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ABOUT US

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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When the Night Goes

It’s the ninth inning of the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field, the last chance I will have to watch up close a team I’ve seen too much of for six months. I am here out of a sense of obligation, though not a real obligation, rather a longstanding rule I have about going to the eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field every year, and the eighty-first and final home game at Shea Stadium every year before that. Honestly, I’d have been no happier nor any sadder had I not committed myself to being at Citi Field for the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game this year. This year didn’t incubate much happiness, but this visit isn’t about happiness or sadness. It’s about being there every year on this occasion for now twenty-three years in a row.

They stuck Game 81 on a Wednesday night. Since 1995, when I unwittingly commenced my fetish/streak, the Mets had played only one of their Closing Day games on a Wednesday night. That one was in 1998, a game versus the Expos that needed to be won in pursuit of a playoff spot. It wasn’t won. The Mets packed up, flew to Atlanta and didn’t win the playoff spot, either. Beyond the frustration associated with that week’s losing, I retain a memory of the Mets doing as little as possible to acknowledge that that game was the last game on that year’s home schedule. Maybe it was because there was every hope there’d be postseason baseball at Shea and that we’d every have reason to meet at Gate E or wherever we gathered and enter the ballpark again.

Nineteen years later, postseason baseball wasn’t part of the equation. The Mets were mathematically eliminated a couple of weeks ago and had been removed from contention a dozen aching bodies before. Hence, there was no disputing the finality of Closing Night 2017 (three upcoming games in Philadelphia this weekend notwithstanding).

Yet you wouldn’t have known there was no tomorrow on Wednesday night. In a marketing scheme conjured to lure you to Free Shirt Friday, Super Saturday and Family Sunday, the Mets might identify these midweek night dates as Nothing Special. They sure treated this one that way. Perhaps they got all the pretense out of their system during the last segment of Fan Appreciation Weekend when they handed out scratch-off cards and magnets.

Most of the year, I like the Nothing Special aspect of a midweek night game. I prefer a midweek night game to all the other variations. All things being equal, I’ll take a midweek night game over a weekend day game, a midweek afternoon game, certainly Sunday Night Baseball. No frills, just baseball and some waiting for trains to and fro. Baseball is frilly enough for the likes of your typical Wednesday night crowd. Nevertheless, you’d think somebody who signs off on these things would acknowledge it’s not a typical Wednesday night when your next home game is six months away (on March 29, a Thursday afternoon).

One could posit that this wasn’t a typical Wednesday night because the Mets were winning by six runs as it was concluding and the Mets spent relatively little of 2017 prevailing. Also atypical was the pitching of Robert Gsellman, who seemed uncommonly sharp for six innings. I say “seemed,” because, honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was more consumed by my shock that for Wednesday night’s Nothing Special special, it wasn’t just me and 5,000 other pilgrims/diehards/weirdoes who found a reason to partake in another helping of Mets baseball. It was a decent-sized crowd, comprised to a discernible percentage by apparently normal people. We weren’t the 28,617 strong officially reported, natch, but we were not laughably far from it.

It put me a wee bit off kilter to have more company than I anticipated. I kind of wanted to be alone. I traveled alone, I entered alone and I sat alone. But not that alone. Some dude in a sitters’ market kind of row insisted I was in his seat. Maybe I was. Odd that another of the eighteen or so seats that were unoccupied didn’t suit his rear, but you can’t argue with what you can’t argue with. I found another seat.

The Mets fell behind early, tied it shortly thereafter, grabbed a lead and then expanded on it en route to winning. Travis d’Arnaud, Dominic Smith and Jose Reyes were the offensive standouts. Smith drew focus with a three-run pinch-homer. Reyes galvanized attention by being Reyes, running the bases and running out his contract. Clearly, Jose wants to stay. Clearly, the most vocal people, pilgrims, diehards and weirdoes in attendance wanted him to stay, certainly those who hadn’t forgotten how to sing his name. I certainly haven’t forgotten. I Jose-Jose’d like it was 2006. It’s not 2006, but I like a living, breathing, running reminder that it once was. I also Terry-Collinsed a bit, though that didn’t make for quite as overwhelming a chorus. Whoever decides on how big a deal to make of things decided Terry Collins’s probable last home game as Mets manager, after seven years and two playoff berths, was no big deal at all.

So as I was saying, it’s the ninth. I’m not as alone as I was when the game began, having hooked up with my fellow Closing Night aficionado Kevin. We had each purchased heavily discounted excellent single tickets and neither of us was quite deriving our usual respective lone wolf enjoyment from the experience. It began to feel like a baseball game once we settled in. The last baseball game of the year. The closure we seek annually had been creeping in on little cat feet for hours. At last it is pounding on the door marked EXIT like an antsy gorilla.

Two out. Micah Johnson up as a pinch-hitter. He swings at Paul Sewald’s first pitch. It dribbles partway up the third base line. Sewald could grab it and possibly throw Johnson out at first to end the game and the home season. Or he could let it roll foul, because Johnson is fast and he might not get him. Or the ball could stop of its own volition and make Sewald’s decision moot.

The ball rolls foul. I am delighted. It means the home season will continue for at least another pitch.

I haven’t loved this season, home or away. I haven’t gone too far out of my way to haunt Citi Field relative to previous seasons (17 games in ’17, my lowest total since there’s been Citi Field). I am on hand to confirm there will be nothing more to see here after tonight. Yet when that ball is rolling and what is left of the home season hangs in the balance, I am not quite ready to pick it up and force it out. Let it roll a little longer, I think. I didn’t come tonight to say goodbye. I came to stick around as long as I could.

Generating Echoes

For six innings Tuesday night, I was content to float along on the echoes provided by the visitor who used to call Citi Field home, the visitor who was the first Met to make Citi Field feel like a home. R.A. Dickey was pitching a shutout for the Braves against the Mets. See past the uniform, see only the man, the arm, the knuckleball. Remember R.A. when you didn’t have to parcel out your perspective. Remember when the language flowed and the knucklers danced and the mystique marveled.

It’s not the first time we’d encountered R.A. in 2017, five seasons removed from the culmination of his Cy Young journey, when he became, all at once, award-winning, best-selling and awe-inspiring. Intradivision competition recurs frequently. Dickey the Brave faced the Mets once in April, once in May and once before in September. I couldn’t help but be hyperaware of the juxtaposition of R.A. as opponent on each occasion, but I also couldn’t thoroughly give myself over to his presence. In April and May, it was too early. Previously in September, I was more concerned with the immediate fortunes of his opposite number and our contemporary ace, Jacob deGrom.

Here, in the last week, with no partisan priorities pervasively prevailing, I couldn’t and didn’t mind that Dickey turned the Citi Field clock back to 2012, even if it meant he was wearing the Mets hitters on his watch chain. Between the third and the seventh innings, there was a span of 13 batters during which R.A. threw 34 pitches and recorded 13 outs. I couldn’t tell if the Mets were no longer capable of putting up a fight or the Braves starter had simply demilitarized them. If it wasn’t exactly vintage Dickey (more swings, misses and silly looks would have ensued), it was a performance to be savored by any Mets fan residually grateful to have been along for R.A.’s ride when there wasn’t much else to cling to in these parts.

The Mets were losing, 3-0. Rafael Montero gave up runs in the first and second before settling down into his version of a groove (baserunners on in every inning, but no more damage done). Montero’s incremental progress has been worth cheering in the second half of this lost season, but it was no longer an issue by the final third of its 158th game. Rafael had been lifted for a pinch-hitter after six. R.A. was still getting his knucklers over. Given his max efficiency, I could see another eight Mets going quietly. I could see R.A. Dickey, age 42 and contemplating retirement, going out with a 68 MPH bang. I wanted the complete game for R.A. I wanted the shutout. I didn’t necessarily want the Mets to lose, but I definitely wanted him to win.

In this year more than most, we are reminded we can’t ever get what we want, not to specifications anyway.

Brandon Nimmo, recently learning of the wondrous things that can occur when the bat leaves the shoulder, singled with one out in the seventh. Then Kevin Plawecki stood in for seven pitches, the longest plate appearance the Mets had manufactured all night. The seventh pitch was, depending on your point of view, the curse or the charm or maybe a bit of both. Plawecki whacked it over the Great Wall of Flushing. Dickey’s spell was broken. The Mets were on the board, trailing only 3-2.

I could feel my allegiance shift from the dreamy past to a surprisingly vital present. Rooting for R.A. to pen a stylish P.S. to his potential final Citi Field and maybe career start had been a matter all its own. A Mets-Braves game was something else, even with the Braves sitting on 71-85 and the Mets wallowing at 67-90. For all their foibles, we still love our Mets. For all their irrelevance, we still hate the Braves. They are, after all, the Braves.

Dickey needed seven pitches to ground out Dominic Smith for the second out of the seventh, then threw two more to Amed Rosario. The second of them went for a Rosario Speedwagon triple. Once Amed had taken it on the run, Brian Snitker came out for a walk, removing R.A. and any reason to feel conflicted. Dickey left the mound, headed for the third base dugout and, because he’s R.A. Dickey, attracted applause from the Mets fans standing in his midst.

Because he’s R.A. Dickey, he tipped his cap to them. It was a Braves cap, but you work with the gear they give you. The gesture spoke for who R.A. was to us, who R.A. will always be in our hearts. The night’s box score dissolved to immaterial. If R.A. Dickey was departing Citi’s field of play for the last time, he was leaving it as a winner — and in enough of a Metlike state to allow us to overlook the distasteful uniform he modeled. Fabric can obscure only so much.

Amed’s triple didn’t lead anywhere, but the Mets were just getting going. Perhaps it would have been more poetic had Travis d’Arnaud been the catcher to deliver the reverie-disrupting home run off Dickey, since it was Travis who was one of the promising pieces the Mets received for R.A. five years ago, but Plawecki makes sense in his own way. Kevin is catching as much as he is because Travis maybe caught too much. A little less d’Arnaud, a little more Plawecki…we could be building the perfectly adequate two-headed beast behind the plate. Or it could be September when everybody who hasn’t knocked down walls is suddenly blasting balls over them.

The Dickeyesque echoes had subsided, but you could hear others if you so chose. In the eighth, Asdrubal Cabrera, power-hitting playoff-chase hero of 2016, drove a liner into the gap that was sure to put the Mets ahead, 4-3. Instead, the ball was snagged by platinum-gloved playoff-chase villain of 2016 Ender Inciarte, reducing the two-RBI double to a game-tying sacrifice fly. Inciarte, who also registered his 200th hit Tuesday night, would have fit well on the turn-of-the-century Braves, which is to say I really and truly despise him, albeit in a baseball sense (as if that isn’t strong enough).

Other current Braves I can’t stand like I couldn’t stand the Joneses and Jordan and Perez and Lopez and Lockhart and Klesko and don’t even get me started on their pitchers: all of them. All of them except Dickey, and we’ve already established Dickey is at heart a Met in Brave’s clothing. Seventeen years before Tuesday night, on September 26, 2000, the Braves were on the verge of defeating the Mets at Shea Stadium and clinching their sixth consecutive National League East title. I was there. I had never seen a division title clinched in person. And when the Braves recorded the final out, I still hadn’t, because I had bolted rather than stay to watch it. The next night, the Mets beat the Braves and clinched their second consecutive Wild Card. I stayed for that. It was fun. Winning the division would have been more fun. That we, not they, went on to win the pennant that October hasn’t nudged that nugget of resentment from my consciousness.

Stubborn things, those echoes.

Tying the Braves on Tuesday night was fun. Beating them was going to be more fun, provided we could engineer the full comeback. In the ninth, Plawecki emerged again, this time singling to lead off a still-knotted game against lefty A.J. Minter. Minter is a rookie lefty who had never walked anybody. The next batter, Smith, is a rookie lefty rarely allowed by his manager to hit against lefties in late & close situations, which 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth surely qualifies as. Terry Collins let it be known earlier Tuesday that he, unlike his former charge Dickey (and contrary to prior reports), is not contemplating retirement. Collins may be the proverbial old dog, yet he’s apparently willing to entertain new tricks. Smith stayed in to hit…and worked out the first walk to blemish Minter’s ledger.

First and second, nobody out. Rosario, the fella who tripled two innings before, was asked to sacrifice. The Mets gave up the out, but to no avail, as Amed went down on a foul tip. The next batter was one of the Travii. Not d’Arnaud, but Taijeron. Taijeron isn’t widely considered a part of the next Met generation. Rosario and Smith, sure. Plawecki, probably. Taijeron is inventory in the cold vernacular of the industry (“the industry” is also cold vernacular). He’s a Met outfielder because at least four 2017 Met outfielders stopped being 2017 Met outfielders in August. In the spring of 2016, Taijeron lit up Spring Training, won the John J. Murphy Award as St. Lucie’s outstanding rookie, and was then summarily dispatched to Las Vegas, not to be heard from again all year. He wouldn’t have been heard from at all this year, either, except for the removal of Bruce and Granderson and the subsequent disabling of Conforto and Cespedes.

You saw Taijeron come to bat with two on and one out in a tied ninth inning and the best you could hope for was an echo of a September cameo past. Esix Snead won a game under similar circumstances in September 2002. Craig Brazell won a game kind of like this in September 2004. And now, in September 2017, it was Travis Taijeron’s turn. He lined a ball that confounded Jace Peterson in left (and cleverly avoided Ender Inciarte in center), driving home Plawecki’s pinch-runner Juan Lagares for the 4-3 Mets victory.

Soon, you’ll mostly forget about it. Someday, though, it might resonate like crazy.

Mets Fail to Completely Screw Up

The Mets played two baseball games on Monday and they were both pretty terrible, even by the low standards of fans who are staring six baseball-free months in the face and would normally take extras with no questions asked.

The first game muddled along without too much horror until the middle innings and then fell apart, becoming both embarrassing and unwatchable, with a side of endless. Chris Flexen pitched OK until the third trip through the Braves’ order, when he undid all his work by walking everybody. (This is a wordy way of saying he didn’t pitch all that well.) A parade of Mets relievers arrived to annoy and dishearten those scattered among the acres of empty seats. Bad Mets defense and harebrained Mets baserunning compounded these problems and did little to improve the mood.

Seriously: it was bad, y’all. After the first game, if you’d used a Ouija board to entreat the spirit of Ernie Banks to wander out of a cornfield (don’t do this, it’s rude), the great Cub would have said “actually let’s just play one” and vanished back into the green to get doused with Roundup and let bugs hop around on him.

Instead of sitting in the clubhouse quietly and thinking about what they’d done, the Mets inflicted another game on the paying customers. It wasn’t much better, as the Mets once again showed zero aptitude for running bases or doing the things with gloves that prevent the other team from running those bases. I mean, Travis Taijeron was deked by Ender Inciarte waving his glove at a ball 25 feet over his head, like some mean-spirited mad scientist was trying to make an entire team out of post-homer Hansel Robleses. On our couch, Emily and I laughed at Inciarte … until a replay revealed that this lame gambit had actually worked.

That sums up the 2017 Mets season pretty well, come to think of it.

The Mets were saved, this time, by the fact that the Braves managed to play worse baseball. It was a race to see which Brave would hurt himself first trying to field: luckless left fielder Lane Adams or highly temporary first baseman Rio Ruiz.

Even then, the Mets tried their damnedest to give the game back, with Jeurys Familia botching a grounder in the ninth and Dominic Smith (who’s not enjoying his steady diet of offspeed stuff, by the way) inexplicably turning a 3-4-3 double play into a fielder’s choice. Somehow they survived anyway. The day’s positives: Travis d’Arnaud continuing his flurry of games in which he looks both uninjured and offensively capable, Juan Lagares getting right with the BABIP gods, and the hardy little crowd browbeating the Citi Field tech folks into belatedly raising the apple for d’Arnaud’s homer.

That last bit made me laugh, and the show of scruffy Met fan resilience even heartened me a little. Maybe it wasn’t much, at the end of too many hours of careless, slapstick baseball and a season even the most devout among us will be happy to see come to an end. But you take what you can get, even after you’ve endured more than you can take.

A Certain Quality

Sunday afternoons and Citi Field haven’t gotten along in 2017. Far be it from me to horn in on the middle of their mysterious feud, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, and on this last home Sunday afternoon of the 2017 season, I went to Citi Field. It was not like asking for a loss. It was asking for a loss. “Just be gentle how you insert the L,” was my only request.

And they were. If you’ve been a Mets fan for any significant period of time, you understand the most tolerable of losses — provided there is absolutely nothing on the line besides your own preference for a win — is the 3-2 variety played under optimal atmospheric conditions and completed in barely more than three hours. The 3-2 loss the Mets delivered, with an assist from the Washington Nationals, would have fit well inside any early 1970s Sunday afternoon at Shea when a decidedly unimpressive lineup couldn’t have given Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry that one extra run that would have taken him off the hook. A 3-2 loss way back then probably would have taken an hour less to complete, but that’s baseball inflation for ya. And, honestly, for all the kvetching over length of games, it’s not like I had somewhere else I wanted to be on this gloriously warm Sunday afternoon — and it’s not like the Mets are going anywhere other than away soon enough.

While there hasn’t been much enticement to show up at Citi Field on Sundays, my wife and I have maintained an annual appointment every season’s last Sunday. We didn’t set out to make it a tradition, but it’s become one, and we weren’t going to let the Mets’ brutal record on Sundays impede our engagement. Usually the final home Sunday coincides with Closing Day, but that dose of finality is being saved for Wednesday night this year. I’ll take care of that festivity-free milestone on my own. Sunday was for Stephanie and me and, of course, Jacob.

Jacob deGrom threw a quality start on Sunday. It’s too bad “quality start” has become something of a punching bag for those who want to bemoan how nothing is as good as it used to be. Six innings and three runs — why, that’s a 4.50 ERA! Brand Name Pitcher From My Youth would be rolling over in his grave! I always took the quality start criteria as the bare minimum of what is acceptable. If you go at least six innings and give up no more than three runs, it’s understood you did a pretty decent job of keeping your team in the game. These days, if you did nothing more than go exactly six innings and give up exactly three runs every five days, that wouldn’t sound so bad, either.

DeGrom gave us Sunday parishioners exactly six innings and allowed the Nationals exactly three runs, only two of them earned. He provided the Mets a chance to win. They might have, too, a) had Max Scherzer not pitching to them and b) if the Mets had eight major league hitters to string together in a batting order. Tough luck for deGrom in terms of attaining a sixteenth win (goodbye, farewell and amen #JdG17in17), but 6 IP 3R indicates he did his job pretty well. Five hits, no walks and eleven strikeouts emphasizes he did it very well. Sadly, Jose Lobaton harnessed his distinct method of Met-killing to account for one run and Trea Turner perfected laser technology to blast him for two more.

Otherwise, deGrom was a joy to watch from our perennial favorite Last Sunday Afternoon seats in Section 326 (which were available on StubHub at prices rapacious 2009 Citi Field would be rolling over in its resting place from). A few too many pitches early tipped his total past a hundred by the sixth and thus kept him from returning for the seventh — sad that a tip of the cap to a grateful audience couldn’t have been choreographed — but Jake was nonetheless everything he’s been all season: the best reason to watch Mets games, listen to Mets games and attend Mets games. His crossing 200 innings in 2017 was the Met equivalent of Washington (George, not the Nationals) traversing the Delaware in 1776.

There were other things worthy of observation, some of which might have shown up on TV, others for which ya probably had to be there.

• Jose Reyes did his best Jackie Robinson impression, certainly in the vein that Jackie was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in 42, literally dancing down the third base line to disturb Scherzer with two out in the fourth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a runner inch as close to home without actually taking off for the plate. Jose kept taunting with his feet, trying to tease a balk while Dominic Smith batted. Anthony Rendon was shifted practically to short, so why not? Only problem was Scherzer never let go of his composure and eventually struck out the rookie. So much for “discombobulating the man,” as young Ed Charles informed his mother in the 2013 biopic. Still, it was delightful gamesmanship and we on the third base side of the action applauded heartily.

• Juan Lagares did his best Juan Lagares impression, which is nothing new, since the more we see Lagares roaming his natural habitat, the more we are reminded he is the best defensive center fielder this franchise has ever featured. Lagares robbed Howie Kendrick in the ninth with a diving grab that is business as usual in Juan’s world. He also enjoyed a swift trip around the bases in the eighth, singling, going first to third on Nori Aoki’s single to left and racing home on Reyes’s single to center. If Juan could run that sort of sequence on a semi-regular basis, you’d find a way to install him in center and leave him there until the Confortos come home. Until then, he lingers within a cache of contemporary Mets who evoke Rafael Santana, patron saint of those who are adequate when everybody else around them approaches excellent. If you had seven other guys who were really good, then you’d just pencil in Lagares and enjoy his defense and take his offense. Thing is, the Mets don’t have seven other guys who are really good.

• It doesn’t get more athletic in the middle of the infield than Reyes at second and Amed Rosario at short. And it doesn’t look less athletic at the corners than Smith at first and Phil Evans at third. They are athletes, they are skilled, they have futures at the highest level of professional baseball…but it is striking how they each — as rookies — appear to have wandered over from a keg-intensive softball game in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On the other hand, the limber and lithe Rosario seems to display a little less savvy every diamond day. Let’s give everybody a clean slate come spring. This season hasn’t honed anybody to a fine edge, physically or mentally.

• Hansel Robles lives! He threw two solid innings and didn’t kill our vague chances of a comeback! Good for him!

• Cheers to the video board operator for showing multiple replays of Nationals right fielder Victor Robles (born in 1997, a year sources claim took place like five minutes ago) robbing Reyes of two, maybe three bases in the first inning. The wall-crashing play even made the cut later in the afternoon when the Mets presented a sponsored segment of memories of the great time we were in the process of having before we were fully done having them. There was deGrom fanning Nationals left and right. There was Brandon Nimmo homering onto carbonation terrace. And there was, gasp!, a Met not succeeding, perhaps hinting at why the Mets weren’t winning 27-2, which is what the rest of the sponsored highlights implied was the case. I don’t love watching Mets being thwarted, but I respect cracks in the propagandistic veneer. Washington’s Robles, incidentally, fought the right field sun all day, yet was never once foiled by it. Good to know the Nats can substitute so stresslessly for Bryce Harper.

• Fan Appreciation Weekend was a letdown for this fan who didn’t expect much appreciation to begin with. Where was the stilted THANK YOU FANS video? Where were the little-used callups and disgruntled relievers earnestly staring into the camera and telling us how vital we are to their self-esteem? Where was the spliced-in kicker in which David Wright, circa 2012 or whenever he was last in one piece, tells us we’re the greatest fans in the world? It’s cornball, but we like a little sweet talk. While Stephanie and I scratched off cards that entitled us to a discount on tickets for future aggravation, a few fans were presented with really nifty tokens of appreciation. Some guy knew Jack Hamilton was the last Met pitcher to hit a grand slam, and he won a mammoth flat-screen television for his knowledge. You should be rewarded for knowing advanced Mets trivia. Hmm…I wonder if he heard me shouting the answer at him from several hundred feet away. However he got it, good for him. The converse: some guy who couldn’t identify which year Doc Gooden won his Cy Young wasn’t escorted from the building for lack of basic Mets historical comprehension. I’m pretty sure my groan could be picked up by LaGuardia air traffic control.

• I realize the “Piano Man” singalong is weirdly polarizing, but I think we can all agree popping in an image of Terry Collins’s head on the video board when the lyrics “and the manager gives me a smile” come up was a stroke of cleverness above and beyond what usually airs in-house at Citi Field. On Sunday, though, there was “Piano Man,” but there was no manager. They edited out TC. Kremlinologists would judge this the surest sign that some other manager will be giving us the facial expression next season.

• An unidentified man was visible on the big screen during the latter innings modeling a Faith and Fear t-shirt, the one with all the nifty retired numbers. I call this man a hero. You can wear what he wore if you click here or here.

• About twenty minutes prior to first pitch, Stephanie and I were partaking of our rare treat Shake Shack repast (the lines are as short as the tickets are cheap this September) in the Whatever Casino It’s Named For Now Club when I could make out faintly over the PA the voice of Bobby Darin. It was our old Shea staple “Sunday in New York” beckoning to us to come out and play already. “Sunday in New York” used to get its weekly spin during the game, but has in recent seasons been consigned to pregame duty. No matter. The Mets have troubles? We take them out for a walk; big Citi taking a nap, indeed. The Shake Shack was sublime, but we couldn’t keep Bobby waiting any longer. We bussed our table and hit the concourse to take in his final verse and chorus on the final Sunday in New York of 2017 when we could be where we most wanted to be. The Mets were 1-8 on Sunday afternoons at home entering the day and were about to turn 1-9. In our hearts, however, we remained undefeated.

Noah's Arc

Noah Syndergaard‘s back, and it was aggressively pointless.

The return was five whole pitches — if the taco line was a little too long (actually possible given there were postgame fireworks), you missed it. The Mets, I’m sure, had counted on a normal inning with 15 to 20 pitches, but for whatever reason they hadn’t planned in terms of pitching. Syndergaard was getting an inning, and then giving way to Matt Harvey, and so it went.

Noah Syndergaard’s back, and it was superlatively wonderful.

I mean, there he was — Thor, with the blonde locks intact and the arm hanging down and the baseball doing murderous things. The first pitch was a slider at 95, which is so absurdly and perfectly Syndergaardian in that He’s Got the Cheat Codes way that just makes you laugh and shake your head. The other pitches were fastballs, and the slowest of them was 98. Despite all that’s gone wrong and despite the oh-so-Metsian daffiness of the night’s plan, it was heartening to see him out there. I was happy to let my brain fast-forward to Opening Day 2018 and imagine better days, and oh wow did I need a chance to do that.

But he was there and then he was gone and the rest of the game was pointless. Harvey was lousy, or maybe the numbers were lousy and the unquantifiables were better than that, but that’s a spring-training conversation at this point. The Mets scored early and then stopped and the Nationals came back and then Daniel Murphy hit a homer off the apple housing and you knew that was it, and a few minutes later it was.

Who knows where Noah goes from here? He’s still a power pitcher with an elbow ligament that hasn’t snapped, which means you hold your breath with every searing fastball and buckling curve. Now you can add a side of worrying about the lat. Or if that’s not sufficient agita, you can look at Harvey — a god-given arm eroded into an all-too-human question mark.

But even if so, at least that’s just baseball bad luck. The world is bigger than that, a reality brought home by Steve Gelbs’s conversation in the seats with Greg Cole.

Who’s Greg Cole? Sixteen years ago his brother Brian was a Mets prospect who’d impressed everybody in his first spring training. He was coming off a season in which he’d hit .301 for Binghamton with a dynamic mix of power and speed, winning accolades as the team’s minor-league player of the year. He wasn’t ready, not quite yet, but he was on track for at least a September call-up, and you figured he might force his way into the conversation before then.

It never happened. Cole was driving home from Port St. Lucie to Mississippi when his Ford Explorer rolled over on the highway. He was ejected from the vehicle and died a few hours later. The Mets learned of his death at the team dinner before Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Maybe you remembered all that. If you didn’t, read this. Hell, if you did remember that, read it anyway. My little biography captures nothing of what Cole was to his family, his teammates and opponents, or what he might have been. The article does that joyously and beautifully.

The Mets haven’t forgotten Cole — as his brother explained, they’ve supported scholarships in his name. Kudos to both the team and the broadcast crew for remembering him and honoring him.

What really got me, though, was hearing Greg Cole tell Gelbs that his brother would have been about to turn 39.

What Brian Cole would have been on the field is impossible to say — ask Syndergaard or Harvey about that. But it doesn’t matter. The important thing, the part that makes all the rest pale into nothing, is he would have been about to turn 39.

The Night the Mets Didn’t Lose

For not long would they tell of the night the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen didn’t lose. An ostensibly memorable win in a month that begged to be forgotten never stood much of a chance to survive amid a forever unspooling narrative whose natural bias leaned toward critical mass. Wins sprouting gloriously among more wins can be celebrated into eternity. One win briefly noted deep within a forest of losses is a tree that tends to hide from view.

But the night — the night the Mets didn’t lose — really and truly happened. Partake in its tale before it is fully committed to obscurity.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost most every night in September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost especially frequently and extremely painfully to their evening’s opponent, the vastly better equipped Washington Nationals.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because these Mets were not constructed to win. They were not constructed. They were accumulated, mostly.

In September of Two Thousand Seventeen, there were Mets and there was winning, and the two were almost invariably kept a respectful distance from one another.

It was a night at Citi Field when the Nationals led the Mets six to one in the middle of the fifth inning, suggesting an inevitable final score of Nationals twelve Mets two by the end of the ninth. The numbers were on pace to pile up on and topple all over the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

Yet it didn’t unravel that way. It didn’t unravel at all. The Friday night ballgame surprised its onlookers and probably itself. From six to one in the middle of the fifth, the game turned to six-six by the top of the sixth. And by the top of the seventh, somehow, the Mets led the Nationals seven to six. These, mind you, were not exactly the Nationals who had been division champions officially for nearly two weeks and essentially for more than five months. Those Nationals were on hiatus, resting and refueling in advance of their next significant contest, sometime in October, sometime after the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen will have ceased to exist.

No, these Nationals did not play their regulars. But then again, these Mets did not have regulars.

In a previous life — a September earlier, two Septembers earlier — these Mets were not these Mets. They were other Mets. Those Mets preceding these Mets were different. They were successful. They were popular. Surprisingly, a knowing look at these Mets revealed connective tissue between those Mets and these Mets. There were players who played for both versions. A few even predated the predecessors, going back to the Mets who were not yet different, successful and popular. It wasn’t so long before — three, maybe four Septembers earlier — that those players were striving to make a difference, achieve success, generate popularity. How it all rose upward and then plunged downward so quickly was too dizzying to consider accurately. Were we sure this was the same franchise?

It was. There had been a Travis d’Arnaud, a Juan Lagares, a Jeurys Familia before the Mets would fairly be assessed as good. Then there were those same players as the Mets commenced to being indisputably good. Finally, in September of Two Thousand Seventeen, they were still Mets, part of the irregular Mets, the Mets for whom there was no expectation of victory, no sense of capability, little hint they could do anything well.

Somehow, though, for one Friday night they did. D’Arnaud hit two home runs, including the three-run shot that tied the score at six. Lagares registered two base hits, crossed home plate twice and took away from the Nationals a chance to ignite a response rally when he dove, he caught and he betrayed no obvious physical agony, a rarity when Mets would meet ground. Familia, mostly missing from these Mets, returned to prominence if only for a batter, striking out the last National and earning his first save since the world was young…or at least since he was being aided by teammates named Walker and Rivera and Granderson and Bruce.

They were all gone by this Friday night, the night Familia achieved his fourth save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season. So were erstwhile teammates Salas and Reed, two who pitched in front of Familia on the occasion of his previous save. So was Duda, who was on the disabled list at that intersection of time and space, foretelling where practically everybody who was known as a Met would sooner or later land if they hadn’t landed there already. In all honesty, hope was gone before the lot of the former Mets were off to other, happier precincts. Familia’s third save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season had occurred on May the Fifth. The Mets already trailed the Nationals by six-and-half games.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen eventually arrived. The Mets barely appeared, and then primarily in highly irregular fashion. Mets you thought would be gone, too, like Cabrera. Mets you were surprised to discover were Mets, like Aoki. Mets who pitched in relief in lieu of Familia (including a faux closer named Ramos who was still so enmeshed in his innate Marlinnity that their new prospective ownership probably schemed to dismiss him all over again). Mets who started instead of perceived ace Syndergaard (though Syndergaard was suddenly deemed ready to start again, albeit just a touch). When Washington came to New York on September the Twenty-Second, the Mets trailed the Nationals by twenty-seven games.

After that Friday night — after d’Arnaud, Lagares and Familia reminded those who still maintained vigilance that they were the same Mets they used to be; after Cabrera and Aoki contributed as meaningfully as any Mets could; after every Mets reliever not named Ramos warded off whichever Nationals the Nationals chose to unleash upon the Mets — the margin was twenty-six. Oh yes, these Mets had won, seven to six. What seemed anywhere from unlikely to impossible had, in fact, occurred.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen went on. It was remembered, when it was remembered, for the nights the Mets didn’t win. Those were plentiful and pervasive. But perhaps now that you know there was a night the Mets didn’t lose, well, maybe you’ll kindly mention it to somebody else someday, just so somebody else understands it really and truly happened.

The Beating Goes On

Well, at least it’s another day off the calendar, what with the Mets all but drowned in the mire of another Mike Glavine season.

I keep thinking about The Other Glavine as a beacon of futility. He got his lone big-league hit on the final day of the 2003 season, a 4-0 beating by the Marlins. The Mets’ lineup on the day that wretched season finally put us out of our misery? Roger Cedeno, Jay Bell, Ty Wigginton, Tony Clark, Raul Gonzalez, Vance Wilson, Joe McEwing, Jorge Velandia and starting pitcher Jeremy Griffiths.

My first instinct is to say that assemblage makes me feel better about the 2017 Mets. That white flag of a lineup contained one formerly good player (Bell), an OK complementary player (Wigginton) and a couple of useful role players miscast as starters (Wilson, McEwing). There aren’t any guys whose only fault was being young and not yet ready.

But perhaps that’s hindsight. Faith and Fear didn’t exist yet, though Greg was unknowingly prototyping it through frequent emails to his baseball circles. I don’t know, maybe there are exchanges in which he and I wax rhapsodic about the potential of Gonzalez and Griffiths.

Or maybe it’s as I remember, and that season was a disaster whose only redeeming quality was that it ended — and which, more than a decade later, can be boiled down to grim shorthand: Mike Glavine.

So, anyway. The Mets got pounded by the Marlins. They were noncompetitive once again. Got swept.

Brandon Nimmo hit a home run and would have have been on base more than that if not for the baseball norm that the strike zone varies depending on one’s seniority, the quality of the matchup and the month on the calendar. (I, for one, am ready to welcome our new robot balls-and-strikes overlords.)

Kevin Plawecki got two more hits, continuing to look like the player we thought he might be not so long ago.

Rafael Montero wasn’t very good, but at least his recent performances have earned him the right to have “Rafael Montero wasn’t very good” games, as opposed to “Rafael Montero is perpetually timid and faked a shoulder injury and doesn’t know how to pitch and has failed 56,000 times and simply has to be released immediately because he is driving everyone insane” games. If you squint that’s kind of something.

That’s all I’ve got. Maybe, a decade or so from now, we’ll stumble across this box score and note the presence of Nimmo, and Dominic Smith, and Phil Evans and try to reconstruct if we grasped things would soon be a lot better. Perhaps we’ll be confused briefly over whether or not Amed Rosario was up by then. We might recall that yes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes were near the end but sure had some great Mets moments before that. I can imagine reminding each other that Montero’s career is an object lesson in not giving up on guys too early. Possibly we’ll salute Nori Aoki as the kind of useful bench guy good teams need.

Or, alternately, we’ll grimace and say “Tommy Milone,” and everyone will understand that means that whatever’s gone wrong with the 2031 Mets, at least it can never be 2017 again.

The Manchurian Marlin?

The Mets once had a player who was referred to, without irony, as Mr. Marlin. His name was Jeff Conine. We knew him as a nice if ineffectual guy at the end of his career. He couldn’t help stem the tide that washed the 2007 Mets out to sea, but even Mr. Marlin can do only so much when the enormous waves come crashing to the shore.

The Mets once had a player who set all kinds of Marlins career marks despite your intuition suggesting it’s unlikely anybody bothers to save old Marlin box scores. You know who’s played in more games, come to bat more, scored more runs, recorded more hits, singled more, tripled more, walked more, reached base more and stolen more bases than any other Marlin? None other than Luis Castillo, whom Mets fans will remember mostly for swiping defeat from the jaws of victory in 2009.

The Mets built playoff powerhouses with Marlins the Marlins no longer had use for — Dennis Cook, Al Leiter and Florida flash Mike Piazza in one veritable swoop, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca in another. For that matter, the Wild Card that was won a year ago (seems more like a century) was facilitated by the presence of 2012 Marlins alumnus Jose Reyes. It’s not like the Mets haven’t had good fortune picking through Miami’s recyclables. Yet with the rare Marlin whom you might instinctively identify as a Marlin, whatever good emanated from his Met tenure tends to get overwhelmed in memory by deleterious circumstances. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th homer as a Met shortly before ’09 chemically dissolved in acid. Moises Alou extended a hitting streak to 30 while the Mets were in the process of blowing a division lead of seven games with seventeen to play. Cliff Floyd earned beloved status at Shea in 2005, but struck out against Adam Wainwright to help end 2006. Livàn Hernandez came us to us too late, Preston Wilson left us too soon (albeit in a good cause).

No Marlin-tinged Met, however, has seemed more attached to his Marlinness than AJ Ramos. Even Mr. Marlin Conine and Mr. Marlin Record Holder Castillo had moved on from the Marlins before alighting on the Mets. AJ Ramos was a Marlin his entire career prior to joining the Mets. Nobody is a Marlin his entire career for very long. Giancarlo Stanton is the lavishly compensated exception to the rule, and even he and his 55 homers are the never-ending subject of trade rumors. Their franchise is built to expunge its own. Ramos came to the major leagues in September of 2012 and remained a Marlin until July of 2017. That’s a lifetime Marlin, relatively speaking. Ramos apparently developed a real affinity for his one and only pre-Met ballclub, which you can understand in theory, except that it was the Marlins, and who maintains an emotional attachment to the frigging Marlins?

Our ad hoc closer, that’s who.

Prior to very recently, AJ had done a decent if stress-inducing job pitching late innings and protecting rare leads since coming over. We didn’t have Jeurys Familia. We no longer had Addison Reed. Ramos would do in the short term and perhaps contribute in the longer term. But every time I heard him wax nostalgic for his old team and his old teammates, I was thinking there’s no way it will work out well when he faces them.

I should’ve gone with that sense. Instead, in an uncommonly good Met mood Tuesday night — after Reyes, Travis d’Arnaud and Seth Lugo had all excelled — I generated a generous thought in AJ’s direction. It was the top of the ninth, the Mets led by three, Asdrubal Cabrera sent a fly ball to deep right. I would have liked it to have gone out to extend the Mets’ advantage to 6-1, but when it was caught at the track, I thought, ah, that’s OK, at least now Ramos can get a save that will be particularly meaningful to him.

Kiss of death. Sorry about that. More Ramos’s blown save en route to a ten-inning loss than mine, but I’ve been futilely rooting for the Mets to beat the Marlins in South Florida long enough to know better than to believe the result was anywhere proximate to the proverbial bag, let alone securely inside it. How would AJ know that he was bound to throw 32 pitches, put six separate Marlins on base and allow the three tying runs to cross the plate without escaping the ninth? He’d watched his share of Marlins games in which Mets’ leads evaporated on the spot, but he watched it from the other side of the field. Maybe he was doing what he assumed he was supposed to do. When you’re in Marlins Park, aren’t you supposed to doom the Mets as painfully as you can? It probably got confusing for him amid all the pastels and empty seats. He looked down at his newly Metsian self, saw a reserved gray road uniform and no longer knew what to believe.

Paul Sewald (0-6) pulled what remained of the Mets chances out of the fire in the ninth and then, predictably, burned them to a crisp in the tenth, giving up the game-losing home run to J.T. Realmuto. Not long ago that would have provided AJ Ramos with the cue to gather at home plate alongside his fellow Marlins and heartily congratulate the Fish of the hour. Now he had to keep straight who he was with, who he was against and what he was supposed to do. No high-fives for J.T. No hugs for Giancarlo. No good times in the company of Dee and Christian and Marcell and Ichiro. No communing with the spirit of Luis Castillo in the only place on the North American continent where that’s considered a desirable endeavor.

The fellow’s surely befuddled. Have mercy on his Marlin soul.

Destined for the Knife

Matt Harvey was bad. The rest of the Mets weren’t much better.

Say this for the soon-to-be-extinct 2017 Mets: when things aren’t going to go well they sure don’t tease you about it. Monday’s 13-1 drubbing was the 18th time they’ve given up at least 10 runs this year — and the fourth time in the last eighth games. When they’re gonna lose, they lose big.

Some of this isn’t worth talking about. Tommy Milone is a fill-in whom it would be pointless to excoriate; rather than blame a ham-and-egger for being what he is, you ask what went wrong to get him so many innings. (Short answer: everything.) Hansel Robles has had a ghastly year, but he’s also a hard-throwing young middle reliever, and middle relief is a spaghetti-at-the-wall affair even in good years.

(Before we move on, it would be wrong not to mention that Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball so hard I wondered if it might knock Loria’s horrific Pachinko machine down. It didn’t, but keep trying, good sir.)

As for Harvey, well. The story has changed in disturbingly rapid fashion from “Can he be what he once was?” to “Can he reinvent himself as a finesse guy?” to “Will the Mets tender him a contract?”

(Spoiler: they will. But hold that thought.)

One thing is for certain: barring some miracle turnaround, when Harvey does leave the team the knives will be out. He’s had too many run-ins with management, too many self-inflicted controversies, too many “one Met said” quotes and too many gossip-page late nights to avoid the kind of day-after-the-transaction story that the New York sports press loves, the one in which an ex-player’s feuds and sins are hauled out of notebooks and hotel-bar sessions and dropped on the page as if they’d always been common knowledge. Total up the number of people Harvey has alienated, his continuing ability to attract clicks and light up phones, his nocturnal habits and the Mets’ penchant for backstabbing players they’ve shed and Farewell Matt Day could set a new standard for ugliness.

But we can be weary of that another day. For now, the Mets have a 2018 rotation to put together. Not so long ago an optimist would have written it in ink; now it’s all pencil and cross-outs and question marks.

Given his misfortunes and potentially diminished ceiling, Harvey might not be the biggest of those question marks. Zack Wheeler‘s 2017 season never really got on track before it fell off it and Steven Matz‘s entire career has been shadowed by misfortune and mismanagement. But he’ll be the loudest and most divisive one — he always has been.

Harvey’s late nights will get the pixels, but what really ought to be discussed is thoracic outlet syndrome. (You can get a head start here and here.) It wasn’t so long ago that we’d basically never heard of it; now we’re learning it’s a killer of pitchers.

That’s only overstating it a little, but only a little. The list of pitchers who’ve had surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome is growing; the list of pitchers who’ve come back from it successfully remains stubbornly small. That may not be true forever, but it is today. Your success stories include Matt Harrison, sort of. Chris Young, sort of. Jaime Garcia, sort of. Not exactly like contemplating life after Tommy John, is it?

The hopeful case for Harvey does exist, and it looks like this: Harvey is younger than most pitchers who have gone under the knife for TOS; the surgery to repair it has robbed many pitchers of their location; and the time needed to restore that fine control has often been more than a season. Harvey’s velocity has been all over the place, but the top end isn’t gone; he may keep healing and look like more like the electric pitcher we remember next spring.

The less-than-hopeful case is that Harvey will look like what he is now: a pitcher who can’t reach back for 97 or 98 when he needs it, whose location is a mess more often than not, and who has the additional burden of being a born and bred fireballer instead of a Madduxian trickster. And if that’s the case, the Mets have to ask seriously whether they’re better off paying, say, Chris Flexen the minimum rather than whatever bump Harvey will get in arbitration.

But that’s a 2018 question. It’s dumb to make decisions out of vengeance, whether we’re talking baseball or anything else. There’s no reason for the Mets not to let Harvey’s contract go to arbitration and see how things stand in spring training; if he still looks terrible, they can cut him loose and be on the hook for just a small part of that salary. With every pitcher not named Jacob deGrom a giant question mark, of course they’ll do that.

We never thought it would get this far, but that’s baseball. It’s beautiful and thrilling and ridiculous and cruel. You hope for the former but often endure the latter.

The Afterlife in Atlanta

Part of getting old is things go from novel to familiar — which is both a little unsettling and oddly comforting. Unsettling because you forget at first; comforting because it sure cuts down on the processing time once you remember.

It’s been a while since the Mets had nothing to play for at the end of September. That was a welcome development: a World Series one year, a wild-card game the next. A welcome and unprecedented development, but let’s not dwell on that. Or on the fact that they pooched up the World Series and the wild-card game was a heartbreaker. Heck, that part’s just baseball.

On Sunday I watched the Mets play a taut, exciting game. (And yes, they won on a Sunday, running their record on the day of arrest to a gaudy 8-17.) The game didn’t mean anything — no game has for weeks or will again for months — but I followed it relatively closely and enjoyed it, and found myself idly thinking all sorts of baseball-related things that didn’t involve hemlock or snarking on the Mets. How much Dom Smith has learned. If Phillip — sorry, Phil — Evans might have a position next year. The relative merits of the Indians, Astros and Twins bandwagons.

New for 2017, but really not new at all in the larger scheme of things. It’s a regular stop on the emotional tour for teams playing out the string. I’d just forgotten is all. Once I was reminded, it all came back.

The game itself deserves a little closer attention, which is a rare thing to say these days. Really, it was an ideal baseball game — a tight, tense affair where it looked like a small early lapse would be the difference, but that ended with the good guys pulling away so there wasn’t too much tension at the end. We got our happy ending a little early, and that was fine.

Julio Teheran was good — very good, in fact — except for the first inning, in which he couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Mets two runs. (More, perhaps, if C.B. Bucknor’s interpretation of the strike zone hadn’t been from the Surrealist school.) After that Teheran found himself and the Braves found him, backing him up with terrific defense by Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies. (As well as a play in which Teheran saved his own life on a scoring liner ticketed for his head by Juan Lagares, 2017’s designated sacrifice to the BABIP gods.)

On the Mets side, was this the best start of Robert Gsellman‘s young career? Clearly it was a good one: he had a good sinker and used it aggressively, mixing it with his slider and an effective change to get ground balls by the bushel. The best? You could argue otherwise in terms of numbers — Gsellman’s had more really good starts that you might have guessed. But the seventh inning supplied some admittedly non-quantifiable evidence for the court to consider.

Gsellman entered with a 2-0 lead and his pitch count in the mid-80s — probably last-inning territory unless things progressed quickly. And it looked like they might: Gsellman coaxed a flyout from Nick Markakis on four pitches, went 3-2 on Johan Comargo, then got Comargo to hit the ball up the middle on the ground.

Amed Rosario booted it.

Gsellman went back to work. Dansby Swanson swung and missed twice and hit a grounder to Rosario — a double-play ball, but one that he had to come in for.

It went under his glove.

Gsellman, tank close to empty, had now given his team four outs in the inning yet somehow still had two to get.

Terry Collins might have taken him out, but decided not to. As for Gsellman? Well, a guy who earlier this summer got in trouble for telling his general manager he didn’t care had just been handed an ironclad alibi for failure. What would he do with it?

For openers he got Jace Peterson to hit a ground ball — not to Rosario this time, mercifully. Jose Reyes wisely took the out at first, but a run scored and Kurt Suzuki came to the plate with the tying run in scoring position.

Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of good games by young pitchers have come unraveled at points like this, with said young pitchers trying to look stoic afterwards and their managers studiously ignoring left-him-in-too-long chatter.

Gsellman’s first pitch to Suzuki — his 100th of the afternoon — was a 90 mph sinker at the knee, with movement. Strike one.

His second was a sinker inside, on Suzuki’s hands. Suzuki fouled it off. 0-2 count.

The third pitch was a bait pitch — 93, up and away. Suzuki ignored it and it was 1-2.

Fourth pitch was a slider that Suzuki poked down the right-field line, in foul territory. It came down where neither Nori Aoki nor Dom Smith had a chance to catch it — seemingly harmless, but another small thing that’s loomed large in narratives like this one. Still 1-2.

The fifth pitch — the 104th on the day — was another sinker at the knees. Suzuki popped it up into foul territory, and it came down in Smith’s glove.

Gsellman, given an opportunity to fold and have people still feel sorry for him, went back to what had worked, ignoring fatigue and whatever hex had been put on his shortstop. That’s a learning experience for a young pitcher — and a nice afternoon for a no-longer-quite-so-young fan.