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The Inevitability of Nope

Thank goodness for Monday’s off-day, for it gave us another 24 hours to test the limits of mathematical optimism. Once the Mets were no longer playing the 2017 Giants, our dreams of seeing them ascend to contention were revealed for what they were and the audacity of hope crashed headfirst into the inevitability of nope. And, for approximately the 6,893,355th time since 1993, the wake-up call came from a not-good-but-better-than-us Marlins team in a near-empty stadium in Miami.

There was no shortage of things terrible and typical Tuesday night — mush-brained at-bats, poor fielding, inept relief, bad luck and ill health — but one sequence summed it up. To set the stage, in the top of the seventh the Mets had tied the game on a Travis d’Arnaud [1] homer but saw a rally snuffed out thanks to a nifty, improvised play behind second base by new Marlins annoyance JT Riddle [2].

In the bottom of the inning came a flurry of mistakes that would prove fatal:

  1. The Mets continued to allow Neil Ramirez [3] near a big-league roster, then compounded that bizarre decision by letting him pitch in a situation that mattered. Ramirez’s first act, predictably, was to walk JT Realmuto.
  2. Up came Riddle, the guy who’d made the good play to deny the Mets. He hit a one-hopper a step to Lucas Duda [4]‘s left — not a routine play, but one a first baseman needs to make. Duda didn’t make it. The ball clanked off his glove, and instead of two outs and nobody on the Marlins had runners on first and third.
  3. Jerry Blevins [5] came in to face Ichiro Suzuki [6], who slapped a ball into the 5.5 hole, two steps to Wilmer Flores [7]‘s left. A good third baseman maybe dives and corrals it, helped by quick reflexes and sound instincts. It’s not news that Wilmer lacks both those things, but this was an extraordinary misplay even by his standards: his first step was towards third, away from the ball. What in the world was he doing? Who knows? At this point, what does it matter?

That essentially was it — the five minutes in which the Mets lost thoroughly and irrefutably [8].

I could linger on other moments that made you shake your head or stare into the void — there was the five-second period where the Mets lost a hit, a run that would have tied the game and Robert Gsellman [9] to the disabled list — but you get the idea.

And yet you know what? This morning, a few hours removed from this latest debacle, I found myself feeling sorry for Wilmer, stumbling away from the ball he was supposed to field, and smiling at the memory of the four days where we’d decided the Mets were winning it all and just barely managed not to shout the good news from the baseball rooftops.

As Mets fans we get caricatured as a woebegone fanbase waiting for the roof to fall in again, and that’s not wrong. But it’s only half of it. The other half is we play three games against the Giants and spend one day playing no one and extrapolate from the lack of losses that we’re going back to the World Series. And whether we disguise it with silence or with irony, we fucking mean it. That’s the flipside of being a Mets fan: an inextinguishable, irrational hope that roars back to life at the tiniest opportunity.

Which reminded me, inevitably, of Anthony Young [10]. By now you’ve read Greg’s fine tribute [11] to AY. Hearing of Young’s death at a mere 51, I of course flashed back to the end of his 27-game losing streak and the removal from his back of what AY admitted wasn’t just a monkey but a whole zoo.

I was living in D.C. but back at my folks’ house in St. Petersburg, Fla., for reasons I now can’t recall. I had to step away from the game, for reasons I also now can’t recall, but set up the VCR to tape the end of it. In the long-ago world before phones and Twitter, all I had to do was not watch SportsCenter when I returned to the house sometime near midnight with no idea what had happened. Standing there in the darkened house, I rewound the tape to find out.

1993 was the year the Mets had a tail on the front of their uniforms and a kick-me sign on their backs — an utterly miserable campaign in which every light at the end of the tunnel was the next in a line of bigger trains. But not that night. You can see the final pitch [12] from that night on YouTube, and watching it again I was happy to find my memory and history hadn’t diverged.

The Mets have — as usual — betrayed AY with some lousy fielding and other horrors, but then sprung to life against the newborn Marlins. Which brings us to Eddie Murray [13]. Murray doubles down the line, sending Ryan Thompson [14] streaking around the bases as the winning run.

The focus turns almost immediately from the jubilant Thompson to Young, who starts off on the edge of the celebratory scrum but quickly becomes its center. There’s Todd Hundley [15] putting an arm around his shoulders, and gigantic Eric Hillman [16] reaching down to offer what for him was a low-five. (Aside: Wow what a terrible team this was.)

Young at first looks slightly annoyed by the whole thing, which you can understand: the streak existed in large part because of buzzards’ luck and his teammates’ betrayals, and this win has as little to do with him as most of the losses did. But he can’t stay stone-faced, not with big, bluff Dallas Green [17] coming over to fold an arm over him and the fans at Shea cheering madly. Which they really are doing — they’re going nuts for a pitcher who just ran his record for 1-13. Which is what I was doing that night, albeit on tape delay — I was running around my parents’ living room hurdling furniture and laughing like an idiot.

The cheers are genuine, and so Anthony Young finally throws his hands up and surrenders to them. It’s a little bit comic and, OK, maybe it’s even a little bit pathetic. But it’s heartfelt. It’s real. In that moment no one at Shea Stadium could think of anything better than being a fan of the New York Mets — the 35-65 New York Mets. And at least for a moment, I bet every one of them was certain the 1993 Mets would ride Anthony Young’s 15-13 campaign to end the year at 97-65.

Next time Wilmer Flores stumbles thisaway instead of thataway or Lucas Duda looks dolefully at the ball that should have been in his glove — which probably means tonight — I’ll make sure I remember that.