Double-A, viewed with reflexive suspicion as a low-cost PR gesture. There was the import of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard, battle-scarred veterans and baseball professionals. And there was the shocking acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, Plan C after deals for Gomez and Jay Bruce failed to materialize.
All of those events fueled the Mets’ astonishing rocket ride past the Nationals, a trajectory that has now reached escape velocity. But it was Flores’s resurrection that was the heart of it — the story we’ll remember, and tell in an effort to make sense of two months in which the impossible became routine.
For a long time we’ve labored under the burden of bad stories. There were the twin collapses that taught us to fear things that go bump in the September night, and then the financial reversals that taught us to assume we were being lied to on December mornings. The Mets, still shell-shocked from back-to-back disasters at Shea, moved into a modern park just in time for a savage economic downturn and the revelation that the coffers were bare. Both they and we took up residence at Citi Field like squatters in an stripped and abandoned palace, sniping about obstructed views and Dodger shrines, watching terrible baseball and listening to worse excuses.
We were a dumpster fire, a pitiable farce, a national joke. The athletes paid to be Mets failed and were discarded or succeeded and were subtracted anyway, sometimes exiting with an anonymous knife in the back. They left if they could, most of them; we stayed because we had no choice, we were born to this and it was too late to choose otherwise. And so for six years we subsisted on the little we had. There was nostalgia, correctly diagnosed by Don DeLillo as a product of dissatisfaction and rage. There was the ragamuffin insistence that glasses were 1/10th full. And there was hope — wild and desperate hope, idiotic and indomitable hope. Hope, a bucket constantly filling with water even as it runs out the massive hole blown in the bottom.
But those bad stories have lost their power over us. They dissipated into phantoms a little after 7 tonight, exorcised by Matt Harvey and Lucas Duda and David Wright and Jeurys Familia. We’ve rediscovered that September can be wonderful, and repopulated our dreams with memories that will make us laugh and clap and shed a happy tear come winter.
Like Matt Harvey explaining why this time he wasn’t going to let go of the ball, his face hard but his voice cracking.
Like Daniel Murphy and Jon Niese, two of just four remaining Mets who wore orange and blue at Shea, beaming at their children, who looked amazed at finding themselves scooped up in their fathers’ sodden, sticky arms.
Like the conga line of Mets slapping hands with fans who’d made the trek to Cincinnati and camped out behind the visitor’s dugout, waiting with their banners to salute and be saluted.
Like Cespedes in his custom goggles (as if he’d wear any other kind), standing with a cigar in his mouth next to Bartolo Colon, as imperturbable and Zen with a champagne bottle in his hand as he is with a ball out on the mound.
Like Wright, older and wiser than the last time he saw a magic number hit zero — and so appreciating the moment even more.
Like the joy on the face of Terry Collins, who spent four and a half years stoically explaining why a perpetually undermanned team wasn’t winning, then awoke one day to find he’d been handed a real one — a team he’ll now take to his first-ever postseason.
Like you, wherever you were, whether it was Cincinnati or your favorite bar or your lucky spot on the couch. In the top of the ninth I realized we had no champagne in the fridge and so hustled two blocks to the store. I got back for the bottom of the inning, and when Familia fanned Jay Bruce I sank onto my back on the carpet — a collapse born of joy instead of pain.
These are all good stories we get to tell ourselves now. And next time things threaten to go awry, next time we doubt or despair, we’ll remember that disaster isn’t the only thing that can take you by surprise.
Because sometimes the dutiful, decent captain whose career seems in jeopardy actually returns from the disabled list — and launches a massive home run on the first pitch he sees.
Because sometimes that kid called up from Double-A as a glimpse of the future turns out to be the present, and you realize he’s here to stay.
Because sometimes the big bat you want gets away, and the next big bat you want gets away, but the third time really is the charm, and you find yourself wondering if you too would be better at everything if you wore a parakeet-colored compression sleeve.
Because sometimes the late-season showdown with your biggest rivals, the one you’d been dreading, yields three straight come-from-behind victories, including one in which a 7-1 deficit in the top of the seventh turns out to be no big deal.
And because sometimes the accidental shortstop you get saddled with turns out to be the heart of the team — the one whose reaction to cruelties and misfortunes is to want to stay and help write a better story. And then sometimes, given an unlikely second chance, he does just that.
October is an undiscovered country. The Mets may win 11 more games after their normal course of 162 or they may win none; their season may continue into November or be a memory before the kids have picked out their costumes.
But whatever happens in the postseason, they’ve already won. And so have we. All of those games are bonuses, extras, lagniappe — a stolen season snatched back from winter. They’re our reward for nearly a decade of crazy perseverance, for getting up when it seemed a lot smarter to stay down, for insisting — in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary — that ya gotta believe.
The magic number is zero. The ball’s over the fence. Doubt and despair are walking off the field with their heads down. Come on around to where we’re waiting to greet you with open arms.
A Nationals loss cut it from three to two. A powerful Mets win — Syndergaard, Duda and Granderson at the forefront — sliced it from two to one. That’s where the magic number stands now. With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, the Mets will have officially qualified for the postseason.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, it occurs to me that the October routine to which I have hewed for the past eight autumns will be altered significantly.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t be writing that post that puts in perspective how long the Mets have waited — and are still waiting — to make the playoffs again.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t be seeking new ways to compare the Mets’ ongoing playoff drought to those of other teams that haven’t won anything in a very long time.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t be going to the well of the same seven previous Met postseasons to draw parallels to what’s going on in yet another Metless postseason.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t have to attempt to cheer myself/us up by gratuitously referencing something that happened in October of 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000 or 2006.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t have to temporarily align myself with or against some team I don’t give a fig about the rest of the year.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t feel compelled to weave a tenuous Mets angle to make whatever I’m writing about some non-Mets playoff team quasi-relevant to a Mets readership.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t lose a large percentage of my sense of purpose once the regular season is over.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t be treating the postseason as I imagine a heroin addict treats methadone.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t be continually monitoring my interest level in October baseball and either wondering why it’s not greater or marveling that it’s as great as it is.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t have any idea what’s going in one NLDS and two ALDSes.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t have to frame winter’s spiritual arrival quite so soon.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, I won’t soon mention 2007 or 2008 except incidentally.
With one more Mets win or one more Nats loss, what I will do is…
Well, I can’t say for sure, but I sure look forward to finding out.
The fine folks of Steak ‘n’ Shake, a restaurant chain I’ve been known to patronize with a little too much enthusiasm for my optimal well-being, use as their slogan the phrase, “In Sight It Must Be Right.” Although its backstory has something to do with letting the customers see the meat that’s about to be turned into their sumptuous Steakburgers, the implication is if you are tooling about this great nation of ours, or perhaps just strolling down Broadway in the vicinity of the Ed Sullivan Theater, and you see a Steak ‘n’ Shake, then…bingo!
I can’t see a Steak ‘n’ Shake from where I sit, but I can see a division title up ahead in the ever decreasing distance. Why, it’s not very distant at all. The lights are on, the doors are open, the grill is hot. We’re gonna be inside any minute.
And man, it’s gonna be delicious.
The New York Mets, by way of the extraordinarily thoughtful Baltimore Orioles, lowered their magic number to 3 on Thursday. With more than a week to go, the Mets will have to win and/or the Nationals will have to lose a total of three games to make the sixth National League East championship and eighth playoff berth in Mets history a reality. The Mets lead their closest competitor by 7½ games with nine to go.
I am restating what you all know just to emphasize how in sight all of it is. It’s happening. It’s really happening.
The Orioles did more than their share of our dirty work over the past three days, sweeping their Beltway neighbors while the Mets napped Tuesday and Wednesday and bringing that number we can’t resist counting down from 7 to 4 — or Belanger to Weaver, in deference to who was doing the actual knocking off of digits for us. But the Mets woke up last evening and did a little whittling of their own, directly taking care of business in Cincinnati.
The top five men in the lineup all produced for what seemed like the first time in a long time; Steven Matz pitched adequately and hit effectively; and the bullpen didn’t break. Jeurys Familia recovered from his recent Freddie Freeman debacle (like you didn’t know one of those wasn’t going to come crashing down on us eventually) to move within one of Armando Benitez’s saves record. As countdowns go, it’s not the one that has our attention, but 42 saves compiled relatively quietly is a quality accomplishment.
Winning 6-4 en route to a magic number of 3 sets us up for something loud and joyous. We are in the driveway if not quite at the doorstep, but we have arrived close to where we need to be. It is real and it ought to be understood as spectacular.
We haven’t done this in nine years. Approximately 17% of my life has been lived since the last division-clinching. That’s a time frame that encompasses a September when our seemingly surefire Magic Number countdown stalled at Swoboda, a marker we dipped below last night. I’ve had it in the back of my mind (lately somewhere toward the front) that if — if — we got this one below 4, I would treat its conclusion as 4-gone.
Hence, I’m getting ready to get giddy. I’m warning our affiliates that when — when — it happens, I will brook no pessimism. Save it for the morning after the morning after. Save it for your NLDS anxieties. Those will be legitimate when they approach. But first this is in sight. I defy you to not enjoy it.
A hundred out of a hundred Mets fans instinctively thought “Bud Harrelson” when the last out was made in Cincinnati, and not just because you can’t watch the Reds without thinking of Pete Rose and you can’t think of Pete Rose without thinking of Buddy Harrelson taking a licking and keeping on ticking. Buddy is the quintessential 3 in Mets history; every other 3, from Gus Bell to Curtis Granderson would have to acknowledge his pipsqueaked primacy. But today I want to give a nod to a 3 who came and went in two seasons and left little legacy, except for two things I remember most of all.
Damion Easley was one of those veteran pickups who looked very good when he did something well and who looked deceptively decent when he wasn’t doing much of anything. I was always comforted by the presence of Damion Easley in the lineup or off the bench despite looking it up once and discovering that his Wins Above Replacement during his second of two years as a Met was negative. I couldn’t quite comprehend that. Damion Easley seemed to be one of those guys who made your team better. How could he be dragging it down?
I suppose on some meta-level he must have been, because no team that included Damion Easley ever made it to the postseason, including the eventually Swoboda-stalled Mets he came to in 2007 (though an injury curtailed his season long before any lead got away) and the star-crossed 2008 outfit that followed directly behind them. In the twilight of his 17-season career, it was mentioned regularly that no active player had played more games without making it to the playoffs than Easley. How brutally fitting in that context it was, then, that in the last of his 1,706 major league appearances, Easley’s team was eliminated from playoff contention. Those were the 2008 Mets, the unit to whom Damion’s WAR measured -0.5, implying that if not for the half-win he was taking away, the Mets would have…well, they would have come up a half-win short, wouldn’t have they?
So get off Damion Easley’s case. Besides, in Easley’s final plate appearance, pinch-hitting for rookie Bobby Parnell with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets trailing by two, he walked, making him Shea Stadium’s last baserunner and, once Ryan Church flied to Cameron Maybin, Shea Stadium’s last runner left on base. He went out by making one more lunge at a postseason that ultimately never accepted him.
I remember Damion holding the unwanted distinction of being the active leader in a category no player wants any part of, but I said I remember something else as well, and that’s this. When the ’08 Mets had commenced to rolling, Easley was an important part of the surge. There would have been no Game 162 heartbreak if not for the midseason uprising that briefly catapulted the underqualified Mets past the mighty Phillies. On the night in July when they won their seventh in a row (en route to ten straight and a 40-19 spree that carried them into September), Easley made all the difference, homering off the Rockies’ Taylor Buchholz in the eighth inning to give the Mets a 2-1 lead Billy Wagner would preserve in the ninth.
Frankly, I don’t remember the home run, but I do remember that Easley did something noteworthy in that particular game, because he was Kevin Burkhardt’s postgame guest that night, and a phrase he used in their interview has stuck with me to this day. He said the Mets weren’t just confident, but that they had “the earned confidence”. They felt good about themselves, Easley explained, because they had earned every right to feel that way.
We, my friends, can feel good, too. We can be confident. After a 153-game span during which our first-place team has definitively separated itself from the pack, we have earned it. We have in sight something Damion never got to glimpse up close. It is only right to revel in the feeling as we move even closer.
The Mets’ slump has become a full-fledged rut, one of those stretches where a team seems suddenly incapable of doing any of the things it just recently did so well. Met hitters are expanding the strike zone and flailing their way through frantic at-bats, Met fielders are being alternately impetuous and butter-fingered, Met starters are faltering and Met relievers are getting pounded. A rut like this wouldn’t be fun to watch in early May, and it’s certainly not fun to watch in late September when we’re thinking about a different month and its promises and perils.
If you’re convinced you’re watching another collapse, well, I’ll try to be of some solace. The Mets are a mess right now, no doubt, but the Nationals are fighting not just them but also the math — and right now the math is the far tougher opponent. If that sounds snarky, it mostly isn’t — it’s just the reality of the last two weeks of a pennant race that’s dwindled to a handful of games. For the outcome to be different, the Nats have to be very close to perfect and the Mets have to be not just mostly terrible, like they were on this mercifully concluded homestead, but excruciatingly terrible.
Is it possible both those things will happen? The math says it is, so I won’t tell you it isn’t. But the Mets have to play even worse than they’re playing right now, and the Nats have to play a lot better than they have against Baltimore. We think we’re miserable, but while the Mets were watching another close one spiral out of control in the late innings on Wednesday night, the Nats had Matt Williams trying to destroy Max Scherzer‘s arm, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth fanning on pitches they had no business swinging at, and Jonathan Papelbon throwing at Manny Machado‘s head in a game the Nats only trailed by one.
OK, you say, the math will let the Mets survive their own ineptitude, but they’ll limp into the playoffs and get steamrolled. Eh, not worth worrying about. October’s a new season. Plenty of teams have hit the postseason hot and fallen apart, just as plenty of teams have arrived looking rickety and wound up covered in confetti. (It’s dirty pool, but recall that the 2000 Yankees looked like impostors when they arrived at the World Series.)
If you accept that but hate “backing in” to a playoff berth, just stop. It’s been nine years without a postseason berth. I don’t care if the Mets perform an avert-your-eyes pratfall worthy of the bastard child of Jar Jar Binks and Buster Keaton so long as they get there.
And then we’ll see what happens.
Until then, hey, look at it this way — ruts and insane winning streaks both feel like they’ll last forever, but they never do. If you think baseball obeys both causality and moral virtue, the Mets have 10 games to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. If you think baseball is an entertaining, largely random sequence of discrete events, the Mets have 10 games to hope their luck reshuffles into something that will make us happier.
* * *
Greg did a superlative job paying tribute to Yogi Berra, so the best thing I can do is point you to his work from yesterday. But I’ll add a little bit from the perspective of a baseball-card dork.
You’re looking at Berra’s 1965 Topps card – his only one as a player for the Mets. (Those are Yankees pinstripes in the photo.)
To review, Yogi retired at the end of 1963, capping 18 seasons with the Yankees. He managed the Yankees in 1964, got fired despite taking the team to the World Series, and joined the Mets as a coach in the spring of ’65. He had eight at-bats during spring training, but agreed at the end of April to be added to the active roster for two weeks. That wasn’t an arbitrary timeframe — this was when teams carried 28 players for the first month of the season.
Yogi’s tenure as a Mets player consisted of nine at-bats over four games. He returned to duty with a pinch-hitting appearance on May 1, then collected two singles and caught nine innings as the Mets beat the Phillies, 2-1, on May 4. “Might be beginner’s luck,” he told reporters. (His first hit was a perfect introduction to life as a Met: It drove in Ed Kranepool, but Joe Christopher managed to get thrown out at third before Kranepool crossed the plate, erasing the run and what would have been Yogi’s 1,431st RBI.) He collected another at-bat the next day and then caught a full nine once more on May 9, the first game of a double-header against the Braves. Yogi struck out three times against Milwaukee’s Tony Cloninger. He was in pain and couldn’t get around on the fastball. On May 11, the eve of cut-down day, he quit. “I can’t do it no more,” he said.
Yogi’s time as a Mets player was a footnote to his playing career, one that I imagined seemed unnecessary then and definitely feels that way now … except it produced that card. And that’s a pretty good exception.
I mean, just look at it. It’s perfect. It’s a great baseball card and a great piece of Americana all in one.
Greg, Shannon Shark of MetsPolice and I talk a lot more about Yogi and his place in Mets history in the latest episode of I’d Just as Soon Kiss a Mookiee, the world’s best Mets-Star Wars podcast. You can listen in here.
The first-place Mets, you might say, were lucky Tuesday night. True, they lost for the fifth time in seven games — 6-2 to the Braves — but they won a valuable square foot of real estate in their march toward the National League East title when the Nationals lost to the Orioles. Their magic number dwindled to 6, proving that being lucky on top of being (usually) good has its benefits.
Met luck isn’t always appreciated in the modern age, but once upon a time they were led to the precipice of the promised land by someone considered by his peers the luckiest man on the face of the earth…someone also considered one of the best to ever ply his craft.
Yogi Berra was legendarily lucky and unquestionably good. If you have that going for you, there’s not much that can go against you.
Berra — whose presence as a Met catcher, coach and manager for eleven seasons between 1965 and 1975 was so constant that it barely occurred to a kid reaching baseball consciousness in that period that he’d had anything to do with anybody else — passed away Tuesday night at 90. It was the last night of summer, but fall was already firmly in the air. The first thing I thought of when I heard the news this morning, what with the window open and a soft breeze brushing by, was that this is Yogi’s time of year. When others might be putting a wrap on their baseball seasons, Yogi’s was just getting going. He played, managed or coached in 23 postseasons, from his rookie year with the Yankees in 1947 to 1986, when he was the bench coach for the National League Western Division champion Astros. Nobody came to the plate more often in World Series competition and nobody recorded more hits. Nobody else guided a team from each league to the seventh game of the World Series.
As this autumn alights, each of the three franchises for whom Yogi Berra wore a uniform is well positioned to make it to the playoffs. It’s a fairly fitting tribute to how whatever he touched eventually turned to good.
Yogi Berra was a fall classic unto himself. And he wasn’t bad the rest of the year, either. Take April, for example. April 1972, to be specific. That was the month Yogi accepted his second managing job, taking the reins of our New York Mets. It was under the worst circumstances imaginable. The man he coached first base for, Gil Hodges, had just died young. It still stands as the most tragic episode in the history of the franchise. Gil was already a legend. Now he was a saint. There could be no tougher act to follow.
But Yogi followed it. “I don’t like the way the job came,” he would say later. “But I want to prove I can manage.”
He did so once before, after his Hall of Fame playing career with the Yankees wound down. He took over the 1964 club at the end of its dynastic run and led them to one pennant more than perhaps they were due. They were 5½ out with 38 to play, yet finished first. He got them to Game Seven against Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. For his troubles, he was fired.
The Mets swooped in and gave him a home. Yogi would coach (and briefly catch) for Casey Stengel. Casey gave way to Wes Westrum, who gave way to Salty Parker, who gave way to Gil Hodges, who brought about the miracle of 1969, with three trusted lieutenants from his Washington Senators days — Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano and Eddie Yost — plus Yogi. Always Yogi. A World Series was being played, a World Series was being won, there was Yogi, just as it had been almost without pause for the Yankees before the Yankees booted Berra out of the Bronx.
That worked out fine for us and fine for Yogi. He belonged to us from 1965 forward. He’d put on No. 8, he’d trot out to the first base box and good things would tend to happen. Many things went right in 1969. The luck of Yogi was not to be discounted. How lucky was Yogi?
He was the player who had already booked a later flight and thus wasn’t on board when the team plane was bounced like a basketball.
He was the customer who, during Spring Training, waited for his fellow coaches to pay for and pick up their laundry first and then, as he approached the cash register, discovered his receipt came printed with a star, denoting he was the establishment’s something-thousandth customer and therefore got his clothes back at no charge.
He was, as a teammate once put it, blessed with great luck to even out the grand scheme of things. As Phil Pepe related the theory in The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra, “If God had to make somebody who looked like Yogi, the least he could do was make him lucky.”
Had he not been called to take on the impossible task of following Hodges, Yogi probably could have settled in for the long haul and remained a first-base box fixture at Shea Stadium. Instead, he put himself on the line. He would be the manager of the Mets, with all the pressure that implied. He inherited a ballclub that was supposed to win in 1972. His good humor would be tested. His likeability would be dented. It couldn’t help but be. It was his show.
Yogi brought the Mets out of the gate fast — 25 wins in 32 games. A team that could have been excused for grieving was playing its best ball since 1969. It’s a detail that seems to get glossed over when the quick start is recalled. The ’72 team was populated to a great extent by players who matured into major leaguers under Hodges. To this day, they speak reverentially of Gil in tones no player will likely ever summon for a manager again. Yet there they were, in the wake of losing Hodges, playing hard and winning for Yogi.
It had to be more than luck that was transpiring under those trying conditions. None other than Stengel had attested to the smarts and skills Berra brought to bear. “My assistant manager,” Casey called him when he caught so durably and dynamically for the Yankees. “I never play a game without my man.” In the decades to come, it would become fashionable to second-guess the Mets’ choice. They were clumsy in not waiting more than a couple of hours after Hodges’s funeral to name Berra as his successor and they were shortsighted in not giving serious consideration to their farm director (and another Stengel acolyte) Whitey Herzog. Perhaps. But Berra proved the right man to keep the franchise going at its darkest hour. In the rush to quote his most irresistible malapropisms, what he knew about baseball and how he applied it to a team that badly needed it shouldn’t be glossed over.
Once more to Mr. Stengel: “They say Yogi Berra is funny. Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank and he plays golf with millionaires. What’s funny about that?” Casey might have mentioned the 358 home runs, the three MVPs, the fifteen All-Star selections, all of that World Series bling, the love and admiration of multiple generations and (though the Ol’ Perfesser had to watch it from the upper Upper Deck) the ability to draw a standing ovation from a Shea Stadium packed with Mets fans and Yankees fans who had been snarling at each other prior to the first pitch of the first interleague game between the two teams in 1998.
The first pitch was delivered by Yogi — in a Mets cap. Of course everybody rose and everybody cheered. Nobody snarled when Yogi Berra was in the house.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much luck could do in the face of mounting injuries as 1972 got away from Yogi and the Mets. But the best of Berra was yet to come. Actually, the worst of mounting injuries was yet to come, too. The 1973 club was supposed to pick up where the 1972 club fell apart. Instead it crumbled further. After a decent enough start, the Mets dipped below .500 in late May and into last place in late June. For extended stretches, there was no Jerry Grote; no Bud Harrelson; no Cleon Jones. Not to mention there was absolutely no clue as to what was wrong with Tug McGraw.
Yet there was a glint of luck shining through. While the newspapers mulled over the possibility that the Mets would do what the Yankees had done nine years earlier and pin the blame on Berra — a possibility chairman of the board M. Donald Grant didn’t exactly discourage from being discussed — the Mets never fell so far into the basement that they fell out of the race. They were aided immeasurably by a division that was never definitively wrested from their theoretical grasp. But what a wild theory it was to think the Mets were still in it. A team in last place as summer churned down to its nub coming on to win a title seemed too fanciful a proposition for even those who bore witness to the miracle of ’69.
But Yogi had been there four years earlier and Yogi understood something everybody else was slow to comprehend.
On August 17, the manager examined the standings in the N.L. East. The Mets hadn’t been very good — 53-65, sixth place in a six-club circuit — but the deficit between them and the first-place Cardinals was a mere 7½ games. The gap had been larger at that stage of 1969, and the Mets had come back then.
So why not now?
“We’re not out of it, yet,” was Berra’s mantra into the middle of that August. “We can still do it.” It was more than a case of the You Gotta Believes in the manager’s mind. “Everybody in our division had some kind of streak except us, and I had my whole team back,” he said. “I felt if we could go on a little streak, we could make a move.”
Indeed, on August 17, Harrelson, Grote and Jones were penciled into the same starting lineup for the first time since August 1. By August 31, the whole team had begun to sharpen. They climbed out of last that day and into fourth on September 5. Two weeks later they were in the midst of the most remarkable journey any team has taken in any week in any September.
On the 18th, they beat the first-place Pirates and sat in fourth place, 2½ back.
On the 19th, they beat the first-place Pirates and reached third place, 1½ back.
On the 20th, they beat the first-place Pirates (the glorious Ball Off the Top of the Wall affair) and took second place, one half-game out.
On the 21st, they became the first-place Mets, beating the Pirates and taking a half-game lead.
Once Yogi’s crew was ensconced, they stayed ensconced. He had the regulars he wanted where he wanted them. Grote behind the plate, John Milner at first, Felix Millan at second, Harrelson at short, Wayne Garrett at third, Jones in left, a platoon of Don Hahn and Dave Schneck in center and Rusty Staub in right. Jones, Garrett and Staub were the hottest hitters on the planet. The pitching — Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman, George Stone forming the most formidable of rotations and a rejuvenated McGraw blowing minds and saving games out of the pen — yielded almost nothing.
Yogi Berra hadn’t panicked and Yogi Berra was proven a prophet. He let his players play and he watched his players win. First a division, then a pennant, then three games against the first club that could legitimately claim the dynasty tag since his old Yankees. Yes, he could’ve started Stone in Game Six at Oakland. Yes, he could’ve had a better-rested Seaver ready for Game Seven. Yes, he might’ve thought about sending Willie Mays up for one final at-bat when the Mets were barely holding on against the A’s. Mays was at the end of the line, but he had also been one of the handful of players in the history of baseball who had fashioned a more spectacular career than Berra. Yes, Yogi could have conceivably done a few things differently and maybe helped win the 1973 World Series for the New York Mets.
But no, nobody else got the 1973 New York Mets to the World Series and I don’t know that anybody else could have. We still relish that stretch drive. We still cherish the touchstone that is summed up so logically in his irrefutable statement that it ain’t over till it’s over. We still Believe in Mets team after Mets team because of that Mets team.
Yogi Berra was the manager. Lucky for us he was good at it.
From our vantage point in the front rows of Citi Field’s third level. Emily, my father-in-law and I had a pretty good view of what was going on down there on the field during the first inning of Monday night’s game. We’d watched Jon Niese convince three Braves to play patty-cake with the infield, and now we were watching the Mets continue to frustrate us. Much as they had against the Yankees early in Sunday’s debacle, the Mets seemed determine to squeeze as little offense out of a good situation as possible.
Curtis Granderson had walked, continuing his remarkable transformation at an age when few baseball players are capable of changing their spots. Daniel Murphy had dropped a single into right, followed by a similarly soft hit from Yoenis Cespedes. But then Lucas Duda hit a ball basically straight up, which didn’t benefit anybody except Shelby Miller.
Up came Travis d’Arnaud, who hit a little bouncer to Adonis Garcia at third.
Garcia flipped it into Daniel Castro at second, with Cespedes bearing down on him, and then everything sputtered and got weird. The ball was lying on the infield, Granderson was across the plate, umpires were doing things, and then several Braves converged around a lone Met in camo and pinstripes.
I couldn’t figure out the specifics of what had happened down there, but the general issue was immediately clear: Murph had Murphed.
But this was a bizarre one even by the standards of our own lovable avatar of chaos. Up in the stands we all shrugged and muttered; that Murphy, whaddya gonna do? Down on the field, Murph gave his gear to Tim Teufel and slunk morosely around the infield like a dog who’d just been found surrounded by shredded throw pillows. Later, looking at the replay on SNY, I still couldn’t figure out what Murph thought he was doing. He couldn’t have assumed it was a double play, because he was (inexplicably) turned around between second and third watching what was happening behind him. He saw Castro hadn’t thrown to first … and wandered onto the infield grass anyway. Did he think Duda’s pop had been the second out?
Gary Cohen was so flummoxed he missed the play, which pretty much never happens, while Keith Hernandez just gave a little moan of despair at finding himself in such a pitiful fallen world.
In the top of the third, the relevant question wasn’t about Murph’s recent bout of Murphing, but whether Niese could avoid Niesing.
Niese had been rolling along, mixing his pitches so effectively that I considered the underwhelming Atlanta lineup and had That Thought, followed by noting to Emily’s dad that Niese was absolutely pouring in strikes.
Which he immediately and perversely stopped doing. Having retired the first eight Braves without so much as breathing hard, Niese threw four straight balls to Miller, hitting a Leiteresque .059 and nearing the end of a full campaign as a starting pitcher without a single RBI. He then gave up a hit to Michael Bourn, Castro was safe on Wilmer Flores‘s error, and up came Freddie Freeman with Niese stalking around the mound.
Stalking around the mound is a danger sign with Niese; it strongly suggests that he has lost his cool, which can soon be followed by his focus, which can soon be followed by whatever lead he’s been given, which can soon be followed by the game.
Freeman belted the first pitch, which knuckled in the air — and wound up in Cespedes’s glove.
Niese had tried to Niese, but been given a reprieve — which he took full advantage of. He started off the fourth by walking Garcia and surrendering a hit to the ageless A.J. Pierzynski, but then made a nifty grab on a Nick Swisher bouncer back to the mound, starting a double play. Starting the sixth, he made an even better play, sprinting to first as Duda collapsed on top of a Castro grounder and flung it to first for the out.
And Murph would be heard from again, as he so often is. He rammed a first-pitch double off Andrew McKirahan with nobody out in the seventh, the big hit the Mets have been missing for several days. That got the Murph-O-Meter back to neutral, wrapped up a 4-0 Mets win, and brought several hundred thousand Met fans in off their ledges, or at least convinced them to stop hanging their toes over the edge while screaming about T@m G1av!ne and Luis Ayala.
Not a bad night’s work, bouts of chaos notwithstanding.
I love our apartment in Brooklyn, but it has one nasty design flaw: The downstairs plumbing can back up during torrential summer storms, turning the toilet and tub into geysers of dirty water until the city’s sewer system catches up with all the water falling out of the sky.
It’s gross, y’all.
As you might imagine, this has made me a bit edgy during bad weather. When I know potential trouble’s coming, I fire up the computer, monitor the radar map and start asking frantic questions. Is the water in the toilet starting to shimmy and shake? How hard is it raining? How long will this last? Do I get the pump ready? No? How about now?
Weather.com’s radar shows light rain as pale green; downpours that could do us harm show as red. But Weather.com only updates every five minutes, which is annoying when you’re a paranoid bathroom defender.
Another site, Weather Underground, updates every minute. Much better! But here’s the thing — Weather Underground’s color gradient is more … let’s say alarmist than Weather.com’s. Weather Underground’s red is the equivalent of Weather.com’s yellow, which is a level of rain I keep an eye on but not enough to be a problem. Weather Underground’s yellow is the same as Weather.com’s green, which is routine if-you’re-going-out-grab-an-umbrella stuff.
I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly two decades. I know how this works. But knowing it doesn’t help when I load Weather Underground during a summer storm and see a wall of red coming at Brooklyn.
My heart pounds.
My breath gets short.
Even though I know that the red I’m seeing is not actually red.
So Matt Harvey was pretty good for five innings. Then he left and the Mets commenced to play stupid, to quote a man who saw a lot of that. Daniel Murphy yakked up a ball he should have ate; David Wright made an error; Hansel Robles gave up a whole lot of runs. The back end of the bullpen then gave up a whole lot more. Meanwhile, the Mets weren’t hitting. They let a shaky-looking C.C. Sabathia off the hook in the first and never put him back on it.
As things cratered, there was a lot of bile directed at Scott Boras (I contributed my share on Twitter), which wasn’t really relevant considering what went wrong in the game, but at least made us feel a little better. And then there was the collective nervous breakdown one expected, which I tried not to contribute to but probably did anyway.
The radar looks red — the crimson of anger, of BLOOD, of DOOM. And my trying to tell you to flip over to the other, more sedately colored app showing the exact same weather isn’t going to help. Because we remember, and we react.
The Mets are not phoning it in or lacking cojones or choking or trying to kill us or anything like that. The problem is several talented members of the team are simultaneously not getting hits. This is an unfortunate confluence of unfortunate things that happens to baseball teams periodically. We — the poor blighters who live and die on the outcome of games we can’t affect — call this thing a slump. And then we desperately try to make that slump conform to our insistence that everything has a reason and is part of a larger story.
And, well, when we’re laboring under the collective memory of some bad shit, the story we tell ourselves is a tragic one.
I get it. I do it too. But check back at mid-week and we’ll see what the radar looks like, OK?
* * *
First the New York Times, now New York magazine! It’s a Faith and Fear media bonanza!
Thanks to longtime pal of mine and reader of the blog Will Leitch for his kind words. Here’s hoping Will has a reason to check in on us to get our dazed reaction to confetti and champagne. He’s familiar with our dazed reaction to less happy events.
Saturday’s was one of those games in which you tend to focus on one key element that went awry until you realize the other key element never went anywhere and thus rendered the first key element’s awryness moot. Noah Syndergaard, Terry Collins said, threw two bad pitches. Your impulse will be to obsess on those two bad pitches, each of which were turned into home runs with a man or more on base. And you will, because they resulted in five runs allowed, and there’s no way you can ignore your talented starter surrendering five runs on two swings. You will search for a rationale. You will rue pitch selection and BABIP bloops and FIP fates. You will seek to dissect Syndergaard’s pair of shortcomings all the way from here to Denmark.
But you can’t ignore the other key element. The Mets didn’t hit a lick against Michael Pineda and the approximately 48 Yankees relievers who trudged in behind him at Joe Girardi’s hyperactive direction. Together, the 49 of them shut out the Mets, 5-0.
If Collins’s one big moment of managing — pinch-hitting Juan Uribe for Lucas Duda with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth when the Mets were already down by five — had paid off, yet the Mets still lost by, say, 5-3 or 5-4, the impulse probably would be to fret over the hitting. We’d feel reassured that Syndergaard pitched very well (6 IP, 8 SO, 0 BB) when he wasn’t making the two bad pitches (a fastball to Carlos Beltran, a sinker to Brian McCann).
But why couldn’t they get one more big hit?
Why couldn’t they bring one more runner home in a key situation?
Where is Yoenis Cespedes (0-for-17) and why have you replaced him with Folgers Crystals?
What is Kevin Long doing to stop this offensive shame spiral? Can we get Lamar Johnson back?
How about Dave Hudgens?
Yeah, hi Pete, you’ve got a great show, first time, long time, listen, I wanna know why Terry isn’t batting Cespedes ninth, they need to get Wally up here to read him the riot act and maybe overturn a few buffet tables, the guy’s a total bum.
None of that happened. Uribe struck out and Saturday’s bottom-of-the-inning paucity continued unabated. Nevertheless, the nagging feeling never left the pitching side.
It was pitching that carried the Mets through the Cespedesless portion of summer, back when everybody was going 0-for-17 and nobody batted an eyelash (though if Collins had batted an eyelash cleanup, it would have been an improvement over John Mayberry). It was pitching that provided the floor — keeping the Mets from ever falling more than 4½ back while waiting for the lumber-carrying cavalry to arrive — for an otherwise anemic attack. The pitchers executed Dan Warthen’s master plan of throwing “strikes when you have to” and “balls when you want to”. The starters as a unit made you feel like Dwight Gooden did in 1985. Gooden admitted to Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated that when he was having his season of a lifetime, he quietly rooted for his teammates to get him a run or two and then make their outs already yet so he could go back to the mound. Three decades later, I understood the impulse. I only wanted to watch our pitchers. For that matter, the only Met hitters I wanted to watch were our pitchers.
Now? Nowadays, give or take an unheralded Marlin rookie or bulging Yankee battalion (Pineda, fine…but six relievers for fourteen outs with a five-run lead?), you figure the Mets are going to hit. There will be slumps, but slumps end. Even if slumps are slow to cease and desist, all it takes sometimes is one good inning of hitting to make everything better for your batters.
It’s never that simple for your pitchers, especially our pitchers. One bad inning of pitching makes everybody anxious. Two bad innings can quickly equal a loss. A loss fuels anxiety. The element you counted on to prevent or at least curtail losing is no longer a certainty. It’s not a matter of Syndergaard not matching Pineda on a given Saturday. It’s Syndergaard not matching Syndergaard from June or deGrom not measuring up to deGrom from July or Harvey…
Oy, Harvey, and all that implies.
Pitching is more than the backbone of a baseball team. It is the back discomfort of baseball. “When it comes to backs,” I never get tired of quoting Paulie Walnuts quoting a doctor friend of his, “nobody knows anything, really.” Nobody knows what good inning limits really do. Nobody knows how resilient anybody’s arm really is. Nobody really knows why there were Hall of Fame pitchers who took the ball every fifth (or fourth) day for a generation and rarely missed a start and nobody really knows why all the TLC in the world can’t divert a fresh, young gun from the DL let alone TJS.
What I don’t know is if the set of solutions the Mets are attempting to apply to their pitching questions will answer anything. Let’s skip a day. Let’s skip a start. Let’s skip Harvey into the clubhouse after five. Let’s leave it to Logan Verrett to make everything better. Logan Verrett filled in twice for Harvey. Logan Verrett will fill in for deGrom on Tuesday. Logan Verrett is this organization’s little blue pill. I hope they’re taking him as directed.
Goodness knows this staff is talented. If goodness knows anything else, I hope goodness will let us know ASAP. DeGrom looks tired. Syndergaard throws two bad pitches out of 88 and somehow gives up five runs. Harvey has a recurring case of the agent. Steven Matz isn’t the least bit grizzled. Jon Niese is excessively frazzled. Bartolo Colon is Bartolo Colon, which is usually great, except for those nights when it decidedly isn’t. Sharpness has been in short supply in general. Still, you’ve gotta trust that enough of these exceptionally talented fellows will sharpen in time for those moments when there won’t be time to work it through; or to rest them up; or to skip merrily along and let Logan do it.
For 148 games, it’s been a long season. You’d be inflicting harm only on yourself if you didn’t relax a little when everything didn’t go right. Those 148 were played to get us to the 14 games that remain and then (knock wood) an unknown quantity beyond. The known quantity that got us most of the way here was starting pitching. I wish I could know that it will be as sound as it was in the heat of summer the rest of the way. It is the lengths our starting pitching can go to that will likely determine how long our impending autumn will run.
In theory, relaxation is still advisable. In practice, good luck with that.
I’d love to tell you I just got around to writing this after staying out all night partying because there’s nothing like the Mets beating the Yankees in the first game of a Subway Series…WOO! But, honestly, I fell asleep not long after Friday night’s contest ended and couldn’t get myself going early this morning.
Nevertheless, WOO! There is indeed nothing like the Mets winning and the Yankees losing and the Yankees and Mets being directly responsible for the aforementioned respective outcomes. But there is also nothing like the Mets knocking another digit off the Lovin’ Spoonful countdown, despite our official resistance to reinstituting a certain numerical ritual. You won’t see a showy graphic (we tried that eight years ago around this time of September and we never got to complete the cycle), but we do believe in magic.
Believe in the magic of Uribe’s swing.
Believe in the magic of Murph’s everything.
Believe in the magic of Steven Matz.
Talkin’ ’bout magic!
And the bullpen.
Really, the whole bunch.
I’m not a big believer in the point of a Subway Series in September, but we’ll play who they say we have to play. If the baseball is groovy and the final makes us feel like an old-time movie, all the better. Who can argue with 5-1 on three Met homers, six Matz innings and clean relief from Robles, Reed and, hiccup notwithstanding, Familia?
This Subway Series jazz plays better somewhere east of August if it has to be on the playlist at all. You bring any opponent into Citi Field on the third-to-last Friday night of the season when the Mets have a first Friday night of the postseason in sight and it should prove a sufficient enough Event. Leave the hype to traffic-diverting street fairs and overstuffed political debates.
Matz might’ve been a little nervous at the outset, but I get the feeling that’s his process. I empathize with him. We’re both from Long Island. We both understand you need to take a deep breath around here in order to settle down and put up with the nonsense. The Subway Series, we established long ago, is mostly nonsense, though it was occasionally fun nonsense when the world was young. My last Subway Series game attended was in 2009, at Citi Field. Repurposed from the Shea emotional cauldron, it struck me as a spa weekend for Yankee fans and I swore it off. Glad to have ascertained through the television that fewer Yankees fans go there now; it’s too crowded with Mets fans.
Yogi Berra said something like that. He wore 8, incidentally.
Matz got to jam in some September experience while there’s still pre-October time. I do worry that he’s had only a handful of starts overall, but if it was the Cardinals thinking about inserting some mostly untested yet undeniably promising rookie into their hypothetical playoff rotation, they’d be praised to high heavens for innovation. I’m not gonna get anxious over Matz.
I’m also gonna decide Duda’s emerging from whatever’s plagued him. When I went to Tuesday night’s game — between opting not to trade Tom Seaver’s legacy and mulling over how strange Cleon Jones looked in a White Sox uniform — I observed to my satisfaction that Duda was “just missing”. Last night he didn’t miss. Welcome back to the deep part of the park, Lucas.
Murphy we might miss in the years ahead, but that’s too far in the future to worry about. Last night, Daniel our brother and prospective free agent, he was bolder than all: homering, tripling, tut-tutting Chase Headley for even thinking about tagging him and harmlessly goofing up a developing double play. He’s still Murph. That’s mostly good. That’s also a warning. Daniel, you’re a star in the face of the sky. Just don’t get distracted by the clouds in your eyes.
The game was iced on Juan Uribe’s pinch-hit bomb in the seventh. I’ve been dreaming of a player like Juan Uribe for decades. If you found the usable fragments of all those veteran pickups that never amounted to a hill of runs and injected them with ability and intangibles — yes, I said intangibles — and released the blob into the bloodstream of the clubhouse…you still wouldn’t get something as good as Juan Uribe. He may be the best pennant-race trade-deadline acquisition in Mets history whose last name doesn’t being with “C”.
That Addison Reed, he of the spotless seventh, is pretty good, too. “Never trust a Met reliever” is a convenient credo, but talk about your under-the-radar gems. Isn’t this usually where we moan we can’t believe they went out of their way to get everybody from Dean Chance to Eric O’Flaherty?
All in all, a good start to the first game in a series between two teams that have each gone a few years since making the playoffs. They never tell you that part, do they? The Yankees missed the postseason in 2013 and 2014. The last time they were involved, in 2012, they had trouble filling seats for home games and were swept amid a raucous atmosphere in Detroit. Maybe playing these games in front of a large, hostile crowd at Citi Field will reacclimate them to the spotlight.
Ha! While what I’ve just said is true, it’s not of genuine concern (the Yankees can get used to playing down a manhole for all I care). It is my way of saying the other side of that equation — that the Mets are supposed to be stunned into silence because somebody’s suddenly paying attention to them, thus these games will be good practice for their self-esteem — is ludicrous. They’ve gotten this far doing what every successful team does: accumulating lots of wins no matter the circumstances, including those before big crowds, small crowds, crowds that climb on rocks; fat crowds, skinny crowds, even crowds on whom we’d wish a pox.
No, we don’t need to be playing Subway Series games in September, but we do need to be hopefully winning all games in September. Bring on the opponents, whoever they are, wherever they come from.
I like to say that all you can reasonably ask for from your team year after year is that they give you hope. To me, that has always implied that you can hope your team will contend in earnest for a postseason berth, and to do that, your team has to win more games than it loses. That’s my baseline. That’s my bare minimum.
Some years you understand it’s a goal that’s almost surely out of reach and you have to calibrate your definition of hope. You hope that things will get better soon. You hope that strides will be made. You hope you see enough to give you more hope. But that’s not the hope that makes a baseball season worthwhile.
You don’t strive to collect 82 wins for the sake of 82 wins. You strive to win 82 because you can’t go further without them. When a season encompassing at least 82 wins is over, then at the very least, even if you didn’t go further, you at least know you were happy more often than you weren’t.
We just went six consecutive seasons bereft of that kind of hope. By the definition I’ve woven for myself, those were hopeless years, happyless years. Those were years when you couldn’t for very long convince yourself things were going well and you had to trust that maybe someday things would go better. But they weren’t good while they were going on.
“My kingdom,” I might have bellowed (had I a kingdom to spare), “for an 82nd win!” Yet now that I have an 82nd win — plus one, plus presumably more to come — I’m all, “Yeah, OK, let’s keep going.” Which is as exactly as it should be. Again, this wasn’t about getting to 82 wins, a milestone we achieved on September 13. It was about what might be waiting over a horizon previously out of view until an 82nd win was reached.
Yet we couldn’t have arrived here in Our Year of Thus Far Requited Hope without the journey through the barren seasons. I suppose we could have in the sense that some teams never seem to finish under .500, but that’s not how it happened for us. We root for a traditionally feast-or-famine operation. Multiple years of one transpire before we can enjoy a string consisting wholly of the other. When we get a little too used to gracious living, grimness comes to tap us on the shoulder. When it seems we’ve suffered more than our fair share, pity is somehow taken and we’re granted a sizable ration of legitimate hope again.
So those miserable years when 82 wins loomed as an aspirational figure served a purpose. They were less than what we reasonably asked for, but maybe we had to have been rejected in our requests a few times to fully appreciate when at last we were given the over-.500 thumbs-up.
While we were waiting between 2008 and 2015 for an 82nd win and all it implies, we watched the Mets anyway. We watched the Mets limit their win totals somewhere north of 69 but south of 80 six consecutive times. We kvetched, we moaned, we woe-is-us’d. But we didn’t duck out. That we stood by patiently (if crankily) is testament to our loyalty and endurance and our all-around good-guy characteristics.
Yes, we’re the salt of the earth for continuing to watch the Mets. But a pat on the back is also due the Mets we watched.
There are, by my count, 115 players who played for the Mets between 2009 and 2014 who never played for a winning Mets team. These are the individuals who weren’t here as recently as 2008 and/or haven’t been around in 2015. Our entire experience with them has taken place in the context of hopelessness, or nothing greater than a state of calibrated hopefulness. They were Mets when we knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, but in the interim, we got by with who we had.
They are also destined to be the Mets referenced decades from now by fans of a certain age, the fans who grew up in those particular lean times cheering these players on. There will be a fair amount of eyerolling in the reminiscing, but it will likely occur with an underpinning of genuine fondness. Remember him? Yeah, he sucked, but for some reason he was my favorite Met when I was a kid. Don’t ask me why.
To create space for the Mets who, en masse, haven’t sucked in 2015, we had to rid ourselves of their immediate predecessors. Survival of the Mettest depends upon lesser players giving way to better players.
Some were exchanged directly for those we celebrate today in the new world that thrives beyond 81 wins.
Some were just placeholders to begin with.
Some we thought would be a part of the kind of club we root for presently, but we were mistaken.
Some were better than their circumstances.
Some played an indelible role in creating the circumstances we ached to escape.
But they were Mets. And we rooted for them. Today, with as much sincerity as can be legitimately mustered, I want to thank all 115 of them. Even the ones who weren’t very good. Even the ones who didn’t last very long. Even the ones I wasn’t crazy about in their day. Perhaps it’s a testament to where we as a people are now, but when I consider them as we approach the once unreachable horizon, it’s not with ire for their not getting it done when they had the chance. It’s with appreciation for doing what they could.
If you’re a fan of a team for the long term, it all counts, the good and the bad. I’m in the mood to feel good about the good and (mostly) discount the bad.
So thank you, first and foremost, to R.A. Dickey, protagonist of an unparalleled life story and proprietor of the 2012 National League Cy Young Award.
Thank you, Ike Davis, who I assumed in 2010 would have been one of the reasons we’d be on the cusp of celebrating something special in 2015.
Thank you, Gary Sheffield, for giving us our first 500th home run in 2009. (Yoenis Cespedes will presumably give us a 600th later this month.)
Thank you, Josh Thole, one of those players for whose late-season promotion we banged the drum in 2009. He wasn’t our catcher of the future, but he did catch our first no-hitter.
Thank you, Mike Baxter, for doing a little catching of your own on June 1, 2012.
Thank you, Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, two interim catchers who hit walkoff homers on back-to-back days in 2010.
Thank you, John Buck, who hit a ton in the first month of 2013 and guided wisely a couple of our neophyte pitchers as the year progressed.
Thank you, Zack Wheeler, Josh Edgin and Vic Black, possessors of talented young arms that haven’t been used in the majors since 2014 We look forward to soon seeing you pitching with Mets teams good enough to erase you from this list.
Thank you, Wilfredo Tovar, an end-of-September callup, two Septembers in a row. You gave us a little something extra to put in our books in 2013 and again in 2014.
Thank you, Juan Centeno, for throwing out Billy Hamilton in September 2013 and detracting just a little from the alleged invincibility of a supposedly unstoppable foe.
Thank you, Fred Lewis, who stuck it out in Buffalo in 2012 and earned an extra cup of coffee that September. You didn’t do much as you passed through, but you reminded us that there’s no reason a person should willingly stop trying to play professional baseball if a professional baseball player is still what he believes he is.
Thank you, Sean Henn. No, you didn’t do anything as a Met, but I remember being at your first game with us in September of 2013 and thinking, “OK, Sean Henn is official.” A passing thought from a brutal loss, but a moment that stays with me when I see you name.
Thank you, David Aardsma, for literally rewriting the Mets record book in 2013 by surpassing Don Aase alphabetically.
Thank you, Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz and Sean Green, for completely remaking a disastrous Met bullpen in 2009 and making me buy into that narrative for maybe a week. It was a nice belief to hold however long I held it.
Thank you, Frank Francisco, for chalking up three saves in the first three games of 2012, getting us off to a 3-0 start and convincing us once again that the ninth inning was solved.
Thank you, Brandon Lyon, for one Sunday in 2013 selling me yet another iteration of the ol’ “they’ve fixed the bullpen” storyline.
Thank you, Omir Santos, for winning yourself a perennial Mets Classic at Fenway Park in 2009.
Thank you, Chris Carter, for a big pinch-hit in a huge comeback on May 11, 2010, another Mets Classic staple.
Thank you, Wilson Valdez, for filling in adeptly if unspectacularly in 2009 after Jose Reyes went down for the season. Nobody could replace Reyes, but you took the reps that needed to be taken.
Thank you, Emil Brown and Andy Green, for adding a modicum of color to the 2009 Mets.
Thank you, Scott Rice, for working so hard to make the majors at last on Opening Day in 2013, and making it with us; and thank you, Collin Cowgill, for making that same afternoon so grand-slammingly memorable.
Thank you, Mike Hessman, for stopping off and hitting your final major league home run as a Met in 2010 before returning to Triple-A and fulfilling your destiny as the king of minor league swing.
Thank you, Tim Redding and Pat Misch, for those starts I didn’t much appreciate in 2009, but sometimes you succeeded.
Thank you, Hisanori Takahashi, for being remarkably consistent as a starter and a closer in 2010.
Thank you, Marlon Byrd, for making us forget the “What Outfield?” winter by crafting a hellacious summer in 2013. I appreciate what you brought back in trade, too, but I really hated to see you go.
Thank you, Cory Sullivan, for legging out five triples in 2009 and proving indeed that Citi Field’s original dimensions were not made for homers.
Thank you, Ronny Cedeño, for saving both of your Citi Field home runs in 2012 for games I came to.
Thank you, Andres Torres, for doubling, tripling and homering — yet somehow not singling — at another of my 2012 appearances.
Thank you, Omar Quintanilla, for stepping in on May 29, 2012, and collecting three hits, including two doubles, in support of Jeremy Hefner.
Thank you for Jeremy Hefner, for homering in support of your own self on May 29, 2012.
Thank you, John Lannan, for becoming, in 2014, the only Met I know of who hails from my hometown of Long Beach, L.I.
Thank you, Frank Catalanotto, for also briefly planting a Long Island flag at Citi Field in 2010.
Thank you, Chris Capuano, for holding back the storm and pitching a whale of a game in August 2011 as we braced for Hurricane Irene to hit us. Hardly any Brave hit you that Friday night.
Thank you, Justin Hampson, for ten perfectly decent innings in 2012 and being one of those Atlantic League success stories, having made it back to the majors after four seasons away, partly via a stint with our own Long Island Ducks.
Thank you, Aaron Harang and Daisuke Matsuzaka, for coming in toward the end of 2013 and soaking up those innings almost nobody else was watching. I was.
Thank you, Chin-lung Hu, for the easy “Hu’s on first” jokes when you showed up in 2011 and not overstaying your welcome so we didn’t have to grow incredibly sick of them.
Thank you, Lance Broadway and Tobi Stoner, for similar reasons in 2009.
Thank you, Luis Hernandez, for in 2010 fouling a ball off your foot, then hitting a home run and then limping around the bases in what proved to be the final swing of your MLB career. You truly went out on a high note.
Thank you, Chris Young, Pedro Beato and Taylor Buchholz (twelve shutout innings combined) along with Ronny Paulino (5-for-5), for ensuring that May 1, 2011 — the Sunday night when SEAL Team Six got Bin Laden — would go the Mets’ way. Any other way on that occasion would have seemed wrong.
Thank you, Chris Young who wasn’t the other Chris Young, for waiting to become a Met until 2014, by which time the other Chris Young had moved on. Being a Mets fan is confusing enough.
Thank you, Casey Fossum, for becoming the Mets’ first Casey since Stengel. If you had been here in 1962, your manager likely would have called you Nelson.
Thank you, Ramon Ramirez and Elvin Ramirez, for in 2012 giving me one or two chuckles as I referred to you as the Ramirii.
Thank you, Mike Nickeas, for being an agate acquisition in 2006 and, after four obscure years in the minors, making the big club in 2010.
Thank you, Fernando Martinez, for materializing on May 26, 2009. I had been reading about you as a prospect for so long, I assumed you were a Sidd Finch-type conceit.
Thank you, Livàn Hernandez, for pitching a complete game on May 26, 2009, the night of Martinez’s debut.
Thank you, Brad Emaus, for personifying the Mets at the dawn of the Alderson era, April 2011.
Thank you, Gonzalez Germen, for getting a rise out of Sandy Alderson in Baseball Maverick, by pitching horribly on June 14, 2014. The chapter, “Throw a Goddamned Fastball,” is titled in your honor.
Thank you, Rob Johnson, for pitching a perfect inning in 2012 despite your being a catcher. For one game, it justified your inexplicably being assigned No. 16.
Thank you, Jon Switzer, for making one of your three-and-a-third innings in 2009 perfect. The fact that Rob Johnson threw a perfect inning as a catcher three years later doesn’t make what you accomplished any less impressive.
Thank you, Jon Rauch in 2012 and Daniel Herrera in 2011, for literally representing the long and the short of Met relief pitching.
Thank you, Raul Valdes, for providing quality long relief in 2010.
Thank you, Bobby Abreu, for deciding to hang ’em up as a Met in 2014.
Thank you, LaTroy Hawkins, for deciding to keep going as a Met in 2013.
Thank you, Miguel Batista, for chalking up your 100th career win for us in your first Met start, September 1, 2011, a.k.a. the day every year the rosters expand so teams can get a look at their kids. Batista was 40.
Thank you, Darren O’Day, for enduring long after your premature deletion from the active roster in early 2009. You reminded us general managers should pause and reflect before making hasty decisions.
Thank you, Blaine Boyer, for pitching your way off the active roster in early 2011. You reminded us general managers sometimes can’t decide hastily enough.
Thank you, Garrett Olson, for using your lone Met appearance, on August 8, 2012, to set the record for worst career ERA in franchise history, 108.00. I showed up at Citi that night and I can’t say I didn’t see something memorable.
Thank you, Jack Egbert, for not doing anything of a record-setting nature in your lone Met appearance, on May 28, 2012. I wasn’t at that game, so I don’t feel I missed anything.
Thank you, Ryota Igarashi, for facing 325 batters in 2010 and 2011 and, according to Baseball Reference, not putting 203 of them on base. I just assumed you gave up a hit, walk or HBP to all 325 of them. I stand corrected.
Thank you, Fernando Nieve, for picking up the ball Luis Castillo dropped and winning the next afternoon’s Subway Series game in 2009. Our collective self-esteem depended upon it.
Thank you, Shaun Marcum, for not pursuing a television management position following your departure from our ranks in 2013. I’d hate to see the announcers you’d hire.
Thank you, Collin McHugh, for fashioning such a stunning first start in 2012. Glad you refound your groove in Houston (good vibes subject to change pending potential World Series matchups).
Thank you, Joaquin Arias, for your little-noticed 2010 tenure. You went to the Giants thereafter and gave me reason to mention to anyone who was listening during two San Francisco Fall Classics, “Hey, look, that guy used to play for the Mets.”
Thank you, Dale Thayer, for eliciting a similar response from me post-2011, except it’s more like, “Hey, look, that guy with the very bushy mustache used to play for the Mets.”
Thank you, Tim Byrdak, for persevering to make it back in September 2013 after missing most of the year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Your service was both long and meritorious.
Thank you, Elmer Dessens, for taking the ball as often as you did in 2010. They referred to your teammate as Perpetual Pedro Feliciano. You could’ve been Eternal Elmer Dessens, but you went about your business quietly.
Thank you, Mike O’Connor, for not being offended that I don’t remember anything specific about the nine relief appearances you made in 2011.
Thank you, Jordany Valdespin, for conjuring instant offense off the bench so many times in 2012, disguising what a pain in the ass you revealed yourself to be. (Yet I liked you disproportionately to the bitter end.)
Thank you, Matt den Dekker, for handling fate’s fickleness with grace when your status as next great defensive center fielder took a blow from an injury during Spring Training 2013. Juan Lagares stepped up in your absence and won the Gold Glove in 2014, ultimately making you expendable (though hopefully not terminally vengeful from your present locale in Washington).
Thank you, Josh Stinson, Chris Schwinden and Josh Satin, for all arriving within a week of one another in 2011. I longed for you to form a trio in the popular Metsopotamian imagination and inspire me to pen an ode to Stinson and Schwinden and Satin/playing ball a little east of Manhattan…alas, it just didn’t happen.
Thank you, Zach Lutz, for becoming, on June 27, 2013, the 150th third baseman in New York Mets history, a count that has now reached 157, no matter what inaccurate total the New York Times insists on referencing (and not correcting despite multiple polite solicitations from a concerned party).
Thank you, Jesus Feliciano, for the leadoff triple that led to you scoring the walkoff run driven in by Carlos Beltran on July 31, 2010. It reinvigorated my faith in having a man on third with nobody out.
Thank you, Dana Eveland, for being surprisingly effective in 2014. Surprisingly effective is often the best kind of effective.
Thank you, Angel Berroa, for inspiring Metstradamus to dedicate the Angel Berroa Rotunda in 2009.
Thank you, Taylor Teagarden, for the grand slam you hit in your first game as a Met in 2014. It was the only home run you hit as a Met and one of just nine games you played for us.
Thank you, Jason Pridie, for getting a big base hit at Citi Field while wearing a beard on June 4, 2011, a few hours after I spoke at a memorial tribute to my friend Dana Brand, a Mets fan who also wore a beard. It was comforting to make that connection then and now.
Thank you, Scott Hairston, for launching a home run into the Left Field Landing section of Citi Field on July 16, 2011, the same day Dana’s friends and family held a less formal memorial for our fellow fan out at the Shea home plate marker. Our seats for the game were way up there where home runs rarely landed, yet yours landed near us, and maybe, we thought, Dana had something to do with it.
Thank you, D.J. Carrasco, for balking in the losing run at Turner Field on June 16, 2011. No, really, because your inexcusable action also has a Dana angle to it. I was returning home from taking part in a reading of Prof. Brand’s work, riding on an NJ Transit train between Secaucus and Penn Station, when I heard what happened over WFAN. Though I didn’t laugh in the moment, I can laugh about it now because I have a feeling Dana would have seen the Metsiness in such an absurd defeat…and perhaps asked that if we were giving him after-the-fact credit for that hit by Pridie and that homer by Hairston, did he have to accept the blame for that balk by Carrasco?
Thank you, Alex Cora, for lashing out at a gaggle of giggling beat reporters in the visitors clubhouse at Chase Field in 2010, just after the Diamondbacks swept a series from the Mets. It was an overwrought reaction, perhaps, but the message he attempted to convey — “have some respect” — was one that came from the right place.
Thank you, Vinny Rottino, for rushing out of the dugout with your teammates on that first night of June 2012 to congratulate Johan Santana on his hitless feat. When I see the clips now and notice a No. 33, I do a double-take and remember who wore that number before Matt Harvey. I get a kick out of how unassuming 33 was before it became ubiquitous.
Thank you, Jose Valverde, for briefly serving as Mets closer in 2014 and, more importantly in the long run, mentoring Jeurys Familia.
Thank you, Gary Matthews, Jr., for agreeing to be a part of this sort of thing twice. Your first Met tenure was a small slice of 2002, a year the Mets finished under .500; your second Met tenure was a chunk of 2010.
Thank you, Kelly Shoppach, for successfully blocking the plate late in the final National League game the Mets ever played against the Astros, August 26, 2012, back when a catcher could block the plate.
Thank you, Manny Acosta, for giving up that second two-out, two-strike grand slam of 2010. Instead of thinking of you as just another ham ‘n’ egger on a staff that gave up a dozen bases-loaded home runs (while Met hitters produced none), I could in clear conscience refer to you as a “slam ‘n’ egger”. When the team you blog about is slogging through a lost September, it’s the little things that mean a lot.
Thank you, Jeff Francoeur, for lining into that unassisted triple play in 2009. Sure, it would have been preferable had you had better aim, but it was one of those years when something would inevitably go wrong, so why not go big?
Thank you, Scott Atchison, for tolerating the onslaught of “Scott Atchison’s father” jokes in 2013. For the record, I never made one, given that at the time you were 37 and I was 50 (even though you somehow looked 13 years older than me).
Thank you, Andrew Brown, for that home run on Opening Day 2014. It was freezing and eventually we lost, but you were setting quite a pace there for a couple of minutes
Thank you, Justin Turner, for breaking Ron Swoboda’s Mets record for consecutive games with an RBI by a rookie in 2011, not just because it was nice to have those runs driven in, but because it never occurred to me such a record existed.
Thank you, Rick Ankiel, for playing a little center field for the Mets in 2013 a veritable baseball lifetime after losing the strike zone against the Mets as a pitcher for the Cardinals in the 2000 NLCS. If nothing else, your reincarnation in our midst permitted our minds to wander back to happier days.
Thank you, Kyle Farnsworth, for alighting in 2014, which caused me to run across this nugget: the Cubs pitcher who started the second game of the 2000 season in Tokyo, the one Benny Agbayani won for us with a grand slam, was Kyle Farnsworth.
Thank you, Ken Takahashi, who in 2009 was referred to by his manager, Jerry Manuel, as Ken Takahishi, illustrating that just maybe Manuel wasn’t paying attention to his roster.
Thank you, Willie Harris, for making one of those Willie Harris catches against the Cardinals toward the end of 2011. We had waited almost six months for you to do for the Mets what you had previously done with disgusting regularity to the Mets and you at last delivered.
Thank you, Aaron Laffey, for emerging out of nowhere to take two starts in 2013 and then returning there almost as quickly as you came.
Thank you, Jeremy Reed, for inserting yourself into the Met consciousness so vividly in 2009 when you played first base and threw a ball to the backstop at Dodger Stadium to lose the same game in which Ryan Church failed to touch third. It’s one of those affairs that when you begin to describe it, a committed Mets fan knows exactly what game you’re talking about.
Thank you, Robert Carson, for helping rid the Mets of those nasty baseballs they didn’t want anyway in 2013. It’s better they wound up sitting beyond various National League fences. Ptui! Who needed them?
Thank you, Greg Burke, for repping a fine first name in 2013.
Finally, thank you, Jason Bay, for keeping your head between 2010 and 2012, despite it taking on one too many outfield fences. Thanks, too, for keeping your heart in the game even as your ability to play it insisted on eluding you.
Thanks everybody who was ever a Met without getting to win even a little as a Met. It was a thankless job, but somebody had to do it.