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A Day of Halves

You know what? I’ve come around on the idea of the Mets playing the Pirates again right after the All-Star Break.

Not because I think the Pirates are a bunch of tomato cans — that’s a dangerous thing to think about any opponent, and if the Bucs win Sunday they’ll have split the series — but because all of a sudden I’m tired, and baseball’s mid-season break seems well-timed. Let Taijuan Walker [1] justifiably beam with happiness at going to the All-Star Game and Pete Alonso [2] hit some dingers in the Home Run Derby while the other Mets rest and the missing Mets heal and/or rehab some more and everyone enjoys some Ohtani-mania, and then we’ll pick up right where we left off with these same two teams. Though hopefully with fewer doubleheaders.

The first game of the Mets’ 10th (!!!!) doubleheader of 2021 started off well enough for the Mets, with Brandon Nimmo [3] making like Ender Inciarte [4] and going above the outfield fence to take a home run away from Bryan Reynolds [5], a play he never would have made before the Mets convinced him to play more deeply. Nimmo was at it again in the bottom of the first, swatting a leadoff single and coming home on Kevin Pillar [6]‘s RBI hit, and with Marcus Stroman [7] holding the Pirates hitless into the fourth it looked like the Mets were preparing for another romp: throttle the enemy with pitching and defense and ambush them late in the game.

But both the pitching and defense faltered, with John Nogowski [8] slapping a ball down the left-field line that just eluded Jonathan Villar [9]‘s dive and got past Dom Smith [10] in the corner. The Mets’ defense is so greatly improved that it’s now faintly startling to see such plays not made, but that one wasn’t, and it put the Pirates up 2-1. Villar tied it with a home run, but opposing pitcher Tyler Anderson [11] got his Camarena on in the fifth, homering off Stroman for the lead, Trevor May [12] had a clunker of an outing that culminated in a Reynolds home run that Nimmo could only watch, and it was goodnight sweet Mets [13].

Hey, sometimes the other guys just play better, y’know?

The nightcap began for me on Gameday while we were out with friends, with the radio feed keeping me company via a single earbud after dinner concluded. I saw Jeff McNeil [14]‘s IN PLAY, RUN(S), though I noted little of Tylor Megill [15]‘s latest pretty good start — when you’re one-eyeing Gameday, solid pitching for the good guys means not being particularly aware of anything happening. It was hours before I read Megill had tied the Mets’ mark by fanning 26 in his first four starts, equaling Dick Selma [16], Dwight Gooden [17] and Matt Harvey [18]. While I think that says more about baseball’s current era of windmilling bats than anything else, it’s not bad company for a guy who was Plan D or E or F on the starting-pitching depth chart not so long ago.

I had my earbud in to hear Pete Alonso slam a ball off the foul pole, a blow that made an impressive crack in my left ear and sent Howie and Wayne into paroxysms of delight. I heard Seth Lugo [19] surrendering a homer that let the Bucs draw closer, then Billy McKinney [20] supplying an insurance run, and then “Timmy Trumpet” blaring as Edwin Diaz [21] arrived for the latest episode of I Know the Stats But Our Closer Still Makes Me Nervous.

Baseball, of course, is an ever-renewing lesson that no one knows anything: Diaz put the Pirates down with almost contemptuous ease [22], fanning the side on a mere 10 pitches in what had to be his most dominating inning as a Met. There’s a superlative he’s welcome to challenge as many times as he likes.

* * *

The Mets have played a strange season so far, to say the very least: There’s the overhauled defense, the Biblical plague of injuries, the mysteriously MIA hitters, the contributions from unlikely sources, deGrom’s unbelievable run, the rain the rain oh lord the rain, and the thoroughly welcome disappearing act so far by the rest of the supposedly robust NL East. (Not welcome at all, though: word that Ronald Acuna Jr. [23] tore his ACL Saturday night and may be out until late spring 2022 — no matter what the standings or who plays in your division, baseball losing one of its brightest young stars is something to mourn.)

I don’t know how this year will end, but the 2021 Mets have two little-remarked franchise marks in their sights: Nick Tropeano [24]‘s underwhelming debut Friday night made him the 51st player to appear in a game this season. Of those 51, 31 are new to the Mets, and seven have made their MLB debuts. The Mets’ record for players appearing in a season is 56 in 2018, their record for newcomers (not counting ’62 for obvious reasons) is 35 in 1967, and their record for MLB debuts is 16 in 1995. That third mark appears safe, but the first two are very much in danger, as the ever-expanding Holy Books can attest.