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

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

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

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Firsts and Stills

No matter how many ballgames you go to, it is often mentioned, you’ll see something you haven’t seen before. Sure enough, I experienced a plethora of firsts on Tuesday night, which was by no means my first ballgame.

Let’s see what I saw that I hadn’t seen previously…

• The pat-you-down security guy hassling me about my open bottle of water. Usually you’re free and clear once the search-your-bag security guy misses it, but I was probably a little cocky in my handling of it between their respective stations, or at least didn’t show my usual paranoia that Citi Field’s entire security theater apparatus isn’t designed to deprive me of between four and eight ounces of undrunk packaged hydro. Tuesday it was. Mouths attached to fingers on buttons make fast and loose with comments about fire and fury, but it’s my water that’s gonna kill us all. Sure.

• The gravy not ready at Mama’s of Corona in the World’s Fare Market. The Turkey and Mozzarella with gravy and mushrooms is the essence of Citi Field dependability, yet one of the components was not prepared for my rendezvous with it. I’d say, “go figure,” but I don’t even know how to calculate the chances Mama’s would make me wait. Or make anybody wait. Was a network stooge not giving Mama’s gravy the go-ahead? Everybody who came after me was struck with the same befuddlement. The gravy isn’t ready? But the gravy’s always ready! Befuddled is one thing, but If you’ve remained loyal to Mama’s since Shea (when she and fellow World’s Fare stalwart Daruma of Great Neck were basically all you could count on), you don’t betray the local instinct for impatience. You wait a couple of minutes for Mama’s to finish the gravy. She’s worth it.

• Chris Flexen. I saw him on TV, but never in person, never for The Log II purposes. Now he has been inked and penciled in — Flexen (ink) 1 (pencil) — and he’s on the same line as the W 5-4 indicating the Mets’ victory Tuesday night. The kid from Binghamton bent but didn’t break, carrying that ethic clear into the sixth inning, or four innings further than I assumed he would. Remake my assumptions, Chris. If I can wait for gravy, I can wait for you.

• The ball flying OUTTA THERE as if air traffic control at LaGuardia was giving multiple thumbs-up. Three Met homers (including the first for Travis d’Arnaud at home this year), three for the Rangers (including one from presumptive future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, whose recent ascension to the 3,000-hit club I meant to honor with a round of first at-bat applause, but I forgot to). Nine runs scored total, eight of them on round-trippers. We’ve come a long way since the daunting dimensions of 2009, haven’t we?

• Amed Rosario. It wasn’t the savior’s first Flushing appearance, but it was mine with him in my Citi Field of vision. He was the only Met infielder playing his actual position. He played it noticeably well, catching my attention once on a slick double play, once scooping up a grounder on the grass. A sprint down the line that didn’t amount to anything made for a few fun seconds as well. Mostly I liked looking down during a pitching change and watching ROSARIO 1 loitering behind the mound like a big leaguer, clearly belonging amid his environs.

• ROSARIO 1 on the back of a t-shirt. There were probably several of those in the house, but I spotted just one (or 1) in the stands so far. Also caught sight of a CHURCH 19 in the same section. I’m gonna go out on a limb and project that the ROSARIO 1 to CHURCH 19 ratio will never again be so even in any portion of Citi Field ever again.

• Neil Walker starting at first base. The Mets don’t have a first baseman since they sent Lucas Duda away, so everybody’s getting a little more versatile. Neil had never started at first in the majors, not for Pittsburgh (where he’s from), not for New York, not anywhere. The only thing I noticed — and it had to be pointed out to me — that when Neil finished the ritual pre-inning round of catch with his third baseman (Asdrubal Cabrera, not a third baseman), his shortstop (Rosario) and his second baseman (Jose Reyes, not a second baseman), he turned to toss the ball to the fans behind the Mets dugout. Except the new almost-invisible netting shields the fans from such projectiles, so all that happens is the ball hits the net and rolls down into the dugout. Was Neil taunting the fans? Or is the netting so invisible that he just doesn’t know where the ball is going? He’s new to first, so who knows? When a double-switch ensued and Wilmer Flores (not a first baseman) came into play first, Wilmer did the same thing, so there must be an extra layer of ritual I need explained to me.

• Cabrera not exactly stealing third base. Asdrubal’s idea seemed interesting when it materialized in the seventh. There was a shift on, so the bag was basically uncovered, so Asdrubal, having recently doubled, took off, while Jay Bruce batted. Beltre pivoted back into position, received the throw from catcher Robinson Chirinos, caught up to Cabrera, tagged him out and got him again when Asdrubal overslid the bag by many, many feet. Since Cabrera had just doubled home what proved to be the all-important insurance run, we’ll overlook what we saw. But yeesh.

• AJ Ramos getting a save for the Mets. His first for us anywhere. He gave up a home run to make it seem less than worth noting, but they keep track of such things. But also yeesh.

• A win over the Rangers to inscribe in The Log II. I’d seen Texas play the Mets only once before, in 2014, when the Mets were busy dipping to eleven games below .500 for the last time that year and the last time until this year. The final wasn’t as fine then as it was this time.

• A honest-to-god postgame brawl on the Long Island Rail Road, between Woodside and Jamaica. Best as could be discerned, this was young, drunken Mets fan on young, drunken Mets fan violence, perhaps stemming from the realization that a one-run win like we all just witnessed would have been more satisfying in service to a playoff chase, thus steam simply had to be blown off. Or probably it had more to do with youth and drinking. A change at Jamaica was in order anyway.

Those were the firsts. There was also an eighth. It was Stephanie’s and my eighth annual Tuesday night in August game with Rob and Ryder Chasin, our friends of many a Citi Field summer. It was Ryder who alerted me to Walker’s and Flores’s mysterious net-flinging. He was also the one who clarified for me that I wasn’t watching Andrew Cashner give up home runs to Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and d’Arnaud. I hadn’t heard Cashner was scratched or that A.J. Griffin would be starting for the Rangers on short notice. I just thought Cashner had grown his hair really long. Ryder, whom I met when he was 13, is about to enter his senior year at Northwestern. I assume he’s majoring in being observant. He and his dad Rob (not to mention his mom Holly, texting updates from home) already have advanced degrees in thoughtfulness. They thought to make the Tuesday night in August game an annual event, one Stephanie and I still look forward to every year. This could be a better Met season. We couldn’t have asked for a better Met night.

Well, maybe I could have held on to my bottle of water, but that’s on me.

Eleven Under

Thanks to Baseball Reference, everybody’s an ace researcher today, hence data points that previously only obsessives like me were aware of become instantly disseminated fact. On Sunday night, after the Mets lost to the Dodgers — and I should have a key on my computer that will type out “the Mets lost to the Dodgers” via a single keystroke — it was widely reported that the Mets had fallen to eleven games below .500 for the first time since July 5, 2014.

In a warped way, I’d been waiting for this particular depressing shoe to drop, as I keep a list of the last junctures at which the Mets were exactly this or that many games above or below .500. The last couple of seasons had been about upward motion. As the Mets forged a winning record in 2015, they set new recent standards clear up to 22 Games Over .500 (last hit on September 27, 2015, at 89-67). This was exciting to track. Prior to 2015, the Mets hadn’t spent a day as many as 12 games over .500 since residing at Shea Stadium in 2008. 2015’s progress allowed me to delete and replace stubborn entries from 2012, 2010, 2008, even a couple from the semi-sainted year of 2006.

The 2016 season didn’t soar quite as high as 2015’s, but it made headway, providing most-recents up to 13 Games Over .500 (87-74 last October 1). I figured that once 2017 got going, it would steamroll 2016’s relatively small potatoes, take aim at 2015’s impressive margins and, should the Mets be on the roll almost universally predicted for them, make further inroads into the numbers still on the books from 2006, everything from exactly 23 Games Over .500 on August 16 to the ’06 peak of exactly 35 Games Over .500, last reached on September 13.

Ten games into 2017, the Mets climbed to 7-3, permitting the record to show the last time the Mets were 4 Games Over .500 was April 13. Child’s play for a contender like the ’17 Mets. Soon I’d be updating the listings for 5 Games Over .500 and 6 Games Over .500 and…well, you can do the math.

That is if you are up to date on subtraction. The Mets lost on April 14, meaning we had a new most recent 3 Games Over .500 at 7-4. Fine. We’ll just make up for it by winning the next game. No, actually, the Mets lost their next game, so we had a new most recent 2 Games Over .500 at 7-5. A couple more losses followed, but then a win let me type that the last time the Mets were 1 Game Over .500 was April 19, 2017 (8-7).

Enough screwing around, fellas. We have ground to make up here.

We did, except in the wrong direction. My file has been telling me for nearly the past four months that the last time the Mets were exactly 1 Game Over .500 was April 19, 2017 (8-7). It continues to tell me that. And that the last time they were At .500 was May 9, 2017 (16-16). And that that they haven’t been as few as three games under .500 since May 13 (16-19). Several times they’ve struggled to 4 Games Under .500, most recently on July 25 (47-51).

And since then, it’s been the wrong end of a thrill ride. On Saturday, the Mets matched their low-water mark for the season, replacing the 10 Games Under .500 record of 31-41 from June 22 (“achieved,” if you will, when the Mets lost to the Dodgers), with 49-59 on August 5.

Sitting directly beneath it, right where it had been lounging blissfully undisturbed for three years and a month, was 38-49, July 5, 2014. It wasn’t just a statistical notation to me. It was a reminder that you never can precisely tell when things are going to start getting better for your team. In the wake of July 5, 2014, I assumed the Mets would soon be exactly 12 Games Under .500 for the first time since September 25, 2013 (73-85) and then exactly 13 Games Under .500 for the first time since September 26, 2013 (73-86) and…well, you can do the math.

That was if you were up to date on addition. The Mets ignored my expectations and went in the preferred direction during the rest of 2014. It wasn’t a straight upward trajectory, but they revealed that they had reached a bottoming out, at least where that year was concerned. Their record for the final 75 games of ’14 was 41-34. Winning baseball. A hint, perhaps, of good things to come. We weren’t headed for 2013. We were headed for 2015 and all it would come to imply. We were on our way.

You couldn’t have known that on July 5, 2014, after the Mets lost to Texas, 5-3, at Citi Field, but we found out in a matter of days. The Mets started winning more than they lost, and we left all but the uppermost reaches of Under .500 in the dust until 2017. Now it’s all 2017 until you get to 12 Games Under .500, which I wouldn’t bet against becoming 2017’s too.

The unmourned Met campaign of 2013, sadly, is on notice. That season bottomed out at 17 Games Under .500 on September 14 (65-82; first game of a doubleheader). Everything from 18 Games Under .500 on September 13 (63-81, night half of a doubleheader) to 25 Games Under .500 on September 30 (67-92) is property of injury-riddled, karma-targeted 2009, and, based on how the Mets have looked since the middle of the San Diego series when they last touched 4 Games Under .500, almost any descent seems possible.

Beyond 2009, is 2003, from 26 Games Under .500 (63-89 on September 18) to 29 Games Under .500 (season-ending 66-95 on September 28). Then comes the dreaded year of 1993, a place that I, in every sense of the word, don’t want to go, and I doubt the 2017 Mets will visit. To brush up — or down — against as many as 30 games under .500, the Mets would have to be as ceaselessly dreadful against almost everybody as they were against the Dodgers. Thank heavens, they’re done playing the Dodgers for 2017.

Their next game is against Texas at Citi Field, just like it was when they plunged to 11 Games Under .500 on July 5, 2014. I was there that night. I’ll be there tomorrow night. I’d say I’ll do what I can to stem the downward tide, but I don’t determine these outcomes. I just keep lists of them.

Forever Paddling Upstream

As the Mets were getting underway Friday night in Flushing, I was situated well north of Citi Field, holding down half of a table at the Annual Sharon Summer Book Signing in Connecticut, a fundraiser for the grand old Hotchkiss Library, founded 124 years ago next month. The other half of the table was occupied by the author of a book about canoeing in Maine. Based on the local response to our respective works, it is my observation that Sharon, Conn., is demonstrably more of a canoeing town than it is a Piazza hotbed. It’s not like it was a contest — we and our thirty or so fellow authors and illustrators donated our time for the benefit of the library. Sell a book, help the cause of reading. We were all in this thing together.

Full disclosure compels me to report that had it been a contest, the book about canoeing would have been the Dodgers and mine would have been the Mets. We’re all glad Mike went into the Hall of Fame as a Met rather than as a Dodger…but that’s not what I mean by invoking the competitive fortunes of the contemporary Dodgers and the contemporary Mets.

I should point out that the book about canoeing is not just a book about canoeing. It’s also a book about relationships — and Henry David Thoreau. I heard my affable tablemate’s pitch repeatedly, and it was as effective a pitch as any Rich Hill delivered after the first inning Saturday. Our man Mike’s home runs traveled far, but maybe his Met legend is more of a draw in Greater Metsopotamia than it is where WOR’s signal crackles with static. Those Northwest Connecticut booklovers whose browse brought them into inadvertent contact with my offering either sternly let me know they were Red Sox fans or pardoned themselves once they realized they misread the title.

“So it’s not about pizza?”

No, sorry, not pizza. Piazza. He’s the iconic figure who arrived in New York under unlikely circumstances and transformed the fortunes of a previously downtrodden franchise. The book explores the journey they and we took together into the third millennium en route to the title character’s at last receiving the baseball immortality he earned over sixteen seasons of blood, sweat and tears, and…no, it’s not about pizza.

A book about pizza might have been a hot item, though not as hot as a book about canoeing. My signing partner and I were the Mathewson Brothers of the event. Christy Mathewson won 373 games in his illustrious big league career. Henry Mathewson’s lifetime record was 0-1. I’ll leave it to you to infer which Mathewson I was.

When my new pal wasn’t signing copies of his popular canoeing book and I wasn’t fiddling with my solidly consistent display, we talked baseball. We could have talked about canoeing, except it would have been a rather one-sided conversation. The only thing I know about canoeing (other than the people of Sharon hold an outsize fondness for it) is there used to be a cologne named for its conveyance. As a kid I thought its commercial — “Canoe Canoe?” — was quite clever. I decided against bringing it up. Also as a kid, I got whacked in the ear by a sailboat rudder in day camp, which I was going to bring up, since it’s as close to a canoe story as I have handy. But I resisted.

Baseball, even in canoeing-crazed Connecticut, is universal enough a tongue to bind two strangers for two hours. My temporary buddy has been enough of a fan through his life to speak the language. Born in Brooklyn to a Dodgers family on Opening Day of their only world championship year. Migrated over time to New England and its resident Nation, but still speaks fondly of his early Metsian exposure. Maintains an affinity for Ed Kranepool. Believes no broadcasting crew ever outdid Bob, Ralph and Lindsey. And speaks reverently of the day he went to Shea as a youngster and watched Sandy Koufax shut out the Mets. It was part of a doubleheader, he said, back when “they scheduled doubleheaders”.

People who saw Sandy Koufax pitch love to tell you they saw Sandy Koufax pitch. They can be Dodgers fans, Mets fans, Red Sox fans. Doesn’t matter. He was Sandy Koufax. I went to a game in 2013 in which the Mets played the Royals. A guy in front of me paused his running critique of Terry Collins’s strategic missteps to volunteer that he once saw Koufax pitch. Go to enough games, you see loads of starting pitchers. Go to a game started by Sandy Koufax, you never forget who you saw.

When I got home late Friday night, I looked up what my canoeing colleague remembered. He’d said 1965. Further reader-generated research indicates he may have meant 1966. For the record, the Mets did play a doubleheader versus the Dodgers at Shea on Sunday, June 13, 1965. L.A. swept. The winning pitchers were Claude Osteen in the opener and reliever Ron Perranoski in the nightcap. Koufax indeed shut out the Mets that weekend, 5-0 on five hits, but it was a single game on Saturday the 12th. However memory flows after fifty-some years, a man whose primary interest isn’t baseball can be forgiven for a touch of potential conflation. I can understand how Mets-Dodgers affairs would have blurred together in those days, seeing as how they all came out about the same.

In these days as well.

On Friday night, with me listening to the latter innings on the long Metro-North trip down the Harlem Line to Grand Central, the Mets lost to the Dodgers for the seventh consecutive time. The postgame notes the Mets communications staff compiles when the team is home revealed directly after that the Mets hadn’t lost that many games in a row to the Dodgers since 1965, during a streak that encompassed both Koufax’s June 12 gem and the doubleheader that followed. As Friday’s innings went on and on like the southbound railroad tracks, — and the necessary play-by-play only got in the way of Howie and Josh’s otherwise entertaining conversation — I thought this must be what it felt like listening to the Mets lose to the Dodgers circa 1965. There was never any hope let alone chance of the Mets winning on Friday. You didn’t need the clearest of signals to decipher precisely what was going on.

There was some hope and some chance of the Mets winning on Saturday. The Mets led 3-0 after one. Three Mets had homered with nobody on base. Seth Lugo pitched close to perfect for four innings, throwing what you might loosely call a Koufax going through five. It was still 3-0 heading to the sixth.

Soon, though, goodbye shutout, goodbye lead. It was 3-3 by the middle of the sixth; 4-3 in favor of the Dodgers come the seventh; 5-3 in the eighth; 7-3 in the ninth. A stray solo homer in the last half-inning allowed the Mets to pull within 7-4, where the score stayed until it was final. The next postgame set of notes complied by the Mets communications staff included this nugget: the Mets are now on their longest losing streak against L.A. since 1964, when they also dropped eight straight — though in those days you could work in a rain-shortened tie, which the two clubs did.

The 2017 Mets haven’t managed that much versus the Dodgers. No rain and no ties that don’t become losses. Nor did the 2016 Mets do any better the last couple of times they played the 2016 Dodgers. The Mets haven’t beaten the Dodgers since the night before David Wright felt a twinge in his neck. David was scratched, he hasn’t played since, and the Mets haven’t defeated the Dodgers since. A lead nursed for five innings while taking on a team that’s 46 games above .500 is perhaps the modern-day moral equivalent of a win. Or an official tie.

Hill, who recovered nicely after his first-inning bout of gopheritis, wasn’t Koufax on Saturday. Rich blanked the Mets over the next four but pitched only five total. Yu Darvish might as well have been Koufax on Friday based on the numbers he put up (7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 10 SO), but there’s only one Koufax. The impressionable children who’ve attended this weekend’s series and grow up to write the regionally robust canoeing books of tomorrow are most likely to regale future fleeting acquaintances with tales of Dodger power, if only because there’s been so much of it produced at the expense of Mets pitching. All seven of L.A.’s runs Saturday plated on Dodger homers. Justin Turner hit one of them. Justin Turner always hits something against the Mets. Justin Turner seemingly uses a canoe paddle rather than a baseball bat. Daniel Murphy watches Justin Turner hit against the Mets and calls Pete McCarthy to ask how the Mets could have let him get away.

There were also homers from Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager and, I have to double-check, but maybe Claude Osteen. Anybody else? Carl Crawford? Carl Furillo? Carl Erskine? Cal Worthington for Cal Worthington Ford? Hard to keep all these slugging Southern Californian types straight, seeing as how all these homers and all these losses blur together.

If you’ve been a Mets fan long enough (and you may be tempted to define any time period encompassing 2017 as “long enough”), you are likely familiar with the historical intersection of Sandy Koufax and Tug McGraw. Koufax was regularly filling the memories of young New Yorkers with his exploits against the Mets in the early and middle 1960s. His exploits weren’t limited to mastery of the Mets, but given his Brooklyn background and the general helplessness of the new team in town, Sandy’s dominance at the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium was particularly pronounced. Over the Mets at Dodger Stadium, too. The Dodger Stadium mound was thought to be taller and thus more imposing than any other. Maybe it was because Sandy Koufax stood upon it.

The first time Sandy Koufax faced the Mets, on June 30, 1962, he no-hit them and struck out thirteen. The fourteenth time Sandy Koufax faced the Mets, on August 10, 1965, he seven-hit them and struck out fourteen. Sandy’s record against the Mets over those first fourteen career starts was 13-0. The Mets snuck a no-decision in against him on July 30, 1964, though they lost that one, too (to Bob L. Miller, who lost his first twelve as a Met in 1962, proving ex-Mets wreaking revenge didn’t begin with Turner and Murphy). There seemed little reason for optimism that the Mets would do anything different to Sandy Koufax on August 26, 1965, at Shea than they’d done anywhere else anytime else. The tenth-place Mets were 31½ games behind the first-place Dodgers. Koufax was 21-5. The Mets rookie starter, McGraw, could also boast of a 21. It was his age. He had fewer major league starts to date, two, than Koufax had losses on the year. And Koufax didn’t have many losses.

Yet with all those factors lining up logically, the ensuing nine innings yielded a thoroughly illogical result: Mets 5 Dodgers 2. The winning pitcher was Tug McGraw. The losing pitcher was Sandy Koufax. The Mets had beaten Sandy Koufax. The Mets had beaten hardly anybody for four seasons. Now they had defeated the pitcher who would remain the avatar of excellence in pitching for at least the next half-century, not to mention the team that had regularly handled them, a team on its way to a world championship that fall. And they did it with a starter four days from his 22nd birthday, a starter who wouldn’t stick in the majors until he was converted into a reliever by a manager who played first base for the Dodgers on the night in 1955 that Sandy Koufax made his professional debut.

You had to believe? That would come later in the Tug story, but for a night in 1965, you had to recalibrate what you knew was certain. You were sure the Mets would rarely best the Dodgers and never solve Koufax. Yet you just learned different. Wes Westrum and not Gil Hodges was managing, yet this might have been the first Met miracle — the miracle of realizing anything is possible.

When Tug and the Mets beat Sandy and the Dodgers, the Mets narrowed the margin between themselves and their daunting opponents to 30½ games. When Seth and the Mets lost to Justin and the Dodgers, the gap between New York and Los Angeles expanded to 28 games. The Mets aren’t necessarily as uniformly overmatched against quality competition as they were in 1965, but the Dodgers appear to be as awesome as they’ve ever been, and they’ve been pretty good plenty across their now 128 National League seasons of operation (though Brooklyn lost to St. Louis, 3-2, on September 13, 1893, the day the Hotchkiss Library opened its doors for the first time). Nevertheless, anything continues to be possible. A lefty from around here will be wearing No. 32 and pitching in tonight’s Mets-Dodgers game. Maybe Steven Matz won’t lose to Los Angeles. Maybe he won’t give up multiple homers. Maybe Justin Turner will be contained to a single. You never truly know.

If you wish to purchase a revised FAFIF t-shirt featuring all the Mets’ retired numbers, click here for more information.

Some Things Around Here Do Improve

The Mets returned home from Colorado to face the unfathomable juggernaut that is the 2017 Dodgers, and looked listless as they slogged through a deeply boring game in which they were little more than anonymous cannon fodder to be dispatched. Jacob deGrom was the closest thing the team had to an offensive highlight, collecting one of the Mets’ four hits and stealing his first-ever base. (Amed Rosario also grabbed his first big-league steal.)

Those things were fun. They also accounted for about 90 seconds’ worth of ballgame. The other 11,130 seconds were a drag — new L.A. acquisition Yu Darvish throttled the Mets and Chase Utley hit a long home run into the soda deck above Utleyville, to name two particular lowlights.

And so on we trudge, rousing ourselves when Rosario or Conforto are batting and otherwise waiting for Dom Smith, potential waiver deals and the return of injured players who will arrive too late to help, if they arrive at all.

Some things are improving, however. We’re excited to announce the return of our retired-numbers shirt, now upgraded with Mike Piazza’s No. 31, the sequence you’ll see if you look up at Citi Field, and a more accurate font. You can pick up a men’s shirt from T-Shirt Mojo, our supplier, right here for $24.08 — they take care of everything from the production to the shipping. We’re also finally meeting a longstanding request and offering the numbers shirt in a women’s style — same price, also from T-Shirt Mojo. (If we run out of either, don’t worry — we’ll order more.)

That’s what the men’s shirt looks like, modeled by yours truly. If it looks that good on an old bald wreck of a human being, just think how sharp it will look on an actually attractive person such as yourself.

Anyway, we hope you’ll be interested in upgrading your old Faith and Fear shirt or grabbing yourself a new, up-to-date one. Either way, thank you — we’re not making a fortune on these, but they will help defray our escalating server costs.

As for the Mets themselves, they’re beyond our help, sartorial or otherwise. But here’s to new players, new seasons, new hope … and one day new numbers to wear proudly across our chests.

And Then That Happened

It’s an inadvertent law of roster construction that every team have one reliever whose niche — the one assigned to him by the baseball deities, as opposed to envisioned for him by management — is to be the guy in the aluminum suit who stands on the roof during lightning storms.

You know him. He’s Rich Rodriguez or Mike Maddux, Barry Manuel or Felix Heredia, Manny Acosta or Ramon Ramirez. He can be a young, promising reliever who’s so far failed to thrive, a veteran who’s tumbled off a cliff no one thought to mark, or (occasionally) one of those Plan D guys who keeps stubbornly hanging around other teams’ Triple-A squads before your team inexplicably takes a flier on him. (Oh, he’s most definitely Neil Ramirez.)

Good teams are often good despite being unable to shake an aluminum-suit guy, whom you only see in games that sane fans turned off half an hour ago. Bad teams have aluminum suits to spare.

The Mets, it must be said at this point, have Hansel Robles.

Robles wasn’t always the sadsack yelling into his phone that IT’S GETTING DANGEROUS UP HERE BOSS. He was reasonably competent in 2015 and 2016, with a certain pissiness that most of the time we weren’t opposed to. This year, though, has been an unmitigated disaster, one that’s sent him tumbling down the trustworthiness ranks until the mere sight of him leaves you braced for impact.

Robles has already achieved immortality in the 2017 anti-highlight reel for pointing jauntily skyward on a ball hit by St. Louis’s Tommy Pham as if he’d induced a pop fly, which was correct if balls landing in the Azores can be counted as pop flies. But on Thursday afternoon he amazed even himself.

Before then, the Mets and Rockies had played a reasonably entertaining game that avoided the Coors Field script, with the Rockies taking a narrow lead, the Mets fighting back to tie and the Rockies immediately reclaiming that narrow lead. Watching the Mets lunge for this perpetually just-out-of-reach carrot, I had a bad feeling that things would end with a box propped on a forked stick, cartoon-style.

But things are only post-ordained in baseball. We all say “WE KNEW IT!” once the story is concluded, but we don’t — we just sift memory accordingly. Until that point, we had Rafael Montero to wonder about, once again pitching just well enough to make you think the Mets totally shouldn’t give up on him despite his long history of seeing give-up-onable, which isn’t a word but no one reading this is confused about what I mean. You had Amed Rosario continuing to look like what he is, which is a promising but very young rookie — in Column A we’ll place a stand-up triple and a nifty relay throw, and in Column B we’ll place some overly aggressive, over-and-out at-bats. You had Yoenis Cespedes connecting for a classically Cespedian lightning bolt of a home run, but also coming up conspicuously empty in big at-bats and looking a bit lackadaisical in the outfield, a failing that must also be called Cespedian.

And then you had Robles.

When he arrived to handle the bottom of the 8th in a 4-4 game, I offered him a snarky Twitter greeting and then watched with the grimly blank expression one generally brings to a performance by an elementary-school orchestra. So of course Robles turned in an eight-pitch inning.

Wow! Didn’t I feel bad!

Well, not really. Among the (minor) perils of prophecy is being correct but early. Robles started the ninth by hitting Jonathan Lucroy on a 1-2 pitch, was handed an out on a sacrifice, walked Charlie Blackmon intentionally (for which brief duty Blackmon reported, amusingly, without a bat), walked D.J. LeMahieu unintentionally, and stared in at Nolan Arenado.

(Oh, and somewhere in there Robles appeared to tweak his groin, though it turned out after the game he’d merely done something awkward and had male parts wind up in their own way. The proprietors apologize for the kind of clunky foreshadowing an editor with greater authority might have seen to.)

Arenado beat Robles in much the same situation on Tuesday, and if you expected a different outcome two days later I’d like to know how you maintain a sunny outlook on life. This time Robles couldn’t find the plate at all — balls were sailing all over the place, leaving you worried about not just the final score of the game but also Arenado’s safety.

(We’ll step out of time again to report that after the game Robles said his fingers had gone numb during the Lucroy at-bat. That’s no laughing matter — it can be a precursor to surgery — but I’ll confess my reservoirs of instinctive sympathy are pretty much tapped. First of all, even without baseball’s macho omerta, isn’t that the kind of thing you should tell the trainer while he’s standing two feet from you inquiring about your health? Beyond that, I admit the 2017 Mets one-more-damn-thinged me into submission sometime in early June.)

The final pitch was extraordinary even by Mets standards — it sailed over Arenado, Travis d’Arnaud, Jim Reynolds and everybody except Dinger. (Which wouldn’t have been the worst way to lose a game.) The ballgame was as over as a ballgame gets, that had happened, and Hansel Robles had contributed a new one to the aluminum-suit-guy annals.

Stock of the New

They’ve played big-league baseball in Colorado for nearly a quarter-century now somehow, which means it’s lost its capacity to shock. There have been some refinements along the way — fences, humidors and the like — that have dialed the videogame-gone-mad experience of early games against the Rockies down to levels approximating baseball on Earth.

Note I said “approximating.” Baseball here is still strange, just in more subtle ways. Balls still find their way to and over walls faster than you’d expect, carve out higher velocities into the gaps than you’d think possible, and generally speaking just behave differently. The lunatic sensation that you’re spinning a prize wheel at a carnival each half-inning is gone, but this is still a place where you eyeball the score and do the baseball equivalent of currency conversion. One run means nothing, five is about two and a half, and nothing short of a double-digit lead feels comfortable.

It’s an odd place to make a big-league debut, or a second appearance. But then I imagine any big-league park is odd after a steady diet of Binghamton and Las Vegas. Crash Davis rhapsodized about white balls for batting practice and other people carrying your bags, but then he was a couple of generations too early for TVs the size of sedans, clubhouses the size of parking lots, nap rooms and aromatherapy lounges.

Chris Flexen is no longer the newest Met, but he’s pretty much new to me — I only got a cursory look at him during his first appearance in San Diego. A longer second look yielded no particular impression: Flexen has the classic power pitcher’s big butt and legs, a standard fastball/curve/change repertoire, and generic features that look like they were chosen from a Young Athletes Pattern Book. But that’s all right — Flexen’s reported for duty early because of the Mets’ plague of injuries, and no one should pay too much attention to what pitches do or fail to do in Colorado. Assuming neither a blister nor altitude-induced PTSD fells him, we’ll see Flexen in more normal conditions over the next few weeks (or next year or never again, baseball being a chancy business) and adjust our impressions accordingly.

Amed Rosario, meanwhile, is finally risen and now riding the tiger of small sample sizes, which he’d tell you beats the hell out of riding a bus in the Pacific Coast League. A night after the game looked a little fast for him at a crucial moment, he recorded his first extra-base hit, RBI and run in rapid succession, showing easy speed and sound baserunning skills. In the field he continued to showcase a strong arm and a certain ineffable something that’s reassuring after watching horrors at shortstop all year — more often than not, his hands and feet do what they’re supposed to before the brain has to intervene.

(Oh, and the just-recalled Chasen Bradford — old hat given that he made his debut in June — pitched effectively for his first career win and the first appearance of the Mets Crown in too long.)

But while I was focused on the new guys, it was the old warhorses who delivered the game for the Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera chipped in three hits, Yoenis Cespedes showed signs of life with glove and bat, Jay Bruce homered and Curtis Granderson untied a recently far-from-tied game with a three-run homer that left Tyler Chatwood glowering and steaming on the mound.

Which will happen in Colorado as balls soar above walls and sizzle into gaps. Whether you consider that a bug or a feature on a given night depends on what the scoreboard says.

Rosario Isn’t Built in a Day

The Amed Rosario Era commenced Tuesday night in Denver. Also, the Michael Conforto Era, the Steven Matz Era, the Jose Reyes Era and all the other eras on which we blithely bestow the names of the callups whose debuts we breathlessly anticipate continued. We don’t necessarily think of those as eras in progress. The unalloyed delight is in the debut. The unforeseen bedevilment is potentially in all the details that follow. When you’re dealing in potential, you are compelled to take every possible outcome into account.

Rosario — No. 1 on your scorecard, No. 1 on our must-see-ASAP list — shifted from concept to reality by taking the field, taking his cuts and, ultimately, booting a ground ball that set up the losing run in the ninth inning. Somewhere down the road, on a night when we no longer notice that we’re in the midst of the Amed Rosario Era any more than we notice now that we’re still in the midst of the Wilmer Flores Era and the Travis d’Arnaud Era we ushered in eleven days apart four Augusts ago, one ground ball not played cleanly in one random ninth inning won’t much register except maybe as backstory.

Remember when Rosario made his debut at Coors Field against the Rockies? Remember that ball DJ LeMahieu hit with Charlie Blackmon running from first after Hansel Robles walked Blackmon on a full count to lead off the ninth when it was tied? Rosario broke one way, and then the other, and he couldn’t recover, and he couldn’t smother the ball, and next thing you knew, Nolan Arenado dropped a ball into center and Blackmon came home with the winning run. Remember?

Maybe you will remember. Maybe you won’t. Maybe it will stick in our collective mind to serve as convenient counterpoint to how dependable let alone spectacular Rosario became, how he absorbed a defensive lesson and kept improving in all facets of his game as he grew into the superstar we all knew he was destined to be. Or maybe we’ll come to see the seemingly innocent misplay as the harbinger of how Rosario really wasn’t ready and was never going to live up to his outsize hype. Probably it was just a ground ball at the end of a first game in the majors that you wouldn’t have given much thought to beyond “damn, that sucked,” if it was any other shortstop booting any other ball. The Mets were so far out of the race in 2017, what was another loss in the middle of a losing summer anyway?

A win would have been highly preferable on what we wish to consider an auspicious occasion. A win was within reach — not only within reach of Rosario, but all of his teammates who combined to lose, 5-4, in frustrating walkoff fashion. The Mets as a whole couldn’t quite get their mitts around this game any more than Rosario could grab hold of LeMahieu’s grounder. If they had been capable of swooping up more close ones prior to the dawn of August, Amed might still be honing his craft in Las Vegas.

Though we wouldn’t have cared for that, either. He’s here, we cheer, get used to him.

When we get our initial glimpse at one of these megatouted youngsters on whom we’ve been waiting patiently or otherwise, we are conditioned to look for the good. There was plenty of good from Rosario on Night One. The first Met born in the year 1995 (!) got to other ground balls. He was credited with one putout and seven assists. He showed a strong arm. He could have shown a quicker release on what wound up the first hit Matz gave up, in the fifth, when Steven had us believin’ that his recent troubles were disappearing into literal thin air. In his fourth at-bat, Amed beat out an infield hit and scurried to second when the throw that wasn’t going to nail him got away. One AB earlier, he’d taken a three-two pitch that was too close to lay off, but at least he didn’t betray an alleged antsiness to swing too much. In general, he looked quicker than any Met has looked this season — certainly less lethargic within the infield — and seemed no less promising than universal analysis of his prospects indicate he truly is.

Rosario didn’t make good on all his promise in one game. Nobody does. Even the best of Met debuts (remember Matz’s?) aren’t all-encompassing perfect. Raw rookies can always get better. The good rookies who do get better are the ones who keep us coming back for more. We will be back for more Amed Rosario. His era has only just begun.

I’ll be in Sharon, Conn., this Friday evening, taking part in the Hotchkiss Library’s annual summer book signing. If you’re interested in attending, check out the details here.

The Circle of Life

I’m not the type to carelessly leave a hat on a train, but on Sunday, I apparently carelessly left a hat on a train. I came home, realized I didn’t have it and inferred it rode the LIRR eastbound without me. If I wore hats regularly, I suppose I would have found it on my head. Outside of winter, I wear hats basically never, unless the hat is a baseball cap.

The hat on the train was indeed a baseball cap. A Mets cap, you won’t be surprised to learn. A Mets cap with a 2015 World Series patch on one side, to be specific. I wore it for a spell on Sunday while making a surprise visit to the observatory deck of the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. I hadn’t been up there in 47 years, so I’d definitely have to term the visit a surprise. Stephanie and I were meeting up with her cousin, who was in from Texas with a whole bunch of blended family. They were all really nice folks, and really nice folks from Texas like to do things like ascend to the high floors of tall buildings we New Yorkers don’t give second looks to lest we look like tourists. I brought the 2015 World Series cap along because a) it was sunny and b) knowing how tourists can be (I don’t mean my wife’s cousin and her crew — they know better), I wanted to make sure people from around the world got a look at what a real NY baseball cap looked like.

I don’t know if out-of-towners cared, but I got a couple of Let’s Go Metses from Empire State Building employees. One of them grumbled to me that you could barely make out Citi Field when you looked north and east from the 86th floor. You could if you squinted. It was vaguely visible adjacent to the gaudy white roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Finding New York’s other large ballpark, the one tourists have probably heard of, was a comparative breeze, at least once the Let’s Go Metsing ESB guy guided my gaze. I didn’t look at it for long. Didn’t want to turn into a pillar of yeech.

Fun fact: the Mets skyline logo is based on the New York skyline that one stands in the middle of when one is on the premises of the Empire State Building. The New York skyline is very impressive from 86 floors up, its lack of proper baseball perspective notwithstanding. I’m glad I interrupted my blasé approach to soaring architecture to go up so high; every New Yorker should do it every 47 or so years. I’m sorry I lost my Mets cap later that day, but I’m glad I wore it on the 86th floor. I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of it next to the 86 sign. I’d had to have explained the connection to our Texan cousins and most everybody else there, but you and I would have gotten a kick out of it.

I miss that cap. It was the second Mets cap with a 2015 World Series patch I purchased, but the only one I liked. The first one was adjustable and unstructured, bought because it was readily available after the NLCS was captured. Adjustable is OK. Unstructured turned out to be a drag. It just kind of lays on my head. I wore it to the 2015 World Series, but I haven’t worn it since. The second one was fitted (7 7/8) with a crown that topped my noggin proudly like the antenna tops the Empire State. It was on sale at Modell’s after the Series was over. I grabbed it and had worn it as much as I’ve worn any cap since November of 2015. Unless it magically reappears, I guess I won’t anymore.

It was just a cap, but it communicated good things. I’d look at it and think about October of 2015, the unlikely run that got us to a World Series and me to Citi Field for that World Series. Any other October prior, you could have squinted all you liked and not seen a World Series there. I’d think about my father and how we watched two of the games together in the nursing home where he was living out what turned out to be his final months. On the other hand, in the wake of losing a cat last Thursday and attending a funeral Monday, I have reluctantly concluded it was just a cap. I have the memories of the 2015 World Series inside my head and my heart. They will do.

Pictured: Chrysler Building.
Not pictured: Many 2015 Mets.
Coming into view: The future.

Similarly, I will remember the 2015 National League champions even if I’m unable to see them every day any longer. Time’s failure to consult with any of us has resulted in a current Mets roster from whence you can barely discern the outline of the Mets who won us a pennant, even from the vantage point of a well-situated observatory. Look over there…there’s deGrom, d’Arnaud, Cespedes, Conforto, Granderson, Matz, Flores, Robles…uh…can you tell if that’s Syndergaard or is that the Chrysler Building?

Twenty-five men constituted the 2015 Mets’ World Series roster and eighteen of those men will not be suited up and ready to go in Colorado tonight. The disabled list explains several absences, but mostly it’s time doing what time does. No baseball team, league champions or not, resists progress for better or for worse. Lucas Duda, 2015 Mets first baseman, was sent away just last week, same day I lost Hozzie. Addison Reed, the last eventual pennant-winner added to the roster (waiver-period trade at the end of August), is the latest to be dispatched. Addison went to Boston yesterday for three minor league pitchers who might be parts of headfilling, heartwarming memories of the future. Or not. Their names are Stephen Nogosek, Jamie Callahan and Gerson Bautista. Their ranking within the Red Sox farm system is no longer relevant, but they were ranked somewhere in there. They’re all righties, they all throw hard, they are all, until further notice, mysteries to us.

I mentioned I was at a funeral on Monday. I learned about the Reed trade on my way there. The service was for the mother of one of my oldest friends. He’s not particularly old, but our friendship is. When we became friends, I would have needed to have taken a picture on the 69th floor of the Empire State Building with a Mets cap to make the same point I meant to make the other day on the 86th. And I would’ve had to have brought a roll of film to my neighborhood drug store to have the picture developed. So it’s been a long time. His mother lived to be 95. Now that’s a long time, and, as I was reminded through her family’s beautiful eulogies, boy, did she fill it well. My friend made a stirring documentary about the glorious town in Greece she came from, the absolute evil unleashed on its people during World War II, and how she and her brother somehow survived the horror en route to starting new and blessed lives in America. I knew this woman for decades as my friend’s charming mother. We exchanged pleasantries. After that movie — and again after the warm remembrances offered by her sons, nieces, grandchildren, everybody on the sad occasion of her passing — I realized she was, no kidding, as close to a superhero as I’ll ever know.

I kind of forgot about caps and trades as I thought about my friend’s mother. But baseball has a way of finding me, especially on trade deadline day, often when awkward silences give way to small talk. Later in the afternoon, at the shiva for my friend’s mother, I fell into conversation with another friend, part of the same high school-era group with whom I’ve stayed reasonably close all these years. This friend went to college in Boston and eventually settled there. Not obviously affiliated in New York, he became a Red Sox fan. Natch, he wanted to know about Addison Reed. I told him that unless Terry Collins worked his arm off that they got themselves a dependable reliever who can set up or close or will do anything he is asked and probably do it well. Oh, he said with a tinge of excitement, I have to show you something. Up on his phone came an image of a framed 2013 World Championship banner. It is authentic, he said. Somebody connected to somebody he knows is the somebody who makes the flags and banners for Fenway Park (confirming Boston is still a town where everybody knows your name). This somebody made a slew of such banners for various presentation purposes the last time the Sox won the World Series and one was left over. My friend was asked if he wanted it.

He did. It’s in his living room. It’s a pretty good keepsake. Beats my unstructured cap with the 2015 patch, let alone the “86” at the Empire State Building.

Later at the shiva, I met a man from the Midwest (“I’m a Chicago Ashkenazi trying to fit in with a bunch of New York Sephardics”) who wanted to let me know, once somebody told him I write about baseball, that he’s a Cubs fan. He didn’t brag on their still-current title at all. He lived through too many of the 108 years between world championships to have developed a trace of cockiness. Anyway, as with my friend from Boston, we talked a little baseball as we eased from solemnity to something resembling normality. You do that at a shiva. Plus we noshed. You do that, too, at a shiva.

After I extended my best to my old friend in mourning and wished a safe trip home to my old friend from Boston, I walked down the block, returned to my car and learned Amed Rosario was going to be called up at last. There’s no first baseman on the roster, but some out-of-position infielder will handle it. There’s no closer, either, on the off chance we have late-inning leads. If coffee is for closers, closers are for contenders. Boston, a bona fide contender, has ours, and they already have Craig Kimbrel. They’re covered for closers. But at last we have our shortstop in view. The one who’s supposed to be able to do everything and exude a ton of joy while doing it. We won’t need to squint to see him from a distance. He’ll be up close in living color for many nights, the first of them tonight. I maintained patience during his elongated prospect phase. I shed it in an instant, probably faster than I shed my suit jacket in the parking lot outside the funeral chapel.

Duda’s gone. Reed’s gone. The 2015 National League Champion Mets melt away. No time for sorrow, though. Rosario’s here. I always look forward to the next Mets game. I really look forward to this one.

What Did I Miss?

Not much.

The Mets meandered their way to the West Coast, as I had, playing below me (in San Diego) and above me (in Seattle) while I attended to business in San Francisco. I caught up with them when I could, but it was an inning here and an inning there. I couldn’t attend to their doings properly until I got home Saturday night, and then I wished I hadn’t — they played the kind of dull, listless baseball one would expect from a mediocre team spinning its wheels.

On Sunday Seth Lugo was bad, Neil Walker couldn’t field, nobody could hit, and newcomer A.J. Ramos had a crummy debut. If you want more go here, but why would you want more? It doesn’t matter. No scores matter until some undetermined date in the future. You’ll know when we’ve reached that date, trust us.

Ramos’s arrival, lackluster though it was, at least represented progress — he’s an actual part of an actual plan for next year. Same with the departure of Lucas Duda, whom I was glad to see go because he was out of tomorrows here, but sad to see go because I enjoyed many of his yesterdays. Simultaneously good-humored and laconic, Duda offered no complaints about being yo-yo’ed between corner outfield spots, worked hard to become a pretty serviceable first baseman, and it was a lot of fun when he connected.

And another shoe should drop soon: Addison Reed has most likely thrown his last inning as a Met, headed elsewhere before the Mets resume business in Colorado on Tuesday. Hopefully the price for his services will be something of future consequence.

If that’s it, the Mets will still have too much deadwood — trade talk is cool around Walker, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera. And that’s where I get annoyed. If those guys are still here in August I’ll root for them because they’re Mets and I want the Mets to win, but that’s about all the engagement I’ll be able to muster. When the score of a Mets game matters again, those players (with Bruce a possible exception) will probably be wearing other uniforms — or on the golf course.

Want me to care about what’s left of the 2017 Mets? Then show me Amed Rosario and Dom Smith already. Give me a glimpse of the future I need to know is out there — even if that comes with a bumpy present.

That sneak preview should have come in June, when it was apparent to even the most besotted orange-and-blue observer that the 2017 campaign was lost. I’m tired of vague reasons it’s been delayed — just as I’m tired of watching lame-duck Mets trudge through interchangeable, meaningless games. Or not watching them do that, as was the case for most of the last week.

Give me a reason to care — and to hope, and to dream a little. Is that too much to ask?

All ’Grom Things Must End

I really wanted Jacob deGrom to set the Mets record for most consecutive starts with a win, especially once I discovered that such a record exists and that Jake had tied it. I’m keenly aware of many Mets records. Some it’s never occurred to me to commit to memory. Most Consecutive Starts Won lands a little shy of canonical in that regard.

Most wins in a row in one season is different. That one I grew up with. I knew forever that Tom Seaver won 10 in a row in 1969 and that the Seaver standard held firm until Dwight Gooden blew by it with 14 straight in 1985 (Doc’s streak reached 11 on the same Sunday Tom won his 300th…ah, symMetry). I never really stopped to think about the no-decisions in between, which is what separates that record-keeping from the record-breaking Jacob was attempting. I also didn’t dwell on how wins assigned to a single individual in a team game is rather absurd, probably because when Seaver in 1969 and Gooden in 1985 earned wins, they earned wins.

Jacob deGrom earned eight consecutive wins in eight consecutive starts prior to Saturday and they all brought out the best in a flawed statistic. Jake was no accidental winner, no slogger through five for whom enough runs were scored to forgive his shortcomings. DeGrom’s comings were as long as his locks, and he was a lock to make the Mets look better than they did on the two days before and the two days after Jake pitched.

Saturday in Seattle, the ninth consecutive start with a win, a mythical Met creature for 56 seasons, again failed to appear. One bad inning, a few unfortunate pitches and three Mariner runs saw to it that Jacob would be pitching from behind for too long. He was down, 3-1, when he left after seven and the Mets edged only to within 3-2 after nine. So not only no W for deGrom (a.k.a. FUCKIN A), but also his first L in nearly two months — since the last time he got mixed up with an American League opponent in an American League park. Clearly Jacob isn’t fully comfortable unless he knows he’s going to bat.

The franchise record remains eight straight starts with a win, shared by four Mets of renown who were in the midst of probably the best stretches of their illustrious careers: Seaver in ’69 (en route to 25-7, a Cy Young and a World Series ring); David Cone in ’88 (finishing up at 20-3 and headed to the playoffs); Bobby Jones in ’97 (ascending to All-Star status as the Mets contended for the first time in ages) and deGrom in this Met year that doesn’t fit with any of those Met years. Each of those Met years was a very, very good Met year, while this one struggles to maintain mediocrity, save for when it’s fabulous, which is on the day deGrom pitches and usually wins.

Usually. Not always. It only seemed like it was going to be always.