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ABOUT US

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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Going to the End of the Line

If you’ve never read the work of James Schapiro, author of the blog Shea Bridge Report (“good writing about a bad team”), then Faith and Fear invites you to pull up a chair and dig in. James kindly offered to file some impressions from the final Mets game in Philadelphia, and we wisely took him up on his offer. Thus, here’s James, having survived a 92nd loss, an 11-run shutout, his 14th season as a Mets fan and an extended round-trip commute that deposited him, at last, on the doorstep of the offseason.

***

“Philly, coming up! Twenty minutes to Philly!” called the conductor from behind me as he barged through the car, snatching up seat tags as he went. So I marked my place in my Hunter S. Thompson collection, packed it up in my bag, and started getting ready to watch the Mets season end.

I still wasn’t sure how it would feel. 2017 had been a season of mixed emotions, of deep ties and bitter disappointment. When it started, I was closer to my team than ever: for the first time, I made the pilgrimage down to Spring Training. I saw Jose Reyes smash extra-base hits; Matt Harvey pitch like he didn’t during the regular season, which is to say well; I got to watch the Mets bullpen up close (literally, from the front row down the left field line); and I saw Lucas Duda smash a three-run homer off Adam Wainwright. I also — and I’m one of few people who can say this — saw Tim Tebow in a Mets uniform, and watched him face off against Max Scherzer. Even if you don’t remember it, you can probably guess how that went.

Then came Opening Day, where I was as invested as I’d ever been; a promising start, that had me salivating over a division title; some Terry Collins bullpen blunders, and a slide into mediocrity that seemed never to end, but only to vary slightly in grade. But still, this was my team. Even as we shed talent for minor league relievers, I dutifully learned their names. As starting pitchers came and went (Milone, Pill, Wilk, Flexen), I kept track of their accomplishments. My interest waned every so slightly in mid-Summer, as it always does when I’m essentially isolated for eight weeks, but it was back in full force as August came to an end, even as we stood no chance in hell of achieving anything worth writing home about.

And now, here I was, pulling into a train station in Philadelphia to watch the end of a season that seemed like it hadn’t really started. I certainly didn’t know how I would feel when it was over.

I had to find my way to Citizens Bank Park first, which should have been easy. You could say it was, in that I followed the directions and they led me to the ballpark; but the trip wasn’t exactly efficient. I spent enough time waiting on the platforms for my two trains to decide that if train service in Philly was this slow, I would avoid the city like the plague — as if I needed another reason. But I made it to the park, and climbed off an escalator and out of the subway station to find a bright blue sky, with only the slightest hint of Fall in the breeze reminding me that this wasn’t just any other game in June.

A family with two young children ambled on behind me as I walked toward the park. Maybe the kids saw me; maybe it was just their attitude. “Boo, Mets!” they were chanting. “Go, Phillies!”

It was Closing Day for them too, I thought to myself. Almost certainly, they weren’t old enough to realize; much more likely, they’d scratch their heads one night in early January and ask, “Why isn’t there any baseball?”

“There’s no baseball in Winter,” one of their parents would reply, and they would laugh and move on, because you can do that when you’re young.

I scanned my ticket, and accepted the 2018 Phillies schedule that an usher handed it to me. I gave it a perfunctory scan as I made my way to my seat, and found the 19 NYM squares, which were the only games on the page that I cared about. Well, besides the one in front of me; all technicalities aside, and despite what Twitter was telling me, it wasn’t 2018 yet.

***

Citizens Bank Park, I decided as I looked around before first pitch, was nicer than I’d expected. I’d been anticipating a droll, heartless ballpark befitting the Phillies, but this place was just pleasant. The red brick construction in the outfield, with retired numbers painted in red, gave the place a kind of rustic charm, and the flowers and ivy on the outfield wall added the color that some ballparks are missing. The enormous outline of the Liberty Bell complemented the park’s aesthetic, as did the light towers rising above the upper deck, painted an almost rusted reddish-brown. I’m still not quite sure what they evoked — it wasn’t the golden age of Ebbets Field, but it was something like that.

Now, the Phillies were taking the field, and I focused on Chris Pivetta, their starting pitcher. His ERA was 6.26: just the kind of guy, I thought, who would, if history was any guide, completely and inexplicably shut us down. Nori Aoki, the guy who, as I’ve come to describe him, is a better James Loney than James Loney ever was, struck out, but Phillip Evans took a pitch in the gut and jogged down to first. After Brandon Nimmo, smiling down on the crowd from the scoreboard, popped up to short, up came Dominic Smith.

The two fans behind me, Phillies lifers the both of them, had been offering running commentary during the first few at-bats, which I was now hearing clearly for the first time. “Guy’s batting .201,” one of them said.

“Mario Mendoza,” replied the other, not deigning to add any qualifiers or clarifications, probably assuming that everyone would just understand him, which of course I did.

These fans spent most of the game learning about what had gone on with the Mets all season, and occasionally, stabbing me in the heart. “Did David Wright play a game all season?” one of them asked, out of the blue, as Matt Reynolds (“No relation to Mark Reynolds, I can tell you”) batted in the top of the second.

“No, I don’t think so,” said the other. I wanted to turn back, and tell him he was right, but then he continued with “he’s like Chase Utley,” and I didn’t have to hear where the comparison was going to decide that this fan wasn’t deserving of my insight.

There wasn’t much to see, throughout the first few innings, unless you were the kind of person enthralled by Mets minutia, so I was occupied. There was Gavin Cecchini (“Ketchini,” the Phillies PA guy pronounced it, as opposed to Czechini), who hit a softball-style slap single in the top of the second, after making a slick diving pickup in the first (“you gotta give that to him,” said one of the guys behind me, “wow”). Cecchini was having a day on the last day of the season, as players will tend to do the moment it becomes completely unhelpful. There was Rhys Hoskins, perhaps the Rookie of the Last Few Months, who earned the loudest applause I’d heard so far when he strode to the plate in the bottom of the first. Hoskins had hit 18 home runs in less than half a season, but his batting average had steadily declined from above .300 to .259 by day’s end. I listened to the cheering, and thought back to Ike Davis, and smiled. Then I thought even further back, to Mike Jacobs, and almost laughed at what Phillies fans were setting themselves up for.

And then, of course, there was Noah Syndergaard, pitching beyond the first inning for the first time since April. Watching Thor’s warmups, I started to get nervous; maybe it had just been a while, but he didn’t look quite the same. His motion looked shorter, less natural. Then Cesar Hernandez stepped in, and Thor started him off with a fastball at 99 MPH, and I stopped worrying. An inning later, Syndergaard ended the second with a fastball with inhuman movement that painted the inside corner at the knees at 101 MPH, and I leaned back in my seat, satisfied that if nothing else, we had something to look forward to.

***

When I checked the news on Twitter after Thor ended his sparkling two innings, I saw that the inevitable had become official. Terry Collins was on his way out of the manager’s office (and headed for a front office job, but you have to think he’ll do far less damage from up there). Thus, what I’d already been looking forward to became the story of the game: each action Terry took had the potential to be his last in a Mets uniform.

After Thor left, Chris Flexen navigated the bottom of the third. He started the fourth, but you got the sense that he was tiring: he gave up a leadoff double, then with one out, walked Nick Williams (who?) to bring up Maikel Franco. Flexen had already thrown more pitches than a normal relief outing. I looked toward the Mets dugout. There was no sign of movement. I’d seen this movie before, and I knew the ending.

It was hardly even Flexen’s fault. But after Dan Warthen visited the mound in what would become his last move as pitching coach, things took a turn. There was a single up the middle, a sac bunt that Dom threw away, and then a slow grounder to first that Dom fielded perfectly, and flipped to Flexen. Flexen, unfortunately, was nowhere near first base. His face as he caught a flip he couldn’t possibly have anticipated, displayed close-up on the video board, was as succinct a summation of the Mets season as I’d seen. Then there was another RBI single, a clean hit this time.

Out came Terry. On the scoreboard, his expression was in plain view: he looked not so much like a deer in the headlights, as a deer uncertain what headlights are, but vaguely aware that they’re nothing good. As Terry waited for Kevin McGowan, I thought about the situation. Here was Terry Collins, in the last game of his Mets managerial career, standing on the mound in the middle of an inning that had gone to hell, making a pitching change four batters too late. And as I took this incredibly representative situation in, I couldn’t help but smile again.

***

A little while after McGowan had put the inning to bed, I got up for some food. I came back to my seat with Cracker Jacks and lemonade; some of the last I’d have of each, I figured, until late March. I didn’t miss any action — the Mets, it would turn out, didn’t have a hit after the fifth — but I returned in time for the seventh-inning stretch.

Out came the Phanatic, accompanied by a host of female Phillies employees, dancing to “We Are Family.” But this wasn’t just any game. This was Fan Appreciation Day, and something special was happening.

“Stop the music!” said the PA announcer. “To thank you for your support, the Phanatic would like to give the shirt off his back to one lucky fan…”

He undid his jersey, and, finding himself wearing nothing but green fur, launched into some nudity-based slapstick. I’m no Phanatic devotee, but it was harmless, and, indeed, funny; just the thing for Closing Day, when juvenility and innocence make one last stand against the forces of maturation and civility. The Phanatic shuffled off the field, covering whatever he had.

“If we were in New York right now,” one of the guys behind me said, “on the last day of the season, Mr. Met comes out and gives everyone the finger.”

The Mets, it seemed, were determined to carry out Mr. Met’s work: they were intent on giving the finger to every fan they had. After they went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, I attempted to strike a bargain.

“Two more shots,” I thought to myself. “Let’s just score one. Let’s get a run, make the season a few batters longer.”

Rafael Montero made his way through the bottom of the seventh, but in the eighth, we went down without a whimper. Montero came back out for the bottom of the eighth and walked the leadoff man. Pinch-hitting, Ty Kelly, of former Las Vegas fame, popped out, but Montero walked Cesar Hernandez. I looked towards the Mets dugout. No one moved.

“There’s no way this goes well,” I muttered.

A ground-rule double, an RBI groundout, a walk, and an inside-the-park home run that looked like it may have cleared the fence but no one bothered to check later, Terry Collins was back out at the mound, making a pitching change sane people everywhere had known he should have made four batters earlier. Terry’s earlier maneuver, I supposed, hadn’t been the last move of his Mets career: this was. But really, how much difference was there?

***

All too soon, the ninth came along, and we were down to our last three outs of the season. It was Amed, Plawecki, and Cecchini.

Amed, the shortstop of the future we’re all counting on, smacked a line drive. J. P. Crawford snagged it out of the air. One out.

Up came Kevin Plawecki, pinch-hitting for Jamie Callahan. The last time Thor had made a legitimate start, Plawecki had pitched the final innings; now, here he was, helping out the Norse god in a different way. Plawecki, the former first-round pick…Plawecki, once a solid minor-league hitter…could he pull something off?

It was his signature move, a slow three-hopper to short. Crawford threw him out. Two down.

Now, Cecchini (“Ketchini”). Once a prospect; now, a kid with a weird swing and an only slightly less weird future. He can field — can he hit? We’ll find out. Well, not today, because he hit another ball right to Crawford, and just like that, the season was over.

I made my way up the steps to the concourse, but stopped at the top and looked back. The Phillies were already shaking hands and slapping backs; the Mets, meanwhile, were nowhere to be seen. Eventually, it struck me that they weren’t coming out. They were in hostile territory and had just been demolished.

I turned away from the field and left. It was getting colder: there was a chill in the air that couldn’t have been there moments before. On the way out of the stadium, I saw a family of Mets fans, a son maybe eight or nine years old. He was wearing a graphic David Wright t-shirt, decorated with a big number five, but also David’s face, and outlines of his swing. I started to smile, and then I realized that the kid had no idea whether his hero would ever play again. I didn’t either. Suddenly, the air felt even colder.

***

It was past 10:00 by the time I got to my Metro stop, and finally got above ground. Now, it was genuinely cold. As I started on my way back to my apartment, stepping on dead leaves as I walked, I pulled my winter hat out of my pocket and put it on. The top half of my body was clad in orange and blue, but the hat was a departure: it was emblazoned, with the red, blue, and gray of the New York Rangers.

The season was over, and there was only one thing to do. When I got back to my apartment, I opened up my computer and checked my calendars. It all fit. So I texted my girlfriend.

“Hey,” I said. “You want to go to Opening Day next season?”

“Obviously,” she said.

And with that, I started my offseason by looking forward to the end of it, even after a 70-92 season that was the worst since I was barely five feet tall. The Mets come and go as the schedule decrees, but they never truly leave us. This same team that had me smiling in the midst of an absolutely embarrassing 11-0 loss will be back in 2018, and hell, maybe we’ll even be better. But whether we are or not, to me it hardly matters. Old seasons end and new ones start, but Mets baseball continues, no matter what kind of season it is. And come March 2018, whether we’re set for 61 wins or 101, I’ll be there to see it. Closing Day? What Closing Day? There was a ballgame today. And soon enough, there will be another one tomorrow.

There Was A Season

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

Baseball gives you what came before, what’s going on and what will come next. Life does that, too, I suppose, but as Casey Stengel might have put it to a Congressional subcommittee, I am not here to argue about other states of being, I am in a baseball state of mind. To reside there as resolutely as I do, I have to be able to glide gracefully among what came before, what’s going on and what will come next.

Baseball seasons are ideal for navigating such an existential three-division format, even a baseball season as unideal as that just completed by the New York Mets of 2017, who finished 70-92, 27 games from first place in their division and 17 games from a playoff spot in their league. Perhaps it would be more polite to refer to the Mets as having finished, period.

But I like knowing and remembering every season’s final record. I know and have remembered every final record form each of the Mets’ now 56 seasons (including both halves and the composite if contextually meaningless total from the 1981 split season). A season’s record amounts to its name, rank and serial number. If you can’t tell anything else about a season, you should be able to identify it by its wins, its losses and its standing. In less militaristic terms, consider those vital stats the bus pass pinned to your first grader’s windbreaker to make sure the season can find its way home should it go wandering off god knows where. In the Mets’ case, anybody squinting to make out 70-92 would know to inform the driver to drop these children off in fourth place where they belong.

Incidentally, the 2017 Mets’ mark was precedented in franchise history. Seventy and Ninety-Two was also cobbled together in 2009, a season mostly recalled for a strange new stadium and a bizarre rash of injuries. Eight years later, the stadium seems neither strange nor new. The rash, though, is hauntingly familiar.

This year’s record was recorded steadily. After the briefest prelude of promise, the numbers got bad, then worse, then declined steeply. We were never in it in 2017. We never close to in it. “It,” if you’re not clear, is what we were in the previous two seasons. We were in it in 2015 and 2016, we emerged brilliantly from it and, after those years’ 162 games were complete, we weren’t being terribly reflective about it because we had games to anticipate ASAP. One game last year. A whole bunch the year before.

Gads, that was fun. That was fun we hadn’t had in the strange new stadium when the stadium was still strange and new. It was so much fun that it allowed me to allow the Mets some slack this year…a year that was basically no fun. Yes, 2017 Humpty Dumptyed early, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men definitely seemed more focused on selling off the pieces for minor league relievers than putting the ballclub together again. But who could burn with disdain after 2015 and 2016, which — following 2009 and its statistical facsimiles — seemed so surprising in producing their bounties of joy?

You could, maybe, but I couldn’t. What came before cushioned the blow when the Mets took their great fall.

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

The last time the 2017 New York Mets had something, if not much, going on was Sunday, the occasion of their 162nd game. It occurred in Philadelphia between 3:11 in the afternoon and 6:20 in the evening. The Phillies scored eleven runs. The Mets facilitated them generously.

Noah Syndergaard used the game as the platform for his second abbreviated rehab start. When Syndergaard partially tore his right lat muscle and inadvertently shredded the Mets’ chances to contend, there was some informed speculation that he’d be back in July, maybe a little before the All-Star break, maybe a little after it. I told somebody I figured we wouldn’t see him pitching until the beginning of August, yet as soon as I said it, I decided I was being wildly optimistic. Since when does a Met come back from injury only a little behind schedule?

Thor looked great for two innings against the last-place Phillies, just like he looked fine a week before versus the clinched & unconcerned Nationals. He threw hard and he didn’t grab any section of his anatomy in agony. It means he’s healthier than he was during the heart of 2017, which is an encouraging sign for 2018. But 2018 is a light year away.

The rest of the starting lineup for the last game of the old year was young enough to make Syndergaard look like a hardened veteran. Actually, Syndergaard was pretty much the hardened veteran of the group. Nobody among his eight fielders had played a game as a Met before 2016. Save for stopgap right fielder Nori Aoki, none of them had played a game in the major leagues before 2016. It was a feast of potential when viewed through the prism of playing the youngsters en masse and seeing what we’ve got.

The Phillies, however, did all the feasting, stomping the Mets on their way out of town, 11-0 (on a Sunday, natch). Once Noah threw his preapproved 26 pitches, no Met looked particularly ready for prime time. Amed Rosario took an ohfer and saw his batting average dip below .250. Dominic Smith appeared baffled by the niceties of first base and watched his average slide beneath .200. And they’re the hot prospects.

Just one game, probably the most insignificant game they or their teammates will ever play in (the good lord willing). Still, not the note anybody wants to say goodbye to a season on. Or, perhaps, exactly the note on which this season deserved to be bid good riddance.

A time of love, a time of hate

A time of war, a time of peace

A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

The first Mets lineup managed by Terry Collins:
Reyes SS
Harris LF
Wright 3B
Beltran RF
Pagan CF
Davis 1B
Emaus 2B
Thole C
Pelfrey P

The last Mets lineup managed by Terry Collins:
Aoki RF
Evans 3B
Nimmo CF
Smith 1B
Nido C
Rosario SS
Reynolds LF
Cecchini 2B
Syndergaard P

Full circle? Well, no. The 2011 Mets were trying to put their best foot forward on Opening Night at Sun Life Stadium, a.k.a. every other random combination of sponsored words scattered about South Florida. Three of those Mets tasked with taking on the Marlins were the still extant core of the Shea’s last division champions from five years before. Two others were former first-round draft choices in whom a decent quantity of hope remained invested. Yet another had enjoyed a breakout season the season before.

Admit it, though. The name that jumps out at you from the first batch is Brad Emaus. Terry Collins may have had some residual talent from the 2006 Mets at his disposal along with a few pieces he could picture building on, but to begin his new assignment, the type he’d been craving a shot at for more than a decade, he’d had bestowed on him as a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift a Rule 5 second baseman who’d never played in the majors before April 1, 2011, and wouldn’t play in the majors after April 17, 2011.

Here ya go, Terry. Knock yourself out.

Carlos Beltran was never going to finish 2011 as a Met. He was traded in late July. Ike Davis didn’t finish 2011. He tripped on the Coors Field mound in May and, metaphorically speaking, never really got up. Jose Reyes gave Terry a heckuva season, winning the NL batting title, and then made the snappiest exit imaginable. Angel Pagan didn’t live up to his 2010. Mike Pelfrey barely saw 2012. Josh Thole wasn’t a long-term answer. Willie Harris was Nori Aoki. David Wright was David Wright for as long as he could be, though not that much in 2011.

Collins kept molding lineups from rosters that were, for the most part, more Emaus than Wright, more au revoir than arrival, less able than cost-effective. The records crafted on his watch were not impressive. 77-85. 74-88. 74-88 again. 79-83. He managed those teams. Those are his records, too. Thing is, if you watched those Mets from 2011 through 2014, you knew for damn sure that those could have been, maybe should have been tangibly worse.

The manager was eventually given some keepers. He and his coaches did some cultivating, some strategizing, some tacticianing, even. Terry never seemed willing to yield ground to circumstances. The bit where the Mets are decimated by injuries didn’t pause in 2009 and resume in 2017. It was a chronic pain that inflicted the organization more years than not. Lineups had to be constructed from whole Emaus (or its generic equivalent) in the middle of 2015. Eric Campbell. John Mayberry, Jr. Darrell Ceciliani. And so forth. Lots of so forth.

Terry’s team held the fort. Then the fort was fortified, and before we could blink, the perpetually lousy Mets were the first-place Mets. After we blinked, they were division champions (90-72) for the first time in nine years, winning two playoff series and a pennant. Terry Collins was a World Series manager.

For an encore, he had to stitch together another team from ragged material, with almost everybody of import hurt at one point or another during 2016 (somebody should really look into how that keeps happening). Yet when the Wild Cards were dealt, Terry Collins’s 87-75 Mets found themselves in hard-earned possession of one. Two years, two Octobers.

Then came 2017 and its rapid descent to 70-92, which also goes on Collins’s record. More losses than wins overall, even if prior to 2015 there weren’t as many losses as could be expected. Overall, across seven seasons, it qualified as a Larry David kind of performance. Pretty, pretty good.

Published reports indicated some combination of Jeff Wilpon, Sandy Alderson and a host of unnamed sources curbed their enthusiasm for Terry Collins. There was no doubt the 162nd game of 2017, coinciding with the expiration of his contract, would be his last as Mets manager. It would have been sweet had his team produced a goodbye bang as loud as those the “POP!” sound those champagne corks made a year and two earlier.

A season of this nature, along with his stewardship, was destined to end with a whimper.

TC’s final lineup did not represent a best foot forward, but it was the 162nd game, a time to play the kids (an impulse Terry managed to control consistently during September). Still, Collins could be forgiven Brad Emaus flashbacks. The starting nine together had accumulated 61 career major league home runs entering Sunday’s action, or two more than Giancarlo Stanton hit this season. Aoki had 33 of them, all in other uniforms. Smith had nine. Syndergaard had four.

The kiddie corps didn’t save Collins’s job, but the Mets saved corporate face and preserved their manager’s dignity, announcing officially after the game that Terry will stay in the organization in some vague front office capacity. This is a victory for decorum and a triumph over business as usual. Throwing managers overboard and under buses is Met reflex. Stengel was granted a VP title following his 1965 retirement. Interim skippers Roy McMillan, Frank Howard and Mike Cubbage returned to coaching duty. Everybody else who lived to tell of having been a Mets manager was told to take a hike.

Terry, in the end, wasn’t. It wasn’t smooth, and the details on what his forthcoming role entails are vague, but the man who managed the Mets to the postseason twice and a league championship once managed the most Amazin’ feat of all: he managed not to be kicked to the curb.

A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rend, a time to sew

A time for love…

After Gavin Cecchini made the last out of the Terry Collins era and 2017 got itself put in the books, SNY’s cameras lingered for a while on the Mets dugout. One of the players who was in no rush to leave was Reyes. Reyes 2.0. Not the Reyes who didn’t want one more minute on the field on September 28, 2011, lest his .337 batting average (and accompanying free agent value) encounter danger, but Reyes in a warmup jacket, sitting in deference to Cecchini and the almost all-young’n lineup. Jose batted .246 in 2017. Six years older than he was when he won the batting title, he didn’t appear itching to get going.

Neither did Asdrubal Cabrera, who, like Reyes, constituted what little fiber there was to this team on a daily basis once everybody else of tenure was traded or waived. You could take issue with Collins choosing to play Reyes instead of Cecchini as much as he did in the final weeks, or wonder why he leaned on Cabrera instead of testing Phil Evans a little more, but you had to admire the veteran remnants of the 2016 playoff drive for keeping it coming. I certainly did. On Saturday night, Cabrera hit the game-winning home run and thus wore the crown and robe the 2017 Mets awarded to their player of the game. They only gave them out when they won, so after a while hardly anybody wore them. I was impressed the Mets bothered to pack the silly clubhouse accoutrement for this last trip. I was more impressed they had cause to unpack it.

Reyes. Cabrera. First base coach Tom Goodwin. The cameras caught them hanging around chatting with each other, probably for the last time they’ll do that dressed as Mets together. And I caught myself hanging around to watch them hanging around. It’s something I’m skilled at.

There’s what’s come before. There’s what’s going on. And there’s what will come next. I’m great at the first part. I’m all right at the second. The third? Cripes, as Terry Collins liked to say when he managed the Mets for seven years, I haven’t the faintest idea.

But boy do I look forward to what will come next. I don’t mean that in the how many days to Pitchers & Catchers and has anyone seen the revised MLB Pipeline rankings? sense as much as I mean it in the immediate hey, the pregame show will be on pretty soon! sense. Looking forward to what was coming next was my favorite reflex of the 2017 season. With rare exception, I actually actively anticipated most every game the Mets played this year.

These Mets. This year.

I knew we weren’t in it and I knew we weren’t going to get back in it, but I didn’t care that much. There was going to be a Mets game. There were going to be Mets playing baseball and me watching and listening and noticing and considering all that was going on in the scope of what had come before. And I got to do it practically every day or night for six months. Not had to, but got to.

More often than not, the games themselves wound up dissatisfying. But more often than not, the whole thing culminated in me being here with you. That was extremely satisfying. I really looked forward to that. So thank you for another season of being a part of my season. And thank you in advance for whatever will come next as we turn, turn, turn the page toward 2018.

Don't Miss Out

An Asdrubal Cabrera three-run homer in the 11th to beat the Phillies? What Met fan would say no to that?

Sadly, though, Cabrera’s Saturday night shot will never be more than a faint echo of the one we’ll all remember. That one, off Edubray Ramos, came down the stretch last September, when the Mets were fighting furiously for a spot in the play-in game. This one came off Adam Morgan, at the end of a meaningless slog of a game amid the embers of a dead season. Later today the Mets will play their final game and disperse. Terry Collins, in all likelihood, will no longer be their manager. Some number of his coaches will also become ex-Mets. And that will be it until some new incarnation of the Mets assembles in Florida in February.

Honestly, it will be a mercy after a sour, dispiriting season in which pretty much everything went wrong, often cruelly so. I’ll miss the Mets and watching Mets games, eventually. But it’s going to take a while.

Still, don’t let a horrific season — or the embarrassing spectacle of anonymous knives in departing backs — keep you away from October baseball. Don’t cheat yourself.

In 1988, as a 19-year-old fan, I watched in agony as the Mets came apart against the Dodgers. I can close my eyes and still see awful images. Keith Hernandez fumbling in the mud, unable to reach third base. David Cone and his stupid newspaper column. Mike Scioscia unloading off Dwight Gooden before a stunned Shea. Darryl Strawberry failing to hit a simple fly ball when it was desperately needed. Orel Hershiser here, there and everywhere.

And worst of all, somehow, Gary Carter grimly packing up his catching gear in the visitors’ dugout, even though the Mets had a couple of innings left in Game 7. I screamed at the TV and at him that he couldn’t do that, that the Mets weren’t dead. But I was young and Gary wasn’t. He knew they weren’t coming back against Hershiser. I knew it too but couldn’t bring myself to admit it.

I was crushed. And so I sulked. I told everyone who’d listen as well as everyone who didn’t want to that I had had my fill of Tommy Lasorda and Jay Howell and Hershiser and Scioscia and Kirk Gibson — oh, I had most definitely had my fill of Kirk Gibson — and didn’t need to see the Dodgers play the A’s. I’d sit this one out and watch the Mets take gleeful revenge on their tormentors in 1989.

And so I missed Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley — only one of the most famous homers in the history of the game. I mean sure, I’ve seen it a couple of hundred times. I know Jack Buck’s call by heart and Vin Scully’s summing up, just like you do. But I didn’t see it live, as the culmination of three hours of tension and unscripted drama. I missed that because I was mad at the Mets. And I’ve regretted it ever since.

Baseball’s the greatest artistic achievement yet devised by our species, and every October it brings us an amazing story that seems impossible until it’s written and then feels foreordained. I’ve got my bandwagon teams — I’ll happily root for the Indians, the Twins and the Astros. Or, if it comes to it, I’ll cheer passionately for those perennial October heroes, Not the Yankees. (Not the Yankees are a freaking dynasty, by the way — they’re an impressive 85-27 in World Series history. You could look it up.) There are matchups that make me think, “Oh wow, that would be fun,” from Astros/Dodgers to Cubs/Indians II. There’s the madness of the play-in games, and rooting against the Nationals. There’s the chance to watch Jose Altuve and Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor and Aaron Judge in prime time. There’s the bittersweet promise of checking in with old friends Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce and Bartolo Colon. There will be heroes nobody sees coming, and goats who deserve far better, and bathing in beer and Champagne, and scoffing at shivering stars of soon-to-be-cancelled FOX sitcoms, and a bizarre controversy or two, and so much more besides.

I don’t know how any of it will turn out. That’s the fun of it. The Mets will be back and maybe they’ll be a little older, wiser and healthier. Until then, though, the big stage belongs to others. And that’s all right — because I still want to know how this story ends.

But Don’t Quote Me

Unnamed sources report the Mets lost again Friday night. “We were all miserable,” said a fan who made anonymity a condition of speaking frankly regarding the state of the team that is limping to the finish with a 69-91 record following grand expectations for 2017.

“They suck, the whole bunch of them,” the Mets fan revealed, insisting on going unidentified so he or she could more freely share certain critical insights. “The owners suck for letting this happen, the front office sucks for not stopping it, the manager certainly hasn’t done his best managing this year and who the hell are these players?

“Still,” the fan elaborated, “I’m a Mets fan. Once you fall in love with them, they abuse you.”

The sucking is not limited to club personnel, the fan added while refusing to acknowledge whether he or she maintains a name or any distinguishing physical characteristic. “I’m no prize in any of this because I complain plenty, yet I have no surefire answers as how to ameliorate this awful situation,” the fan said. “Wait, does using ‘ameliorate’ in a sentence give away who I am? What about ‘surefire’? Because you said this was going to be anonymous. It has to be anonymous so I can speak frankly as to how awful this situation is. God forbid anybody know that anybody specific knows how much the Mets have sucked this year.”

Under cover of anonymity, the fan returned to his — or her — critique of the Mets’ disastrous season, one that is about to end with the likely dismissals of Terry Collins, Dan Warthen and other staff members. “I have no allies on the team,” the fan said. “They are all against me, I’m pretty sure. If they weren’t, why would they be doing this to me virtually every night for six months?” The fan attributed his/her ultimate isolation to having gotten “too chummy with them,” though he/she wouldn’t confirm who “them” are before implying the alleged chumminess is primarily limited to his/her yelling at the television during the team’s myriad defeats.

“Even when you tell them,” the fan said, “they don’t listen, let alone say ‘hey’ to you when they pass in front of you on the TV. It’s like my name isn’t Cespedes or Harvey or…hey, don’t write that down. If they know my name isn’t Cespedes or Harvey, they’ll figure out it’s something else by process of elimination and I’m to be unnamed, dammit. I wouldn’t be freely sharing certain critical insights if I wanted anybody to know who I am.”

The fan reserved his most detailed eviscerations for Collins, whose contract is not expected to be renewed after seven seasons on the job, the longest managerial tenure in franchise history. “Terry managed the Mets to a World Series and to the playoffs,” the fan explained, “but take that away, and all you have is him not doing that.” Among the fan’s criticisms of the manager were Collins not making all the right moves, not playing all the right players and trying to win games without being uniformly successful.

For years, Collins’s public reputation had been generally positive, one that left the impression the players the baseball lifer managed and the people he answered to thought he was essentially all right. “The hell with that,” the anonymous fan retorted. “It’s important that it gets known ASAP that Terry wasn’t as adequate as was generally believed, at least not when things were at their 2017 worst. This way we can come away with a lower opinion” of the soon to be unemployed 68-year-old skipper.

“I gotta get these shots in now,” the fan concluded, “because once Terry is through the door, there’s no chance it can hit him in the ass on its way out. Whatever my name is, whatever little I have to do with any of this, however much I’m not an ‘insider,’ I am all about the Mets — and I sure as hell know how goodbyes go around here.”

When the Night Goes

It’s the ninth inning of the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field, the last chance I will have to watch up close a team I’ve seen too much of for six months. I am here out of a sense of obligation, though not a real obligation, rather a longstanding rule I have about going to the eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field every year, and the eighty-first and final home game at Shea Stadium every year before that. Honestly, I’d have been no happier nor any sadder had I not committed myself to being at Citi Field for the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game this year. This year didn’t incubate much happiness, but this visit isn’t about happiness or sadness. It’s about being there every year on this occasion for now twenty-three years in a row.

They stuck Game 81 on a Wednesday night. Since 1995, when I unwittingly commenced my fetish/streak, the Mets had played only one of their Closing Day games on a Wednesday night. That one was in 1998, a game versus the Expos that needed to be won in pursuit of a playoff spot. It wasn’t won. The Mets packed up, flew to Atlanta and didn’t win the playoff spot, either. Beyond the frustration associated with that week’s losing, I retain a memory of the Mets doing as little as possible to acknowledge that that game was the last game on that year’s home schedule. Maybe it was because there was every hope there’d be postseason baseball at Shea and that we’d every have reason to meet at Gate E or wherever we gathered and enter the ballpark again.

Nineteen years later, postseason baseball wasn’t part of the equation. The Mets were mathematically eliminated a couple of weeks ago and had been removed from contention a dozen aching bodies before. Hence, there was no disputing the finality of Closing Night 2017 (three upcoming games in Philadelphia this weekend notwithstanding).

Yet you wouldn’t have known there was no tomorrow on Wednesday night. In a marketing scheme conjured to lure you to Free Shirt Friday, Super Saturday and Family Sunday, the Mets might identify these midweek night dates as Nothing Special. They sure treated this one that way. Perhaps they got all the pretense out of their system during the last segment of Fan Appreciation Weekend when they handed out scratch-off cards and magnets.

Most of the year, I like the Nothing Special aspect of a midweek night game. I prefer a midweek night game to all the other variations. All things being equal, I’ll take a midweek night game over a weekend day game, a midweek afternoon game, certainly Sunday Night Baseball. No frills, just baseball and some waiting for trains to and fro. Baseball is frilly enough for the likes of your typical Wednesday night crowd. Nevertheless, you’d think somebody who signs off on these things would acknowledge it’s not a typical Wednesday night when your next home game is six months away (on March 29, a Thursday afternoon).

One could posit that this wasn’t a typical Wednesday night because the Mets were winning by six runs as it was concluding and the Mets spent relatively little of 2017 prevailing. Also atypical was the pitching of Robert Gsellman, who seemed uncommonly sharp for six innings. I say “seemed,” because, honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was more consumed by my shock that for Wednesday night’s Nothing Special special, it wasn’t just me and 5,000 other pilgrims/diehards/weirdoes who found a reason to partake in another helping of Mets baseball. It was a decent-sized crowd, comprised to a discernible percentage by apparently normal people. We weren’t the 28,617 strong officially reported, natch, but we were not laughably far from it.

It put me a wee bit off kilter to have more company than I anticipated. I kind of wanted to be alone. I traveled alone, I entered alone and I sat alone. But not that alone. Some dude in a sitters’ market kind of row insisted I was in his seat. Maybe I was. Odd that another of the eighteen or so seats that were unoccupied didn’t suit his rear, but you can’t argue with what you can’t argue with. I found another seat.

The Mets fell behind early, tied it shortly thereafter, grabbed a lead and then expanded on it en route to winning. Travis d’Arnaud, Dominic Smith and Jose Reyes were the offensive standouts. Smith drew focus with a three-run pinch-homer. Reyes galvanized attention by being Reyes, running the bases and running out his contract. Clearly, Jose wants to stay. Clearly, the most vocal people, pilgrims, diehards and weirdoes in attendance wanted him to stay, certainly those who hadn’t forgotten how to sing his name. I certainly haven’t forgotten. I Jose-Jose’d like it was 2006. It’s not 2006, but I like a living, breathing, running reminder that it once was. I also Terry-Collinsed a bit, though that didn’t make for quite as overwhelming a chorus. Whoever decides on how big a deal to make of things decided Terry Collins’s probable last home game as Mets manager, after seven years and two playoff berths, was no big deal at all.

So as I was saying, it’s the ninth. I’m not as alone as I was when the game began, having hooked up with my fellow Closing Night aficionado Kevin. We had each purchased heavily discounted excellent single tickets and neither of us was quite deriving our usual respective lone wolf enjoyment from the experience. It began to feel like a baseball game once we settled in. The last baseball game of the year. The closure we seek annually had been creeping in on little cat feet for hours. At last it is pounding on the door marked EXIT like an antsy gorilla.

Two out. Micah Johnson up as a pinch-hitter. He swings at Paul Sewald’s first pitch. It dribbles partway up the third base line. Sewald could grab it and possibly throw Johnson out at first to end the game and the home season. Or he could let it roll foul, because Johnson is fast and he might not get him. Or the ball could stop of its own volition and make Sewald’s decision moot.

The ball rolls foul. I am delighted. It means the home season will continue for at least another pitch.

I haven’t loved this season, home or away. I haven’t gone too far out of my way to haunt Citi Field relative to previous seasons (17 games in ’17, my lowest total since there’s been Citi Field). I am on hand to confirm there will be nothing more to see here after tonight. Yet when that ball is rolling and what is left of the home season hangs in the balance, I am not quite ready to pick it up and force it out. Let it roll a little longer, I think. I didn’t come tonight to say goodbye. I came to stick around as long as I could.

Generating Echoes

For six innings Tuesday night, I was content to float along on the echoes provided by the visitor who used to call Citi Field home, the visitor who was the first Met to make Citi Field feel like a home. R.A. Dickey was pitching a shutout for the Braves against the Mets. See past the uniform, see only the man, the arm, the knuckleball. Remember R.A. when you didn’t have to parcel out your perspective. Remember when the language flowed and the knucklers danced and the mystique marveled.

It’s not the first time we’d encountered R.A. in 2017, five seasons removed from the culmination of his Cy Young journey, when he became, all at once, award-winning, best-selling and awe-inspiring. Intradivision competition recurs frequently. Dickey the Brave faced the Mets once in April, once in May and once before in September. I couldn’t help but be hyperaware of the juxtaposition of R.A. as opponent on each occasion, but I also couldn’t thoroughly give myself over to his presence. In April and May, it was too early. Previously in September, I was more concerned with the immediate fortunes of his opposite number and our contemporary ace, Jacob deGrom.

Here, in the last week, with no partisan priorities pervasively prevailing, I couldn’t and didn’t mind that Dickey turned the Citi Field clock back to 2012, even if it meant he was wearing the Mets hitters on his watch chain. Between the third and the seventh innings, there was a span of 13 batters during which R.A. threw 34 pitches and recorded 13 outs. I couldn’t tell if the Mets were no longer capable of putting up a fight or the Braves starter had simply demilitarized them. If it wasn’t exactly vintage Dickey (more swings, misses and silly looks would have ensued), it was a performance to be savored by any Mets fan residually grateful to have been along for R.A.’s ride when there wasn’t much else to cling to in these parts.

The Mets were losing, 3-0. Rafael Montero gave up runs in the first and second before settling down into his version of a groove (baserunners on in every inning, but no more damage done). Montero’s incremental progress has been worth cheering in the second half of this lost season, but it was no longer an issue by the final third of its 158th game. Rafael had been lifted for a pinch-hitter after six. R.A. was still getting his knucklers over. Given his max efficiency, I could see another eight Mets going quietly. I could see R.A. Dickey, age 42 and contemplating retirement, going out with a 68 MPH bang. I wanted the complete game for R.A. I wanted the shutout. I didn’t necessarily want the Mets to lose, but I definitely wanted him to win.

In this year more than most, we are reminded we can’t ever get what we want, not to specifications anyway.

Brandon Nimmo, recently learning of the wondrous things that can occur when the bat leaves the shoulder, singled with one out in the seventh. Then Kevin Plawecki stood in for seven pitches, the longest plate appearance the Mets had manufactured all night. The seventh pitch was, depending on your point of view, the curse or the charm or maybe a bit of both. Plawecki whacked it over the Great Wall of Flushing. Dickey’s spell was broken. The Mets were on the board, trailing only 3-2.

I could feel my allegiance shift from the dreamy past to a surprisingly vital present. Rooting for R.A. to pen a stylish P.S. to his potential final Citi Field and maybe career start had been a matter all its own. A Mets-Braves game was something else, even with the Braves sitting on 71-85 and the Mets wallowing at 67-90. For all their foibles, we still love our Mets. For all their irrelevance, we still hate the Braves. They are, after all, the Braves.

Dickey needed seven pitches to ground out Dominic Smith for the second out of the seventh, then threw two more to Amed Rosario. The second of them went for a Rosario Speedwagon triple. Once Amed had taken it on the run, Brian Snitker came out for a walk, removing R.A. and any reason to feel conflicted. Dickey left the mound, headed for the third base dugout and, because he’s R.A. Dickey, attracted applause from the Mets fans standing in his midst.

Because he’s R.A. Dickey, he tipped his cap to them. It was a Braves cap, but you work with the gear they give you. The gesture spoke for who R.A. was to us, who R.A. will always be in our hearts. The night’s box score dissolved to immaterial. If R.A. Dickey was departing Citi’s field of play for the last time, he was leaving it as a winner — and in enough of a Metlike state to allow us to overlook the distasteful uniform he modeled. Fabric can obscure only so much.

Amed’s triple didn’t lead anywhere, but the Mets were just getting going. Perhaps it would have been more poetic had Travis d’Arnaud been the catcher to deliver the reverie-disrupting home run off Dickey, since it was Travis who was one of the promising pieces the Mets received for R.A. five years ago, but Plawecki makes sense in his own way. Kevin is catching as much as he is because Travis maybe caught too much. A little less d’Arnaud, a little more Plawecki…we could be building the perfectly adequate two-headed beast behind the plate. Or it could be September when everybody who hasn’t knocked down walls is suddenly blasting balls over them.

The Dickeyesque echoes had subsided, but you could hear others if you so chose. In the eighth, Asdrubal Cabrera, power-hitting playoff-chase hero of 2016, drove a liner into the gap that was sure to put the Mets ahead, 4-3. Instead, the ball was snagged by platinum-gloved playoff-chase villain of 2016 Ender Inciarte, reducing the two-RBI double to a game-tying sacrifice fly. Inciarte, who also registered his 200th hit Tuesday night, would have fit well on the turn-of-the-century Braves, which is to say I really and truly despise him, albeit in a baseball sense (as if that isn’t strong enough).

Other current Braves I can’t stand like I couldn’t stand the Joneses and Jordan and Perez and Lopez and Lockhart and Klesko and don’t even get me started on their pitchers: all of them. All of them except Dickey, and we’ve already established Dickey is at heart a Met in Brave’s clothing. Seventeen years before Tuesday night, on September 26, 2000, the Braves were on the verge of defeating the Mets at Shea Stadium and clinching their sixth consecutive National League East title. I was there. I had never seen a division title clinched in person. And when the Braves recorded the final out, I still hadn’t, because I had bolted rather than stay to watch it. The next night, the Mets beat the Braves and clinched their second consecutive Wild Card. I stayed for that. It was fun. Winning the division would have been more fun. That we, not they, went on to win the pennant that October hasn’t nudged that nugget of resentment from my consciousness.

Stubborn things, those echoes.

Tying the Braves on Tuesday night was fun. Beating them was going to be more fun, provided we could engineer the full comeback. In the ninth, Plawecki emerged again, this time singling to lead off a still-knotted game against lefty A.J. Minter. Minter is a rookie lefty who had never walked anybody. The next batter, Smith, is a rookie lefty rarely allowed by his manager to hit against lefties in late & close situations, which 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth surely qualifies as. Terry Collins let it be known earlier Tuesday that he, unlike his former charge Dickey (and contrary to prior reports), is not contemplating retirement. Collins may be the proverbial old dog, yet he’s apparently willing to entertain new tricks. Smith stayed in to hit…and worked out the first walk to blemish Minter’s ledger.

First and second, nobody out. Rosario, the fella who tripled two innings before, was asked to sacrifice. The Mets gave up the out, but to no avail, as Amed went down on a foul tip. The next batter was one of the Travii. Not d’Arnaud, but Taijeron. Taijeron isn’t widely considered a part of the next Met generation. Rosario and Smith, sure. Plawecki, probably. Taijeron is inventory in the cold vernacular of the industry (“the industry” is also cold vernacular). He’s a Met outfielder because at least four 2017 Met outfielders stopped being 2017 Met outfielders in August. In the spring of 2016, Taijeron lit up Spring Training, won the John J. Murphy Award as St. Lucie’s outstanding rookie, and was then summarily dispatched to Las Vegas, not to be heard from again all year. He wouldn’t have been heard from at all this year, either, except for the removal of Bruce and Granderson and the subsequent disabling of Conforto and Cespedes.

You saw Taijeron come to bat with two on and one out in a tied ninth inning and the best you could hope for was an echo of a September cameo past. Esix Snead won a game under similar circumstances in September 2002. Craig Brazell won a game kind of like this in September 2004. And now, in September 2017, it was Travis Taijeron’s turn. He lined a ball that confounded Jace Peterson in left (and cleverly avoided Ender Inciarte in center), driving home Plawecki’s pinch-runner Juan Lagares for the 4-3 Mets victory.

Soon, you’ll mostly forget about it. Someday, though, it might resonate like crazy.

Mets Fail to Completely Screw Up

The Mets played two baseball games on Monday and they were both pretty terrible, even by the low standards of fans who are staring six baseball-free months in the face and would normally take extras with no questions asked.

The first game muddled along without too much horror until the middle innings and then fell apart, becoming both embarrassing and unwatchable, with a side of endless. Chris Flexen pitched OK until the third trip through the Braves’ order, when he undid all his work by walking everybody. (This is a wordy way of saying he didn’t pitch all that well.) A parade of Mets relievers arrived to annoy and dishearten those scattered among the acres of empty seats. Bad Mets defense and harebrained Mets baserunning compounded these problems and did little to improve the mood.

Seriously: it was bad, y’all. After the first game, if you’d used a Ouija board to entreat the spirit of Ernie Banks to wander out of a cornfield (don’t do this, it’s rude), the great Cub would have said “actually let’s just play one” and vanished back into the green to get doused with Roundup and let bugs hop around on him.

Instead of sitting in the clubhouse quietly and thinking about what they’d done, the Mets inflicted another game on the paying customers. It wasn’t much better, as the Mets once again showed zero aptitude for running bases or doing the things with gloves that prevent the other team from running those bases. I mean, Travis Taijeron was deked by Ender Inciarte waving his glove at a ball 25 feet over his head, like some mean-spirited mad scientist was trying to make an entire team out of post-homer Hansel Robleses. On our couch, Emily and I laughed at Inciarte … until a replay revealed that this lame gambit had actually worked.

That sums up the 2017 Mets season pretty well, come to think of it.

The Mets were saved, this time, by the fact that the Braves managed to play worse baseball. It was a race to see which Brave would hurt himself first trying to field: luckless left fielder Lane Adams or highly temporary first baseman Rio Ruiz.

Even then, the Mets tried their damnedest to give the game back, with Jeurys Familia botching a grounder in the ninth and Dominic Smith (who’s not enjoying his steady diet of offspeed stuff, by the way) inexplicably turning a 3-4-3 double play into a fielder’s choice. Somehow they survived anyway. The day’s positives: Travis d’Arnaud continuing his flurry of games in which he looks both uninjured and offensively capable, Juan Lagares getting right with the BABIP gods, and the hardy little crowd browbeating the Citi Field tech folks into belatedly raising the apple for d’Arnaud’s homer.

That last bit made me laugh, and the show of scruffy Met fan resilience even heartened me a little. Maybe it wasn’t much, at the end of too many hours of careless, slapstick baseball and a season even the most devout among us will be happy to see come to an end. But you take what you can get, even after you’ve endured more than you can take.

A Certain Quality

Sunday afternoons and Citi Field haven’t gotten along in 2017. Far be it from me to horn in on the middle of their mysterious feud, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, and on this last home Sunday afternoon of the 2017 season, I went to Citi Field. It was not like asking for a loss. It was asking for a loss. “Just be gentle how you insert the L,” was my only request.

And they were. If you’ve been a Mets fan for any significant period of time, you understand the most tolerable of losses — provided there is absolutely nothing on the line besides your own preference for a win — is the 3-2 variety played under optimal atmospheric conditions and completed in barely more than three hours. The 3-2 loss the Mets delivered, with an assist from the Washington Nationals, would have fit well inside any early 1970s Sunday afternoon at Shea when a decidedly unimpressive lineup couldn’t have given Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry that one extra run that would have taken him off the hook. A 3-2 loss way back then probably would have taken an hour less to complete, but that’s baseball inflation for ya. And, honestly, for all the kvetching over length of games, it’s not like I had somewhere else I wanted to be on this gloriously warm Sunday afternoon — and it’s not like the Mets are going anywhere other than away soon enough.

While there hasn’t been much enticement to show up at Citi Field on Sundays, my wife and I have maintained an annual appointment every season’s last Sunday. We didn’t set out to make it a tradition, but it’s become one, and we weren’t going to let the Mets’ brutal record on Sundays impede our engagement. Usually the final home Sunday coincides with Closing Day, but that dose of finality is being saved for Wednesday night this year. I’ll take care of that festivity-free milestone on my own. Sunday was for Stephanie and me and, of course, Jacob.

Jacob deGrom threw a quality start on Sunday. It’s too bad “quality start” has become something of a punching bag for those who want to bemoan how nothing is as good as it used to be. Six innings and three runs — why, that’s a 4.50 ERA! Brand Name Pitcher From My Youth would be rolling over in his grave! I always took the quality start criteria as the bare minimum of what is acceptable. If you go at least six innings and give up no more than three runs, it’s understood you did a pretty decent job of keeping your team in the game. These days, if you did nothing more than go exactly six innings and give up exactly three runs every five days, that wouldn’t sound so bad, either.

DeGrom gave us Sunday parishioners exactly six innings and allowed the Nationals exactly three runs, only two of them earned. He provided the Mets a chance to win. They might have, too, a) had Max Scherzer not been pitching to them and b) if the Mets had eight major league hitters to string together in a batting order. Tough luck for deGrom in terms of attaining a sixteenth win (goodbye, farewell and amen #JdG17in17), but 6 IP 3R indicates he did his job pretty well. Five hits, no walks and eleven strikeouts emphasizes he did it very well. Sadly, Jose Lobaton harnessed his distinct method of Met-killing to account for one run and Trea Turner perfected laser technology to blast him for two more.

Otherwise, deGrom was a joy to watch from our perennial favorite Last Sunday Afternoon seats in Section 326 (which were available on StubHub at prices rapacious 2009 Citi Field would be rolling over in its resting place from). A few too many pitches early tipped his total past a hundred by the sixth and thus kept him from returning for the seventh — sad that a tip of the cap to a grateful audience couldn’t have been choreographed — but Jake was nonetheless everything he’s been all season: the best reason to watch Mets games, listen to Mets games and attend Mets games. His crossing 200 innings in 2017 was the Met equivalent of Washington (George, not the Nationals) traversing the Delaware in 1776.

There were other things worthy of observation, some of which might have shown up on TV, others for which ya probably had to be there.

• Jose Reyes did his best Jackie Robinson impression, certainly in the vein that Jackie was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in 42, literally dancing down the third base line to disturb Scherzer with two out in the fourth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a runner inch as close to home without actually taking off for the plate. Jose kept taunting with his feet, trying to tease a balk while Dominic Smith batted. Anthony Rendon was shifted practically to short, so why not? Only problem was Scherzer never let go of his composure and eventually struck out the rookie. So much for “discombobulating the man,” as young Ed Charles informed his mother in the 2013 biopic. Still, it was delightful gamesmanship and we on the third base side of the action applauded heartily.

• Juan Lagares did his best Juan Lagares impression, which is nothing new, since the more we see Lagares roaming his natural habitat, the more we are reminded he is the best defensive center fielder this franchise has ever featured. Lagares robbed Howie Kendrick in the ninth with a diving grab that is business as usual in Juan’s world. He also enjoyed a swift trip around the bases in the eighth, singling, going first to third on Nori Aoki’s single to left and racing home on Reyes’s single to center. If Juan could run that sort of sequence on a semi-regular basis, you’d find a way to install him in center and leave him there until the Confortos come home. Until then, he lingers within a cache of contemporary Mets who evoke Rafael Santana, patron saint of those who are adequate when everybody else around them approaches excellent. If you had seven other guys who were really good, then you’d just pencil in Lagares and enjoy his defense and take his offense. Thing is, the Mets don’t have seven other guys who are really good.

• It doesn’t get more athletic in the middle of the infield than Reyes at second and Amed Rosario at short. And it doesn’t look less athletic at the corners than Smith at first and Phil Evans at third. They are athletes, they are skilled, they have futures at the highest level of professional baseball…but it is striking how they each — as rookies — appear to have wandered over from a keg-intensive softball game in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On the other hand, the limber and lithe Rosario seems to display a little less savvy every diamond day. Let’s give everybody a clean slate come spring. This season hasn’t honed anybody to a fine edge, physically or mentally.

• Hansel Robles lives! He threw two solid innings and didn’t kill our vague chances of a comeback! Good for him!

• Cheers to the video board operator for showing multiple replays of Nationals right fielder Victor Robles (born in 1997, a year sources claim took place like five minutes ago) robbing Reyes of two, maybe three bases in the first inning. The wall-crashing play even made the cut later in the afternoon when the Mets presented a sponsored segment of memories of the great time we were in the process of having before we were fully done having them. There was deGrom fanning Nationals left and right. There was Brandon Nimmo homering onto carbonation terrace. And there was, gasp!, a Met not succeeding, perhaps hinting at why the Mets weren’t winning 27-2, which is what the rest of the sponsored highlights implied was the case. I don’t love watching Mets being thwarted, but I respect cracks in the propagandistic veneer. Washington’s Robles, incidentally, fought the right field sun all day, yet was never once foiled by it. Good to know the Nats can substitute so stresslessly for Bryce Harper.

• Fan Appreciation Weekend was a letdown for this fan who didn’t expect much appreciation to begin with. Where was the stilted THANK YOU FANS video? Where were the little-used callups and disgruntled relievers earnestly staring into the camera and telling us how vital we are to their self-esteem? Where was the spliced-in kicker in which David Wright, circa 2012 or whenever he was last in one piece, tells us we’re the greatest fans in the world? It’s cornball, but we like a little sweet talk. While Stephanie and I scratched off cards that entitled us to a discount on tickets for future aggravation, a few fans were presented with really nifty tokens of appreciation. Some guy knew Jack Hamilton was the last Met pitcher to hit a grand slam, and he won a mammoth flat-screen television for his knowledge. You should be rewarded for knowing advanced Mets trivia. Hmm…I wonder if he heard me shouting the answer at him from several hundred feet away. However he got it, good for him. The converse: some guy who couldn’t identify which year Doc Gooden won his Cy Young wasn’t escorted from the building for lack of basic Mets historical comprehension. I’m pretty sure my groan could be picked up by LaGuardia air traffic control.

• I realize the “Piano Man” singalong is weirdly polarizing, but I think we can all agree popping in an image of Terry Collins’s head on the video board when the lyrics “and the manager gives me a smile” come up was a stroke of cleverness above and beyond what usually airs in-house at Citi Field. On Sunday, though, there was “Piano Man,” but there was no manager. They edited out TC. Kremlinologists would judge this the surest sign that some other manager will be giving us the facial expression next season.

• An unidentified man was visible on the big screen during the latter innings modeling a Faith and Fear t-shirt, the one with all the nifty retired numbers. I call this man a hero. You can wear what he wore if you click here or here.

• About twenty minutes prior to first pitch, Stephanie and I were partaking of our rare treat Shake Shack repast (the lines are as short as the tickets are cheap this September) in the Whatever Casino It’s Named For Now Club when I could make out faintly over the PA the voice of Bobby Darin. It was our old Shea staple “Sunday in New York” beckoning to us to come out and play already. “Sunday in New York” used to get its weekly spin during the game, but has in recent seasons been consigned to pregame duty. No matter. The Mets have troubles? We take them out for a walk; big Citi taking a nap, indeed. The Shake Shack was sublime, but we couldn’t keep Bobby waiting any longer. We bussed our table and hit the concourse to take in his final verse and chorus on the final Sunday in New York of 2017 when we could be where we most wanted to be. The Mets were 1-8 on Sunday afternoons at home entering the day and were about to turn 1-9. In our hearts, however, we remained undefeated.

Noah's Arc

Noah Syndergaard‘s back, and it was aggressively pointless.

The return was five whole pitches — if the taco line was a little too long (actually possible given there were postgame fireworks), you missed it. The Mets, I’m sure, had counted on a normal inning with 15 to 20 pitches, but for whatever reason they hadn’t planned in terms of pitching. Syndergaard was getting an inning, and then giving way to Matt Harvey, and so it went.

Noah Syndergaard’s back, and it was superlatively wonderful.

I mean, there he was — Thor, with the blonde locks intact and the arm hanging down and the baseball doing murderous things. The first pitch was a slider at 95, which is so absurdly and perfectly Syndergaardian in that He’s Got the Cheat Codes way that just makes you laugh and shake your head. The other pitches were fastballs, and the slowest of them was 98. Despite all that’s gone wrong and despite the oh-so-Metsian daffiness of the night’s plan, it was heartening to see him out there. I was happy to let my brain fast-forward to Opening Day 2018 and imagine better days, and oh wow did I need a chance to do that.

But he was there and then he was gone and the rest of the game was pointless. Harvey was lousy, or maybe the numbers were lousy and the unquantifiables were better than that, but that’s a spring-training conversation at this point. The Mets scored early and then stopped and the Nationals came back and then Daniel Murphy hit a homer off the apple housing and you knew that was it, and a few minutes later it was.

Who knows where Noah goes from here? He’s still a power pitcher with an elbow ligament that hasn’t snapped, which means you hold your breath with every searing fastball and buckling curve. Now you can add a side of worrying about the lat. Or if that’s not sufficient agita, you can look at Harvey — a god-given arm eroded into an all-too-human question mark.

But even if so, at least that’s just baseball bad luck. The world is bigger than that, a reality brought home by Steve Gelbs’s conversation in the seats with Greg Cole.

Who’s Greg Cole? Sixteen years ago his brother Brian was a Mets prospect who’d impressed everybody in his first spring training. He was coming off a season in which he’d hit .301 for Binghamton with a dynamic mix of power and speed, winning accolades as the team’s minor-league player of the year. He wasn’t ready, not quite yet, but he was on track for at least a September call-up, and you figured he might force his way into the conversation before then.

It never happened. Cole was driving home from Port St. Lucie to Mississippi when his Ford Explorer rolled over on the highway. He was ejected from the vehicle and died a few hours later. The Mets learned of his death at the team dinner before Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Maybe you remembered all that. If you didn’t, read this. Hell, if you did remember that, read it anyway. My little biography captures nothing of what Cole was to his family, his teammates and opponents, or what he might have been. The article does that joyously and beautifully.

The Mets haven’t forgotten Cole — as his brother explained, they’ve supported scholarships in his name. Kudos to both the team and the broadcast crew for remembering him and honoring him.

What really got me, though, was hearing Greg Cole tell Gelbs that his brother would have been about to turn 39.

What Brian Cole would have been on the field is impossible to say — ask Syndergaard or Harvey about that. But it doesn’t matter. The important thing, the part that makes all the rest pale into nothing, is he would have been about to turn 39.

The Night the Mets Didn’t Lose

For not long would they tell of the night the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen didn’t lose. An ostensibly memorable win in a month that begged to be forgotten never stood much of a chance to survive amid a forever unspooling narrative whose natural bias leaned toward critical mass. Wins sprouting gloriously among more wins can be celebrated into eternity. One win briefly noted deep within a forest of losses is a tree that tends to hide from view.

But the night — the night the Mets didn’t lose — really and truly happened. Partake in its tale before it is fully committed to obscurity.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost most every night in September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost especially frequently and extremely painfully to their evening’s opponent, the vastly better equipped Washington Nationals.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because these Mets were not constructed to win. They were not constructed. They were accumulated, mostly.

In September of Two Thousand Seventeen, there were Mets and there was winning, and the two were almost invariably kept a respectful distance from one another.

It was a night at Citi Field when the Nationals led the Mets six to one in the middle of the fifth inning, suggesting an inevitable final score of Nationals twelve Mets two by the end of the ninth. The numbers were on pace to pile up on and topple all over the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

Yet it didn’t unravel that way. It didn’t unravel at all. The Friday night ballgame surprised its onlookers and probably itself. From six to one in the middle of the fifth, the game turned to six-six by the top of the sixth. And by the top of the seventh, somehow, the Mets led the Nationals seven to six. These, mind you, were not exactly the Nationals who had been division champions officially for nearly two weeks and essentially for more than five months. Those Nationals were on hiatus, resting and refueling in advance of their next significant contest, sometime in October, sometime after the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen will have ceased to exist.

No, these Nationals did not play their regulars. But then again, these Mets did not have regulars.

In a previous life — a September earlier, two Septembers earlier — these Mets were not these Mets. They were other Mets. Those Mets preceding these Mets were different. They were successful. They were popular. Surprisingly, a knowing look at these Mets revealed connective tissue between those Mets and these Mets. There were players who played for both versions. A few even predated the predecessors, going back to the Mets who were not yet different, successful and popular. It wasn’t so long before — three, maybe four Septembers earlier — that those players were striving to make a difference, achieve success, generate popularity. How it all rose upward and then plunged downward so quickly was too dizzying to consider accurately. Were we sure this was the same franchise?

It was. There had been a Travis d’Arnaud, a Juan Lagares, a Jeurys Familia before the Mets would fairly be assessed as good. Then there were those same players as the Mets commenced to being indisputably good. Finally, in September of Two Thousand Seventeen, they were still Mets, part of the irregular Mets, the Mets for whom there was no expectation of victory, no sense of capability, little hint they could do anything well.

Somehow, though, for one Friday night they did. D’Arnaud hit two home runs, including the three-run shot that tied the score at six. Lagares registered two base hits, crossed home plate twice and took away from the Nationals a chance to ignite a response rally when he dove, he caught and he betrayed no obvious physical agony, a rarity when Mets would meet ground. Familia, mostly missing from these Mets, returned to prominence if only for a batter, striking out the last National and earning his first save since the world was young…or at least since he was being aided by teammates named Walker and Rivera and Granderson and Bruce.

They were all gone by this Friday night, the night Familia achieved his fourth save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season. So were erstwhile teammates Salas and Reed, two who pitched in front of Familia on the occasion of his previous save. So was Duda, who was on the disabled list at that intersection of time and space, foretelling where practically everybody who was known as a Met would sooner or later land if they hadn’t landed there already. In all honesty, hope was gone before the lot of the former Mets were off to other, happier precincts. Familia’s third save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season had occurred on May the Fifth. The Mets already trailed the Nationals by six-and-half games.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen eventually arrived. The Mets barely appeared, and then primarily in highly irregular fashion. Mets you thought would be gone, too, like Cabrera. Mets you were surprised to discover were Mets, like Aoki. Mets who pitched in relief in lieu of Familia (including a faux closer named Ramos who was still so enmeshed in his innate Marlininity that their new prospective ownership probably schemed to dismiss him all over again). Mets who started instead of perceived ace Syndergaard (though Syndergaard was suddenly deemed ready to start again, albeit just a touch). When Washington came to New York on September the Twenty-Second, the Mets trailed the Nationals by twenty-seven games.

After that Friday night — after d’Arnaud, Lagares and Familia reminded those who still maintained vigilance that they were the same Mets they used to be; after Cabrera and Aoki contributed as meaningfully as any Mets could; after every Mets reliever not named Ramos warded off whichever Nationals the Nationals chose to unleash upon the Mets — the margin was twenty-six. Oh yes, these Mets had won, seven to six. What seemed anywhere from unlikely to impossible had, in fact, occurred.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen went on. It was remembered, when it was remembered, for the nights the Mets didn’t win. Those were plentiful and pervasive. But perhaps now that you know there was a night the Mets didn’t lose, well, maybe you’ll kindly mention it to somebody else someday, just so somebody else understands it really and truly happened.