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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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Baby Gift

On June 18, 2015, an ex-Met pitching for the Blue Jays beat the Mets — not just any ex-Met, but beloved former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, taking his first turn against his old club since scaling the heights of fame in Flushing. It also wasn’t just any start. Dickey’s dad Harry had died two days earlier. R.A. was headed to the bereavement list, but he had a stop to make: the mound at Rogers Centre, where he was about to go seven-and-a-third innings and give up only one run, one walk and three hits while striking out seven in beating the Mets, 7-1. The singularly articulate pitcher didn’t talk about his father’s passing after the game, leaving it to Jays manager John Gibbons to explain to reporters, “He told me he felt it was important he go out there, honor his dad.”

On June 2, 2023, an ex-Met pitching for the Blue Jays beat the Mets — not just any ex-Met, but Chris Bassitt, the last starter who took the ball in the postseason for the Mets. It also wasn’t just any start. Bassitt’s wife Jessica was in Toronto, going into labor, while the Jays were in New York, going to work. Bassitt signed a big contract in the offseason to pitch for Toronto. Toronto entered the season with big expectations. It was his turn to pitch. The logistics of a bringing a life into a world and the logistics of a major league rotation don’t always mesh. Word was Chris would make his way to a private jet as soon as he was done pitching against his old club, an assignment pushed back by another branch of Mother Nature, in the form of a 91-minute rain delay.

Bassitt versus the Mets for the Blue Jays was more effective than Bassitt versus the Padres for the Mets eight months earlier (though his four-inning stint in the Wild Card Series decider was definitely more airport departure-friendly). The Mets of 2023 dealt with their former teammate about as well as the Mets of 2015 dealt with theirs. Chris’s line was seven-and-two-thirds innings, no walks, three hits, no runs and eight strikeouts. Justin Verlander’s outing for the Mets came up a shade shy of Bassitt’s. He gave up a home run to George Springer to start the game once the game got started at 8:41 PM. That’s all it took for the Mets to be behind all night. Verlander gave up nothing else across a six-inning start that required 117 pitches, but the zeroes kept stringing along on the bottom half of the line score. On Friday night, not even a three-time Cy Young Award winner could match Bassitt.

“He wanted to pitch,” Jays manager John Schneider explained to reporters. “I’m sure there’s a million things that are going through his mind. The mental focus — which he does all the time, he’s very even-keeled — to keep everything in check was really impressive.”

As if forces were collaborating or perhaps conspiring to present a baby gift to the Bassitts, the line of zeroes remained uninterrupted, even after Schneider ended Bassitt’s evening with two outs and nobody on in the eighth. Emblematic of where the Mets weren’t going, Brandon Nimmo was called struck out by home plate ump Nic Lentz on a pitch clock violation, specifically judged two seconds too late in turning to face lefty reliever Tim Mayza amid a two-two count. In the home clubhouse afterward when he was asked about the ruling that truncated his plate appearance, Nimmo used the word “sucks” for public consumption more in one scrum than I can recall him using it across eight seasons as a Met.

That kind of night for the Mets continued in the ninth when Jeff Brigham failed to complement the fine relief work of Dominic Leone and Drew Smith. Leone threw a scoreless seventh. Smith threw a scoreless eighth. Brigham gave up a one-out single to Whit Merrifield and a two-run homer to Daulton Varsho — who lost his mother-in-law Kim to ALS, which didn’t escape his notice as MLB was commemorating Lou Gehrig Day on Friday. “It’s pretty nice to be able to have a special homer knowing that Kim’s probably watching over me and hoping everything’s the best for me,” Varsho said. A warm note for the opposition, no doubt, but from a Met perspective, Citi Field on June 2, 2023, resembled in sagged spirits Citi Field from October 9, 2022, the night Bassitt and the Mets couldn’t keep up with Joe Musgrove and the Padres…except this time, on Fireworks Night, there was a sellout crowd.

There was also a tomorrow, which is now today. The 2023 Mets will play on after losing, 3-0. Chris Bassitt won’t be in the visitors’ dugout to urge the Jays forward in their quest to make it two in a row over the Mets, however. That plane has already flown. Some teammates take precedent over other teammates. Chris wasn’t around to talk to the press after his win. Jessica and the baby-to-be’s outing was already underway; a nearby jet was idling as it awaited its Toronto-bound passenger. Schneider, following “one of the best performances we’ve seen out of anyone, given everything that he had going on” told his starter, simply, “Go be a dad.

Last year, Chris Bassitt represented the Mets’ last, ultimately shattered defense against playoff elimination. This year, he was their daddy. Some nights you just have to accept are other people’s nights.

Max Scherzer Returns

When Max Scherzer starts, which Max Scherzer will we get? The one who’s hypercompetitive, hyperintense and hyperfocused en route to a stifling mound performance? Or the one who’s all those things to less Met-positive discernible effect? Both, as Scherzer nears 40, exist in our world. We prefer the former. We have, for various reasons that the righthander does his best to explain, occasionally experienced the latter. On Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, it was the former who announced his presence with authority.

The latter Scherzer did make a brief appearance in the first inning, when, despite the competitiveness, the intensity and the focus, the Phillies posted two runs. Based on viewing Max as ace of Tigers, Nationals and Dodgers rotations from afar, along with our earliest exposure to him in our favorite uniform, we conditioned ourselves to believe two runs were two runs more than any team could possibly score off Scherzer on a given day. Then, based on how bumpy the trail has revealed itself since earliest October of 2022, we conditioned ourselves to prepare for the walls to come crumblin’ down at the first signs of trouble.

Former Max entered the scene, tightened the bolts, and shut the Phillies out after the first and clear through the seventh. When a Met starter pitches six or more innings in 2023, the Mets inevitably win. It’s a statistical fact until it’s not. It helps to score enough runs to shepherd the inevitability into reality. It helps to have Mark Canha in the lineup against the Phillies. Shooting the Phillies out of a Canha proves repeatedly effective for the Met offense. Canha homered twice on a wild Sunday at Citizens Bank Park last August, and the Mets won the damn thing. Canha homered on Wednesday night and the Mets won in calmer fashion. Canha homered on Thursday afternoon and the Mets won again. Starters going deep and Mark Canha going deep As long as he wasn’t managing the Phillies, Earl Weaver might have approved.

Pitching for Philadelphia and taking the 4-2 loss was Old Friend™ Taijuan Walker, whose heart could be reliably found in the right place when he was a Met. Taijuan represented the Mets at the 2021 All-Star Game. My hunch is he will also represent the Mets in the unanswered portion of Sporcle quizzes and the like that ask a person to name every pitcher who has represented the Mets at an All-Star Game. “Oh right, him. I forgot.” It shouldn’t be forgotten that Taijuan did an overall nice job for two seasons, albeit not as nice a job once he made his one All-Star team as Jacob deGrom’s injury (or “needs to rest up”) replacement in ’21, the post-pandemic season, which was still kind of a pandemic season when it began. Taijuan was at his best as a Met when Citi Field and other ballparks were unlocking the turnstiles but capping attendance out of an abundance of caution. He wasn’t part of the 2020 Silent Generation. He pitched in front of people, not cardboard cutouts. Yet he excelled most in front of necessarily limited crowds, for whatever that was worth. I don’t think his comedown in the second half of 2021, when anybody who wanted could come to a Mets game, related to the number of fans in the stands. The whole second half of 2021 discouraged via the Mets’ execution. I don’t mean to make Walker the avatar for that year’s decline. It was a team effort, not unlike the upsurge of 2022. Tai helped make that happen as well.

I do remember one game in the second half of 2021 when Taijuan was removed at the first sign of trouble, and the reliever who succeeded him turned a potential win into an eventual loss, and the starting pitcher grumbled afterward that he should have been left in because he had trained himself his entire career to last seven innings. I cringed when I heard him say that because what happened to nine innings? Then I remembered it was 2021, not 1971. It’s 2023 now. Walker is a Phillie, and we’re thrilled every time a Met starter goes at least six innings because we now know that’s the key to success. That and Mark Canha.

The Mets are currently riding a three-game winning streak, all at the expense of Philadelphia, which makes it extra special since Philadelphia is a primary division rival, but it’s still just three. The three wins were pleasingly taut — 2-0, 4-1, 4-2; each featured starters whose endurance approached or matched contemporary stamina standards — 7 IP for Senga, 6 IP for Carrasco, 7 IP for Scherzer; and none took very long to complete — 2:20, 2:29, 2:32. In that spirit, I’m not taking very long to revel in this latest turn of fortunes before returning to my own private Missouri. Having grown giddy from rises in 2023 Met fortune and comparably grim from succeeding dips, I’ve chosen to live in a “show me” state and, thus, take these three wins in stride. They’re doing well. They are advised to continuing doing well. One Mets. One Max. The good kinds in both cases, please and thank you.

Empathy for the Mets when the Mets aren’t playing as their best selves can be a difficult commodity to produce, but they’re humans and we’re humans. The humans who host National League Town (that would be Jeff Hysen and me) wonder aloud about empathetic fandom on their (our) latest episode. Also on the bill: a beery field report from Denver and what it is we cherish in particular when we celebrate the members of the New York Mets Hall of Fame Class of 2023. Listen in here or on the podcast platform of your choice.

A Night for the Grown-Ups

The first half of Wednesday’s game burbled vaguely out of my phone from a waterproof pouch around my neck: It was Opening Day for kayak season, so first I was sitting in a boat off a Brooklyn Bridge Park pier making sure people didn’t drown or do anything dopey and then I was hauling racks of boats around and helping put things away. During all this, I registered that some Phillie had homered off Carlos Carrasco, that Carrasco otherwise sounded like he was doing pretty well, and then I noticed that PHI 1 NYM 0 had become PHI 1 NYM 2. Some quick poking at my phone revealed that Mark Canha was the man to thank; a few minutes after I got home, salty and tired but pleased to have been back on the water, Canha roped a two-run single off Aaron Nola to make the score PHI 1 NYM 4 — which was how things ended about an hour later.

I spent that hour appreciating Carrasco and the veteran Met relievers who succeeded him, as well as the sparkling defense turned in by Francisco Lindor and Brett Baty. There’s a lot to unpack in that one sentence, isn’t there?

For openers, while plenty of things haven’t worked out in this weirdo season, the defense has been spectacular. Lindor and Brandon Nimmo have elevated their already impressive games, and Baty and Francisco Alvarez have matured as defenders almost literally before our eyes. In the seventh, Brooks Raley fanned Brandon Marsh (who looks like he’s been living under a bridge like a troll from a storybook) and Edmundo Sosa but was nicked for singles by Knothole Clemens* and Bryson Stott. That brought Trea Turner to the plate as the tying run — the same Trea Turner who’s having an inexplicably horrible year but is still Trea Turner, so God help anyone and everyone in his way when his offense reverts to the mean.

Turner smacked a ground ball to Baty’s backhand — the kind of play where a third baseman has to gather himself and set his feet before putting everything he possibly has behind the throw. Two problems presented themselves at this juncture: a) Trea Turner is fucking fast; and b) that’s the kind of play where young players can get lost in that moment of self-gathering, so you instinctively cover your eyes.

Baty gunned Turner down, no sweat — the kind of play I’m not sure he makes in mid-April, let alone last year. But he’s put in the work, turning repetition into muscle memory, just as his fellow Baby Met Alvarez has.

Baty’s nice play aside, it wasn’t a night for the junior Mets. No, this one belonged to the more grizzled members of the roster, including two whose names have primarily elicited sighs of late. Carrasco has now authored two superb starts in a row, lowering his ERA from north of 8 to north of 5, and that’s definitely progress even if it points to the need for more. Canha is front and center in the ranks of the Milk Carton gang whose bats have gone missing, but driving in all four in a win is definitely a way to make grumpy fans like me say that yes, in fact, I have seen you. The future may belong to Baty and Alvarez, but it hasn’t arrived quite yet. Seeing more of the 2022 vintage Canha and Carrasco — not to mention Starling Marte and Daniel Vogelbach — would certainly help our cause until it does.

* OK, I guess I need to explain this. (Fair warning: It’s not worth it.) One of the many things that I loathed about Roger Clemens, besides his being a PED-addled Neanderthal headhunter, was that he gave all of his children names starting with K, because that’s the kind of thing dim self-aggrandizing assholes do. Confronted with an unwelcome reminder of Clemens’ existence in the form of a young Phillie, I flashed back to how we used to make up unlikely K child names to fill out the Clemens family roster: Kerosene, Kumquat and Koyaanisqatsi are three I remember particularly fondly. But I decided to call whatever child this is Knothole, just to increase the degree of difficulty. And because “knothole” is an intrinsically funny word. So be it: He’s Knothole Clemens, and his dad’s a dushbag.

Right Where I Left It

The Mets’ losing streak is over — and so, as it happens, is mine.

I went 0 for 2022. Every time I attended a Mets game they lost the damn thing, including two playoff games. The only time they won a game for which I held a ticket was Closing Day, and I bailed out of that one before first pitch because I didn’t think first pitch was going to happen. Coincidence? My suggested I was a jinx and by the time I saw the offseason smash into us I wasn’t sure that was wrong.

Well I’m not a jinx, or maybe I was but putting the calendar in the recycling also did away with whatever hoodoo was afflicting me. All I know is I was back at Citi Field on a spring evening that went from crisp to slightly chilly and I got to see the Mets play crisp baseball. That had been lacking of late too.

I can’t tell you much of anything about the game — I was in the front row and way down the left-field line courtesy of my road-tripping friends Mary and William and their kids. (Who also attended a Yankee game and got a ball from Aaron Judge — that’s a pretty good NYC visit.) I’d never sat in those particular seats, and they offered a perspective that was interesting but repeatedly confounded my sense of balls’ trajectory. I could tell Kodai Senga was really good, and that Ranger Suarez was too. More than that, however, I can’t really say — if I needed the up-close details, I’d ask one of you. The game’s about the crowd and experiencing something collectively, emotions rising and falling based on what’s happening at the center. If you want to hone in on the finer points, watch on TV.

I may no longer be a jinx, but my timing isn’t back to All-Star caliber. I was away from my post when Brandon Nimmo made his glorious catch and when Francisco Lindor smacked a home run to put the Mets up 1-0. The Nimmo play revealed an oddity: I heard the crowd’s alarm and so hurried to one of the monitors behind a section in time to see Nimmo find the fence and leap — and while he was still airborne the crowd gasped and cheered — actual life, it seems, is about a third of a second ahead of the A/V system.

The monitors are bigger and brighter and there are more of them. That’s an improvement, as is the fact that the audio feed of the game is now ubiquitous. Once, I confess, I would have sneered at that or at least shrugged, muttering something about priorities. I’m older and calmer now. People get hungry, need to go to the bathroom, have kids with one or both of those needs, or just want a drink. It’s a kindness to ensure they can attend to those duties without losing track of the game. Speaking of drinks, it was a reasonably big crowd but I was able to secure beers (and a decent one at that) without sacrificing multiple half-innings to the quest. There seem to be more choices, and more people ensuring you don’t regret those choices because they eat up a good chunk of the experience you’ve paid to miss.

(One of those people was my beer vendor, encountered while Lindor was doing wonderful things. When I asked for a bag of Cracker Jack he pointed out somewhat gravely that he had Cracker Jill. I shrugged, which prompted him to grumble that “they’ve changed the Bible, too.” Being me, I couldn’t let that go by unchallenged. “They’ve been changing the Bible as long as it’s been around,” I said, and if it hadn’t been 1-0 I would have rattled on about the ambiguity of Hebrew and centuries of fights about Greek and Latin and the evolution of the English Bible and all the heretics that spawned, because obviously that’s the conversation one ought to have at a Mets game. Incidentally Cracker Jill is exactly the same and perhaps a better bet because you know you aren’t getting a bag that’s been in a storeroom since the Carter administration.)

Oh, and yes, the new scoreboard is the size of a small moon. Seriously, the thing’s insane. It’s a little like your first glimpse of HD in that it seems realer than real and you have to tear your eyes away from it, reminding yourself that the actual game is the smaller thing with little people and dimmer lighting.

That actual game went well Tuesday night — it was one of those taut games that you watch with a tinge of vague resentment, a cranky fan’s lament of “Why can’t you do things like this every night?” The answer is because baseball’s difficult and maddeningly random, but the record now shows that the Mets have done praiseworthy things ever so slightly more often than they’ve done things that make you mutter imprecations. That made for a nice night, as did finding that Citi Field was right where I’d left it — and that the Mets could actually do praiseworthy things despite my presence.

Big Wheels Keep on Spinning

One-third of a season. Fifty-four games played. Twenty-seven wins. Twenty-seven losses. Each quantity seems well-earned. They’ve been as good as they’ve looked when they’ve won and as bad as they’ve looked when they’ve lost. They’re having two separate seasons in one. The Mets are the epitome of mediocrity.

Befitting the finale of a series played a mile high in the air, the Mets reached new heights in their signature category Sunday. Ten runs scored! Eleven runs allowed! That offense looked sumptuous. That pitching and defense was repulsive, except it forgot to repel the Rockies. After plastering Austin Gomber for six runs in the top of the fourth inning, the Mets held a formidable 6-2 lead, emblematic of what kind of team they are when they’re winning. Tommy Pham, Eduardo Escobar and especially Czar of the Three-Run Homer Francisco Alvarez all delivered like Door Dash. They overcame an early deficit and asserted Met inevitability. Never mind the Coors Field Game™ the night before. It’s only a Coors Field Game™ when Colorado wins. The Mets were making this a Mets game. Two out of three. Break-even trip. Happy flight. Go home and maintain momentum versus the defending league champion Phillies.

Except this is a mediocre team, and its mediocre starting pitcher Tylor Megill, out of whom you get some pretty good games and some pretty bad games, veered toward the latter, loading the bases and courting doom in the bottom of the fourth. Doom arrived by way of a sinking Ryan McMahon line drive that eluded Starling Marte in center field. Marte was getting his first Met start to the left of right. He’s an accomplished center fielder but also a little out of practice when it comes to something other than the corners. As the liner was sinking, all I could think was, “Nimmo would get to this.” Usual center fielder Brandon was the DH Sunday. Everybody can’t play everywhere they’re most suited daily, I guess. McMahon’s ball falls in, all three baserunners score, and though the Mets are still leading, the game is getting ready to get away. It’s 6-6 once the fourth and Megill’s start are over. It’s 11-6 after Stephen Nogosek has made the least of whatever PitchCom signals Alvarez has sent him in the fifth. The Mets either valiantly fought back to make an 11-10 game of it or were just Coors Fielding the rest of their Sunday away. It was a Coors Field™ Game, after all. The Rockies won, so we can safely say that.

The Mets lost two out of three to a team not considered a contender right after losing two out of three to another team not considered a contender. Their record has settled in at 27-27. After 34 games, they were 17-17. Twenty games later, they’ve won enough and lost enough to make the most of their two simultaneous seasons, being a helluva good team while winning those 27 and hellishly the opposite while losing those 27. Throughout the bumpier segments of what is technically just one season, I’ve heard Memorial Day invoked repeatedly as a potential inflection point. Don’t worry that they’ve just lost and keep losing. Where they are on Memorial Day will give us a much truer idea of how good they really are. When the Mets are off to a flying start, nobody says wait until Memorial Day for their inevitable descent. This year’s calendar-circling struck me as a time-buying exercise to quell the doubts of both the chronically impatient and uncomfortably observant.

Hey, I’m all for time-buying. Who when not having progressed as desired hasn’t wanted more time to prove themselves? Just give me another week or two… Well, it’s Memorial Day and all we know is the Mets have won 27 and lost 27, so feel free to decide that the real inflection point is the Fourth of July or the All-Star Break or September 1. There’s an enormous jumble of teams within reach of the six-seed in the National League Wild Card race/slog. Nobody — not the Cubs, not the Rockies, not the Mets — is out of it. The Mets are a half-game from it. If they have a good week, they clutch it. If they have a bad week, they’re probably still not that far from it. Remember: it’s only Memorial Day.

Thus, if you want to be all realpolitik about 2023 and dismiss the bulk of 162 games as packing peanuts for the handful that will effectively determine postseason eligibility, go ahead. Maybe that’s how it will shake out. Maybe a crummy 2-4 road trip won’t add up to much by October 1. The Mets are playing at an 81-81 pace. A couple of very good weeks down the line can propel a team like this to 87-75, the stuff of also-rans in more merit-driven times, enough to get a random OK team on a hot streak like the Phillies into the playoffs in the current system in 2022. Our team was tearing it up after 54 games last year. We were 35-19. It was awesome. It continued being awesome when we continued the process of winning 101 games, even if that total wasn’t quite enough to clinch the division title. But what’s a division title when the team ultimately capturing the NL flag is a division rival that finished fourteen games behind your awesome record?

When the Phillies won the pennant in 2022, it didn’t feel flukish. It just felt like this — the sixth-best record serving as viable passage past teams with five better records and into the World Series — is the way it can fairly easily be now. If it is, that can be us. It’s not guaranteed we will do that, but it’s Memorial Day and we are 27-27. The season to date still hasn’t told us enough about these Mets other than 108 games remain and they seem capable of winning much more than they have…and seem equally capable of slogging along as they have.

It’s Memorial Day and the Mets aren’t playing today. That should feel like more of shame than it does, baseball having ancestral claim to national holidays in spring and summer — with doubleheaders, even. Honestly, I’m not sorry these Mets aren’t playing today. They play plenty. I seek them out every day they play, yet I don’t need to see them do what they what they’ve been doing this season every single day of my life, even if spring is presently becoming summer and Mets baseball has always been the essential element of both of those seasons for me. I don’t usually feel like I could use a holiday from the Mets. Today might be that day.

Forget It Jake, It's Coorstown

Even in this age of humidors, Coors Field still produces games like Saturday night’s, with hits raining down like artillery, big leads proving smaller than they look on paper, a starting pitcher who’s been effective elsewhere left gasping for air, and relievers sawing the bullpen phone off the wall and hiding in that weird little alpine meadow in hopes of escaping their fate.

Honestly, that could be the recap: It’s Coorstown, where they play a game descended not from rounders and other gentle diversions invented on English town greens but from Calvinball, a dizziness generator dreamed up by a chaos-minded child and a stuffed tiger. It’s Coorstown, and for your own sanity you should have a short memory about what befalls you there.

Still, I’ll evade my own advice like a ball up the Coorstown gap for a couple of notes about whatever that was Saturday night.

First off, kudos to Justin Verlander, who got strafed but then hung around, somewhat sparing his bullpen and maybe keeping a horse or two on the right side of the barn doors. Not an outing for Verlander to treasure — in hindsight, his good career numbers in Coorstown should have been accompanied by ominous minor key music — but things could have been a lot worse.

The Rockies’ City Connect jerseys are pretty damn good. Every couple of weeks I catch sight of a team wearing its newfangled alts (which, to be clear, are primarily intended to facilitate the redistribution of income from fans’ pockets to the already bulging ones of Nike and MLB) and I get to worrying about what the Mets will do when their City Connect time comes. Something timid and dull? Something that makes you wish they’d opted for timid and dull? The best City Connects are true alts, departures from a team’s established identity that still tap into something about the city and/or the franchise. They’re interesting what-ifs instead of a slight variant of something already in the team closet. Rather than coming up with Purple 1A unis, the Rockies thought about it, used Colorado’s iconic green license plates as a starting point, and came up with something that’s clearly says Colorado but in a way that hasn’t been said before. (Additional credit because “thought about it” has not exactly been what comes to mind when you review the work of the current Rockies regime.) If you want to go down this rabbit hole, ESPN recently ranked the so-far-unveiled City Connects; my highest marks would go to the Rockies, Marlins, Nats, Red Sox, Padres and Giants, with sad shakes of the head for the Royals, Cubs, Braves and Willy Wonka Blueberries Dodgers.

Reluctant points to Colorado’s Nolan Jones, who had the kind of game Friday that makes you avert your eyes in pity, yet was right back in there a night later and punished the Mets, playing a key role in his club’s victory. That’s not an easy thing for even some veterans; it can be doubly difficult for a player who’s still yet to record his 100th AB.

Two members of the Mets’ HAVE YOU SEEN ME? milk-carton gang actually acquitted themselves well, with Starling Marte chipping in a briefly decisive hit and Mark Canha looking more like his 2022 self at the plate. And in even more positive news, Mark Vientos actually got to start and performed as if being affixed to various benches hadn’t fazed him. Vientos needs to play, an annoyingly large number of Mets Proven Veterans™ have demonstrated no particular evidence that they need to play, and it’s high time to make this next transition.

One transition that is gloriously complete is from various misfit-toys catchers to Francisco Alvarez. I’ve banged on about Alvarez since seeing him up close as a Brooklyn Cyclone, and Saturday night’s game was a showcase for why. Alvarez plays baseball greedily, as if it’s the sweetest air and he wants to gulp down as much of it as possible. (Not a bad idea given the altitude of Coorstown.) You can see it in the little things: his emphatic gesturing to faltering pitchers, the way he uses everything from his setup behind the plate to his framing skills to massage location, and even the way he snaps a hand back for a new ball from the umpire. Alvarez draws eyes to him no matter what he’s doing on the field, playing with what’s definitely swagger but is more than that — there’s a joy and hunger to what he does that even non-Met fans will come to appreciate very quickly. He’s also hungry to learn: Yes, he short-circuited an inning by paying more attention to celebratory gestures than hanging onto the bag after an unlikely triple, resulting in a painful out. Not an unheard of growing pain for a young player, except I’d put $100 down on Alvarez never making that mistake again. Two ABs later, he came up  with two on and two out and demolished a curve that Brent Suter left in an ill-advised place for a 435-foot game-tying homer. If you thought his exuberance might be dimmed even a fraction of a watt by his earlier mistake, well, you haven’t watched Francisco Alvarez.

Hijinks Don't Ensue

The Rockies has somehow now been around for 30 years. I was at their first-ever game, which they lost to the Mets at Shea. I watched them beat the Mets behind Dante Bichette in extras at Coors Field’s christening. Since then I’ve seen the Mets play at Coors far too often for my liking. I’ve seen them pound various Rockies incarnations by scores that feel more suited to football; I’ve seen them suffer the same indignities. I’ve marveled at the waterfalls and the conifers in the bullpen, I’ve grimaced at the likes of Todd Helton and Larry Walker, I’ve nodded at that the purple line of seats and Dinger’s antics. And regardless of the score, I’ve braced myself for the moment when the baseball train cars jump the rails and any semblance of a normal game winds up jackknifed and on fire in a ravine.

That’s the Coors Field experience, changed only at the margins by humidors and experiments with ground-ball pitching staffs and all the other tweaks and twerks that have been tried since the Clinton administration. It’s an experience that instills a certain wariness which no score can make completely go away. If the Mets are up six in the middle innings during a Coors Field matinee, you regard the normally welcome three-inning baseball nap with trepidation, because you know you might wake up down two. Same thing with some late-night affair you’re tempted to shut off because the Mets are down five — you might wake up in the morning and be annoyed with yourself when it turns out they won by three.

It can be fun; I’m just not sure, even after all these years, that it fully counts as baseball.

What was most notable about Friday night’s game against the Rockies, I suppose, was what didn’t happen. The Rockies don’t look completely ready for prime time this season but didn’t implode. Max Scherzer has had a, well, rocky season so far but didn’t collapse. Dicey situations abounded in the late innings but the Mets somehow kept the roof intact over their own heads. It was like the trope of the detective noting that the dog didn’t bark, except it turned out nobody got murdered.

Scherzer looked much more like Scherzer than he has in most 2023 games (I’ll note here that I never actually saw him pitch against the Guardians), despite not having enough air around his pitches: He was sweaty and perturbed and his mien middlingly psychopathic, which is to say he was the Scherzer we feared as an opponent and were overjoyed to welcome to our side. For me what’s most fun about Scherzer is he’s about the least balletic Hall of Fame pitcher I can imagine: You’ve seen a hundred slow-motion collages of classic power pitchers rocking and coiling and firing, the graceful movement of their long arms and legs accompanied by elegiac music that makes you want to sigh at a sunset. Footage of Scherzer would never fit in one of those: His mechanics are violent and abrupt, like a machine that looks always on the brink of flying apart. He’d somehow never won a game at Coors, but he has now, giving up a solo homer and nothing else and delivering a performance it’s safe to say both he and the Mete needed.

On the offensive side the Mets let a golden opportunity go by in the third, as Pete Alonso and Brett Baty struck out with the bases loaded, but they did enough elsewhere: Brandon Nimmo was on base five times, Francisco Lindor drove in four, Baty collected two hits. You wondered if it would be enough in the ninth, as Brooks Raley didn’t have it and Eduardo Escobar made what looked like a potential dagger of an error at third behind hastily summoned Adam Ottavino. But the Rockies did the Mets an enormous favor when Colorado newcomer Nolan Jones strayed too far past second on Escobar’s boot, giving the Mets a critical second out and leaving Ottavino to face Mike Moustakas, that once-upon-a-time ruiner of nice things, as the tying run/last hope.

Ottavino hasn’t had the best year so far, but he knows how to pitch at Coors and he goes about his business with a certain fatalism perfectly suited to a middle reliever with a sometimes unreliable breaking stuff, whether or not said reliever pitches at an unwise altitude. Ottavino regarded Moustakos with his usual Eeyore expression, got to work, and erased him with an unhittable cutter. The dog hadn’t barked, hijinks hadn’t ensued, and the Mets had emerged not just alive but also victorious.


Saddled with the understanding that your team is not going to win them all, the best a fan can hope for is an optimal sorting out of the order of inevitable losses. Take the Mets-Cubs series just completed. After competing on a stratospheric high, as the Mets did on their last homestand, they were, because they are human, due for one night of flatness. They plunged back toward terra firma in their first game at Wrigley. Fine. Get it out of the way. Not necessarily scheduled to come next was one of those “tip your hat to the opposing starter” games. They are scattered across any given season, even in this era when starters infrequently stick around to earn such a salute. You wish for them to be few. You prefer they don’t come after the flat games. Alas, the second game at Wrigley became the cap-tipper, as Marcus Stroman threw myriad ground balls that the Met lineup obligingly hit to Cub infielders. If the Mets were grudgingly tipping their caps, Stroman all but threw his in the air Mary Tyler Moore-style after completing his eight suffocating innings. That’s his business. Next time don’t give him the opportunity. This time, tip your cap and move on.

Whatever other kinds of losses is bound to occur over an assortment of 162 games, the one you didn’t want after the first two in Chicago was any kind. That’s the sweep loss, the loss that shows you’re at least temporarily lost, perhaps farblondzhet, which is Yiddish for lost, but so much worse, especially if you’d ever heard my mother drop it into conversation. It’s bad to lose three in a row at any juncture (see the Mets leaving Milwaukee and Detroit emptyhanded). It’s really bad to implicitly announce that all those good vibes from winning five in a row, each in dramatic and satisfying fashion, are now expired. The Mets will lose another game in 2023. They couldn’t do it at the end of their stay at Wrigley.

And they didn’t. Two losses in three games is nothing to text home about, but it’s far more than 33.333% better than what loomed as the alternative entering Thursday night. Behind Carlos Carrasco, the Mets stomped the Cubs, 10-1. In these disturbing DH times, Carrasco had nothing to do with the 10, but was largely responsible for the 1. That’s no small detail. Carrasco has been easy to overlook since he became a Met in 2021. He came over in a trade that was never going to be labeled the Carlos Carrasco Trade, because it was all about getting Francisco Lindor. He didn’t pitch in his first year as a Met until the second half of the season, and most of what one remembers is a string of implosive first innings. He was more dependable in 2022 — 15 wins! — but he also seemed to go unnoticed by those of us who tend to notice everything. We noticed he was left off the postseason roster and also noticed nobody strenuously objected.

Carlos missed some time in 2022, then missed a bunch more after an uninspiring beginning to his 2023. His first start, last Friday night, against his old team, didn’t summon many echoes of his Cleveland glory. When he allowed a game-tying home run to Dansby Swanson in the bottom of the first Thursday, here we seemed to be going again.

Then Cookie found his path back to success and we happily followed. Over six-and-two-thirds, Swanson’s solo shot was the only real damage generated against Carrasco, and we’ve seen enough of Swanson as a Brave to accept whatever he does to the Mets as a cost of doing business. No other Cub bothered him too badly, even in the third, when Chicago loaded the bases and threatened to reduce what had become a three-run Met lead. Happily, Cookie teased a harmless grounder out of Mike Tauchman, and that was it for Cubbie mischief. By the bottom of the seventh, when Carlos exited, the Mets were up by six, and Pete Alonso had widened his lead on the 1980 Mets in the home run column. Pete now has 19 through 51 games; the Mets, at the same juncture of their intermittently Magical season, had 11. There are many entities Pete will be outhomering as he goes along.

Move over, Maris. Alonso’s the one overpowering the 1980 Mets now.

By the ninth, a catcher was pitching for the Cubs, and even Marcus Stroman was probably sitting quietly. The Mets were about to seal a 10-1 win that raised their record to 26-25 at the expense of the Cubs, who were falling to 22-27. That the team with the overall better record and greater expectations had gone 1-2 against a lesser opponent didn’t much matter. In July of 1969, Leo Durocher, whose overwhelmingly favored first-place Cubs had just salvaged the finale of a three-game set against the upstart yet still second-place Mets at Shea (the series that featured Don Young not corralling fly balls and Jimmy Qualls delivering a lonely single), was asked if those were the real Cubs who had just laid a 6-2 beating on the Mets.

“This wasn’t the real Cubs,” the skipper who eschewed excursions to the UN on his trips back to New York sniffed. “It was the real Mets.”

We’ll see about that in a few months, 1969 Leo, but never mind 54 years ago right now. With the Cubs safely ensconced in the NL Central and not presently any more of a factor in the Wild Card derby than anybody else, I’m not worried if “now pitching, the catcher, Tucker Barnhart… represents the real Cubs (though let it be noted Barnhart threw a scoreless frame). I don’t know if I’m convinced the team that executed all facets of baseball as if it knows what it’s doing is the real Mets, but I’m willing to accept it as prima facie evidence, mainly because I’m in the mood to be in a good mood.

Alonso’s towering home run total has me in a good mood. Jeff McNeil’s three hits have me in a good mood. The four consecutive two-out singles that built the Mets’ lead in the third inning — from Jeff, Pete, Brett Baty and Starling Marte — have me in a great mood. Baty was in the middle of a bunch of scoring, whether from the position of batter or baserunner. I love his and his fellow youngster Francisco Alvarez’s confidence out there. Why shouldn’t they be confident? Baty is the starting third baseman on a major league team with legitimate postseason aspirations; he’s nudged a competent professional named Eduardo Escobar to a utility role. Alvarez? He’s the starting catcher on the same team. Gary Sanchez, an idea that might have been worth trying out in a practical sense if there was no better option behind the plate or in the lineup, was designated for assignment Thursday. By the time he got a few reps in 2023, the position he played belonged to the much younger man. Tomás Nido is back in good optic health, and Omar Narvaez will squeeze into the picture soon, but they, too, need to get in line to the rear of Francisco Alvarez for crouches.

At last Friday’s 10-9 barnburner (seriously, you could see the barn smoldering all the way from Astoria), it was clear we as fans have moved on to Baty, Alvarez and, when we get glimpses, Mark Vientos, with Ronny Mauricio on deck in the emerging imagination. Succession, whether planned or organic, is occurring, and it’s working more than it isn’t. There was much joy in the crowd whenever the Mets were storming back versus the Guardians, but the sound the crowd made for the kids boomed stronger than anything generated on behalf of any other Mets, even Pete with the grand slam. There’s something about living with the names of prospects circulating in your subconscious until they have ascended to your field of vision and then proving they deserve a chance to maintain that front-and-center spot right before your eyes. Nido’s seeing better, thankfully, but the de facto starting catcher from 2022 didn’t need eye inserts to read the writing on the organizational wall as it’s developed in 2023. “I’m just ready to help in whatever they need me to,” Tomás graciously said prior to a game where he’d be asked to perform his own mopup duty, catching the ninth so Alvarez could rest up with a nine-run lead. Since rising to the majors in 2017, Nido has probably repeated some version of that sentiment in deference to starting Met catchers from Travis d’Arnaud to James McCann (to Narvaez). This time, it sounds like more than lip service from a good teammate. This time feels like Alvarez time.

But let’s not eschew experience altogether. Let’s circle back to Carrasco, and who waits to pitch next. As in the Cleveland series, we’re looking at Carlos, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in succession. That’s Carrasco with 105 career wins, Scherzer with 204 and Verlander with 246. If their presence doesn’t viscerally stir our Mets fan souls the way the core of younger rotations did, that may be our DNA talking. Seaver to Syndergaaard and so many live arms in between, all of them confounding hitters and rising to prominence…that’s how we see ourselves winding up when we look in the mirror. At the moment, however, we glimpse success that’s already occurred and desire it to be replicated. On this staff, at least half the time, pending five/six-man rotational iterations, we’re relying on credentials rather than potential.

When Max takes the hill tonight and Justin follows him on Saturday (pending all the things that can upend probable-pitchers probability), it will mark the 64th time in franchise history that the Mets have trotted out three consecutive starters with at least 100 wins in their respective back pockets. The 63rd time was last weekend. Before that, you had to return to the halcyon days of Pedro Martinez, T#m Gl@v!ne and Steve Trachsel, specifically May 20-23, 2006. We’ll call them halcyon since the ’06 Mets had already taken over first place for good and the Mets’ trio of venerable starters had a great deal to do with their astounding break from the gate. Six times in April of May of 2006, those three village of Flushing elders pitched in succession, stabilizing an element of the Mets that would become modestly, then glaringly unglued as the year continued. Soon, we’d be cycling through journeymen and neophytes, just yearning for five healthy arms, albeit from that first-place perch.

There’s been plenty of splendid pitching since the first third of the 2006 season, but for seventeen seasons until 2023, there were never three 100+ game winners staring in a row (discounting youngsters potentially or eventually on their way to triple-digits, à la Nolan Ryan and the total of 324 earned mostly after his first 29 as a Met). Before 2006, for a few years, it had been a fairly common phenomenon. Pedro, T#m and Steve did it on five occasions down the stretch in the renaissance campaign of 2005 (Trachsel was out until August). In 2004, the wizened trio in residence was Gl@v!ne, Trachsel and future Mets Hall of Famer Al Leiter. They pitched in succession 21 times in 2004. All that winning in their past…and 71 wins in all for the 2004 Mets. Sometimes experience isn’t everything. Or were you not watching in 2003? That was the year when not only did you have Leiter-Trachsel-Gl@v!ne in succession eight times after Steve posted No. 100 on August 7, but you had the only instance in Metropolitan annals of four consecutive 100+ game-winners going consecutively. From April 20 through April 24, Art Howe called on T#m Gl@v!ne, David Cone (in his brief Recidivist Met stint), Al Leiter and Pedro Astacio (before his shoulder gave out). Trachsel was a few months from notching his 100th win. The Mets were lousy with pitchers who’d been winning practically forever. Also, the Mets were lousy, finishing 66-95, but you can’t say their starting pitchers didn’t know how to win.

Funny how that works. Before 2003, the previous season featuring three 100+ game-winners working in succession was 1993. That was the year the Mets lost 103 games, despite ten times throwing at opponents Dwight Gooden, Frank Tanana and Bret Saberhagen. No matter what order Jeff Torborg and Dallas Green threw them, the fates seemed to throw it all back in the Mets’ faces. Still, pretty good backs of baseball cards with which to console ourselves.

The first and only other year when the Mets had a trio so specifically distinguished was otherwise middling 1976. Eleven times, Joe Frazier was able to deploy Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Mickey Lolich in one order or another, but definitely consecutively. The first of those threesomes unfolded between April 21 and 24, the last of them September 8 to 11. Koosman broke the 20-win barrier in ’76, Seaver pitched well enough to go there had the offense supported him (it didn’t, so he didn’t), and Lolich, whose sole New York legacy is the muttering about trading Rusty Staub his name tends to inspire, had one of those classic “pitched better than his record indicated” years. Lolich won eight games in thirty starts as a 1976 Met. We used to get pretty hung up on pitcher wins. Now we point to peripherals for a truer assessment of performance. But wins, if a pitcher can get them, are fun. Carrasco winning on Thursday night in Chicago was fun. Scherzer and Verlander helping the Mets do the same in Denver will be fun, too.

May the real Mets of 2023 be real fun. We could use it more than once every three games.

National League Town offers a view from late-spring turnarounds past, a look at a game from inside the Citi Field press box, and enough staring at a tall stack of pancakes to fill your day off. Give the pod a listen.

Mets Unplugged

After five days of electric baseball, the Mets once again look like someone pulled the plug out of the wall.

At least — and those are never good words to see up high in a recap — this time they didn’t look flat enough to slip under a door, the way they did in the opener against the Cubs. They just couldn’t do anything with Marcus Stroman, a Met I was fond of before he turned prickly and strange, or perhaps was revealed to have been that way all along. Whatever you think of Stroman, he had it all working on Wednesday night. Met after Met pounded balls into the ground to be hoovered up by Cub infielders, with Stroman himself turning a lickety-split double play that reminded you he’d come by his Gold Glove honestly. He put more than a little mustard on a play or two and clearly revelled in taking it to his old team — and that’s fine, baseball needn’t be played like it’s being played by a convention of stoics gathered in a library reading room.

The Mets’ highlights? There was exactly one: Francisco Alvarez socking a line drive through the Wrigley winds into the bleachers and giving the Mets a brief-lived 2-0 lead. Starling Marte showed some signs of life with a determined walk, I suppose, but that feels like awfully faint praise. The bullpen was good after Drew Smith. Other than that? Pete Alonso made a horrid baserunning blunder, while Kodai Senga‘s accomplishment was merely being beaten instead of getting trucked. The game ended with the Mets trudging away sporting creased brows, faraway looks and a .500 record.

What’s to be done? Maybe move on from the back-of-the-milk carton trio of Marte, Daniel Vogelbach and Mark Canha, who’ve been plaintively asking HAVE YOU SEEN ME? all season with June coming up fast? Give more ABs to Mark Vientos? See if Ronny Mauricio‘s ready for the next stage? Wait for this weird-ass Dr. Jekyll of a team to turn back into Mr. Hyde? (Or is that the other way around?) Get special dispensation to stop playing at Wrigley, which has inexplicably been a house of horrors for years now? Do nothing and simply hang on for dear life while plummeting down chutes and zipping up ladders in a season that’s been determinedly, almost defiantly unpredictable?

They could win the next one, I guess. (The Cubs are sending out a starter with an ERA north of 8 … but then so are the Mets.) Winning always helps.

A Week and Change

The 2023 Mets were expected to do big things. For the first 43 games of this season, they resisted those expectations. Then came last week: Games 44 through 48, each won by one run, each won after at some point trailing; each won as affirmation that the expectations were merited; each furnishing evidence that sometimes an experienced team needs not so much a youth movement as it does a youth shove. By Game 49, Tuesday night in Chicago, I was ready to accept a clunker. Tuesday night in Chicago, the Mets clunked. It will happen from time to time, even to a club that’s lately had you looking up rather than feeling down.

The 1980 Mets were expected to do nothing. For the first 27 games of their season, they resembled those expectations. Then, for another 18 games, they improved in fits and starts, showing just enough progress on their good nights to leave you deciding the bad nights were no worse than exceptions to the new rule. In Game 45, Pat Zachry and Neil Allen together dueled Jim Kaat of the Cardinals for nine innings at Shea. Kaat was 41 at the time. He scattered six hits and gave up no runs before extras kicked in. Zachry had a two-hit shutout going over seven before giving way to a pinch-hitter. Neil Allen took over and retired his first six Redbirds. Alas, Ken Reitz led off the tenth with a homer, Kaat returned to the mound with a 1-0 lead, withstood a Doug Flynn infield single, and went all the way for the win.

Seventeen-year-old me was prone to processing this sort of outcome as evidence of progress rather than a serious setback. Sure enough, my faith in my 19-26 Mets was about to be rewarded with one of the best week-and-change periods I’ve ever experienced as a fan. It wasn’t just that the Mets went on to win eight of their next ten, it was how they did it. This was the year of the Magic is Back advertising and the week and change ahead turned the wishful thinking motto from punchline to way of life.

The Mets were in the midst of a long homestand. The Cardinals would be followed into town by the defending world champion Pirates, the perennially dangerous Dodgers, and their northern neighbors the Giants. In each of these series, starting with the last game against St. Louis — Game 46 — and running through the middle game against San Francisco — Game 55 — the Mets would stun an opponent by scoring the winning run in their final turn at bat. We didn’t say “walkoff” then, but that’s what was going on: four walkoff wins amid eight wins overall. The Mets kept walking it off, in 21st century parlance, each such finale more stunning than the one before, right through the last one, which still ranks as one of the most stunning results in Metropolitan annals.

That, on June 14, 1980, was the Steve Henderson Game, referenced and remarked upon myriad times since the inception of this blog in 2005. The Mets trailed, 4-0, before ever coming to bat that Saturday night. They were behind, 6-0, when it became an official game. It was 6-2 going to bottom of the ninth. There were two outs and Flynn on second when Lee Mazzilli stepped in versus Giant closer Greg Minton. Mazz singled Flynn home. Frank Taveras walked. New acquisition Claudell Washington drove in Lee, moving Frankie to second. San Fran skipper Dave Bristol removed Minton and brought in Allen Ripley. Ripley’s first batter was Steve Henderson. He was also his last. Henderson crushed a three-run homer over the right field fence, into the Mets’ bullpen, directly to Tom Hausman’s glove. The Mets won, 7-6. The crowd, which wasn’t going anywhere once it absorbed what it had just witnessed, and Henderson, who had retreated to the clubhouse after accepting his teammates’ congratulations, together pretty much invented the Shea Stadium curtain call on the spot. Everybody just kept cheering. They wouldn’t leave until Hendu re-emerged to acknowledge their appreciation. Mets fans who were 17 in 1980 still get chills reliving it in 2023.

A week earlier, when those Mets were getting the hang of upsetting apple carts, their manager, Joe Torre, was dismissive of the leitmotif of the moment: “Magic?” he scoffed to reporters. “I’ve told you all before that’s just public relations.” Now, with Henderson having juiced everybody in attendance to levels of frenzy not felt in Flushing since 1973, Joe from Brooklyn allowed, “It’s really revving people up. Nobody left the park, even when they’re behind by six runs.” Indeed, the next day, nobody could stay away from the park. Not only did the Mets sell every available seat, they had to turn away approximately 6,000 potential customers.

That’s what it’s like when your team picks the right moment to come together and define itself for the better. I’m partial to it happening right around this spot on the schedule, more or less where we are and where we’ve just been in 2023.

In 1969, it was Game 42, coinciding with late-May/early June trip in from the California teams, one being the expansion Padres, the other two being those expatriate New Yorkers, the Giants and Dodgers, who had bullied the actual baby Mets on the reg since 1962. The Mets winning dramatically and consistently against anybody to pull themselves over .500 for good would have been uplifting. That the Mets rocketed toward the heavens at the expense of that pair of tormentors (who’d abandoned nearby boroughs, to boot) made the elevation exponentially sweeter. An eleven-game winning streak and so much more was about to unfurl.

In 1990, the Mets sagged so much for 47 games that it cost the only manager since Gil Hodges to lead them to a world championship his job. Davey Johnson was shown the door at 20-22. Bud Harrelson took over and wasn’t doing a whole lot better guiding what was supposed to be a perennial contender until the eleventh inning of Game 48, when a benchwarmer named Tom O’Malley (batting .091) took Expos reliever Dale Mohorcic over Shea’s center field fence. It was as if the Mets of the 1980s materialized for a curtain call, back in a pennant race on the cusp of what shaped up as one more glorious — or at least quasi-glorious — summer. The team that had been 21-26 entering play on June 5 would be 48-31 coming out of the All-Star break.

In 1980, it was Game 46 when everything beautiful and Magical kicked in. In 2023, it was Game 44. May becoming June. Spring becoming summer. Warm enough to sleep with the window open. Cool enough to keep the air conditioning off. You wake up to a soft breeze, and you’re excited about the Mets, and it will take more than one bump in the road to jar you from the journey to which you’ve emotionally committed.

Yet you won’t win them all. Game 49 in Chicago in 2023 provided a fresh batch of proof. It was a splendid night for Cubs, mostly. For a journeyman starter named Drew Smyly, who threw five smooth innings to climb to 5-1, with an ERA under three. For a former Met pitching prospect named Michael Fulmer. We traded Fulmer for Yoenis Cespedes in 2015 and it was totally worth it, even when the kid we sent to Detroit won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and made the All-Star team in 2017 and seemed to grip a future that would have fit in with what had penciled in for deGrom, Syndergaard, et al., before injuries led him to his role as a 2023 mopup man…which is what he was consigned to filling when at last facing his original organization for the first time. Michael pitched a scoreless ninth in defense of a five-run lead. And for a breakout slugger named Christopher Morel, who seems partial to drawing cat whiskers on his face with eye black. Morel played 113 games as a rookie in 2022 and socked 16 homers. He’s been up with the big club in 2023 for a dozen games and, against Stephen Nogosek on Tuesday night, blasted his ninth home run of the year. Produce like that for a few more dozen games, and you can open for Kiss.

To take nothing away from Morel or Seiya Suzuki or Matt Mervis (the latter two of whom homered off Met starter and loser Tylor Megill), the bat that shouted out loudest in this game belonged to Pete Alonso. It’s not so much that his fourth-inning home run off Smyly cut the Cubs’ lead to 4-1, or that the shot traveled 434 feet from home plate and several rows up into Wrigley Field’s left-center field bleachers, or even that Pete had now increased his major league-leading total to 18, a pace that places him en route to 60. When Pete burst onto the scene in 2019, I tracked his rate vis-à-vis the Met home run record carefully. He shattered that baby (41, established by Todd Hundley in 1996 and equaled by Carlos Beltran in 2006) with little sweat expended and raised it to 53. Once my giddiness from his rookie campaign settled down, I figured that would be the last time I tracked Pete’s homers for season record comparisons, because yo, no way was he going to hit that many again. But for the hell of it, I just looked up when Pete hit his 18th in ’19. It was Game 55, or six games later than this year.

Yet even that’s not the Pete pace I’m thinking of today. What’s really got my attention is that those Magical 1980 Mets, notorious for their power-eschewing offense, didn’t hit their eighteenth home run — I mean collectively — until their 63rd game of the season, and it required the acquisition of Claudell Washington in June, and Washington hitting three home runs on June 22, to get them that many that late in the season. Holy crap, Pete is outhomering the entirety of the 1980 Mets, who, the Daily News enjoyed reminding its readers that summer, were having a hard time matching Roger Maris’s rate from his 61 in ’61; the joke was on them — the 1980 Mets hit exactly 61 home runs.

Steve Henderson’s home run in Game 55, on June 14, was the Mets’ thirteenth and his first of the season. He’d been batting for average (.340), but was a little shy on a particular variety of extra-base hit. That was OK, Steve assured the media. “Home runs,” he said, “are overrated.”

Except when they catapult you from behind and make you recall fondly what eventually crashed into a 67-95 record, which is how the Mets finished 1980, but details, details. I don’t know what the ultimate details of 2023 will be. I do know that despite losing, 7-2, in Chicago and snapping their sensational five-game winning streak achieved at Citi Field, the tenor of this season has been altered for the better. I can’t swear something won’t definitively detract from this current mood over the next 113 games, but what the Mets did versus the Rays and the Guardians and how they did it is likely gonna stay with me when somebody someday mentions this year. I primarily remember 1980 not for the 95 losses in all nor for the frankly pathetic sum of 61 home runs from April until October — nor even for the rather flat performance the Mets turned in during Game 56 in front of a sold-out Shea on June 15, losing, 3-0 to Bob Knepper and the Giants, which is what Game 49 Tuesday night at Wrigley evoked within the realm of raucousness pressing pause. I remember the Magic of the week and change before that loss, never mind the losses to come. I remember the change. I swear, 43 years later, it’s still rattling around in the pockets of my Mets consciousness.

Even if my fellow veterans of the Magic is Back week and change remember the Steve Henderson Game as if it was yesterday, and even if they nod in recognition of the sellout the next day, they might not be able to identify instantly how that particular seminal series got underway. We had just swept the Dodgers like we were Magic and, as Olivia Newton-John would assure Top 40 listeners in the months ahead, if you were Magic, then nothing could stand in your way. Alas, there was a Giants lefty who absolutely did, putting an end to our four-game winning streak of the moment. His name was Vida Blue.

You don’t forget a name like Vida Blue, and you don’t forget a pitcher like Vida Blue. The only Vida Blues I’m aware of were Vida and his father, Vida, Sr. I read up on Vida voraciously when I was nine years old because I followed his ascent breathlessly when I was eight. The lefty for Oakland so mesmerized fans of all ages in 1971, that a paperback book was commissioned for 1972. It was called Vida, written by Richard Deming. Its cover price was 95 cents. I don’t know how much it was listed for when I came across it at a school sale in third grade, shortly after it was published. I do know I snapped it up and read it immediately. It is because of Vida, I know that the phenom who went 24-8 with an ERA of 1.82 was a junior. I know from Vida that Vida, Jr., lost Vida, Sr., in high school.

Vida ran up the porch steps whistling. the front door opened and the whistle died when he saw his mother standing there with his sisters and his brother crowded behind her. He came to a dead halt.

After a moment he said quietly, “Dad?”

Sallie Blue nodded, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Dead?” he asked.

She nodded again, and now the tears began to flow. Then she was sobbing against his shoulder and he was patting her back as though he were the parent and she the child.

“Now, Junior, you’re the man of the house,” she said through her tears.

Broke my heart to read that when I was nine. Breaks my heart to revisit it again. When Vida, Jr., died earlier this month at the age of 73, not long after he’d taken the field in Oakland for a 50th-anniversary reunion of the 1973 world champs during the Mets’ visit there, I remembered that scene, as well as another from the paperback (a book I regrettably discarded in my late twenties but have again today, thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend who replaced it for me in my early fifties). By this stage in Blue’s story, the southpaw is levitating toward the top of the baseball world, maybe the world at large, and A’s owner Charlie O. Finley comes to him with what Finley has convinced himself is a brilliant idea.

He suggested that Vida have his name changed legally to Vida True Blue, and they would then thereafter use his middle name.

“We’ll take the name Blue off your uniform and have them use True,” Finley said. “And I’ll tell the broadcast boys to call you True Blue.”

As a nine-year-old baseball fan, I was aware of Charlie Finley and wasn’t impressed. This anecdote sealed my disdain. “The broadcast boys…” Yeesh. Vida, Jr., explained to Finley that he was honoring his father’s memory every time he pitched (eventually pitching with VIDA on the back of his jersey rather than BLUE). Finley didn’t push the matter, but did have the Coliseum scoreboard announce before Vida’s next start that “True Blue” would be pitching soon, get your tickets today. Vida got the owner to stop with the shenanigans, “polite” about it, according to Deming, but “quite definite. He did not want to be called True Blue, ever. This time Finley dropped the idea permanently.” Later, according to the author, Vida asked teammates, “If he think it’s such a great name, why doesn’t he call himself True O. Finley?”

Some things just stay with you.

Maybe that exchange is why, when the Mets played the A’s in the 1973 World Series, I was all for beating Ken Holtzman and Catfish Hunter, but didn’t take any extra relish in doing damage to Vida Blue. Not that I minded that we won his two starts, in Games Two and Five, but Vida Blue was one of a kind in 1971, and that sort of currency, like a home run in the first third of an otherwise woebegone season, will maintain its place in a person’s heart. When the A’s traded Blue to the Giants in 1978, I was excited to see the lefty make the All-Star team in the National League the way he’d made it three times in the AL and would make it twice more in the NL, including 1980. I wasn’t too happy Blue stanched our Magic momentum on June 13, 1980, defeating the Mets, 3-1 — nor did I care for his postgame quote after he bested Ray Burris that “I didn’t encounter any Mets magic” on Hendu’s Eve — but he was still Vida Blue, the one and only, and here he was, still pitching well when I was 17 after dominating baseball when I was eight. That’s more than half a lifetime at that age.

My final memory of Vida Blue as an active player comes from five years later, right around this time of year in 1985. I was 22. He was 35 and in his second go-round with the Giants, but seemed ancient after an arrest and suspension for cocaine possession sidelined him for all of 1984. The Mets were at Candlestick Park on May 30, Game 52. Doc Gooden was on the mound, just entering that phase of ’85 when he’d be both unbeatable and untouchable. Marty Noble of Newsday, who recognized an angle when he saw one sitting on the opposing team’s bench, sought out Blue to comment on what Gooden was doing. Dwight had just gone the distance, allowing only a run and six hits while striking out fourteen in the Mets’ 2-1 victory over the already hapless Giants.

“Impressive, very impressive.,” Blue said. “The strikeouts were something. What did he have? Fourteen? That’s a lot. But the thing that really impressed me is when he got them — right when it counted most. He closed the door on us when we had a chance in the sixth.”

Yes, in the sixth, Dwight was very much Doc. San Francisco had runners on second and third, with nobody out. But Gooden simply set to operating, popping up ex-Met Gary Rajsich, then striking out Jeffrey Leonard and Chris Brown to get out of what passed for a jam.

“That was the way I used to pitch,” Blue said with touches of whimsy and envy in his tone. “I wasn’t thinking about it much until that situation came up. but I watched him and he tuned up when he had to. That’s what I used to do.”

Blue would finish his big league career in 1986 with 209 wins, never quite the 1971 version of Vida again, but Doc, with an even more phenomenal line to his signature season, was never quite as much Doc again after 1985. How do you stay at the top of the world? If the answer was attainable, it would be permanently crowded up there. Doc’s win over Vida’s team put his record at 7-3, with his ERA dipping to 1.79. You couldn’t be sure 24-4 and 1.53 was where Gooden was headed, but maybe it took one to know one. In talking to Noble at the end of May 1985, Blue labeled his own 1971 “my Gooden year. I had games like this that year.”

That statement was absolutely True.

Faith and Fear in Flushing has been made aware of a great initiative afoot that can only be described as civic engagement in its finest, purest form: the circulation of an online petition insisting Francisco Alvarez — “barring a huge erosion in his offensive production” — not be sent down to solve any supposed logjam of catchers once Omar Narvaez and Tomás Nido return from the injured list. Should this cause sit close to your heart, please visit the petition’s page and consider signing. As its argument asserts, “Roster flexibility is nice, but winning games is better.”