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That is Mets Baseball

I traveled to the Meadowlands a couple of Septembers ago for a Giants game. In the first series executed by the home team, a run for four yards on 3rd and 1 produced a first down. My host for the afternoon, as True Blue a fan as there is [1], could not have been happier to have seen the ball move from his team’s 29 to his team’s 33.

“That,” he exulted to me, “is Giants football!”

Some franchises are eternally identified with a certain style or trademark, regardless of how they’re playing in a given era. Giants football has indeed always meant effective rushing and stifling defense. The Lakers will always be Showtime in the mind’s eye. The Celtics must have a killer Sixth Man lurking somewhere on their bench. The Raiders are supposed to be marauders. You say “New Jersey Devils,” I still think “neutral zone trap”. The St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles are assumed fundamentally sound, thanks to their respective Ways.

The Mets? The Mets are a convincing complete game shutout from an outstanding starting pitcher on a sunny weekend afternoon [2]. That is Mets baseball, certainly to me.

Sunday from Philadelphia, I watched quintessential Mets baseball. I watched 2014 Rookie of the Year, 2015 National League All-Star and Wilson Defensive Pitcher of the Year Jacob deGrom [3] throw nine innings and give up no runs. I watched the Mets score enough runs (five) to not require a pinch-hitter to prepare to bat for deGrom. I watched deGrom maintain a low enough pitch count (105) so that the bullpen did no more than perfunctorily stir in the ninth.

DeGrom’s line was so simple as to be beautiful: nine innings, seven strikeouts, one hit, one walk, no runs, no trouble. Add in the dazzling handling of a Cody Asche [4] would-be bunt base hit; a two-out single deGrom’s second time up; and Jake coming around to score the Mets’ second run from first on Jose Reyes [5]’s subsequent double into the gap, and some kind of day it had been. It was not a perfect game, but it was perfect. I love Mets baseball when it’s definitively Mets baseball. The Mets, at their best, are defined by a Jacob deGrom-type pitcher having a Jacob deGrom-type day.

You may have noticed I slipped that “one hit” allowed in there without fanfare. A one-hitter can be crushingly disappointing if a no-hitter is in play, but deGrom gave up his lone hit with two out in the third, to opposing pitcher Zach Eflin [6]. Not that I wasn’t already contemplating how good deGrom looked and how possible it was that the Phillies might not touch him at all, but it was too early to be edgy about it, and besides — June 1, 2012 [7]. We’re good. We were also good the Santana start before his no-hitter, on a sunny Saturday at Citi, when Johan threw the kind of throwback complete game shutout [8] deGrom did Sunday.

Tom Seaver [9] threw a one-hitter in Philadelphia [10] in 1970 in which the only opposing hit was generated in the third inning. The batter then was Mike Compton [11], a name that does not really live on in the pantheon we associate with dreamwrecker deluxe Jimmy Qualls [12]. It could by all rights, considering catcher Compton totaled only 18 hits in his brief big league career, or 13 fewer than Qualls. But Compton’s hit of note happened six innings earlier than Qualls’s had ten months before, so some one-hitters get themselves accepted at face value.

We can take Jake’s as such, even if Eflin’s straight outta Compton single was only the third hit of his rookie year. It seems ungracious to rue the one at-bat that didn’t go deGrom’s way when all the others did. Jacob was in command from start to finish, accent on finish. Nobody else had to pitch for the Mets. Thanks to three runs off Eflin and two off Andrew Bailey [13], nobody who was in the lineup in the first wasn’t in the lineup in the ninth. The Mets were comfortably ahead by the fifth, prohibitively so by the eighth. Substitutions could be left to Pete Mackanin [14] and, for that matter, Red Auerbach. It was a smooth afternoon, the kind Seaver and Gooden regularly gave us sans ceremony back in the day. I understand we live in a different day. I understand why it’s rare in the present. A little taste of what made the past so appealing when the past was the present, however, can be quite welcome any day. Especially on a sunny Sunday, though that’s a matter of personal preference.

A Mets win (in which no Met aggravates a quad or other body part) is a good Mets win, period, but a Mets win in the tradition of Mets wins as you picture them when you picture Mets wins…well, gosh, that’s baseball like it oughta be.