It was surely a familiar story, as Clayton Kershaw is essentially Sandy Koufax a few generations removed. I never saw Koufax pitch. Everybody who did will be sure to tell you they did. Koufax, who hasn’t pitched in 50 years, maintains that kind of cachet. So should Kershaw. It’s not thrilling to say we watched a master at work last night since his work was at odds with our preferred outcome, but we might as well own it. As those who filled the stands or turned on the set for Sandy’s starts in 1966 could attest, these things won’t present themselves for our collective witnessing forever.
If you need proof, consider the man who’s called his fair share of Kershaw’s 119 career victories and most if not all of Koufax’s 165. Vin Scully was in the booth for Clayton at Dodger Stadium just as he was for Sandy a half-century ago, just as he was for Sandy at Ebbets Field in 1955, just as he was for Sandy’s future teammates five years earlier. Scully is at 67 years and no longer counting in his major league broadcasting career. This, you no doubt know, is the last season in which Vin will be inviting baseball fans to pull up a chair alongside him.
Longevity linkage, which is so much fun to apply to the likes of Bartolo Colon (who found himself overshadowed versus Kershaw, which is a feat on multiple levels these days), is beside the point when invoking Scully. Vin was a legend before Bartolo ever saw the light of day. He’s got everybody beat in terms of service time. Retired players whose sons are players today debuted decades after Vin broke in. A retired player whose son is going into the Hall of Fame this summer was born just as Vin was concluding his first Dodger Spring Training. Our own beloved Bob Murphy, eternally the Voice of the Mets, was preparing for his first big league campaign in Baltimore when Vin had four seasons and a televised World Series under his belt.
Because this is the final season in which Vin Scully is calling Dodger games, he is graciously consenting to sit for interviews in which he reluctantly talks about himself. Both SNY and WOR recorded their own versions. Gary Cohen did the honors on TV, Howie Rose on radio (no disrespect to the sideline and pregame hosts, but who else would you send on this assignment?). Please listen to both. SNY’s is in two parts, here and here; WOR’s is here. If you’ve never heard Scully reflect on Scully, you will be enchanted.
And if you have heard Scully on Scully — and chances are you have, at least a little — perhaps you will marvel as I did and always do when I hear him chatting outside of the context of a ballgame. After 67 years in baseball and 88 years on Earth, Vin has a tendency to tell what might be referred to as the same old stories. I think we would all do that if his stories were our stories. A person has his or her greatest hits, and even the most clever of inquisitors is going to veer to some fairly obvious questions in a limited time frame.
Here’s the thing, though. When you listen to Gary talk to Vin, then Howie talk to Vin, you would think Vin is receiving these perfectly fine questions for the first time in his long, illustrious life, because he answers them with such freshness. You don’t think he’s told the story of working college football from the roof of Fenway Park? The meeting with Branch Rickey? What he learned from Red Barber? Why he lets the crowd speak after an enormous home run? How the Koufax perfect game embellishment came about? His lack of rooting interest between the Mets and Red Sox in 1986 despite what their respective partisans might have believed? The advantages of working alone instead of with a partner?
Of course he has. He was asked more or less the same stuff in each Met interview, as he would be and has been in every interview with every outlet, yet somehow every time it’s as if he’s telling the story for the very first time. He’s full of wonder and awe that he’s gotten to do what he has done. There is not a hint of weariness in his replies. You have been kind enough to express curiosity about some facet of his experience, the least he can do is present a word picture as complete as the game Clayton Kershaw threw at the Mets.
It’s a gift, both what Vin Scully has been blessed with and what he’s shared with us. Perhaps I am particularly attentive to how he proffers it because I have come lately to appreciate the challenges inherent in telling the same stories freshly again and again.
In my comparatively limited case, the story is that of the 2015 National League champion Mets, the subject of my current book, Amazin’ Again. I’ve noticed a dichotomy between the types of interviews I’ve been invited to engage in since its release. If the host is a Mets fan and the setting is Mets-oriented, then I can speak in almost a coded language. I know the host and the audience will get what I mean if I make a reference to “the Kershaw game” from last July, for example, and I don’t have to explain too deeply the contextual significance of John Mayberry (whose major league slugger dad was born in 1949, the same year Scully got his big break in Boston) and Eric Campbell (who can’t hit Kershaw any better in 2016 than he could in 2015). We understand they batted fourth and fifth against the best pitcher in baseball and that the Mets needed to upgrade their offense if they intended to catch the Nationals let alone compete against Kershaw in a potential postseason matchup.
But when I find myself the subject of questioning for a broader readership, listenership or viewership, my role shifts from Mets fan talking to Mets fans to guy charged with explaining who the 2015 Mets were and what exactly they did. The chain of details you and I take for granted — strong start, injuries, teamwide slump, promising pitching, ups and downs, Gomez trade aborted, Upton homer in the rain, Cespedes, Flores and off we go — is not a given. The story I’m asked for is less the story of how the book came together or why I wrote certain passages the way I did and more the actual story in the book, a.k.a. a lot of tick-tock from last year.
That’s splendid. I love being asked anything about the Mets. But it also demands a certain amount of repetition, which, quite frankly, is something I rail against internally. I don’t want to tell the fellow on the phone in Orlando the same exact thing I told the fellow on the phone in Phoenix any more than I want to write the same exact blog post every other day. I feel I’m not giving the station in Orlando my best if all it’s getting is what Phoenix received last week. Never mind that the overlap between audiences is negligible to nil. Never mind that no matter how you tell it, Cespedes is still gonna be traded for on July 31 and Flores is gonna homer that night.
Part of this reluctance comes from the kind of reader, listener and viewer I am. I will consume every interview with somebody whose work I really revere. That person doesn’t know I’m taking in his or her thoughts for the six-dozenth time. He or she can’t be responsible for knowing I’ve heard that charming anecdote 71 times before. I don’t mind hearing it again, necessarily, but maybe there’s some heretofore unuttered nugget you could toss in for the obsessives like myself?
After 67 years of speaking through a microphone to untold millions, it’s probably enough Vin Scully can tell the exact same stories and make them sound as if he’d just broken the seal on them. They’re not talking points in Scully’s voice. They’re just what he has to say.
Honestly, even without considering the lateness of the hour, a big picture of Noah Syndergaard would be more eloquent than whatever I’ll be able to come up with.
Because sometimes Syndergaard defies description.
Wednesday night’s pitching line might not look like ace-level Syndergaard — the swing-and-a-miss stuff wasn’t quite there — but that’s deceptive. Syndergaard was hitting 100 MPH in the eighth, leaned on that killer slider for some key outs in the middle innings, and showed the curveball just to make things even more unfair. Results-wise, he was dented on two bad pitches — one a slider that arrived more than it slid (it happens, even to him), and one on a too predictable first-pitch fastball down the middle to a fastball hitter. That was it.
But — as you probably know by now — that was only half of the latest Norse saga. In the third, Syndergaard hammered a Kenta Maeda offspeed pitch over the fence in right center — a pitch intended for the outside corner that drifted back and begged to be spanked. Impressive, but greater things were in the offing.
In the fifth, Syndergaard came to the plate with nobody out and runners on first and second. Terry Collins, predictably, had him bunt. Now, first and second with nobody out is the one situation where a bunt is defensible mathematically, but c’mon. Syndergaard has always shown an ability to hit and had just crashed one 407 feet. Noah didn’t get the bunt down, was allowed to swing away on 2-2, and hammered the ball over the fence in left-center, with Joc Pederson failing to get a glove on the ball and losing his cap over the fence. That blast was even more impressive than the third-inning shot — Maeda’s first pitch was a mistake, but the second was an off-speed pitch on the back corner of the plate. As Syndergaard trotted around the bases, Maeda gritted his teeth on the mound, no doubt thinking that things like this don’t happen in Japan. If it’s any comfort to him, they don’t really happen here either, much as the last week might make us dream otherwise.
Syndergaard got two more at-bats. In the sixth, with the bases loaded and one out, he practically came out of his shoes trying to take Chris Hatcher Maeda deep for a third homer, hooking two pitches hard down the right-field line and sending another one straight back before fanning. In the eighth, Joe Blanton threw him nothing but sliders, which was disappointing but wise.
If there was an unamusing part of the night, it was the Mets’ continuing futility with runners on third and less than two out. This will take a while: Yoenis Cespedes got thrown out at home on a bad gamble with one out in the second, Eric Campbell fouled out with nobody out in the sixth, Syndergaard struck out with one out and the bases loaded in the same frame, and Lucas Duda flied to short left in the seventh with runners on second and third and one out. That’s four gimme runs not converted, which forced Jeurys Familia into a dicey situation that became dicier, with the Mets needing remarkable plays from newcomers Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to stave off disaster. Such situational failings are usually baseball randomness that disappears over time; it would be just fine with me if the vanishing would begin soonest.
Anyway, the Mets kept rolling — on the same night Max Scherzer struck out 20 in leading the second-place Nats to victory. To get woofy for a moment, fanning 20 is something Syndergaard can do, but can Scherzer go deep twice?
More seriously, it’s been fun monitoring the Nats in the early going. They’re a team with so many interesting storylines: Dusty Baker‘s supervision of a clubhouse that needed healing, old friend Daniel Murphy‘s new blazing hot streak, Jonathan Papelbon‘s explosive failures, and Bryce Harper being Bryce Harper. And I’m sure knowledgable Nats fans (yes, there really are a few) have kept the same watch on Metsian doings, marveling at Syndergaard and wondering where Walker came from and sighing about years of facing Michael Conforto.
All this has necessarily happened at a remove. But that will change next week, with six Mets-Nats tilts over nine days. We’ve got work to do before then — starting with none other than Clayton Kershaw on Thursday — but isn’t that going to be fun?
“I’ll probably only make it for one more batter,” the sleepy fan said to himself as Hansel Robles battled Trayce Thompson with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets and Dodgers tied at two. “I don’t think I’ll make it to extra innings.”
Funny how sometimes things just take care of themselves. The last things I saw before my eyelids’ insides were Robles shaking off Kevin Plawecki, Thompson showered in a bucket of bubble gum and grim men in suits on a set in New York daring me to dissect the whole mess with them well past one o’clock.
The “somehow” in that Met scoring involved enemy of goodness Chase Utley playing lousy second base, and that alone was worth staying up for. Though every sight of his prematurely gray pate inspired calls to HIT HIM!!! from puerile types like myself, I’ve come around to the school of thought that Utley should be made to wait until the Dodgers visit Citi Field in a couple of weeks. First, the dread he experiences en route will be worse than the pitch to his let’s say ribs. Second, it will be 1986 weekend, so if there’s any trouble, Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell will be on hand to keep the peace, wink wink.
Ron Darling, a 1986 Met himself, said something Tuesday night in the “in the day” vein he favors about pitchers policing hitters, fearlessly backing them off and putting them on their rear in retaliation for the crime of taking out beloved infielders in the midst of double play attempts. Ronnie talked about his experience as if he played in the Beer & Whiskey League of the nineteenth century. Baseball Reference confirms Darling’s career spanned 1983 to 1995, a period where it was intermittently bemoaned by Ronnie’s elders that pitchers “today” don’t police hitters like they used to when men were men and Bob Gibson gave his cornflakes a close shave lest they look at him wrong.
Asdrubal Cabrera made a sensational throw falling toward third from short to nail the loathsome Utley at first. Yoenis Cespedes fired a majestic cannonball from the center field track toward second to eliminate not terribly speedy Adrian Gonzalez following the world’s longest single. Spectacular defense kept the Mets in a 2-2 game from the second into the ninth. No hitting and lousy baserunning did the same. Most notable was Juan Lagares slipping off first base in a pickoff attempt that became a pickoff. Darling said the dew gathers nights at Dodger Stadium and covers the bases and those things grow slippery as an eel as the evening ensues. That may be the keenest insight a player-turned-analyst has delivered since Tim McCarver was telling Gibby stories on Channel 9.
The other reason it stayed 2-2 was Jacob deGrom reverting to genuine Jacob form after opening the game (and much of 2016) pitching like Jake from State Farm. For a couple of innings, he was hideous. Then he was finding himself. Then, as the bumper stickers that were so ubiquitous when our family visited California in the ’70s put it, he Found It. He seemed to rediscover the Jacob deGrom we remember from 2014 and 2015, including the version that toughed out the only Game Five the Mets won last postseason. Morning Wood was hard to overcome, but deGrom After Dark kept us up in a good way as long as he could. For the first time he lasted seven innings; for the first time he topped 100 pitches. It was vintage Jake, if you can refer to somebody not quite two years removed from his MLB debut doing something vintage.
We can do anything we want, even if we can’t always stay up as late as we’d like.
Tonight’s Mets game wasn’t that much less stressful than Sunday’s — in fact, it followed the same approximate blueprint — but whereas yesterday I was finger-crossing and pleading while urging Antonio Bastardo on from a continent away, tonight I was sprawled on my couch, occasionally losing track of the count even in tight moments.
Sure, on Sunday Bastardo had a much grimmer fix to escape and a smaller margin for error. But the Dodgers were still right there a swing away from ruining Monday evening, and Bastardo’s command of the strike zone was less than it had been. It’s got to be the venue: as long as it’s not the playoffs, Dodger Stadium feels more like a novelty or a vacation than one of the cauldrons of sportswriting cliche. Maybe it’s the catatonic locals, or the somehow soothing light blue and cream color scheme, or knowing Vin Scully’s on hand ladling out delightfully warm and sweet word caramel. Or maybe it’s that though there are bumps in the night in L.A., in Petco you go to sleep under the bed with an ax, because monsters own the house.
This one looked like a laugher early, with long-ago prodigal son Scott Kazmir struggling to find his change-up and searching for support from the home-plate ump and his defenders. Curtis Granderson whacked Kazmir’s first pitch over the wall and Steven Matz was on the mound for the good guys, which usually guarantees the scoring will come early and often.
Tonight that was only half-true; Kazmir found himself and the Mets started losing track of baseball necessities, with a particularly doofy moment for Yoenis Cespedes taking a run off the board. But Matz was in command on the mound and at the plate, continuing the recent run of pitcher heroics with an RBI double. A day after becoming a Met favorite, Bastardo faltered, though he got a shove off the ledge from a rare error by Juan Lagares. No matter; this time it was Jim Henderson as rescuer and Bastardo as rescuee; Big Canadian Jim fanned Yasiel Puig and got Trayce Thompson to pop up.
As for the confrontation with Chase Utley, well, it came too late in the evening for me to work up more than a vaguely pinched glower. (Though it was entertaining watching Hansel Robles — denied hostile action either via managerial orders or a glance at the scoreboard — clearly hoping for a reason to take offense at something Utley had done.) Look, Utley’s team lost in October and he now has a Thou Shalt Not rule that will bear his name years after he’s retired; if Jacob deGrom wants to bruise him with a fastball on Tuesday that’s fine, but it’s also fine if JdG sees 0-for-4 as vengeance enough.
Utley and the other Dodgers lost, the Nats won but were forbidden by math from intruding on first place (thanks math!), and the Mets kept rolling after the sleepwalking start to their trip. Maybe it was the wee hours talking, but that struck me as more than enough for the night.
A day after Bartolo Colon shocked and delighted the baseball world, it seemed somehow anticlimactic for the Mets to be expected to go out and do something as mundane as win a game.
It would have been fitting if Major League Baseball had declared Sunday a national holiday. It would have been fine — as I suggested in moderate jest — if the world’s nations had gone a step further and inaugurated a new calendar, with the year 0 beginning the moment when Colon’s home run nestled into the waiting hands of Mets fan Jimmy Zurn, who proved an exemplary role model by handing the now-sanctified sphere over without requesting any reward beyond having been a part of it.
Alas, we were back in the fallen world on Sunday, with the Mets and Padres wearing pink for Mother’s Day and Matt Harvey hoping to pitch more like Matt Harvey and less like whatever impostor has taken the mound the last couple of months.
Last September I grabbed a subscription to MLB.tv, which I somewhat predictably found myself unwilling to part with come springtime. So I spent the afternoon before our 4:40 pm start flipping around and seeing what various clubs had done to give their uniforms a pink overhaul. The Mets looked pretty much like the Nationals, Royals and other opposing teams, which was to say bland but not particularly terrible — and points to the team for turning the piping and names on the uniforms black, which gave them a bit more pop.
The skyline logo looked abominable, though — like discarded Jello or a nasty infection. Next time the Mets are the home team for Mother’s Day, here’s hoping they rethink that part, and opt for a black logo with pink lettering. There’s precedent for that combination: a couple of years back Todd Radom unearthed the forgotten factoid that pink and black was proposed as our original color scheme, after the silks worn by jockeys for the stable co-owned by Joan Payson and her brother John Hay Whitney. Revisiting that would make Mother’s Day at Citi Field simultaneously a thank you to moms and a nod to one of the lesser-known bits of team history.
(As for the Padres’ home unis, amnesia would be the best policy. Shockingly enough, blue camo does not go with pink. If asked, I’m confident each and every mother of a Padre would have responded with “You’re not really going to wear that to play baseball in public, are you?”)
Anyway, there was Harvey glowering above and below pink lettering as the Mets tried to salvage a split and we chewed our nails on the other side of the continent. The news, happily, was good: Harvey’s fastball had its old velocity, and while his other pitches were still works in progress, he used the fastball to set them up capably, escaped fatal trouble in the middle innings, and even came within a whisker of his own home run, this one to dead center.
Perhaps that point about escaping trouble ought to come with an asterisk: I have no idea what New York’s replay umps were looking at as Andrew Cashner slid on his belly across home plate ahead of or at least adjacent to Kevin Plawecki‘s tag. (It was a big 48 hours for starting-pitcher heroics.) But fair or not, the call went our way and kept Harvey on the right side of the W.
Keeping him there would require heroics from unlikely sources, though.
Emily, Joshua and I decamped in the eighth for a walk down to Red Hook, where a combined Mother’s Day/47th birthday celebration awaited us. It sure seemed like disaster would be along for the ride: the apparently unstoppable Jon Jay singled off Jerry Blevins, bringing on Addison Reed. Reed allowed a million-hopper to Wil Myers for an infield single, then a single of the more conventional variety to Matt Kemp, and was then excused for … Antonio Bastardo.
As a newly arrived Met, Bastardo’s still coming into focus for us — he pitches bravely but has a dispiriting tendency to lose the plate, which is a wordy way of saying he’s a middle reliever. Grabbing a bat to greet him was Derek Norris, a Padre who no longer needs an introduction beyond whatever sign you invoke to ward off evil.
Norris is hitting .173 for the year, which by my back-of-the-envelope calculations means he’s 0 for 600 against every team but us. Somewhere south of Atlantic Avenue, my wife and kid and I traded grim looks. The Dark Knight was gone and this was mid-Sixties Adam-West-as-Batman bad, with the caped crusaders dangling from a pulley and being lowered into a vat of boiling chewing gum or something equally ridiculous and likely to be fatal.
Bastardo, somehow, struck out Norris, with my phone practically levitating as Howie Rose bellowed out the news. That was still bad, but Batman had worked his hands a smidgen loose and maybe, just maybe, Robin could reach his utility belt if he kicked and wriggled enough.
Melvin Upton Jr., nee B.J., took Norris’s place … and popped up, with the ball apparently going into orbit. Seriously, it took forever: we had time for nervous glances and a snatch of conversation while Howie assured us that the ball was up there above Petco Park. Sometime later on Mother’s Day it plopped into Lucas Duda‘s glove and somehow there were two out.
Now Batman and Robin were free of the pulley but still tied back to back and henchmen had rushed into the room. BAM! SOCK! POW! This was better than before, but third outs can be elusive. Standing at the plate was Alexei Ramirez, recently a White Sock and therefore a relatively unknown quantity … which meant he was the opponent that scares you the most in such a scenario, the henchman waiting in the shadows with a vase to crack over a bat-cowled cranium. Bastardo flung fastball after fastball his way, with Howie’s voice rising as each one arrived — it was a half-inning to remind you how good the man is — until Ramirez swung at one too high to reach and the Mets had come through unscathed.
We got to the restaurant and waited contentedly through a slight delay while Jeurys Familia went to work, with the last ball an excruciating-sounding grounder sent to third by Jose Pirela while Jay gathered his demon servants in the on-deck circle. Eric Campbell intercepted the ball — not always a given — and flung it to Duda, and the Mets had not only won but also ascended into first place.
Matt Harvey getting swings and misses! Antonio Bastardo saving himself and everybody else! Eric Campbell flashing leather! First place! We grinned and slapped hands and got called for our table and went in to celebrate, pleased with the day and our team and ourselves. As we sat down, I smiled to remember something Ralph Kiner may or may not have once said over the air, a greeting that on this day made perfect sense: “To all you moms out there, happy birthday.”
“It has happened! In their fifty-first season, Johan Santana has thrown the first no-hitter in New York Mets history!” —Gary Cohen, SNY, June 1, 2012
“And what’s left of a never-got-one nature to ache for anyway? Put aside a World Series championship even if you’ve never seen one before, because the Mets have two of those. They have cycles, triple plays, a 6-for-6 night, 10 consecutive strikeouts, a batting title and now a no-hitter. What is left hanging out there on the vine that can be attained on the field? An MVP has to be voted on, so that’s not it. A perfect game would be something, but that’s like waiting for the clouds to rain candy. Not everybody has one of those, so it’s not as if the Mets are being left out. Ditto for a four-homer performance. We’ll love if it happens, but it’s rare enough to advise against holding breath for. The phrase “the end of history” was thrown around a bit as the Cold War faded, but history just kept on coming. We no longer have our one glaring quest to intermittently preoccupy us, but I’m sure a singular outcome we hadn’t anticipated anticipating will take the place of the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History.” —Greg Prince, Faith and Fear in Flushing, June 3, 2012
Here’s the thing about things you’re sure you’ve never seen before and that you swear you’ll never forget: You’ve almost certainly seen something like them before — and sometimes you forget them.
But don’t let that stop you from believing what you are seeing is unprecedented and that it will stay with you into eternity, especially when you see something like this embedded toward the bottom of an otherwise random box score:
HR: Cespedes (10, 1st inning off Shields 1 on, 2 Out); Colon (1, 2nd inning off Shields 1 on, 2 Out); Wright (4, 9th inning off Villanueva 0 on, 1 Out); Conforto (5, 9th inning off Villanueva 0 on, 1 Out)
You know how to read the agate. You understand, for example, that the 10 immediately inside the parentheses that follows Yoenis Cespedes’s name indicates he hit his 10th home run of the current season. Likewise, David Wright cranked out his 4th and Michael Conforto his 6th. The Mets scored six runs overall in their 6-3 victory over the Padres in San Diego Saturday night and, as has been their wont to date this year, they drove in all their runs via the circuit clout. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Likewise, you’ve seen Cespedes, Wright and Conforto go deep multiple times as Mets. Their work on this front Saturday was highly gratifying, but hardly without precedent.
But the other HR in that statistical accounting, the one with the “1,” as in 1st home run of this year or — and you knew this, too — any year…you never saw that before.
Surely something like it in some way, but no exact match. It is to professional baseball’s credit, as it approaches its 150th anniversary as a going enterprise, that the sport can continue to generate vignettes laced with profound singularity yet simultaneously evoke, evoke and evoke some more things we’ve experienced before. It’s simply stunning how acres of the mundane will be spiced with dashes of magnificence when you’re in no way expecting it.
And it was hyperappropriate that this particular episode of That’s Incredible! unfolded in the second inning, before the ballgame was official. How could it have been an official ballgame when it was indisputably a sequence of events imagined simultaneously within the minds of a million Mets fans?
“Colon looking for his first hit of the year. HE DRIVES ONE…DEEP LEFT FIELD…BACK GOES UPTON…BACK NEAR THE WALL…IT’S OUTTA HERE!!! BARTOLO HAS DONE IT! THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS HAPPENED! The team vacates the dugout as Bartolo takes the long trot. His first career home run! And there’ll be nobody in the dugout to greet him. This is one of the great moments in the history of baseball, Bartolo Colon has gone deep.” —Gary Cohen, SNY, May 7, 2016
Colon (1). You never saw that before. Yet you have been party to enough interludes akin to it so as to recognize why Colon (1) surpasses Anybody Else (1). You wouldn’t be so quick to concur with Cohen regarding its greatness if you hadn’t. And you wouldn’t love it so much if you couldn’t comprehend how extraordinary it was.
How extraordinary? Aside from a man of nearly 43 years and shall we say unorthodox physical dimensions swinging his bat, maintaining his helmet’s place upon his head, making solid contact and shooting a ball over a fence fair for the first time in a career that stretches back far enough so that it encompasses facing Eddie Murray and playing alongside Kevin Mitchell? Those, by the by, were the designated hitters in Bartolo Colon’s first major league game, April 4, 1997.
The designated hitter, for anyone digging this up through an archaeological search in the distant future, was an “innovation” that turned fully and completely obsolete on May 7, 2016, when Bartolo Colon batted and homered for himself.
“Julio Franco doesn’t intend to slow down any time soon. Franco became the oldest player in major league history to hit a home run when he connected for a two-run, pinch-hit shot in the eighth inning Thursday night to help the New York Mets rally for a 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres.” —Associated Press, ESPN.com, April 21, 2006
Longevity is an irresistible hook. Julio Franco, in his season-and-a-half as a Met (a tenure that commenced nine years after he was the starting second baseman behind Colon in his Cleveland debut), seemed to give us another “he’s been around so long…” angle every time he stepped on the field. That Oldest Player to Homer mark, forged when Franco was 47, was set at the very same Petco Park at which Colon became the Oldest Player to Homer for the First Time. Yet when you’ve soaked in San Diego at all hours the last three nights, have you eyeballed the joint and thought immediately, “This is where Julio Franco did something good for the Mets”?
I didn’t think so. Some of the great moments in the history of baseball slip away. It’s nice when they resurface, however. There are no guarantees, given human bandwidth and the onrush of time, but you’ll probably never forget what Colon did Saturday night, and not because he set an age-related record. You’ll retain it because he’s Colon, because of the impression he’s made in three seasons as a Met, mostly as a pitcher, sometimes as a character, previously as the worst hitter you’d ever witnessed, now because someone who could barely stand straight at the plate has crossed it upon taking James Shields deep.
Just to be on the safe side, maybe we should petition the Padres to change the name of their facility. The Bartolo Grounds has a nice ring to it.
Shields, for what it’s worth, offered no comment on his role in the heretofore unthinkable. Colon, who doesn’t say much for public consumption, patiently and warmly answered questions through an interpreter, on what he did to Shields. Big Sexy outdid Big Game James even after defeating him.
“The manager of the New York Mets watched his tired team score four runs in the top of the 19th inning to beat the Dodgers 7-3 in a game that started at 8:03 Thursday night and ended at 1:45 a.m. Friday. That’s Pacific Daylight Time. On EDT, the game was over at 4:45 a.m. Berra used 21 players while Walter Alston employed 18 in the longest home game in Los Angeles Dodger history. There were 40 hits — 22 for the Mets — nine double plays, seven errors and 40 men left on base. The Dodgers stranded 22, one short of the National League record.” —Wire service report, St. Petersburg Times, May 26, 1973
Yogi Berra was never at a loss for memorable words, not even when he should have been sound asleep. That was not an option in the early hours of May 25, 1973, when the Mets took their sweet time vanquishing the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The franchise that distinguished itself for playing and losing some of the longest games in baseball history finally won one that went all night. Until 2010’s 20-inning marathon, the game that began on May 24, 1973, remained unsurpassed in length among extended Met victories.
Said Berra when it was all over (which was truly when it was all over), “The bus leaves in an hour — I mean the one back to Dodger Stadium tomorrow night. Oops, make that tonight.” Whether that counts as a Yogiism or a groggyism can be left to interpretation. What stand as certainties 42 years, 11 months and 2 weeks later are:
1) On the same date the Mets commenced at Chavez Ravine what would eventually become their longest win to date, Bartolo Colon was born in Altamira, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
2) In the late-night West Coast game Baby Bart’s future team played on that date, Tom Seaver singled to lead off the third inning and Tug McGraw (later a teammate of Julio Franco, for goodness sake) singled in the tenth. For that matter, Yogi used Jon Matlack as a pinch-runner just sixteen days after Jon took a line drive to his head.
The year Bartolo Colon was born was also the year the American League inaugurated the DH. The Mets didn’t need it then and they don’t need it now.
Not in the box score that night/morning from Southern California: Willie Mays. Willie, 42 years and 18 days old at the time, was on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. But he’d be back in June, an active 1973 Met within the lifetime of Bartolo Colon, perhaps the most active 2016 Met going.
“But if the cheers were lusty for Rusty, they were wild for Willie when he won the 5-4 game against his former Giant teammates with a fifth-inning solo homer that broke a 4-4 tie. It’s a good thing Shea Stadium is made of steel and concrete, or the 35,505 rain-soaked fans on hand would have ripped the place apart with their enthusiasm.” —Jack Lang, The Sporting News, May 27, 1972
Willie was also a 1972 Met. His first appearance in orange and blue, which itself was as shocking and exhilarating as Bartolo Colon’s first major league home run, came against his old club, the one that had been New York’s National League representative until it bolted for San Francisco. That Mays would homer versus the Giants, and that, when added to Rusty Staub’s earlier grand slam, it would stand up as the winning run on May 14, 1972, made it — when you consider drama and joy for drama and joy’s sake and don’t get hung up on walkoffs or pennant races — one of the handful of most dramatic and joyous home runs any Met had ever hit.
Sort of like Bartolo’s, which left Petco Park one week shy of 44 years after Willie’s left Shea, and one day after Willie turned 85 years old, or not quite twice the age Bartolo is at present.
“Plawecki at second, two out, two-nothing New York in the second. The one-one…SWING AND A DRIVE TO DEEP LEFT FIELD, IT’S GOT A CHANCE, UPTON GOIN’ BACK, IT’S GONNA GO! HOME RUN! BARTOLO COLON!! Repeating: Home run Bartolo Colon! Seven Line Army in right field might tear this ballpark down. Colon carried his bat with him until he was about ten feet from first base, he’s taking the slowest home run trot you’ve ever seen. He is approaching home plate, he touches home plate with his first major league home run, and they are gonna give him the silent treatment in the dugout. They have vacated. The Mets have left the building. Bartolo Colon is the loneliest man in San Diego as he reaches the Mets dugout and there’s nobody there to greet him. And now here they come up the dugout steps. Wow!” —Howie Rose, WOR, May 7, 2016
Ballparks were in danger of being deconstructed from within in Willie’s day, per Jack Lang, and can still teeter on the figurative eve of destruction, according to Rose. It was serendipity that the 7 Line Army scheduled an away game in San Diego on Saturday, allowing 1,400 Mets fans an up-close view of the no-longer unfathomable three time zones from Citi Field. As for why the players the Army roots home didn’t want to see Bartolo when he arrived in the dugout a conquering hero, that’s shtick. It’s a variation on the ironically cold shoulder. I’ve never really gotten why it’s hilarious.
But all agree it is.
“Where’s the rest of the car wash? Did they close for the season?” —Gary Cohen, SNY, September 28, 2014
Remember the car wash? It was in operation not that long ago, a 2010s touchstone not wholly unlike the one Skyler White insisted Walter buy on Breaking Bad to launder meth money. Curtis Granderson instigated it. A Met would homer — not quite the common occurrence in 2014 that it’s become lately — and everybody on the bench would grab a towel and give the slugger something akin to a wash, wax and dry. It was cleaner than the one the Whites ran (Lenny Dykstra’s, too). It was also one of those gestures that was a hoot for no obvious reason. To paraphrase Red from the eminently quotable Shawshank Redemption, baseball time is slow time, so you do what you can to keep going. Some fellas ignore their teammates after milestone home runs, others create bizarre rituals.
In the case of Lucas Duda blasting his 30th home run on the last day of the season two years ago, circumstances combined the two. Duda entered the Met dugout only to find everybody vanished. So being Lucas, he jogged through the car wash he knew so well and then back again, even if there were no attendants and no towels…until, as happened on Bart’s behalf in San Diego, everybody emerged from hiding to embrace him.
It was adorable to see at Citi Field with Duda, it was something else to see again at Petco Park for Colon.
“Bartolo rounding the bases was the most exciting two minutes in sports today.” —@Bill_Veeck, Twitter, May 7, 2016
Nyquist was the winner of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, the 142nd running of the Run for the Roses, clocking in at 2 minutes and 1.31 seconds, the fastest winning time in the race in 13 years. Colon — who almost incidentally won his third game of 2016 with 6⅔ innings of three-run ball (aided ably by Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia) — took a shade under 31 seconds to round the bases in San Diego. Since baseball mostly operates independent of clocks, how long it takes to go from home to home when nobody’s trying to throw you out isn’t usually noted. The unwritten rule is, essentially, don’t dawdle, don’t show up the opposing pitcher and act like you’ve been there before.
Which, as every child in Sunday school must know by now, Bartolo had never been.
“Here’s another look at that skyrocket, a towering drive that went out at about the 370 sign, and he knew it immediately. It’ll take him about 20 minutes to go around the basepath.” —Vin Scully, NBC, October 27, 1986
Darryl Strawberry hit the final home run of the 1986 World Series. It could be inferred by every move he’d make, every breath he’d take that he’d released a ton of frustration upon whacking Al Nipper’s ill-conceived delivery halfway to Douglaston. He’d been frustrated with the mocking his defense inspired at Fenway in Game Five. He’d been frustrated that he’d been removed from all-or-nothing Game Six. He’d been frustrated that he hadn’t homered until the eighth inning of Game Seven. Scully let it be known, not so subtly, that he didn’t approve of how much Darryl — author of to that point 108 regular-season and two NLCS home runs — was going to enjoy the post-frustration ride. Nor crazy about Straw’s slow time was Joe Garagiola, who observed, “Oh, he really took his time.”
Darryl, you see, had been there before. He’d be there again. But could anybody, even Big Game James, begrudge Bartolo his tour? These were bases he’d barely visited, other than in his dreams. He’d been to bat 246 times across 19 seasons and had scored all of 6 runs. Was Bart absolutely sure prior to visiting it on Saturday where they kept third base?
“In a team meeting earlier this season, Valentine mentioned the 1973 Mets, who won their division despite being in last place as late as August. Asked if miracles could happen, he replied, ‘One happened tonight. Al got a triple.’” —Ken Davidoff, Newsday, August 31, 2001
Al Leiter, who spent a longer hitch than Colon in the National League, scored 15 runs in his otherwise offensively inept career. His lifetime slash line of .085/.142/.102, compiled in 613 plate appearances, is a reasonable comp for what Bart has done, home run included: .092/.099/.114. Al did somehow cajole 35 walks from his opposite numbers (whereas Bart has zero) and, most striking of all to me, as one who saw it from the Mezzanine, he tripled once. He tripled and he scored, all in the same inning.
For all the good-natured grief heaped on Colon for his crummy batting since becoming a Met in 2014, Leiter has stayed my standard for godawful-hitting pitchers. We often hear what a beast Colon can be in BP, how diligently he’s endeavored to improve his performance, that he did launch a Strawberryesque skyrocket when almost nobody was looking in Spring Training this year, that he’s not nearly the unathletic specimen he is made out to be. He may not be mistaken for Willie Mays in his Coogan’s Bluff days, but reliable sources continually report Colon’s buff.
Nobody ever said these things about Al Leiter. Al Leiter was allergic to lumber. Al Leiter wasn’t an entertaining strikeout victim. He was just a victim. Yet Al Leiter tripled. It took Preston Wilson falling down to make it happen, but it did. It seemed every bit as impossible as Colon homering. It was unforgettable if you remember it.
Even if probably not too many do fifteen years later.
“Ramon Castro’s blast off Ugueth Urbina will surely stand the test of time as a touchstone in Mets history. It was a game-, season and life-altering event. Unless we lose the next two.” —Greg Prince, Faith and Fear in Flushing, August 31, 2005
It helps to flirt with outsize circumstances when you’re doing something that couldn’t possibly be forgotten, lest it fade almost entirely from memory. Among the many Mets and Met moments that zipped through my mind as Colon rounded the bases (and there was plenty of time to think of them) was Ramon Castro socking a home run over the Shea Stadium wall in the heat of a playoff chase. The Mets and Phillies were both going for the Wild Card in 2005, engaging in the first somewhat serious series at Shea since 2001. Castro, who leaned a little on the Colonian side in appearance — “our pudgy-cheeked Juggernaut of Clutch” and “Round Mound of Pound,” Jason delighted in describing him — made all the difference in that three-game set’s opener. The Mets moved to within a half-game of legitimacy. We were all weaving narratives all at once declaring how crucial the Castro Home Run was going to be when the story of the 2005 Mets was told.
Except the story of the 2005 Mets isn’t much told because the 2005 Mets lost the next two and plunged from contention in early September. Castro’s was a big home run that August 30, but it takes an aficionado to recognize it now. Sometimes a home run that makes the announcer go “Wow!” transcends its moment. More often, though, it is archived and warehoused and left for an obsessive sliver of the viewing audience to bring up years later. Surely it helps if the slugger in question is transcendent. Willie Mays hit his for a team was in first place in May, yet ultimately didn’t win anything in 1972…but he’s Willie Mays. Otherwise it helps if the home run is hit in service to an overwhelmingly successful cause.
Bartolo Colon is Bartolo Colon, who has both the power to go yard and the power to evoke. I wonder how that will hold up down the road. As for the 2016 Mets, they moved to within a half-game of first-place Washington Saturday night. It would have been a shame had the homer flown to left in a loss.
“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.” —Red Smith, New York Herald Tribune, October 4, 1951
The impossible did happen. Red Smith called it once, and Gary Cohen confirmed its recurrence. Bartolo Colon hit a home run. It was a midseason shot heard ’round the world for our times, one marveled at ad infinitum on devices barely bigger than the ball Bobby Thomson sent soaring into legend with 20-year-old Willie Mays on deck. We saw it, we heard it, we emoted and emojied it and we relish reliving it the day after because it was just that inexpressibly fantastic.
Now let’s never forget it. It’s too good not to be remembered.
If you’re ever in San Diego, definitely take in a game at Petco Park. I’ve been a couple of times, and it’s an underrated stadium. Petco has good food (the fish tacos in particular); some winning departures from the standard New Ballpark sample book, such as the white and buff colors and hanging gardens; the grassy hill beyond the outfield fences is a fun addition that doesn’t try too hard; and the park is unmistakably part of the surrounding cityscape instead of faking it the way Citi Field does.
Just don’t go when the Mets are in town.
The Mets are not actually 0-42 at Petco Park, though it certainly feels that way. Still, 14-28 is bad enough. And somehow every game here feels the same, at least to those of us back home with toothpicks separating our eyelids:
The game begins at some absurd hour even by West Coast standards. I don’t know why 10:30 feels so much worse than 10:10, but it does. If this start time isn’t outlawed by the Geneva Conventions already, a revision is in order.
The Mets trudge around like they’ve just arrived on a plane that was marooned on the tarmac until the toilets began leaking no-longer-entirely-blue liquid and the passengers began threatening to riot.
The Mets either do absolutely nothing or do a lot of somethings that amount to nothing, leaving you in an angry debate with yourself about which is worse.
No matter what the score is or how speedy the action, the game feels like it’s been going on for five hours and the Padres actually have six or seven times as many runs as the scoreboard indicates.
With the Mets behind late, you find yourself secretly hoping they go quietly instead of tying it up, because the prospect of more of this kind of baseball makes you want to curl into a ball and sob.
Dodger Stadium never feels this way even if the Mets are getting pounded. Whatever the Giants’ park is called now never feels this way even if terrible things are happening. Petco always feels like this, even if things are going well. Except two-thirds of the time they’re not.
Honestly, the above should suffice, but I’ll honor the grisly historical record by at least feinting in the direction of specifics.
Noah Syndergaard wasn’t bad by any means, though due to the Petco Effect it somehow felt like he gave up six or seven runs in 2 1/3.
The Mets seemed morally opposed to getting a hit for the second befuddling night in a row, with added sting coming from watching them once again drive a handful of balls at decent velocity directly into Padre gloves.
One attempt at a Met comeback was short-circuited when Tim Teufel sent Asdrubal Cabrera homeward on a rather perilous play. Let’s give Teufel the benefit of the doubt since a good 80% of us were equally desperate for something to happen, but Cabrera was nabbed rather easily at the plate.
And yes, he was nabbed. I know there was a brief kerfuffle over whether Derek Norris dropped the ball very late in the play or in the transfer, but I honestly didn’t care about that or whether or not Cabrera touched the plate, should have touched the plate, should touch the plate next time, or should do some vaguely defined something differently in some head-spinning future perfect subjunctive.
I’m not against replay, but it still needs some calibration: it should exist for getting boundary calls right and eliminating gross injustices, and not for subjecting routine plays to nitpicky NFL bullshit. Cabrera would have been out when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were taking on local nines before a crowd of still-youngish Civil War veterans; he would have out when crowds were encouraged to buy war bonds and plant victory gardens; he would have been out the first time the Padres dressed like psychedelic tacos; and he was out last night.
The Mets mounted another attempted rally in the ninth and actually had a chance when Fernando Rodney threw a narcoleptic change-up to Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes missed it. It happens. Rodney then found his feel for the pitch and used a steady diet of them to dispatch Cabrera and last hope Alejandro De Aza.
And so the Mets vanished into the night and we vanished into our beds, plagued by the disquieting thought that this series is only half over. Meaning that we have 10 more hours and 36 or 37 enemy runs yet to endure.
Every paean to the beauty of baseball dies somewhere above the vast acreage of the Petco Park outfield, not unlike the fate that awaited every fly ball the Mets hit from the first until the seventh inning Thursday night. Unkind dimensions, marine layer, jet lag, Met lag, not to mention shifts up the wazoo and the starter who wasn’t ours pitching like our starter was supposed to pitch…it was San Diego after dark, and that’s never beautiful.
But it was late. That’s the key. That’s what makes the whole package brutal. To watch the first game of a West Coast trip, we adjust our internal clocks and struggle against the external ones. It was a losing battle all around, especially aesthetically. It almost always is when we commence these California journeys in San (yawn) Diego.
The Mets lost, 5-3, unless you consider it a moral victory that they were not no-hit when such an outcome appeared a distinct possibility. In that case, count the Mets a winner; your standings must be a sight to behold. The final score reflects a brief scare put into Padre hearts in the ninth — Curtis Granderson solo homer, Yoenis Cespedes two-run shot — but, really, this was over not long after 10 o’clock Eastern.
Jacob deGrom slogged through five innings, surrendering eight hits, a walk and three runs. It was a little reminiscent of how he began the last game he started in the Golden State, which was only Game Five of the NLDS. Jake didn’t look swell from jump that night, but he hung in like nobody’s business, fended off the Dodgers for six and handed the ball to Noah Syndergaard with a precarious 3-2 lead that Thor and Jeurys Familia kept intact and shipped home for a date with the Cubs.
Now that was beautiful. This wasn’t. This was deGrom groping for answers most the 86 pitches he was active. He said afterwards he thinks he detected a flaw in his delivery, and if he has and he can correct it, well, we’ll all let our hair down in Jacobian style. As with Matt Harvey the other night, this performance can be categorized, if you squint hard, as a top-notch starter lacking good stuff keeping his team in the game to no avail, given that his offense supported him not at all.
That’s a mighty tight squint right there, but it was just one game. It was almost the one game of a lifetime for Colin Rea and the Padres franchise, however, as the 25-year-old righty I like to call “who?” carried San Diego’s potential first no-hitter twenty outs deep. By the time Yo broke it up with a shift-shattering single in the seventh, the Pads were up by five and a Mets fan really had to convince himself that the deficit wasn’t insurmountable. Otherwise, as long as we were staying awake and the Mets were going nowhere, maybe witnessing somebody else’s history wouldn’t be such a bad show. Cespedes saved us from absorbing that indignity and no-hitter maven Dirk Lammers from having to revise an already published manuscript.
Rea — throwing to Lucifer in the flesh Derek Norris (8-for-8 versus us since That Day In The Rain) — was better than deGrom and better than anybody who batted against him, but, at the risk of being a sleepy, sore loser, he wasn’t as unhittable as the box score through 6⅔ IP would indicate. Grandy was robbed right down to his freshly self-laundered socks by juggling Jon Jay in center in the third and a Lucas Duda grounder was gobbled up by third baseman Brett Wallace when he was stationed to the right of second in the fifth. The Mets were at least as luckless as they were clueless en route to almost going hitless and definitely winding up winless.
You can deduct all the style points you like, but it doesn’t change anything on the scoreboard. Props to Rea for taking a shutout into the ninth, however he arrived there. But kiddo, when you get pulled after coming relatively close to what no pitcher on your team had ever done, and you’re walking back to your dugout, tip your cap to the fans standing and applauding. Don’t they teach this stuff anymore? Or does the lack of experience starters in this century have at concluding what they have begun — 104 professional starts for Rea, zero complete games — make learning such niceties superfluous?
It’s something to think about until midnight tonight, or whenever the next game on this already stupid trip gets underway.
OTHER THINGS TO OCCUPY YOUR TIME WHILE YOU WAIT AND WAIT FOR FIRST PITCH FROM SAN (YAWN) DIEGO:
• Order a lovingly personalized and signed copy of Amazin’ Again, my book on the 2015 Mets that includes a chapter on That Day In The Rain and several more on all the good things that mysteriously followed.
• Listen to a riveting Mets conversation between me and host J.B. on The Happy Recap Radio Show. Tune in for the blatant promotion, stay for the dozens of digressions (including first word on my next book).
Some Mets fans find Matt Harvey too chilly and self-involved to embrace wholeheartedly. But maybe they’d feel more charitable if they considered Tuesday and Wednesday’s games together.
On Tuesday Harvey wasn’t great — the velocity was missing and the mechanics were uncertain, as they’ve been for three confounding months. But the Mets also did nothing to support him at the plate. Even on this blog it shouldn’t be all about us — Matt Wisler was really good, an early warning that the Braves will emerge from their teardown/flight to suburbia to threaten anew — but Harvey’s been through this before.
Late last June, Harvey pitched six innings and allowed just a single earned run against the Reds in a rain-suspended game. The Mets got the win the next day, but Harvey did not — and ESPN New York noted it was the 14th time in 51 career games that Harvey had allowed no more than one run in six innings or more but been denied a W. That was the worst such luck in the last century, but amazingly, Harvey’s luck actually got worse: he started 14 more games in 2015 and suffered that fate again in four of them. And that’s not even counting a five-inning start in which he held the Yankees to one hit and wound up with nothing but a pat on the back.
Run support? The Mets scored a skinny 2.3 runs a game for Harvey in 2012 and 3.65 a game for him in 2013, making him 64th in MLB in the latter season. In 2015 Harvey enjoyed the best run support of his career — 4.41 per game, good for 26th in MLB and second on the Mets behind inveterate whiner Jon Niese. But this year Harvey’s back down to 3.50 runs per game, tied for 73rd among starters.
Perhaps his oft-cited 27-22 career record is more forgivable now?
Steven Matz, on the other hand, knows about runs. He rather famously drove in four of them in his debut — the same debut that was delayed while the Mets finished up the suspended contest in which they’d given Harvey rather minimal help. That’s certainly one way to ensure decent run support, but Matz’s teammates have generally done their part. In 2015 the Mets scored 5.67 runs a game for their newly arrived hurler; this year they’ve upped that to 6.00, leaving Matz sharing the fifth-best such mark with … Jon Niese.
(Niese, by the way, has thanked his new teammates by posting a 5.94 ERA. I’m no whiz at sabermetrics, but I believe that’s statistical proof he’s a dick.)
Anyway, on Tuesday there was a whole lot of Matt Wisler, not enough of Matt Harvey and absolutely zero from the Mets. They looked chilled and frustrated, making Mets fan wonder if a matinee the next day was such a good idea. So of course Matz took the mound in a frigid drizzle and the Mets went out and clobbered Jhoulys Chacin like it was an August night, hitting a trio of two-run homers (Rene Rivera, driving in Wilmer Flores; Asdrubal Cabrera, bringing home Curtis Granderson; and Lucas Duda, piggybacking Yoenis Cespedes) and then following that with a Duda solo shot and a Flores run-scoring double. Eight runs in Matz’s column, which was eight more than Harvey got and a lot more than Matz needed. He allowed hits to Chacin and Erick Aybar, hit Freddie Freeman, and that was it. Every other Brave wound up walking back to the dugout in bafflement.
I don’t have a conclusion about any of this except that baseball is random and weird, sometimes in cruel ways. And hey, Matz probably feels like the baseball gods owe him a couple after forcing him to begin his pro career with two years of rehab. Matz might have become an answer to a trivia question, the local boy who was shot from the sky a second after launch; instead he’s traded that cruel beginning for a grandpa who’s become a meme, a share of pennant money and a bright future. And run support. That always helps too.
Tuesday was Harvey Day, though you could have been excused for identifying it as simply Tuesday. Matt Harvey, as has been the case most of his six starts this season, pitched well enough to not lose had he been facing the 2016-to-date version of himself. Unfortunately, he was up against Matt Wisler, and Wisler’s been a mother throughout his brief career against the Mets, never more so than Tuesday, when he one-hit them over eight innings.
Our Matt will have his Day again, but it’s a tough find on the calendar at present. Breaking stuff lacks bite. Velocity is off. Trademark poise of yore goes missing in tight spots. Good thing calendars have pages that turn.
Dan Warthen hasn’t yet produced an answer for Matt’s trending 2-4, 4.76 woes. Warthen’s an expert, and if he doesn’t seriously know, then I don’t seriously know. But that won’t stop me from offering a cartoon solution that I’m sure you’ll agree will be of no help at all.
Or it might be exactly what turns him around.
Perhaps instead of treating Harvey as the Dark Knight, we need to look at him as Popeye (who is underrated as superheroes go). When Popeye was in trouble, what did he turn to? Spinach. A couple of cans down the gullet when his back was against the wall, and next thing you knew, the ol’ salt’s biceps were shaped like battleships, his fists were suddenly anvils and nobody (not Bluto, not Brutus, not Freddie Freaking Freeman) stood a chance of besting him.
As much as we know about Matt, including his bathroom habits, it is not on record how he reacts to spinach. Yet according to extensive research — mainly rereading this Men’s Journalprofile from 2013 a few minutes ago — his most dominant period of pitching coincided with his most public enjoyment of potent potables. Matt himself revealed a familial fondness for “dirty martinis and music […] we get the booze going, and the music starts playing.” If that was his training method, it paid off, because right around that time he started the All-Star Game. Talk about your sweet music! Then he condemned the story, not long after which he was diagnosed with a bad elbow.
Perhaps if he hadn’t turned so shy about how he liked to bend it (responsibly and with moderation, of course), it would have been fine.
Harvey has spent the past couple of years convincing us how committed he is to his craft. In the postgame scrum last night, he reiterated how hard he’s been working and how hard he’s going to keep working. Nelson Figueroa observed that the pressure may be getting to Matt, because it sounded as if he’s become someone who, instead of playing ball, is working ball, and that, SNY’s analyst indicated, can be counterproductive.
So let’s make baseball fun again for Matt Harvey. Next time he finds himself down three runs in the sixth, Erick Aybar on second, Mallex Smith on first, his pitch count busting into triple digits, his skipper skedaddling from the dugout to remove him in favor of Hansel Robles, instead of giving him the hook, give him what he really needs. Send Olive Oyl (or whichever high-fashion model is currently the apple of his eye) to the mound with a bottle of Absolut in one hand and a bottle of vermouth in the other, outfit Kevin Plawecki’s chest protector with a chilled cocktail shaker and…well, if the same principle rescued Popeye, imagine what it could do for Batman.
Or Harvey could just watch some tape, confer with Warthen, adjust his mechanics and try his best his next time through the rotation. That might do the trick, too. I honestly have no idea.