Mets sucked, grounding out and then grounding out again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. I’d tell you more about the first game but a judge ordered me not to. Then after a robust 25 minutes in which nothing bad happened, they sucked once more, striking out and then striking out again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. I’m allowed to talk about that one but I’d prefer not to.
Times like this arrive now and again for fans of every team, like droughts do for farmers and wipeouts arrive for gamblers. Your baseball team isn’t getting hits and scoring runs, and while you’re no psychic it’s pretty obvious that they never will get hits and score runs again. Every time they are sent out to play a baseball game they will lose, until the current players grow old and are replaced by younger players who will also not win, and this is the way it will be forever and ever, opposite of amen.
That’s not true now just like it’s never been true before, but I know it feels that way, and if I can barely convince myself otherwise what chance do I have with you?
Having lived through these slow-motion blue-and-orange car crashes more than a few times, I’m going to give you some heretical advice: unless you work for the Mets or are a beat reporter or whichever one of us is on recap duty, do something else.
No, not forever. Jeez, it’s not that bad. Just for a night or two.
“But wait!” you say. “It’s not winter, so I have no idea what to do with myself from 7 pm until whenever!”
I know, I’ve struggled with that too. Some suggestions:
- Take a baby step and watch other baseball, trying not to get obsessed about one particular score down there at the bottom of the screen. I’m an MLB.TV subscriber this year and that’s reminded me baseball’s awesome even when it’s not being awesome to you. When the Mets are finished doing whatever terrible thing they’re doing on a given night, I flip around from game to game until I go to bed or nothing’s left. Tonight I saw Sam Dyson escape a serious fix against the Astros, and Brian Dozier hammer a walkoff homer for the Twins. Now I’m listening to Vin Scully. He’s narrating a Rockies-Dodgers game with nothing particularly interesting about it, but I already feel a little better.
- Read a book. Amazin’ Again, that’s a good one. Or possibly even something not baseball-related. Those books exist too.
- Take your significant other to the movies. Turn off your phone (you monster), get a big popcorn and don’t worry about RISP (or the lack of them) for two hours.
- Go for a walk. Or a drive. Look around at the world. Listen to the birds, the bugs, or both.
- Go see a band. Don’t ask them to play the national anthem, “Meet the Mets,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Lazy Mary,” “Piano Man” or the Kars-4-Kids song. Let them play whatever they want to play. Hum along if you’re so moved.
- Tackle that chore you’ve been putting off. You’ll have a sense of accomplishment and won’t have created another task for yourself by putting a Mets-related fist through the drywall.
The Mets will do what they’re going to do whether you’re there or not. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. I went away last summer; the Mets didn’t wait around for me to get back. I’m going away again next week; they’ll soldier on.
The point is that you’re a fan, not an unfortunate who did something ill-advised that earned you an orange vest and three hours a night in the custody of SNY. You have an unlimited supply of GET OUT OF UNFUN BASEBALL FREE cards that you can play any time. This might be a good time to lay one down.
With a night or two away, you’ll feel better. And when you get back, who knows? Maybe things will be different.
We talk up great starting pitching, we crave great starting pitching, we built this Citi on great starting pitching, so when we are surrounded by extraordinary starting pitching, we are compelled to celebrate it…even if not all of it is necessarily Mets starting pitching.
The Mets took part in a fine game Sunday. The wrong part, but still. It was the kind of game we’ve been romanticizing for generations. Seaver and Gibson. Gooden and Tudor. Harvey and Fernandez.
Fernandez and Harvey, technically. Jose Fernandez gave up no runs in seven innings, which outdid Matt Harvey’s renaissance followup of one run in seven innings. If this were some previous decade, they would have each gone nine. That doesn’t happen anymore; the last time the Mets were involved in a dual complete game was 2010, R.A. Dickey over Cole Hamels. The last time before that was 2005, Brad Penny, then of the Dodgers, topping Pedro Martinez. The time before that, in 2002 (fleeting Met Shawn Estes defeating former Met Glendon Rusch), predates the founding of this blog, which is now in its twelfth season. I mention that simply to illustrate how infrequently bullpens go uncalled upon in the modern era.
Stylistically, you wouldn’t have minded both Harvey and Fernandez sticking around Sunday. For the sake of self-preservation, you were happy Matt maintained his roll from last Monday and you’d have been ecstatic had Jose gotten lost on his way to Marlins Park in the morning. But if you can allow yourself 1/162nd of non-result-oriented appreciation for baseball like it once in a while oughta be, you had to appreciate what the Miami starter was doing to the admittedly diluted Met lineup: no walks, four hits and fourteen definitive strikeouts, most of them captured on sliders so salivating that White Castle might want to borrow the recipe.
The Mets mounted one tiny semblance of a rally in Fernandez’s last inning when Michael Conforto and James Loney each singled with two out, Conforto actually going from first to third on Loney’s knock, something Met baserunners usually require two hits and/or an Uber to accomplish. Wilmer Flores, looking pretty good in the previous couple of games, was the last best hope against Fernandez. Alas, Fernandez’s final slider extinguished all hope.
If this had been one of those Clayton Kershaw 8-0 leads, it wouldn’t have been so scintillating, just shruggy. But Harvey held up his end, albeit with more contact. The Marlins didn’t do much when they connected, scoring their only run in the fifth when J.T. Realmuto grounded a ball up the middle that wasn’t trapped by a shift. It brought around Derek Dietrich, who had legitimately doubled.
That was it. Harvey, guided by the indispensable Rene Rivera, surrendered only two other singles and walked nobody while striking out four. Starters come away with wins for far lesser outings. Certainly Harvey, perpetually deprived of runs with which to work (he was given one in the last week), deserved no worse than an ND for his trouble. He and his team were edged was all.
The ungrudging 1-0 cap tip toward Fernandez, a Marlin so sublime that you have to assume he’ll go in the next fire sale, only extends through seven. David Phelps in the eighth and A.J. Ramos in the ninth did not have to go unscathed, but the Mets cobbled together nothing of substance against them. The Marlins didn’t dent Antonio Bastardo, for that matter. Everybody pitched well. Everybody fielded competently. Nobody walked anybody. Save for Ichiro Suzuki getting thrown out at second on a pickoff (on a play in which it looked like Asdrubal Cabrera absorbed another ding), nobody did anything particularly wrong. The pitching did almost everything right, the game hustled itself to conclusion in 2:17 and the souvenir we got to keep was a reminder of what a matchup between greatness and maybe getting back to greatness resembles.
Would have been better had we won. And if the starters had gone nine. And if Papelbon had fully blown a blowable save in Cincinnati. But you can’t have everything.
Time to plug:
• Father’s Day is less than two weeks away, so this would be an ideal moment to order a signed, inscribed copy of Amazin’ Again for the paternal figure in your life. Hell, buy it for your mom, yourself, whoever. Direct it anywhere a Mets fan likes to read.
• Tuesday night, 7 PM, June 14, you’ll want to come to WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for a Metsian discussion featuring Internet pioneer Jon Springer (whose revised edition of Mets By The Numbers will be available to all attendees), D.J. Short of RotoWorld and myself, author of the aforementioned book about the reigning National League champions.
• Saturday afternoon, 3 PM, June 25, I’ll be bringing the Amazin’ Again roadshow to the Queens Library in Briarwood, with copies of the volume about how the 2015 Mets brought the magic back to that borough in tow.
• My thanks to Newy Scruggs for having me on his NBC Sports Radio show, Voices of the Game, last week. Visit the On Demand menu, click on Newy’s feed, scroll down to May 31, hour 3, and you can hear our conversation.
• Likewise, my deep appreciation to Pat Williams, legendary Orlando Magic architect and now host of a terrific radio show in Central Florida. I taped a lively interview with him recently and planned to tell you to listen to it this weekend, but I messed up the dates and it already aired. Apparently Met batters were not the only ones swinging and missing where baseball in the Sunshine State was concerned.
Let’s just make this clear: Saturday afternoon’s Mets-Marlins game was garbage.
The Mets put the leadoff man on in seven of the first eight innings (and eight of nine overall) but somehow managed to be down 3-2 with just five outs remaining. Bartolo Colon was crummy but mostly got away with it because the Marlins couldn’t get out of their own way; Hansel Robles was crummy and yet again did not get away with it.
And then there was the Wilmer Flores–Kevin Plawecki follies of the second inning: with the Mets down 1-0, the Marlins had the bases loaded with one out. Pitcher Justin Nicolino smacked a sharp grounder to Flores at third. Rather than go for the round-the-horn double play, Flores came home for the force. (He said later he didn’t have a good grip.) An understandably startled Plawecki caught the ball, but his foot was next to home plate rather than on it, as is recommended for force plays. Instead of being out of the inning, the Mets were down 2-0 and Terry Collins looked like a man sentenced to the rack.
Plawecki led off the third, which at least allowed him to escape extended tut-tutting from coaches, and seemed to have redeemed himself with a double … until he got picked off. Before rising and slinking away, Plawecki lowered the bill of his helmet in the dirt and lay there for a moment, perhaps contemplating the void. He then fanned in his next two at-bats, leaving three Mets on base and making me recall Anthony Recker having one of the worst nights I can recall for a catcher in this same hideous ballpark. Not exactly what Plawecki had in mind with Rene Rivera on the verge of snatching away his job.
But if the game wasn’t exactly the stuff of instructional videos, it was also a reminder that garbage baseball can still be kind of fun, the way mainlining Oreos by the glow of late-night TV can seem like a great idea at the time. The Marlins have problems of their own, and allowed their hapless opponents to hang around. In the bottom of the sixth, with runners on second and third and two out, Ichiro Suzuki lashed what seemed certain to be his 2,966th hit to left-center. It was going to be 5-2 Marlins … except Juan Lagares flung himself through the air, looking like a man making a racing dive into the pool, to snatch the ball before it could touch down. Inning over and dreariness averted, somehow.
In the eighth, with the Mets down 3-2, some players badly in need of pick-me-ups came through. Michael Conforto, who had spent the night determinedly ignoring the inside fastballs that have bedeviled him, fought through a tough at-bat and singled up the middle off David Phelps to bring home James Loney and tie the game. With Conforto on second and two out, Matt Reynolds lined Phelps’s first pitch over the head of Miguel Rojas for his first career RBI and a Mets lead.
All of that was fun — and the kind of fun the Mets will need more of to survive this current stretch. (Oh, and they somehow picked up another game on the Nats.) But this being Miami, there of course had to be a scare in the ninth and assorted annoyances at other times.
One of those annoyances was self-inflicted: is sending Jacob deGrom up to pinch-hit really wiser than keeping Rivera idle in case of an injury? Jake entertained himself, which I suppose is nice, but this seems like a case where the premium on the insurance is so high that one should just accept that life comes with risks. (Though given Plawecki’s night he might well have wound up eaten by piranhas leaping out of the Loria fish tank sometime in the 14th.)
The other annoyance is as I type no one’s quite sure how badly Lagares hurt his thumb on that heroic dive. He came out of the game, but further information wasn’t available because there’s no doctor on site at New Soilmaster. I assume this is just more evidence that Jeffrey Loria is a despicable cheapskate whose interests don’t extend to the basic duties expected of a major-league owner. And if that’s not the case I don’t really care, because Loria deserves such suspicions.
The Marlins are a deplorable shell game practiced on the decent people of Miami and all but designed to drive them away from the game, a travesty that Major League Baseball has aided and abetted for decades. Every commissioner can invoke the best interests of the game in taking action; a conservative reading of baseball’s best interests surely includes banishing Loria from any further association with the sport, up to and including wheedling change in a stadium parking lot.
My near-feral hatred for the Marlins (which, to be clear, has nothing to do with their long-suffering, shamefully disenfranchised fans) is well-known here (see other eruptions here and here), but every series against them seems to intensify it until seemingly innocent items of conversation bring up bile. For example, at one point, SNY’s trivia question was to identify the Marlins’ all-time wins leader.
The long answer: “I shall sort through the sordid history of this garish screw job disguised as a franchise and try to remember which starting pitcher was most capable before being sold off as part of a con artist’s cynical teardown.” And such mental gymnastics might or might not have yielded the name Ricky Nolasco.
The short answer: “Who gives a fuck?” Which, given all of the above and so much more, I contend is in fact correct.
It’s gonna be another summer without David Wright. Six to eight weeks of rest, and then they’ll see.
If you’re like me, you may have had an odd reaction to the news — a weird argument between head and heart.
Head sniffed that a .226 average, bushels of strikeouts and throwing woes at third didn’t seem impossible to replace.
Heart said, more or less, how dare you even think that about David Wright! He does more each day just to get on the field than you do in a week, and he’s been unfailingly decent to fans, teammates, owners and everybody else since the day he arrived all those years ago, with painfully little to show for it in return. We’re all diminished without No. 5 in the lineup, no matter what the stats say. Shame on you!
We’ll leave Head and Heart to fight it out, while noting that front-line Mets are vanishing with worrisome regularity. Travis d’Arnaud is supposedly going to start a rehab assignment this weekend, but at first just to hit. Lucas Duda‘s waiting around for his back to heal. And now Wright’s gone. That’s a big chunk of the lineup missing.
And so of course the newly reduced Mets went out and scored six — that’s a week’s worth of offense for those wondering why they’re still scoring at home — in Loria-Land against the odious Marlins.
What’s more, it was the JV — the Bomb Squad, the International League Irregulars, the Replacemets — who did the damage. Wilmer Flores, Wright’s replacement apparent at third, scored two runs and delivered a tie-breaking broken-bat single, proving that the Mets actually can post runs of the non swing-and-trot variety. Rene Rivera, who replaced Kevin Plawecki as backup catcher and is looking to replace him again as the primary, hit a two-run homer in the ninth to give the Mets breathing room and was his emphatic self as life coach, pushing an exhausted Noah Syndergaard through the seventh. And James Loney, imported to replace Duda, connected for his 100th home run, also a tie-breaking shot.
It was a good night, so it seems mean-spirited to note that it was just one night, or to wonder if Wilmer has the arm for third, or ask why anyone thinks Rivera’s ready to be a front-line player for the first time at 32, or to raise an eyebrow that Loney arrived after not finding a spot on the roster of the 21-34 Padres.
It worked for a night, and that’s good enough — particularly with the lowly Reds upending the Nats to leave the Mets two games out.
Still, perspective may be in order. The Nats look like a much more capable outfit than last year’s model, thanks to Dusty Baker and Daniel Murphy and perhaps a better roll of the probability dice, and it would be very far from a surprise if this much-reduced Mets lineup failed to keep up with them. But that’s not the only route to postseason glory these days. Barring yet-to-be-revealed horrors, the Mets’ gaudy starting pitching should keep them in the pennant race — Syndergaard didn’t have his A game Friday night and had to settle for two runs allowed over seven innings, with nine Ks. Get into the postseason, and the Mets are guaranteed to send a potentially dominant starter to the mound in each and every game.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is an invitation for baseball to make you look like a fool. Plan JV worked just fine for a game. Here’s to more such games.
* * *
You’ll find no shortage of better-informed takes elsewhere, but it’s sad to realize we live in a world without Muhammad Ali. The world seems a paltry place without Ali’s astonishing charisma and courage — which he exemplified not just in the sports world in which we are entertained, but also in the far larger day-to-day one in which we all live.
The Chicago White Sox were the sore thumb of my Logging for twenty seasons, ever since it was decided National League teams should play American League teams for something less than all the marbles. Whoever the junior circuit sent to Shea Stadium, I dutifully saw at least once, entering the encounter in the steno book that preserves all my essential information. For five seasons, this unsought subtask encompassed only members of the American League East, reflecting an antsy era when regionalism ruled Bud Selig’s misguided realignment visions. Eventually, scattered combatants from the West and Central were dispatched in our direction and I made it my business to witness their various cameo appearances and jot down those essential details. My long-term plan to capture all A.L. opponents encountered a glitch in 2008 when the Texas Rangers passed through town the same night as a biblical thunderstorm and left “Texas (A)” Logless even as the premises grew waterlogged. Rangers at Mets at Shea on the evening I alighted to fulfill my obsessive obligation was rained out, thus it took until 2014 and the construction of a whole other ballpark (something the Texas Rangers can appreciate) to accomplish their vital notation in my recordkeeping.
With the Rangers officially observed and added to my life list, the White Sox, like the proverbial cheese, stood alone. I’d seen them in Chicago, in Boston, in Anaheim and on television, but not in Flushing. They never visited Shea for Interleague purposes. They didn’t visit Citi Field until 2013, when a) I had a ticket to see them and b) I couldn’t use it. I missed Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell one-hitting them over ten innings, as it happened, grumble grumble.
At last, the White Sox returned in 2016 and, in their final performance in our midst until maybe 2019, perhaps 2022, I got to see them up close and in person. Now I know what a White Sox at Mets game looks like.
My curiosity is forever sated. I don’t need to see the White Sox play the Mets again. After thirteen innings of the slowest-motion live action I could have ever imagined, leading to the wispiest of 2-1 losses, I don’t much need to see the Mets play again, but I suppose I’ll be back again soon. With any luck, the Mets as we thought we knew them will be, too.
Those defending National League champions — the ones who brought the “good times” back to Flushing, per Howie Rose’s preamble to the 1986 celebration (following which the Mets lost four of five) — are no longer with us. They’re not dead, I don’t think, but they’ve sure gone missing.
The Mets scored nine runs from Saturday through Wednesday versus the Dodgers and White Sox, the bulk of a homestand apparently devoted to proving the Mets wouldn’t have competed very well in the 1959 World Series. It feels as if we’ll find Cuppy before we come across any kind of offense. Only so much of the malaise can be attributed to Chase Utley, Clayton Kershaw, Eric Campbell and their own bullpen, to identify four recently cited culprits. The PhiL.A. thug, the second coming of Koufax and the coldest Soup since gazpacho were nowhere in evidence in the NYM-CHW finale, and the perennially untrustworthy relief corps can’t really be blamed for how the Mets went under, despite it having been a Met reliever, Logan Verrett, who gave up the key hit in the 13th, a double to White Sox reliever Matt Albers, a fellow who last reached base on May 23, 2007. That, incidentally, happened against the Giants, who still had a player named Barry Bonds, who was still ten homers behind Hank Aaron all-time when Albers most recently produced as much as a single. That’s a span of more than nine years, or approximately as long as it took the Mets and White Sox to get to the 13th inning Wednesday.
I exaggerate only slightly, though, in experiential terms, not at all. Snails snorted at the pace these two barely acquainted combatants played. The time of game was four hours and forty-one minutes, none of which any of us in attendance will ever get back. Granted, a beautiful afternoon at the ballpark spent in the company of a good friend — the ever gracious Garry Spector, who knew enough to exit after twelve, just ahead of Albers’s low-level Colon impression — is by no means something to regret. It’s just that the baseball was godawful and then kept getting worse.
And that was with encouraging pitching. Jacob deGrom closed in on brilliant, going seven and striking out ten — including pinch-hitter Jerry Sands, worth mentioning here only because I’m convinced every pack of baseball cards I bought in 1975 contained eight of him, never mind that he was born in 1987. The only damage he absorbed occurred via a disturbingly deep fly ball to Todd Frazier. The combination of deGrom and Rene Rivera seemed to click as well as Syndergaard-Rivera, Matz-Rivera and Harvey-Rivera. The staff ERA with Rene behind the plate is 1.91; it’s 3.20 for the team overall.
Can somebody be everybody’s personal catcher?
Rivera chipped in two singles and drove in the only Met run of the day. The Mets recorded one fewer extra-base hit than Albers. They did display a “GOOD EYE!” (as the leatherlung behind me never, ever tired of barking) on thirteen separate occasions for thirteen mostly useless walks. One of them, to mystery guest James Loney, set up a run. The other dozen amounted to a subliminal advertising campaign for naught (Naught — For When You’ve Decided Scoring is Overrated.). The Mets struck out twelve times and grounded into five double plays while leaving fourteen men on base. Rivera ended the futile day batting .188, which puts him in the upper echelon of the Met attack at the moment. Four Riveras and five Alberses would constitute a significant improvement over the kinds of alignments we’ve seen deployed of late.
I couldn’t tell if by not hitting whatsoever the Mets were paying tribute to the fourth anniversary of their only no-hitter or tipping their caps to the 110th anniversary of the first world champion White Sox, a.k.a. the Hitless Wonders of 1906. Or, with the centennial of the Black Sox scandal practically around the corner, it’s possible the Mets were purposely throwing the game. By the time we were in double-digit innings with still single-digit hits, Garry was remembering staying up all night and listening to Jerry Cram steer the Mets from the 17th to the 24th inning on September 11, 1974. That was the game they lost in 25, 4-3. Also wandering onto our conversational stage for a bow was another 1974 Met, the great Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack. Somewhere between BBs and GIDPs, we considered how dominant Matlack was that year and how it was to little avail. For example, during that same final month of ’74 when Cram kept the nocturnal Mets afloat with zero support, Jon lost decisions by scores of 2-1, 3-2, 2-1 and 3-2, the last of them in a ten-inning complete game effort. Matlack led the National League in all kinds of peripheral metrics that were unknown 42 years ago, yet finished 13-15 because too many of the defending National League champions for whom he pitched his heart out were always hurt and never hit.
If you could hear Garry and me over the leatherlung and his repeated, not altogether acccurate taunting of Alex Avila (“WHAT TEAM ARE YOU ON? YOUR FATHER TRADED YOU!”), you would have discerned the underlying theme of the day and our anxieties pretty clearly.
Yoenis Cespedes chose a game started by Miguel Gonzalez, a guy he scalds (6-for-13), to request a day off. He probably needed one, but the timing was unfortunate. Cespedes struck out as a pinch-hitter versus Nate Jones in the ninth. He had a hit on Monday and two the Tuesday before that but otherwise zilch over the last week. Michael Conforto played all thirteen innings, but his bat remained on hiatus, going 0-for-6 to extend his current dark period to 1-for-22. You know Cespedes will get hot. You figure Conforto will get hot. Afflicted by similar teamwide impotence in 2015, we traded for one and promoted the other and they provided quite the boost, you know.
Hard to argue, however, that riding the likes or Rivera, Loney and Ty Kelly (the world’s oldest raw rookie, judging by his CitiVision head shot) will be the Mets’ ticket out of the slumps. Curtis Granderson has yet to spark up, either. There were three or four really well-struck balls by the Mets Wednesday but, quite seriously, every one of them went foul. There’s no Duda, there’s not yet d’Arnaud, and who knows from David? Wednesday one through nine for the Mets resembled less a major league lineup than a death spiral. I really hope their attempts at reclamation projects don’t stop with Loney.
Not to lean too hard on precedent, but Ruben Tejada is at liberty, Kelly Johnson is surely as available as anybody on Atlanta’s fluctuating roster and I hear Marlon Byrd isn’t doing anything this summer.
Thank goodness for our starting pitching, unless it encounters that one bad inning as Steven Matz had Tuesday (or is pre-emptively removed by logic-deficient officials as Noah Syndergaard was Saturday). And though one resists handing them anything, you have to hand it to the Met relief corps for withstanding most every White Sock hitter not named Matt Albers. We sense Addison Reed is the kind of biological warfare timebomb that makes the espionage on The Americans tick, but so far he hasn’t exploded. Jeurys Familia is, for now, back from the cringe-inducing. Though the first sign of trouble for Antonio Bastardo provoked a mound visit that emitted the air of an intervention, the lefty survived. Jim Henderson’s right arm did not visibly dangle from his right shoulder after he replaced Bastardo. Hansel Robles had some trouble with a spike on the rubber and he couldn’t stick around very long, but if “a mild right ankle sprain” is worst thing that happens when he’s pitching, it’s a win. Jerry Blevins didn’t participate but seemed to assume he was being asked to, trotting in from the pen despite nobody asking him to; it was nice that he wanted to help.
Only Verrett, continually inserted into situations that would confound MacGyver, fell victim to attrition on Wednesday, and really, that was my fault. A.L. pitchers love to create offense in my presence. My Interleague fetish had me at Shea on the night in 2005 when Bartolo Colon, then of the Angels, conjured his first hit since 2002 and his last hit until 2014. It was why I had a perfectly good/awful view of Felix Hernandez’s grand slam off pre-Nohan Johan Santana in 2008. It was the reason I can say I saw Mariano Rivera drive in a run with a bases-loaded walk at Citi Field in 2009 (which, in turn, explains why I’ve refused to attend a Subway Series game ever since). The need to see the White Sox naturally put me in proximity to Albers’s bludgeoned double, which I have to admit was somewhat charming to take in later on replay — as always, eff the DH — but in real time represented misery heaped upon molasses.
Despite the accumulation of inertia and indignities, the Mets still had a chance to win the game or, if they were more sinister-minded, extend it in the bottom of the thirteenth. With two outs, Rivera walked. It was the twelfth of thirteen innings in which they placed a runner on base, an exercise clearly averting fruition, but it was something. It was a chance. Kevin Plawecki, the last New York Met position player available and a Las Vegas 51 the second Travis d’Isabled briefly masquerades as healthy, was then asked to pinch-hit. I would’ve asked Thor, but whatever. Earlier, Garry and I were fondly recalling the climax of that memorable series in Houston in 1998, the one that culminated in Mike Piazza homering off Billy Wagner in the ninth and Todd Hundley doing the same to Sean Bergman in the eleventh. Those were two catchers extricating victory from defeat’s jaws at the absolute most desperate moment. It was a pretty desperate day all around at Citi Field eighteen years later, and here were two catchers who could conceivably team up to craft their own portion of Met magic, something a pair of diehard fans…maybe even us…might be talking about in these stands circa 2034.
Instead, Plawecki grounded to third and I went home to ink “Chicago (A)” into my Log. The White Sox and I parted ways secure in the knowledge that we each got what we came for, albeit they more than me.
Long night, short turnaround. Let’s rip the Band-Aid off, shall we?
In the bottom of the fifth, Steven Matz did something strange: he got his helmet and bat and headed for the on-deck circle, apparently all-business. Which was fine, except his spot in the order wasn’t up — it was several batters away. He wasn’t even close.
Matz was flagged down and returned to the bench, where he sheepishly endured a ribbing from his teammates. It all looked like great fun: the Mets were up 4-0 thanks to a pair of sac flies and another Neil Walker home run, Matz was cruising, and Mat Latos looked tired and ineffective and grumpy. It wasn’t quite a laugher, not yet, but the chuckling had begun.
Ready for the less-than-funny part? Matz never did get up to the plate. Latos retired the Mets 1-2-3, and when Matz went back out to the mound the proper procedure seemed to elude him there too. Jose Abreu reached on a misplay by new Met James Loney, whose familiar No. 28 called to mind Daniel Murphy‘s fielding misadventures but none of his hitting prowess. (One Twitter wag noted that Loney had been catlike at first base — if the baseball were a laser pointer.) Matz threw a slider to Todd Frazier, a strategy he’d tried all night and Frazier was wise to. Boom, and now it was 4-2 Mets. With two outs, mustachioed Tyler Saladino walked, stole second off an inattentive Matz and then promptly took third, where he was singled in by Dioner Navarro. It was 4-3, and just like that Matz’s night was over.
Jim Henderson held the White Sox at bay and gave way to Noah Syndergaard, getting his between-starts work in under the bright lights. Noah didn’t disappoint, rifling 100+ MPH pitches at the Chicagoans and flashing an ungodly slider and then, perhaps just for fun, a 92 MPH change-up that Frazier nearly lost his helmet flailing at. It was a great show, but just a cameo — Noah was there for an inning, next to be seen down in Miami.
Without him, well, things didn’t go so well. Hansel Robles took his place on the mound, walked Melky Cabrera and then threw a high fastball to Saladino that the young shortstop murderized for a 5-4 White Sox lead. More horrors followed, with Jerry Blevins failing to execute and Logan Verrett yielding an insurance run before the curtain finally came down. The stunned-looking Mets did nothing, and that was the ballgame.
I could cluck in sympathy with Robles’s sudden ineffectiveness (he’s basically naked when he located his too-straight fastball) and note that bullpens that are nearly automatic for a stretch are probably due for a dumpster-fire interlude. I could remind you that despite his gaudy career record and general air of pluck, Matz is still a young pitcher with some lessons to learn about predictability and focus. I could go back and craft some stirring lines to add to Syndergaard’s Saga.
But it’s late (or early, depending on when you read this), so let’s not. Rubber game tomorrow, matinee affair, Jacob de Grom on the mound. Let’s just move on and hope the Mets follow suit.
Even in Little League I was a no-tool player: completely inept at hitting, catching and throwing. (I could run, but never had any reason to.) The only thing I could do, kind of, was play catcher.
To be sure, I couldn’t even do that. There was no stealing in our league and maybe one play at the plate per year. My only job was to corral pitches. Balls would hit my mitt, thud to the ground, roll underneath me and have to be fumbled out of the dust while the parents in their lawn chairs tried not to think how they’d actually rather be doing errands. Once I retrieved the ball, I’d generally short-hop the pitcher or wing it over his head.
But I did have one specific skill: I could steal pitches off the bored junior-high kids pressed into service as umps. I knew the strike zone with painfully geeky, precocious accuracy and would turn my mitt up, down or sideways as needed. Think of it as extremely primitive pitch-framing.
I was ferocious about defending this tiny bit of turf. It meant more time on the field, which I wanted desperately because I loved baseball even though I was beginning to suspect I’d never get better at it. It meant I got to wear all the cool gear and swagger out like a very scrawny warrior. And it meant I was involved in all the action, instead of standing in right field surreptitiously hunting for four-leaf clovers with my toe while praying to the baseball gods to send the ball anywhere else.
My affection for catchers has never gone away. They have a brutal job, playing a position that will a) destroy your speed and your mobility; b) injure you in small ways every day and periodically in large ones; c) force you to take the blame when pitchers can’t or don’t hold runners; d) require you to study hitters and outthink them; e) demand that you improvise as you figure out which pitches are AWOL; f) make you a critical communications link between the guys in the dugout and the guy on the mound; g) ask you to play both diplomat and lawyer with the umpire standing right behind you; and h) appoint you as the first responder when the pitcher gets that spooked-horse look and has to be coaxed, comforted or cajoled back into line.
Rene Rivera caught for the Mets on Memorial Day, but it was easy to overlook his role in the story. The attention was on Matt Harvey, who wasn’t banished to the bullpen or the DL or Vegas or Tartarus but sent back out to face the White Sox. He did so in front of a packed house that was familiar with his recent struggles (and his refusal to speak of them) and jittery to the point of panic about the recent deeds of Chase Utley, Adam Hamari and Jeurys Familia.
Harvey came out looking great. (Stuffwise, at least — the green camo and blue pinstripes made me remember having to pound on the side of a TV whose color was on the fritz.) The fastball was in the high 90s and moving, the change-up was down in the zone where it belonged, and the slider came and went but was effective enough of the time to be a weapon. Mark Simon and Riley Foreman note that for the day Harvey got a 27% miss rate with his fastball, compared with an average of 8% in his last three starts; he threw 10 change-ups that netted five outs and no baserunners, compared with the six change-ups that Nats converted into three hits, two of them home runs.
But we’d seen good early returns before, so we weren’t convinced: nervousness hovered over every pitch Harvey threw, and he looked grim and weary out there. Meanwhile, the Mets were doing nothing against Jose Quintana. Zero after zero hit the scoreboard, and we waited for something to break, fearing it would be Harvey.
In the fifth J.B. Shuck singled for the first Chicago hit and Brett Lawrie (whose extravagant approach to eyeblack suggests it be called cheekblack) lashed a ball to right — only to have first-base newcomer Wilmer Flores make a stumbling lunge to spear the drive and convert first-and-third, one out and stadiumwide moaning into inning over and rapturous cheers. In the seventh, Harvey allowed a leadoff walk to Adam Eaton and a single to Jose Abreu, with Melky Cabrera advancing both with a sac bunt. But Harvey got Todd Frazier to pop up and then coaxed Shuck to hit a hard one-hopper to Asdrubal Cabrera on his 87th and final pitch of the afternoon. The Mets had escaped, and Neil Walker led off the bottom of the inning with a long fly ball that was held up by the wet summer air until it reached the safety of the party deck.
Familia arrived in the ninth to protect a 1-0 lead, sending us all back out on the ledge … which is where this story comes back to Rivera.
Familia’s first couple of sinkers to Dioner Navarro were high, and you could see he was fighting himself out there, trying to force the ball to go where it was needed. Behind the plate, Rivera began directing traffic, signaling repeatedly for Familia to snap his wrist and putting down fingers like a man with all the faith in the world in the pitches he was summoning.
With the count at 3-2 on Navarro, Rivera marched out to the mound for a brief and emphatic conversation, then resumed his duties. Familia’s 3-2 sinker was a beauty that fanned Navarro. That seemed to free up whatever had been stuck: Familia started Eaton out with another good sinker, then got him to tap a 1-1 pitch back to the mound.
The Mets were one out away, and Familia got to an 0-2 count on Abreu. Which was when Rivera went back to the mound.
His mission: to explain why Familia should throw the slider instead of riding that rediscovered sinker. Familia complied and threw one that was low and outside, where it was meant to be. He then followed that up with a high fastball that Abreu awkwardly wrapped his bat beneath, not wanting to swing but getting pretzeled into doing so anyway.
Ballgame, and a huge exhalation for both Harvey and Familia. And, if you would, a respectful nod for the dirty, sweaty, weary guy behind the plate — the pitcher whisperer who’d helped them both get there.
It’s an ancient baseball conundrum.
No, not “are sacrifice bunts mostly dumb or mostly super-dumb?” And not “is something wrong if you’re giving that many ABs to Eric Campbell?” I mean something even tougher to contemplate and more scarring to one’s inner fan: “would you rather lose meekly, or come back and then lose hideously?”
It was reunion weekend lots of places: the Mets welcomed the heroes of ’86 down from Orange and Blue Olympus to alight at Citi Field, while a bit farther north I was attending my 25th college reunion. Emerging from dinner Saturday night, I looked at my phone and felt my stomach knot up: why had Noah Syndergaard come out after 2.1 innings with no earned runs allowed? My immediate thought was an awful one — elbow ligament — meaning I was one of very few Mets fans who was relieved to learn of the farce that had taken place. (The news that Chase Utley had dropped five runs worth of homers on the Mets? That was less easy to turn into a positive.)
Sunday night, freshly unreunited, I was back on my couch, weary and dopey and ready for three hours of baseball that would explore whether the Mets could somehow dent the armor of Clayton Kershaw.
The answer: no, not really. Curtis Granderson doubled to lead off the game and was standing on third with one out, but Yoenis Cespedes struck out and Neil Walker did the same, and I wanted to fume about the Mets doing that way too much except, hey, it’s Clayton Kershaw. On the other side of the ledger, Bartolo Colon was pretty good, but he wasn’t quite Kershaw. Kershaw got nicked by an Asdrubal Cabrera fly ball just long enough and high enough to intersect the party deck and survive a perilous-looking umpire review, while Colon was touched up by despicable assassin Utley, vengeance-minded prodigal son Justin Turner and always-dangerous Adrian Gonzalez to leave the Mets in a 2-1 hole late.
The good news, if you squinted, was that Kershaw seemed to be tiring. His pitches were less sharp in the 7th, but overeager Met bats and a great sell job by A.J. Ellis on a ball fouled into the dirt got him out of that frame. In the eighth he was still Kershaw, but a Kershaw near the end of the line on a hot night: Kevin Plawecki singled, Campbell flied out after some lamentable attempted bunting, and pinch-hitter Michael Conforto hit the ball solidly, though straight to the center fielder. Finally, after 114 pitches, that was enough. Dave Roberts summoned the hulking Adam Liberatore, and Granderson hammered a 2-1 pitch to right-center.
You want too many emotions packed into too small a space? At first I thought Granderson had hit the ball over the fence. Then I thought Yasiel Puig had snagged it with a nifty running grab. Neither was the case — the ball eluded Puig, sending Plawecki home and Granderson all the way to third. Liberatore, taking a page from the Annoying Middle-Reliever Handbook, blew Cabrera away on three pitches, but the damage was done, the game was tied, Kershaw hadn’t beaten us, and hey, who knew?
So of course Jeurys Familia came in and was terrible yet again, completely unable to command his sinker. He somehow got Utley, shattering Chase’s implement of evil before it could be used against us. But he walked Corey Seager, then walked the not evil but definitely infuriating Turner, then surrendered a fatal single to Gonzalez.
I’m sure there will be lots of grumbling about Familia in non-save situations; until you show me a statistically rigorous examination of closers pitching in such outings, I’m going to shrug and say it’s One of Those Things. Relievers have runs of innings marred by bad luck/poor performance just like starters do, except relievers’ innings dribble out over a horrific week or two instead of taking up a couple of wasted evenings. That makes the whole ordeal feel longer and grimmer than it really is, and when it’s your closer who’s off the mark, victories careen into defeats and sympathy is harder to summon than it should be.
So yeah, anyway. We could have gone down meekly before the amazing machine that is Clayton Kershaw, muttered and shrugged and tried to move on. Instead we escaped Kershaw and promptly did ourselves in. It was cruel, but then baseball so often is.
Adam Hamari, a relative stranger to our ongoing narrative since his arrival as a major league umpire in 2013, is now seared into our consciousness as a) the arbiter who arbitrarily deprived 42,000 ticketholders of the opportunity to watch and cheer Noah Syndergaard, premier starting pitcher for the New York Mets, and b) enabler of the easy-as-pie Los Angeles Dodgers victory that followed on the heels of Thor’s unmerited dismissal.
This is not how we want to get to know anybody better.
Thor threw a mile behind Chase Utley to begin the third inning, never remotely endangering the well-being of an opponent whose well-being is apparently indestructible. It was every bit as symbolic a pitch as the one Jesse Orosco tossed D.J. Carter before Saturday night’s game. It was meant to evoke an indelible image from an iconic autumn in Mets history. In Syndergaard’s case, it was to remind Utley that, hey, we remember you. You took out our shortstop in the 2015 playoffs, you broke his leg, you never served a suspension, your misdeed had yet to be even slightly avenged, so here’s this calling card in case you get any ideas that we forgot who you were. Utley, avatar of old-school right-wayness in the view of those whose fibulas weren’t broken by his 26th-degree assault on second base last October, didn’t require an interpreter. He got the message. By all accounts, he was waiting for it.
It was ball one. Generally you don’t want to see your starter go one-and-oh on anybody to begin an inning, but this was ball one for a good cause, and besides, Thor has fairly immaculate control (he insisted with a face as straight as his hair is long that this one simply got away from him). He could come back from one-and-oh.
No he couldn’t, it turned out, because he wasn’t allowed to. Enter Hamari, the focus of the action, the center of Saturday night in Flushing. That’s who we came to see. Not one of the elite pitchers of the moment at the top of his form. Not a revered group of ballplayers who brought enduring joy to a city. Adam Hamari, tyro with an itchy trigger finger, an attraction to the spotlight and no particular understanding of the sport he is paid to officiate.
Syndergaard? Gone. His manager? Also gone. Roars of approval emanated forth for both Thor and Terry Collins. They did what they had to do, each obliged to uphold the honor of their posts and the rituals of their trade. The skipper we didn’t necessarily need in the dugout. The pitcher we could have used on the mound. The umpire? He was supposed to issue a warning. Everybody knows that, just as Utley knew a pitch like that which Syndergaard unleashed was coming. Pitcher sends message, batter receives message, umpire warns, everybody moves on.
But now we don’t. We grudge and grudge some more. We despise Chase Utley. We despise Adam Hamari. We are robbed continually of resolution (we won the NLDS versus Utley’s Dodgers, but if that took care of everything, why was this still simmering seven-and-a-half months later?). Oh, and we see our Mets spanked, 9-1, as the villain in Dodger blue, facilitated by the villain in umpire blue, blasts two home runs, including a grand slam, off Met relievers in what eventually broke down into bullpen-by-committee batting practice. Logan Verrett couldn’t save us. “The Curly Shuffle” couldn’t save us. Only wisdom behind the plate could have helped, and that was not in abundance.
Perhaps Utley would have homered off Syndergaard. If he had, we would have hated that, too, but it would have been fairly and squarely achieved. Hamari flew into the ointment and smeared his nonsense all over the encounter. Thor was ejected before he had a chance to bat against his opposite number Kenta Maeda, the Dodger pitcher he homered off twice in Los Angeles. Would have been fun to have seen them go at it again. Maeda, incidentally, absorbed a Michael Conforto line drive off his pitching hand in the first inning. He was in obvious discomfort. When he indicated he was fine, we, Mets fans, applauded encouragingly, proving we don’t wish ill on 24 of 25 Dodgers.
We didn’t come for blood. We came for baseball. We came for Syndergaard vs. the Dodgers and we came to salute our champions, the 1986 Mets, a unit so strong and so enduring that even at their respective advanced ages, the lot of them were impervious to the rulings of Adam Hamari.
Hey, Hamari: Just try to eject the 1986 World Championship from Citi Field. Go climb the flag pole over Soda Pop Plaza. Shimmy along the Excelsior facade where the postseason emblems hang. Maraud your way through the museum. Spray paint the commemorative bricks. Do your worst, if you can sink any lower than you already did Saturday.
It won’t do you any good. The Mets are still the World Champions of 1986, a status we celebrated with all our heart and soul thirty years after the fact. The fact isn’t going anywhere. I’d like to believe Adam Hamari is taking a hike, but Angel Hernandez — every bit as synonymous with atrocious officiating as the 1986 Mets are with splendid baseball — is inept to the point of corrupt and he’s in his 23rd year on the job.
Good luck getting rid of a dismal umpire. All we can hope for is that Hamari’s insipid decision to rid a baseball game of its star attraction in the third inning doesn’t cost the Mets a playoff spot, the way it could be argued Hernandez’s midseason massive error in judgment cost the 1998 Mets.
Long memories here. 1998 didn’t work out and we readily identify a culprit (Hernandez called an extra-inning slide into home that Bobby Valentine correctly identified as “lousy” and “illegal” good and pure in Atlanta and immeasurably aided and abetted the cause of screwing us over). 1986 worked out gloriously and we continue to rise and applaud the victors when they re-enter our midst. Like the self-policing pitch that should muster no more than a don’t do that again, you have been warned, our reaction to our eternal champions is one of those things you know is coming.
This, unlike what happened in the third inning, did come and it was as delightful as we could have imagined.
“You guys have been around baseball a long time,” Terry said during his pregame press conference to a line of questioning seeking an answer as to what the pearl anniversary of the ’86 champs meant to him and his current edition. His point, proffered as diplomatically as possible, was to say it didn’t have a great deal to do with the present. He got why it was being asked, he labeled the upcoming ceremonies “a deserving night for those guys in ’86” and in general believes “these things are kind of cool,” but as for his players of today, “You could parade the ’86 Mets through our clubhouse” and his charges “would not know ten of ’em.”
That’s just the way it is, I seem to recall Bruce Hornsby mentioning a few hundred times in the same autumn that the ’86 Mets paraded through lower Manhattan and all of us knew all of them. Whippersnapper baseball players play in the present. They always have, respect for elders optional. When I asked one of Collins’s predecessors, Davey Johnson, about his impressions of all the Old Timers Days and commemorations he sat through as a player and manager, mostly he remembered that he and his contemporaries “never thought about being old…but that was just wishful thinking.”
I don’t know if Davey or his charges ever wished they’d be remembered and embraced forever, but if they did, Saturday night was evidence that wishes come true. The 1986 Mets are not and never going anywhere. We won’t let them. The reception we gave them at Citi Field in 2016 was every bit as committed as the one we offered at Shea Stadium in 2006. There is something chemical in the relationship between Mets fans and these particular Mets. 1969 warms the heart. 1986 sets it ablaze. Attribute it to a deeper trove of videotape, a more pronounced air of badassery (Koosman efficiently avenging Agee by plunking Santo notwithstanding), the gaudiness of its characters and its times, those ever sharp racing stripes, its 17-year edge in recency, but there’s a difference. We cherish 1969. We fucking love 1986.
We continued to do so Saturday night. I secured both a press credential and a ticket for the proceedings and deployed each to optimal effect. As a baseball writer, there were some things I wanted to try and learn up close, and it was valuable for me to attend the pregame media availability, which was roughly akin to the out-of-the-cornfield onslaught from Field Of Dreams. That’s how I got to listen to Terry, talk to Davey and chat briefly with a few of the ’86ers. It was a terrific opportunity and I thank the Mets for providing me entree.
But I’m not a baseball writer without being a baseball fan, so when 6:15 rolled around, I exited the press box and made my way to Promenade, just as I might have thirty years before to see the 1986 Mets, except then the highest you could go was called the Upper Deck and the Upper Deck could get way higher than Promenade. The 1986 Mets got you high every day, and I don’t care that there are obvious implications in that phrasing. Once you inhaled the ’86 season, the contact buzz is permanent.
I loved how they presented those Mets this time around. Not so much the enormous World Series trophy or the endless red carpet from center field (tacky enough that they could’ve been lyrics to “Get Metsmerized”). But the order in which our Mets were revealed was brilliant. Instead of counting up from scrubs to stars, emcee Howie Rose told a story. He started with “the architect,” Frank Cashen (represented by his bowtied son Greg) and, after Davey and a nod to coaches and trainers, he transitioned into an April-to-October retelling. Howard Johnson’s signature swing against St. Louis came in the season’s third week, so he was introduced early. Tim Teufel’s grand slam — from when only second basemen we liked homered with the bases loaded — happened in June, thus he walked out a little later. Randy Niemann, generously recalled for a spot start in August (which I watched from Section 46 or thereabouts), emerged in 2016 well after Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. Dwight Gooden (the division clincher) preceded Danny Heep (World Series DH).
Nobody cued us that this was how they were going to bring the boys out. It was left for us to make sense of the unorthodox batting order. We got it. Terry could have been talking to the entire stadium when he said, “You guys have been around baseball a long time.” This was the epitome of team over individuals, something you don’t have to have been around baseball for all that long to understand is paramount. It doesn’t always add up in the team’s favor. Noah tried doing something for his team (and goodness knows we in Section 516 loved it), but his stab at vigilantism backfired. “I was not big on personal goals,” Davey told me when I asked him about the Mets’ retired numbers lacking a representative from among his accomplished personnel. I guess it was enough that “1986” is amply etched around the ballpark.
Howie kept reading, the champs kept coming and the juice was surely flowing. He brought us to Game Seven: Ray Knight, the go-ahead home run and MVP, home at last; Darryl Strawberry, producer of the insurance run that’s still going; and, because there’s no other way to accurately conclude 1986, Jesse Orosco. Jesse threw the final pitch past Marty Barrett then, just as he threw the ceremonial first pitch Saturday. He should have thrown it to Gary Carter, who clutched the last out of the last (make that most recent) world championship in Mets history, but fate made Gary’s appearance an impossibility. Not that you would have known it based on the group hug we offered his wife Sandy and his son D.J. His old manager was right in that pregame session when he said, “Kid is here as far I’m concerned.”
We felt the spirit. We cheered the pitch Orosco threw to the son of Kid. We also appreciated that as many stretched and loosened 2016 Mets who could be rounded up — led by Collins — paraded out of their dugout to greet the 1986 Mets once Howie introduced them all and they were lined up around the diamond. It’s quite possible the eternal world champs recognized as many as ten of the defending league champs.
“I don’t live in the past,” Davey said to me. Neither does baseball, but its weekend getaways there are something to behold.
View the entire 1986 ceremony here.
I gotta say, I am loving the 1986 vibe around our first-place Mets. True, it’s mostly a function of homecoming weekend (a concept I dared only dream of when Citi Field was no more than a branding exercise), but this wouldn’t work nearly as well without the Mets being in first place.
And did I mention the Mets are in first place? By an entire .004 over the Washington Nationals they are, gaining that decimalian advantage by not blowing Friday night’s game to the Los Angeles Dodgers or, more accurately, blowing it before blowing by them and grabbing it back.
That’s the teamwork that will make the dream work.
Twenty-four hours in advance of Jacob deGrom growing ever closer to resembling Jacob deGrom (seven three-hit, three-walk innings; one run, seven strikeouts, not bad at all in toto if not quite deGrominant in form); relative tween Julio Urias not being Fernando Valenzuela (yet); David Wright socking one deep to right center (talk about your throwbacks); Juan Lagares homering and driving in three (remember him?); and, after Jeurys Familia gave up a four-run lead, most of it to last October 10’s Worst Person in the World (closers in non-save situation ERA: a million-kajillion), Curtis Granderson reordering all narrative elements in a pleasing walkoff home run fashion (straight into Grandy’s Grove, formerly known as Utley’s Corner, a designation preferably applied to whatever spot in the visitors’ clubhouse Ol’ Chase will ball up into the fetal position after Noah Syndergaard finally takes care of him tonight), the 1986 Mets were dominating my thoughts much as Davey Johnson promised they’d dominate the N.L. East of their day.
They’re always welcome back.
That was the best part of 1986, the way the Mets conducted themselves as spring turned to summer and summer settled in and the Mets glided 20,000 leagues above the sea. I loved going to sleep with the Mets a dozen games ahead and waking up with them fifteen games ahead and reaching nightfall with them eighteen games ahead. You couldn’t unwillingly hum along to “Danger Zone” or “Who’s Johnny” or any of the hits of the year without the Mets picking up ground over the Cardinals or Expos or Phillies, whichever saps sat in the most inconsequential second place divisional play had ever seen. Of course that would all be Afterthought City thirty years later if not for what happened when the regular-season decks were cleared and the Mets proved themselves all over again versus Houston and Boston…which is when things got extraordinarily real.
The apex of human and Metsian existence came as October 25, 1986, tiptoed across midnight into October 26 and our beloved sports collective found itself on the edge of extinction. How close this came to disturbing reality was brought home Thursday night when WOR, bless its non-streaming soul, reaired Game Six of the 1986 World Series, just as it sounded over WHN (except with crummier fidelity, but never mind that right now). I’ve heard recordings of Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne calling the highlights countless times across three decades, but this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to listen as if it was happening live since Christmas Eve 1987, when an enterprising sports talk host on the new WFAN by the name of Howie Rose played it for us as a holiday gift.
It still holds up, not surprisingly. Murph was Murph, Thorne meshed beautifully with Bob and the content is Game Six of the 1986 World Series. If I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat in 2016, the ancient anxieties nonetheless reassembled as Dave Henderson took Rick Aguilera down the left field line, the Red Sox tacked on an additional run and — after Murphy announced “it’ll take a huge effort here” — neither Wally Backman nor Keith Hernandez could instigate an answering rally.
Two behind, two out, nobody on, the postseason about to go down and take the stillborn legacy of the 1986 Mets with it. There is no more WHN, no more Bob Murphy, no more Shea Stadium, no way a parachutist would sneak himself into heavily guarded airspace and I ain’t no 23-year-old no more, but the whole thing hung heavily in the balance anew nonetheless.
Then…well, you know. But even though you do know, geez. Y’know? Gary Carter singles. Kevin Mitchell singles. Ray Knight digs a hole (Murph: “now my friends, the New York Mets are down to their final strike”). Knight climbs straight up and out of it to drive in Kid and move World to third. Calvin Schiraldi is finally removed and John McNamara turns to Bob Stanley, and Bob Stanley crosses up Rich Gedman (or perhaps Rich Gedman just wasn’t agile enough to reach to his right; not our problem) and Mitchell crosses the plate with a tying run that is provisionally the most amazing thing that could have happened because it at least it will get us to the eleventh inning, though Doug Sisk will be pitching and, well…
That’s neither here nor there in the granular there and then which felt like here and now on Thursday, because Mookie Wilson kept fighting off Stanley, and Stanley kept battling Mookie, and, at last, something was trickling.
A fair ball.
It got by Buckner.
Rounding third was Knight.
The Mets won the ballgame.
That’s about as calmly as I can replicate in the past tense what and how Murph reported what unfolded in an eyeblink. No need for the past tense where Game Six and 1986 are concerned, however. It is always with us. It is the milestone moment in franchise history and the best year a Mets team ever forged. It may not be the signature season of New York Mets baseball (1969 endures on that count), but the Mets were never greater and, no matter what they do in 2016 or any campaign down their long and winding road, never will be greater.
Yeah, even Lenny.
The Mets were greatness incarnate in 1986. That’s why it’s so great to have them back this weekend. That’s why it’s so great that even a character of dubious distinction like Lenny Dykstra was slated to tend bar in Sunnyside Friday night after the Mets beat the Dodgers, 6-5, the same score by which the Mets beat the Red Sox in Game Six, the same score by which the Mets beat the Astros in Game Three, won by the man they call Nails, who ultimately gets a pass for everything because he hit one of the handful of walkoff home runs in Mets history to which all others must measure up.
Those throwback unis looked better against the Dodgers than they did against other comers so far this year. Maybe it had something to do with the starting pitcher’s litheness; Jake has the bod type/to rock the race stripe. Perhaps a night game is more natural milieu to stir memories of ’86, since most of those Mets were, to borrow a phrase from the book Roger Angell wrote with David Cone, night critters. However one processes it, 1986 is in the air, and as television voice of that generation Tim McCarver might put it, oh baby, I love it.