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Objects in Rearview Mirror Are Farther Than They Appear

The Mets followed two unlikely good nights in which they got lousy, abbreviated starts but hit and relieved their way out of the mess with a thoroughly bad one: no hitting, no relief, and no help on the scoreboard. None of which is ever good, all of which is really bad when the season’s down to a count-them-on-your-fingers number of games.

Of all the damaging developments for the Mets’ recently solid starting pitching, some of which have been self-inflicted and some of which have been lousy luck, Steven Matz [1]‘s disintegration must rank as the most perplexing. Is Matz hurt, as he has been so often during his professional career? Is he oil to Jeremy Hefner [2]‘s water? Is he personally at sea because of a year that has so many of us looking for life jackets?

Whatever the malady or maladies, Matz arrived for duty basically unarmed, missing a few necessary MPH off his fastball and unable to control any of his pitches. He survived the first by giving up only a single run, thanks to some sleight of foot by Todd Frazier [3], who blocked Freddie Freeman [4] off third, and Austin Riley [5] guessing wrong and locking up on a 3-2 curve that broke over the heart of the plate. But the roof fell in an inning later: Matz threw a sinker to Marcell Ozuna [6] that did no sinking and Ozuna hit it approximately to Portugal.

The Mets were down 5-0, and while big deficits haven’t been fatal this week, the Braves are a lot better than the Phillies. They kept pouring it on, cuffing Matz around over a further two-thirds of an inning, then unloading on Franklyn Kilome [7] and Jared Hughes [8]. The Mets’ lone 1-2-3 inning of the night was turned in by Frazier, who once upon a time pitched a New Jersey team to a Little League championship, as perhaps you’ve heard. Frazier wasn’t throwing pitches that would have received a speeding ticket on the highway, which is something perhaps more Mets should try. Frazier also shouldn’t be on the roster, despite that cannily positioned foot: A 1-2-3 inning from a position player is literally something Luis Guillorme [9] can also do, but Guillorme was renditioned to the Mets’ black site (I may not have this 2020 terminology quite correct) despite a .347 average and being better than Frazier at everything else. The Mets’ Pleistocene belief in Proven Veterans™ is just one of many things I hope vanishes with the departure of Wilpons père et fails.

As it is, the Mets lost [10] when they needed to win, and were left gazing helplessly at the scoreboard as it reported that the Cardinals and Phillies had both swept doubleheaders and the Reds and Brewers had won as well. The Mets aren’t done, at least not mathematically, but if you’re one of the teams they’re chasing, they’re one of those objects in the rearview mirror that’s actually farther than it appears.

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On a brighter note, today is Roger Angell’s 100th birthday, and here’s a tip of the cap and a deep bow to the man without whom we wouldn’t exist.

Angell did more than anyone to impart a love of baseball to me as a child — after I discovered the Mets, I devoured The Summer Game and everything else he wrote. Those books taught me the game’s history, imparted a deep respect for its players, and showed me that baseball seasons form a continuous fabric in which an astute observer can happily spend a lifetime spotting patterns and following threads. He’s also the trailblazer for what we and so many others do in the digital age — Angell started covering baseball for the New Yorker from the dual perspective of professional and partisan, something no one else was doing at the time or had even imagined doing. That double vision is hard to maintain, requiring you to be both clear-eyed and at least reasonably neutral about what happens while also putting your fannish heart out there in all its messiness as part of the chronicle. Should I ever feel that dual focus slipping, all I need to do is go back to my baseball library and see how Angell did it. Which also gives me another chance to dream that once, just once, I’ll manage to write a bit of emotional or physical description that’s half as good as what Angell comes up in each and every column.