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Stop Doing the Thing That Hurts

Before Tuesday’s game the Mets diverted a river into the Augean stables of their bullpen, sluicing Jeurys Familia [1] onto the IL with a vaguely defined shoulder injury and washing Drew Gagnon [2] out to Syracuse, in favor of Daniel Zamora [3] and newcomer Stephen Nogosek [4].

Mickey Callaway [5] also called a team meeting, after which his players said all the right things.

The Mets then went out and walloped the Braves [6].

So is that sequence chronological or causal?

Zamora’s looked like he knows how to pitch and been mostly effective in his brief big-league career … but we would have said the same thing about Gagnon not so long ago. Nogosek, the last remnant of the fire-sale trade of Addison Reed [7] two summers ago, has logged less than 13 innings of Triple-A ball.

Spaghetti-at-the-wall reliever swaps should be greeted with the same diplomatic silence granted that friend who bravely insists that this manipulative, shiftless, “functionally high” boyfriend really does have good qualities that the others lacked. And team meetings make that kind of this-time-it-will-be-differenting seem like hard science. If you believe in them, I’m going to do you the kindness of not asking publicly about the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny.

Maybe I’m wrong and that’s too cynical. I would love to be wrong. If I am wrong, I will risk my by-then brittle old bones by performing a shaky but gleeful interpretive dance at the launch party for Greg Prince’s much-anticipated 30th-anniversary book about the 2019 Miracle, the one that devotes a chapter to the cavalry-style arrival of Zamora and Nogosek and pauses for a joyous point-counterpoint between Callaway’s rallying of the troops and Tug McGraw [8] channeling M. Donald Grant. (We’re gonna have it at Foley’s, with an open bar. Or at least food vouchers.)

But it’s more likely that the part of the Mets’ plan that can be causally linked to Tuesday’s results was sending Jacob deGrom [9] to the hill, and an angry Jacob deGrom at that.

DeGrom’s been merely good this year, perhaps because he’s laboring in the shadow of one of the all-time great campaigns by a starting pitcher, perhaps because sliders have become unreliable. It’s been interesting — and sometimes painful — to watch him navigate that unfamiliar psychological terrain.

Suffice to say that the previously stoic deGrom has not hid his frustration this season. It’s been visible when plays aren’t made behind him, when pitches don’t go where they were directed, and when good work has gone for naught through mischance or bullpen failures. Half the time, it feels like, he’s been pitching while seething.

Tuesday night he had plenty of reason to seethe, from the serial incompetence around him to having his pregame routine scrambled by a delayed starting time that somehow wasn’t properly communicated. He looked coldly furious from the jump and took it out on the Braves, annihilating them with a fastball that hit 100, a slider that actually slid and a change-up that could have been classified as a war crime.

The Braves had no chance until deGrom tired in the ninth, north of 100 pitches. He surrendered back-to-back solo homers and the mound to Robert Gsellman [10], who managed not to lose an eight-run lead. (Seriously, given recent bullpen outings it does need to be specified.) After the game, he seemed mostly PO’ed about Outs 26 and 27 proving elusive.

Meanwhile, his teammates more than did their part. Pete Alonso [11] was on base six times, connecting for a home run that looked like a routine fly ball until it came down 425 feet away. Jeff McNeil [12] chipped in three hits, including a homer of his own. And Michael Conforto [13] subjected a baseball to a cruel act, redirecting it to the top of the Braves’ annoying Chophouse beyond the right-field stands. Every starter had a hit — even Robinson Cano [14] did things that suggested a mirror held up to his mouth might actually fog.

Maybe the Mets need daily team meetings. Maybe they should cycle relievers on and off the roster before each game. (Letting them actually pitch seems less advisable.) Maybe they should agitate every starter and tell him he’s pitching into the ninth. Maybe they should clone Jacob deGrom.

Or maybe the Mets’ ace performed like an ace, which makes even the dopiest plan look sound.

Because the rest of the day … ehh. We learned Brandon Nimmo [15] has been shut down from baseball activities for a month, the same Brandon Nimmo who was sent back out to play a couple of days after getting hurt. Which makes Nimmo’s case similar to Cano, Justin Wilson [16] and Jed Lowrie [17], and that’s considering this season alone. That sure sounds like those who shouldn’t be involved in Mets medical decisions are up to their old self-destructive tricks.

We saw what to my eyes sure looked like deGrom all but refusing to come out of the game, and his manager standing down. Even when you’re not sure about the warden’s qualifications, the asylum probably shouldn’t be reinvented as a collective guided by inmate consensus.

In other words, it was mostly a typical day in Metsland. A near-shutout and an offensive outburst will always drown out complaints about such things. But it’s a hard blueprint to follow consistently.

Postscript: The Braves hailed Gary Cohen’s 2,000th play-by-play appearance by sending him chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne, a classy gesture from a franchise chiefly known for gestures that ought to be retired.

I often ride out insomnia and my own night-owl habits by watching other games on MLB.tv, and that’s taught me that the Mets’ booth stands alone. Their wisdom, easy flow and balancing of hometown affinities with clear-eyed analysis add up to pitch-perfect broadcasts on most nights, and Cohen’s play-by-play is the fulcrum of it all.

I can summon many Gary Cohen calls back to life if I close my eyes, reaching back to his radio days. But one, for me, will always exemplify his Hall of Fame talent.

(Warning: It’s not a call we remember joyously.)

It was the last call on the afternoon Jeff Francoeur [18] lined into an unassisted triple play. Here’s the transcript: “2-2, the runners go! Line drive — CAUGHT BY BRUNTLETT! He makes the tag … it’s a triple play … and the ballgame is over! An unassisted triple play to end the ballgame! UN-believable! [beat] With the runners going and nobody out, Bruntlett — who had made two bad plays in the inning — has a line drive hit right to him at the bag. He stepped on second for the second out and tagged out Murphy to complete the triple play!”

Elapsed time of the play: 4.6 seconds. Total time of Cohen’s call: 37.5 seconds.

That’s not a walkoff homer, but a play that’s only occurred 15 times in MLB history. An unassisted triple play happens in the blink of an eye, and only a prophet or a lunatic would rehearse calling one. I can’t imagine a harder test for a baseball broadcaster, and Cohen aced it: In rapid succession, his call accurately captures what happened, the mechanics of a play almost no one watching has ever seen, and the context for the defender and the game. All without a single bobble or reversal. The lone pause? It’s there to let the moment breathe.

I marvel at Gary Cohen’s work every night, but for that one words fail me. We are so lucky to have him. Here’s to 2,000 more nights with him and his crew.