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

Searching for Marty Bystrom

In light of recent staff-depleting events, I’ve found myself thinking of two names embedded in my baseball consciousness as very specific avatars relevant to our current situation: Marty Bystrom [1] and John Candelaria [2]. Candelaria you might recognize as a veteran pitcher who was acquired by the Mets under stressful circumstances. It was the middle of September 1987, the Mets trying to keep pace with a Cardinal team they had let slip from their grasp in direct confrontation. Ron Darling [3], their only pitcher who had not missed time at some point during the season, was lost for the remainder of the schedule after tearing ligaments in his pitching thumb fielding a Vince Coleman [4] bunt in what became forever after known as the Terry Pendleton [5] game.

Enter Candelaria, accomplished lefty since 1975, a Brooklyn boy no less. A year earlier, he, like the Mets, was immersed in October’s cauldron, pitching twice and winning once against the Red Sox in the ’86 ALCS. Eleven months later, toward the tail end of a tough season for him and the no longer defending division champion Angels, California and its impending free agent hurler had had enough of each other. A veteran southpaw who had won 149 games was available for the asking, and the Mets put in a successful request. They sent to Anaheim two minor leaguer pitchers (Shane Young and Jeff Richardson [6]) who’d never turn into Nolan Ryan [7] and received the best short-term fix possible. Frank Cashen’s deputy Joe McIlvaine unironically called Candelaria “a seasoned veteran,” as if to underscore the kind of character actor you’d want to thrust into the role of September starter. The Candy Man wouldn’t be eligible for postseason use, but the point was to make the postseason. Rare has been the acquisition whose immediate charge was clearer: take the ball and get us where we need to be ASAP.

John Candelaria did not pitch the 1987 Mets into the playoffs. He didn’t pitch them out of it, either. The almost 34-year-old lefty with more than 2,000 innings behind him gave his new club more or less what could have been hoped for: three starts of varying quality. The first was abysmal, the second was adequate, the third bordered on stupendous. They were three starts that were going to be taken by god only knew who, so the Candelaria flyer was definitely worth the investment. In a year when the projected starting rotation of Gooden, Ojeda, Darling, Fernandez and Aguilera accounted for only two-thirds of the team’s starts, you were happy anybody you’d heard of took the ball.

Sure would be nice, I’ve been thinking lately, to somehow land a John Candelaria out of the blue. Deep track record, a still viable arm, no long-term commitment — can somebody just send us somebody like that? Does that still happen in September? Can it happen this September?

September’s barely started, so maybe. Or maybe we have our Marty Bystrom, thus negating the necessity to cast about for a Candelaria. Bystrom was not a Met, though he made his first impression against the Mets for the short-armed Phillies on September 10, 1980. In his second major league appearance, his debut as a starter, he shut out our boys at Shea, 5-0. “You can never have enough pitching,” teammate Garry Maddox [8] observed, “and when you bring up a young guy from the minors like that at this point in the pennant race, it always helps.” The Phillies were fiercely battling the Expos for first. Any and all lightning that could be captured in a bottle was worth uncorking until it went flat. Bystrom, an undrafted free agent, never did: five starts, five wins, an ERA of 1.50 and, ultimately, a division title that led to a pennant and the first world championship in Phillies history. Marty was a part of it all.

Yeah, we could use a guy like that. If we already have one or two, all the better.

Robert Gsellman [9] is crafting an archetype for himself: that unheralded Met (thirteenth-round pick five years before) who came up late in that season when the Mets were barely hanging on, losing one starting pitcher after another, and placed our team on his previously obscure shoulders. We’ll see how the rest of the story goes, but the beginning sure is promising. Gsellman is three appearances and two starts into his big league career. He hasn’t done a darn thing wrong yet.

On Saturday night, his was the fresh face to shine brightest in a potentially harsh spotlight, halting Tanner Roark [10] and the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Two timely hits (Curtis Granderson [11]’s two-run single and James Loney [12]’s RBI double), one clutch catch (Michael Conforto [13]’s diving grab in center emerging as the long-sought antidote to Daniel Murphy [14]’s bottomless well of vengeance) and an impenetrable bullpen (Smoker to Reed to Familia) sustained his fine work [15], which yielded only one run on six hits over six innings. I got a particular kick out of what his catcher, Travis d’Arnaud [16], had to say about him after the game. The neophyte gave the team “young energy,” old man backstop said. Travis is 27. Robert is 23. Trying to win a Wild Card will age a fella.

If Gsellman isn’t overpowering, he is effective. And the effect is electric. Instead of woe-is-us’ing the days away, we move up in the standings. What was more unlikely — the Mets being one game out of playoff qualification or knowing who the Gs-hell Robert Gsellman is at all? Given the pallor left behind by the previous 48 hours, focused mostly on Jacob deGrom [17] and his mysteriously barking forearm, how could you not embrace this shaggy incarnation of vintage Bystrom?

Funny, I was hoping Seth Lugo [18], Sunday night’s starter, would meet that description, hairstyle notwithstanding. Lugo was also a rookie not on the Met radar when the season began and has also been thrust into what we shall, for lack of a better phrase, refer to as the rotation. Seth, too, has acquitted himself with aplomb. With Jake missing at least one start, Steven Matz [19]’s shoulder in soreness purgatory and Ray Ramirez continuing to lurk menacingly in the dugout shadows, we’ll need a couple of Bystroms. And maybe a Candelaria if one shows up on Craigslist.