- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Let There Be Light

Nationals Park was a little dim, I heard over the car radio. The stadium bulbs weren’t firing as intended, so Friday night’s game wasn’t commencing when intended. Fine by me, having mistimed my errands and running late toward what I’d looked forward to both all day and since late November. Now I’d get to hear and maybe see the Mets of Max Scherzer and the Nationals of no longer Max Scherzer from the beginning, depending on local traffic and the bringing upstairs of groceries.

I brightened up with anticipation, only to have my enthusiasm flicker a tad once I got a gander at Apple TV+’s Friday Night Baseball. Oh, it looked sharp, as far I could tell. Our household is not equipped to go wide on a production of this nature, what with perfectly functional televisions that didn’t get their master’s degrees in advanced technology, so I was eyeballing an iPad for video. The chatter from the tablet convinced me WCBS should remain my audio for the evening. It wouldn’t sync with what I’d be glancing at, but I had Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo painting the word picture. I’d have the iPad for visual amplification. And I’d have the TV on to follow the Nets, contesting the Cavaliers for play-in seeding (busy night).

This wasn’t how Max Scherzer [1]’s First Start as a New York Met was drawn up. This should have been a full-focus event, preferably at Citi Field, definitely aired over SNY, ideally following Jacob deGrom’s Opening Day mastery with a bookend shutout or something close to it. Not too many weeks ago, deGrom and Scherzer pitched in the same Spring Training game. Jake went three, Max went six. It was one of the more scintillating exhibitions in St. Lucie history.

But those visions were history by Friday. However one was to consume this Met milestone, the important thing is that it was happening. And it certainly did. Max Scherzer gave the Mets six splendid innings. The Nats cobbled together one run in the second, and Josh Bell nailed him for a two-run homer in the fourth (he gives those up sometimes), but otherwise three runs for a first start — particularly after the hamstring alert that pinged in Florida — was plenty satisfying for Scherzer and us. Max managed the emotions of returning in a new uniform to the scene of so many previous triumphs quite professionally.

Professionalism is rampant with Buck Showalter in the dugout…and Buck Showalter purposefully out of the dugout.

Showalter’s major move Friday night should have been writing “SCHERZER” wherever pitchers are listed on lineup cards now that one can’t say “in the ninth place in the batting order”. Scherzer’s night turned out to be not primarily Scherzer’s night. He went his six, he got his win and he is officially a Met in reality, not just on paper or in Photoshop. Those are accomplishments.

Leading your team is an accomplishment, too. Max will do that in his way. Various players will do the same, if differently. And the manager? The manager is the man in whom we invest all sorts of leadership qualities, only to be told these days that, nah, a manager doesn’t do what you think he does. Decisionmaking is cooperative and collegial with the front office and its analytics people. Players aren’t managed so much as they are handled. So manage your managerial expectations and don’t pin on Buck as much blame as you pinned on his predecessors when something eventually goes wrong.

Yet I’m ready to credit Buck coming out of the gate here in 2022 because I heard — then saw — Buck come charging out of the dugout in the top of the fifth inning Friday night after Francisco Lindor [2] was hit on the C-flap of his batting helmet with a rising fastball from Steve Cishek. Lindor was down on the ground in an instant. Showalter was on the field wanting to know “WTF?” in so many words an instant after that.

Four Mets had been hit in the first fourteen innings of the season. Showalter knew that. More Mets seem to be hit per capita than members of anybody else in the majors. Over the past four seasons, no team has taken more hits to the body, with the Mets taking 307 for the team between 2018 and 2021. Add in the three from Opening Night, then Lindor, and that adds up to too many. Only so many pitches can be chalked up to having simply “got away” from so many pitchers. We don’t mind the base the batsman is awarded. We’re fed up with how the batsman (or his pinch-runner) finds himself there.

Buck’s been the manager since December organizationally and since Thursday night practically. But you think he doesn’t know the epidemic proportions of HBPs to which the Mets have been subject? You think there’s anything relevant Buck doesn’t know? Friday night he knew it was time to say something, say it immediately and say it loudly.

The umpires listened. The players on both sides heard it. In a blink, everybody was on the field. Lindor, thankfully, was up on his feet and feeling (he said) no ill effects. No punches were thrown. Provocation was in the air. Bloodlust maybe not so much. The point was the Mets were sick of being human dartboards, no matter that the targeting may have been unintentional. Throw your pitches better, was Buck’s essential message to the Nationals. “I don’t really want to hear about intent,” Showalter elaborated afterward. “When you’re throwing up in there, those things can’t happen.” The man is so savvy, he can manage two teams at once.

I don’t believe Cishek was aiming at Lindor. I don’t believe any Nat was aiming at any Met the night before. I also believe you can’t just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and trot to first without at least one highly audible ahem. That’s what Showalter brought to the field. That’s what his players brought in support. “There’s not one guy I didn’t see,” Lindor said about being surrounded by so many Mets, “and I appreciate that. That, to me, shows unity.” The umpires interpreted the collective throat-clearing correctly. They tossed Cishek as an “aggressor” amid the hopped-up milling about (not so much for the actual pitch) and they sent ex-Met coach Gary DiSarcina, now in the Nats’ employ, to join Cishek in selling seashells by the seashore for what they judged pot-stirring motions. Showalter wasn’t ejected or told about asses in jackpots. Buck made a defensible baseball decision. He did the right thing.

Buck may not have been seeking ownership, but Friday indeed became Showalter’s night. He changed the tenor of the evening, the series, potentially the season. “I’m super proud to be a New York Met,” Lindor said later. The whole scene, once it appeared Francisco didn’t incur injury, was reassuring to process, whatever media platform one chose to absorb it via. No less reassuring was Scherzer — warned not to retaliate — going out for the bottom of the fifth and mowing the Nationals down on a dozen efficient pitches.

The Mets were leading before the dust coalesced; they were leading when the dust settled; and they led after the game that had at started at dusk and ended near midnight turned to dust destined to be put in the books (or iBooks). A ninth-inning downpour didn’t help MLB in its attempt to showcase whatever it was trying to prove with its streaming exclusive. The game may have looked sleek on devices worldwide, but baseball will take its sweet time when the lights won’t work, when the tarp comes out, when the teams have to be separated from one another, and when a new pitcher has to be called in to replace an ejected teammate. The Mets devoted a hefty share of the three hours and forty-three minutes it took to play this game — not counting fifty-two minutes of electrical and meteorological delays — scoring seven runs, using five separate innings to effectively grind their offense and post their tallies. That was pretty sweet, too.

Jeff McNeil [3] celebrated his birthday with his and the team’s first home run of the season, blowing out the candles for three RBIs in all. Robinson Cano [4] had a big hit. Starling Marte [5] had a couple. The relievers who followed Scherzer — Drew Smith [6], Seth Lugo [7] and Sean Reid-Foley [8] — allowed no runs among them. We’d complain if they had, so we should acknowledge they didn’t. Oh, and the Nets beat the Cavs; Durant scored 36. (Like I said, busy night.)

The 7-3 victory [9] sounded crisp on the radio because we have Howie and Wayne, and theirs is a crystal clear stream of accounts and descriptions, intermittent AM static notwithstanding. I would have liked the option of the usual Met-centered telecast, but it wasn’t there. Apple apparently wants to stamp these productions with their own talent, otherwise they might want to think about putting to good use announcers who are already in town, maybe pairing one of the available visiting voices with a home team counterpart, thus giving everybody who’s actually interested in the game the most pertinent insights available. It was the only good thing the mid-’90s debacle known as The Baseball Network ever tried (it even got Bob Murphy back on television for a few nights).

I don’t want to be totally dismissive [10] of this effort to “grow the game”. Perhaps somebody was genuinely excited that Apple TV+ had the Mets-Nationals game on its app and perked up to the broadcasters they hired to call and comment on the action. Maybe I missed out on the ground floor of something historic — besides Max Scherzer’s first pitch as a Met while putting away paper napkins and kidney beans. I’m good with that. Again, I had Howie and Wayne. The supermarket where I did my pregame shopping sits around the corner from an evangelical church. They had a sign out front that said HE IS RISEN. No, I thought later, HE IS ROSE. And when it comes to the Mets, his word is gospel.