Enjoy that one. The nightcap saw the Mets do absolutely nothing against entitled annoyance Gio Gonzalez, a little Daniel Murphy parachute aside.
Enjoy that one. They finished the season 4-15 against the Nationals. Go a mediocre 9-10 and they would have been over .500.
Enjoy that one. Zack Wheeler‘s final start was a letdown — he was throwing 98, but melted down (with some help from bad defense and bad luck) in the fourth.
Enjoy that one. Matt Harvey ensured a new cycle of sports-talk annoyance by attending Jeterfest. Worse, he tweeted about #RE2PECT like a hyperventilating Belieber.
Enjoy that one. Oh’naud, the concern about Travis d’Arnaud is related to his el’baud.
Enjoy that one. Did you see what happened in the Bronx? It was simultaneously epic and annoying. No I’m not fucking linking to it. Go check any other site.
Enjoy that one. The dream of a .500 season went down the toilet tonight, leaving nothing left except the pursuit of a meaningless second place.
Enjoy that one. Second place would be neat, but fourth place is still very possible.
Enjoy that one. We’re down to three with the Astros, a concert by someone I’ve never heard of who looks 12 and a bobblehead that looks nothing like Casey Stengel.
Enjoy that one. Soon David I. Pankin, the paving-stones guy with his Armortec secret weapon, Cindy from Lee’s Toyota and Roscoe the bedbug-sniffing dog will be gone.
Enjoy that one. Kevin Burkhardt’s already gone. I already miss him.
Enjoy that one. On the plus side, Alexa can soon stop blinking SAVE ME FROM THIS HELL in Morse code on those painful Mets QVC ads.
Enjoy that one. Football will soon rule the land, offering nonstop concussions, abused children and unconscious fiancees, appalling coverups and lying commissioners.
Enjoy that one. We’re down to unexpected plans, previous engagements and the like wiping out not a tiny part of the season, but a third of it.
Enjoy as many of these as you can, as best you can. Because there aren’t enough of them left.
Enjoy this one. There isn’t much time in every sense of the concept.
Enjoy this one. There’s another game in a couple of hours.
Enjoy this one. There’s only four more overall.
Enjoy this one. Wright’s shoulder issue sounds vexing, to say the least. Let’s enjoy baseball news that isn’t solely injury news.
Enjoy this one. D’Arnaud’s absence is a bit of a concocted mystery (it doesn’t have to be so mysterious), but at least we got another look at the flexibly pronounceable Juan Centeno.
Enjoy this one. Maybe we’ll find something to say about Wilfredo Tovar and Erik Goeddel before this weekend is done.
Enjoy this one. Dillon Gee balked, the first Mets balk of the year, and there was no ultimate screwage from it.
Enjoy this one. Curtis Granderson is hot. It probably won’t carry over into April, but he seems like a swell guy.
Enjoy this one. We beat the Nationals. We almost never do that and not too many others do, either.
Enjoy this one. Gee faltered, but our bullpen picked him up.
Enjoy this one. Lots of hits, a decent amount of runs and a neat double play salvaged from a bad throw home.
Enjoy this one. Gary and Ron. Howie and Josh. It doesn’t get better.
Enjoy this one. Wilmer Flores looks kind of real. Try to not think what kind of license that gives the front office for not trying to find a legitimate shortstop.
Enjoy this one. It’s baseball on a chilly, rainy day en route to baseball on a chilly, rainy evening and we get to watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio without getting wet and cold.
Enjoy as many of these as you can. There aren’t enough of them left.
Good news yesterday, even with the rainout: I heard the neighbors aren’t throwing their annual October party this year. Actually, this is the second consecutive year they’re skipping it, making those affairs no longer annual events, I suppose. I didn’t think they were gonna have their party. I know they ordered in a bunch of expensive supplies last winter like they always do, yet I hadn’t seen any sign lately they were preparing for anything to happen in October. Still, you can’t be too sure with these neighbors. Better to get it confirmed before kicking back and relaxing.
Remember those awful parties they used to throw with disgusting regularity every October? Geez, sometimes they’d go on till November. They’d make such a to-do over every little thing. (You should have heard them going on about their jewelry; it was “ring this” and “ring that”. It took me a couple of years to realize they weren’t talking about bells.) All their bleating made it impossible to think. I really prefer October without the neighbors making any noise.
Now and then somebody will ask me, “What do you care what the neighbors do? You have your own house to tend to. Just ignore them.” That sounds very reasonable and all, but it never works that way in October. They are impossible to ignore when they get going. It’s not just October, either. Always with the bombast. Always with the pompous self-regard. And the drama! I grant you we have our share of drama on this side of the fence, but we don’t bother everybody else with it.
Take this week. Even with the neighbors making it clear there’d be no party this October, they haven’t shut up about what they’ve been up to this month. This whole year, actually. What I thought was supposed to be a nice, simple going-away dinner for somebody has turned into a neverending extravaganza. That’s their business, but when they can’t stop going on and on about it, it becomes everybody’s business.
I can’t fault the neighbors for wanting to do this thing — in theory, it’s a nice idea — but ohmigod, they’re making it sound as if anybody who isn’t interested in it or doesn’t think it’s the greatest thing in the world is some kind of enemy of the state. The guy at the center of it certainly earned a bon voyage or whatever, but that’s not enough. First it was like “we’ll do one”; then it was “we’re gonna fit another one in”; then it was like “we have this big blowout planned, and it’s gonna be awesome, but oh no, what if we don’t have super special moments? How can we choreograph super special moments to make sure it’s super special because nothing can ever just ‘happen’ with us? And what if there’s another one after this and we can’t go? And what if it rains?”
If anybody who’s not into it dares to suggest it’s too much or they’re not up for swooning over the guest of honor…and believe me, the guest has been honored plenty…they act so offended! “Don’t you know how great this guy is? It’s history! History!” Or, get this: “HI2TORY”. It’s so over the top.
These neighbors of ours. I can’t wait for October when it’s completely quiet over there.
As a service to New York Mets fans who find themselves encountering an unfamiliar concept, Faith and Fear in Flushing provides the following helpful primer.
Welcome to the battle for second place!
Yeah, I thought I heard something about that. Can you explain what this is exactly?
With Monday night’s loss by the reeling Braves to the Pirates, the Mets moved into a second-place tie in the National League East. Though the Mets lost per usual in Washington Tuesday, the moribund Cobb Countyans continued to struggle versus playoff-bound Pittsburgh, so the tie remains in effect. The Marlins, it should be noted, have surged to within in a half-game of second place, so it could be any of these three also-rans grabbing runner-up honors.
I feel I should’ve heard of this “second place” before. Why does it seem so strange?
That’s because it is. Though the Mets have finished second eleven different times, they haven’t spent any appreciable time in second place for more than half a decade.
Is it good to be in second place? I’ve heard of “first place” and how teams try to finish there, but what’s the deal with second? It doesn’t seem to get as much publicity.
Second place can be great. Or it can be kind of a bummer. Sometimes it’s somewhere in between.
Whoa! Now you’re confusing me even more!
Let’s start with the first time the Mets saw second place. It was on June 3, 1969, when the Mets were in the midst of their historic eleven-game winning streak that marked their coming-out party as a franchise.
So they were trying to get into second place in 1969? That was the “miracle”?
Early on, they were just trying to win more games than they had lost, and as it happened, the Mets rose above .500 for the first time in their lives on the same night they moved into second. They would spend all but a few days there until September 10.
Then what happened?
Then they climbed into first place, where they stayed en route to winning the World Series.
Is that what’s going to happen now if the Mets stay in second place?
No. It’s too late for that.
Then what’s so great about second place?
Ideally, second place is a stepping stone to first. The first time the Mets finished second was 1984, allowing Mets fans who were used to finishing last or next-to-last to sincerely believe first place would come the following year. When the Mets finished second again in 1985, it was disappointing, but it also meant first place was getting even closer. 1986 and another world championship indeed came next.
You’re telling me that all the Mets have to do is finish second and wait a couple of years and their winning it all is a done deal?
Not exactly. Not every second-place finish is a cause for celebration.
Why the hell not? You’ve been making it sound so appealing.
The Mets finished second in 1987, which felt a lot different from 1984 and 1985 because instead of it representing another upward rung on the ladder, it was a letdown from 1986. Same thing could be said for the Mets’ next two second-place finishes in 1989 and 1990, when being a runner-up paled by comparison to finishing first in 1988.
Second place, then, can be a double-edged sword?
Hey, that’s pretty good! Some years, actually, second place can be a platform unto itself.
What do you mean?
All those years between 1984 and 1990, finishing second could have been interpreted as good or bad but ultimately it precluded the Mets from going to the playoffs. Yet when the Wild Card was inaugurated in the mid-1990s, finishing second didn’t necessarily mean your season was over.
It didn’t. Although Major League Baseball never billed it this way, if you had the best second-place record in your league, you won a playoff spot.
Did the Mets ever accomplish that?
A couple of times, in 1999 and 2000.
The Mets finished second and it meant more than healthy self-esteem?
You’re catching on. By winning 97 games as a second-place team in 1999 — they needed a special “play-in” game to win the 97th — and 94 games in 2000, the Mets won the Wild Card, proceeded to the postseason and experienced some incredibly memorable success.
“Some incredibly memorable success” sounds like a euphemism for “could’ve done better”.
You’ve got me there. The 1999 Mets won one playoff series, versus Arizona, before succumbing to Atlanta just shy of the World Series. The 2000 Mets won two playoff series and a pennant before going to the World Series and losing to I forget who right now.
But finishing second was to their benefit?
Those years, yes.
So it was their goal?
I wouldn’t say that exactly, but it got them where they needed to be. Not every second-place Mets team could say that, not even in the Wild Card era.
The Mets finished second in 1998, 2007 and 2008, each time very close to making the playoffs.
But they didn’t make it?
No. It was a case of “close, but no cigar.”
What do cigars have to do with anything? Does the team that finishes second have to smoke a cigar? Do I? Those things are disgusting.
The part about “no cigar” is an expression. The point is in 1998 the Mets had the inside track on the Wild Card as the National League East’s second-place team, but they kind of choked down the stretch…
Like choked on a cigar?
…and didn’t make it. In 2007 and 2008, they were in first place in September, but then slipped into second and eventually behind some other second-place team and missed the playoffs altogether.
They didn’t win a Wild Card then and they didn’t win a cigar — did they win anything?
It used to be the team finishing second, even when there was no playoff spot for it, would get a small piece of the postseason bonus pool. When player salaries weren’t so high, it could mean an extra thousand bucks a man, which those guys didn’t sneeze at.
Sneezing because of an allergy to cigar smoke?
Going into the final game of the 1970 season, the Mets and Cubs were tied for second and playing each other. The Mets had Tom Seaver, their best pitcher, in rotation to take the start, but his shoulder was stiff and they went with Jim McAndrew instead and lost. Hence, they had to settle for third-place money, which was measurably less.
No thousand bucks and no cigar then, huh?
In essence. There was also the nearish-miss in 1976 when the Mets were on a serious roll during the last two months and, despite being way out of the race, pulled to within two games of the Pirates in the last week only to lose their last five and settle for third.
Lining player pockets aside, why should I care how far the Mets finish out of the money? I mean they’re not going to the playoffs this year, correct?
Correct. The two best non-first place records in each league win a Wild Card these days but the Mets are mathematically eliminated from that contest. And they were never going to catch the Nationals for first.
So what’s the upside? Is this just about giving the Wilpons an excuse to not search for replacements for Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins? I see they were both confirmed as back next year. Is that because they’ve got the Mets competing for what seems like a fairly insignificant prize?
Alderson and Collins would probably be coming back regardless of where the Mets finish, though I think you’re right. This late move up in the standings makes them look pretty good even if their record isn’t that much better than last year’s.
Then what’s so great about the Mets maybe finishing in second place in 2014?
I suppose it’s a matter of what you make of it. In 1995, the Mets had wallowed in last place most of the season. They were stuck there as late as the final week. But then they got hot, swept their final six and, with a little help from the Marlins beating the Phillies, finished tied for second on Closing Day. Granted, it was with a sub-.500 record of 69-75 in a strike season and they wound up 21 games behind the Braves, but it was still second place, which felt so much better than any other place besides first, probably because they hadn’t finished as high as second since 1990.
Um, what does any of this have to do with anything at the moment?
You look at the Mets maybe finishing in second this year and you realize they’ve gone even longer — six years — since they finished that high. No, it’s not much in the scheme of things, but it’s something. Maybe it’s something to build on, maybe it’s just a better looking version of not going anywhere. But the season’s nearly over and the Mets are still sort of aspiring. It’s nice to go out that way if we have to go out before October.
You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself second place is a big deal.
Maybe. We’ll see if they get there and I’ll let you know if it is.
Well, good luck to our team, then! I hope if it’s still a race this weekend that Jacob deGrom is in rotation to pitch. He’s the Mets’ best pitcher, right? You’d want him in there one more time, especially if a little something is on the line, right?
Yeah, you’d think.
The Braves are out of the playoffs — and their cause of death was the Mets.
The Pirates beat the Brewers, and the Mets finished the deed with a 10-2 decimation that didn’t seem as close as that score suggests.
Let us therefore now observe a moment of silence … whoa, I seem to have badly misspelled “round of high-fiving while cackling with an unseemly glee.”
Seriously, fuck the Braves. Fuck them for all the horrible things they did to us in previous baseball generations, when they were the car and we were the dog barking and snapping uselessly at the bumper. Fuck them for their entitled fans who took a dynasty for granted and wouldn’t fill the stadium for a playoff game. Fuck them for holding up taxpayers for a new stadium when there was nothing particularly wrong with the old one except they could get a better deal elsewhere. Fuck them for Bobby Cox and Chipper and Andruw Jones and John Rocker and Michael Tucker and Steve Avery and Chief Noc-a-Homa and the cheating with the catcher’s
batter’s box. Fuck them for those horrible red tops. Fuck them for everything I can think of and everything you can think of and then let’s ask some more people and come back and say fuck them for all of that too.
I’d add fuck Fredi Gonzalez, but I think he’s pretty fucked as it is. After a gag job like that, the question isn’t who should go but who, if anybody, deserves to stay.
The Braves played horribly yet again today, with no one looking more bored and limp while losing than B.J. Upton. They got eviscerated and embarrassed, and they didn’t seem either devastated or disappointed by it. (Oh yeah — fuck T@m Glav!ne, no matter what uniform you picture him in.) As we all know, the Mets have their problems. But there’s something hollow and broken about the Braves. Good luck fixing it, by which I mean I hope they never do.
On the winning side of the romp, here’s a potential last shake of the shaggy mop for Jacob deGrom. Ideally, deGrom’s season would end with a happy sendoff at Citi Field next weekend and a 10th win to cement his Rookie of the Year credentials. Ideally, but more likely that’s it for deGrom, felled by the dreaded innings limit. Whatever the case, in an odd way it was one of his more impressive outings in a most impressive season — he fanned eight of the first 11 Braves, then dialed his fastball down a few ticks to conserve energy for when he needed it. DeGrom’s thunderbolt arm is marvelous, of course, but he also has the head to go with it.
The Mets are now a skinny half-game behind those Braves. A rational person would say it’s mildly in the Mets’ interests not to finish ahead of them, because of draft picks and slot money. That rational person is undoubtedly correct. But I don’t want to be rational. I want my team to finish ahead of the Braves, and then I want to look back at them and laugh. And then next year I want it to happen again, but with a lot more distance between us.
Your meaningful games in September update:
The Mets are officially better than they were the last two years — they won their 75th game of the year tonight.
For the moment at least they’re better than the Marlins, though tied in the lost column.
Can they finish with a winning record after the All-Star break? They’ll need to go 4-3, which seems possible. Taking the final game from Atlanta, winning one against Washington and then taking two of three from Houston would do it.
Can they finish at .500 or better? They’ll need to go 6-1, which seems unlikely.
But perhaps they can catch the Braves — Atlanta somehow is 76-78, just 1.5 games ahead of us.
Which is a useful bit of perspective. The Mets are mediocre and beset with payroll and legal issues, but nobody expected much of them. The Braves were supposed to be contenders, and just fleeced suburban taxpayers for a new baseball palace to replace the not obviously flawed one they already have. They were tied with the Nats for first on July 20, but have gone 22-34 since then, and tonight they played with all the ardor of a mall cop on the first smoke break of a hot day. The lone exception was Freddie Freeman, who laced a misplaced Josh Edgin slider up the middle, but then that’s what Freddie Freeman does.
On the Metsian side, kudos to Jon Niese, whose performance even I couldn’t criticize. A tip of the cap to Carlos Torres, continuing his run of terrific outings. A shrug and a grin for Lucas Duda, whose first-base play skirted disaster that never quite arrived: The final play saw Duda stumble over a ball he should have fielded cleanly, somehow boot it to Wilmer Flores, then reverse back to the bag in time for the final out. Jenrry Mejia‘s subdued, stompless celebration was probably the product of a managerial talking-to, but Jenrry might also have been wondering how the Mets had survived that one.
And a final tip of the cap to Dilson Herrera, probably done for the year after straining a quad legging out an infield hit, which followed a two-run homer early in the game. It’s a shame to see him go, but he’ll be back — probably by next June and for keeps.
So, tomorrow: A Met win would give them the season series over Atlanta, 10-9. It would get them a game closer to their admittedly less-than-lofty goals. It would inflict more pain on the Braves, who owe us several centuries of suffering to make up for what previous Atlanta incarnations did to us. And it could boost Jacob deGrom‘s chances at an out-of-nowhere Rookie of the Year award.
For a team whose postseason chances have shrunk to zero, that’s a fair amount to play for.
You can now update the Mets’ slash line to reflect their currently accurate settings:
9 YRSWOPSA/15 YRSWOPNT/29 YRSWOWCH
YRSWOPSA: Years Without Postseason Appearance
YRSWOPNT: Years Without Pennant
YRSWOWCH: Years Without World Championship
The clock jumped ahead one year once the Pirates beat the Brewers in a game loaded with playoff race implications, which is to say it had nothing to do with the New York Mets, except that it officially removed the slightest scintilla of an iota of a shred of statistical doubt that the Mets would be going home after their 162nd game next Sunday.
There’s no doubt. They’re going home. When they return, it will be another year without any of the above achievements. It’s 2014 for eight more games, but for all practical projectable purposes, it’s 2015…thus the revised arithmetic regarding the respective distances from the hallowed accomplishments of 2006, 2000 and 1986.
There was never any genuine doubt they’d be going home on September 28 beyond perhaps a few minutes here and there in July when games were being won in clusters and an opening within the lenient five-team October matrix beckoned unclaimed. Then the Nationals pulled away in the division and the Mets fell inconveniently behind too many Wild Card competitors and it was over before it was over.
While Lucas Duda was belting the home run that provided Zack Wheeler and three relievers safe harbor from the traditionally treacherous undertow of Turner Field, Ike Davis’s Pirates (with a key pinch-ribby from our erstwhile first baseman of the future) moved a touch closer to grabbing that final playoff spot. Pittsburgh’s record is 83-70. There is nothing magisterial about 83-70. In days of yore and Yogiesque lore, maybe once a decade some unremarkable record would be good enough to rate a postseason invitation. The anointing of a second Wild Card guarantees so-so won-lost marks will be adequate more often. The fifth-best team in the National League will go to the playoffs, get to play a sudden-death game and possibly jump on a glide path to the World Series.
This isn’t about the Pirates at 83-70. It’s about the Mets at 74-80 who couldn’t find a way in 2014 to win two more games each month and be, at 86-68, in command of that second Wild Card spot. Or one game more a month and be, at 80-74, Pittsburgh’s primary challenger. They wouldn’t be on the verge of clinching anything in the latter scenario, but you would have known for sure they’d contended. They haven’t contended in six years.
Seven years, as of 2015.
It’s not unfair to view 2014 as more of the same because, at base, it was. No contending, which is the bare minimum you can ask your team to do for you. No postseason berth, let alone league or world championship. While a finish of two games over .500 is still mathematically possible, the Mets haven’t been fewer than four games under .500 since June 4. That was 95 games ago.
So, yes, it’s been more of the same, yet there is an emerging dissimilarity that potentially separates this latest serially crappy year from its immediate predecessors. Duda’s home run was his 28th; he’s slumped mightily but he’s picking it up a little again, and he’s quietly outshone most N.L. first basemen, Ike included, all season long. Wheeler’s win was his eleventh, which (however little stock you put into that stat) suggests an established starter of at least the second order. Zack’s catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, made a sensational grab on a foul pop on Friday night, a small thing in and of itself but another reminder that Td’A is behind the plate night after night when it looked for a while like he might fall off the face of the roster. Jeurys Familia had a horrible outing Monday night at Citi Field that served to sabotage Jacob deGrom. He had a sensational outing Friday night in Atlanta and made sure Wheeler’s six shutout innings didn’t go for naught.
Progress is in evidence through the prism of these players and several others whose toehold in the terrain of major league life grew firmer this season. It’s interior progress at this point. It doesn’t fully present itself in the standings and it won’t be on TV in the month ahead. That’s when it will feel like more of the same. That’s when you’ll look at the Nationals and the Cardinals and the Dodgers and the Giants and (probably) the Pirates and it will hit you how much better their half of the tournament would be if it encompassed the Mets.
Will the ninth year be the charm? Is the incremental momentum we’ve witnessed capable of extending itself into something more akin to the leaps-and-bounds variety? You can sense the Mets, like a cherished animated Log, are becoming better than bad; how soon can they be good? Will they ever be good enough so the number we’re tracking every September is less tragic and more magic?
This is the tenth season of Faith and Fear in Flushing and the ninth occasion calling for an elimination meditation. For what it’s worth — amazingly little, I believe — this one has come a little later than recently usual on the Metropolitan calendar.
GAME IN WHICH METS WERE ELIMINATED/2005-2014
2006: Never Eliminated! (Not in the regular season, at any rate.)
If the Mets didn’t quite hang in there, at least they hung on — albeit to zero effect on the race — longer than they have in any season since the collapse years. That’s mostly a symptom of the addition of that extra Wild Card plus the dismal September performances of Atlanta and Milwaukee, two teams that seemed comfortably on pace to outstrip Pittsburgh’s current 83-70. Really, everybody but Washington and Los Angeles has disappointed on some level in this year’s version of the National League. We could look at the tableau of mediocrity and mine annoyance that the Mets weren’t positioned to take proper advantage in 2014. Or we could view the very same vista and judge it a promising platform for a little leaping, maybe even a bit of bounding in 2015 if the right moves are made and the youngsters accelerate their learning curves.
We can process the 74-80 Mets both ways, actually. Eight days from now, we turn into Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone, wandering a baseball dystopia, favored with time enough at last to ponder all questions Metsian, yet deprived of the vision to see clearly what lies ahead of us.
When viewed from just a bit outside Metsopotamia, our obsessions must seem odd to the detached observer. I guess you could say that about how any community appears to anybody who’s not wholly immersed in it, but over the past couple of days, we have been uncommonly true to ourselves, our passions and our minutiae.
First, there was Logogate, the discovery that the sainted skyline emblem whose essential elements have remained virtually untouched for 53 years was tinkered with, perhaps nefariously. Only the most focused of Mets fans would immediately notice such an alteration. One of the most focused I’ve ever crossed paths with did. FAFIF reader and commenter Steve D. sent us (and others) an email over the weekend noting that the building on the far right of the skyline had been remodeled, at least on the Mets’ social media accounts. It was no longer the United Nations, but the Citigroup Center.
The switch would be a little curious on its own, but the “Citi” associaton set off alarm bells with Steve by Saturday and several more Mets fans blessed with detail detectors by Monday evening. My talented photographer friend David Whitham took the topic to Twitter as Jacob deGrom was striking out record numbers of Marlins, and by the next morning — as disseminated via Uni Watch and Mets Police, in particular — the observation was a story…or least a sidebar.
Somewhere between the dramatics of deGrom Monday night and the shriveling of Selig late Tuesday afternoon, several reporters who regularly patrol Citi Field covered the issue. The Mets told the accredited media, in so many words, we haven’t a clue how the UN became Citigroup. Which I believe, because if we’re gonna accuse the Mets hierarchy of being clueless, we have to stay consistent.
Several plausible theories have been floated, everything from “this was a typical corporate sellout conducted at the behest of the stadium’s naming-rights holders” (who, it deserves pointing out, are no longer headquartered at the no longer so-named Citigroup Center) to “somebody must have whipped up something for a PowerPoint presentation and it innocently seeped from hard drive to Facebook when a logo was called for.” The main thing was the Mets swore they weren’t modernizing/defiling the skyline that’s been their signature graphic since November of 1961, or before there technically were Mets.
Who cares? We care. We care a lot. It’s who we are, it’s what we do. Not everybody gets that, not necessarily even those who are the temporary custodians of our family crest. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal tweeted this revealing nugget after investigating:
People I talked to today around the Mets were all pretty impressed you guys a) noticed and b) cared so much about the logo.
“That kind of passion,” Diamond concluded, “sure beats the alternative: apathy.”
So few matters we care about as Mets fans reside within our grasp that it felt wrong, whether you warm to the idea of contemporizing the skyline or see any adjustment as an affront against history — I’m in the latter camp — to be shown what appeared to be “the new logo” without any warning, let alone any request for input. Occasional gimmick notwithstanding, the Mets organization sets high prices for admission while preserving a low budget as a hedge against contention. Our only potential impact on those frustrating facts would be to turn away altogether from what the Mets are selling. September’s acres of empty seats would seem to indicate we’re doing a fine job of resisting their wares, but we’re still Mets fans, we still wear Mets stuff and, let’s face it, we’re not going anywhere.
Nor should we. This is our team. It was our team when a friendly society lady was listed as owner; it was our team when the frontman was a country club kind of chap who stood off to the side as he invested in rebuilding a winner; and it’s our team no matter how many Wilpons we have to endure. We don’t have a say about much. If we can sneak one in over something that kicks us right in the aesthetics, well, I’m glad we saw something and we said something.
From the looks of still photographs, amateur video and one or two live shots on television, plenty of Mets fans modeling plenty of apparel featuring the classic skyline logo clustered together at Citi Field Wednesday night and evinced a sense of enthusiasm rarely generated during the ballpark’s six seasons of existence. It had zero to do with the Mets’ latest loss to the Marlins. It had everything to do with something else — somebody else, actually — who qualifies as uniquely ours.
The Shea Bridge was jammed as if it was the on-ramp to the Triborough (RFK, if you’re a stickler) at rush hour. It wasn’t to cheer on Dillon Gee or curse out Marcell Ozuna. It was all about extending a reluctant goodbye laced with a hearty go-get-’em to favorite son Kevin Burkhardt. Burkhardt’s been SNY’s Met field reporter since 2007. If Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are Original to the network in the Hot Rod Kanehl sense, let’s slot Kevin in as Ron Hunt. Hunt came along in the franchise’s second year and showed just how good an up-and-coming Met could be.
Burkhardt took on a frankly useless role and, via a voice that never wavered in its honesty, transformed it into essential. He was a co-star of the greatest show on nightly television; Mets telecasts are engaging, enlightening and entertaining, more so the miracle given that Mets baseball has been anything but. And (unlike Hunt), Kevin kept getting better. The man was already an ace, but not even Tom Seaver came out of the womb throwing first-pitch strikes.
Across eight seasons, Burkhardt learned to work his way seamlessly out of all but the most mandatory of superfluous action-interrupting interviews. He grew out of his dependence on “cool” and “neat” to describe people and places he deemed, well, cool and neat. For a few years, a friend and I mocked his tendency to start every sentence with “Guys…” I noticed he stopped doing that.
I love watching somebody get better at what he or she loves to do. Kevin Burkhardt was a joy to watch in that regard. He was a joy to watch in every regard, in every setting, in every stadium. The joy filtered through the television and it followed him around Citi Field. It’s no wonder that in advance of his final home game, once Darren Meenan of the 7 Line put out the word to gather along the Shea Bridge to celebrate Kevin’s elevation to a higher-profile position at Fox Sports and thank him for his contributions to our culture, Mets fans showed up and showed their appreciation.
Again, the outsider might wonder what all the fuss was about for a field reporter. He called no clinchers. He had to pause for pieings. He hopped in a kayak in San Francisco. He went marketing for meat in San Diego. He kibbitzed with construction workers and rookies’ parents. He wasn’t Jack Buck in St. Louis or Ernie Harwell in Detroit or Bob Murphy at Shea Stadium. Eight seasons is significant, but in the annals of broadcasting, it’s not normally the stuff of institutions.
Ah, but Kevin Burkhardt was ours. In Metsopotamia, we cherish that. We take it gloriously personally. He was one of us, which certainly helped, but his Mets fan roots didn’t conflict with his professionalism (just as they don’t for Gary Cohen and Howie Rose). Mostly he was a mensch, and he devoted his menschiness to giving us an even better broadcast. We appreciate the hell out of that sort of devotion to our cause, especially when it meshes with his kind of excellence at his craft. Of course he’d draw a crowd. Of course he’d find a way to embrace the sentiments while deflecting the praise. Of course he’d offer up a public letter of thanks to Mets fans everywhere. The guy I used to think of as “Guys” is just that kind of guy.
When they opened it in 2009, the Mets of Fred and Jeff Wilpon dedicated themselves to convincing potential patrons that Citi Field would present a premium ballpark experience because it would grant those with the right kind of ticket access to exclusive clubs. That first year, very specific castes were established in terms of who could go to what club. For example, Jason and I discovered during a rain delay in the initial Mets-Red Sox exhibition game designed to test-drive the spanking new facility that although our seats were in Field Level — closest to the field and therefore traditionally the hoity-toitiest of locations — we were not allowed to enter clubs on the Excelsior or Promenade levels. We just wanted to get dry. We were told to get lost.
The next year, the Mets broadened access to their enclaves. For example, if you had a Field Level ticket, even all the way in the outfield, you could slip into the Caesars. At some point, I heard purchasing a ticket plan would be enough to usher you in from out of the cold, heat or whatever you couldn’t take anymore from watching Mike Pelfrey and Manny Acosta. The only ticket that entitled you to nothing but a seat and a license to walk the concourses was plain ol’ Promenade, the spiritual successor to Upper Deck at Shea.
Well, the Mets’ classist plans backfired on two counts. For one, judging by physical as opposed to imagined attendance, nobody seems attracted to Citi Field by the promise of clubs, clubs and more clubs. (Nobody seems attracted by anything, but five going on six consecutive losing seasons will curb appetites across the board.) When I have a ticket that says I am privileged enough to deserve to go into one, I might make a cameo for climate or convenience reasons, but I’m not inside the Acela or Delta or whatever the one you run smack into as you escalate up from the Rotunda is called this week cutting deals and networking away. If they were generally accessible, I might think to stop by and see what’s for supper. But they’re not, so I usually skip around them, preferring to see the field.
The other count the Mets didn’t count on is that you can’t get more exclusive than a September evening in relatively low-rent Promenade. It’s so uncrowded in Citi Field’s highest tank that I can assure you nobody goes there anymore.
And if that’s not exclusive, I don’t know what is.
I spent the bulk of Tuesday night in what I shall refer to as Club 518. It is exclusively located between Clubs 517 and 519. To get in, you have to show uncommon interest in the actions of the New York Mets as they play out their season. That and maybe go on StubHub and lay out $6.99 as I did.
Club 518 doesn’t allow just anybody in. Maybe it does, but who can tell? At its fullest on Tuesday, this 306-seat section just to the third base side of home plate hosted 13 of us. When somebody would go to get a beer, the population dipped perceptibly. The quiet, however, rarely varied.
So consider me a member of the 4.3%, named in honor of the portion of seats that were filled somewhere between innings one and nine. I doubt we would have checked ID if somebody else wanted to join our intimate gathering, but nobody did.
By being one of the 4.3% during a game when I’m told Bud Selig was on cable television toasting the grand health of the local franchise that plays to perhaps fours of thousands on a typical weeknight, I had a very good view of Brad Penny’s induction into an even more exclusive club than 518. I watched him give up a pair of home runs to Wilmer Flores. That makes him only the sixth pitcher who has surrendered even one homer to the young slugger whose next baseball card should probably list him as “INFIELDER?” What’s more, Penny is the only pitcher in the 145-year history of professional baseball to have allowed at least one home run to both Flores and Todd Zeile.
Flores is still fairly new to the major leagues as 2014 comes to a close. Zeile was vagabonding toward the twilight of his career in 2001 when he a) took Penny satisfyingly deep and b) exchanged hostile words with his victim. Something about “sucking on it for Shinjo” when the Mets and Marlins hated each other as much as Mets fans hate the Marlins’ existence to this day. I was at Shea that night with a legitimately counted crowd of 40,000 or so. We were pumped for Todd Zeile when his seventh-inning three-run homer tied the game. We were pumped for Timo Perez when he won the game in the tenth by singling home Lenny Harris. It was Merengue Night and Timo grabbed a Dominican flag from out of the stands and waved it in triumph. Timo Perez, Jason declared, was the King of Merengue.
(Bet you don’t remember Timo Perez doing anything but going into a premature trot on a ball Todd Zeile hit the October before; Zeile went into a trot, too; hard to believe we lost.)
Veteran Todd blasting young Brad made for a great Friday night a long time ago. Tuesday in the here and now rated as a lower-key great night in its own way. It had a much older Penny looking bad (ha, a “bad Penny” reference — bet Brad loves those like I loved “Prince Spaghetti Day” reminders on the first-grade bus) and it had the Mets burying the Marlins, 9-1, or practically one run tallied for each of us clubby types in 518.
I’m probably in another fairly exclusive club as a result of Flores and friends’ Fish fry. Tuesday night gave me my 100th win as a spectator at Citi Field. I write them all down, so I know “my” record is 100-80. It took six seasons — 30 games per year with a couple of games to go this year — to reach triple-digits, landing me there competitively and chronologically faster than I arrived upon the same number at Shea. I didn’t get to 100 wins until I’d seen 184 games in all at the old place and by then it was 2000, which sounds pretty late in my Sheagoing life, considering my first game there was in 1973. The slow build was an offshoot of having been a child, adolescent and young adult who didn’t necessarily possess the agency to follow his muse to Flushing at the relative drop of a hat or hint.
The hint to go to Tuesday’s contest was sent from abroad. A fine fellow named Mark — whom the blessedly thorough reader might recognize as Black Country Met from our comments section — told me he was going to be at Citi Field for this game, which would be no big whoop except Mark was traveling from the U.K. for a baseball buffet (this game, Wednesday’s game and a couple of games elsewhere in our beautiful country). If Mark could cross an ocean, I could hop the 5:11 to Jamaica and make my usual transfers in order to meet him. His ticket was “posh,” by his reckoning, for he was willing to pay more than $6.99 in exchange for the rare opportunity to watch Wilmer Flores up close and personal. I decided I’d be happy if I got in cheap, since my primary goal was meeting Mark in person and chatting Met baseball pregame.
Which is what happened, and it was a bunch of fun taking apart and putting together our roster with him and, for a moment, reliving my fleeting interest in this past summer’s World Cup (they really like soccer in England, you know). Then, shortly before first pitch, we parted ways, Mark for the swankiness of Delta, me for the exclusivity of 518, where the quiet was my companion, occasionally interrupted by Wilmer’s booming bat. It was tranquil, which a ballpark ideally isn’t in September, but lacking a pennant race or a Merengue Night, placidity, when effectively meshed with winning Mets baseball, is not to be underrated.
When not glued to Colon mowing down Marlins, I saw fit to tweet reports from 518 to a waiting world until my battery wound down. One of those who saw my dispatches was another fine fellow named David. He was over in 515. He called out my name. I waved. On September nights at Citi Field, you can pretty much conduct conversations from three sections’ distance without disturbing too many souls. Now and then we gestured at each other (twirling an imaginary towel for Flores; shrugging in confusion at Collins’s mid-inning hook of an in-command Colon). As personal Win No. 100 was about to wrap, I left my exclusive perch and deigned to join David for a delightful late-game chat about managers who underwhelmed us and catchers who got a raw deal in left field. Club 515 was rather exclusive, too, though I think there were more than 13 people there.
I didn’t see Bud Selig anywhere in Promenade. We would’ve made room for him. We had plenty of it.
Following a Monday night when it hit me just how few innings remain to this season, I sort of retroactively wish the Mets could have deprived us of two or three from their twelfth-to-last game of 2014. It was an extraordinary night at Citi Field through six. It was a night that was surely meant to be through seven.
Alas, it was another one of those nights in the eighth and ninth, with the kind of ending that would leave you disgusted if you still maintained the capacity for disgust with these Mets. I was certainly disgusted to have to leave a game that commenced with a Met pitcher striking out the first eight batters he faced — and thirteen in all — yet concluded with the Mets losing to the Stupid Marlins (their official name), 6-5.
Then you step back, you realize you witnessed baseball history and are suddenly running out of baseball games, and your disgust diminishes…a little, anyway. In the middle of September, with month after month of aridity about to overwhelm us, it’s probably best to flip a Broadway bromide on its head and decide it’s not where you finish, but where you start.
Or who you start.
Our starter, Jacob deGrom, was so good that he transcended the usual memes we’ve come to associate with him. Never mind the small ‘d’ at the front of his last name and look past the impressively long hair that flows out from under the back of his cap. His calling card right now has to be the record he set as he struck out more batters to start a Mets game than any Mets pitcher ever and more than any major league pitcher ever but one. He broke Pete Falcone’s team record of six (which also came in a loss) and he tied Jim Deshaies’s modern record of eight. As admirable as all that looks on paper, it was even more scintillating to watch from not too many feet away.
Thanks to a generous invitation from old buddy Matt Silverman, I was seated in the section behind the Mets dugout, about a dozen rows up, arriving somewhere between K-2 and K-3 (missing K-1 because I had detoured on my way in to El Verano Taqueria for the highly recommended chicken burrito). Just after I settled in, I heard it exclaimed, “He struck out the side!” On another night I might not have immediately noticed, but this was a particularly engaged row and deGrom was way too electric to not keep your eyes on.
People were uncommonly into what was going on in front of them. I spotted a pair of those #HAIRWEGO posters reconfigured by their recipients, the face portion punched out and the rest of it worn mask style, transforming otherwise unassuming fans into deGroppelgängers. Meanwhile, the strikeouts just kept coming. Jacob kept whipping it in and the Marlins kept whiffing right through. He had four…five…six. The Mets had one…two runs, and that seemed sufficient as Jacob notched strikeouts number seven (a mostly unnoticed Jordany Valdespin) and eight (Jeff Mathis). We wanted to be certain No. 9 would be next — and I was willing to issue Jacob a waiver regarding my rule that nobody’s allowed to touch Tom Seaver’s ten consecutive from 1970 — but the batter was the pitcher, Jarred Cosart, and Matt and I agreed that if anybody was going to not strike out, somehow it would be the opposing pitcher.
Of course it was. Still, eight straight to begin a game was something you literally almost never see. And we saw it. It was fantastic. It would have been more fantastic had the fanning of the Fish been accomplished in service to a Mets win, but that would be a lot to ask of this team, no matter how “very, very close” to contending they are considered by their Manager For Life.
On the 45th anniversary of the night Ron Swoboda rendered Steve Carlton’s 19 strikeouts moot, the Mets led 2-0 into the seventh, with deGrom’s K count up to 13, or as many as any Met pitcher has compiled at Citi Field (matching Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey). But then the Stupid Marlins made contact and grabbed a 3-2 advantage. But then the Mets took back the lead at 5-3. Hence, I decided, we were gonna get deGrom — who’d departed for a pinch-hitter — the win after all. He’d grab attention, he’d raise his profile, he’d race perceptibly past Billy Hamilton and he’d close in on the National League Rookie of the Year award that a player only gets one chance at, so why shouldn’t a Met get it for the first time in thirty years?
The Stupid Marlins, as the Stupid Marlins will do, torpedoed the “win” part by scoring three in the eighth off Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia (the latter prompting a harsh “WHY DON’T YOU DO YOUR DANCE NOW!?!?!” catcall from a few rows behind me) and the Met hitters reverted to overmatched. Once the last outs were limply registered, I wasn’t in the mood to have relished what I had just experienced.
I softened by the time I was on the train home. I did see history. I did see a marker for the future, as I envisioned deGrom pitching at Citi in a far different, far better September. I did quite possibly see an award clinched, though that’s up to others to decide. I did see Matt and a procession of friendly, familiar faces in the course of the evening, which is something that, sadly, won’t happen on a Monday night again for an uncomfortably long stretch otherwise known as winter. I did find myself especially charmed to be sitting adjacent to Wanda Metsfan (her official name), somebody who takes herself out to the ballgame even more than I do. Why, for a spell, we were visited by both Cowbell Man (who seems to have lost his Shea-era hyphen) and Pinman, who, I discovered, not only wears dozens of pins but yells “OH YEAH!” a lot.
In that spirit (and despite a nagging headache that made Pinman’s yelling and Cowbell Man’s clanging not all that welcome after a while), yeah, I kind of wish the game could have gone into the books after seven, when the Mets were winning. But no, I wouldn’t wish away too many innings when there are only precious few left to enjoy.