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

Relentlessly It Ends

The baseball season ended Sunday, you might have noticed. Maybe you didn’t if you’re one of those people who insists you stopped watching the Mets by June, a good month to have looked away, I suppose. I never stopped looking, never stopped noticing, never stopped doing all the things implicit in the act of Mets fandom. I never shake those feelings we are inhabited by all through winter, the ones that have us counting down to the various iterations of Spring, the ones that lead us so gratefully to Opening Day.

Spiritually, I have 162 of those. Maybe not on the same scale of “oh boy, at last the Mets are playing,” but the thread extends six months in my mind. Excited that 7:10 is coming, that 1:10 is coming, that prior to Game 162 3:10 is coming.

It came and then it went. Now it is gone. Seventy-seven wins of it, eighty-five losses as well. The latter outweighing the former is never a good sign. You want Column W to overwhelm Column L. The Mets piled their losses inequitably. There were too many of them casting shadows from their May and June accumulation to make the relative plethora of late-season victories mean very much in the scheme of things. Sort of like the shadows you get at Citi Field from the light stanchions in the middle innings when you start a game at 3:10 at the end of September.

But never mind the scheme and enjoy the things. That’s the only way to navigate a 77-85 season as it is ending. That’s how I felt Sunday bearing in-person witness to the Mets’ seventy-seventh win. I never turn my nose up at the last game of a fairly lousy year. Or any year.

I embrace Closing Day every season. I have attended Closing Day — final regularly scheduled home game, that is — for 24 consecutive seasons, 26 in all. I’m not nearly as stringent about Opening Day. Opening Day is fantastic, but there’s a parade of days behind it. Closing Day couldn’t be more literal, save maybe for seasons that choose a “post” instead of an “off” as its defining suffix.

Twenty Eighteen wasn’t one of those seasons. Viewed most favorably, the totality of 2018 landed at the outskirts of OK. Could have been worse. Seriously. It was a lot worse in the first half after the fever dream of the first two weeks wore off. Then there was some muddling along until a lunge at competency proved semi-successful. The video board at Citi Field informed us Sunday that the Mets had won their most September games in thirty years. If only that, like 11-1 out of the gate, had been the objective.

We’ll leave firming up our sagging midsections for another season, hopefully the very next one. For now, it’s enough that the 2018 baseball season simply was. It was every night and every day, even when it rained. Especially when it rained. For my own edification, I kept track of many numbers and observations this season — as if writing a second, not particularly punctuated blog — and one of the strands of data I noted to myself was how many and long the rain delays were. They were often long (an epic 5:35 on September 12) and they were definitely many (twenty-one different games affected, including one that paused unofficially for eighteen minutes on May 16 so the mound could be doused with drying agent). I can’t compare it to other years, since it never occurred to me to keep track before, but I can tell you that in 2018, the Mets waited out more than 25 hours of baseball-averse weather before tarps came off fields or other arrangements were agreed upon. That doesn’t count the couple of occasions when it was decided in advance that baseball couldn’t be played in such weather. That actually happened, too.

Yet the games went on, all 162 of them. Rain didn’t stop them. Life didn’t stop them. Careers winding down didn’t stop them. It struck me how relentless baseball is about completing its business during the 160th game, the first in David Wright’s career since May 27, 2016 (a date that, like No. 5, we can now retire), the second-to-last he would play. Wright coming back to materially participate in a box score was a huge deal to us, suddenly the story of the season, right up there with Jacob deGrom seeking and sealing his Cy Young. SNY stayed with its telecast, ignoring a commercial break, just so we could watch Wright travel the last steps in his long journey from stubbornly disabled, to feasibly rehabilitated, to properly stretched, to the dugout, to the on-deck circle, to the plate to lead off the home fifth. Batting for the eternally winless Paul Sewald, David swung at the first pitch he saw in 28 months, grounding it to Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson, who threw it to not yet vilified first baseman Peter O’Brien for the first out of the inning.

It was the most intensely applauded 5-3 in Flushing since October 16, 1969, when the Mets beat the Orioles by that tally to claim a world championship. David had done it. He had won his own personal World Series. He had made it back. He had it in him to be a part of baseball once or twice more. Wherever we watched from, we recognized it and we embraced it and we celebrated it.

Then the TV cameras trained their attention on Brandon Nimmo, who was up next. Our announcers followed in kind. There was a game that had to be played. Nimmo was batting; Rosario was on deck; the Mets were trailing, 3-1; Drew Gagnon was getting warm in the bullpen. Not even the Captain could order baseball to a full stop.

Only Closing Day can do that. Our baseball kept going until it couldn’t on Sunday. In that moment when you don’t want it to go away, naturally it took off as swiftly as it could. Game 162 was the fastest of the Mets’ season, taking only two hours and ten minutes. No rain delays, just one replay challenge. It would have been nice to have challenged baseball to have stuck around a little longer in Queens, but I don’t think that’s how the rule works.

We cheer nothing as hard as we cheer David Wright these last few days (he continued to be received warmly in DNP territory on those couple of instances when CitiVision featured him), but we do cheer excellent, efficient pitching with uncommon conviction. That’s what we got from Noah Syndergaard [1] on Sunday. Nine innings, no runs. That hardly ever arises from the arm of a starting pitcher anymore, but when it does, there’s a decent chance it’s happening on Closing Day. Nelson Figueroa gave us a Closing Day shutout in 2009. Miguel Batista did the same in 2011. Those games were also over far too soon, yet you couldn’t have in good conscience recommended they go on further. We’re Mets fans who show up at the bitter end. Of course we want the most there is to cheer, even if it comes from pitching that shortens our final precious minutes in the ballpark.

There wasn’t much to cheer from the offense. The Mets totaled only four hits versus Miami, but two of them produced one run, enough for Noah [2], whom I’ve decided to no longer reference by his comic book name because I think he pitches better when I don’t. Noah threw two complete games in September. That’s plenty superheroic for baseball.

The afterglow of David’s farewell [3] Saturday bathed another less spectacular adieu in a generous light Sunday. Ideally, David Wright [4] and Jose Reyes [5] might have left the playing field for good in tandem, each and both rating a simultaneous monumental bon voyage from a stadium packed to its gills with Mets fans. But since when does Mets fandom unfurl as ideal? The ideal of No. 5 + No. 7 = 4EVA took a right turn into the dugout on September 28, 2011, the Closing Day Batista threw his shutout. It wasn’t that Reyes departed that Game 162 in the first inning to preserve his batting crown. It wasn’t even the way he did it, vamoosing from the action before anybody quite comprehended what happened. It was leaving the Mets altogether, following the money to Miami.

That wasn’t bad business on Jose’s part. It wasn’t like the Mets were negotiating hard to maintain the services of one-half of the best position-player duo they ever developed. But it did change the equation. Among many other things, it guaranteed that what David Wright did — pursing an entire stellar baseball career as nothing but a New York Met — would be without parallel and go down without precedent. Reyes’s journey went wayward. So did Wright’s, really, but for reasons far more out of his control. David stuck to one uniform. Jose went on a more typical tour of big league changing rooms. Maybe it made him appreciate being a Met more than he had when free agency’s lucrative siren song beckoned, because he sure seemed happy to be back when he finally returned.

Jose’s final season as a Met, perhaps as a big leaguer, was mostly miserable. In the end, he got more or less what he merited. Saturday night, the franchise’s all-time shortstop — leader in stolen bases and triples probably forever more — enthusiastically adopted the role of lovable sidekick to the Captain. It wasn’t his night, but he was intrinsic to its magic. Nobody else should have been at short when Wright said goodbye to third. Nobody else should have received the first and most meaningful on-field hug. Nobody else did, and I’m glad.

Sunday afternoon, Jose’s sendoff was more muted, less universally recognized and saluted. No press conference declared it in advance, but word got out in the morning. The choreography was better than it was when he went out in 2011, 148-point difference in batting average notwithstanding. Once more starting at short. Once more in the leadoff position. Once more into the dugout after running to first, though this time sans bunt or base hit. One final musical cue for “HoZay…” One final leap from the dugout and wave to a crowd that was more than polite, less than adoring. Then, as with the demands of Friday and even Saturday, the game went on. Nothing quite up to what Wright got as goodbye. There was only one Wright. There’s also only one Reyes. I’m glad we had both.

I’m also glad I invested in my 24th consecutive Closing Day, not to mention my 50th consecutive season. I entered Metsdom somewhere late in the summer of 1969, liked what I gleaned it was all about, and decided on the spot to stick around without end. Even when seasons end. Even when ballparks end. This year made ten years without Shea Stadium. Citi Field turned into our natural home so gradually I didn’t even notice. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I did kick and scream a lot in 2009 and didn’t really calm down until 2015, but here I am, my antennae still tuned toward more or less the same address. I have my ups and downs at the ballpark like any fan. My record was 7-11, which seems reasonable when set against the Mets’ overall Citi Field record of 37-44. I could have had better luck, but so could have the Mets.

My one revelation on Sunday regarding trying to enjoy a Mets game to its fullest at a place other than Shea is how this place is all about the between-innings upsell. It’s not enough that I bought a pair of tickets to sit inside Citi Field and heartily support your main product. I should find out about special premium seats. I should ask into season ticket packages. If I buy this many tickets, I get a replica jersey. If I buy this many more tickets, I get an authentic jersey. I should be impressed by perks. Look at all those people and their perks perking. That could be me if I ante up. It won’t be me if I don’t. I don’t know that this is any different from any other year, but after eighteen games encompassing eleven losses subject to the between-innings upsell, it finally got on my nerves.

Just when the Mets didn’t, too, apparently the result of that competent September, if not much of a non-deGrominant nature before it. The 2018 Mets Reyes is leaving are literally no better than the 2011 Mets Reyes left. Mickey Callaway’s first edition compiled the same record as Terry Collins’s. Collins ended his initial campaign in our midst fighting off tears in trying to explain why it was important to let Reyes come out for a pinch-runner. Callaway seemed emotional, too, in his postgame media meet, but in a different way. He’d been given a provisional vote of confidence by Jeff Wilpon earlier in the day, something to the effect of, “gosh, Mickey, ownership likes you, but it’s not up to us whether you’re back next year,” which may be a first in baseball annals. True, the new GM (we’re not close to having one yet) shouldn’t be saddled with a field manager he doesn’t want, but leaving Callaway hanging after the best if not exactly most meaningful September since 1988 seems atonal.

Callaway swore he’d be on board with whatever the fates had in store for him. He’s part of the Mets, he said, and he’ll do whatever’s best for the Mets, even if that means not being manager of the Mets…which would imply he won’t be part of the Mets anymore, but let Mickey have his emotions and his moment. It could have gotten a whole lot worse after June and it didn’t.

So I don’t know for sure who will manage the Mets in 2019 or who will call the shots in the front office (besides Jeff Wilpon). I can only partly ascertain who will compose the team they are running and I am following. All I can do is keep watching, keep listening, keep going and keep track for my own edification and maybe your engagement. Twenty Eighteen completes fourteen seasons of Faith and Fear in Flushing, though unlike the magnetic schedule, we don’t reach an end. I’ll be here all winter, winter in our vernacular having begun at 5:20 PM Sunday.

But this is the end of our more or less daily habit, which is as much of a shame in my mind as not having 7:10 and 1:10 and assorted other oddball starting times. The Mets have played 2,268 regular-season games since April 4, 2005, and some combination of Jason and I have written a recap of every one of them. The Mets’ record since we joined the beat is 1,134-1,134. Win some, lose some, rinse and repeat.

Nah. Just as I concluded immediately in September of 1969 and again in April of 2005, this right here is a winning formula. I no longer remember what it is to root for the Mets without blogging about the Mets. I do, but I can’t relate to it. Sometimes during this season, I’ll admit to you, I’ve felt like I’m talking to myself in this space (“does anybody else really care that the Mets were delayed by rain a total of more than twenty-four hours?”), but I keep talking, keep writing and assume kindred Met spirits are consuming if not always directly responding. Writing about the Mets on a daily basis may resonate more when the Mets win, but I honestly can’t say I find the act of writing about the Mets less rewarding when they lose. I love doing this, win or lose. If you were with us this whole season now completed or just came back around at the end, I love that you’ve sought us out.

Thank you for the company. See you this offseason. Hell, we’re already there.