When the 2019 Mets look up “quit” in the dictionary, you know whose picture they see? It’s a trick question, because not only don’t they know the meaning of the word “quit,” it’s never occurred to them to investigate further.
They’d been telling us for months that this is how they operate. “This team doesn’t quit.” “There’s no quit in this team.” “We won’t even drink Nesquik because of the homophonic overtones.” OK, so I made the last one up, but you get the point, and it’s good to the last drop, or, more accurately, the last pitch when it’s whacked down the left field line to drive in the last run of the latest remarkable comeback to certify that whatever stirs these Mets, it’s delicious.
I’m giddy. It’s the next morning and I’m giddy. You should have seen me in the tenth inning Wednesday night after the Mets trampled Citi Field in their inimitable walkoff fashion. You probably didn’t need to see me, though. You saw yourself. You felt yourself, so to speak. You felt the 2019 Mets not quitting. It’s a feeling you wish could go on forever, a feeling you shouldn’t bet against continuing indefinitely within the parameters of what I believe is technically referred to as the championship season — the season in which everybody is at least theoretically competing for a championship.
We long ago transitioned from the realm of theory to reality where contending was concerned. Really, we skipped over theory because we were either mired in hopelessness or deluded from fantasy in the realm of championship contention. There was maybe a minute where we thought about it. Probably while we were on the road scooping up Long Island’s Own Marcus Stroman  for what appeared to be unknown reasons.
Only contenders go out and grab established starting pitchers. The Mets, when they traded two prospects to Toronto for LIOMS, were merely some second-division straggler who had lucked into their schedule’s soft spot and had reeled off a few wins in a row for a change. Stroman joined the fold and the Mets just about haven’t lost since.
That’s an oversimplification of process, cause, effect, narrative, whatever. But I’m giddy, so take it for what it’s worth. Stroman has started four games as a Met. He’s pitched exceedingly well in none of them, decently for stretches of some of them, and the Mets have won all of them. Marcus Stroman for MVM? Theoretically.
In reality, Stroman was done after four innings Wednesday night, a victim of his own hamstring tightness. Met hamstrings are barking at the moon this month like there’s a special on them at Sears. Fortunately, if Met medical reports are to be taken at face value (and our credulity is such these days that we’ll believe practically anything the Mets tell us), each hammy malady is less worse than the one before it. Cano is out deep into September if not longer. McNeil indicates he’ll be leaping off the IL as soon as they let him. Stroman’s MRI showed nothing off-kilter, implying that he can continue in rotation.
Good. As noted, the Mets never lose when Marcus takes the mound. Wheel him to the pitching rubber next week and call him the opener if necessary. In the interim, meaning the fifth inning Wednesday night, there was the little matter of Mickey Callaway having to prevail upon his bullpen earlier than planned. In another life, say back in June, that would have meant a stream of Fonts, a thud of Bashlors and a torrent of runs. It must have been awful to live in those times.
In this enlightened era, we have Jeurys Familia , that strike-blazing dynamo from Sector 7-G who never lets his mates down. Familia inherited a 1-0 deficit and imposed austerity on the Cleveland Indians lineup, retiring his immediate portion of it in order. Inspired by Jeurys, the Mets’ offense rumbled to life in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Todd Frazier , dismissed early and often this season, singled; Juan Lagares , written off as useless as recently as last week, doubled him in to tie the game; and pinch-hitter Luis Guillorme , whose presence on the roster was universally understood as the product of the Mets not wishing to pay Adeiny Hechavarria a sizable bonus, doubled home Lagares.
Each of those Mets, derided in many if not most quarters as default space-fillers on a roster pocked with holes, came through to give us ingrates who call ourselves their fans a 2-1 lead. Glad they don’t hold grudges.
Brad Brach  took over for Familia and promptly revealed his sporting nature, permitting the Indians a tying run of their own. Brad’s gentlemanly gesture extended no further than a 2-2 score, thankfully. Classy is one thing, but no need to give away the store. Brach is no Font, no Bashlor, no black bullpen hole. He retired the next two batters and kept the game where it belonged: up for grabs, within grasp of the Mets.
Cleveland remained aloft, too. Despite that hiccup in the fifth, Adam Plutko generated a start reminiscent of Lew Burdette, a curious reference to invoke here unless you caught the tidbit that Plutko was trying to become the first pitcher to come to New York and beat two different teams in consecutive decisions in more than six decades. Burdette did it last, in 1957, to the Dodgers and Giants on a very convenient Milwaukee Braves road trip. Plutko defeated the Yankees last week (yay!) and was scheming via Interleague folderol to do the same to the Mets (boo!). In a vacuum, if 2019 were still the 2019 it shaped up as when we were young and stupid (again, in June), I might have quietly rooted for the oddity to take flight.
I’m slightly less young and slightly less stupid of late. I credit the Mets for marginally adding to my intelligence, as they have taught me 2019 does not take place in a vacuum. I was rooting hard for the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on 1957 World Series MVP Lew Burdette’s more trivial legacy. Plutko exited after six with the score still knotted. When Justin Wilson  shooed the Tribe from the board in the seventh, Plutko was officially no-decisioned, just another pitcher who wasn’t Lew Burdette.
Trivia filed neatly away, tension took center stage. Man, this was a tight game. The Mets don’t score off Nick Goody in the bottom of the seventh. The Indians don’t score off Seth Lugo  in the top of the eighth. Oliver Perez, or perhaps a hologram of Oliver Perez (an Ologram?), materialized in the bottom of the inning. I was keenly aware that Perez is the Longest Ago Met Still Active  — the LAMSA, for the uninitiated. It’s a distinction I diligently track here. Once Jose Reyes, whose last game came one day after David Wright’s, dove into the music business full-time whether he wanted to or not, Perez not only assumed the LAMSA crown, but he became the Last Met Standing from 2006, a not random year in Mets history.
Perez joined us almost Stroman-style at the trade deadline thirteen years ago. In the wake of the midnight ride of Duaner Sanchez, we required a new layer of bullpen depth. Omar Minaya opted to jettison the supremely useful right fielder Xavier Nady in order to reacquire 2005 relief stalwart Roberto Hernandez. To make the whole thing worthwhile beyond the 2006 Canyon of Heroes parade that was our destiny, Omar wheedled enigmatic but young, talented and lefthanded Ollie from the Bucs. He wasn’t really needed for the pennant race of the moment, because there was really no race. The Mets had lapped the NL East field pretty thoroughly by August.
Then, with the Mets being the Mets, Oliver Perez became a central figure in the 2006 Met drama before it was prematurely over, taking two starts in the NLCS, winning one and carrying them long enough in the other until Endy Chavez could nab all that was about to get away. Yes, Game Seven. That Game Seven. Ollie was a temporary Met savior in their most dire moment of need. In 2007, after that world championship parade was mysteriously postponed, he was a legitimately dependable starting pitcher. Same, basically, in 2008. The Mets re-signed him for a sum that could be expressed in many multiples of what they avoided giving Adeiny Hechavarria.
After which, Oliver Perez reverted to a pumpkin. He was mostly terrible in 2009, then worse in 2010. The pumpkin added spice to the situation by refusing a minor league assignment to tweak whatever was discombobulating him. Jerry Manuel exiled him to the back of the Mets bullpen. About once a month he’d seep out and surrender eight runs in a third-of-an-inning. The last time Oliver Perez pitched as a Met was in the fourteenth inning on Closing Day nine years ago. In case you’ve forgotten, it did not go swimmingly.
A funny thing happened on the way to oblivion. Oliver Perez rediscovered his skills and remade himself as one of those valuable southpaws managers adore bringing in to bedevil lefty-laden lineups. That’s what brought us face-to-face with Ollie Perez on August 21, 2019, myriad Met eras removed from October 19, 2006. The one thing the two dates had in common, besides Perez’s presence, was an overwhelming sense of urgency. Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS had to be won. Game 126 of the 2019 season was one that four out of five doctors recommended not letting get away. We’d come too far for that sort of loss.
Joe Panik , lefthanded hitter, crossed up Tito Francona’s best-laid plan and singled to lead off the home eighth against Oliver Perez. HA! Now we got the Tribalistics where we want ’em! Lefty Ollie has to stay in and face righty Pete Alonso , who doesn’t care how crafty a lefty is. If Francona wanted Perez to take on Michael Conforto , ol’ Ollie would have to get through Alonso; his NL rookie-record 40 home runs; and his innate flair for the Amazin’. Pete was one dinger away from tying Hundley & Beltran for the team mark. Pete knew that. I knew that. Ollie likely didn’t, but he would be apprised of the situation once the enormous celebratory graphics were posted on each of Citi Field’s message conveyances.
Except Perez struck out Alonso and then struck out Conforto. There’s a reason ol’ Ollie Perez is still pitching, I guess. Carry on LAMSA. Francona removed his lefty and inserted a righty, Adam Cimber. Cimber retired Wilson Ramos . The mild threat was quelled, the score stayed tied.
Seth Lugo, whose name you might recognize from several paragraphs ago, was still the Mets pitcher as the ninth began. It made sense to keep him in, considering he threw only eight pitches to get out of the eighth, but given Callaway’s predilection for crafting new Lugocentric policies every five or so minutes, one never knows. You can’t count on much in this world, but we could count on Seth Lugo. He gave up a leadoff single to Jason Kipnis, a sacrifice bunt and a right-side groundout to advance Kipnis uncomfortably close to home, but ultimately extricated himself from danger. Two-two stayed two-two going to the bottom of the ninth. Despite a two-out single from Lagares, two-two was also what pointed us to a tenth inning.
In Boston, Philadelphia was winning. In Chicago, the Giants and Cubs were swapping runs by the bushel. In St. Louis, it was raining on the Brewers’ official-game lead. The Nationals had already pushed the Pirates into the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela. The Diamondbacks had already hissed to no avail versus the Rockies. The Wild Card race was fluid and fluctuating — fluctuative, you might say. Some of our rivals were going to gain ground, others would yield it. We wanted to be with the smart set, keeping pace with whoever won, distancing ourselves from those nipping at us from behind. Lose after nine innings of hard-fought baseball?
The next rejuvenated reliever to be granted responsibility for keeping the score tied — really, it’s more privilege than responsibility — was Luis Avilán , the unsung lefty. You get unsung by getting the outs that need to be gotten when nobody’s paying laserlike attention. Luis generally pitches the inning when you’ve decided to run to the bathroom or give in to your yen for a soft pretzel. Those can be important innings in retrospect, but their verses are usually cut from the ballads for length. If Luis Avilán is to be sung about, it’s usually because he’s doing something extraordinary or somebody’s doing something extraordinary to him.
The latter. It was the latter. In the top of the tenth at Citi Field, it was Carlos Santana — the Jimi Hendrix of Gary Apple’s eye, in homonymish terms — who catapulted Avilán to top of mind in a manner most undesired. Santana blasted a two-out, bases-empty homer to the Delta terminal at LaGuardia, and the Mets trailed, 3-2.
It could have gotten worse, for we understand the historical nature of the Met reliever, but we’re creating a new era of history here, one that doesn’t have to circle the drain at the second sign of trouble. Brach encountered difficulties but didn’t allow them to strangle his outing. Now Avilán acted to close the barn door as optimally as he could, slamming it shut on the Wild Horse himself, Yasiel Puig, on a full-count swinging strikeout. Giving up the go-ahead run was bad, but it could have been worse.
“Could Be Worse” isn’t a rallying cry quite in league with “You Gotta Believe,” yet you play the hand that is dealt you. In the bottom of the tenth, the Mets would play Brad Hand, All-Star reliever for Cleveland, but a closer who, according to my incisive scouting report of listening to something Gary Cohen said, hadn’t been pitching all that well lately. We were going up against somebody who’d accumulated 29 saves for a very good team, but he’d reportedly been a little off and we had the top of our order due up. In a sense, I was prepared for the worst (a.k.a. losing a baseball game), but I was just as prepared for the best (a.k.a. winning a baseball game). You know what Tug McGraw taught us 46 Augusts ago:
COULD BE WORSE!
(I could be foggy on the precise wording.)
The bottom of the tenth inning at Citi Field on August 21, 2019, depending on the course of events that unfold in the nights and days ahead, deserves its own wing in the New York Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. It was that glorious, that momentous, that Amazin’. You know that now. You might know it forever if more innings go as well as this one did. You might forget it soon if there aren’t more nights that belong in the same conversation as Wednesday night. I can refer to great innings that won games but got lost in shuffles because memories are selective and limited. It’s quite possible that this inning, the tenth, will require six nudges from someone like me to get you to nod and assent, “oh yeah, right.” Or together we’ll always finish each other’s sentences.
“The tenth inning…”
“The one against the Indians?”
“What other one is there?”
We’ll leave that for the future, unknown though it may be, and concentrate in the present on the half-inning of our most recent past. The tenth inning. The one against the Indians.
• The one Amed Rosario , the shortstop who bloomed into a second-half superstar as soon as the ink was dry on the organizational plan to convert him into a last-ditch center fielder, led off with a double to center. Since the beginning of June, Rosario is a .500 hitter. Since August 1, Amed is batting a thousand. I could look up what the numbers actually are, but I’m comfortable with the hyperbole.
• The one Panik, discarded by the Giants, kept going by bunting Rosario to third. I could see the logic there if I squinted. We needed to get the tying run to do the tying. Advancing Amed a base wasn’t the worst thing in Flushing. Giving up an out is usually dim thinking. It was still dim thinking. But Rosario was on third with one out and the meat of the order was coming to the fore.
• The one Alonso, still capable of drama despite a thus far quiet night, witnessed from first base because Francona passed him intentionally. I feared that would be the result of a sac bunt. Then again, I’m a Mets fan who has other highly capable hitters behind Alonso. Pete Meat isn’t all we feast on. And we fear nothing.
• The one Conforto nearly brought to an anticlimactic conclusion with a potential 3-6-1 ground ball double play. One out was certain, Alonso’s heads- and hands-up slide into second notwithstanding. But maybe Conforto could beat out the relay. Or as the wags departing via Seaver Way would soon put it, “What relay?” Hand displayed a veritable ten-cent head by not covering first base, ensuring Conforto would be safe, Rosario would cross the plate, and the Mets would stay alive.
• The one Ramos could have ended with a meager ground ball barely down the third base line. They don’t call Ramos Buffalo because his speed evokes a strong running game in the tradition of O.J. Simpson, Joe Cribbs and Thurman Thomas. Nevertheless, Wilson was determined to burst through the line and get the Mets that all-important first down. It was so important that lingo from another sport was being shipped downstate. Whatever it was, it worked. Wilson Ramos had himself an infield hit — his tenth of 2019, per Baseball-Reference. That’s one deceptively fast Buffalo. His all-important hit placed Conforto, the even more all-important winning run on second.
• The one J.D. Davis  was the sixth batter in. If Davis made the third out, or if Davis walked only to have the Mets strand the bases loaded directly thereafter, I comprehended logically that we had tied the game in the tenth and that it would move on to the eleventh. Yet in my ample gut, I knew — knew — this was a game that did not have an eleventh inning in it. We were destined to win right here, right now. We were more destined to win this game than I thought we were to attend that parade in 2006.
J.D. Davis spent much of 2019 as Brodie Van Wagenen’s consolation prize. Everything our King Midas of a GM touched turned the opposite of gold, but at least Davis was a sound pickup. Good hitter. Not much of a third baseman. He could play left, apparently. Not that well, but well enough to platoon with Dom Smith. What’s that? Smith has to go on the IL? Boy, we’re really strapped for outfielders. I guess Davis can play left most days. Or all days. He really can hit.
He really can. On this team that features a Polar Bear who has gone deep more often than any National League freshman has ever dared; a Squirrel who only a strained hammy could get out (pitchers certainly couldn’t); and a Scooter that operates on the sweetest of swings, I swear it’s J.D. Davis who fills me with the most confidence if not anticipation in situations like that which faced the Mets Wednesday night. I’d be at least a little confident in anybody the way the Mets have played. I was confident when Aaron Altherr pinch-hit in the ninth, and Aaron Altherr  has literally FIVE base hits in SIXTY at-bats for THREE teams this season.
But I believe. I believe in Altherr; and Stroman; and Familia; and Frazier; and Lagares; and Lagares’s glove; and Guillorme even though Hechavarria will take out his grudge against management on us as a Brave this weekend; and Brach; and Brach’s ability to bounce back; and Wilson; and Lugo; and Lugo for a second inning; and Avilán; and Avilán’s Brachlike resilience; and Rosario; and Rosario’s hyperbolic second-half surge; and Panik; and Panik’s handling of a bat no matter what one thinks of a bunt; and Alonso; and Conforto; and Ramos; and Ramos getting down the line; and, perhaps most of all, I believe in J.D. Fucking Davis.
That’s his full name, in case you weren’t sure. I looked it up after he battled Brad Hand for nine pitches that ran the count to three-and-two and included foul balls that would have won the game had geometry not inflicted itself on the dimensions of Citi Field. A hit was coming off that bat sooner or later. If it had to take nine pitches, so be it.
And so it was. The ninth pitch. It was laced into the left field corner and it bounced over the orange line to signify ground-rule double, except somewhere between first and second, J.D.’s teammates were inhabited by the spirit of Todd Pratt c. 1999 and reduced Davis’s game-winning shot to a ground-rule single. But who cared about bookkeeping when the operative phrase there was “game-winning”? Indeed, Conforto scored the run that made the final tally Mets 4 Indians 3  and sent Davis immediately into the market for a new uniform top. I’m sure Michael, having had the shirt ripped jubilantly from his back two Fridays before, has some recommendations.
Sometimes I get the feeling this is some other team we’re watching, specifically one whose highlights pervade MLB Network and associated digital platforms with its indefatigable nature and founts of talent. Since when do we have somebody like J.D. Davis and have him be ostensibly a supporting player? Where did we get this monstrous young everyday core from? How did we gather so many veterans who know what they’re doing and still have the tools to do it? What’s with this bullpen definitively not sucking? Oh, and we have starting pitching that has to be the envy of other viewers in other markets.
But this is our team. These are our Mets. Our 2019 Mets, rearranging paradigms not to mention the alignment of the Wild Card standings. We’re what, now? We’re very close to where we need to be. That’ll do as a metric. Some things can’t be measured by percentage points or half-games. I don’t mean to put words in your mouth let alone shove emotions inside your heart, but how do you not love these particular Mets the way you loved (and doubtlessly still love) the Mets teams you’ve loved the most and the hardest? This is not any year from the honor roll of permanent placards that line the edge of Excelsior in left field or any year you hold dear privately. It doesn’t have to be. This is 2019. That, as of this minute, is all this year needs to be.
And keep being. Please.