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The Cookie Crumbles

I applaud the Mets’ continual affirmations of confidence. You Gotta Believe should extend to belief in oneself. But after watching the Mets’ wisp-thin playoff eligibility expire in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader in Washington — and having their status confirmed in a less competitive loss in the nightcap — I’m having trouble abiding by the idea that this is some juggernaut that was steaming toward the postseason until it took a wrong turn on the Beltway.

There has to be a center lane that merges the power of positive thinking with a grip on reality. Throughout this brief year, the Mets have been at a loss for explaining why they’re not living up to their perceived awesomeness. These attempts at explanations have taken place after losses, of course. Saturday, after the two latest, the song was essentially the same.

Dom Smith [1]: “We fought hard, we fought until the last pitch, even tonight. Obviously, we weren’t able to overcome certain circumstances. It just shows the character of the group. We never gave up, we never gave away games, and we competed until the last out.”

Pete Alonso [2]: “I feel like this team is built to win. We have just a ridiculous amount of talent. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t put it together within the sixty-game time span.”

What season were they watching? Because if it exists, I want to rewind it and luxuriate in it. Then I want to surf its momentum into next week when this awesome Met behemoth roars into the Wild Card round as the National League’s 1-seed.

The performance at some point has to measure up to the perception. Even in a season undeniably like no other, you have to win games before declaring victory. The 2020 Mets didn’t win nearly enough of them. Though it was fun to take their minuscule chance at advancement seriously for a few hours [3] before first pitch Saturday, this was a team that, as a rule, performed dreadfully from late July to late September, which unfortunately encompassed all the months they had to get going. In 2019, Alonso, Smith and the rest of the Cookie Club [4] had six months. They revved it up late in the fourth month and rode out the schedule on a well-earned high. It was chilling and thrilling and all those things we wish from an August and September.

That was last year. This year is nothing like last year in any capacity, but it did offer the Mets the same sixty opportunities it offered their competitors. Within the NL, making the most of thirty of those opportunities would have amounted to succeeding at baseball without really trying. These Mets couldn’t do that. That’s fine within the realm of balls bouncing and cookies crumbling. As Mets fan Matthew Broderick once belted out on Broadway [5], “Mediocrity is not a moral sin.” A hard-bitten fan can accept a 26-33 entity with fairly decent humor. I don’t mind a 26-33 team looking in the mirror and seeing a 33-26 (or better) team staring back at it. But to regularly slide in front of the Zoom camera and tell all interested onlookers that it’s a mystery we’re not 53-6 right now…guys, seriously, look in the mirror again. Watch the video from the doubleheader. Cue up more than half of your 2020 archives.

Build from this year. Learn from this year. Strive for next year. Forget about last year, which is about to be two years ago, at least in terms of apparently deciding you deserved to be wearing the same gold-trimmed uniforms the Nationals have been modeling in 2020 (like that helped them repeat). I loved the stretch run of 2019, no matter it was a coupla bucks short and at least a month too late. It reinvigorated my waning enthusiasm for the franchise. It made me eager for the future. I’m still eager for the future. It didn’t arrive as any of us wished this past March or July, but there’s always more future as long as somebody says you can play. I join you in your confidence that it can still take the shape we desire. Why not? No games have been played in 2021 yet.

All but one of ours have been played in 2020. There are more for a majority of major league teams, but not ours. There’s a reason for that. We weren’t good enough. We weren’t remotely good most of the time. I say “we” because I’d like to think we win together and we lose together, regardless that some of our uniforms have yet to be delivered from Stitches of Whitestone [6]. If this was all second-person accusatory, you’d be on your own and we wouldn’t care. That’s not the case. We are with you, Dom. We are with you, Pete.

We are with Jacob deGrom [7] who always provided rational hope if not, in his last start, requisite length. Jake went five pitch-laden innings. It felt like a crushing late-September outing from a grizzled ace who’s carried too much of his staff’s burden for too long. And he was still more than pretty good (3 ER, 10 SO) in his five endless innings. DeGrom left us a tie, with one of the runs scoring on a wild pitch — Wilson Ramos [8]’s bat and mitt giveth and taketh in equal proportion — and another on an inside-the-park home run that flicked off of Dom’s glove in left before the padded fence beckoned his face. Dom, thankfully, was all right, but the ball Andrew Stevenson (who’d homered over the fence earlier) hit sat unattended for four bases. No wonder Dom’s in favor of the DH [9].

Once Jake threw his 113th pitch for the third out of the fifth inning, we knew he wasn’t coming back for the bottom of the sixth. And once the Mets didn’t do anything constructive with a first-and-third in their half of the sixth, we could guess playoff elimination was at hand. First clue: Miguel Castro [10] walked leadoff batter Brock Holt. Everything else thereafter was details. The final of the opener was 4-3, Nats. The nightcap loomed as spectacularly futile.

And it was, scorewise, with Rick Porcello [11] giving up five runs (three earned) in the third inning of the day’s second seven-inning game. The Mets would lose, 5-3, indicative of some of their fighting until the last pitch, in that the Mets stuck around Nationals Park for the remainder of their contest rather than retreat to their hotel. It is my instinct to dismiss what was almost certainly Porcello’s final start as a Met with “typical” because, quite frankly, it was. Rick finished 2020 1-7, with an ERA of 5.64. A decent outing or two notwithstanding, we got next to nothing from Rick Porcello this season, same as we got next to nothing from too many pitchers to recite in polite company.

Yet we are with Rick Porcello, or oughta be. Maybe not for 2021 — definitely not for 2021 — but in eternal spirit, yes, Rick from Jersey should be our guy. I’ll admit that despite his local breeding and Mets fan roots, he was never mine. One night this abbreviated season, I got in the car after my weekly grocery-shopping trip, turned on the game, discovered it was another Porcello start going quickly awry, and muttered some pretty nasty thoughts aloud in the direction of a fella who couldn’t hear me. But on Saturday night, after the sweep in D.C. [12] was complete and the Mets dangled one game above finishing in a last-place tie, Rick Porcello took it upon himself to basically apologize for how crummy he and the rest of Mets played in 2020. It was enough to almost make me take back my previous grumblings.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t have done better for you, and given you something to watch during the postseason,” the righty said, noting that he was happy he could at least be a part of giving us folks at home a distraction from all that swirls about us. “I wish I could’ve done better for this ballclub. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough for us.”

Rick concluded by adding, “I love the Mets, I’ve always loved the Mets since I was a kid.” It would figure that someone who realized a lifelong dream of playing for “a team I grew up cheering for” would know exactly what to say to us, a cohort that surely includes him.