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Unwanted Callback

Periodically this season the 2022 Mets have evoked statistical or emotional comparisons to some of their greatest years. On Tuesday night, the 2022 Mets welcomed our memories to 2018. You remember what would happen in 2018: Jacob deGrom [1] would pitch very well and too much would go wrong otherwise to make anything of it. On nights deGrom didn’t pitch, most everything would go wrong. The only 2018 element missing Tuesday was Mickey Callaway (reportedly [2]) sending lewd texts, at least from Citi Field.

By September of 2018, the Mets, elevated by the callup of minor league slasher Jeff McNeil, were playing a little better. It was too late to boost them into a playoff race, but it gave us a little something to look forward to for 2019. Of course the way contemporary offseasons go, the 2019 team looked different from 2018 and the flow of events washed over the minutia of what quickly became “last season” and then became long ago. Come to think of it, maybe you don’t remember what would happen in 2018.

Me, I got a serious 2018 vibe out of the 2022 Mets on Tuesday night. The 2018 Mets were a 77-85 disaster, and that was with the aforementioned strong finish (18-10) and historically dominant start (11-1, when we were convinced Callaway was a paragon of clean living and managerial brilliance). That was also with deGrom in his Super Cy Young mode, whittling his ERA lower and lower every start, rarely getting the win to go with it, which made his performance pop even further. Jake gave up nothing every fifth day and got nothing from his team except their gratitude for allowing them to dress in the same clubhouse as him. Since the stakes for the Mets as a whole were nonexistent, we could marvel at Jake, gnash our teeth at the offense that took his starts off and feel certain that a 10-game winner absolutely deserved every honor in the books.

More innocent times, huh?

The Mets of September 2022 have thus far not lived up to the Mets of September 2018. The Jacob deGrom of September 2022 has been through the physical wringer the last couple of years, but still gives the Mets transcendent innings in bunches. Maybe there’ll be a hiccup in the form of an opposition home run, but otherwise he strikes out more batters than ever and never, ever doesn’t keep his team in the game. On Tuesday night, he did what he’s done for 39 starts in a row dating back to September 2019: he gave up no more than three earned runs, tying a record nobody knew existed. In 1913 and 1914, Jim Scott of the White Sox went 39 consecutive starts giving up no more than three earned runs in any of them. I’ll confess to never knowing Jim Scott existed until it was disseminated what milestone Jake was on the cusp of reaching. The season that encompassed most of Scott’s streak, 1913, saw Jim win 20 games and post an ERA of 1.90, the latter mark in league with Jake’s 1.70 from 2018. He also lost 21 for those White Sox, indicating that maybe the Pale Hose supported him about as well as Jake’s mates have habitually come to his offensive aid. (The 1913 Sox were managed by a man named Callahan, rather than Callaway, and won 78 games rather than 77; I’m leaving that rabbit hole now.)

Some slice of history is always being wrapped up for at-home consumption where Jacob deGrom’s pitching is concerned. One hopes he will make the greatest kind of history in October 2022. The Mets will get there. Barring a prorated replay of June 2018 the rest of the way (5-21), they’re in. At the moment, they’re still a first-place club, no matter what they’ve looked like about as many nights as not since August ended.

The problem Tuesday night wasn’t merely that the solo home run Jake surrendered to Ian Happ leading off the visitors’ second nor that the Mets didn’t answer the Cubs with a single run until the ninth when Pete Alonso went deep. The “they never score for Jake” plaint is baked into every deGrom start. At this point it’s more urban myth than fact of life. In his last start, the Mets scored ten runs. If this had been a simple episode of run starvation for The Ace, well, that wouldn’t have been groovy, either, but you deal with those.

No, this was a crummy game that went sideways from the bottom of the first and never hinted it would get back on track. There were a lot of those in 2018. Other years, too, but ’18 is where my mind went. Brandon Nimmo managing to get himself hit between first and second by a hot McNeil shot ticketed for right field was both an omen and a boner (the way we used to use that phrase before the age of Mickey Callaway). Pete Alonso’s massive would-be home run that refused to hit the fair pole — Warner Wolf knew what to call it — spoke more volumes than we needed to hear. Alonso rounding the bases on a ball that had been called foul what just weird. So was whatever jawing Pete engaged in with Cubs starter Adrian Sampson. The half-inning would have continued on the hard-to-handle dribbler Daniel Vogelbach produced…had anybody in the world besides Vogelbach been chugging to first base. Wilson Ramos, a.k.a. the Buffalo, would have stampeded that into a base hit. Instead, Vogey was out, the first was done and, though you wouldn’t have necessarily given PointsKing or DraftBet or whoever sponsors all the gambling Rob Manfred welcomes your money on it, so was the Mets’ best chance to tally meaningful runs.

We move ahead in the action to the top of the fourth, as the SNY voiceover might put it in the condensed version of the game they air at dawn. This was the half-inning where it got all 2018 up in here. Two are on. Nobody is out. Michael Hermosillo, taking over a plate appearance for a bunting Rafael Ortega (hit in the act of bunting), lays down a sacrifice. James McCann leaps on it and fires to Alonso. Alonso never gets the ball because Hermosillo transforms himself into a moving obstacle, sprinting on grass and nothing but grass, and McCann’s throw bounces off the runner’s helmet. That’s interference to the naked eye, the educated eye of Buck Showalter and everybody blessed with a working eye. Umpire Laz Diaz judges otherwise. Somewhere Nancy Faust tickles the organ to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”.

And with that tear in the Jake-Time Continuum, the Cubs pour on as much as a team can possibly pour on Jake, which is to say two more earned runs, one on a sacrifice fly to McNeil in right (where he doesn’t usually play; he didn’t throw home) and one on another bunt that Alonso didn’t shovel with optimal aim and alacrity to McCann. The Mets were down, 3-0. It felt like they were losing by 2018.

Jacob straightened up and flew right to end the fourth before obliterating the Cubs in the fifth and sixth. Once he had thrown his almost 100 pitches, he had recorded 10 strikeouts, giving up nothing else along the way. But the way was irreparably wayward. Seth Lugo allowed a line drive that carried over the over the right-center field fence to David Bote (Nimmo seemed as surprised as anybody that it wasn’t in his glove) to make it 4-0 in the seventh. Pete’s solo blast in the ninth dressed only the tiniest section of the smallest window. The Mets lost with neither punch nor luck [3] on their side, 4-1, accounting for their sixth loss in their last ten games, all of which have been played versus second- and perhaps third-division teams. The Braves would down the Giants on the West Coast while New Yorkers nodded off, reducing the Mets’ East lead to a half-game, the divisional equivalent of Jake’s ERA four years ago. The Ace’s earned run average is pretty stellar now, actually (2.01 after eight starts), as is the Mets record despite the September sag (35 over .500). But when you make an unscheduled stop in the unmissed past, nothing amid the Metscape looks particularly appealing.