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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Catch a Catcher Cameo

True confession time: Your recapper earns no accolades for being an attentive student of the game Wednesday night, dozing off before the conclusion of Game 1 (“Did they lose?” I asked Emily when roused) and remaining groggy and befuddled for a good chunk of Game 2. Just as well, since I figure we don’t particularly want to talk about Game 1 anyway — Marcus Stroman pitched well except for one pitch he shouldn’t have had to make to Met killer Paul DeJong, while the somnolent bats made you wonder if it was too early to fire Hugh Quattlebaum, and let’s leave it at that.

Game 2 was far more enjoyable, as the Met Plan Bs stepped up where some of the front-line players have faltered of late. You had the -illars, Kevin P and Jonathan V, contributing on both sides of the ball and giving the Mets’ tempo a welcome kick alongside their nightly pronunciation challenges. (By the way, points to Steve Schreiber for suggesting we refer to them as Kevin Public Relations and Jonathan Virtual Reality.)

In the second inning of the nightcap, the Mets looked like they were going to waste a second-and-third, nobody-out situation, as they have far too often in 2021: Villar and Jose Peraza made contact but neither hit the ball deep enough to score Dom Smith from third. But Smith scampered home on a wild pitch by Johan Oviedo, who got no help from momentary 2020 Met backup catcher Ali Sanchez, and then current Met backup catcher Tomas Nido drove Oviedo’s next pitch into the left-field seats for a 3-0 lead. It struck me as possible there might have been an easier way to get those runs home, but hey, whatever works.

To my delight, the next hitter was Patrick Mazeika, on the roster for a single day last August as Nido’s backup. Mazeika never got into a game in 2020, becoming the 10th ghost in Mets history, and between his modest minor-league CV, the acquisition of James McCann, and the Mets stockpiling other catching options, I had the uneasy feeling that day spent in the dugout might be closest he’d get to a big-league line in Baseball Reference. Which isn’t a fate I wish on anybody — being a team-specific ghost is an oddity, but being an MLB ghost is a tragedy. Of the once-again nine spectral Mets, that cruel fate has been reserved for just two — catcher Billy Cotton, who supposedly was on deck to pinch-hit in 1972 but saw the Met at the plate hit into an inning-ending double play, and Terrel Hansen, who never got that far in ’92, stuck to Jeff Torborg‘s bench while his cup of coffee went untasted.

But nope, there was Mazeika, at the plate and so in the books. He grounded out almost instantly to first and I guarantee you he doesn’t care a whit about that outcome right now, and at least for a day he has no complaint whatsoever with teams using openers. Mazeika’s time as the newest Met was brief, as the man he pinch-hit for, Miguel Castro, gave way to the just-recalled Jordan Yamamoto. Yamamoto pitched serviceably enough, helped out by a nifty throw from Pillar to nail Sanchez at the plate and by the fact that PR and VR kept pouring it on, leading to a tidy enough final score of 7-2 and a chance to exhale before tomorrow’s matinee.

If Mazeika never returns to the big leagues, at least we’re using a different verb than we did a year ago. And how about that two-batter stretch, anyway? Baseball bingo cards are filled with oddities, but good luck drawing a one-year reunion of 2020 Met backup catchers, with Sanchez getting a ringside seat for Nido’s heroics and Mazeika’s escape from ectoplasm.

Who knows? Maybe it’s a sign that James McCann will do something in 2022.

Drawn and Quattlebaumed

Rainouts are no good unless they save you from an emergency “bullpen game” being thrown together because Jacob deGrom has a tight ride side. Jacob deGrom having a tight right side is no good at all, but if it’s not tight enough to send him to the injured list, then it could be worse. The Mets having new hitting coaches? It is what it is.

Nobody ever says “it is what it is” about anything good. Even still.

Farewell, Chili Davis and Tom Slater. You never type or think of the name of the hitting coach unless something is going terribly wrong. The assistant hitting coach doesn’t come up at all except when he’s coming or going, and then you type him only if you’re feeling diligent.

I don’t know what I’m feeling after 36 or so hours inside the Hugh Quattlebaum era. Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard are the new hitting and assistant hitting coaches, respectively. You’re not going to hear much about Kevin Howard even if things are going woefully because “Hugh Quattlebaum” takes up all the oxygen from a fun-to-say, fun-to-type standpoint. Hugh Quattlebaum is simply irresistible, and I apologize for not resisting. I often think back to a journalism class in college in which our teacher discouraged us from having too much pun fun with people’s names in headlines. They’ve been hearing it all their lives, he said, and he was right.

But we’ve had so little fun as Mets fans these last 36 hours.

No game Tuesday night.

No regulation nine-inning game Wednesday night (two Manfred-mandated partial affairs in St. Louis instead).

No deGrom.

No winning streak in progress.

No more Diesel Donnie Stevenson, probably, which is OK, because the further we get from the initial invocation of the fictional approach coach, Donnie seems less a whimsical clubhouse creation and more a desperate cry for organizational attention.

Nothing except splendid shortstop play and a deeply reassuring track record out of Francisco Lindor, the .163 wonder, as in “I wonder when Francisco Lindor will start hitting the ball.”

So does Hugh Quattlebaum. So does Chili Davis. Ditto for their assistants. Donnie the Six-Foot-Tall Rabbit, too. Everybody wants to know. Everybody might still have the assignments with which they entered the week had Lindor been hitting adequately rather than not at all.

This, too, shall pass, I’m certain of it. Fairly certain. Basically confident. Seriously, he’s not gonna be this way for the next 1,759 games of his contract, is he?

Also to pass: the residue of the Quattlebaum kerfuffle, wherein hitting coaches were replaced just as a bunch of the players they coached were swinging productively again — and nobody bothered telling the players before the front office told the world. Clumsily handled or otherwise, the midseason exchange of hitting coaches is a time-honored tradition for teams temporarily dipped beneath .500 featuring superstars wallowing a nautical mile below .200. Somebody’s gotta go, but offing the manager is too much of a bother. Pitching coaches occasionally get the axe, but hitting coaches are more obvious targets. Pitching can be subjective. Hitting is obvious. Not hitting is blatantly obvious.

Chili Davis used to be a fun name to say if not as much fun as Hugh Quattlebaum. Chili was hitting coach when the Mets hit loudly in 2019 and for three days this past Saturday to Monday. He was also hitting coach for the first few weeks of 2021 when the bats were so quiet Elmer Fudd could go wabbit-hunting. Chili did his best to communicate with his star pupils via video conferencing in 2020. His star pupils swore by him. After he was let go on Monday night, his starriest pupil, Pete Alonso, mourned his dismissal. Probably other Mets did, too.

Pete and the pupils will see their way clear to perseverance. Coaches come. Coaches go. Players stay until they come or go but rarely because of the movement of coaches. The Mets will implement through Hugh Quattlebaum (and Kevin Howard) whatever their precious prevailing philosophies are. That’s a big thing now. We praise teams for being analytically inclined. Get the players the information and help them put it to optimal use. Unless someone sees the ball and hits the ball, in which case we revel in good old-fashioned horsehide sense.

Fabulous results, however obtained, will make everybody happier. And whatever his skills as an instructor and disseminator, bandying about the name “Hugh Quattlebaum” couldn’t hurt the mood for a few days.

The Feeling When You Don't Win the Game You Didn't Think You'd Win But Totally Could Have Won

So that was complicated.

The Mets’ Monday night game against the Cardinals didn’t look like a particularly good bet, not with old friend Adam Wainwright on the mound and Nolan Arenado and Paul DeJong lurking to do what they do. Not to mention the Mets put J.D. Davis on the IL and didn’t have Brandon Nimmo as a batter and decided to send Joey Lucchesi to the hill after flirting with the idea of reliever roulette.

And, ultimately, Lucchesi’s limitations were what cost them the game. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because it wasn’t that simple. The Mets got to Wainwright, scoring twice in the second and three times in the third, to claim leads of 2-1 and 5-2. And they did a lot of things the way you’d like to see them done: superlative fielding all around, particularly from Jeff McNeil; smart ABs and strong offensive games from McNeil, Pete Alonso and former Jace scapegoat Kevin Pillar; and sturdy bullpen work. The ninth-inning endgame was at least mildly nail-biting: Francisco Lindor and Alonso drew walks against fireballing closer Alex Reyes and Dom Smith gave no ground in a tough at-bat, flying to left on the seventh pitch and ending the game — a bad result, to be sure, but solid execution. (None of that was enough to save the jobs of hitting coach Chili Davis or his assistant Tom Slater; both were relieved of their duties afterwards.)

The fatal sequence came in the third. Lucchesi got the first two out, but yielded singles to Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt. Lucchesi fed Arenado a steady diet of hard fastballs inside and threw him a 1-2 curve which he swung over. Inning over? Nope. Before you could say “holy moly it hit the railing,” Arenado was insisting he’d tipped the pitch and home-plate ump Mark Carlson was agreeing with him.

Lucchesi’s next pitch wasn’t inside — it was a fastball up, right where Tomas Nido wanted it but also where Arenado wanted it, and he launched it into the seats. DeJong and Tyler O’Neill followed with doubles, Lucchesi’s night was done, and though we didn’t know it yet, so was the Mets’.

Carlson’s call of foul tip didn’t seem unjust, as Nido neither tagged Arenado nor protested after Carlson gave Arenado another life. The problem — as Todd Zeile pointed out in a useful postgame breakdown on SNY — was that Nido and Lucchesi went away from a game plan that was working to give Arenado a pitch he could handle.

It’s unfair to make too much of this — Lucchesi hadn’t thrown a pitch in anger for 12 days, what with the minor leagues yet to reboot. He’s an interesting pitcher, but one pretty clearly in search of something he’s yet to find, whether it’s a reliable third pitch, a role better suited to what he can do, or both. Fortunately, the Mets should be upgrading the rotation in short order, with Carlos Carrasco added to the mix. That should send Lucchesi to Syracuse, not by way of punishment but so the Mets can figure out what they have in him and what he might become.

But still. The Mets jumped on Wainwright and had a three-run lead in St. Louis. I didn’t think they’d win this one, but it was there for the taking and they gave it back. That happens, as do a lot of other maddening things if you watch baseball long enough. Or if you watch it at all.

Hoskins Defeats Diaz

The Mets won the damn thing, by a score of 8-7.

Those of you with enough years of scar tissue will remember that as channeling Bob Murphy’s judgment after the Mets held off the Phils at the Vet in the summer of 1990, with the last out a liner speared by momentary Met Mario Diaz on its way to the left-field turf.

I wonder what Murph would have done with replay review, challenges and other baseball modernities. Something wonderful, no doubt — if nothing else, the newfangled brace of delays would have given him more time to admire the few harmless puffy clouds overhead, or the genial tension of the spectators awaiting the verdict, or some aspect of the game that might have been shaded a few degrees to the positive but struck you immediately as the way things should be, and maybe inspired you to do your part to nudge them a little closer to the ideal.

On Sunday night we didn’t have Murph, alas — we had Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez on ESPN. Vasgersian isn’t a bad announcer by any means, but managed to be simultaneously bland and annoyingly overcaffeinated, and ought to be told it isn’t cute to be self-deprecating about not knowing the material. A-Rod is far more frustrating — an apt student of the game with a keen eye for analysis, but a bad habit of stepping on whatever point he tries to make by trying way too hard, slinging out jargon and cute turns of phrase until you realize you’ve been grinding your teeth for three innings. I wouldn’t think I could feel sorry for a genetic superman who’s a millionaire many times over, but A-Rod’s fundamental insecurity bleeds out through the microphone on nearly every call. I ran out of scoffs and shakes of my head and was left mostly thinking, This is sad. He needs therapy.

Sad would also describe the broadcast’s lost opportunities. A lifetime ago I was briefly ESPN’s ombudsman, a job I didn’t enjoy and hadn’t missed for a second until last night. ESPN had miked up Rhys Hoskins, and early in the game we got the usual nonsense you get from miked-up players — generic dugout rah-rah and dopey attempts at banter with enemy baserunners. Once the game took a sharp right into surrealism, though, Hoskins was squarely in the center of two pivotal plays — a misplay that let the Mets tie the game and a valiant attempt at a Phillie comeback that came down to agonizing replay review. Here were two genuinely interesting moments, both of them prime examples of Things You Don’t See Every Day in Baseball, and through great good luck ESPN had the guy in the middle of both of them wearing a microphone. Unless I missed something, we got nothing from either moment. What in the world is the point of asking a player to wear a microphone if you’re only going to use the boring stuff?

At least this time around there wasn’t much boring stuff: This was a wild game, more messy than majestic but one that certainly held your attention, from a frenetic opening inning to the Mets crawling away from the ninth blinking and covered in soot and dust yet somehow not only alive but also victorious.

David Peterson stumbled out of the gate, giving off a leadoff homer to Andrew McCutchen and putting runners on first and second with none out, but got bailed out by a nifty double play engineered by Jeff McNeil (whose defense has been superb of late) and Francisco Lindor. He then settled in, allowing the Mets to tie the game in the third on a Michael Conforto single off Zach Eflin.

For a while it looked like another of those frustrating games where the Mets’ offense went comatose — in the sixth, Jonathan Villar fanned in a startlingly  horrible AB against Eflin with runners on the corners and none out. Next up was James McCann, competing with Lindor for the less-than-exalted status of Acquisition Fans Are Grumbling About Most. McCann smacked a grounder back to Eflin, who had a play at the plate or possibly an inning-ending double play behind him. He bobbled the ball — the Phillies were horrific with the glove all night — and threw it to the wrong guy at the second, getting nothing and allowing the Mets to take the lead.

Ahhh! Felt good, didn’t it? Well, at least it did for about six minutes before Miguel Castro gave up a three-run homer to Didi Gregorius, putting the Mets in the rear again, down 4-2.

They came back again. Kevin Pillar homered off Brandon Kintzler — the same Kevin Pillar, fairness requires me to note, whom I’ve been grooming as my 2021 scapegoat — and with one out and Villar on first, Jose Peraza (no longer a ghost!) hit a seething liner to Hoskins’ feet. It was a tough chance, but Hoskins was perfectly positioned to catch it and double off Villar, ending the inning. Instead the ball got through Hoskins, trickling past him and about 20 feet up the right-field line. Villar went to third and saw Hoskins glumly flip the retrieved ball to Nick Maton at second — so he kept right on going, scooting home while the Phillies were feeling sorry for themselves.

Tie game, and here came performative loudmouth Jose Alvarado, who’d been suspended for his tiff with Dominic Smith but appealed and so was still eligible for duty. (Smith was fined by MLB, apparently for the sin of being yelled at.) Alvarado should have taken the suspension — he gave up a single to McNeil, then walked Lindor and Conforto to hand the lead back to the Mets. Enter David Hale, whose first pitch was lashed up the right-field gap by Pete Alonso — 25 feet too low to be a home run but harder than a lot of balls the Polar Bear has sent screaming off into distant climes. It was 8-4 Mets, and I proudly told Twitter that the Phillies could eat shit.

Well sure, but I didn’t notice the teams were sharing a spoon. In the ninth, Luis Rojas decided to ask Edwin Diaz to finish up, causing me to groan on the sofa. Rojas was short-handed in the pen, but asking Diaz to protect a non-save situation doesn’t exactly have a glittering history of success. Diaz, on cue, walked Gregorius. He coaxed a pop-up from Maton, but Roman Quinn tripled to make it 8-5. Diaz fanned Odubel Herrera, but walked Matt Joyce and now in thousands of Met domiciles curious phenomena were being observed: pictures spinning wildly on walls, blood gushing from elevator doors across lobbies, bedridden children spraying pea-green vomit with their heads on backwards … bad stuff y’all.

Earlier, Villar had redeemed his lousy at-bat with a bit of heads-up baserunning; now, to my horror, the batter at the plate was Hoskins. Hoskins got a 2-1 pitch — 100 MPH but middle-middle — and hit it out. Tie game.

Except, wait, had it been out? Or had it hit the railing and caromed skyward? Hoskins received his congratulations — including a shout-out from the Phils’ social-media crew for his 100th career homer — and was standing contentedly in the dugout, but the umps were gathering.

Railing. Ground-rule double. Hoskins’ reaction wouldn’t have been shared with the ESPN audience even if the network hadn’t discarded the microphone thing. And the Mets still led, 8-7.

Exit Diaz and enter Jeurys Familia, which is whatever the opposite of reassuring is. And here came Bryce Harper. Except Harper had aggravated a wrist injury, and ended his last AB incapable of swinging the bat with any malice.

We’re Mets fans — we see things through a blue-and-orange lens, which is only logical. We were certain Harper would have some devil magic in him, or Familia would screw it up, or some combination of the two we wouldn’t care to parse. But that’s our lens, and it’s not the only one you can look through. The Phillie lens — the maroon one — was that the home team had spent the whole game playing like their mitts were on backwards, given up a tying run because they weren’t paying attention, led a head-case reliever blow the game, gotten either jobbed on a replay or suffered a correct but agonizing near-miss at glory, and now they were sending up a hitter who was in no shape to take an at-bat.

Seen through the maroon lens, they were doomed. And, on 2-2, Familia threw a sinker just off the outside corner of the plate. Harper struck out. They’d lost the damn thing, by a score of 8-7. How in the hell did we survive that? asked Mets fans, even as Phillies fans asked, How in the hell did we think that would end any other way?

Finally Feasting in Philly

It may be too much to ask the Mets to play nine perfectly appetizing innings, so be grateful for the half-innings you don’t want to send back to the kitchen as underdone or overcooked. On Saturday, you could dine out on a three-course meal of them.

The Top of the 1st — Baserunners! Hits! Breaks! RUNS! FOUR OF THEM! Drinks! Music! Instead of moping over how they haven’t scored recently and therefore will never score again, our beloved Metsies scored four times to start their night at Citizens Bank Park. Pete Alonso drove in one that should’ve been two except his ball bounced over the fence. Michael Conforto drove in two instead of one when Andrew McCutchen let a sinking liner get by him. Things evened out for a change. Everybody between two-hitter Francisco Lindor and seven-hitter Dom Smith got on. James McCann McDampened the mood by grounding into an inning-ending double play, but c’mon, four runs in the first! How greedy should we be?

I would’ve preferred lots of greed. McCann’s GIDP gave me a bad feeling. We had Zack Wheeler on the ropes. I’ve seen enough of Wheeler to believe he’s a “get ’em early or you won’t get rid of him” pitcher. And he was. Zack gave up nothing to his old teammates and their new workplace proximity associates. Meanwhile, Taijuan Walker was “OK”. That’s in quotes because that’s how Walker himself put it. And he was very OK: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, or exactly what Wheeler gave up over seven innings, except it looked better on Wheeler because Wheeler recovered to persevere from a four-run hole, whereas Walker allowed a four-run lead to melt into a 4-4 tie.

The Bottom of the 7th — Aaron Loup is pitching. With one out, he walks McCutchen. Matt Joyce grounds to Lindor the shortstop who’s playing extra second base or whatever one would term positions that didn’t exist before clever shifting wrecked standard defensive diagrams. However it’s labeled, Joyce’s grounder shapes up as perhaps a double play ball or at least a simple putout at first. Lindor takes the ambitious route, chasing down McCutchen to no apparent avail before rushing a throw to first to try to nab Joyce.

Does that sound like it ended the inning? Well, it did. Lindor’s wily aggressiveness must have spooked the hell out of second base umpire Jose Navas, because he ruled McCutchen had run astray from the baseline and was out despite not being tagged or forced. Replays showed pretty convincingly that McCutchen stayed on the straight and narrow in his path to the bag and in no way should have been ruled out. Meanwhile, Joyce, who was initially called safe by Andy Fletcher — another umpire who must’ve been glued to his phone despite being at a baseball game — was actually out. Lindor knew it right away (he jogged off the field despite two Phillie runners briefly seeming to have legitimate claims to their bases) and an official second look confirmed it.

That was strange. Probably as strange as Conforto’s elbow getting in the way of a strike a few weeks ago and being told he could go to first base with a walkoff RBI. But no stranger than the Mets losing their three previous games by scores of 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1, the middle of them with deGrom on the mound and the last of them because a strikeout morphed into two opposition runs. So, again, breaks!

We didn’t necessarily order them, but we’ll take them if they’re compliments of the fates.

The Top of the 9th — Conforto goes deep to give the Mets a 5-4 lead. It’s about frigging time any Met hit any home runs at Citizens Bank Band Box. It’s where they usually spank the ball until it screams that it’s learned its lesson and it will get over the wall ASAP. This was their fifth game of 2021 in Philadelphia, yet only their second homer there. Nice time to get sluggy, Michael.

Dessert is included with our three-course meal. You really had to try the Mussless, Fussless Bottom of the 9th, assuming you had no dietary restrictions. It’s made with a revamped blend of Sugar, which tastes surprisingly sweet these days.

Edwin Diaz indeed closed out the 5-4 win. It was indeed a 5-4 win. The Mets seemed determined to blow this game, but maybe a touch more determined not to. As a result, they own a share of first place in the National League East, which doesn’t mean much because a) it’s very early May; and b) they and their co-frontrunners are under .500; yet c) it’s better than a share of last place. Plus, nobody pretended they were about to throw hands.

If you require a little acid reflux, seeing as how you can’t possibly be used to digesting good Met news, Mets are sort of dropping like flies. Sort of. Luis Guillorme’s IL stint stemmed from himself taking BP Friday. Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis had to exit Saturday’s game in tandem from hand and finger things that reportedly didn’t kill them (so maybe it will make them stronger). There was also that business about nearly blowing the game, partly because Walker was only OK and partly because Wheeler wouldn’t let them score after the first.

But they didn’t blow it. “OK” from the starter led to A-OK from the bullpen, with Loup, Trevor May and Diaz continuing to not let games get away, an increasingly standard accomplishment we don’t dare take as the norm but it kind of is lately. We got 80% of our runs in a batch at the beginning and the final 20% via one powerful stroke toward the end. We surely got our breaks (sorry, Cutch). We even have a newly hired hitting consultant named Donnie Stevenson, if Alonso’s and Conforto’s postgame description of their approach coach is to be believed. I assume he was brought on board by special assistant to the GM Jonathan Tuttle.

Tuttle? Why, I just had dinner with the man!

Help! I'm Starting to Not Like Baseball!

The Mets lost and it was excruciating on so many levels.

They weren’t even playing the Phillies, really; rather, they were playing the lesser half of the Phillies, shorn of Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius and J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. It didn’t matter. They probably would have lost to a bunch of Norristown tykes who barely topped four feet and were wearing blue jeans below t-shirts that said PHILLIES and had a local deli’s name on the back.

Mets pitchers gave up a grand total of two runs. Those runs scored, unbelievably, on a strikeout with two outs. A strikeout of the opposing pitcher. You cannot make this shit up.

You’d like to be making up the report that Marcus Stroman — wonderful after his bobble last time around — departed early because of a tight hamstring. But that was all too real — Steve Cohen himself said so, and I figure he ought to know.

A game that was already a farce degenerated further in the eighth, when the Phillies put on a show of performative high dudgeon about perceived Met misdeeds. First came Jose Alvarado, who found the plate in the nick of time to fan Dom Smith on pretty much the only good pitch he’d made all inning. Alvarado wasn’t happy a little while ago when Smith wasn’t happy about Alvarado hitting Michael Conforto; having struck Smith out, he struttingly invited the defeated Met to talk about their differences, causing the benches to empty and mill about and the bullpens to rush in, not that bullpens actually rush — they more huff and puff dutifully but unhappily about the whole thing. To the disgust of Ron Darling, the Mets didn’t start throwing haymakers; I thought that was less choosing pacifism than being baffled about the whole thing. Why would anyone try to wake up an opponent already so thoroughly asleep that you’re tempted to hold a mirror up to the batters’ mouths?

An inning later, Miguel Castro came inside to Rhys Hoskins with a pair of pitches. I doubt they were meant to hit anyone — they looked like sinkers that didn’t sink — but Hoskins, whom we’ve seen be touchy before, took loud exception. Cue more emptying, milling and dutiful reliever huffing and puffing, at which point I suggested the two bullpens simply brawl in the outfield to save each other the time and exertion. Nothing happened, largely because Francisco Lindor practically draped himself over Castro, keeping him out of further trouble — Lindor’s leadership remains All-Star quality even as his bat is stuck below replacement level. Somehow I found myself missing Larry Bowa. By that point Bowa would have stripped naked, lit himself on fire and become a superheated meteor of chaos racing around the field combusting everything within range; what we got instead was a bunch of posturing and chippiness that was both embarrassingly shrill and deeply stupid.

And beneath all that, there was something worse: Friday night’s game was another very 2021 ballgame, which is to say it was very long and very boring. The Mets and Phillies combined for three runs and nine hits, which isn’t much but somehow took three hours and twenty minutes. I’ve said before that I don’t like gimmicks like the three-batter rule or ghost runners, to say nothing of tinkering with 60 feet, six inches, but there are too many unwatchable games these days. Something has to change, not for the young future generations that baseball’s deeply concerned about unless it involves scheduling postseason games that generation can actually stay up to watch, but for old generations like mine, fans who love baseball but find it increasingly clunky and slothful and deeply dull.

After the game’s merciful death rattle, Darling grimly said the Mets needed to view Friday night as rock bottom, put April behind them and come out firing in May. Which would be nice. But I’ve watched my share of fundamentally bad teams, teams in danger of mistaking buzzards’ luck for their own character, and teams that will be OK once they stop getting in their own way. I don’t know which category the 2021 Mets belong in, not yet, but I have learned this much: There’s no surer way to make yourself miserable than to declare a certain debacle is rock bottom. All too often, you’ve got plenty of falling left.

Get Outta Town

Go Mets. Better yet, go away Mets. And stay away.

For about a week. Then come back.

Clear your heads. Fill your bats. Get hits. Several per inning. Find your inner line drive in Philadelphia. Keep your ropes frozen in St. Louis.

Anybody who boos you at your next two stops means it. Anybody who booed you at Citi Field as you dropped your second consecutive pulseless offensive outing to Boston, this one by an arid score of 1-0, was just clearing throats, hearts, minds and maybe the rust off a year-plus away from the ballpark.

How do you greet the team you’ve been away from for more than a year? With unconditional love? With caveats that affection must be earned again and again? By brooking no nonsense whatsoever? It’s an individual’s call under any circumstance. I’d lean to vocal encouragement for my players to do well and soto voce grumbling when they don’t.

Wednesday night, they didn’t do well. Most of the Mets, that is. Jacob deGrom did superbly, albeit not quite up to last Friday’s incomparable snuff, but superb should get it done most nights — with the support of most professional lineups. The Mets have a professional lineup. Well, they’re paid to line up, so I guess it’s professional. Jake (6 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 9 SO) gave up a run in the second and it killed all chances of winning. Bad, Jake! Very bad, Jake!

No, obviously. Jake was very good, as were the similarly uniformed fellows who followed him to the mound. They were certainly a match for Nick Pivetta and his Beantown bullpen pals. Maybe everybody in sight, home and away, chose Wednesday night to be simultaneously deGrominant. It’s hard to tell who’s excelling and who’s far from it when Met hitters fail to generate as much as a whisper of a genuine threat.

I can’t fathom the professionals at Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York being hopelessly rattled by the toughlove practitioners among the intimate gatherings assembled to witness their wan attempts at run production. Citi Field sounded very fond of the Mets last Friday and Sunday. Twice over the weekend, the Mets gave the facility’s socially distanced denizens reason to express affection rather than animus. Tuesday and Wednesday, not so much. I don’t boo when I’m in attendance, but I understand it’s difficult to sit by and imply tacit approval for what your favorite batters do in the bottom of every gosh darn inning when they don’t do a blessed thing.

Except make outs. That the Mets (with their two singles) showed themselves expert at.

Did we mention Jake pitched? Is it necessary to stress those instances don’t come along more frequently than once every five days? And that if Jake is going to go the trouble of essentially never giving up more than one earned run in any game, you ought to make the most of the opportunity he is providing you? Instead, though I imagine it wasn’t your intention, you saddled Jake with a loss. You couldn’t even no-decision him while facilitating a relatively cheap W for Loup, May or Diaz. Unconditional love is difficult for your paying patrons to tender when you refuse to, shall we say, play ball.

So play ball somewhere else for a week. Hit the road. Hit pitchers wearing red caps. Make distance make our hearts grow fonder. Make us realize how much we don’t want to grumble at you at any volume. Make this spate of clearly audible booing a vague April memory.

Go Mets. But leave the non-scoring nonsense behind.

The Booing at the Margins

My usual approach to frustrating losses is to recap them as quickly as possible and have faith that the sun rising again will bring a little optimism back with it. But sometimes I can’t bring myself to do that and opt for a different strategy, which is basically to go to bed and hope it turns out to all be a dream.

This never works. One day I’ll get that through my head.

The Mets lost by one lousy skinny run to the Red Sox. That was true last night; shockingly, it’s still true today.

David Peterson was really good: a mistake pitch to Bobby Dalbec that became a home run and a fatal sequencing combination in a double to Kiké Hernandez and a little bloop single to Rafael Devers. That was it, and if the Mets’ offense weren’t doing that thing it needs to stop doing — which is to say not doing much of anything — those two runs would be seen as mild blemishes. But they were enough to beat Peterson.

Frustratingly, the Mets got some hits — in fact, they had two in the fourth, fifth and sixth. But that wasn’t enough to generate a critical second run: The most galling lack was when J.D. Davis hit a sizzling single with Michael Conforto on second in the fourth. Conforto didn’t score, for the sound reason that he would have been thrown out by 45 feet — that’s how hard Davis hit the ball. So they were left with only Jeff McNeil‘s solo shot into Sodaland in terms of scoring.

It’s our impulse to blame this all on the Mets caring too little or too much (pick a lane, unhappy fans) in big spots, but give some credit to Garrett Richards, the Red Sox’s’s’s’s’s’s long-haired, vaguely action-figure-looking pitcher. Richards was even better than Peterson, using an absolutely deadly slider and looping curve to send Met after Met trudging away from the plate. Sometimes it’s not all about you; sometimes the other guy doing his job is part of what happened too.

The day-after muttering, though, is all about something that happened late in the game — after Francisco Lindor grounded back to the pitcher in the eighth, the boos began. A few at first, then more, and everybody wanted Luis Rojas to weigh in on the fanbase’s discontent in the postgame Zoom. (Rojas was diplomatic, wisely offering mild truisms about fans and passion.)

Honestly? I was surprised that hadn’t happened already, seeing how talk radio was one generation’s fast-forward button and digital media was the next generation’s. It’s the usual recipe that produces this brew: a frustratingly slow start for a player we expected to be a star from Day One, overall dissatisfaction with events that needs an outlet, the shadow of more money than regular people can comprehend, and an instinct among a certain class of New Yorkers to show how New York they are by subjecting newcomers to the hazing they all supposedly deserve. It happened to Mike Piazza; hell, it happened to fucking Joe DiMaggio.

Lindor will be fine, because he’s Lindor, and in all likelihood the Mets will be fine once outcomes revert to a mean, after which we’ll all nod our heads at some ridiculous Just So story. (Lineup out of a hat? Inspiring meeting of the Cookie Club? On-field fight that brings everyone together? Team adopting tradition of cosplaying as furries on charter flights?) And in another 10 or 15 years this will happen again, and columnists will write shocked/world-weary columns, and we’ll have an insipid tiff about booing, and all the while the world will spin as it always has and always will.

Still, it would be nice to win a few more games. There’s very little in the ever-spinning world not improved by that.

* * *

Subtract one from the ranks of potential recidivist Mets, as Jerry Blevins has retired.

Blevins was a popular Met for a couple of reasons, and it was mildly unfortunate that one of those reasons overshadowed the other. The mildly unfortunate reason was he was not a physically intimidating specimen, skinny and mild to meek of mien, and lacked the stone face maintained by some players. When he succeeded, it felt like a post-regression Damn Yankees outtake, with the everyman having triumphed over the odds; when he failed, it was very hard to send venom his way because he looked more desolate about the outcome than you felt. To that, add that Blevins was smart and thoughtful about his craft and never took himself all that seriously, adopting a mildly ridiculous mock-kid’s drawing of himself as a Met for his Twitter avatar. Fans like me are always going to root for a player like that.

Which is great, except for what it obscures. Blevins pitched 13 years in the big leagues, went 30-13 and was a lefty assassin, destroying some of the league’s deadliest left-handed antagonists. The fact that he didn’t look like a world-class athlete was endearing, but he was every inch of one.

Blevins will undoubtedly be back in the game in relatively short order; he’s already dabbled in commentary and proved good at it, and I suspect he’d be a terrific minor-league pitching coordinator or coach. For now, he’s talked about being a dad and buying a ticket, hot dog and beer to watch Jacob deGrom pitch today. Should you spot him in the stands, buy him the beer. He’s more than earned it.

* * *

You probably saw this, but just in case: It’s by Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN, about the ’69 Mets and how they’ve endured the long year of COVID, and those they’ve lost. It’s lovely and bittersweet, about the bonds between teammates and the fellowship of athletes, and the loneliness and loss when something unimaginable forces those bonds to be cut.

Get Into the Groove, Boys

And so it came to pass on the seventh day that the Mets had played six games in a row, one each day, as the Great Scorekeeper intended. It took them weeks to reach such a state of grace, playing baseball every day without interruption, but on the seventh day, a.k.a. Sunday, that became their sixth consecutive day of actual baseball activity, it appeared as if they had gotten the hang of their craft at last.

Now, on Monday, they have an off day. Enough with the days of rest. They’ve just gotten into the groove of showing up and not being sent home. There are signs they’re getting into the groove of playing fluidly. Why must they detoured from their groove just as it’s getting kinda groovy?

Play ball! Play ball like you did on Sunday!

We’ve been waiting for the Mets not to go a proverbial minute without being rained out or snowed out or plagued out. They finally got left alone by external factors that could go wrong and did go wrong. They got to start playing day after day, sometimes at night. The execution didn’t go so right in Chicago, but they were just getting the hang of not getting postponed. From a series-winning standpoint, it went much better at home against Washington.

That team playing baseball on Sunday afternoon was a team playing sharp baseball from every angle.

Their starting pitcher Taijuan Walker toughed out some baserunners but persevered for seven shutout innings en route to the well-deserved 4-0 win.

Their relievers Miguel Castro and Edwin Diaz threw a scoreless frame apiece and deserve a nod because you know we’d be shaking our heads in violent disapproval if they’d done anything dreadful.

Their shortstop Francisco Lindor leapt through the air with the greatest of ease at one point and came down with an out seconds earlier ticketed to become a hit. Francisco has yet to get untracked at the plate. Notice nobody ever talks about a player who’s performing superbly as untracked, as if that’s a destination. Wow, that Brandon Nimmo sure came out of the gate untracked this year. Same for the opposite. I think it’s fair to say Lindor couldn’t be more tracked if he tried. He’s probably trying too hard to untrack himself. If we’re still engaging in fun with language vis-à-vis Lindor in a month or a year, it won’t be so engaging. I doubt that will be the case. Anyway, really nice catch from he who is temporarily tracked.

Their right fielder, Michael Conforto, and their second baseman, Jonathan Villar, teamed for a sweet couple of relays to nab a runner at third. Villar only fills in. Conforto is a staple who appeared on the verge of uncollating on Saturday. From one day to the next you never know who will put it together. That’s why you want to have a game every day.

Their offensive third baseman J.D. Davis solved his defensive woes by hitting so much — three-for-four with a two-run homer — that what defensive woes? True, Davis can only be described as a third baseman if we adjust the definition of third baseman to “man who touches third base after homering,” but some days the bat plays and the glove doesn’t bother anybody. Oh, and Davis did cleanly put down the tag at the end of that Conforto-to-Villar thing of beauty.

J.D. was not alone in doing great things that involved the Citi Field fence. Pete Alonso cleared it with no problem for his fifth home run of a season that’s beginning to look powerfully like 2019 for him. Albert Almora, Jr., took off toward it like Endy Chavez and slammed his body à la Mike Baxter into it, robbing Kyle Schwarber with a flair that was all Almora. Albert with the championship pedigree walked away in one piece unlike Mike from Bayside and will dress for a game again very soon, which unfortunately Endy didn’t following the Endy Catch.

Chavez’s team had reached its end when he made his grab in 2006. Almora’s team is just getting going. Maybe really getting going. Except for a couple of basepath outs that I blame mostly on the misuse of the oven mitt as a sliding impediment, all of the Met cylinders were firing on Sunday. Watching them Sunday made one want to watch them some more on Monday, but they won’t play again until Tuesday.

Can’t anybody make a schedule that doesn’t keep pressing pause? Can’t anybody here play this game today?

They Shouldn't Have

After the Nationals were thoroughly dismantled by Jacob deGrom Friday night, even the defeated team’s social-media gang had to acknowledge his insane dominance:

A classy gesture! And on Twitter, no less!

The next day, deGrom’s Met teammates made a gesture of their own: They kept a respectful distance from winning baseball all afternoon, perhaps in recognition that nothing could compare to watching the best pitcher in baseball at work.

Marcus Stroman, who’d begun the year outclassed only by his ace teammate, spent his time on the mound either sighing at home-plate umpire Edwin Moscoso or watching various Nationals whack balls over his infielders’ heads. And Moscoso’s strike zone was indeed somewhat random. But pinning the blame on him is a lotta much — Moscoso’s failing wasn’t so much the dimensions, which were pretty consistent, as it was that he kept missing clear strikes that caught quite a bit of the zone, not only for Stroman but also for Washington’s Joe Ross.

The difference was that Ross’s location was sharp and Stroman’s was terrible — he couldn’t reliably find the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker, but he found the middle of the zone far too often, with the results one would expect. He also got no help from his defense, with Michael Conforto having a horrible day in the field that one homer banked off the foul pole couldn’t make up for. And Conforto’s homer was the only run the Mets scratched out, a day after their highly uncharacteristic eruption of runs for deGrom.

Stephen Tarpley entered Saturday as a Met ghost, having been on the roster twice as the 27th man in doubleheaders (and even warming up at Coors Field) without appearing. Joey Lucchesi‘s departure to the alternate site (a move I’m always tempted to call a rendition, which would make the whole transaction sound even creepier) gave Tarpley a more solid roster spot, and after Stroman was excused further duties the former Yankee and Marlin finally got to shed his ectoplasmic asterisk.

Perhaps Tarpley should have remained on another plane of existence — he threw 14 pitches and got nobody out, and now sits in the Met record books with an ERA of infinity. Spooky! Yes, Patrick Mazeika and Jose Peraza, there is a worse fate than being a ghost.

Robert Gsellman turned in three hitless innings as the long man, which I suppose can be viewed as the faintest of silver linings. But by then it was lipstick-on-a-pig time, with little to offer except Gary Cohen relentlessly though amiably razzing Keith Hernandez, whose attention had decayed to “fitful” even by his standards. But who could blame him? Hell, by then I was tweeting peevish complaints about the heavy-rotation commercials that I’m already tired of. (“Don’t use Taltz if you’re allergic to Taltz.” REALLY? WHO ACTUALLY NEEDS THIS SPELLED OUT FOR THEM?) These are the kind of games you watch in April because we’ve barely escaped the yawning void of baseball not being around, and you’re glad for the game’s company even on a day like this, when you know there’s no shortage of somethings you’d be better off doing instead.

Anyway, the Mets’ respectful gesture was an interesting call. But really, they shouldn’t have.