Of the 25 fine reasons to read Game Of My Life: New York Mets, perhaps the one that comes out of the farthest reaches of left field is the best. That’s the chapter author Michael Garry devotes to Eric Hillman.
Eric Hillman you probably remember if you were an active Mets fan between 1992 and 1994. The “game of his life” — a Sunday afternoon shutout at Dodger Stadium — you would need a very good reason to specifically recall. But Hillman was a Met for three years when the Mets weren’t very good, he beat L.A. when he was completely on, and thus it makes for an element worth telling within the larger Met story. Hillman is a character worth revisiting, especially when you learn, via Garry’s reporting, what the rest of his life’s been like, particularly a moment when he reconnected with a fan from his playing days.
You don’t have to be a David Wright to have a great Mets story to tell.
I won’t tell you what happened, but it’s a beautiful coda to the career of a Met you likely haven’t thought of lately. Game Of My Life has episodes like those sprinkled throughout, catching you up on an eclectic array of 25 Mets who laid down their historical markers between the 1960s and the 2010s. I’m guessing Garry’s publisher probably pushed him to pursue the biggest names possible (in his introduction he describes in detail who he went after and how his success rate varied), but the real treat lies within the chance to check in on Eric Hillman’s good day at Dodger Stadium; Anthony Young before he became known for an almost endless string of losses; Al Jackson, who keeps on instructing Met youngsters more than a half-century after he was one himself; and a few more guys you might or might not expect to read up on in a volume like this.
Garry gives us time with 1969 World Series Game Two hero Ed Charles, who we know never disappoints in his recollections. He drops in on Wally Backman, who takes us back to the day the Mets wouldn’t leave the Astrodome until 16 innings of heartstopping, pulsating baseball resulted in a New York pennant. He provides Bobby Jones an opportunity to piece together his clinching one-hitter from the 2000 NLDS. He shows us that not every “game of my life” is obvious when Daniel Murphy skips the opportunity to emphasize himself and prefers to retrace the final Saturday at Shea, Johan Santana’s breathtaking three-hitter to keep the 2008 Mets mathematically alive, the last time (until now, we hope) Daniel played for a contender. Murph doesn’t know it, but in doing so he echoes Buddy Harrelson, who chooses the day the Mets won it in all against the Orioles as the game of his life, even though Harrelson wasn’t one of the stars of glorious Game Five.
The book hits every era of plenty in Mets history and several of the eras of less-so. Each of the 25 players profiled (most of whom sat and talked to Garry, though a handful of chapters had to be cobbled from outside accounts) is given a respectful hearing and adds something to the overall theme. Our narrator presents himself as a lifelong Mets fan and gives the proceedings a light, loving touch.
We recently spent eleven consecutive games celebrating our ongoing affection for the Mets. Regardless of how often we’ll get to do that on a going basis for the rest of this season, Game Of My Life will give you plenty of cause to celebrate your fandom all over again
My absence from Citi Field has ended. Thirteen months after I was last there, I returned with Emily and Joshua for a game under sparkling skies. We had tacos. We caught up with friends. We ate ice cream (with blue and orange Mets sprinkles). We eyed the new scoreboard and declared it a nice addition, though not one that cried out for multiple press releases. We complained about “Piano Man.” (Sorry, blog partner.) We navigated the new longer lines and seemingly randomly placed metal detectors. (A tip: Use the bullpen gate.) And we cheered for the Mets.
It was a wonderful day … except for whatever those guys in orange and blue down there on the field were doing.
We’re into the second month of the season, which isn’t too early for a scouting report on the 2015 Mets: They’ve got very good pitching, iffy hitting and wretched defense.
Dillon Gee was very good, and the relief corps was terrific, particularly turbaned Alex Torres, who came in with the bases loaded and nobody out and struck out the side.
The hitting, ugh. The Mets put two men on to begin the first and squandered the chance. Then, down 1-0 in the eighth, they were a Lucas Duda fly ball from tying it. Duda fanned on a diving slider that was low and outside. Michael Cuddyer then struck out on a check swing at a slider that hit the ground. Kevin Plawecki‘s double was the lone extra-base hit.
Yet once again, it was the defense that proved the Mets’ undoing by giving the Nationals extra outs. This time the culprit was Ruben Tejada, who botched a transfer on a double-play feed from Dilson Herrera. That led to a Ryan Zimmerman broken-bat parachute that plopped onto the outfield grass behind Duda, and the only run Washington would need.
In other words, it was pretty much a Xerox of Saturday’s game, and about as much fun.
Oh, Ruben Tejada. He made a terrific snag of a ball to his right on Saturday night, but the routine plays have eluded him. Which sounds like I’m describing Wilmer Flores, currently waiting out a head-clearing three-day vacation from shortstop. Except Flores can hit, to the extent that any Met can hit right now. Your answer to “Who the heck can keep us from losing games at shortstop?” appears to be someone not currently on the big-league roster.
That question is taking on increasing urgency. The Mets can’t outhit their own mistakes while missing David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud, absences that have left Duda basically naked in an underwhelming lineup. (I have faith that Cuddyer will hit — he’s done so his whole career — but really wish he’d start proving me right.)
Until Wright and d’Arnaud return, expect more games like today’s — games that will come down to which team converts outs more reliably.
Judging from the last week or so, that’s not a reason for optimism.
Useful reminder: Baseball will drive you crazy if you let it.
Every so often a thought creeps into my head that I immediately try to shoo away: It’s that the team that wins the World Series will be the good team with the best luck, the one that has the fewest guys injured and the most bounces go its way.
For a small-scale illustration of the point, I present last night’s Mets-Nats tilts. It went 1-0 to the Nationals, with Gio Gonzalez topping Jonathon Niese in a matchup of pitchers who were pretty good and mainly separated by the quality of their luck.
It’s not exactly a secret that I don’t like Niese, but tonight there wasn’t much to criticize. His location was off, but he hung in there and pitched an excellent ballgame despite having to deal with an umpire’s random strike zone, a really good team trying to beat him, and a whole lot of bad luck.
Every time you looked up a ball was glancing off the end of a Met’s glove, or drifting just over a leaping Met’s head. The fatal blow struck by the Nats came in the second on an infield single that Daniel Murphy couldn’t quite reach at third. Meanwhile, everything went Gonzalez’s way. Lucas Duda‘s long drive to left in the third wasn’t quite long enough to escape Citi Field, and the Mets had two runners erased trying to push things against the Nats’ defense.
The first erasee was Juan Lagares, who tried to score from first in the first on a double by Duda. Lagares was out from me to you, sparking muttering, but I thought it was a good gamble by Tim Teufel. Look at the replay and you’ll see both Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond made terrific plays to get Lagares. If either man is less than perfect, Lagares probably scores, Duda’s on third and the Mets are threatening to grab a decent-sized early lead against Gio.
The second erasee was Dilson Herrera, who hit a Baltimore chop through Danny Espinosa with two out in the sixth and saw a chance for a 100-foot double. Herrera ran through first and immediately scooted for second, left unoccupied amid the tumult — but Desmond quickly retrieved the ball and Espinosa had the presence of mind to beat Herrera to the bag and record the out. An error of enthusiasm, Terry Collins called it, but I liked the instincts Herrera showed — runs were precious, and Washington had to do everything right to get him out. It didn’t work out, but it was far from a terrible idea.
That’s how it goes — baseball can be maddening, which is why players retreat into placid cliches. Sometimes things bounce your way and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes the bad breaks arrive one after the other. When that happens, the only thing you can do is hope it’s not true the next day.
So. I hope it’s not true the next day.
The other day I visited my ophthamologist for one of those comprehensive examinations that includes drops in both eyes. Once it’s over and you step outside, you basically enter a Soundgarden video. Everything is ridiculously bright and slightly surreal. It’s why, in the event that you don’t carry shades, they give you a Rollens, not to be confused with a Rollins, which would probably be past its “best used by” date. The Rollens fancies itself “the largest selling wraparound lens in the medical market.” You know it better as that unattractive thing you wear until everything looks reasonably normal again. The effect is more dark night than Dark Knight. An hour or so from the sun refusing to glare demonically in my face, I reluctantly slipped my Rollens under my glasses, planted myself in my parked car and returned a phone call to my forever friend Chuck.
As I waited for my pupils to undialate, Chuck and I spent approximately the next 50 minutes catching up — 45 of them devoted to the Mets, probably 35 of those devoted to Matt Harvey. You might think I drove the agenda, but the Mets talk was Chuck’s idea. Chuck, you see, has been out of New York for more than a dozen years and isn’t as tuned in to Mets matters as he could be. I should also point out Chuck is something of a bandwagon fan. He wouldn’t take offense at that description. When the Mets are going well, he’ll alert me that he’s “back on the bandwagon”. It’s been a running joke of ours for more than 30 years. Pretty much everything has been a running joke of ours for more than 30 years. It’s when the Mets aren’t a running joke that we can sit on the phone and dissect the Mets for minutes (or hours) on end.
While I sat in my old Corolla wearing an old Mets jacket talking to my old friend, I remarked that this was, in fact, the 30th anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the place where Chuck and I met 31 years ago. If our alma matter issued eye tests in lieu of final exams, this was probably exactly how I would have killed the recovery time in 1985: same model of car, same model of jacket, though probably needing a pay phone with an exceedingly long cord. Not that much changes between Chuck and me. Thirty years earlier, he would have spent most of our conversation peppering me with several versions of the same question he asked me about Matt Harvey, except they would’ve been about Dwight Gooden.
“He seems really great. Is he that great?”
And I’d have the same answer.
“Yeah. He’s great. He’s really that great.”
Examples, anecdotes, quotes, statistics, repeated affirmations and apt comparisons would follow. Harvey to Gooden. Gooden to Seaver. Plus salutes to Carter and Hernandez and Strawberry, nowadays digressions to Duda and deGrom and Lagares (“Is he new?” Chuck asked earnestly from his geographically and psychologically remote location), back eventually to a) the ace of the staff and b) the state of the team, each of which, I was happy to confirm, was great…really that great.
A conversation three decades in the making continues.
This was Tuesday afternoon. By Friday morning, it was my turn to help him kill time. Chuck was getting his oil changed, so he reached out to me. Much of our interaction over the past decade has come while Chuck is taking care of an errand. When I hear from him, I usually also hear a loudspeaker voice instructing him to drive around, his order is ready. In this case, he chose to e-mail instead of call. The result was a rapid-fire exchange that filled up my phone’s screen with a stream of messages titled “RE: Mets”.
The tenor had changed in three days’ time. The Mets had done little to no wrong when he spoke with me in the eye doctor’s parking lot. Now, with him in a car dealership’s waiting room, everything had gone at least temporarily to hell. Or in the surest sign of the times imaginable, Chuck let me know, “I am another loss or two from jumping off the bandwagon.”
He was kidding. But he wasn’t.
Chuck always keeps one toenail permanently lodged upon the Metsopotamian conveyance, safe in the knowledge that I’ll always save space for the rest of him when he’s ready to fully commit again. The great thing about Chuck is when he’s in, he’s all in. He was more tangibly shaken by the Mets’ three-game losing streak than I was, ready to threaten unspeakable actions against any pitcher who doesn’t pitch to Harvey’s standards (which, given Chuck’s sense of righteousness and proportion, would lead to the need for many bandages and an overworked rotation of one). Sometimes I think Chuck is my Mets id, espousing deep-seated truths without a second thought wasted on consequences. Or maybe Chuck is just too in and out of the Mets loop to fully grasp they’re never as good as they look when things are going swell or as bad they look as they look when things are going lousy.
Actually, Chuck gets that, too. He signed off from Friday morning’s frenzied e-mail dialogue admitting, “I don’t know how you do this week after week, month after month, year after year. I’m not kidding. It’s exhausting worrying about a team over a 162-game season.”
And this was after only 23 games.
The 24th game came Friday night, and although I fell asleep not long after it was over (a symptom of being old enough to say “I graduated from college 30 years ago this week”), I came out of it rather refreshed. Not necessarily from Matt Harvey being as great as Chuck and I think he is — though that surely helped — but from getting it through my gray-templed head that this 162-game season indeed has to play itself out, otherwise I won’t be able to do this week after week, month after month.
I didn’t have to take a logic class my freshman year to understand that (though I did and it was quite useful), but every now and then a reminder comes in handy. When they caught lightning in that 11-game bottle recently, I was honestly intoxicated by the contents. Are these really the Mets? Is this what the Mets do now? Are we the kings of baseball in every discernible way?
Then came the Mets not being all that. There was a blessedly typical successful Harvey Day last Saturday and a ninth-inning bolt from the blue on Monday, and otherwise it was nothing but sucking for a solid week. We’re still emerging from nothing but sucking for a solid six years so don’t toy with me, Mets. Don’t send me mixed signals. Don’t make the bandwagon skid off course.
Friday night, as Harvey and Max Scherzer filled the roles once inhabited by Dwight Gooden and John Tudor (and Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton before them), I think I finally relaxed. A strange thing to do during a tense, taut affair that for eight innings could’ve gone either way, but it felt like neither an unsustainable coronation nor a plunge into the ditch off the side of the road. It felt like a competitive baseball game between two teams that belong on the same field.
Which is all I ever wanted. Well, all I ever wanted was 1986 over and over again, but I probably comprehend that was a once-in-a-lifetime happening (though even then, when the Mets followed their 20-4 start with a 2-5 stumble, I’m pretty sure I grew briefly but substantially antsy). This here isn’t 1986. For eleven games nothing went wrong except for injuries to key players. Injuries to key players are something wrong, even if it doesn’t register immediately. The important thing was that whatever goes wrong on an interim — we hope — basis, nobody is empowered to excise the 13-3 start out of the books. It served as a catapult, it remains a cushion and it should be a comfort as we go forward and try not to be the 1987 Brewers, a team that started 13-0 yet finished out of the running, albeit in the days when third-place teams couldn’t possibly gain entry to the postseason.
No disrespect to Teddy Higuera, Bill Wegman or Juan Nieves (author of a no-hitter in the midst of those lucky 13 consecutive wins), but the 1987 Brewers didn’t have Matt Harvey. As long as the 2015 Mets have Matt Harvey, it seems most losing streaks won’t have a chance to exceed four.
If Harvey was going to be beatable, it might have been Friday night against the nemesis Nationals playing at their Citi Field pied-à-tierre. Washington had Scherzer, who was totally on. Harvey wasn’t quite as formidable on the surface. Maybe it was just one of those nights when the fastball wasn’t his best friend, but he didn’t have his classic ace stuff. Classic aces, however, make other stuff feel just as friendly when they have to. Matt became a masterful offspeed pitcher for the night and the results were characteristically magnificent.
Seven innings for Harvey, no runs, not much trouble. Scherzer was more dominant over the same stretch — exactly as few hits (5) and walks (1) allowed, but 10 strikeouts (versus 3 from the Darkest of Knights). Max’s only problem was the Mets’ decision to pull in that right-center field fence, the one over which Michael Cuddyer’s fly ball flew in the fourth to stake Matt to a 1-0 lead.
It stayed 1-0 until both aces shuffled back into their decks. That was mostly from their mutual doing, with a cameo here and there via suspects usual (Juan Lagares’s glove, which stifled Ian Desmond’s extra-base initiative) and otherwise (video replay review, which found an angle to tag out Bryce Harper at second). The eighth became the bullpen show, which worked well for the Mets, when Jeurys Familia came on for an extended cameo, and less so for the Nats, when Matt Thornton and Blake Treinen teamed to load the bases for Daniel Murphy. Murphy lofted a sac fly to Jayson Werth who criminally mangled it into a three-run double. It was fun to watch Werth stumble around in left, but either way, the 1-0 lead was going to grow. It grew more than envisioned to 4-0, which Familia kept beautifully intact.
When it was over, the Mets were 4-0 winners, Harvey was a 5-0 pitcher and I was content that despite the recurring yips even a good season will give a seasoned observer — one who’s fearful Wilmer Flores’s range is where infield outs will inevitably go to die — the Mets are neither wholly unstoppable nor hopelessly incapable. They’ve won three of their last eight, after all.
As for Chuck, I’m pretty sure he is still on the bandwagon. He hasn’t contacted me yet to alert me otherwise.
OK, show of hands. Back in February, who’d have taken ending April 15-8 and in first place by 4 1/2 games?
Yeah, I thought so.
And yet here we are in the opening hours of May and everybody’s unhappy.
The bullpen’s gone to pieces. The bats haven’t been productive. And most glaringly, the defense up the middle has fallen apart.
Thursday’s game started off happily enough. The Mets put two men on in the first but came up with nothing when Daniel Murphy scalded a ball straight at Bryce Harper in right. No matter: In the second they went to work against a discombobulated-looking Stephen Strasburg, following doubles by Wilmer Flores and Kevin Plawecki with a Curtis Granderson single for a 2-0 lead. Come the top of the fourth and Jacob deGrom was cruising, looking much stronger than he had against the Yankees. He walked Denard Span, giving the Nats their first baserunner of the game, but no worries: Yunel Escobar hit the Platonic ideal of a double-play ball to Flores. Five seconds later it was two out and none on, and —
Ahem. Wilmer started to toss the ball to Murph while still corraling it and it squirted free. Two out and none on became its ghastly inverse. By the time the inning was over it was 3-2 Washington, all runs that shouldn’t have scored. Two innings later deGrom got whacked around and left down 5-2. Some shoddy bullpen work made it 8-2 if anyone was still paying attention. Meanwhile, Strasburg had settled in and the Mets were hitting balls with authority — and in woeful proximity to Nationals fielders.
So much for that unbeaten record at home — and for the giddiness of last week. I warned you it would happen, but it still hurts: That 11-game winning streak feels like something that happened a century ago, for fans in bowler hats to admire by the light of gas lamps.
The rest of this post was going to be an examination of Flores and a call for patience, albeit one made through gritted teeth: Can he play shortstop at the big-league level? (Too early to tell, but we all have a bad feeling about this.) Does he deserve more rope? (Yes — 40 games is generally considered a fair test.) Can he add more at the plate than he’ll subtract in the field? (Insufficient data but the early returns seem promising.) Was it fair for the cash-strapped, perennially Plan B-less Mets to thrust him into the responsibilities of shortstop? (No.) Are the fans who booed him tonight at Citi Field clueless cretins who should be kicked in the shins? (Definitely.)
With everyone still grumbling about the game, the Mets announced a roster move, and it isn’t one of their recent bench-dog-for-bullpen-cat swaps. Rather, they’re recalling Dilson Herrera.
Which made me happy, despite the attempt to be patient.
No, Herrera’s not a shortstop — putting him there would be unfair to two players instead of just one. But he is a second baseman, and Daniel Murphy hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory defensively in 2015 either. The smart money is that Herrera will spent the rest of David Wright‘s absence at second, with Murph moving over to third and Eric Campbell — who’s looked overexposed of late — going to the bench. (This isn’t meant to insult Campbell — he’s smart and a good asset, just probably not a big-league regular at this stage of his career.)
That leaves Flores at short, and we’ll see how that works out for the next week or so. So yeah, it addresses half the problem. But I find myself liking that the Mets aren’t waiting around until that hot start cools into nothing. They’re moving with a sense of urgency we haven’t seen for a while. Which isn’t the same as moving with a sense of urgency and the pocketbook of a major-market team, but one step at a time.
Dilson for a week and then we’ll see. Not the most stirring slogan, perhaps, but preferable to where we were a couple of hours ago. And hey, we are still 15-8 and in first place. You just said you would have taken that, remember?
The phone rang while I was catching up on my Nashville — Juliette Barnes is quite the handful — after I finished watching whatever it was I watched the bulk of Wednesday evening. It was the copy desk calling. Apparently I was keeping them waiting.
“Where’s your recap?”
“It’s your night to recap the Mets game.”
“No, I only do wins.”
“What do you mean you only do wins? You do games.”
“I do winning Mets games.
“Yes, when the Mets win, you do those. And when the Mets lose…”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Don’t know what what is?”
“That phrase you used. ‘The Mets lose.’”
“Stop kidding around. The Mets lost to the Marlins, 7-3, Wednesday night. It sucked, but it’s your turn to write it.”
“I told you, I only do wins. I haven’t done a loss since April 8, which was the second game of the year, and I was pretty prickly about it then. I don’t think I know how to do that kind of game anymore.”
“Don’t give me that. You’ve been doing losses forever. They come with the territory.”
“That was the old me.”
“The old you?”
“Yeah, the one who could relate to the Mets losing, the one who’d figured the Mets were more likely to lose than not, the one who sometimes was vaguely disappointed when a win would get in the way of what I was planning to write about a loss. That’s not me anymore.”
“Hell no. The new me has been writing up wins and nothing but wins for eleven consecutive game recaps. The new me writes from a position of elation. The new me walks around in a state of bliss, accepting observations from strangers who see my Mets jacket and say things like, ‘You must be loving this,’ to which I say, ‘Oh, I definitely am!’ And I definitely have been. Now you want me to go back to moping around and nobody saying a thing to me when they see my Mets jacket or saying something like, ‘Tough break for you guys’? You want me to go back to that losing mindset after weeks of practically uninterrupted winning?”
“I want you to write about the game is what I want. Cuddyer homers, Leathersich debuts, Ichiro ruins everything. Plenty of angles to pick apart. Win or lose, it’s what you do.”
“But I like the new thing I do, where I write about the win and everybody reads about the win and we all congratulate each other on the win and then there’s another win. The Mets on a two-game losing streak? That’s beyond my current scope of comprehension.”
“Enough with the excuses. We need your recap. The Mets lost, deal with it.”
I hung up on the desk, finished watching Nashville and a couple of other things on the DVR, then fell asleep not wanting to think about the Mets not necessarily winning every single game, which I swear I had begun to think of as the norm, contrary to precedent, evidence and logic that said it couldn’t go on forever like that. That’s how I dealt with it.
Then I woke up and they still lost. Oh well, gotta deal with it eventually.
First off, why do I always have to recap the losses? I need to speak to management.
If you thought a 15-6 start meant a moratorium on asking what Terry Collins is thinking, well, you weren’t checking in with Mets Twitter as tonight’s game got away.
Why pitch to Giancarlo Stanton when you don’t have to? Why have Ruben Tejada bunt with Daniel Murphy on second and no one out? Why, after it turned out Terry gave Ruben the choice to bunt or swing away, let Ruben Tejada choose to do anything? Why leave a struggling Carlos Torres in for the fatal pitch with Michael Morse? WHY GOD WHY?
I asked all of those questions myself, and agreed with some of the insta-rage when things went badly. But not all of it. Deep sigh. Where to start?
How about with the fact that Rafael Montero pitched pretty well? Unlike the loss in Atlanta, he mixed his pitches effectively instead of trying to set a record for most consecutive fastballs thrown. And the confrontation with Stanton came down to one missed location — Montero had craftily worked Stanton in and out on both corners, but one pitch drifted a little too far and one of the best hitters in the game didn’t miss it. The end result wasn’t good, but it seemed like a step forward for a pretty talented young pitcher.
As for Tejada bunting, well, I wasn’t against the idea. (I’ll take Tepid Endorsements for $100, Alex!) You’re trying to maximize the chance of scoring at least one run and thereby accepting less of a chance at a big inning, but with a cold Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Anthony Recker and the pitcher’s spot behind Tejada I was OK with trying to grab the lead and keep it for six outs. What I wasn’t OK with was Tejada bunting horribly so that Murph was a dead duck at third. The next time I’m for that idea will be the first.
Then there were Torres’s labors. Carlos walked Martin Prado, popped up Stanton, walked Marcell Ozuna and then gave up the liner up the middle by Morse. Ironically, for all that Terry’s been guilty of riding relievers into the ground, the problem might have been that Torres hasn’t worked enough recently and so wasn’t sharp. As for Terry preferring a veteran trying to figure it out on the fly to Erik Goeddel or Hansel Robles (let alone Jeurys Familia), what can you say? Definitely conservative with a hint of mustiness, but not out-and-out crazy.
Maybe I’m just tired, but I find it hard to get too worked up about managers’ decisions and tics. Managers do a lot more damage consistently giving innings and at-bats to bad players then they do selecting matchups and bunting in specific situations, and these days the Mets seem to be keeping Terry on a tight leash in terms of personnel by denying him the likes of Eric Young Jr. and Bobby Abreu. (No, I wouldn’t put Michael Cuddyer in that group — dude can still hit, and has had some terrible luck so far this year.) A good manager might get you a win or two over a season and a bad manager might take one or two away, but over 162 games that’s probably too little to worry about compared with the drift you’ll get from simple luck. (The same goes for batting orders, which simply don’t matter enough to get worked up over.)
Managing is also one spot where I think we get too hung up on quantitative analysis as the ideal lens for everything. We can’t see what managers are doing in the clubhouse, in their offices, and on the field during workouts, and having never spent eight months as a traveling band of baseball players we don’t know the importance of all that — we have to rely on beat writers’ reports and then infer stuff from there. I can’t quantify the value of Collins having a heart to heart with Dillon Gee about his unpleasant winter, but I’m glad he did it. Along the same lines, I don’t know what a guy heralded as an instructor’s doing at 5:30 pm before games, or how he navigates players’ expectations about their roles, decides when to give them days off, selects when to push them into spots they may not be ready for and when to pull them back, and so forth.
I can’t measure any of that stuff, but it has to have some effect on the Mets and whether they win more than they lose. So is Terry good at that stuff? It seems to me that he is. Is the effect of all that more important than the cumulative effect of in-game moves that make me throw the remote? I wish we had a way to measure that.
As for losing to the Marlins in front of Loria and his Red Grooms sculpture, I don’t need a quantitative lens. Because that sucks any way you measure it.
Your baseball instincts weren’t hopelessly off and you weren’t necessarily wrong. Well, for one night, yes, but don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time for what you were sure was going to happen to happen. It usually does — 24 separate occasions over the past 19 seasons are evidence that you weren’t concocting worst-case scenarios from thin, humid air.
In 2002, 2005 and 2011, the Mets visited the Marlins and didn’t lose a game in the bottom of the final inning played. In every season besides those three between 1996 and 2014, they did. How did it keep happening? By singles, doubles, homers, sac flies, a base on balls, even a couple of wild pitches. Your muscle memory shouldn’t be blamed for assuming that the first game the Mets played in Miami in 2015 would be the scene of a similar walkoff crime.
The game was just waiting to be lost. Or won, I suppose. But who in his Met mind is conditioned to think like that in South Florida?
Consider at the circumstances. For seven-and-a-half innings, there couldn’t have been less scoring. There couldn’t have been less anything, actually. Dillon Gee and Jarred Cosart swapped zeroes like kids frantically trading cards at recess, wary that the bell will ring them back to class before their transaction can conclude. Got it…got it…need it…no, got it…got it…c’mon, what else ya got?…got it…got it…
Both pitchers got everything they needed and didn’t much wait around to find out if they needed anything else. Neither hurler had a no-hitter going, but it was a perfect game if you’d made reservations for a not so late supper. Gee, in particular, found his groove and threatened to never leave it. No jams, few baserunners, hardly any pitches at all. Eight pitches in the first. Eight pitches in the second. A relatively mammoth eighteen in the third, but then six in the fourth, ten in the fifth, all of five in the sixth, only seven in the seventh.
A beautiful pace from a beautiful pitcher. Dillon Gee (ERA of 5.60 as he entered the fray) has the least impressive stuff in the New York Mets rotation, unless you count the stuff he’s made of, in which case, he’s every man’s equal. Sometimes he struggles. Monday night he did not. For seven innings, he was a clockwork orange and blue, a Metropolitan metronome who took the ball, threw the ball, got the batter, usually on the ground. Dillon stayed electric through two outs in the eighth.
Then he was unplugged just enough to remind you that when Dillon Gee works this deep into a game, something tends to go wrong. Granted, that’s mostly a symptom of Freddie Freeman in Atlanta two Junes ago, but we have long if selective memories. Thus, when Gee didn’t immediately nail down the third out of the eighth — Justin Bour dropped a single into a Lagares-free zone in center and Dee Gordon followed with a hit to left — the desire was to allow Dillon one more batter. The internal voice, however, was clearing its throat and grabbing a megaphone.
“GET HIM OUT OF THERE! GET HIM OUT OF THERE NOW! SOMETHING’S ABOUT TO GO TERRIBLY WRONG!”
Gee stayed in. Martin Prado lined the third consecutive single of the inning into the outfield. Pinch-runner Reid Brignac raced home with the first Marlin run, which was a genuine problem, because it was also the first run of any kind Monday. By official pitch count, Gee was the more conservation-minded of the starters, underpitching Cosart 70 to 93, but Cosart had gotten through his eight scoreless. Gee had to give way to Carlos Torres with two out and two on in the eighth to Carlos Torres, who fortunately proved himself the new market efficiency. He threw one pitch to Giancarlo Stanton and secured one out, thereby preventing three runs from the one swing we assumed would produce them.
If we don’t expect the Mets to lose in the bottom of the ninth or later at Miami, we expect to lose between the first and eighth to Stanton. That didn’t happen here. But would anything happen in the top of the ninth? We still needed a run, y’know. Recent data in the form of all those zeroes presented grim precedent.
Cosart was done. Steve Cishek was on. Cishek must be good in that he’s remained the Marlins’ closer since they opened Marlins Park. That dates back to 2012, which isn’t all that long ago, but in the transient world of the Loriatorium, it’s practically a lifetime. The most solace to be taken by his appearing on the mound to start the ninth was at least he wasn’t the guy who’d stymied the Mets for eight.
Juan Lagares led off and lofted a double to deep center where Juan Lagares would have tracked it down, but happily that was a competitive impossibility. Marcell Ozuna’s not being Juan Lagares proved key here, lending credence to the sense that the only man who could’ve caught the ball that was in play was the man who put it in play. And that man wound up on second with a double.
The Mets were in motion. The 2015 Mets, that is, the fellas who maybe aren’t a sure thing to blow a blowable game to the Marlins in Miami, where, as noted earlier, games get blown practically every Met year.
This year is a different year, though, huh? It’s a year when after Lagares doubles, Lucas Duda walks. It’s a year when after Michael Cuddyer doesn’t come through, Daniel Murphy does.
Murphy launched a one-one pitch to right that carried and carried and carried some more and you thought to yourself as it carried, “You know, I do believe that thing’s gonna keep going, and when it crosses the airspace directly atop the outfield fence and remains on the fly…yes, I do believe that’s a three-run homer Daniel Murphy just struck.”
Your belief was highly accurate. Murph had crushed a three-run bomb. It was 3-1, Mets, despite it having one pitch earlier been 1-0, Marlins. You wouldn’t call it unfathomable, given the Mets’ position in first place and all, but after expecting something to inevitably go wrong because it was the Marlins and because it was Murph (.174/.247/.333, even including the home run), you were delighted to build a new set of expectations.
Like the Mets can come behind in 2015. Like the Mets can swat away an unpleasant annoyance like the Marlins in 2015. Like a little stumble that ruins a weekend in 2015 won’t necessarily augur ill tidings for the week ahead.
It was the Mets’ 20th game of the season. There are no must-wins 20 games in. But this was one definitely worth having. And the Mets were about to have it. It would require the services of Jeurys Familia and an enormous assist from the recently heroic Daniel Murphy — deep in the shifted hole, throwing as he spun like a December dreidel, retiring Michael Morse for the penultimate out — but they got it in the bottom of the ninth. They won, 3-1, and they did it in two minutes less than two hours. They had their first “WHOA!” win of 2015, not just a stingily pitched, tightly defended effort, but one you didn’t have to be a practiced fatalist to be pretty sure they were about to lose. Hell, you basically knew they were going to lose, but then…WHOA!
The fates can change in a New York minute, though sometimes you might require 118 to be fully certain.
My joy over the exploits of Gee and Murphy (plus the Nets’ sudden Lazarus act versus the Hawks) stands in compartmentalized contrast to having to say a definitive good night to the New York Islanders of Uniondale, permanently installed four miles up the road from me as my home team until the Washington Capitals altered Nassau County geography for good. The Caps changed the Isles’ address in an excruciating seventh game that evoked the sting of October 19, 2006, except without the saving grace of a redemptive illusion that it’ll be better next year. It may be on the ice, but it doesn’t figure to be anywhere near the same when the Islanders are working out of another rink in another jurisdiction. They’ll be reasonably close by and they’ll still be the ones I root for when I’m moved to involve myself in non-baseball activities, yet I’ll miss them, if mostly on local principle. I’m no hockey maven, but their revival truly brightened the winter in these parts. If the last band of Islanders from Long Island did not ultimately live up to the accomplishments of the perennial Cup winners of my younger days, I think they somehow meant more to me on their way to the exit.
Let it be chronicled that on their way back to the postseason, renewed relevance, New York supremacy or wherever it was we thought they were going, the 2015 New York Mets hit an obstacle.
Sunday night’s rubber game against that other New York team started well enough, with Curtis Granderson blasting a home run off Nathan Eovaldi. And everything the Mets hit in the first two innings was struck ferociously hard, making you think Eovaldi wasn’t long for occupancy of the mound.
But Eovaldi stuck it out, finding sanctuary in a pretty good slider, and my favorite Met Jon Niese showed he was more than capable of competing with Eovaldi to get the least out of his stuff. Niese surrendered a home run to Alex Rodriguez in the first (No. 659, but don’t tell the Yankees) and then started handing out doubles like party favors in the second, turning a 2-0 Met lead into a 5-2 deficit in no time.
Niese was lousy, but he had company. Daniel Murphy made a physical error instead of a mental one, which for the 2015 edition of Murph counts as progress; Wilmer Flores had an error of his own and a number of erratic throws; Michael Cuddyer gave the Yanks an extra run when he made an error in left, where he didn’t need to be given the existence of a DH; and Eric Campbell made an error at third and forgot how many outs there were, bringing an inning to a premature end.
In other words, everything was fine until, to quote Casey Stengel, the Mets commenced to play stupid.
Bumps in the road happen, and if you want to look for silver linings you can observe that a) Lucas Duda continues to mash everything in sight and b) Erik Goeddel and Alex Torres turned in very capable bullpen work. If you prefer your linings un-silver, the Mets are probably landing in Miami as I type this and tomorrow night tangle with a Marlins team that seems to have righted itself, with Giancarlo Stanton back to his usual hobby of murderizing baseballs. (Look at this clip from Philadelphia — Stanton’s home-run ball could have killed a fan in left field.)
Turn in the kind of flat, we-flew-all-night performance that’s happened all too often in recent Met years and our 11-game streak of bliss will have turned into dumping three of four. Which wouldn’t be fun at all.
Sleep well, boys. There’s work to do.
Thanks for coming along. I know you hate when I drag you shopping, especially when there’s been so much riveting local sports on TV, but with all I needed to pick up for my Saturday night paragraph, I needed somebody’s opinion on how it all goes together.
I’m gonna try all these facts on for size. Be honest and tell me what you think.
• “The first-place Mets…”
Ah, you already knew that fit.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games…”
That’s not too much, is it?
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one….”
One wasn’t technically a streak, but it doesn’t look bad to have it tucked in the back where you can barely see it, right?
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak…”
A little showy, but I think it works.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium…”
I can’t help it — I love to accessorize!
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium, behind eight and two-thirds innings of solid pitching from undefeated ace Matt Harvey (4-0)…”
You know that it’s the details that make the outfit.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium, behind eight and two-thirds innings of solid pitching from undefeated ace Matt Harvey (4-0), home runs off the bats of Lucas Duda, Kevin Plawecki (the first of his career) and Eric Campbell…”
Y’think that overdoing it? I don’t think you can overdo that sort of thing. It makes a very powerful statement when you see them one after another.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium, behind eight and two-thirds innings of solid pitching from undefeated ace Matt Harvey (4-0), home runs off the bats of Lucas Duda, Kevin Plawecki (the first of his career) and Eric Campbell, along with four hits from Juan Lagares and a pair of RBIs from Wilmer Flores…”
You can’t say all of this doesn’t go together.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium, behind eight and two-thirds innings of solid pitching from undefeated ace Matt Harvey (4-0), home runs off the bats of Lucas Duda, Kevin Plawecki (the first of his career) and Eric Campbell, along with four hits from Juan Lagares and a pair of RBIs from Wilmer Flores, extending their lead over the preseason division favorite Nationals to seven games…”
I think I have a pretty complete ensemble here, but I feel a little something’s missing.
• “The first-place Mets, who recently won eleven consecutive games, broke their losing streak at one and began a new winning streak by defeating their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, 8-2, at Yankee Stadium, behind eight and two-thirds innings of solid pitching from undefeated ace Matt Harvey (4-0), home runs off the bats of Lucas Duda, Kevin Plawecki (the first of his career) and Eric Campbell, along with four hits from Juan Lagares and a pair of RBIs from Wilmer Flores, extending their lead over the preseason division favorite Nationals to seven games and completing a joyous day in New York sports that began with the Brooklyn Nets prevailing over the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center and the New York Islanders downing the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum in their respective playoff matchups.”
Perfect! Isn’t it?
Yes, yes, yes, I’ve got a lot going on here, but you know how I feel about these things. I truly believe there’s no such thing as a paragraph being overdressed for a Saturday night on the town, especially a Saturday night after a Saturday afternoon like that.