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Abstract and Actual

Kvetching about the mounting mountain of injuries to Met players is darkly amusing until somebody gets hurt.

I mean really hurt.

Monday night in Atlanta, Kevin Pillar [1] was smacked in the face by a rising 95 MPH fastball thrown with no purpose other than getting him out by the Braves’ Jacob Webb. It happened literally in a matter of seconds.

One second, Pillar was standing in at the plate, behind on a one-and-two count, concentrating on how best to drive in his teammates who have loaded the bases with two out in the top of the seventh inning. Tomás Nido [2] had doubled to lead off, James McCann [3] pinch-doubled him in to break a scoreless tie, and a pair of walks (unintentional to Francisco Lindor, intentional to Dom Smith) followed, intertwined with a pair of outs. This was what we consider a game situation. It’s what we focus on. It’s what the batter and the pitcher focus on.

The next second, the batter is on the ground, blood gushing from his nose, and it’s all we can focus on, if we can bear to look. It’s a hit by pitch and a run batted in, yet the scorekeeping is irrelevant. It’s a person down in the dirt bleeding badly, requiring medical attention and in no condition to rise and do something as presumably effortless as jog to first base.

Watching on television, also in about a second, your priorities switch from let’s get at least another run here, it’s only 1-0, we need all the help we can get, c’mon Pillar to yikes! or interjections to that effect. You just want the blood to stop and the person on the ground to get up and, if you can find it in your heart to worry about the mental well-being of the pitcher whose fastball got away, the person on the mound to grab a seat and get ahold of himself, whatever form that takes.

Webb throws hard. Everybody throws hard. As Tom Verducci wrote in Sports Illustrated mere hours before Webb hit Pillar, pitchers are hitting batters at all-time rates [4], with almost one HBP per game. Among fastballers, the high four-seam variety like the one Webb threw is particularly in vogue as “the antidote to the launch angle generation.” Only minutes before the incident that left Ron Darling practically speechless, our prized pitching analyst was speaking on SNY about velocity’s adverse effects on offense — so many more strikeouts, so much less scoring. The same game whose pace so often seems glacial sometimes moves too quickly for its participants’ own good.

At Truist Park, it all led to a brutal scene that felt interminable during the minutes it unfolded. Nevertheless, Pillar indeed got up. Still bleeding, but standing and walking toward the dugout and clubhouse. That was a bigger victory than the 3-1 win [5] the Mets eventually secured. Webb went to his bench, clearly shaken. No wonder. The grounds crew had to wipe away blood from the batter’s box.

But the game went on. The game always goes on. After a respectful pause, McCann stepped on the plate, representing the run Pillar drove home. Khalil Lee [6] went to first and made his major league debut as a pinch-runner. Sean Newcomb came in to pitch in relief of Webb. Jonathan Villar grounded out to end the inning. On to the bottom of the seventh and so forth.

Pillar’s injury was the second and most severe of the evening. Earlier, Taijuan Walker [7] was cruising for a couple of innings until he started showing signs of discomfort. It didn’t affect the score (3 IP, 0 R), but he had to leave with tightness on his left side. Everybody on the Mets was getting tight on one side of his anatomy or another. The day before, it was the hamstrings of Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto. That game went on. Patrick Mazeika and Jake Hager took their place in the lineup Sunday. Lee and Johneshwy Fargas [8] took their place on the roster Monday.

Folks like us counted up the injuries and kinda rolled our eyes [9] at the misfortune we perceived as our own We wish our Metsies well always, and we want them back soonest, but unless one of our guys gets injured in plain view and the agony he seems to be experiencing is clearly unavoidable, the overall effect is abstract.

Will ya look at this injured list?
Can ya believe how many Mets we’re missing?
Geez, this is really putting a crimp in our season!

Yeah, ours and theirs, I think we understand conceptually, but in the abstract it’s inevitably out of sight, out of mind, other than “when is he gonna come back already?” The players know this on some level. My guess is they don’t exactly mind, at least not in the short-term. When Albert Almora, Jr., ran into a wall in pursuit of a ball last week, he was sure to tweet shortly thereafter that he’d made the catch (before the wall took it away). The game went on and Almora preferred to be thought of as a contributor rather than a victim. Monday night, Pillar’s first words to us, via Twitter, were that he was fine and, oh by the way, he drove in what turned out to be the winning run. The game went on and Pillar prefer red we remember that he genuinely took one for the team.


We want results. They want results. They need to recover from whatever’s happened to them so they can continue to yield results and extend their careers and, I suppose, get paid at a major league rate. Which is fine with us. We’re fans. We want results.

After Pillar went down, Noah Syndergaard [10], one of the many injured Mets — and definitely in the “out of sight” category since March of 2020 — elbowed us extra hard to be aware of what a fraught endeavor baseball can be for those whose bodies are square in the middle of it. You have the high, middle and low heaters “off faces, hands, wrists, everywhere else daily,” Thor tweeted, to say nothing of blown-out “UCLs, ACLs, shoulders, knees, hamstrings,” all endured across “162 games [over] 180+ days, plus Spring Training, and HOPEFULLY an extra month of playoffs,” only for a player who’s hurt to hear “HE’S ALWAYS HURT!”

I can’t argue with Syndergaard’s assessment. And I can’t necessarily promise that after the shock of seeing Pillar in pain wears off — he’s been diagnosed as having suffered “multiple nasal fractures” — my first instinct still won’t be to think first “when is this guy coming back?” rather than “is this guy fully OK?”

And the game goes on. It did after Walker departed (he said he doesn’t think he’ll have to miss time) and it did after Sean Reid-Foley [13] took his place for another three scoreless innings. It did in the eighth, too, when Fargas flared a run-scoring double to right to provide the bullpen breathing room and make his maiden major league voyage one that would look lovely in the box score. Same as the combined three-hitter achieved by Walker, Reid-Foley, Jeurys Familia, Trevor May and Edwin Diaz. Same as the three hits collected by Nido. Same as that go-ahead RBI credited to Pillar.

Not that gazing at the box score was a person’s primary priority after Kevin Pillar went down, but as noted, the game goes on. Sometimes we are reminded it is just a game.