Did I hear the manager of the Mets say he expects his team to lose more often than it wins? I did.
I watched the postgame show on SNY Sunday after a rousing 11-3 win. I stayed tuned for the media scrum with Terry Collins, which, by dint of logistics, appears less stage-managed on the road than it does at home. Following games at Citi Field, Collins is seated at an elevated table at the front of a room dedicated to his fielding questions from the press. It’s all relatively dignified for him there. He’s literally placed above the crowd. After away games, however, Terry might have to do his business crammed behind the desk of the visiting manager’s office or standing up against a jury-rigged backdrop of dancing logos. At Dodger Stadium, it was the latter. Such a setting makes the manager look less like a head of state and more like a cornered animal.
Still, there was no reason for Collins to feel uncomfortable under interrogation on Sunday. His club was an eight-run winner, his cleanup hitter pounded two homers, his infield turned a triple play and his starting pitcher put aside his personal grief to deliver six quality innings. True, the manager had to deal with the possibility of no longer having Bartolo Colon by the trade deadline, and there were issues stemming from the early achy exits of slumping David Wright (neck) and steady Daniel Murphy (calf), yet given that this was the 131st Mets game he’d managed this season and his 617th dating back to 2011, the drill should have been familiar to Terry.
Questions came. Questions went. One that was fairly innocuous brought a response I found jarring. It didn’t seem to get written up in any of the game accounts I read (and I checked as many as I could find). Maybe it didn’t seem like news next to Lucas Duda’s slugging, Yasiel Puig’s baserunning, Colon’s status and the injuries. Maybe it didn’t seem like news because if the Mets are playing out another losing season in a forest, nobody who covers the team notices it. But I did.
A reporter asked about the Mets not just winning but beating a team that had captured its previous three games. After acknowledging the Dodgers were “playing good,” here (at 3:20 on sny.tv) was where Collins took his reply:
“As I was telling the coaches in the dugout today in the eighth inning, when we started this road trip and you said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna go two and three and playing two of the teams that are heading for the playoffs, you’d take it.’ Three and two would’ve been a tremendous road trip. After losing the first two here, things didn’t look very good, but we stepped it up today.”
If I’m reading that correctly, the manager of a major league ballclub thinks it’s acceptable to lose three of five games. “You’d take it,” in advance of the road trip. You’d get on a plane for California with the notion that if you didn’t get swept by the A’s or the Dodgers — or that if you won a pair against either of those teams, it was OK to lose three others altogether — you were doing all right.
That wasn’t news coming out of Sunday. Maybe it’s not news after six years of losing baseball, four of them on Collins’s watch. Maybe it’s not news in a Mets culture that seems to put no premium whatsoever on winning any sooner than eventually. I do believe it’s noteworthy, though. The same manager who said he told his team following its most recent sweep at the hands of Washington, “Let’s go win seven of the next eight” (after which they won three and lost five), is content going 2-3 against solid but hardly immortal competition.
Not simply content after starting the trip 1-3, but happy to have been theoretically guaranteed it when everything was still 0-0. So thrilled by it, apparently, that he was sharing this insight with his coaches during the second of those two wins and relating it later to reporters.
This is what it’s come to. Our team’s manager admits our team isn’t good enough to accidentally win more games than it loses against a couple of playoff contenders. Baseball games, mind you. Not once-a-week football games. Not the 0-12 expansion Tampa Bay Bucs of 1976 bundling up and flying to Pittsburgh to run straight into the teeth of the Steel Curtain defense. Those Steelers had given up a total of 28 points in their previous seven games — all victories — when they hosted the legendarily futile first-year Buccaneers.
Y’know what happened at Three Rivers Stadium on Sunday afternoon, December 5, 1976? The Steelers won, 42-0. Because that’s football. Y’know what happened when the first Dream Team played Angola during the 1992 Olympics? The USA won, 116-48. Because that’s basketball. Sometimes in some sports you know your lousy team has almost no chance against their fantastic team.
This is baseball. The gap is almost never so wide that you give up in advance on a week; that you decide not quite breaking even is OK. You certainly don’t do it when you’re on the inside and you don’t casually mention it later. Not when you’re the titular leader. It’s one thing for you or me to sit here and decide we’ll be lucky if the Mets come home from California 2-3. It’s another thing for the manager to come to that conclusion. And it’s absolutely mind-boggling that he’d share it without reservation in front of a passel of digital recording devices and notebooks.
The Mets flew west with a record of 59-67. The A’s they met were 73-51. The Dodgers they’d see next started their series versus New York at 72-57, at which point the Mets were 60-68. The A’s and Dodgers had better records, more talent and home-field advantage. But the Mets had a history of playing better on the road than they do at home, all their pitchers lined up in rotation and every motivation to prove themselves worthy of roster consideration for 2015. In other words, there was no reason to write off a winning trip before the trip commenced. Yet Terry Collins reviewed the situation and explained that’s basically what he did. He turned five days’ worth of .400 ball into the moral equivalent of going .500.
Which doesn’t connote winning, either.
He does this a lot. Listen to his postgame remarks after losses (of which there will be plenty between now and September 28, the manager has helpfully implied). The Mets are always “one or two hits” from winning instead of losing, he likes to say. “We were in it all the way,” is another common refrain, as if partial points are awarded for proximity to the most runs. Collins doesn’t have his team positioned to win. He has them prepared for pats on the head.
Lousy teams beat better teams regularly enough in baseball so that it’s not a novelty. Ask the 1964 Cardinals, who almost saw their National League pennant pulled out from under them when the tenth-place Mets came to St. Louis and took the first two games of a crucial three-game series. Ask the 2007 Mets, who didn’t fend off the fifth-place Marlins at Shea Stadium and saw their postseason plans crumple up and blow away. Ask anybody who’s watched baseball for more than five minutes. It’s baseball. One-game-at-a-timing the sport is probably the ideal course of action, but if you’re going to insist on mapping out your near-term future, you can expect to win three of five as easily as you can expect to lose three of five at any juncture of the schedule.
It’s not the losing three of five amid 162 that particularly bothers me. It’s that the manager is quite comfortable framing it as an adequate outcome…never mind that winning three of five would’ve qualified to him as “tremendous”. We know the stakes are low with little more than a month remaining to this season, but is the bar for success with this organization that low, too? Collins can pretend his key player’s performance isn’t hindered by a nagging shoulder injury, yet he can’t keep himself from admitting he’s fine with losing three of five? He couldn’t have just confined his remarks regarding beating the Dodgers to “We stepped it up today”?
Going 2-3 against two of the teams that are heading for the playoffs is not something you should so readily take, unless you’re thoroughly beaten down from guiding a losing team that never substantively improves under your leadership — in which case maybe you shouldn’t be leading that team any longer.
Some days you gotta take Randy Newman’s advice:
Roll down the window
Put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
Don’t let the music stop
The Dodgers blast “I Love L.A.” after every victory at Dodger Stadium. I’ve grown familiar with the custom over the past couple of seasons while the Mets were reliably providing the cue to press play. Chavez Ravine was taking its place among all the Turner Field wanna-be’s when it came to doubling as a pit stop of hell for the Metropolitan traveling party. Before Sunday, the last time the Mets prevailed at Dodger Stadium, Johan Santana earned the win. (It was also the last time Johan Santana earned a win in the major leagues.)
Through six consecutive appearances, we got ridden ’til we just couldn’t get ridden no more. Seemed like more. Seemed like a ton of nights of Nick Punto high-fiving Danny DeVito while Clayton Kershaw barely broke a sweat. As it happens, Punto’s no longer a Dodger, Kershaw conveniently pitched before this most recent Mets @ Dodgers series commenced and DeVito stayed out of camera range, at least while I was watching. The Mets lost Friday and Saturday with ease, anyway.
Sunday, though, was a good day for cranking up the Beach Boys, because we had fun, fun, fun ’til the charter flew our Metsies away.
The Dodger Stadium losing streak was snapped. The marine layer of misery dissipated to reveal sunny Southern California skies for the visitors. For a few precious hours, the Mets weren’t losing out the string and David Wright’s career wasn’t crashing to a premature end (even if he was exiting early in deference to neck spasms). Nobody from New York threw a ball away or squandered a golden scoring opportunity. Terry Collins’s strategery required minimal deconstruction. Everybody on our side did more or less what he was supposed to do. One guy on their side did a beautiful thing he really shouldn’t have done.
Fun, fun, fun — that’s three funs, as in three outs, with the third of them helpfully provided as coda to a relatively routine sixth-inning double play. Yasiel Puig was on second. Adrian Gonzalez was on first. Matt Kemp grounded to Eric Campbell at third, who threw to Daniel Murphy at second, who threw to Lucas Duda at first, who kept his eyes wide open and saw Puig galloping around third base and daringly heading for home…and by “daringly,” I euphemize politely but really mean “stupidly”. Duda threw to Travis d’Arnaud, who had time to enjoy a Dodger Dog and chat up Rob Reiner before tagging out the Wild Horse of the Oh Dear.
“Oh dear,” Don Mattingly must’ve been thinking regarding his most talented and least predictable player, who assured whatever small rally the Dodgers might mount against Bartolo Colon was nipped in the bud. It was 7-2, Mets, but one was in, two were on, nobody was out and Colon’s efficient Sunday — admirably crafted six days after the passing of his mother — looked like it might be gathering a little wear and tear. This was Dodger Stadium and these were the Dodgers. Plus, the Mets were still the Mets. You didn’t have to be in Napa Valley to sense the plates were preparing to shift.
But then Colon gets that grounder to third that becomes two outs and is going to move Puig to third. L.A. still has a conceivable threat in the bottom of the sixth if Puig just stands still. The game isn’t over. It can certainly get better for the Dodgers and worse for the Mets. After the way the Mets have played for the past few weeks, you don’t dismiss any possibility.
Though you weren’t exactly thinking “triple play”.
Puig seemingly wasn’t thinking much at all. By deciding he could pull a Mookie and score from second on an infield grounder, he put the kibosh on L.A.’s last, best chance to ruin the Mets’ flight home. Score it 5-4-3-2 for the eleventh triple play ever turned by the Mets, though you can’t help but credit Puig with an assist.
Energized by their around-the-horn fielding prowess, the Mets stretched their already formidable lead in the seventh to 10-2 and eventually won, 11-3. In truth, it would’ve been tough to lose a game that featured four Met homers, including two from Duda (five ribbies) and one apiece from d’Arnaud and unlikely offensive contributor Ruben Tejada. A blowout win may have been in the offing no matter what. But mix in a weird-ass triple play, and now you’re cubing fun.
Triple plays are always delightful as long as your team is on the right side of defensive justice, but it doesn’t always indicate good times all around. Sunday’s was only the third Met triple play to be tucked into a Met win. TPs graced successful box scores in 1965 and 2002, but the other eight — right up to the Angel Pagan festival of indecision from 2010 — occurred in Met losses. One could infer that if you’re allowing enough baserunners to enable triple plays, perhaps you’re going to be giving up too many runs to win. Or if you’re turning only eleven triple plays in 53 years, you’re as likely to detect a viable pattern as Yasiel Puig was to score from second on a ground ball to third.
This aberrational episode was indisputable fun, which every baseball fan deserves, even in a season sorely lacking it lately. The last time “fun” was applied to the Mets, it was when they weren’t losing any more than they were winning for a spell. “Hey, the Mets are a fun ballclub to watch,” I kept reading or hearing, which, in fact, made me cringe. When you have a good team, nobody points out how much fun that team is. The fun is implicit. You win, there’s fun. When you’re theoretically developing the ability to win, as the Mets were rumored to be doing a month or so ago, you are patted on the head as you are complimented over all the fun you’re having not experiencing the disproportionate amount of losing that has come to be associated with your product. Ever since we stopped playing Philadelphia and started playing everybody else, I hadn’t seen or heard a word about fun.
Today from Los Angeles, the fun presented itself without condescension or subtext. The Mets, their stubborn problems notwithstanding, won by eight runs and turned a triple play. If that ain’t fun, fun, fun, I don’t know what is.
What’s wrong with David Wright?
If you haven’t asked already, you had to ask after tonight’s debacle. Our captain grounded into a double play in the first, grounded out to open the fourth, grounded into a double play in the fifth, and struck out to end the game.
And that sad chronicle skipped over the seventh and what happened with two outs and the tying run at second. The Dodgers walked Daniel Murphy to get to Wright — and Zack Greinke fanned him.
Murph’s a terrific hitter, but he isn’t David Wright. That moment was embarrassing, and emblematic of just how woeful Wright’s year has become.
So what’s wrong with the captain?
I don’t know. Terry Collins doesn’t know. You don’t know either.
Does Wright himself know?
One desperately hopes he does. Because if so, the most likely answer is that Wright is hurt, and — in very David Wright fashion — isn’t telling anybody. Recall this is a guy who played an absurdly long time with a broken back because he thought it was his job.
It would be bad news if Wright is hurt. But it could be worse news if he isn’t.
If Wright isn’t hurt, what’s wrong? Take your pick of potential maladies.
Maybe it’s just a bad year. Let’s hope so. But there sure have been a number of underwhelming years, haven’t there?
Maybe it’s the after-effects of being beaned by Matt Cain — not every player who’s hit in the head suffers obviously, a la the tragic case of Tony Conigliaro. Baseball demands fearlessness and exquisite timing; the least hesitation in either case can undo a career a piece at a time.
Maybe it’s the effects of Citi Field, seemingly built to work against Wright’s strengths as a hitter. (Let’s blame Dave Howard.) The Wright we saw at Shea was the second coming of Edgardo Alfonzo, a shrewd hitter who was just getting started if the count got to 0-2 — he’d ignore balls and foul off strikes until he wrested control of the count back from the pitcher. That Wright hasn’t existed for years — the one we have now expands the zone when he’s in trouble and often looks frantic when behind in the count.
Maybe Wright’s just getting old. It happens to everybody, but it happens to baseball players early, and in a pitilessly public way. The eyes and hands aren’t as quick, the swing isn’t as powerful, the body is beaten down by so many seasons. There’s no specified age or date when a player begins to decline, and no blueprint for how steep the downward slope will be. Wright will be 32 this year, which is about when a player’s skills start to slip.
Assessing what’s wrong with Wright is a cottage industry these days. I’ve read pretty much every attempt to figure it out, hoping each new one will have the right diagnosis and suggest a cure. None of them does. Because none of us knows.
All I do know is this: Wright is the Mets, the one player a financially wounded team was willing to spend to keep. If his glory days are gone, our dreams of renewed glory will likely disappear with him.
There are summer nights when you sense fall’s coming and you want to hold baseball as tightly as you can.
This wasn’t one of those nights. This was a night when you wanted to shove baseball as far away as possible and run from it.
The Mets started out OK in LA, what with Curtis Granderson clubbing a leadoff homer. But then they proceeded to play like they were using shovels instead of gloves. And then to play like they were using shovels while blindfolded. And then to play like they were using while blindfolded and wearing straitjackets. Wilmer Flores made a bad error, and then another one so atrocious that you feared for his safety out there. Jon Niese benefited from opposing pitcher Dan Haren bunting through a pitch on a suicide squeeze, but the Mets’ inefficient rundown allowed the Dodgers to put a new runner on third, whom Haren then drove in with a single. David Wright made an error that was generously converted to a hit. Lucas Duda let an easy pop-up clank off his glove. Travis d’Arnaud threw another ball into center field.
It went on and on, into the night, while you stared at the TV and stewed.
The Mets are not only not hitting enough to beat opponents; they’re barely hitting more balls than they drop.
The team was right to put Flores at shortstop instead of the profoundly useless Ruben Tejada, but Flores is regressing to the mean-spirited scouting reports about him: He shows no sign that he can handle the position, and no particular sign that he can shake off his defensive shortcomings and hit. Since Flores is basically a DH, this inability to hit is not a positive development, though perhaps he’s just politely refusing to show up his teammates.
Speaking of showing up teammates, nothing that happened tonight was particularly Niese’s fault, and he behaved himself on the mound. But watch him now use this latest catastrophe as license to sulk and suck the next 8,000 times things go poorly behind him. (Is that a cheap shot? Yeah. I dislike Niese – sue me.)
One of the unpleasant side effects of replay review is inexperienced umps who aren’t ready for prime time: add Adam Hamari to the list of umps who don’t have enough experience to handle a big-league game but are out there anyway. Hamari was horrible, particularly on the shin-high strike he called on Curtis Granderson to turn a bases-loaded situation in the top of the eighth into the end of an inning. But one of baseball’s coarsest sayings is also its wisest: When you’re going horseshit they fuck you.
Are the Mets horseshit? On second thought, that seems harsh. Birds derive useful nourishment by pecking through horseshit in search of undigested oats. I’ve pecked through what the Mets left behind tonight and all I feel is nauseated. Horseshit 1, Mets 0.
Wednesday afternoon in Oakland, the Mets did something for the 26th time in their history: they won a ballgame by the score of 8 to 5. This iteration of that same old song was as pleasing as 24 of its 25 predecessors in the sense that a win is a win is a win. An 8-5 win on August 20, particularly in a season where little is left on the line, fits that description well. Some nice hitting early (five in the third, paced by homers from Eric Campbell and Lucas Duda), some solid relief work (Jeurys Familia, in particular, holding the fort late) and a clutch defensive play (from adequate-fielding shortstop Wilmer Flores) all contributed to a day that ended in a W.
Good stuff. But hardly the best 8-5 win the Mets have ever put in the books, let alone on videotape and, with a little late-inning lightning hopefully coming soon, film.
Twenty-five of the 8-5 Mets wins were of the regular-season variety. A few stand out as noteworthy. Jerry Buchek launched a pair of three-run homers — one in the eighth, one in the tenth — to spark an 8-5 Mets win on September 22, 1967. John Stearns set the National League record for most steals by a catcher in an 8-5 Mets win on September 3, 1978. Roger Clemens was clobbered as a Blue Jay in an 8-5 Mets win on September 2, 1997. Oliver Perez struck out eleven Brewers over six innings in an 8-5 Mets win on August 1, 2007.
The other 8-5 Mets win came in the postseason. The score was Mets 8 Red Sox 5. It was the seventh game of the 1986 World Series. It gave the Mets their most recent world championship.
So that’s probably the biggest 8-5 Mets win that will ever be…just like 1986 was the biggest Mets year that ever was.
Is it a coincidence that the Mets won 8-5 yesterday just as a concerted effort to preserve and further the legacy of the most important 8-5 win in Mets history was rounding third and heading for home? Probably. But still, as Karl Ehrhardt would tell you, you gotta pay attention when you see a sign.
At this writing, the Kickstarter drive to fund ’86 Mets: The Movie is achingly close to achieving its first-round victory. Filmmaker Heather Quinlan is less than 90 financial feet from the plate — that’s not quite a thousand bucks in dollars and cents. In addition to interviewing players from and eyewitnesses to the greatest Mets season of all time, she’s been beating the bushes, like the Mets were beating everybody in sight in 1986, to raise the $50,000 necessary to produce the documentary like it oughta be, replete with MLB clips that doesn’t come cheap.
This was our last championship (not forever, hopefully) and our grandest team. 1986 was a year like no other and it deserves an impassioned retelling. Having met and spoken to Heather, I am confident that she will tell the story in a fashion almost as compelling as the season itself. I’d say “just as compelling,” but that might be asking for a miracle.
I asked for one of those a little after midnight on October 26, 1986, when it was two out, nobody on and the Mets were down by two. I got my miracle that night. I don’t want to get greedy.
Heather Quinlan doesn’t need a miracle. She just needs a touch more support. By 9:58 AM EDT on Friday, August 22, she needs to have collected pledges totaling $50,000 in order to receive her Kickstarter funds and put them to good Met use. She’s a shade over $49,000 right now. If you can find it in your heart and your wallet to help build this final winning run, you’ll be doing Metkind an eternal favor. You’ll be helping to tell the most spectacular Mets story ever told. You’ll be keeping alive a rally that wouldn’t die then and deserves to live forever now.
The past stays static. History’s always evolving. The historical arc of the 1986 Mets after the fact has done its share of bending over 28 years. Once it was over, there was a tendency to see it as over. There were other seasons to play. The shadow cast by 108 wins and a pulsating October was enormous. “Turn the page” was the message by 1987. “You can’t stand pat” was the guiding principle of Met baseball by 1988. The Mets tried to repeat without staying the same. It might have looked good on paper, but it didn’t work.
Later, 1986 was an inconvenient truth. Those Mets won, but they weren’t model citizens in doing so, so the organization turned its back on its achievement and downscaled its image of itself. The Mets decided not to be larger than life. That didn’t work, either. 1986 was sort of shoved into the closet for a few years, invoked only as a touchstone of what might have been, as if winning one championship was a source of shame.
It’s understandable in a sense. Every generation (every season, really) has to make its own way, but in the moving forward, the Mets left behind a story as inspiring as any in their catalogue. Mets from 1986 who were still playing by 1996 were still winning, though not for the Mets. The grandeur that was 1986 was allowed to fade in New York and be absconded with by Boston. The story centered less on what winners we had to what cursed luck they had. 1986, in the popular non-Met imagination, somehow turned into a Red Sox thing. Oh, those poor bastards.
The Mets went about reclaiming 1986 as they closed in on its 20th anniversary. Alumni became entrenched on the Shea and later Citi Field scene. Maybe they weren’t making decisions for the organization but at least their faces were familiar again. Their highlights speckled the nightly airwaves. Their memory regained traction. The Red Sox franchise found success and let go of their side of the story. Disappointment at not achieving other championships may have lingered for the long-tenured denizens of Flushing, but it was no longer the overarching theme. This was, it could be agreed by 2006, a fantastic Mets team that had done unprecedented — and since unmatched — Mets things.
The next step is to enshrine it the way a dedicated documentarian like Heather Quinlan is dedicated to doing. She’s closing in on her magic number. If you can, please consider making like Dave Magadan in the division-clincher and helping her get there. Met posterity will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
To learn more and contribute to ’86 Mets: The Movie, please click here.
Good morning. In case you missed Tuesday night’s late Mets game in Oakland, the previously slumping A’s won by a comfortable margin; the Mets collected more than their customary four hits, but to no avail; Travis d’Arnaud homered with nobody on; Dillon Gee struggled through five and two-thirds innings; Gonzalez Germen wasn’t particularly effective in his return from Las Vegas; A’s fans were effusive in their support of their team; the Mets’ fell to nine games below .500 for the first time since July 7; the Mets’ record of 59-68 aligned almost identically with that of their previous three seasons under Terry Collins, when they were 60-67, 58-69 and 58-69 at the same juncture of the schedule; and 2015 drew another day closer. Good night.
The following account is issued as a public service as well as for cheap jokes. If you are over 50 years of age, please consult your physician.
Bartolo Colon was supposed to start Monday afternoon’s Mets game, but was called away due to a family health emergency.
I was supposed to have a colonoscopy during Monday afternoon’s Mets game and kept the appointment so as to ward off any family health emergencies.
Colon hadn’t missed any of his 24 Mets starts this year.
The last Mets game I missed in its entirety (not even a couple of pitches on the radio) was 671 games prior, on July 29, 2010.
Some things, like a family health emergency, supercede even a Mets game.
Some things, like a colonoscopy, you can put off for only so long before you realize you’ve scheduled yours to unintentionally coincide with a 12:10 camp day start.
I wish Bartolo Colon’s family well.
I wish my family well. My wife and my sister came with me to my thing and I greatly appreciate their support.
Mets games, despite one’s ability to guess in advance how they’ll turn out, are fun to look forward to.
Colonoscopies, despite your being repeatedly told they’re routine, are no fun to look forward to.
Some people prepare for a Mets game by throwing a great tailgate party, complete with awesome cocktails.
You might call preparing for a colonoscopy the worst tailgate ever. You don’t want to know what my doctor instructed me to mix into 64 ounces of Gatorade nor what resulted.
The Mets don’t seem to know how to manufacture runs.
After preparing for my colonoscopy, boy do I know how to manufacture runs.
The Mets wore those awful camo jerseys and caps today.
I had to put on one of those silly gowns today and leave it untied in the back.
Carlos Torres, taking Bartolo Colon’s place, threw the first pitch of today’s Mets game on time.
I showed up for my thing early, was eventually ushered into the room where they hook you up to an I.V. and waited well beyond my alleged 12:30 appointment time. After a while I felt so invisible I wondered if my gown was, in fact, camouflage.
Mets fans probably grumbled until the bottom of the fourth inning when Lucas Duda broke a nothing-nothing tie with his 22nd home run of the season.
I grumbled through more than an hour of waiting until my bottom and I were wheeled into the room where they do the procedure.
Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs, like most opposing pitchers, put the Mets’ batters to sleep.
An anesthesiologist put me to sleep.
In no time at all, the Mets and Cubs played seven innings of 1-1 baseball.
In no time at all, my colonoscopy — the actual business with the tiny camera — was over, and I didn’t feel a thing.
There would follow a bit of grogginess, some apple juice and a bit of bureaucracy keeping me from vamoosing once I heard my results (which were fine), but the important thing to my Met-addled mind was soon enough I was up, I was dressed and I had my phone out to learn that the score was tied after seven. On the way to the car, I divined it was 2-1, Cubs, now in the eighth. Once in the car, I turned on the radio to hear at least a small portion of my 672nd consecutive Mets game observed either in full or in part. I was home on my couch for the final three outs of the seemingly inevitable 4-1 defeat, yet another loss in which the Mets hit hardly at all.
I had a colonoscopy Monday afternoon.
The Mets played a baseball game Monday afternoon.
Hard to say which of us had the worse end of it.
For 90 seconds or so, there was joy in Metville.
We’d punished the Cubs for removing Jake Arrieta, whose curveball had jelly-legged Met knees and kicked out Met fannies and turned Met bats into fan blades throughout another insanely beautiful August afternoon.
We’d reminded ourselves that we do too like Curtis Granderson, who broke a seemingly centuries-long run of futility with a two-out RBI single in the eighth inning off Pedro Strop, he of the octopus-like assemblage of arms and elbows and glove from which a ball would eventually emerge. Granderson’s hit chased home Eric Young Jr., tied the game and left the Met faithful cheering the thought of either a Met walkoff in the ninth or a win achieved in extra innings. After 7 2/3 innings of frustration and futility, it seemed like a fine plan.
We’d also got to see Rafael Montero showing off what he can do — he wasn’t quite as good as Arrieta but he was pretty close, dazzling the Cubs with an impressive mix of fastballs, curves, sliders and change-ups. It was far and away Montero’s best start in the big leagues, and a useful reminder that he’s only 23 and has an arsenal that’s respectable even among the Harveys and Wheelers and what we hear of the Syndergaards.
And finally, we got a Mets-Cubs pitchers’ duel to summon up memories from now-legendary eras. Squint a bit — OK, squint a lot — and you might have thought it was Jerry Koosman against Bill Hands out there, or Dwight Gooden and Rick Sutcliffe. (Squint a lot because this game, unlike those games, meant absolutely nothing.) The Mets and Cubs are no longer archrivals or even particularly rivals, but those of us on either side who grew up hating Those Guys remember what was, and regret that it’s been taken from us.
(Odd sidelight: the appearance of the Cubs’ Matt Szczur, backed by a cheerful rooting section from his hometown of Cape May, N.J. Szczur immediately bumped Kirk Nieuwenhuis from atop the How Do You Spell That Again? leaderboard – heck, he would have dethroned Doug Mientkiewicz – and filled Twitter with inevitable HAIL jokes, but what I noticed was he was standing out there wearing the No. 41 made famous by semi-soundalike Tom Seaver. Hail indeed.)
Anyhow, Montero acquitted himself admirably, Josh Edgin and then recently downtrodden Carlos Torres fanned Cubs to avert danger, and their pitching heroics gave Granderson a chance to even things up. After the eighth the Mets went to the commercial break tied 1-1, and all Jenrry Mejia had to do was hold the line for a half-inning and then we’d see if a weary Daniel Murphy could get things started and/or Lucas Duda could take aim at the Shea Bridge and/or Eric Campbell could have another big moment.
And then Mejia threw one pitch and Starlin Castro parked it in Utleyville.
So the happy times lasted … zero pitches. We enjoyed the reversal of fortune for the time it takes to hear about some horrible new variety of already-horrible Bud Light and get told the merits of an unbreakable awning made out of something weird and watch that kid decide he’d be OK with a Happy Meal.
And then the Cubs were in the lead and a few minutes later the Mets had lost and Jeez Louise, that kind of sucked, didn’t it?
Well, except for those 90 seconds or so. Those were awesome.
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Addendum No. 1: Readers may or may not know I have an interest in genealogy. Now, genealogy is like a fantasy-baseball team — your own is fascinating; everyone else’s is tedious. But you might be amused to learn that Joan Payson and I turn out to be ninth cousins three times removed. Obviously once he’s sworn in as commissioner Rob Manfred will move swiftly to award ownership of the Mets to me as one of Mrs. Payson’s 500,000 or so closest relatives. I’ll be waiting for his call.
Oh yeah, and Sandy Alderson and I are something like fifth cousins. Somebody gimme the team already.
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Addendum No. 2: Our pal Heather Quinlan in in the final week of her Kickstarter campaign for ’86 Mets: The Movie. We know this movie will be amazin’, but without our help it won’t happen. Visit Heather’s page to check out some of the great interviews she’s conducted so far, and to see some of the cool extras even a small donation will get you.
The mood at Citi Field turned properly solemn as the reading of the will began:
“I, Jonathon Joseph Niese, being of sound mind — except when I begin to lose it at least once per game when the slightest little thing goes wrong — and body — except for my annual stint on the disabled list — do hereby bequeath baserunners to the relief pitcher who follows me into the ballgame. I do further hereby slam my glove into the dugout wall and fume that I can’t believe Terry took me out. Everything was going so well for so long. Oh, and I also hereby suck up my anger and pledge to give the blandest of answers in the afterlife or the postgame, whichever comes first.”
Niese departed this mounded coil in the top of the seventh Saturday night and his problems were now the problems of one Victor Laurence Black, who could have donned an armband matching his last name, given the deadly mission that had befallen him. Black inherited three baserunners from his starting pitcher, the maximum amount allowed by law. It was just his luck that those three Chicago Cubs, when added to the figure represented by the forthcoming batter, Chris Coghlan, totaled a number commensurate with the amount of runs by which the Cubs trailed the Mets.
It had been 7-1 when the inning commenced. It had been 3-1 a half-inning earlier. The Mets merrily extended their lead in the sixth. Well, maybe not so merrily, as it involved their captain taking one for the team somewhere in the shoulder blade, an area in which David Wright had ached enough this season. But David’s nonfatal pain led to communal pleasure as four runs scored, two of them when Arismendy Alcantra learned his arm’s too short to box with Juan Lagares. Alcantra let Lagares’s slightly tailing fly tick off his not quite extended glove and the Cubgates had opened.
A laugher was in progress. Six runs ahead, nine outs to go, Niese — having overcome shaky first-inning defense (some of it his own) — cruising along. Who would have guessed the proceedings were about to verge on mournful?
There’s a leadoff homer from Justin Ruggiano. No biggie. Then Alcantra singles. So what? Wellington Castillo singles. Uh, still not a thing, but maybe somebody’s warming up? Chris Valaika singles and the bases are loaded. Do I hear Boyz II Men clearing their pipes on “End Of The Road?”
Everybody’s on, nobody’s out, Ryan Sweeney’s up and he hits the ball…real hard. At Niese. Who shields better than he fields. The ball bounces off Jonathon as Arismendy scores. Now it’s 7-3, the threat is grave and the group slated to play after the game is practicing their dirges.
In comes Black. The word is he doesn’t allow inherited runners to score — not on his watch. But, oh what an unwanted bounty of inherited runners! Suspicious scions blessed with great fortunes have hired lobbyists to protect less.
But Vic Black will not be heard demanding a repeal of the estate tax. He simply goes to work, inheritance be damned.
Coghlan lines out to deep enough left so that Castillo can almost surely make it, 7-4. But Castillo on third — and his coach, Gary Jones — observe a moment of silence and honor the memory of a lost scoring chance. Wellington doesn’t test Matt den Dekker (who, in turn, wasn’t throwing home) and it’s still 7-3.
Javier Baez pops up behind first base. Before there is any chance Lucas Duda won’t catch it, umpire Will Little rules it an infield fly. Baez’s chance to spread morbidity at Citi dies before his ball is buried in Duda’s glove.
Anthony Rizzo, second in the league in home runs with 27, is up next, determined to make Black pay for his gaudy inheritance. But Anthony’s determination is no match for Vic’s Amazin’ grace. The batter pops to the shortstop, Wilmer Flores (who has been playing like an actual shortstop all night), and the third out is secured.
Three runners inherited, three runners stranded, zero damage inflicted despite Jon Niese bequeathing all that mess to Vic Black. Two more bullpen innings from two other Met relievers serve as celebratory rather than mournful. The Mets beat the Cubs, 7-3. Niese’s six innings earn him the win — the seventh of his intermittently stormy season, the fiftieth of his quietly consistent career. Black’s three batters earn him no more than a statistical obscurity known as a hold. What’s a hold, anyway?
It must be short for “hold on for dear life.” Because that’s what Vic Black did last night. And we lived to tell about it.
The Mets are chocolate and the Cubs are peanut butter: We’ve got a surplus of young pitching and not enough bats; they’ve got a surplus of young bats and not enough pitching. So plenty of baseball matchmakers want to know what, exactly, is taking so long: Send some prospects from Column Mets west while some prospects from Column Cubs go east, and both teams have theoretically solved their problems and will be ready to reclaim their past glories. (With, perhaps, an interesting rivalry between What Could Have Beens.)
Honestly, it sounds like a perfectly good idea to me: Bring on Starlin Castro, or Javier Baez, or Addison Russell, or Arismendy Alcantara, or Jorge Soler, or some other marvelously monikered Cubs minor-leaguer whose name hasn’t penetrated my consciousness yet. How about Jonathon Niese for Castro in a trade of talented but problematic big leaguers with team-friendly contracts, plus a couple of Mets pitching prospects for one of the outfielders? Theo? Sandy? I’m conferencing you together; lemme know when you’ve got something to announce.
The thing is, the Cubs’ hitters haven’t reached the promised land quite yet: Anthony Rizzo and Castro are here, but Baez’s still learning to tame his big swing, and the minor-league studs are close but haven’t arrived. You saw it tonight, as a quartet of Mets fireballers fanned no less than 14 Cubs.
But we know what that’s like, because the Mets’ young pitchers aren’t quite here yet either. Zack Wheeler recorded five of his first six outs on strikeouts, riding his near-100 MPH fastball. But his pitch count crept ever higher, as it does, and with two out in the sixth he walked Chris Coghlan on four straight wayward pitches and was excused further duty, having thrown a career-high 120 pitches but still winding up short of the fabled seventh inning. His final line was very 2014 Wheeler: two runs allowed over 6 2/3, 10 Ks, four walks, and a very impressive performance one couldn’t help thinking should have been even better.
Wheeler left up a run, a thin margin of error supplied by Eric Campbell‘s three-run blast; fortunately for him, the Mets’ young relievers picked up where he left off. Vic Black erased Baez on a strikeout; Jeurys Familia had one of his most impressive outings of the year, throwing bowling-ball sinkers; and Jenrry Mejia recorded the save on behalf of Juan Lagares, who continues to spoil us. Ryan Sweeney opened the ninth by whacking a ball up the gap in right-center, a sure double that would have left the Mets staring down the barrel of a tie game and another trip into extra innings. My first thought was unprintable, but it was followed rapidly by asking, “Where’s Lagares?” The answer, happily, was that he was streaking over from left-center, his speed and phenomenal first-step instincts allowing him to catch up with Sweeney’s drive with apparent and utterly deceptive ease.
It was a good night for young Mets pitchers and a frustrating one for young Cubs hitters, but we’ve seen the reverse before and probably will again at some point in this series. Maybe we can help each other out later this month or in the offseason; until then, well, we’re giddy with the same sense of promise and equally frustrated that it’s arriving in fits and starts.
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C’mon folks, we can do this: Help our pal Heather Quinlan reach her Kickstarter goal for ’86 Mets: The Movie. We know this movie will be amazin’, but without our help it won’t happen. Visit Heather’s page to check out some of the great interviews she’s conducted so far, and to see some of the cool extras even a small donation will get you.