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

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

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

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Loyalty Rewarded ... for One Night

It was probably the eighth inning when I realized I’d been watching the entire game between the Mets and the Rockies yet wasn’t sure I could name a Rockie who was on the field. I taxed my brain and managed to come up with Michael Cuddyer, but that was because he’d hit a home run. Beyond that? Drew Stubbs or Drew Storen or Franklin Stubbs or someone sort of familiar was in center. And what’s his name who isn’t William behind the plate. You know. That guy.

This isn’t to make fun of the injury-ravaged, ludicrously depleted Rockies. I’m sure there were more than a few viewers out in Denver wondering who the heck Wilmer Flores and Dilson Herrera were, and in whose mind “Nieuwenhuis” was best left as an auditory smear of vowels. It was a snoozy game even for garbage time, a 1-1 duel that was more flat than taut, played with autumn hammering at the door demanding to be let in.

So I wasn’t paying much attention and the game wasn’t particularly punishing me for it. On Twitter, a member of Mets nation wondered why she was watching this and I noted idly that it was better than the best possible day in January. Which is true, I guess — look out the window and wait for spring, donchaknow. But truth was, I imagined the wait for spring beginning, as it will in a couple of weeks, and I wasn’t particularly sad. It didn’t feel like the end of something, but like a rest.

David Wright doubled with two out in the eighth to bring Lucas Duda was up, but Duda is at one of those points in the development of a hitter where the pitchers have the upper hand. He’s being starved of fastballs, fed nothing but junk and dared to change his swing and sacrifice his power and slap one to left field. So far he can’t or won’t do that; he’ll either adjust and force pitchers to find another way to get him out, or fail to adjust and be exposed. Nothing is decided yet, but Christian Friedrich had read the scouting report and tortured Duda with sliders. He struck out, left Wright at second, and the Mets were down 2-1. It sure felt like a last gasp: The Rockies went down 1-2-3, and old friend LaTroy Hawkins arrived to end things.

Which was when the Mets came leaping out of the coffin.

It only took six pitches. Travis d’Arnaud rifled the inning’s third pitch up the left-field gap for a double, with Eric Young Jr. jogging out to second to take over and do the only thing he can sometimes do. I braced myself for a bunt (which would have been a defensible call, actually), but it wasn’t needed — Curtis Granderson spanked the inning’s fourth pitch for a game-tying triple. I still hadn’t picked my jaw up off the floor and the Mets had gone from giving it a shot to being poised to win it. Up came Wilmer Flores, who lofted the sixth pitch to mid-center.

It wasn’t deep.

It wasn’t anywhere near deep.

Surely Tim Teufel wasn’t going to try it, not with Herrera on deck. (Who would have been walked, leaving it the hands of one of numerous pinch-hitting options.)

Nope, Teufel was going to try it. Granderson looked to me like he was going to be out, either through a tag or a ludicrous application of the Posey Rule. But Stubbs heaved it in the direction of the Rockies’ on-deck circle, Granderson was home free, and the good guys had won.

So a 68-75 team took a garbage-time game away from a 59-84 team. Not exactly the stuff of baseball legends, perhaps, but I had a good time hooting and hollering and watching the highlights. And I’ll still smile about this one when the next 40 or 50 snoozy 2-1 games produce no such reward. If you’re not a fan that probably sounds like madness, but it makes me smile. It’s what we do, win or lose, but it’s nice to be rewarded now and again.

Ducking Karma

On Saturday night, in the second inning, Dillon Gee lofted a fly ball to left with Dilson Herrera on third and one out. Donald Lutz, a German citizen playing on German Appreciation Night, settled under the ball and caught it. Tim Teufel told Herrera to stay put and Herrera did. The Mets didn’t score — not in that inning, and not in any remaining inning. In the ninth, their rally against Aroldis Chapman fizzled when Eric Young Jr. failed to do the only thing he’s still paid to do, popping up a touch too hard off third on a double steal and being called out (properly) after a lengthy replay review.

So today, you could feel Karma putting extra bullets in the revolver for the afternoon’s game of Mets roulette. In the bottom of the fifth, with two out and no score, Skip Schumaker singled up the middle off Zack Wheeler. Enemy pitcher Mat Latos took off from second, reached third … and kept going. Juan Lagares uncorked a very un-Lagaresesque throw, and Latos was safe. The Mets would catch up and then go ahead, but squander a few golden opportunities, as they so often do. Then Jenrry Mejia came in and was discombobulated, and suddenly those Reds in the rearview mirror were closer than they appeared. Todd Frazier was called out at first for the presumable end of the game … except there was another lengthy replay review.

Mejia had already performed his trademark stomp of triumph; now he had to stand around for three minutes while the umpires compared angles with their brethren in New York, discussed tax shelters, asked about football scores, opined on whether candlesticks were really an ideal wedding gift, and, I dunno, regretted not being able to go to London to watch Kate Bush return to the stage. Whatever it was, it took quite a while. When it was over, Frazier was awarded first (properly), and Mejia had to take the mound post-stomp, with Kris Negron just 90 feet away as the tying run and superfast Billy Hamilton just a single away as the winning run.

Gulp.

The Reds had played execrable baseball. First Hamilton dropped a catchable fly ball in center that led to three runs, one on a Curtis Granderson single and two more on a laser-beam homer by Anthony Recker, whose every hit is so highlight-worthy that one feels bad about pointing out that he needs a lot more mundane ones to not be hitting .188. Not to be outdone, Jack Hannahan dropped a foul pop-up in the eighth. That gave Granderson extra pitches, the fourth of which he hammered into the right-field stands for a run that looked cosmetic but turned out to be anything but. Meanwhile, Wheeler, being Wheeler, was variously wild and on point, saving his best work for a no-out, bases-loaded jam of his own making: Frazier chopped a ball to the right of the mound, which Wheeler snagged gracefully and then shamed his fellow Mets pitchers by throwing into his catcher’s glove, rather than at a hot-dog guy in the mezzanine, an imaginary Red 10 feet to the right or a distant 747.

But still, there we were in the ninth, with Mejia having had three minutes to consider the noose he’d knotted around his own neck as Devin Mesoraco came to the plate.

Like I said, gulp.

So of course Mejia fanned Mesoraco on three pitches, leading to an even more emphatic stomp — and leaving me to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Baseball, man. You never know.

‘I Don’t Know...Third Base!’

When Saturday’s one-run loss to the Reds was over, it was easy to pinpoint the most obviously pivotal play. It happened at third base in the ninth inning, when Eric Young, who has somehow stolen 29 bases in a season when it feels like he’s played in maybe 29 games, was called safe by Alfonso Marquez but out by Sam Sung, that fellow who’s so omnipotent he doesn’t even have to show up at the ballpark to decide the fate of a given contest.

From behind the curtain and through the headset, the great and powerful Sung sang the end of EY’s trip around the bases because he watched a load of replays and the replays couldn’t have been a whole lot more conclusive. Young had the base stolen until his insistence on returning to a vertical position allowed none of his body contact with the bag. Cincinnati third baseman Kris Negron, on the other hand, kept one glove — with one ball secured snugly within — square on one of Eric’s legs.

In 2014, as long as somebody bothers to ask Sam Sung to take multiple ganders, that’s enough to get you caught stealing. When EY was ruled out upon further review, it pretty much nipped the critical Met rally midway through the bud. In those sweet seconds before Bryan Price unsportingly challenged Marquez’s call, it was all going so well. Curtis Granderson singled with one out, the Mets trailing, 2-1. Young pinch-ran. Young stole second. Dilson Herrera walked. All of this was taking place against the generally impenetrable Aroldis Chapman. You could, if you were so inclined, smell something cooking.

Here came the secret sauce: a double steal attempt, with Wilmer Flores at bat. The throw went to third, which meant Herrera was going to be on second no matter what. When EY was fleetingly judged safe — he had the throw from Brayan Peña easily beat — destiny was gathering in the Mets’ dugout. When the Samsung-sponsored replay mechanism issued its reversal, destiny dispersed and shared a cab back to the hotel with potential victory. Flores patiently worked Chapman for another walk to situate Mets on first and second with two out, but it wasn’t the same. Chapman then remembered he was Chapman and struck out Eric Campbell to dismiss all hope.

Young’s slide was properly feet-first. When he rose like a premature soufflé, it all looked very instinctive, as if sliding and standing were all one physical motion, whaddaya want from the guy? Still, EY, last year’s N.L. stolen base champ, is basically Herb Washington on this roster. He pinch-runs or sits. Too bad he didn’t just sit on the base. Negron was diligent in staying on the play, just as Price and his video corps were smart to keep watching and start asking. It might be remembered that way back in the second series of the season, Terry Collins inaugurated the Mets’ participation in the new world order against these very Reds and won a reversal on a play at second. Next thing you knew, Ike Davis hit a grand slam and video was our saving grace.

Saturday, from every angle possible, payback proved a bitch.

As noted, Eric Young coming off the third base bag is the play that sticks with you. But it’s not the only one that sticks with me. I have to rewind to the second inning of the Johnny Cueto-Dillon Gee duel. Like EY’s mishap, it happened at third base. Unlike EY’s mishap, it zipped by without contemporaneous comment…but I think it also cost the Mets the game.

The second was a promising inning. Travis d’Arnaud was on second from a leadoff double. He scored on Herrera’s one-out single. Then Flores doubled, sending Dilson to third. Gee was up next. Gee hasn’t hit whatsoever in 2014, but miracle of miracles, he lifted a professional fly ball to medium left. It was caught by Donald Lutz. The next thing I expected to see was Herrera tag up and sprint home.

I saw no such thing. Tim Teufel held him, waiting for Juan Lagares to drive him and perhaps Flores in with two outs. Except Lagares struck out; Cueto had, as 17-game winners will, limited the damage; and I thought to myself, “That’s gonna cost us.”

Seven innings later, it had cost us as much anything else, including Young’s inability to attach himself to third base, Gee’s aversion to pitching beautifully once he gets to the seventh (which was when he surrendered the tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey) and Cueto’s ongoing campaign to take silver in this year’s Cy Young race behind golden Clayton Kershaw. To the extent that one can be irked by another loss this late in another losing season, I found not sending Herrera quite irksome.

Maybe Teufel knows something I don’t about Lutz, I decided. I’m sure he has access to detailed scouting reports that tell him who can throw how well, even a September callup like Lutz. Maybe Lutz is Lagares when it comes to arms you don’t want to test.

All I could do was check the Internet. I Googled “Lutz” and “throwing” and “arm” and terms like those and couldn’t come up with any evidence that Donald Lutz has a cannon you just don’t run on. I considered Herrera and the little I’ve seen of him. Doesn’t seem as fast as EY. Seems faster than, say, Anthony Recker. He’s 20, stole 23 bases in the minors this season and has scored 101 runs total, encompassing his time with St. Lucie, Binghamton and New York.

What would have been the harm in finding out whether Dilson Herrera can beat a throw home from Donald Lutz is what I’m asking.

It’s tempting to turn this into Exhibit Q in the case against the Mets’ culture of chronic acceptance of the dismal status quo. That might be a stretch, but when you have a chance to score a second run off a pitcher who doesn’t make a habit of giving up many of them, why decline it? Why hesitate? Why play it stultifyingly safe? What is there to lose, except another game?

Before this game that would be lost anyway, Collins was asked about Herrera’s immediate future, specifically what will be done with the promising prospect should Daniel Murphy be back on the field soon. Might we see Dilson take a few reps at short over the final twenty games of season?

Oh hells to the no, the manager essentially told reporters. “You’re muddying the waters by running somebody else out there,” is what Terry actually said. “I’m not here to run a tryout camp. I’m here to win some games.”

I’ll provisionally give him the “muddying” point. We woke summer morning after summer morning to another Tejada sunrise wondering when Flores would get a legitimate shot at short. Now he’s gotten one and he’s beginning to make something of it. After lagging for weeks with the bat, he’s found a bit of a groove, going 11-for-28 in his last seven games while not embarrassing himself in the field. If you’re really appraising him for shortstop in 2015, maybe you don’t derail his nascent genuine progress.

Nevertheless, is there really that much to muddy when you’re wallowing eight below .500? And who’s the skipper kidding with “I’m here win to some games”? You were to here win games from March 31 forward and you wound up winning significantly fewer than half of them to date. It’s because winning has eluded your grasp that September has been given over to Wilmer Flores, Matt Den Dekker and Dilson Herrera.

Look at what’s left of a 67-75 campaign this way: It is a tryout camp and you are trying to win some games. If you had better options, these kids wouldn’t be getting a chance. Bobby Abreu would still be getting starts in left if he hadn’t run out of youth serum, Ruben Tejada would probably be penciled in for his very own Poster Day if he could’ve hit measurably better than Granderson and Herrera would have been promoted no higher than Vegas had Murphy not gotten hurt. Daniel’s dandy hit total notwithstanding, is Terry trying to claim he can’t win games if deprived of all that brand of fantastic experience? Where did all that fantastic experience catapult us exactly?

As of this moment, a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Phillies.

If Murphy’s healthy enough to play, you’re going to tell me the fate of the Metropolitan world will become unraveled if Herrera sees a series against the Rockies or Marlins or Astros from the vantage point of short? That Dilson Herrera moving to his right for 27 or so innings is going to be the difference between the team succeeding and the team failing?

The Mets are going to win some and lose some in familiar proportions from here to September 28 regardless of who is positioned where for five or eight or however many of the remaining twenty. You unspool the “tryout camp” line in a September like 1999 when Jorge Toca is forced to take a seat behind John Olerud because a playoff spot is on the line. A playoff spot most decidedly isn’t on the line this September. I thought we were clear on that.

The Carlyle-Eveland Revue

What’s worse than being a team that hasn’t been good for the longest time? In the moment, probably being a team that was pretty good not so long ago yet is now experiencing the falling out of its bottom. That situation described the Mets by this time of year in 1991 and 2002, and the scenario fits today’s Cincinnati Reds right down to their green-trimmed uniforms.

That’s how much of a mess the Reds are. They can’t even get their colors correct. (C’mon people, it’s in your name.)

Irish Heritage Night finery notwithstanding, the Reds — same outfit that made the playoffs three of the past four seasons and was in the thick of an N.L. Central dogfight as recently as the middle of July — are a mess. And when you send a new mess to take on an experienced mess, well, Let’s Go Mess!

I mean Mets, who tidily stomped the Reds in Cincy Friday night, 14-5. The Mets hit five home runs, every one of them landing on the other side of the Ohio in Kentucky. Seriously, they were launching lasers early and often: d’Arnaud; Flores; Herrera; Duda; even Curtis Granderson’s bat came out of retirement to belt one.

The unraveled Reds, who are 15-31 since the All-Star break and 7-19 over the past month, have dropped from contention to a record worse than ours. And the Mets? They’re punching powerfully in their weight class: three sub-.500 opponents over the past week have enabled them to take five of their last seven decisions. With two more at Great American Ball Park and then three at home against the eroded Rockies…nope, sorry, not even at 67-74 will I allow myself to take ’em anything but one at a time. Or fourteen at a time if Red pitching insists. Still, you can’t help but enjoy the Kids In America when they’re learning to win a little.

Cases like Cincinnati’s are why I roll my eyes every March when self-appointed experts attempt to project the exact record and standing in advance for each of the thirty major league franchises. Somewhere along the way, players are going to get hurt, players are going to slump and players are going to deteriorate. Inevitably, you’ll find a franchise on which all those kinds of players are gathered and represent a plurality of the personnel. It happens not every spring, but every summer. It happened to our guys in 1991 (from 53-38 to 77-84) and 2002 (from 55-51 to 75-86). It’s happening to those guys our guys are playing currently.

Everything can look very different very quickly in baseball. For example, if you’d asked me less than a year ago to connect Buddy Carlyle, Dana Eveland and Las Vegas, I’d remember that time in the 1970s when my parents went to Las Vegas for some kind of convention and one night at the Sands, they saw Buddy Carlyle, billed as The Fastest Wit in the West, open for the Chanteuse of the Strip, Dana Eveland.

Or, if I wasn’t feeling particularly creative, I’d shrug and tell you I’d heard of Las Vegas, thought maybe Buddy Carlyle rang a bell of some sort and as for Dana Eveland, I have no idea who she is.

He? OK, he. As recently as the last Super Bowl, I had no idea who Dana Eveland was, whatever the pronoun.

And now? Now I know better. Now I know Carlyle and Eveland were and are veteran pitchers who, lacking anywhere better to ply their trade, signed with the Mets during Spring Training, were assigned to the Las Vegas 51s, got called up during a bullpen crisis and, like John Cusack’s record store buddies in High Fidelity, just started showing up every day. That was three months ago.

Let’s not overstate the contributions of our version of Barry and Dick. Buddy and Dana have not transformed the 2014 Met sessions into championship vinyl. But let’s not undersell what they’ve contributed, either. They haven’t been bad.

You’ve watched enough Mets bullpens implode to know “they haven’t been bad” is practically the highest praise one can ladle upon Mets relievers whose roles are defined as nothing more specific than present. Depending on the composition of the DL at any given moment, the Mets seem set at closer, setup man, setup man to the setup man, lefty specialist and long man/swingman. Somewhere on the edge of that crowd have been Eveland, the second lefty who’s less specialist than contingency plan, and Carlyle, the kind of righty who comes in when all hope is not quite lost yet not necessarily in sight.

And they’ve been so not bad that they’ve been kind of good. In a season when we’ve continually pinched ourselves that Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, Josh Edgin and Carlos Torres have fairly consistently surpassed our wildest dreams and somewhat regularly scaled the heights of dependability when we haven’t had 14-run cushions on which to fall back, Dana Eveland and Buddy Carlyle have effectively secured the outer perimeter. That is to say the thought of them entering a game that isn’t well out of hand doesn’t instinctively inspire anxiety.

You may not have noticed, given that they’re not inserted into the highest of high-leverage situations unless something has gone horribly awry, but these Carlyle and Eveland blokes have brushed up against superb in 2014. In 24 innings, Carlyle’s walked four guys and given up only two home runs (one Friday to Todd Frazier as he carefully nursed a ten-run lead), while registering five-and-a-half strikeouts for every base on balls he’s issued. Eveland has been used a little more, perhaps to his left elbow’s detriment, and been a little less statistically spectacular, but has served as an net asset rather than the traditional Met pen liability. Of the 58 lefty batters he’s faced, the southpaw has retired 41 of them. No lefty has homered against him, and only four of the last 19 runners he’s inherited have scored.

Buddy (first such friendly Met moniker since Harrelson) and Dana (warmly evocative of a most sorely missed Mets Fan) are unsung, which sounds unfair, but it’s better than being reviled, the usual fate of Met relievers you tend to forget are on the roster, let alone in organized baseball. Carlyle first saw the majors in 1999, yet this is only his eighth season logging any MLB experience. His résumé, which encompasses loads of stops in loads of minor league cities, also includes stints with the Hanshin Tigers, the LG Tigers and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The first and third of those are Japanese teams, the one in the middle Korean. Like Carlyle — not to mention Eisenhower — Eveland went to Korea. That was where he spent 2013, going 6-14 for the Hanwha Eagles.

One season later, erstwhile Eagle Eveland is big-league all the way, same as Carlyle, who was a Princeton Red in 1996 and a Buffalo Bison in 2013, only occasionally something akin to a San Diego Padre or Atlanta Brave in between.

You’re welcome to draw grander conclusions about relief pitching from the successes of 36-year-old Earl Lester “Buddy” Carlyle and 30-year-old Dana James Eveland, both of whom seem way older by dint of their respective journeys. You can speak to the randomness of relieving, how last year’s unimpressive Eagle is this year’s practically premium portsider, therefore don’t spend a lot of money based on a small sample size. You can scoff at an overreliance on name brands like Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth and John Lannan and wonder what would have happened to this season had somebody thought to bring Carlyle and Eveland north sooner than a third of the way into the schedule. You can look around at 29 other teams and ask why nobody else saw something in these two warm bodies who heated up in the Vegas desert and didn’t wilt under the lights of Flushing. You can point to the Mets’ tendency to overwork their primary bullpen arms and be happy that for a change they found a couple of fellows who could provide genuine depth.

Me, I’m glad the Mets took February flyers on guys I’d barely to never heard of. Certain types of triumphs that don’t automatically show up in the standings set a fan’s heart aflutter. Like the runner who tags up from second on a fly ball to deep center. Like the bunt against the shift for a base hit. Like Matt Harvey emerging in the late summer of 2012 and Jacob deGrom suddenly exceeding his hype come July of 2014. Pound for pound, though, how do you not love, more than anything, the scrap heap find who proves worth his weight in prior obscurity?

Once upon a time you got it from Matt Franco, from Rick Reed, from Benny Agbayani, and they helped create a legitimate postseason stalwart. For part or all of a year you got it from Duaner Sanchez and Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez and wound up with a division champion. Sometimes, though, it’s just the satisfaction of watching somebody overwhelm the nonexistent expectations attached to him and do so for your team. It may not have made the 2014 Mets the kings of anything, but it’s made them that much more compelling and competent, and that’s also not so bad.

Fourteen runs. Five homers. Buddy Carlyle. Dana Eveland. Who’d have figured?

All Hail Relative Normalcy

The best thing about tonight’s 4-3 victory over the Marlins? It was a relatively normal baseball game.

It wasn’t Monday night’s six-error shitshow in which the Marlins won by sucking less. Nor was it Tuesday night’s ludicrous display of non-pitching, with Jon Niese pitching as badly as he could without actually losing and old non-friend Brad Penny getting whacked around. It was a relatively normal, crisply played ballgame. Which was a relief.

You had some good storylines, of course — baseball always provides those. There was Matt den Dekker chipping in three hits and Kirk Nieuwenhuis walking three times — a skill he didn’t seem to have even heard of two years ago — while Curtis Granderson protected his .210 average on the radioactive green pine of Lorialand. There was Jacob deGrom pulling a Wheeler by pitching well but threatening to run out of bullets by the fifth inning. There was Giancarlo Stanton hitting a line drive into the left-field seats that might have behanded the fan who was lucky enough to not catch it, and the oddity that Stanton’s blow wasn’t the most impressive of the night: Nieuwenhuis hit a ball into the second deck that disappointed me only because it didn’t send a satellite tumbling out of orbit to destroy that Red Grooms monstrosity.

Oh, and you had your nightly trigger for grumbling about Terry Collins. Collins threw poor Dario Alvarez into the fire for his first major-league appearance with the tying run on third and Christian Yelich up, which didn’t work — Yelich promptly singled in the tying run and Alvarez was gone after two pitches. Collins then let Carlos Torres bat in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and two out and the Mets trying to extend a 4-2 lead. Torres struck out, then gave up the Stanton homer in the bottom half of the eighth anyway. The alibi for Terry is that the Mets are short-handed (as they always are), what with Josh Edgin and Daisuke Matsuzaka suffering cranky elbows and the team reluctant to strip Las Vegas for the playoffs. Plus Terry might be belatedly worried about Jeurys Familia‘s arm falling off, or perhaps concerned that Familia’s next throw to a base might actually maim one of his infielders.

I won’t claim any of those moves made much sense to me, but I’m not on the Fire Terry bus. Why not? Well, a few reasons, none of which is exactly a ringing endorsement:

1) The Mets aren’t going to do it, and I’m too old and tired to waste my energy campaigning for something that isn’t going to happen. Jeff Wilpon probably forces his employees to search the couch cushions for nickels each night; you think he’s going to pay Terry a million bucks to go fishing next year?

2) I think we overrate how important managers are to on-field results, and vastly overrate how much of a difference changing them will make. If you told me Joe Maddon was available, I’d take to Twitter and start baying at the moon for Terry to go. Failing that, though, every manager does pretty much the same stuff: He bunts despite the math indicating bunting is stupid, picks a pet reliever and tries to destroy his arm, and gives bland answers to obvious questions asked by bored beat writers. Baseball is undergoing a strategic renaissance in everything from player development to roster construction and on-field strategy, but it’s front offices that are the agents of change. Managers? Please. If you beamed in your average manager from the 1950s, you’d have to tell him to manage to the save rule whether or not it makes sense and forbid him to let a starter throw 180 pitches. (Unless you’ve rehired Dusty Baker, in which case tough luck.) If he followed those rules you’d probably never notice the change.

3) What is the attraction of Wally Backman beyond his not being Terry Collins? I will listen if you give me a reason, backed with data or a number of well-chosen anecdotes, that you think Wally would be a superior tactician to Collins. I will most definitely not listen if you give me an answer that’s an ode to passion, grit, the aura of the 1986 Mets, the fact that “he’s a winner,” or one that mentions Gil Hodges yanking Cleon Jones out of a game. (By the way, Gil’s long walk out to left happened nearly a half-century ago, in an era without monster salaries, agents playing watchdog or hourly media firestorms.) Wally’s chief contributions to the Mets would be to get ejected in more entertaining ways and to be beeped on SNY more often. I’m not taking to the barricades for that — not because I’m a Collins defender, but because it strikes me as deeply pointless.

Anyway, you had a reasonably crisp game, some nice contributions from the kids, a pair of Hey honey ya gotta see this homers and a Terry Collins headshake. Not bad entertainment for a couple of hours in Lorialand, right? If you wanted more than that — a .500 team, say, or a real payroll — well, sorry. You signed up for the wrong outfit, my friend. Better take what you can get.

20/20 Vision

Over the past three games, the sub-.500 Mets have scored 20 runs and allowed 20 runs against the sub-.500 teams directly adjacent to them in the standings. It’s been like a sporadically entertaining round-robin of mediocrity.

But they’ve won two of these three games, which is good news for those still keeping track of the Mets’ daily doings, yet must rattle the front office’s fealty to the sacred nature of run differential, at least for the small sample at hand. What’s the point playing .667 ball across 27 innings when the scoreboard suggests you’re no better than a .500 enterprise?

It’s September. All we have left are small samples. On Tuesday night, when the Mets’ eight runs withstood the Marlins’ six (the math checks out, even in arithmetically challenging Miami), there were a couple of delightful small samples one might be tempted to extrapolate to high heavens. Juan Lagares, for example, went 4-for-4, was on base five times, scored three runs, drove in two runs, stole two bases and robbed himself of a triple at the wall. Only the last part isn’t true. The David Wright who’s been bumming us out for months ceded his spot in the lineup to the David Wright we vaguely recall revering for most of the preceding decade. David registered three hits (including two of the extra-base variety, for goodness sake), drove in three runs and pronounced himself “dangerous,” which is the David Wright equivalent of holding third base high above his head and unsubtly hinting that Lou Brock could take a seat.

Lagares is unstoppable and Wright is reborn. All our problems are solved. When you watch the Mets, you tend to take the good and decide it’s a permanent condition. Unless you’re the type who watches the Mets and decides only the bad is indicative of reality. You could be forgiven for the latter, but you might as well go with the former. It’s September. It will all be gone soon, so enjoy what there is to be enjoyed.

You know when I knew the season was over in every sense except officially? When I received the annual Metropolitan Hospitality e-mail telling me I could book my holiday party at Citi Field. The invitation showed up on August 21. At a juncture of the calendar when other ballparks are accepting tentative reservations for postseason galas, the Mets are already clearing their ballroom for the next affair.

Then last week, I shared 7 train and LIRR space with the U.S. Open flock. Visitors from all over the world wondered what that other facility with the red bricks was for — the one few of their fellow mass transit passengers were streaming toward. It was another sure sign that the season doesn’t have much season left to it…and a cruel reminder that we’re light years removed from how George Vecsey described the Flushing Meadows ideal in 1986:

“The Open is still my favorite two weeks of the year — tennis in the afternoon, baseball a few nights at Shea, no bridges to cross, no Bronx, no New Jersey, everything coming true for the Mets…”

Nothing comes true for the Mets anymore, except the truth that September serves as a vestigial appendage left over from happier times. The team goals are nonexistent. The individual goals are all that’s left. Aside from the annual vague desire to “see what the kids can do,” maybe three specifics remain.

1) Get Lucas Duda to 30 home runs.

Duda has 26 dingers. He has also stopped being Wally Joyner or whoever it is we have rushed to anoint him the second coming of since he lit the West Coast ablaze. If Duda reaches the big three-oh, he’ll deserve our applause, but also our pause. Remember the last first baseman whose second half propelled him to 30 homers? He plays for Pittsburgh these days. Not that Ike Davis’s precedent is destined to equal Lucas Duda’s near future, but I’d insist on two consecutive solid years before comfortably declaring a void has been effectively filled on a going basis.

Sidelined Daniel Murphy gave us consecutive solid years and by all rights should be going for 200 hits and/or league-leadership of said category this month, but lots of shoulds go unanswered around here.

2) Get Jacob deGrom the Rookie of the Year award.

Jakey’s been coming up on the outside, his Mane ’n Tail flowing in the late summer breeze, but will it be enough to catch speedy Billy Hamilton and whoever else among the freshman class has been galloping along since April? This is one of those individual goals that is out of the individual’s sole control. It’s been fun watching deGrom insinuate himself into the ROY conversation; it’s been less fun realizing players from New York’s National League franchise appear not as favorites in these races but dark horses.

Also conceivably in the running are Jeurys Familia and Travis d’Arnaud, each of them having accomplished a decent amount of self-establishment in the second half of 2014, but both probably off the pace as a result of uncertain starts. If we have a horse in this, it’s the one in whose name and number some depleted department is selling four otherwise unfillable Field Level seats.

3) Get Lagares the Gold Glove.

Our big hope here is Juan has become such a cult sensation among the set that actually pays attention to spectacular defense that the buzz that surrounds his every grab filters up to the managers and coaches who vote on the totally meaningless but indisputably glitzy award. Again, how sad is it that we have this all-world center fielder in New York — Willie! Mickey! The Duke! — and he’s relatively obscure? More highlight footage, more provisional praise and more 4-for-4 nights would surely help his cause. (Also, to be brutally frank, Carlos Gomez being hurt doesn’t hurt.)

What, you might be wondering, does Juan Lagares’s hitting have to do with him winning a Gold Glove? You must be new to the Gold Glove. Charitably speaking, offense serves as subliminal advertising for a player’s defense. Mostly, names are made at the plate no matter how many runs are saved in the field.

Drive for show, putt for dough, or something like that.

Let’s say all our individually wrapped goals are met. Duda totals 30 homers and, if he fully reheats, 90 ribbies (just like Ike!). DeGrom becomes the first Met to accept Rookie of the Years honors since Dwight Gooden three entire decades ago. Lagares glitters like Carlos Beltran and Tommie Agee did in their day. Their quests will fill September with a little something besides undistributed Curtis Granderson Poster Day posters (somebody in promotions has his finger on the pulse of the fans), and that would make the annual countdown to inevitable oblivion a wee bit more palatable.

I’d prefer September revert to its intended role as potential conduit to October — when “Metropolitan Hospitality” is supposed to be expressed via “ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Citi Field for the first game of the National League Division Series” — but we can’t have everything. Or all that much of anything.

Tragedy and Farce

I hope everybody had a good Labor Day. Which is another way of saying I hope you didn’t waste a perfectly good holiday witnessing whatever it was the Mets spent their afternoon doing. Terry Collins said it wasn’t a big-league baseball game, and he was right. The Marlins were horrible too, with Marcell Ozuna managing to heave a ball from center into his own dugout and making a number of lazy plays in the field and on the basepaths, but they weren’t as horrible as the Mets.

Few things could have been. The record books show the Mets also made six errors a couple of years back in Colorado, a horror show I vaguely remember. In 1996 they made seven against the Pirates, which I’m glad to say I no longer recall. Certainly today was one of the worst ballgames I’ve ever had to endure. It was bad enough that MLB should burn the tapes, expunge the game from its records and consider contracting both franchises.

Where do we start? David Wright made a horrible error that undid Zack Wheeler when it looked like he’d manage to inch across the fifth-inning mark as starter on the long side. Jeurys Familia has emerged as a wonderful pitcher, but few things are more frightening than seeing him preparing to throw to a base. Travis d’Arnaud has reassured us about his future as a hitter while worrying us about his future as a receiver, sending far too many throws sailing into right-center and letting far too many balls past him at home. Dilson Herrera made two errors in the field himself and dropped a throw at first, though he earns a pass because he’s adjusting to the faster pace and better fields of a game two professional levels above where he was just playing. (Not to mention that he slammed his first career homer today and followed it with a triple, causing me to pause and hector the Mets’ Twitter person about where my HERRERA 2 t-shirt is.) Eric Campbell made a gallant dive for a ball in left that hit him in the palm and kept going. It was just miserable and endless.

With the Mets have crawled off into the rubble they’d created, Emily and Joshua and I met up with friends to watch the Brooklyn Cyclones’ final regular-season game in Staten Island against the Yankees. The Cyclones entered the day tied with the Connecticut Tigers in the race for the New York-Penn League wild card, but that familiar scenario came with an asterisk: Connecticut had the tiebreaker in the season series, so the Cyclones had to beat the Yankees (who’d been eliminated earlier in the week) and have the Lowell Spinners beat the Tigers.

The Cyclones did their part, beating the Yanks 3-1 in a game that wasn’t one for the Staten Island annals — one Yankee got called out for missing first base, which is dunderheaded even by the anything-can-happen standards of short-season A ball. Throughout the game I was on Twitter and milb.com, suddenly very interested in the outcome of a Lowell-Connecticut tilt up in Norwich. The Spinners were up 3-0 and then 3-2 and then 4-2 and then 4-3 and then 5-3 … and then the roof caved in. It was 5-5, and then 6-5 Tigers, the latter score announced gleefully by SI Yanks fans in the grandstand. (The half of the crowd that wasn’t pro-Brooklyn was openly and in fact operatically rooting for Connecticut while essentially ignoring the sub-.500 home team. Stay classy, Yankee fans.)

The Cyclones won, but as the ferry pulled in it was 9-5 Connecticut, and on Twitter the Cyclones themselves sighed and suggested we wait till next year. Which was premature: It was 9-7 Connecticut, and then 9-8 Connecticut, and the Spinners had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second with two outs in the ninth as the Statue of Liberty loomed to port, and hey, yaneverknow.

It’s true that you never know. But you can usually guess. Connecticut escaped and the Cyclones’ season was over. Having had my fill of farce, I didn’t really need a side of tragedy. But baseball makes no promises. You might see things that make you question your sanity, like Marlins heaving balls into dugouts and Met relievers heaving them past teammates. You might see runners miss first base. You might wait for reports of an astonishing, death-defying comeback … and you might be brought short by a rally that ends with you mourning what might have been, if only this little thing or that little thing had been different.

Baseball makes no promises. That’s part of what makes it so much fun … and most of what makes it so crushing.

How Dilson Herrera Is Like 18th Century Connecticut

So I’ve been reading this great book by Scott Weidensaul called The First Frontier, about the wars between the early colonists and the Indians. And a stray passage in it reminded me of something I’d forgotten: Connecticut’s 1662 charter claimed its western boundary was the “South Sea,” AKA the Pacific Ocean. This strikes us as ridiculous today — imagine the Nutmeg State as a long sliver unspooling west through Cleveland and Chicago, claiming mountains and plains until finally ending among the redwoods of Northern California. But Connecticut took its charter seriously: Its settlers fought with Pennsylvanians in the late 1700s over land around the upper Susquehanna, and the state didn’t surrender its “Western Reserve” in Ohio until 1800.

What does this have to do with Dilson Herrera, born in the seaport town of Cartagena, Colombia 332 years after Connecticut’s charter? Nothing, really – but stick with me for a bit, will you?

The glory of prospects is that their histories have yet to be written and can be imagined as many bright tomorrows extrapolated from a few successful yesterdays. We imagine ourselves being awed by prospects’ talents instead of learning to accept their limitations. Dilson Herrera could be the next Daniel Murphy or Wally Backman or Brandon Phillips or Joe Morgan, with potential extending to some marvelous baseball Pacific. We look at him at 20 and wonder if we’ll proudly tell people that we saw his first game and his first hit and his first RBI. We dream of him adding thousands more, becoming a fan favorite and having his number retired. It’s ridiculous, and we know it, but it’s fun to get carried away like this.

Besides, we know the occasional prospect does live up to this lofty billing — according to the geographical conceit above, Mike Trout would be the freaking Louisiana Purchase. But most prospects turn out to be the equivalent of Connecticut or Delaware, possibilities truncated and dimensions familiar, the vast promise once foreseen for them reduced to a shake-your-head footnote. Mike Vail was going to make us forget about Rusty Staub. Alex Escobar and Fernando Martinez were going to be superstars. Gregg Jefferies would lead a Mets dynasty and wind up in Cooperstown. Izzy, Pulse and Wilson would be the new Seaver, Koosman and Matlack — and not, say, three variations on Gary Gentry.

We love Dilson Herrera because he’s new and has done nothing to disappoint us. We watch him show a good eye at the plate and a compact swing and soft hands in the field and imagine we’ve got something here.

And hey, maybe we do.

But for a reality check about prospects, all we had to do today was look to either side of Herrera. To his right was Wilmer Flores, greeted as a pure hitter and then touted as a better answer than Ruben Tejada at shortstop and then dismissed as just a different problem. It still isn’t clear what Flores is, exactly, but he collected three hits today and made a couple of nifty plays in the field – bailing out Jeurys Familia with a smothering grab in the eighth and then rescuing Jenrry Mejia an inning later, turning the double play over an onrushing Chase Utley after taking a strong feed from Herrera.

Or if you looked to Herrera’s left you saw Lucas Duda, praised upon his arrival as a big slugger with a good eye, dismissed as a galumphing non-outfielder with confidence issues, greeted skeptically after winning the first-base competition over Ike Davis, and now accepted, however warily, after showing serviceable defense and pursuing what looks like a 30 home-run campaign.

All these storylines were at work today in a matinee that was a lot of fun — the Mets racked up their 13th win of the season against the Phillies (versus just six losses) as the teams played the kind of back-and-forth game more typical of their tilts at Citizens Bank Park. There was Anthony Recker swatting a home run and the Phillies coming back again and again behind nemeses old (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard) and new (Domonic Brown, Ben Revere). The good guys prevailed thanks to youth (besides Flores and Herrera, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker had key hits) and former youth, as David Wright leapt out of the coffin with a pair of hits. And it was fun watching an outfield of three plus centerfielders with den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis flanking the always-marvelous Juan Lagares.

I don’t know what Dilson Herrera will turn out to be — just as I’m not sure about Wilmer Flores, or Lucas Duda, or even the autumn years of David Wright. But all of them were fun to watch today, and it makes me happy to think about getting to watch them tomorrow. And that’s the promise that keeps us thinking the best about all the tomorrows yet to arrive.

Saturday Note Fever

I attended Curtis Granderson Bobblehead Night despite feeling no affinity whatsoever for Curtis Granderson as a New York Met. My bobble-enthusiast friend Joe talked me into going.

By “talked into,” I mean he had to ask twice. Usually it’s just once.

Curtis Granderson Bobblehead Night coincided with a hollow 7-2 loss to Philadelphia that coincided with Granderson striking out with the bases loaded.

It might not have been a coincidence.

Curtis Granderson makes for a better bobblehead than he does hitter.

More lifelike, too.

The Phillies scored seven runs, and that’s with the AARP discount.

Never mind retrofitting Nelson Cruz into a Mets uniform while willfully ignoring the bargain he became for the Orioles once he went untouched during the peak of the free agent market. If the Mets had committed the same two years and $16 million to Marlon Byrd during the last offseason as the Phillies did, Saturday night would have been different.

We’d have a productive right fielder who keeps proving he can hit in Citi Field.

We’d have a much better bat than Granderson’s; Granderson and Byrd have nearly identical on-base percentages, but Byrd’s slugging percentage is more than a hundred points higher.

We’d have, by Baseball-Reference WAR’s reckoning, 2.5 wins more for much less money.

We wouldn’t be stuck with a massive contract ($47 million) for three more years after this one for a player in frightening decline.

We’d have, essentially, the outfield version of Bartolo Colon’s relatively sane deal, except cheaper.

We’d still have Dilson Herrera and Vic Black because Byrd could have been signed after being rented out to Pittsburgh at the end of last season.

And we would’ve received Marlon Byrd bobbleheads, probably.

After the Phillies hung their five-spot on Colon in the sixth, I spent nine dollars on twelve ounces of beer, not because I was thirsty but because I was in that rare space in which I felt I really needed one.

Never have I so fully understood those vintage 7 Line shirts that declared, “This Team Makes Me Drink.”

Consumption of that beer lightened my mood considerably for approximately fifteen minutes.

The Mets’ lone scoring threat seemed to coincide with the draining of my beer cup. Maybe I need to drink more beer.

Or watch less of the Mets.

Granderson surely isn’t the only Met not doing anything at the plate. He’s also not the most expensive Met not doing anything at the plate.

David Wright’s been hurt, except he insists it has nothing to do with his endless slump.

All right, then. When is Wright going to be placed on the Able List?

And when might Granderson join him there?

There was a celebration of Taipei before the game. A festive dance was performed that was supposed to ward away evil spirits, according to Joe.

Jimmy Rollins refused to leave the ballpark, so I don’t think it was danced correctly.

Herrera drew the most sustained applause of the night for recording his first major league hit. The second-most, at least from me, was directed at Matt Harvey for presenting the Veteran of the Game with one of the American flags that flew over Citi Field.

Harvey appeared ready to activate himself when the rosters expand Monday and pencil himself in to start in Miami Tuesday.

I always get the feeling that the presentation of “an American flag that flew over Citi Field” is meant to glorify Citi Field more than it is to salute America.

Is the Veteran of the Game supposed to be overwhelmed by the gesture? “Y’know, I served my country under an American flag in a dangerous part of the world, but this one is nice, too.”

Wilsonianism strove to make the world safe for democracy. Dilsonianism might make the Mets feel secure enough to trade Daniel Murphy.

I don’t necessarily want to trade Murphy, the one guy on board who piles up hits like the Big Apple Brews stand must pile up profits. But I do want somebody acquired to bolster this lineup in the role of rising tide that lifts all boats. Murph may be the most tradable commodity we have.

We’re finishing fourth or fifth with him. Branch Rickey advises we can finish fourth or fifth without him.

Though you could say that about many, many Mets.

All our boats, at least the ones that carry our bats, are sinking.

Or are docked out by the World’s Fair Marina.

Joe and I sat to next a couple of dozen hearing-impaired fans. There was a lot of sign language flying back and forth. If I’d been paying attention, perhaps I could have learned a new way to communicate how much the Mets sucked.

A bad sign: there was a wave picking up momentum during the Mets’ one and only rally of the evening, in the seventh. I’d criticize the priorities of the participants, but, really, they weren’t missing anything.

Or were they supposed to be using their energy to wave the Mets toward victory? In which case, watch the game, people.

After the dramatic comeback I envisioned while in the middle of my beer failed to materialize, we met up with Paul from North Carolina, a Twitter pal of mine making his first Citi Field appearance. Sunday will be his second.

He sounded regretful about it already.

Paul expressed a healthy philosophy on remaining loyal to the cause from hundreds of miles away, not to mention light years from first place: If you lose your kid in the mall, your best bet is to wait for him or her to come back to find you instead of going off half-cocked searching.

Paul’s waiting for the Mets — the contending version with whom he fell in love nearly thirty years ago, that is — to meet up with him at the Pretzel Tide by the Gap, I guess.

I had to ask Paul, who speaks with an accent not often detected in Flushing, how he decided to get lost with the Mets when it was pretty obvious he didn’t grow up around here. The answer was WOR-TV when it was a superstation. He watched the Mets rather than be tempted by the WGN Cubs or TBS Braves.

He was quick to note the Cubs and Braves weren’t very good when he first got cable, while the Mets were on their way to the World Series.

Good call in 1986. Debatable now, though he’d never change the channel spiritually. Or try to find a new kid at the mall.

I may be mixing his metaphors. My apologies to Paul if I am. I’d blame the beer, but it was only twelve ounces and many hours ago.

Nine bucks for twelve ounces. What a racket.

Speaking of unmistakable accents, I’ve been at Citi Field enough in this year of in-game hosts to notice whenever Branden introduces a contestant from Merrick or Syosset or any one of our fine Nassau and Suffolk communities, he refers to that person as being from “Lawn Guyland”.

I doubt he really talks like that.

Friday night, I noticed Branden on a refreshment line just like a regular person before the game. There’s something discouraging about that.

Our in-game hosts are our second-tier royalty. When Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t show up to use his box, they’re the biggest celebrities we’ve got (next to Mr. Met and Cow-Bell Man, anyway). I really wouldn’t have a problem with Branden, Alexa and/or Christina being given behind-the-counter access for the quick pick-me-ups that keep them so darn perky in-game entertainment after in-game entertainment.

Now I’m wondering whether their open bottles of water are taken away by security as mine was Saturday night.

Because open bottles of water represent a threat to all those flags flying over Citi Field.

Every wiseass in creation has already pointed out that by posting their 73rd loss of the season, the Mets won’t win the 90 games they never promised anybody but everybody assumes they did.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…though if they had won 90 games, they wouldn’t have been damned.

It’s a bit of a shame word got out about the 90-win thing, because if the Mets had gotten there without hyping it, they could have gloated, in their best Pee-wee Herman, “We meant do that.”

Here’s what I would’ve liked to have heard out of the general manager when he was asked the first time about 90 wins:

“Our goal on a daily basis is to win the game in front of us. Do that, and the totals will take care of themselves.”

And when that was greeted by inevitable smirks and eyerolls, I would’ve liked Sandy Alderson to have added the following:

“Obviously we still have a ways to go. Everybody here is going to work very hard to get us where we want to be as soon as we can get there.”

His actual explanation, that 90 wins was neither a goal nor expectation, was more discouraging than watching Branden treated like a mere commoner.

I glanced at the out-of-town scoreboard at some point late and was overcome by sadness that on the second-to-last night of August none of it affected the Mets.

Of course they are making a race out of dibs on fourth place, which sits squarely on the line with Sunday’s game, the final Mets-Phillies battle of 2014.

The Mets hold a half-game lead over the Phillies with 26 to go.

My how times have changed where Mets-Phillies showdowns are concerned.

The Mets won 40 of 59 games in the best stretch of Shea’s last summer. When they were done playing the Phillies for the year, they held first place.

We spent the rest of September playing scoreboard, as they say.

That was the last September during which we looked at the out-of-town scoreboard out of anything but passing curiosity for what others are up to.

That was six years and one stadium ago.

That was when we had a team whose core talent almost provided a sufficient counterweight against its telling flaws.

My god, things have gotten so bad on the edge of September 2014 that I’m getting nostalgic for September 2008. And September 2008 was, by Metsian standards, a kick in the ol’ Ricardo Rincons.

Things will get better.

Eventually.

Or so I’m told.

Or so I sometimes tell others.

Some days I believe it.

Tonight I’m dubious.

Going to another game in which no Met accomplishes much of note will wear on your tenuous long-term optimism, no matter how nice the bobblehead you bring home.

The Grady Bunch

Anybody who knows his or her Brady Bunch will remember when Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy formed a singing group in order to go on the Pete Sterne Amateur Hour and win the money to buy their parents a sparkly anniversary present. They named their act after the gift they had their eye on: the Silver Platters.

The Silver Platters didn’t win the grand prize of a hundred bucks, but several decades later, the New York Mets — featuring a half-dozen fresh-faced kids of their own — did win a baseball game handed to them on a silver platter by a man named Grady.

Now as then, we’re talking good wholesome Friday night entertainment for the entire family.

It’s usually a sunshine day when the Mets play the Phillies. It’s Us 12, Them 5 thus far this season, including an 11-3 mark dating back to Mother’s Day, which would make Carol Brady pleased as punch. This is the matchup that’s kept the 2014 Mets barely aloft. Subtract the Phillies from the Mets’ schedule and we’re rooting for a team that’s on pace to win a paltry 70 ballgames for the entire year. Thanks to Philadelphia not withdrawing from the National League East, we’re looking at a good 76 victories, not to mention gripping a place other than last.

You take what you can get. What the Mets got Friday was a success born almost entirely of their opponents’ failure. Not that Jacob deGrom didn’t comb the Phillies out of his ’do with little ado over seven one-run innings (none earned), but since when does that matter to a Mets starting pitcher? He wasn’t getting supported by his hitters, which made him no different from his lesser-coiffed buddies Niese and Wheeler the last two nights. Jacob seemed destined to put in his curlers burdened by a no-decision when lightning struck.

There was no lightning over Flushing, actually, but I’m assuming something got between Grady Sizemore’s glove and the two-out short fly ball Juan Lagares popped into his general vicinity. The Mets had the bases loaded, which sounds more impressive than it was. There was a walk, a steal, a hit by pitch, and another walk. By standing in place, three Mets converted their existence into a potential collective scoring threat.

They would have provided no more than the basis for philosophical pondering — if the Mets fall to Phillies, should they be left in a forest? — had not Sizemore’s glove proven so cooperative. A putout that appeared to carry no more than a 10% chance of Castilloing turned into a drop that put two runs on the Mets’ half of the board. Then, for extra fun, Lagares from first and Eric Campbell from third effected a double-steal, which translates to WHOA, A STEAL OF HOME, an achievement that is always astounding.

So a little baserunning, a little contact and some well-advised taking added up to three runs that turned a 1-1 deadlock into a 4-1 Mets lead that that Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia sewed up for deGrom. Perhaps newbie second baseman Dilson Herrera, the 14-year-old called up from a nearby playground, thinks the Mets win like this all the time.

No moment like this one to inaugurate a new tradition. What does Herrera (who’s actually 20 and alighted from Double-A Binghamton) know from the Mets not winning? He was the most neo of the neophytes, but he wasn’t exactly alone in being relatively new on the MLB scene. Six of the nine players in the Met lineup had never participated in the big leagues before last year. They may not all work out in the end, but when your immediate goal is not falling a half-game behind the decrepit Phillies, you might as well trot out your youth and commence to judging whether it’s capable of maturing.

Tough break for Daniel Murphy going on the DL with one of those injuries the Mets didn’t initially indicate was any big deal, but as long we don’t have our hits leader available, it was a nice surprise to be greeted at Citi Field by Dilson Herrera rather than the twenty-third coming of, say, Omar Quintanilla. Nine years ago next month I was similarly delighted to show up at Shea and find Anderson Hernandez starting at second base. The Mets were out of it then, too, and whatever there was to glean from another gander at Miguel Cairo or Jose Offerman could not equal the simmering excitement of a watching a rookie who had it all in front of him.

To be discouragingly accurate, there turned out to be not a whole lot in front of Anderson Hernandez, a slick-gloved middle infielder who barely hit, went away, came back around and then slipped into the annals of inconsequentiality. Nevertheless, you can’t but help want to look ahead to something when all you have to look down on is the Phillies. We’ve looked ahead, since 2013 started going nowhere, to Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Travis d’Arnaud, Matt den Dekker, Jacob deGrom and Dilson Herrera. Friday night we looked at all of them on the same field. And they won. Or they accepted the win when it was presented to them by a Phillie who, like most Phillies, seems old enough to be their father.

***

The only downside to the unanticipated debut of Herrera, besides Murphy having to get hurt for it to happen, is it brings to an end a somewhat historic streak. I say “somewhat,” because I’m the only one who probably noticed or cared about the history that was being made.

As mentioned a few weeks ago when it first drew my attention, the Mets had gone quite a spell without inducting a wholly new player into the Metropolitan ranks. On June 10, Taylor Teagarden made his Met debut. Then, from June 11 through August 28, nobody made his Met debut. In this era when somebody we’d either waited breathlessly for or had barely heard of was disrupting our personnel files on a semi-regular basis, the silence grew eerie. Nobody had followed Teagarden onto the all-time roster, which sat frozen at 981 across the summer.

Herrera broke the ice when he donned No. 2 and became Met No. 982. The drought or deep freeze or whichever climatological Met-aphor you choose was over after 71 games. How did that stack up against similar dearths of debuts?

Pretty impressively. With help from Baseball Reference and some source material Ultimate Mets Database graciously shared with me, I am able to tell you the Teagarden-to-Herrera fallow period was a) the longest by a Met club in 26 years; and b) the sixth-longest in team history. Because you’re dying to know more, here are the Top 10 gaps between Met debuts.

1. 91 Games — Al Weis on April 15, 1968 to Jim McAndrew on July 21, 1968 (1st game)

2. 82 Games — Mackey Sasser on April 10, 1988 to Bob McClure on July 14, 1988

T3. 79 Games — Keith Hernandez on June 17, 1983 to Ron Darling on September 6, 1983

T3. 79 Games — Rick Anderson on June 9, 1986 to Kevin Elster on September 2, 1986

5. 74 Games — Charlie Williams on April 23, 1971 to Jon Matlack on July 11, 1971 (2nd Game)

6. 71 Games — Taylor Teagarden on June 10, 2014 to Dilson Herrera on August 29, 2014

7. 70 Games — Bob Apodaca on September 18, 1973 to Jack Aker on June 16, 1974

8. 69 Games — Bobby Pfeil on June 26, 1969 to Jim Gosger on September 7, 1969

9. 63 Games — Dale Thayer on May 28, 2011 to Mike Baxter on August 8, 2011

10. 62 Games — Darren Bragg on May 16, 2001 to Gary Bennett on July 24, 2001

The common thread that ties each of these streaks together, as far as I can tell, is absolutely nothing. You see some great Met years (including the two best) and some uninspiring Met years. You see names you identify as all-time Mets and names you’ve likely purged from your memory if they ever floated up there at all. You will perhaps note the oddity of the gap Teagarden-Herrera passed last — Apodaca-Aker — and wonder if it’s correct. Yup, it is: the Mets entered 1974 without committing a wholly new player to their roster, the only time that’s ever happened in these parts. Imagine waiting until June to mint a Met in 2015 and then discovering that it’s a journeyman reliever à la Aker.

Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t give our habitually lethargic front office any ideas.

Also worth noting, since we’re noting any of this, is two of these spells were punctuated somewhere in the middle by Recidivist Mets (onetime Mets who, like Anderson Hernandez in 2009, found their way home from some other team to their natural Metsian habitat). Bob L. Miller returned from eleven years spent elsewhere to add his Stengelesed right arm to the pennant push on September 26, 1973; exiled heartthrob Lee Mazzilli resumed wearing the only uniform that ever suited him (tightly) on August 8, 1986. Miller had last been a Met in 1962, Mazzilli in 1981, so they felt new, but they weren’t really.

The Mets having a man named Dilson, however, is pretty novel.