In 1969, 1973, 2000 and 2015, the Mets qualified for the postseason without the benefit of capturing their first game after the All-Star break, thus if you need a little precedent to take the edge off the first game the 2022 Mets played in five days leaving you wondering if they thought Friday night was actually an optional workout, there you have it. Even the uppermost of top-notch Mets teams don’t automatically bolt from the second gate of the season.
Most first games of the alleged second half suffer from a touch of sluggishness. A retrospective glance at wins by eventual Met playoff teams indicates units that weren’t quite ready to get back to work.
• After six innings on July 17, 1986, the Mets had rustled up nothing against Old Friend Nolan Ryan in the Astrodome and trailed, 1-0. Then Nolie had flashbacks to his younger self, got wild and walked the bases loaded with two out in the top of the seventh. A two-run single, some shoddy defense and relief pitching that wasn’t the caliber of 1969 Nolan Ryan followed, blowing both the doors and drawers off Houston’s attempt at a fast second-half start. By the ninth, Craig Reynolds was on the mound for the home team. Reynolds was usually a shortstop. The Mets bunched all their runs in the final three frames for a 13-2 victory. Three losses would follow that weekend, not to mention four arrests after a trip to Cooter’s.
• An 8-3 lead in the middle of the fourth at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on July 14, 1988, became an 8-8 tie after eight. These were the days when the Braves could be found in the National League West, specifically its basement. Yet the Mets let the bane of their future existence ooze into extra innings alongside them (Old Friend Charlie Puleo threw four innings of shutout relief). In the eleventh, the Mets remembered they were a ton better than the Braves and pushed the winning run across to prevail, 9-8.
• Armondologists point to the second-half opener of 1999 as the first hint that not every lead would be safe in the hands of the new New York closer. The Mets were in St. Petersburg, which could have been considered akin to continuing their break. Visiting the Devil Rays of 1999, as was the case versus the Braves of 1988, was tantamount to a soft relaunch. No sweat, right? They were the Devil Rays. Sure enough, the Mets carried a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Tampa Bay scratched out a run off Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook, but no worries. A three-run lead was about to be handed off to Armando Benitez, who’d been so good as John Franco’s setup man prior to Franco’s finger injury that it seemed inevitable he’d take over closing duties. Early results had confirmed that sense. What could possibly go wrong with Armando finishing off the Devil Rays? Only a one-out walk to future Met Miguel Cairo that preceded a double to Old Friend Aaron Ledesma and a rally that culminated in a game-tying single to Bubba Trammell, the next year’s playoff-berth insurance. Benitez got his three swinging strikeouts; he was good for a rate of nearly 15 Ks per nine innings. But it was the in-betweens that could kill him. In between striking out the side in the ninth inning on July 15, 1999, Benitez allowed three runs and the scored to be tied, 7-7. The preternaturally resilient Mets of that year grabbed the lead back in the top of the tenth, and Armando, with Bobby Valentine’s confidence unshaken, stuck around to quash the Devil Rays in order, “earning” his first win as a Met, 8-7. You were grateful for the W, but you started to wonder, just a little bit, if this hard thrower from Baltimore could be trusted in all tight situations. Cripes, he nearly blew a game to the Devil Rays.
• The 2006 Mets overcame a rare first-inning deficit and the opposition of a surefire Hall of Famer to keep their first-half ball rolling. Trailing the godawful Cubs, 2-1, and sitting Jose Reyes out of an abundance of caution, the Mets put four on the board in the top of the fourth versus forty-year-old Greg Maddux at Wrigley Field. Reyes’s substitute in the leadoff slot, Jose Valentin, produced three hits. Reyes’s substitute at shortstop, Chris Woodward, tripled. It became a 6-3 win on July 14, a Friday back when most teams returned to action on Thursday. Perhaps the extra day of rest did the first-place Mets good.
• The 2016 Mets restarted their engines with a familiar leadoff hitter at Citizens Bank Park. Familiar for 2006. Jose Reyes, off the Flushing grid since 2011, was back in a Mets uniform, though not back at shortstop. Jose was the Mets’ new third baseman in the July of his second coming. It was a long story, but the summation of it on July 15 was with Jose Reyes playing third and batting first, the Mets downed the Phillies, 5-3. They were up, 4-0, in the sixth until the Phillies — yet another marshmallow the baseball gods gave them to find their footing — chased Bartolo Colon. Reyes drove in an insurance run in the seventh, and Jeurys Familia, fresh from Terry Collins not using him nor any other Met in the All-Star Game (gads, that still irks me), made the ninth inning a non-event, notching his 32nd save of a season when he’d go on to total a team record 51.
The Mets are 5-4 coming out of the All-Star break in years when they’ve been on their way to the postseason. One is tempted to pencil that record in, with the dull-pointed writing implemented they’ll include with your overpriced program, as 5-5 after Friday night’s second-half opening loss to the Padres. Except no matter how secure the Mets’ positioning as a playoff club appears — yes, only a game-and-a-half up on the Braves, but also 8½ in the clear for a Wild Card should it come to that — nothing’s over until in it’s ink. The team that began the second half at Citi Field looked not enough like the team stormed through the first half. Maybe it was symbolic that the storm that was predicted to pass over the ballpark, despite necessitating a 31-minute rain delay before first pitch, never showed up.
Yu Darvish, unfortunately, was right on time. Yu Darvish has been stymieing the Mets in too many places on too many nights for too long. Darvish is 5-0 in eight career starts against us. He had recent precedent going for him, having shut out the Mets on two hits for seven innings in early June, but on this Friday night at Citi Field, he put me in mind of another Friday night at Citi Field. On August 4, 2017, Darvish had just become a Dodger and was making his L.A. debut versus the Mets. It amounted to a tuneup two months ahead of the playoffs. The righty went seven innings, scattered three singles and won one of the most uncompetitive games to which I ever listened on a southbound Metro-North train  (or any conveyance), 6-0. This was 2017. The Mets were the 1988 Braves, the 1999 Devil Rays of their day. I was used to the idea that they weren’t gonna hit good pitching. I wasn’t prepared for just how much they weren’t gonna hit Darvish.
Five years later, the Mets are generally awesome, except when they’re not hitting, which isn’t confined to games started by five-time All-Stars. The Mets, first-place residence notwithstanding, can not hit with the best of them. Or the worst of them. On Friday night, they turned in a typical for them performance against this particular nemesis: in seven innings, they managed three singles, a double and a walk, amounting to an entire run off Darvish. That alone was a victory. It was the only victory, however, as the Padres otherwise pinned a 4-1 loss  on them. This pitcher and this opponent might be bad news in the postseason.
The implicit good news in that statement is the Mets are still plenty on track for the tenth postseason appearance of their lives. Yet stepping it up is advised. On Friday night, a number of principals did their job not quite well enough. Max Scherzer  was only slightly touchable — a two-run homer to Eternal Enemy Eric Hosmer in the fourth served as the differencemaker — but his eight strikeouts over six innings were destined to serve as footnote. Tomás Nido  received credit for catching all eight Ks (including the ones that catapulted Max past Curt Schilling and Bob Gibson on the all-time strikeout chart), but he also caught a contusion on the wrist when he and his pitcher got caught in a crossup in the second. Nido wasn’t expecting the fastball that that ultimately left him unable to swing a bat, necessitating his sixth-inning departure in favor of Patrick Mazeika .
Mazeika’s presence came into play on what could have been a sweet double play to escape the seventh. With one out and the bases loaded, Nomar Mazara grounded to Pete Alonso . Alonso made a nice grab and throw to effect a force at home. Mazeika proceeded to relay back to first en route to a potential 3-2-3 DP, and he definitely threw in the direction of Alonso’s mitt. But Pete was set up at first in such a way that the batter, Nomar Mazara, presented a baserunning obstacle. Mazeika’s throw hit the runner, and not even Buck Showalter could argue Mazara was out of the baseline. The ball skittered away and instead of getting out of the inning, another run scored to make it Padres Too Many, Mets Not Enough.
At least J.C. Martin was still safe.
The one Met figure who did his job Friday without the results of his efforts being evident was GM Billy Eppler, who traded Colin Holderman  to Pittsburgh for Daniel Vogelbach . Not too many months ago I couldn’t have told you who Colin Holderman was. He came up in May and, before and after a stint on the injured list, was dependable enough out of the bullpen to tantalize us with visions of increased responsibility. In a season when nobody among the Mays, Lugos and Smiths has really put a stranglehold on non-Ottavino/pre-Diaz setup duty, you could imagine Holderman taking care of business. He’d inherited eight runners as a Met. None of them scored — and those were the innings somebody else started.
Every few years the Mets let some promising young reliever go and you gulp a little at the repercussions. Usually it winds up inconsequential to the big Met picture. In previously referenced miserable 2017, for example, I thought Chasen Bradford looked pretty good. The Mets put him through waivers and the Mariners grabbed him. On Friday, hours before Eppler traded Holderman, Bradford tweeted his retirement from professional baseball, not having pitched in the majors since 2019. He leaves the pros with a 7-0 lifetime MLB record. Holderman is currently 4-0. As with Bradford, I don’t explicitly wish him any defeats. I also wish to avoid reliever regret.
Having buried the lede this long, let us finally excavate it: the Mets went out and got themselves a hitter, specifically a lefty bopper who might have come in handy Friday night had the trade been consummated Friday morning rather than Friday afternoon. Vogelbach mashes righthanded pitching. No Met mashes Yu Darvish, but recalling and starting Travis Blankenorn as DH, as the Mets did Friday, was a little too transparent admission of it. Vogelbach might make enough of an impact that, if there’s enough relief on the market to replace the surprising Holderman (Eppler says he thinks there is), will make this trade a job well done. The Mets have scads of accomplished hitters in their lineup. They’re just not accomplishing much of late. Something had to be done. This was one step. The production out of the designated hitter position, shared primarily by currently IL’d Dom Smith and J.D. Davis, has a person yearning for the return of pitchers hitting. This person has never stopped yearning for the return of pitchers hitting, but that’s another story. The story right now is Vogelbach will be here and others, whoever they are, should follow.
One might be Jacob deGrom , which seems worth mentioning, if not for how good a hitting pitcher he is/was. Ah, Jake. In the grand sweep of Mets acedom, dating back at least to the not always grand days of Swan and Zachry, we’re always waiting for somebody to come back from injury or worse. In Doc Gooden’s case, it was from “worse” once (though also from injury later). We checked our watches for the imminent return of Martinez, of Santana, of Harvey, of Syndergaard, of Scherzer for a while. DeGrom has been off our clock, and our innings have been filled so ably in his absence, that it was easy to almost forget the second-best pitcher in franchise history is still under contract and working his scapula off to get back to competition. During the All-Star Game, another National League loss you’ve already forgotten, the Mets casually announced Jake’s simulated game would be pushed back a couple of days due to mild muscle soreness in his right shoulder. Fan consensus had it that deGrom was missing at least one arm and would a) never be heard from again and b) opt out of lucrative contract and sign a more lucrative contract with some Georgia-based entity despite his career obviously being over. You can’t keep fans of a team in first place from a scenario that’s worst case.
It could be my sentimental side showing, but I believe Jacob deGrom will be with us again soon. Buck says he’ll have one more rehab start (he did do his simulated rounds on Thursday, without any incident reported) and then they’ll figure out what’s next. Buck doesn’t reveal what he doesn’t have to. Maybe that’s why he wears a windbreaker all the time. I’m assuming Jake isn’t giving it his all in Syracuse and St. Lucie and wherever just to let us down. I’ve missed him without being cognizant of it. With four days to mull the state of the Mets over the break, I was thinking how much I really, really like this team yet am a little shy of feeling passionate about them. I was passionate in 1999. I was passionate in 2006. I grew passionate in 2015. Ninety-four games into 2022, these Mets strike me as a beautiful band of brothers succeeding almost to my heart’s content, yet I don’t feel 100% connected. I’m pretty sure it’s the lack of No. 48 in my life. I’m grateful for Scherzer and all the other pitchers, but we had Jacob deGrom being Jacob deGrom for so long. Then we didn’t. Last year his absence was more of a Met-killer than Yu Darvish. This year it hasn’t been, except deep in my ace-loving soul. Of course Scherzer is an ace. Of course Scherzer is a Met. He’s been as Met as he can be. But I’m also cognizant he’s a Met because Steve Cohen paid him handsomely to assume the identity. There’s no cosplay at work with Max. He’s assumed his Metsian persona sincerely and professionally without a drop of Gl@v!nesque reluctance to take the money and stay. If Showalter always covers up with a windbreaker, Gl@v!ne never didn’t think you were watching a frigging Brave on undercover assignment.
Mind you, every professional baseball player is where he is because money is involved, and good for them. Yet it’s different when it’s the guy who you’ve known as yours his entire career. Scherzer is the greatest. But so is deGrom. And deGrom has always been ours, regardless that ultimately he will be his own man at opt-out time. That critical juncture, however, is a half-season plus (we remain confident ) a postseason away. There’s a whole second half to go. There’s a veritable lifetime to come in these approaching games, weeks and months. There’s a torrent of passion bubbling so close to the surface that I can almost feel it.
So let’s get it on, let’s get going and Let’s Go Mets.
Maybe you’d remember the All-Star Game better had it been part of a cohesive All-Star Week, the kind proposed on the current episode of National League Town .