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

An Evening at the Improv

Met pinstripes are magical. Put any player in them and they perform wondrous feats. Players you’d all but forgotten about. Players you’d barely heard of before. Players on whose backs it would not occur to you to pursue a postseason berth. They’re all here, whoever they are, and they’re wearing Mets uniforms in the service of winning Mets games when every Mets game might as well be a Mets season in miniature. Eight one-game seasons remain.

These New York Mets of Matt Harvey [1] and David Wright [2]…no, that’s not it.

These New York Mets of Jacob deGrom [3] and Neil Walker [4]…no, not them, either.

These New York Mets of Jon Niese [5] and Justin Ruggiano [6]…uh-uh.

Can we at least say “these New York Mets of Noah Syndergaard [7], a.k.a. the formidable Thor, the lone stud who has remained stalwartly studly from April to September, with his mighty thunderbolt of a right arm…?”

Don’t be silly. Of course we can’t. Syndergaard’s got the strep. He’s been scratched for tonight. Rest up, Norse horse. We will need to ride you at some point. I’m not so enchanted by magical Met threads that I believe we can put them on anybody who wasn’t leading the league in RBIs for Cincinnati and succeed as if nobody valuable has dropped like a fly (or a fly ball off the glove of Luis Cas…nah, too soon).

The folk trio you’ve seen during all those PBS pledge drives, Sean, Gil and Martin, will pitch in Thor’s place tonight. Correction: It’s Sean Gilmartin [8]. You may remember him from such 2015 highlight film outtakes as Rule 5 Rules! and If You Send Me Down, You’ll Never See Me Again. In a normal year, whatever a normal year is in Flushing, Sean would be that last pitcher you can’t quite remember is filling out the obscure end of the bullpen. In this abnormal month, Sean is a veritable celebrity, considering the Q (or “Who?”) ratings of his reliever colleagues.

Gilmartin’s making a start tonight, but ultimately he will probably not throw alone. Gabriel Ynoa [9] made a start last night. If Gilmartin was projected as No. 18 on the Mets starting pitcher depth chart when they broke camp, Ynoa was 18A. Nowadays, the starting pitcher depth chart is good for cleaning Dan Warthen [10]’s glasses. Ynoa didn’t so much start against the Phillies on Friday as throw two so-so innings of relief in the first and second. He gave up two runs and five hits, but the important thing is he gave the Mets length — reliever length — and got them to the third.

From there, the pitching got a little sitcommy, one ancillary character after another entering the main set only to exit moments later. Edit in smash cuts, lay down a music bed and sweeten with canned laughter, and it would make for a solid evening of prime time entertainment to have on in the background while you’re doing something else.

Except this is late-September pennant race baseball and you’re trotting out Ynoa, Logan Verrett [11], Josh Smoker [12], Erik Goeddel [13] and Josh Edgin [14] instead of one fully formed Steven Matz [15] (Friday night’s projected starter, if you can remember as far back as Thursday afternoon). Some of these chronic fill-ins were more effective than others. None was in danger of being spun off into his own series. It was more Full House than TGIF.

But because Met pinstripes are so flattering and turn almost every bit player into a star, it didn’t matter all that much. When the Phillies pitched, the Mets hit. Travis d’Arnaud [16], who is occasionally confused for his brother Travis, who used to be a rising-star catcher for the Mets, came out of offensive retirement to lash a run-scoring double in the second. Terry Collins was so stunned that he immediately pinch-hit for Ynoa even though there were at least seven innings to go.

To be fair, removing an ineffective emergency starter early when there was a chance to put runs on the board would have been stunning behavior for this manager a week or two ago [17]. That was mid-September. This is almost late September. Anything goes. Anything but Jay Bruce [18]’s name on the lineup card, that is.

The Mets and their secret ally Jeremy Hellickson [19] shifted into whichever gear makes you go moderately faster in the fifth. The game was slogging along and would take 3:40 to play, but clocks, like roster limits, are immaterial this time of year. There were singles and walks and runs and a Met lead and, after Hellickson could help us no longer and he was replaced by some other dude on the Phillies, a three-run homer from…

Michael Conforto [20]? We still have him? Yeah, I guess we do. Conforto lives and hits and is only whatever young age he is and he’s probably still toting his talent around and if it’s bursting out of him like it did at this juncture last year, well, watch out world…and get the eff out of the way, Jay.

The Mets were up by four until they were up by two until they were up by five, which is where it ended. The bullpen parade was halted when Hansel Robles [21] took control of the final two-and-two-thirds innings like the calm, wily veteran he is. Juan Lagares [22], last seen supplanting Collin Cowgill [23] and elbowing Rick Ankiel [24], laid down a pretty bunt and ran down a sinking line drive. Lucas Duda [25] got a hit. Ty Kelly [26] and Matt Reynolds [27] were in there somewhere. Asdrubal Cabrera [28], our indefatigable Weeble of a shortstop, wobbled but didn’t fall down (keep Thor and his strep the fudge away from him). Even Eric Campbell [29] drove in a run. Also, Eric Campbell requests we stop prefacing our compliments of his accomplishments with “even”.

From a mosh pit of Mets arose a messy 10-5 victory [30] one night after a 9-8 triumph for the ages [31]. For nine games prior to Thursday, the Mets wrung 24 runs outs of their barely damp washcloth. Now they’re raining runs until they’re not. It seems to go in cycles. Meanwhile, the state of the, if you’ll excuse the quaint expression, rotation — the one so abundant in talent that we were planning on telling Bartolo Colon [32] to grab some pine, big fella, healthy and robust Zack Wheeler [33] is here to take your place — seems to have been foreseen in General George Washington [34]’s final dispatch from 1776: “I begin to notice that many of us are lads under fifteen and old men, none of whom can truly be called starting pitchers.”

I’d say Thor will presumably recover from his strep throat, but I don’t want to seem presumptuous. On Thursday, when Matz was ruled unavailable, I was going to write something to the effect of “remember when learning you’d lost a starting pitcher seemed like a big deal?” But I thought better of tempting the baseball gods into doing something to Syndergaard. I apologize for even thinking it.

Nevertheless, we got by on Friday and we’ll attempt to get by on Saturday and for the seven mini-seasons beyond that remain. Because the roster is nearly if not quite a surfeit, we have the multitude of limbs and other body parts to make up for personnel shortfalls. Every game really is a season unto itself. Emerge a champion from each of these microcampaigns, gain a chance to legitimately contend for the one enormous title off in the distance. Based on what we’re seeing, this is how it’s gonna have to play out — subject to change, since we’re always seeing something we haven’t seen before.

It’s all very ad hoc, very improvised. Hell, it’s practically improvisation.

“How about you, sir? Give me a pitcher, a hitter and a situation.”
“Um, Gabriel Ynoa, Michael Conforto, and the Mets are trying to win the Wild Card.”
“OK, that’s a good one. Let’s see… ‘I’m Gabriel Ynoa, and I’m making my second start in the bigs…and I’m Michael Conforto and I’ve basically disappeared from view since April…we’re gonna help the Mets gain ground on September 23!’ And…scene.”
“Oh, very good. Ha, yeah. It’s like you were really in a pennant race or something. Hmmm…”

Is this any way to get to October? The Mets are a game up on San Francisco, a game-and-a-half ahead of St. Louis, so the answer is a definitive maybe.