- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Average Is Awesome

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 New York Mets, just a bump here and a dip there from being the most average team in existence.

They’re 22-22. They’ve scored 180 runs and given up 180 runs, making their Expected Win-Loss record 22-22. They’re 10-12 at home, 12-10 on the road. They’re 9-8 during the day, 13-14 at night. On turf they’re 0-0.

Boy are they average. And boy are we excited about it.

Yes, the Buffalo Soldiers rode to another improbable victory [1], knocking off the Yankees (swiftly becoming a much more expensive version of average) in a 2-1 affair that seemed more sluggish than taut, even with the Sturm and Drang of playing for THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE. As happened with Greg [2], this year’s Subway Series snuck up on me, and after proclaiming that I didn’t particularly care I of course wound up firing middle fingers at the screen, screeching obscenities at random fans on TV and running to Twitter to call Lee Mazzilli a hideous godless traitor for consorting with Brian Cashman. I know I’m finally back in psycho kamikaze Mets fan mode when I note the all-time Subway Series record, scowl and immediately calculate how many years of sweeps it would take us to even things, followed by a slightly more realistic calculation that includes a bunch of 4-2 years with a handful of 3-3s. (Answer: Gonna be a little while. Hang in there.)

I kept waiting for R.A. Dickey, Freddy Garcia or both to implode — neither looked particularly impressive to my eyes, though I admit I know so little about knuckleballers that I can only judge how they’re doing by the percentage of knuckleballs that wind up nestled safely in gloves. (I suppose this is a veteran fan’s version of waiting until it stops rolling and picking it up.) Neither the Mets’ nor the Yankees’ hitters looked terribly sharp, either: There were cheapies falling in all over the place, from Mark Teixeira’s hometown special of a homer to infield hits to bunts to safe calls on outs to Justin Turner’s parachute double, which Nick Swisher was fortunate to swat into the stands while eating dirt. I devoutly hope Turner is buying Lotto tickets at every newsstand he passes — he’s having that kind of stretch, and please nobody pinch him lest he wake up. Happily, the Mets’ brief flurry of critical hits were all thoroughly legitimate: back-to-back doubles by Fernando Martinez and Turner, and Daniel Murphy’s golf-shot homer down the left-field line. (Not that we would have minded dinks and dunks and other less impressive ways to win.)

Impressive too was the work of Mike O’Connor (who looks vaguely like an accountant out there but so far succeeds), Jason Isringhausen and the suddenly utterly reliable model citizen Francisco Rodriguez — that vesting option is still ludicrously stupid, but it would take a really determined effort at bitterness to complain about it right now.

For sentimental reasons, though, the performance that made me happiest was Izzy’s. Izzy was a Met in 1997, when interleague play began, but he was on the shelf and never faced the Yankees that inaugural year. In 1999 he faced the Yanks once, in a 6-3 loss [3] at Shea I remember nothing about, racking up 1.1 innings in relief. But that was it for him in the Subway Series: Soon after that he was gone to Oakland, we assumed never to return.

That Izzy was the young, dumb Izzy of Generation K. You remember: He was the one Bill Pulsipher warned us was crazy (which was something coming from Pulse) and who more than proved it, whether it was airing out his pitching arm making long throws in the outfield, attempting drunken climbs between apartment-building balconies or playing for a strip club’s softball team while rehabbing one of his many injuries. It was cute at first, then less and less so, until finally it didn’t matter. I thought of that Izzy tonight as I watched the man who had replaced him, an Izzy who’s thicker (it’s OK, so am I) but also has become a thinker.

The fascinating battle was with Alex Rodriguez, whom Izzy moved around the plate until he’d poked a hole in his defenses that was perfect for the knuckle curve. When a veteran pitcher has command of his arsenal and knows what he’s doing out there, you’re reminded that baseball is designed for the hitter to fail most of the time. A-Rod may be the greatest player I’ll ever see on a field, but he was playing catch-up, and for him to succeed he needed Izzy to make a mistake, which Izzy didn’t do.

On some level all of us who were Mets fans in the mid-1990s will always mourn that the¬†hurler we dreamed would be Tom Seaver turned out — like Pulse and Paul Wilson — to be Gary Gentry instead. But Gentry, pitching before Tommy John surgery, could never really return from a wrecked elbow. Medical science gave Izzy that chance, and to our surprise he took it. He grew up and thrived elsewhere before coming home — not as the prodigal son, but in a smaller but still critical role. And tonight he succeeded on the biggest, brassiest, silliest regular-season stage we have.

It’s not the stuff that gets your number on the wall or a day in your honor before the trip to Cooperstown — those possibilities dissolved for Izzy long ago. But it’s pretty nice anyway.