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This Is the Hardcover Edition

It’s the faces I’ll remember.

Steven Matz [1], hunkered down on the mound with his knees bent as Jorge Alfaro [2] jogged around the bases, having authored a grand slam and a 6-0 Marlins lead. Matz’s face was a mask of horror and self-loathing, and for a moment I wondered if he’d be able to get back up.

Pete Alonso [3] and Jeff McNeil [4], standing side by side in the infield at much the same moment, their faces cycling through shock and anger and determination and the rapid-fire realizations that a) at some point determination, however admirable a quality, isn’t enough; and b) that point had arrived.

Brad Brach [5] sitting in the dugout after seeing an inning flip from “over and the Mets are only down 6-4” to “not over, the Mets are down 8-4, and I’m no longer pitching.” All of the Matz/Alonso/McNeil expressions were visible on his face, with maybe one more in the mix. Brach grew up an avid Mets fan, so perhaps this was his Joe Boyd moment. He got to wear his childhood colors, only to be wearing them at center stage during an oh-so-Metsian moment of reversal.

Yes, the Mets lost. And so did the Phillies, which pushes the Mets’ tragic number to a depressingly imminent 2. They’re not dead yet, but their collective head is on the block, the executioner has donned his hood and taken his money, and I’m afraid that whisper of air ruffling the little hairs on the back of the neck was from an ax — not coming down, true, but going up, which is generally preface to a disagreeable conclusion.

And of course it’s the Marlins holding the ax. Because baseball fandom means the pain of your spiritual forefathers will one day become yours.

Though, if we’re being honest, the real executioner of 2019 won’t have been the Marlins, or the Nats or the Brewers, but time. Monday night’s loss [6] wasn’t a killer like the one against the Nats [7] right after Labor Day or against the Dodgers [8] two weekends ago. It was a merely frustrating one, like the one against the Reds [9] on Saturday. Matz’s location was poor and an inning snowballed, Brach was a little slow getting off the mound on a quirky play, and the Mets had about a zillion chances to score runs but limited themselves to one swing of the bat by Amed Rosario [10].

And, I should add, the Marlins showed resilience and grit and character and all those attributes we tend to reserve for our own team, either praising them for being gallantly employed or lamenting that they were shamefully withheld. Alfaro went deep twice, Jon Berti [11] was all over the bases and center field, and Harold Ramirez [12] busted it to first to beat Brach by the slimmest of margins. Even good teams lose 20-odd games like that each and every year. In May or June, they’re the cause of grumbling. It’s only in the last week of September, when a team’s out of survivable mistakes, that they’re the stuff of tragedy.

But back to the faces.

During one of the weekend’s broadcasts, Howie Rose recalled how Willie Randolph [13] had wound up sharing a cab with David Wright [14] at the end of a season turned to dust, and urged Wright not to wash away what he was feeling, but to remember it — remember it and use it.

Or there’s the end of Davey Johnson [15]‘s Bats, an as-told-to baseball book elevated to something more worthy by Johnson’s lifelong allergy to bullshit. There was a paperback edition of Bats, with a lengthy afterword about the 1986 championship season, but the hardcover edition didn’t have that. It ended with the 1985 Mets coming up just a little short, and Johnson telling Peter Golenbock what he thought and said after it was over.

Johnson thought about his last moments as a 1969 Oriole, when he’d accepted having been beaten by some band of upstart Mets and vowed his team wouldn’t be stopped in 1970. In 1985, now a Met himself, he told his charges that he wanted them to make up their minds that they’d win it all in 1986. And then Johnson retreated to his office and made the promise that ends the book: “Next year, by God, nothing is going to stop us.”

I’d like to think I saw some of that in the expressions worn by Matz, Alonso, McNeil and Brach. That they’ll remember this, and use it, and maybe make a vow or two. And that the paperback edition will be something special.