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The Meaning of Noah

You could look at how Noah Syndergaard [1] pitched Tuesday night’s game against the White Sox — brilliantly — and infer that this was Noah’s way of telling the Mets how much being one of them means to him.

You could look at how the Mets played in support of Noah as he pitched brilliantly — maddeningly — and infer that this was the Mets’ way of telling Noah he is now and forever truly one of them.

Noah, as noted, was brilliant. After so many frustrating starts in 2019, some of which yielded him wins despite his feet getting stuck in quicksand, Syndergaard rarely deserved a win more, yet he didn’t get it. That, of course, is the Met way. The Mets have deprived their best pitchers of wins for as long as they’ve had best pitchers. For seven-and-a-third innings, it was hard to imagine it getting any better than what Noah was doing. Every pitch worked. Every inning was mastered from the mound. Everything indicated Syndergaard’s plenty-long last name would be adorned at its end with a W.

Yet it wasn’t, because the Mets never automatically furnish their best pitchers with the support, offensively or defensively, they merit. Not Seaver. Not Gooden. Not Pedro or Johan or the Dark Knight of Gotham when they were steering the rotation through inevitably choppy waters. Not Jacob deGrom, the first 10-game winner to fashion an almost unanimously acclaimed Cy Young season. Noah Syndergaard got the treatment Tuesday night. It wasn’t the first time. Perversely, I hope it won’t be the last.

As the Mets prepared for their third series ever in a ballpark that’s had a different name every time they’ve detoured there, their “probable pitcher” never felt like a certainty to throw the game’s first pitch. Ervin Santana [2] was scratched from his start for Syracuse. On most days, that news would be of surpassing interest only to Ervin Santana and the pitcher who took his place. Most days aren’t the day before the trade deadline. Ervin Santana not pitching for Syracuse was Butterfly Effect stuff. Your Triple-A starter doesn’t flap his wings, Noah Syndergaard might be packing his bags. Or Zack Wheeler. Or Marcus Stroman [3], who has yet to unpack.

Santana’s instructions to chill did not have a chilling effect on Syndergaard. Noah remained active for the New York Mets on the South Side of Chicago. Other teams could remain interested in him. but only the Mets could use him, which they did to optimal effect. Noah flirted with perfection, then no-hitterness before settling in for routine dominance. Eleven strikeouts. One walk. He overwhelmed the White Sox, who, to be fair, seemed ripe to get overwhelmed. If it weren’t for a Todd Frazier error, Noah would have gone unscored upon. If it weren’t for the Mets failing to hit with myriad runners in scoring position, Noah would have carried a massive lead into the late innings.

Ah, but these were the Mets being the Mets toward their best pitchers, whether it was leaving Tom Seaver high and dry in the early 1970s or Noah Syndergaard with minimal margin for error at the end of the 2010s. It was a game the Mets could have been ahead in by a ton. It was also a game the Mets could have been down by a run. What Noah didn’t hold off, Seth Lugo did. Mostly, for a very long while, it was a game that a good team would have taken hold of, except this game between the Mets and White Sox didn’t contain a good team.

The Mets, despite playing some of their best ball of the season, are still not that well-formed. The starting pitching that they are continually rumored to be intent on dismantling has been about as sublime as it can possibly be of late. The hitting has veered from opportunistic to dormant. Catching the ball is always catch as catch can. Mickey Callaway is still ostensibly running the show. On Sunday, in answering a question about the personnel upheaval potentially at hand, Callaway tried to make a point about the cohesiveness of the unit. “We wanna win together,” he said. “We wanna lose together.”

Second aspiration accomplished plenty since April of 2018, Mick. Yet finally the Mets aren’t losing together as a rule. Five in a row now, six of their last seven, 11-4 since July 13. Most of the success has come at the expense of sub-.500 outfits like themselves, as if relegation was inaugurated while nobody was looking. All we know about the Mets at the moment is after a first half when they kept blowing games to good teams is they’ve figured out how to hang on against less good teams.

Versus the White Sox, they hung in despite the machinations of the man imported specifically to make holding one-run leads a formality. Edwin Diaz came on with a 2-1 advantage in the ninth and left with a 2-2 tie. Diaz’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors, too. For all of his Mariner credentials and highly considered talents [4], I find myself wishing he’ll be mentioned in trade realities by four o’clock today. Trade him for a bag of balls. Very nice balls in a plush velvet bag, but move him along if you can. I won’t flinch. Some people aren’t made for certain situations. I’m sensing Diaz and the Mets are not a match made in Flushing. He has rarely been shutdown-caliber this season, which is not just a matter of style points. The more a closer has to struggle, the more the butterfly flaps its wings. Edwin throws this many more pitches, even in victory, it means he can’t do this or that the next time. And the next time inevitably includes a lot of this or that he’s not getting done.

Diaz has 23 saves anyway. Leave him be and he’ll probably collect more than 30. That sounds impressive. On some level, I’m sure it is. On some other level, I get the feeling it means some combination of other Mets relievers would have gotten most of, as many as, or more than that amount of saves. If another team wants to relieve us of our alleged ace reliever for a package properly compensatory to his reputation (he was The Man in Seattle, after all), go for it. I won’t hold it fiercely against this administration if Diaz finds himself reborn in another uniform or that if only we’d been patient we would have benefited from a renaissance tantamount to Tug McGraw shaking off his horrendous blahs in 1973. Edwin’s been a Met for two-thirds of a season in a season that wasn’t going anywhere on his right arm.

it’s not like Noah. Noah in another uniform, despite the frustrations he’s engendered periodically, would forever bother me. He’s a Met. He’s a New York Met. He’s embraced it. He’s crafted an image for himself and mostly seemed to understand the absurdity of it. To me, that’s always been the difference between the Dark Knight and Thor. Matt Harvey took the whole Matt Harvey thing far too much to heart, and when his body couldn’t keep up, his head couldn’t handle it. Noah Syndergaard is in on the jokey aspects of Thor. He’s committed to the bit, but he knows it’s a bit. It only looks like a distraction when, for one reason or another, the pitching isn’t functioning as he and we would like.

Noah as an Astro or Padre or whatever would look wrong. Dykstra as a Phillie wrong. Reed as a Twin wrong. Cleon Jones of the White Sox when the White Sox played in a great ballpark [5] wrong. Whether it proved to be a disaster of a trade or the epitome of foresight in letting go a guy a year too soon rather than a year too late, the optics of a displaced Thor would forever sear the heart. He’d always be a Met even if he wasn’t a Met, and that’s the worst vision you can have filling your screen, in October or otherwise.

Noah of the Mets didn’t get a win on Tuesday night, but the Mets eventually did. In the eleventh inning, after a tenth when Robert Gsellman did what Edwin Diaz couldn’t in the ninth, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto did what no Mets could do all night. McNeil lofted a fly ball that just kept carrying until it was a two-run homer, scoring Amed Rosario (4-for-5) and himself to put the Mets out in front, 4-2. Conforto followed with a blast that was barely contained by whatever the White Sox presently refer to their building as. Gsellman protected the 5-2 advantage, and the Mets ultimately enjoyed what amounted to another productive night at the tomato can factory [6], taking the measure of one more team apparently worse than them. Bet you had no idea there were so many of them. I was just grateful there was no chance Diaz could re-enter the game and attempt another save.

The alchemy that pieces together a team that wins together far more often than it loses together has thus far eluded the Mets, recent string of triumphs over baseball’s tomato can division notwithstanding. If you can show me how converting Syndergaard’s abilities into other players that would lift the Mets from their perpetual state of hoping everything breaks right and maybe we can be in sixth place for the second Wild Card a mere five games out, then I could convince myself to look past Noah in strange colors. If you could convince me this isn’t only about budgeting the pitching staff, that this is really about competing, contending and prevailing, then, go ahead, convince me. I’m not convinced trading a pitcher as good as Noah Syndergaard can do that.

No wonder this time of year is such a Met drag. Getting Stroman should have been exciting. Mostly it was mysterious. Getting rid of Jason Vargas [7] and his auxiliary director of media relations portfolio was simply a salary shed, what teams out of it do in late July. Vargas projects as useful for the Phillies, who are closer to real as an immediate contender than we are. Wheeler? We’re still looking to trade a starting pitcher who can help a team win games down the stretch? Why is our stretch perennially of such little significance that we can’t ride a Zack Wheeler for two more months and think about keeping him another year or more? Maybe a dreamish rotation of deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Matz and Stroman won’t cure all our ills. It definitely won’t help various Mets smother baseballs and throw them accurately every time out, but it’s something to conceivably look forward to.

Looking forward to the Mets other than out of habit. Remember how that felt?