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.
A person might ask another person, “How are you?” or “What’s up?” or “Excuse me, does this train go to Woodside?” (I get asked that one a lot). I’m convinced the idle question asked more than any other of Jon Niese always begins, “Jon, how frustrating is it that…?”
Sunday I watched Niese pitch well enough to win for a team that scores run but poorly enough to lose for the Mets. As usual, Niese strung together a row of zeroes to match his opposite number — in this case Jordan Zimmermann — and as usual there was eventually a partially self-induced problem (hesitant coverage of first base) that led to a booming extra-base hit (Wilson Ramos’s home run) that led to inevitable defeat (three-zip).
And afterward, when reporters gathered around his locker, I heard him asked, same as he ever is, about his level of frustration. I’m sure I’ve heard that query issued every five or so days for the past several years. And Niese always says nothing I can remember, which is fine. He’s entitled to both his private frustrations and his limited articulations. I wish he’d get to bags quicker or throw to fielders better, but he wishes somebody would knock in a few runs on his behalf.
The other expression that caught my ear in the postgame was Terry Collins declaring his club is “very, very close,” not to the offseason or a breathtakingly large jar of industrial-strength hallucinogenics, but to competing with the first-place Washington Nationals. Those are the same Nationals who have beaten the Mets 13 of 16 times in 2014, home and away; the same Nationals who officially eliminated the Mets from division title contention (on the off chance you were holding out hope); the same Nationals who are comprised of irritatingly superb baseball players.
Y’know what? Sure, why not? The Mets are close to the Nationals. The Mets are close to the Orioles and the Angels and any of the handful of powerhouses baseball has produced this year, too. All the Mets need is Matt Harvey to automatically return to the exact form he displayed before his elbow started giving him problems, and that’s a lock. They need Zack Wheeler to economize his pitch count, and that will happen because we want it to. They need Jacob deGrom to have no hiccups; Noah Syndergaard to burst through the Super Two wall fully matured and immune to injury; every reliever (including sore-shouldered Vic Black) to not regress one bit; Niese to suddenly grasp the ancillary fundamentals associated with his position; Wright and Granderson to reverse frightening declines; Flores and maybe Herrera to blossom on the spot; d’Arnaud, Duda and Lagares to spiral only upward; Murphy to fit in their budget; lawsuits to not cost anybody a dime, Giancarlo Stanton to fall in their lap; and the Nationals to decide they prefer soccer.
If all that happens, they’re close. If a little of it happens here and there, well, it might not catapult them past Washington ASAP, but as a member in good standing of The Middle, maybe a modest Metropolitan step up in class won’t be out of the question in 2015. Instead of super-fringy delusions of contention, maybe actual fringy contention. Instead of exceeding 71 wins, maybe surpass 81 wins. I didn’t scoff as much when I heard Collins project the Mets’ closeness as I did in the above paragraph because there have been legitimate flickers of progress these past few months and, besides, the National League doesn’t encompass that many certifiable worldbeaters.
But the Mets as we know them at the moment are not remotely close to the Nationals as we know them at the moment. The good news is “at the moment” won’t matter in two weeks. The bad news is next year is always next year and we haven’t had a next year worth a damn in close to a decade.
How frustrating is that?
Pictured: One of the many innings when Anthony Rendon batted.
There were two hints on my ticket for Saturday night’s game that a pleasant result wasn’t in the offing:
1) The Washington Nationals were listed as the opponent.
2) Chris Young’s picture adorned it.
The Nationals need no introduction in our neighborhood. One delightfully foot-stompin’ win notwithstanding, Flushing is the Nationals’ world; we’re just living and getting rolled in it. The Mets lost this one, 10-3, and the contest wasn’t nearly that close. Mets pitching kept dedicated assassin Adam LaRoche off base in five plate appearances and they still lost by seven runs.
Yes, that kind of game and that kind of night. Fifteen hits for the Nationals. Four errors for the Mets. Zack Wheeler threw a thousand pitches per batter, none of them out of the desired reach of Anthony Rendon. The bullpen was just as effective.
Nevertheless, I gave myself a glint of hope when Wilmer Flores put the Mets where I didn’t expect they’d spend any time whatsoever — on the board. It was the bottom of the fifth, the Mets were already trailing by six runs as the winds, mists and lights combined to conjure what appeared to be Aurora Borealis swirling over center field. Things had gotten just clammy enough that Stephanie, who was the one who wrangled these deceptively innocent tickets through her non-profit posting, declared she was going to go take a walk. I trusted she meant away from sitting in the chill, not necessarily prohibitively far from me and this stupid team I dragged her into by osmosis 27 years ago.
An alternative to Gonzalez Germen graciously ushering more of Wheeler’s countless runners home sounded swell, so I agreed to walk, too: for warmth, for novelty, for the chance to avert my eyes from the relentless carnage for an inning or so. Wouldn’t ya know that while we were browsing in the Field Level version of the team store, Flores went deep. I wasn’t watching the monitor and the sound wasn’t on. Only when the store’s speakers picked up the stadium loudspeakers and I heard “Car Wash” did I catch on that the Mets were positioning themselves for a miracle comeback.
Or so I allowed myself to almost believe until maybe the seventh. We left the store, bought a pretzel, set up shop on the bridge long enough so a string of Met batters could get back the run they’d already returned to the Nationals in the time it took us to purchase the pretzel. It was 7-3 and I thought that something might be cooking.
Something was. It was the Mets’ goose, and I don’t mean Gozzo. More Nationals runs and Nationals hits and Mets miscues followed. And there went the Mets into that misty night. Actually, the mist eventually dissipated and what the Mets refer to as fireworks commenced as soon as the Nationals got done laughing to themselves over how easy these games are. I’m not exactly a Fireworks Night fan, but I do appreciate a dazzling display when Cody Ross isn’t anywhere in sight. I can still remember feeling a little awed by what the Gruccis lit up over Shea in the ’90s.
This wasn’t that. This was precisely ten minutes of oversized Bang Caps brought to you by a drug store chain and thanks for coming. It was the Fireworks Night this game deserved, I guess.
As for Chris Young loitering on my ticket, it was a ducat detached from our corporate benefactor’s season stash, obviously printed before it occurred to anybody that Chris Young would be less draw than repellent to Mets fans — and that was when Chris Young was still a Met. He’s been something else for somebody else this month, much like Dave Kingman was in September 1977, after having been a Met earlier that sensational season.
Dave Kingman hit four home runs as a one-month wonder in the same borough where Chris Young’s career has magically revived. Kingman was ineligible for that particular postseason roster; they won the World Series without him. Young is batting .400, breaking up no-hitters, slugging dramatically and stealing home plate since arriving within his doctor-ordered change of scenery. It’s blissfully unlikely CY2’s second 2014 team will approach the postseason (for which he, like Kingman 37 years ago, would be ineligible), but stay off my ticket anyway.
I’ll leave you with three saving graces from Saturday night:
1) Some kid, maybe eight years old, was sitting behind us and really knew his baseball, which is to say he all but cursed out the Nationals as they built their 6-0 lead, but in really knowing terms.
2) If you’re not a stickler about your overall well-being, the cheddar bacon Box Frites are disgustingly delicious.
3) A gentleman best described as a dandy — and likely fueled by a substance best described as alcohol — was leading a singalong of “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” on the LIRR train we boarded at Woodside after the game. We got off at Jamaica. I’m betting he belted ’em out all the way to Ronkonkoma.
Which, if you don’t have Google Maps open, is as far beyond Citi Field as the Nationals are from the Mets.
Whaddya know? The Mets really can beat the Nationals.
They did so tonight — you could look it up.
They did so despite the umpires failing up to correct a bad call even with a replay review, which burned Terry Collins‘s challenge, which meant he couldn’t challenge the next play, when Ian Desmond overslid second stealing and was called safe even though he was once again out. The idea that you can lose your right to challenge is a moronic bit of NFL bureaucracy, but not quite as infuriating as umps getting a call wrong twice and then blowing the next one for good measure. I mean, how many times could Desmond be out in 30 seconds and still not be asked to leave the field of play?
Wait, where were we? I got a little upset there. Sorry.
They did so despite playing the Nationals at Citi Field, which usually means Washington hitters taking aim at the Shea Bridge while New York starters get whiplash and the relief corps contemplates hiding under the stands.
They did so despite the presence in the lineup of Anthony Rendon and Adam LaRoche, who have earned their plaques in the Freeman-Jones Hall of Met Killers and do not need to torment us further, thank you very much.
The Mets aren’t going to win a wild card and have an uphill battle to finish .500 or better. They’re OK against lousy teams but generally get curb-stomped by good ones. They still do dopey things and go into offensive funks. (And when they make news off the field you almost always want to put a bag over your head.) And this is garbage time — many a wise baseball man has warned not to trust anything you see in September.
But for all that, more often than not the Mets are fun again.
There’s Juan Lagares growing before our eyes. There’s the superlative defense, but also the growing confidence and record of success as a hitter and a newfound track record as a base-stealer. What fun to imagine baseballs expiring meekly in Lagares’s glove for years and years to come.
And how about Travis d’Arnaud, reborn as a hitter since his Vegas vacation? D’Arnaud needs to work on his catching — he allows too many balls to go through and throws way too many balls over the head of the second baseman — but the beautiful swing we’d heard about is very real.
September’s probably a cameo for Dilson Herrera, but it’s been the kind of cameo that leads to your name in lights. Herrera makes errors in the field and can go fishing at the plate, but he’s got good instincts and a quick bat and he’s never looked scared or overmatched, which is impressive to see from any rookie and a revelation in one who can’t yet take a legal drink. He’s coming fast and I can’t wait to have him here for good.
And then there’s Jenrry Mejia. Mejia was just a bit amped tonight, hosting a small party after fanning Rendon with one out in the ninth and then throwing himself a parade after he struck out Desmond to end things. Mejia pantomimed reeling in Desmond before doing his trademark stomp as various Nationals glowered at him from nearby.
I enjoy Mejia’s theatrics, but they’re approaching Naked Gun-level intensity, and it would be a good idea for someone to reel Jenrry in a bit just as he reeled in Desmond. You could see Collins thinking the same thing when asked about it in the postgame, a question he negotiated like a soldier being ordered across a minefield. Collins noted with a touch of weariness that you see this kind of thing everywhere and said he’d try to settle Mejia down a bit. Which would be wise, in my opinion — not because Mejia’s Disrespecting The Game or some such bushwah but because baseball’s hard enough without recklessly pissing off opponents you have to see 19 times a year.
Still, I say that reluctantly, and not even the paleo-school Collins was convincing in his disapproval. “I want these guys to have some fun,” he said. “I don’t want to corral them and worry about every move they make. … gosh, it’s a big win for us against a first-place team and there’s no reason not to be excited.”
Which is true. It was a big win, and they should be excited — certainly I was.
I hope someone tells Mejia that the stomp’s enough, preferably before he adds jugglers, fire eaters and a Mardi Gras float to his repertoire. But man, of all the Metsian problems I’ve dealt with as a fan, shows of emotion from a talented, overexcited young closer has to be the one that concerns me the least. I’ve spent years watching dead-assed Met teams “battle,” losing meekly without disturbing their opponents’ dignity. That was a lot more upsetting.
This is a roster showing signs of imminent rebirth. Yeah, it’s September — but some of these guys look like they’ll be disappointed to go home in October. Maybe in a year or two they won’t have to, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
Just thinking about it makes me want to stomp my feet.
Americans are notoriously horrible at geography, but citizens of Metsopotamia are surely map-savvy enough to be able to distinguish the city of Denver from the city of Washington. If you can’t deal with a map, just try a set of National League standings. The baseball team that hails from Denver, Colo., is lodged at the bottom of one division; the baseball team that calls Washington, D.C., home sits comfortably atop another.
And that, class, sums up the difference between shutting down the Colorado Rockies and getting trampled by the Washington Nationals.
The wide-eyed and action-famished among us dearly desired to read something spectacular into the Mets’ sweep of the Rockies over the first three nights of this week. The word I heard on SNY was “fringes,” as in, “The Mets are on the fringes of this playoff race.” Thursday night, though, the best the Mets could manage was remaining on the fringes of their game against the Nationals, an organization so hellbent on expanding its influence throughout the National League East that it has effected a hostile takeover of Citi Field.
The Mets haven’t beaten Washington in New York since Washington was Montreal, or so it seems. In the latest chapter of this recurring episode of Nats @ Mets, the nominal visitors eased their way to a 6-0 lead before the Mets inched just close enough and stayed just close enough to make you think that just maybe, with a big hit or two, they could…
At that point you stopped mid-thought to observe another key out registered by the Nationals’ bullpen and realize falling short of getting completely blown out isn’t the same as winning. Or almost winning. The 6-2 loss made for a nice allegory to the season at large. Now and then, the Mets appear to be on the verge of genuine progress, if “now and then” is defined as that time period during which particularly strong teams are absent from the Met schedule.
There aren’t many of those in the National League, really. Three teams hold records fifteen games better than .500 at present: the Nats, the Dodgers and the Giants. The Mets have performed dismally against all of them, going 5-21. If you’d like to subtract those nettlesome 26 contests and provide the Mets with a fancy won-lost record versus “everybody else,” go for it. But professional sports doesn’t actually work that way.
By the same token, there’s no point in removing the 9-3 mark the Mets had run up prior to Thursday while opposing a sample of the dregs of the circuit (Phils, Fish, Reds, Rox). They’re lately beating not very good clubs and they can’t quite do anything with the better clubs.
They’re not on the fringes. They’re in the middle. Upper-middle some nights, lower-middle others, stubbornly a component of the blob that separates the Washingtons from the Colorados. This most recent night was one of those others. A certified member of the top tier had their way with them. It would be nice to prevent that from happening so regularly this weekend. We’ll see if the Nationals can be kept from showering and changing in the home clubhouse before Sunday.
Being in the middle is becoming a familiar Met position. As happens every year at this juncture, they are in the middle of a flap over what cap they should wear when they’re acknowledging the events of September 11, 2001. Admittedly, it’s a little less of a flap every year. Time will diminish this sort of controversy, especially when nothing really budges.
In case you’ve forgotten (which is unlikely following a day when the prevailing sentiment was Never Forget…unless you’re Travis d’Arnaud on first and you can’t remember how many outs there are), the 2001 Mets wore the caps of the first responders who acted so heroically in Lower Manhattan thirteen years ago. That was the Mets’ on-field response at a moment when few could adequately articulate their gratitude to firefighters, police and everybody who selflessly ran toward danger. It was a powerful statement of solidarity — just a gesture, but a resonant once.
Those Mets wore those caps home and away in September and October of 2001. They wore them in Pittsburgh when they returned to playing a game when nobody was in the mood for games. They wore them at Shea the first time an enormous crowd hesitantly brought itself together for what we had normally referred to as fun. They wore them in the top of the ninth as Armando Benitez nailed down the win Mike Piazza made possible with his September 21 home run off Steve Karsay. They wore them as they hung on in an improbable pennant race, as they blew chances to make up ground on Atlanta, as they finished out their season in relative seclusion.
The Mets never took off those caps in 2001. They put them back on a year later for the first anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, their way of showing sustained solidarity. The Mets did much more off the field, but again, it was a gesture. It was never forgetting. It was remembering what it meant to be a part of New York in 2002, then in 2003 and all the way through 2007. Bad Met teams, good Met teams, a Met team on the precipice of vacating first place all wore the caps.
In September 2008, Major League Baseball invented a new commemorative cap design for all 30 of its teams to model. Fans were invited to purchase the very same models. Same deal in September 2009 and 2010, and come 2011, when the Mets asked MLB if they could embrace the tradition they had established in 2001 and be granted an exemption from the officially issued caps — it was the tenth anniversary and the Mets had some special ceremonies planned at Citi Field — they were told no.
The Mets obeyed and have continued to not rock the boat (they put the caps on during batting practice; it’s not the same). They still put heartfelt effort into their community relations, still put themselves out there to benefit the families of those most directly affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, still put their arms around a firehouse in Maspeth on a going basis. Players from 2014 who were kids in California or Georgia or wherever in 2001 pick up where the Venturas and Zeiles and Francos left off and fill the role of, shall we say, true New Yorkers. There is more to being a good and concerned neighbor than putting on a cap.
But what caps they put on in 2001. And how putting them on and playing in them resonated. Gestures can reach people. That gesture reached every Mets fan.
It’s a shame they forgot.
Meanwhile, one of the owners of the New York Mets finds himself in the middle of some serious, frankly sickening — if they’re accurate — allegations regarding how he treated a recently dismissed employee. Without diving deeply into the disturbing details (not to protect the accused, but mostly because after invoking the heroism of September 11, who the hell wants to think that much about Jeff Wilpon?), this is one of those stories that stops you in your tracks as a fan and makes you ask yourself why you stick with a team that’s run by somebody allegedly like this.
We’re familiar with the Mets’ competitive foibles and we know that, no matter their admirable charitable activities, they can cause a substantial cringe in the executive suite. Still, you keep on rooting because it’s who you are. You’re a Mets fan; ’nuf said. The suit brought by former senior vice president of ticket sales Leigh Castergine, however, left a thick layer of ooze all over my fandom. A woman works for you, does her best with a largely unsaleable product, modernizes your shop, draws good customer reviews from those who dealt with her, and your response — allegedly — is to harangue and diminish her because she had a baby without a husband?
I learned abut Castergine’s suit, which the Mets have labeled “without merit,” about an hour before I was heading out to, as is my wont, Citi Field. I was meeting my friend Matt Silverman there to take advantage of an invitation extended on Castergine’s watch: you get a free ticket if it’s your birthday. Neither my nor Matt’s birthday was Wednesday, but the policy allows those of us who were born on a date when the Mets aren’t playing at home (or on theoretical high-volume dates like Opening Day and the Subway Series) our choice of a handful of games when, let’s be honest, there’s likely to be loads of otherwise unused inventory.
Matt and I are firmly entrenched within that breed of Mets fan that isn’t above attending a Wednesday night game in September against the perennially poorly drawing Rockies. You should know that after filling out a slip of paper and flashing our photo IDs at the box office to successfully secure our birthday-offer tickets, Matt handed me a ticket for this coming Monday night’s game against the perennially poorly drawing Marlins. We’re not above going to one of those, either.
I’ve been to 23 Mets games thus far this year and I consider it a light year personally. I mention that because for all the cynicism I express on this blog and how hard I’ve been to convince that the Mets are legitimately advancing beyond the fleeting fringes of distant contention at anything swifter than a snail’s pace, I remain the hardiest of diehards. I may prefer a complimentary ticket to a cheap ticket, and a cheap ticket to an overpriced ticket (who doesn’t?), but in the course of a season, I use a lot of tickets, however I come by them or they come by me. I dig deep when necessary. I make the trip. I show up. I wear the colors. I buy the edibles and the potables. I preach the gospel. In every way I can count, I support my team.
After learning why Leigh Castergine claimed she was suddenly disappeared from the Mets’ back-office roster, I didn’t much want to. Yet I did. I rationalized that the ticket was going to be gratis; that I was carrying a gift card for food and beverages that somebody had thoughtfully given me on my real birthday; that I could wear a non-Mets shirt and a non-Mets cap; and that on some level I could minimize my tangible/visible support of my team, or at least my team’s chief operating officer whose alleged behavior oozed all over my lifetime of fandom around 4 o’clock that afternoon. On September 10, 2014, exactly 45 years after I basked in the glow of the instantly iconic bulletin that lit the Shea Stadium scoreboard — LOOK WHO’S NO. 1 — I wanted to dim the lights on my purely voluntary association with this team.
It was a small gesture. It was visible to nobody but me. And by the bottom of the first inning, it escaped my consciousness completely. I wore an Islanders t-shirt, I donned a Long Island Ducks cap, I kept my wallet away from Citi Field’s cash registers and I picked over the latest (by no means the only) Wilpon-brand escapade with appropriate disdain. Yet there I was at the Mets game with a Mets pal who, like me, writes a lot about the Mets, and we were watching the Mets and cheering the Mets and doing nothing that emitted a sense of disgust or dismay with a mall-encompassing ownership group we wish would remain out of the news until the preferably upcoming day when it announces it is at last doing the sporting thing and selling the team we love so it can function in an atmosphere of blazing luminescence once more. On the train home, I realized I wasn’t wearing my Mets stuff and somehow felt guilty about not publicly displaying my allegiance.
Shaking this severe case of fandom remains impossible. Not that I try very hard.