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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Incomparable Jacob deGrom

“Don’t ever embarrass anybody by comparing him to…” might read as the beginning of a familiar quote from Reds manager Sparky Anderson, uttered at the conclusion of the 1976 World Series. Thurman Munson of the losing Yankees hit .529 in the four-game Cincinnati sweep. His catching counterpart, Johnny Bench, hit .533 and won Most Valuable Player honors. Anderson had been asked to compare the two great catchers of their day. Sparky called Munson “outstanding,” but wouldn’t brook a direct comparison between any other catcher and his own all-world backstop. Naturally, the above quote ends with “…Johnny Bench.”

I thought of Anderson’s frank assessment Friday night as the incomparable Jacob deGrom went about his usual business of being routinely brilliant…except more so. The strength of the Nationals’ batting order certainly merited no comparison to that of the Mets’ starter. The Nats came to bat 29 times at Citi Field against deGrom. They collected two hits, didn’t otherwise reach base, struck out fifteen times and never scored. Come to think of it, they were overmatched as well by deGrom the hitter. Jacob went 2-for-4 at the plate; broke a scoreless tie by driving in the only run he’d need; and scored two others, presumably to keep his legs limber.

DeGrom the .545-average hitter — wisely slotted in the eight-hole Friday — is a delicious side dish: a testament to a competitor’s determination to be skilled at all facets of his craft and a counterpoint to all the folderol about the desirability of the DH on a team that lately has more bats than gloves. But that, like Brandon Nimmo’s oh-by-the-way homer and four-RBI night, was served up merely to complement the 6-0 Mets win. The main course consisted of Jacob deGrom the 0.31-ERA pitcher throwing what appeared to be the most effortless 15-strikeout shutout in human history. No doubt he invested effort in his outing. There’s preparation of a physical and mental nature. There’s work in the bullpen. There’s data from the analytics department. There are discussions with catchers and coaches. There is an inherent degree of exertion that comes with releasing from one’s right hand 109 pitches — 84 of them strikes — across nine innings.

Yet he makes it look so damn easy. Late in the game, I kept an eye peeled to see how many pitches he’d thrown. I saw the number “98”. It was the miles per hour of his most recent delivery…which was also the number of pitches he’d delivered to that point.

He was throwing 98 MPH upon his 98th pitch. From a safe televised distance, it looked like a breeze. In whatever seats are permitted to be filled in the vicinity of home plate, the breezes created by National bats must have felt delightful.

Jake’s fifteen strikeouts, compiled in service to somehow his first-ever home shutout, were a career-high. The fifty strikeouts he’s racked up in his four starts thus far this season established a major league record for most strikeouts in the first four starts of any season. That’s one of those records you don’t realize exists except when someone motivates its revision.

Statistics have their own vocabulary to deal with deGrom. The English language should be so lucky. When Jake pitches, the words that fly around include “disgusting”; “stupid”; “insane;” and “sick”. Those are compliments, mind you. They must have been coined in this realm by batters who couldn’t bear to label pitching that utterly defeats them as something “sublime” or “exquisite”.

Give it the least mellifluous adjectives you can think of if you must. No matter how you say it, you’re likely muttering it from the dugout.

To be fair, we all grope for a proper context in which to discuss deGrom. He’s rendered obsolete “one of” as a precursor to “the best”. Are there others in the game currently who match up to Jake? Sparky Anderson’s already Benchmarked our answer. We are convinced Jacob has no peer in the here and now. Our recency bias isn’t so recent, either. Granted, 2020 was short and 2021 has barely begun, but Jacob deGrom has been on an ethereal roll for the length of four seasons, and he fit plenty comfortably within the outdated category of “one of the best” for the four seasons before that.

Among deGrom’s many achievements Friday night was lowering his career earned run average to 2.55, the best for any Mets pitcher who’s logged a minimum of a thousand innings. Let’s repeat that: Jacob deGrom has the best Mets career ERA ever. Better than everybody who’s ever pitched for the Mets.

Which is to say better than Tom Seaver.

Now let’s caveat the bejeesus out of that, because the phrase “better than Tom Seaver” doesn’t dare articulate itself casually in these parts. Jacob deGrom has thrown 1,198.2 innings. Tom Seaver threw, for the Mets, 3,045.2 innings. So that’s more. A lot more. Seaver’s Met ERA was 2.57, or a speck more than where deGrom’s stands at present. Also, it includes Tom’s 1983, which was his age-38 season, six seasons removed from the Franchise’s initial departure from the franchise. Seaver’s ERA in 1983 was an unsightly (for him) 3.55. It’s on his ledger in permanent ink, so, OK, it counts. But the Seaver who’s Seaver to us is the Tom who debuted on April 13, 1967, and barely missed a start through June 12, 1977. That Seaver, spanning 22 to 32 years old, totaled 2,814.2 innings and compiled an ERA of 2.49.

Keep that in mind during deGrom’s next start when SNY hails 2.55 as the new Met record. And keep in mind that for the first 1,198.2 innings of Seaver’s career, covering 1967 through the seventh inning of June 9, 1971 (thanks, Baseball-Reference!), Tom’s ERA stood at 2.46. Jake’s 2.55 ERA over the exact same number of innings is still sublime and exquisite, but it’s not lower than Seaver’s.

Lord knows I’ve come not to bury deGrom and only incidentally to praise Seaver. I’m generally pleased the chatter Jake spurs every fifth-ish day catapults Tom into the upper tier of our contemporary conversation. When No. 48 — or No. 42, as he was Friday for Jackie Robinson Night — is at his best, No. 41 is more than a sleeve patch. When Jacob strikes out nine Rockies in a row, as he did a week ago, Tom’s exploits come alive. Actually, when Jacob came within one of Tom’s record of ten straight K’s, I was as nervous as I used to get when a Met neared the then-elusive first no-hitter in Mets history.

Except I couldn’t tell what I was nervous about: that Jake wouldn’t match and maybe exceed Tom, or that Jake would match and maybe exceed Tom. Tom Seaver’s ten consecutive strikeouts of the San Diego Padres on April 22, 1970, is one of my idol’s signature moments. I’ve lived with it proudly for 51 years. It’s been his, ours, mine. Once in a while, some Doug Fister comes along and challenges it, and I put all the hex I can muster on him, because, due respect to a perfectly good major league pitcher, who the hell is Doug Fister to try to displace Tom Seaver from the record books?

Yet Jacob deGrom isn’t Doug Fister. Jacob deGrom is one of our own. He’s more than that. He’s Jacob deGrom. The instinct to protect a hero’s legacy shouldn’t activate against somebody you revel in rooting for to begin with. And if records are made to be broken, who better to break this one than someone who will keep it in the family? I didn’t want Jacob to not strike out a tenth consecutive Rockie, but when he fell short of Tom’s record, well, let’s just say I was disappointed, but I wasn’t devastated.

Though they’ve arisen organically because Jake is out there being so terrific you can’t help but think of Tom, I don’t particularly ache to make these comparisons between deGrom and Seaver. Or between deGrom and anybody, even if it’s a reflex reaction to do so. It’s how we process baseball after a while.

“A” reminds me of “B”.
“A” is having the kind of game “C” had that time.
“A” is having the best season since “D”.
“A” really stacks up with “E,” and you know “E” was about as good as anybody, right up there with “F,” “G” and “H”.

That, too, is our vocabulary.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown a little uncomfortable with the collective effort to micromanage Jacob deGrom’s greatness since it became our most urgent common cause in 2018; it’s as if simply sitting back and taking in Jake’s brilliance isn’t satisfying enough. Maybe if the Mets scored for Jake regularly like Jake scored for Jake on Friday we wouldn’t get overly hung up on his minutiae. But when wins became mostly inaccessible to him in his race for recognition versus the likes of Scherzer and Nola, we had to emphasize the finer print. It was fine, all right. It was a 1.70 ERA. I think we got used to shepherding Jake’s every start and touting his every inning thereafter. Two guys get on while he’s pitching and we worry the rest of the world will dismiss him as a barely .500 pitcher unworthy of another Cy Young.

Jake is so smooth about the spectacle he’s calmly created. He’s asked if he aspires to more awards, including MVP, per the chants he heard Friday night (in April). Sure, he says. How about the Hall of Fame? Sure, he adds, despite needing two more seasons just to qualify for eventual preliminary consideration. Why be shy about knowing how good you are? It’s not a campaign, just a polite answer. What’s the pitcher with the 0.31 ERA going to say? “Aw, shucks” ain’t an option at this level.

But asking each other between every 98 MPH pitch of every game “how good is Jacob deGrom?” doesn’t really reveal anything we can assert with anything resembling certainty. I very recently rewatched Oh, God!, the 1977 film our people light up to when George Burns in the title role tells John Denver his last miracle was the 1969 Mets. But I jotted down another piece of Godly dialogue that I thought applies to our ongoing attempts to appraise deGrom:

I only know what is. Also I’m very big on what was. On what isn’t yet, I haven’t got a clue.

I do know Jacob deGrom has had a four-game stretch like I’ve very rarely seen and is having a four-year run I wouldn’t too quickly trade for many accomplished by any pitcher considered among the all-time best. I haven’t got a clue about where exactly that places him in the greater scheme of things, especially with so much (knock wood) left to find out. Finding out figures to be the treat.

In the meantime, don’t ever embarrass another pitcher by comparing him to Jacob deGrom.

Or Tom Seaver.

I'd Rather Not Have What He's Having

It’s not quite “LFGM” — that was both snappier and happier — but Pete Alonso added to his book of quotations once Thursday night’s game against the Cubs had mercifully ended, telling the assembled scribes that “getting swept feels like eating a shit sandwich, to be honest with you.”

I can’t say and I hope the Polar Bear can’t either, but the last three nights of baseball certainly weren’t pleasant. The Mets lost because of a brief spasm of ineptitude, lost because that ineptitude turned chronic, and then lost a game where the ineptitude was so all-consuming that neither team deserved a W, except it’s inarguable that the Mets deserved one slightly less.

Do we really want the details? I suppose that’s why we have recaps, so fine. Joey Lucchesi continued the Mets’ recent maddening pattern of looking somewhere between effective and untouchable before falling apart. The relief corps was pretty good — particularly new import Sean Reid-Foley, who lowers his torso and stares forward to get the catcher’s sign, looking a bit like a homeowner who’s pretty sure he’s going to discover that wasps have built a nest right under the deck. On the other hand, let’s not get too excited about Reid-Foley’s debut: new export Trevor Hildenberger looked pretty good when he arrived and he’s now departed, because middle relievers. The Mets got their runs in a brief flurry of solid hitting, but left a bad taste in your mouth (that thing I just did is called foreshadowing) by following said barrage with a waste of a no-out, runner-on-second situation. Oh, and there was Kevin Pillar and Michael Conforto collaborating on not catching a pop-up that hung in the air for approximately 15 minutes, a misplay that seemed to mesmerize Javier Baez into nearly getting tagged out while lollygagging back into first. (He was safe because Alonso swipe-tagged him with his forearm and not the ball, completing a sequence best set to “Yakety Sax.”)

Aaron Loup and Miguel Castro somehow stranded a leadoff Cubs triple, but in hindsight that might have been because the Mets and Cubs had both decided to change the baseball rules and take turns trying not to win. (Who knows, maybe that rule will be foisted on some poor indy circuit before Rob Manfred is finally invited to find a new hobby.) Having won high marks from the judges for their ineptitude, the Cubs gave the Mets their chance in the 10th: Pillar started on second as the free runner, dramatically increasing the chances of his doing something actually useful, and moved to third on a wild pitch.

Normally, I’d take the odds on Jeff McNeil at least hitting a ball to an outfielder, but McNeil can’t get out of his own way right now and swung at a pitch above the strike zone. I had more confidence in Luis Guillorme, who walked. So did Francisco Lindor. Up came Dom Smith, who actually connected — right into a double play. With the Mets having failed, Baez was the Cubs’ free runner and soon scored on a Jason Heyward single through the infield after a bunch of stuff I no longer care to recall.

Honestly, this was a deeply stupid baseball game, nearly as miserable as it was to watch as I’m sure it was to play. If the best baseball games are chess matches, this was watching two blindfolded children screaming and flinging checkers at each other. It’s the first game of the season that left me fuming and muttering how much I hate baseball and saying all the usual stupid things I say about now when there’s inevitably a stupid hateful game like this.

So yeah, my views are just about the same as Pete’s. This restaurant gets zero stars. Someone give me a toothbrush, a bottle of Scope, and a new day on the calendar.

As Bob Murphy Might’ve Called It

It isn’t a beautiful night at normally beautiful Wrigley Field, as the Mets have fallen further behind the Chicago Cubs, and now manager Luis Rojas comes out of the dugout to have a word with home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, apparently ready to make a change to his lineup. After conferring with Dreckman, Luis walks slowly, past the mound, past the infield and into the outfield. Gil Hodges once took a walk of this nature, not stopping until he wound up in left field to remove Cleon Jones from a game very much like this one versus the Houston Astros. Longtime Mets fans will remember that move as a real turning point in the championship season of the 1969 New York Mets. Gil didn’t take the removal of a player in the middle of a game lightly, but when he took out Jones, who nearly won the batting title that year, he had a real idea of what he was doing.

Sure enough, Luis has arrived and is speaking calmly with Dom Smith. Dom, such a good-looking young hitter, hasn’t played his best defensive game, and it appears Luis is taking him out of the game. Gil walked Cleon back to the Mets’ dugout in that blowout loss to Houston at Shea Stadium, and the current manager will no doubt be taking that same walk with his left fielder of today.

Oh, what’s this? Dom is heading back to the bench and perhaps the clubhouse on this frigid night in Chicago, but Luis has made a right turn and is now motioning to center fielder Kevin Pillar to leave the field as well. Pillar, a marvelous defensive center fielder, admittedly hasn’t had the most brilliant game under the lights, either. Maybe Luis wants to give the veteran a chance to rest. Brandon Nimmo, off to such a dazzling start, has been sitting with what’s been described as stiffness in his right hip, giving Pillar an opportunity to start. One of the hallmarks of Gil Hodges was his ability to assign playing time to every member of his roster. Luis, too, has been doing his best to keep his reserves fresh.

While Pillar exits the field, it appears Luis isn’t done taking his impromptu tour. You know, Luis Rojas comes from a great baseball family, the son of the wonderful manager and player Felipe Alou and nephew to two of Felipe’s brothers, Matty and Jesus, both of them solid players in their own right. We had the privilege of seeing all three Alou brothers line up in the outfield for the San Francisco Giants when they played the Mets in 1963. The Mets drew some enormous crowds for both the Giants and Dodgers when the former New York teams came back to the Polo Grounds those first two seasons of the Mets’ existence. The fans were so happy to greet their old heroes and have National League baseball again. Casey Stengel made those years so memorable and so enjoyable.

When games were over at the Polo Grounds, the uniformed personnel on both sides would have to go for a very long stroll to the clubhouses that were located beyond the spacious outfield of the ancient ballpark. I don’t know if we’ve seen a Mets manager spend as much time in the outfield since then. Well, Luis Rojas hasn’t yet left the outfield here at Wrigley. Instead, he’s going to right field and, yes, he’s taking out Michael Conforto as well.

Michael is such a fine young man and such a talented player. His start this season is no indication of his ability, but it has been a rough start and he, too, has endured a lot of bad road tonight, so Luis is removing his regular right fielder. This is unusual, but perhaps the manager is trying to send a message to his beleaguered troops. Though the Mets entered the evening in first place in the National League East and are guaranteed to stay there at the end of play, they have committed four errors and have had their share of trouble handling the ball cleanly.

While we wait for the skipper to make his way back to the dugout, this is a good time to remind you tickets for Batting Helmet Day are now on sale at all Mets ticket outlets, including select branches of Manufacturers Hanover Trust. All fans 14 and under will receive an adjustable bright blue and orange batting helmet like the one slugger Pete Alonso wears. Pete is so popular with the kids. They call him the Polar Bear. Pete hit a monster of a home run earlier tonight, way, way out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue, probably in the vicinity of where some of Dave Kingman’s shots used to land. I hear Dave is doing great in retirement in Arizona and we wish him well. He’s a wonderful guy once you get to know him.

What’s this now? Luis has paused at first base and is telling Pete Alonso his night is over. That’s a surprise, as Pete has been busy at first base, trying to field the many balls his teammates have attempted to throw in his general direction. The Cubs have such a hard-hitting team and an offense like theirs will keep the infield as well as the outfield on its toes.

Well, apparently, the manager isn’t done, as he rounds first, heads for second…and yes, Luis Rojas is taking out Jeff McNeil, the man they call the Squirrel. Jeff, like Michael Conforto, is a fine young man experiencing a bit of a shaky start to the new season. You know, they call baseball “the summer game,” and conditions like we have tonight, with temperatures dipping into the thirties and the winds whipping up, are not conducive to baseball being played at its best. McNeil, who along with his lovely wife Tatiana have given a good home to a dog and a cat who were up for adoption, has no doubt felt the effects of the conditions and hasn’t looked as crisp as he usually does.

While Rojas is removing his second baseman, this might be a good time for you to remove your second Schaefer of the game from the fridge. Schaefer, after all, is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one, and as long as you’re not outside tonight at Wrigley Field, the smooth, delicious finish of a cold Schaefer goes great with a ballgame entering its final inning. We thank F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company for joining our family of participating sponsors of New York Mets baseball. We had such enthusiastic support from our friends at Rheingold for many years, but once their brewery closed, Schaefer stepped right up to take their place. Stay tuned after the game when we award points in the Schaefer Mets Player of the Game balloting.

Frankly, it may be a difficult selection process tonight, as the Mets admittedly aren’t having their most award-winning game. Alonso hit that very long home run, a two-run job that drew the Mets close in the fifth inning. David Peterson, who looked so poised his last time out, versus Philadelphia, threw three masterful innings at the start and didn’t give up a hit until the fourth. He ran into some bad luck in what became the seven-run bottom of the fourth, leading Rojas to make his first trip from the dugout. At that time, it was only to take out the pitcher. David’s successors on the mound encountered some trouble as well. Of course when the game began, it looked like the big story would be Francisco Lindor hitting his first home run as a New York Met, the first of many to come. Lindor was such a big acquisition in the offseason, a real superstar and a real leader in that clubhouse. I’ve had the chance to talk to Francisco over Zoom and I have to tell you I’ve rarely encountered such an impressive young man.

Unfortunately, it appears Francisco has made the wrong impression on his manager tonight because Rojas is taking his shortstop out, too. The bad weather doesn’t ask to see your credentials and it must’ve taken a toll on Francisco. He’ll bounce back. He’s too good a player not to.

The Mets have made four errors tonight, which is surprising, considering how good they looked defensively over the weekend at Coors Field, which, like Wrigley, can be subject to some pretty harsh elements. It was cold in Denver just as it’s cold tonight in Chicago. We can’t wait for some of that good summer weather, sunshine, and little more than a few harmless puffy cumulus clouds overhead.

Luis still hasn’t left the field. He’s pausing at third base to remove J.D. Davis. Davis is such a promising hitter and he’s continued to produce when healthy, but third base has often been such a trouble spot for New York Mets throughout their history. In their first year of 1962, the Mets used nine different men at third. There’s a reason they call it the hot corner. Casey Stengel started the season with Don Zimmer, who suffered an 0-for-34 streak. Don finally broke out of his slump and, as thanks, he was traded to Cincinnati for Cliff Cook and Bob G. Miller. Try as he might, Casey couldn’t seem to distinguish between that Bob Miller, a lefty, and the other Bob Miller on the pitching staff, a righty. When Casey would call the bullpen, he’d say, “Get Nelson up,” which came to be understood as Bob L. Miller, the righthander. You had to speak “Stengelese” in those days, but it was worth it. Casey kept Lindsey, Ralph and I as well as the writers who covered the team that first year so very entertained. The Mets lost 120 games, but broadcasting was never a chore with Casey around.

Davis’s tough night hasn’t been for lack of practice. J.D. has been working very hard to improve his defense, but you won’t have to work hard to find great taste in a cigarette if you smoke Viceroy. Light up a Viceroy and feel as regal as a monarch.

J.D. is such a likable young man. All of these Mets are. When they can, a whole host of the everyday players get together on the road after the game for cookies and milk and talk hitting in somebody’s hotel room. They like each other that much. Maybe Luis is advising J.D. that fielding should be on the agenda for tonight’s get-together. It looks like the regulars can get a head start on planning their meeting, as J.D., like the others, has been removed from the game. Not even Gil Hodges took this drastic a move with virtually his entire lineup. The only players Rojas hasn’t replaced since emerging from the dugout minutes ago are his pitcher and catcher. He’s certainly run through several relievers tonight — Robert Gsellman, Trevor Hildenberger, Aaron Loup and Miguel Castro. Loup and Castro didn’t give up any earned runs. Behind the plate for all of the pitchers has been James McCann. McCann has made such a difference since signing with the Mets over the winter. We saw evidence of his impact when he threw out Trevor Story attempting to steal for the last out of Sunday’s game in Colorado, an ending you don’t see too often.

Now, though, Luis is opting to give James the rest of the night off, making it eight out of eight position players he has pulled at once. It’s hard to blame Rojas for wanting to make wholesale changes. The Mets are losing by so many runs that the operator of the hand-held scoreboard here at Wrigley Field must be getting cramps, especially on such a cold night. It’s a shame we can’t see this ballpark in daylight. You think of Wrigley in daylight, you think of great guys like Ernie Banks, who always wanted to play two. The Mets and Cubs certainly had some battles here on the Near North Side in 1969, with Gil Hodges and Leo Durocher going at it. Tonight, however, I think Luis Rojas just wants to get the final inning over with and try his luck tomorrow. We’ll be on the air with the pregame show at 7:25 New York time.

Coming into pitch now appears to be Luis Guillorme. Guillorme is so versatile. He’s pitched before, but really you know his manager would prefer to see him at one of the infield positions, which Guillorme handles so skillfully. Of course Rojas now has to tell Dreckman who’s going to fill the rest of the roles on the field now that he’s removed his entire lineup. Oh, but what’s this? Luis Rojas instead marches back to the Mets’ dugout, hands the lineup card to his trusted bench coach Dave Jauss, and removes himself, setting an example for all of his players. If you’re not up to the task, Rojas seems to be saying, you don’t belong in the game. Baseball is a game of redeeming features, and the series finale will give the manager and all the Mets a chance to redeem their less than representative outing. Joey Lucchesi, the stylish lefthander, and Trevor Williams are the probable pitchers for Thursday.

Dreckman gives the go-ahead to resume the action. Guillorme goes into his windup. It’s ball one to Anthony Rizzo.

Thinking Can Only Hurt the Ballclub

I love J.D. Davis, from his weirdo back-construction nickname (“Jonathan Gregory Davis” doesn’t obviously suggest “J.D. Davis,” but “Jonathan Davis” plus a little repetition does) and his shrill heckling to his postgame manic episodes and general air of just being tickled to play baseball. But a thinking J.D. Davis is his own worst enemy.

I’ll paint the word picture for future generations in search of an extra dose of masochism: Bottom of the third, scoreless game, frozen night at Wrigley. Taijuan Walker faces Willson Contreras with two outs and Eric Sogard on second. Walker’s 2-1 sinker touches the bottom of the strike zone and yields exactly what it’s meant to: a grounder to the infield. But Davis backs up on it, giving ground to get a true hop instead of coming in aggressively. Then, with the ball in his hand, you see him double-pump, maybe repositioning the ball to get the seams. Whatever it is, it’s a moment in which he’s thinking — and that’s not good for an infielder in the heat of battle whose throws aren’t always true.

Uh-oh, I thought. And sure enough, Davis’s throw skipped into the dirt, clanking off Pete Alonso‘s glove as Sogard alertly kept motoring, scoring on the play. The Cubs led 1-0, and Davis would make a carbon-copy error in the fifth, allowing Kris Bryant to reach.

In between, the fourth proved fatal to the Mets’ chances. Walker fanned the first two Cubs before allowing a single to Jason Heyward, who was safe by an eyelash stealing second. The pesky Sogard survived a 2-2 call just above the top of the strike zone and then drove in Heyward. Walker then started doing what his last name suggests, walking opposing pitcher Jake Arrieta, Ian Happ and Contreras to force in another run and end Walker’s night. All three at-bats featured multiple pitches on the edge of the strike zone, inspiring Walker to give home-plate umpire John Libka a piece of his mind on his way to the dugout. Libka ejected Walker, who was out of the game anyway and therefore penalized by no longer being entitled to enjoy the deep-freeze conditions outside of the visiting clubhouse. (“Stop, don’t.”)

Those two sequences were ultimately all that mattered in the game: The Mets posed a ninth-inning threat against Craig Kimbrel that fell flat, meaning the entirety of their offense was a solo homer by Davis, struck so perfectly that not even the meanest Wrigley inbound wind could have tamed it. This was a problem that got masked in Colorado — there, the Mets took two out of three because they got terrific pitching, played sound defensive baseball and hit just enough when it mattered. Here, the pitching was a little below that level (though Walker was pretty good), the defense was a lot below that level, and the timely hits weren’t there. The Mets’ lineup should allow the team to outslug a lot of such troubles, but the lineup largely hasn’t done that so far in 2021’s weird stop-start season.

As for the in-game controversy, I thought Libka’s strike zone was actually pretty fair. Sure, there were borderline pitches that could have been argued either way, but that’s always the case — only Sogard’s leadoff walk strikes me as a miscarraige of justice according to ESPN’s pitch plotting, and Mets hitters had some calls go their way too. What Libka didn’t do was mysteriously expand the zone from side to side and force both teams to figure out its dimensions, an umpiring distortion so common that we’ve learned to accept it as part of daily conditions, as if weather made the strike zone wax and wane like wood over the seasons. If you want to complain about Libka, do it for another reason, one noted by Eduardo Perez on a not-bad ESPN broadcast — Libka should have known Walker would be steaming on his walk off the mound, and he could have found a pretext for paying attention to something along the foul line away from the visitors’ dugout, so he could claim not to have heard the critique of his strike zone. Instead, he stayed front and center, providing a handy teapot for the inevitable tempest.

Well, anyway. Every season has 40-odd games you should just erase from memory as soon as they’re concluded, because dwelling on them will do no one any good. As I hope Francisco Lindor tells Davis in a quiet moment during infield practice, don’t think. It can only hurt the ballclub.

Glove, Actually

You can’t talk about Sunday’s 2-1 Mets win at Coors Field without acknowledging the run the Mets strung together in the second inning, built on a Pete Alonso single, a Michael Conforto double and well-placed Jeff McNeil groundout. You can’t talk about the Mets taking their three-game series without taking note of J.D. Davis’s bat making its statement via a two-out single that scored Conforto in the fourth.

Duly acknowledged and noted. Now let’s talk Mets defense.

Mets defense? That’s a thing? It hasn’t been all that much in recent years. “Where have you gone 2014 Juan Lagares?” we might have asked as Metsopotamia turned its Gold Glove eyes to a display case gathering dust. The Mets featured few irrefutable defensive standouts once Juan began spending more time on the (then) DL than in CF. If the Mets were going to win, it would be via pitching, three-run homers and an innate hope that nobody hit the ball anywhere except right at somebody, and even then, maybe not too hard.

The spirit of the departed Lagares (himself presiding over funerals for fly balls for the Angels before haunting their IL) was alive and well for a change in Denver on Sunday. Defense was alive and well in the field for the Mets. When you win by one run, you need all the help you can muster, and you need to not hurt yourself in the process.

I counted seven separate plays Sunday that went beyond the routine and involved something more than a catcher cradling strikes. In Saturday’s doubleheader opener, Mets pitchers, mostly Jacob deGrom, struck out 17 Rockie batters. When Jake is really on, “just don’t drop strike three” is the extent of the Mets’ defensive strategy. In Sunday’s finale, Marcus Stroman took the mound. Marcus Stroman isn’t Jacob deGrom, and not because nobody is Jacob deGrom except Jacob deGrom. Nobody who isn’t Marcus Stroman is Marcus Stroman, either.

We’re not talking about asking for ID. Stroman approaches his outings like nobody I’ve ever seen in more than fifty years of watching Mets baseball. He doesn’t “attack” the batter or the strike zone. He attacks the entire game. If a top rope surrounded the rubber, he’d climb atop it, jump off of it, pin the batter he’s startled and egg the crowd on to chant his name. That’s “his attitude,” Conforto said of his 3-0 teammate in Sunday’s postgame Zoom, “the ultimate confidence in himself, and I think that can be contagious sometimes.” Rooting for our first-place team, we should all come down with a case of that kind of self-belief.

There may be spectacle to Stroman’s starts, but the substance is sophisticated. Maybe if Marcus thought he could strike out everybody in sight, that’s how he’d approach each encounter. But he understands his stuff and he pitches a game different from deGrom or most contemporary pitchers in the age of the K. He pitches to his strengths — “I throw an elite sinker” — and he pitches to his defense. Against the Rockies, he struck out five over eight innings, which registers at a glance as something well short of deGrominant, but Marcus’s final line tells its own something-to-love story: 3 hits, 1 walk, 1 run. And did we mention the eight innings? Stro’s ERA thus far in 2021 is 0.90. Sub-one is deGrom territory. Or deGrom/Stroman territory. Two aces will deck any opposing batting order.

Usually Stroman produces ground balls, and the bottom of every inning at Coors Field — a pitcher’s park when Jacob and Marcus are at work — involved at least one groundout. But a couple of times the ball took off in the thin air, deep into the outfield. Mets flycatchers, despite the absence of a Lagares type, were up to the challenge. Brandon Nimmo had to hustle to deepest center to reel in a belt by C.J. Cron. Conforto had to fight the sun through his sunglasses to retire Garrett Hampson; he prayed a little, laid out a lot and took care of the mission.

Within the infield, Francisco Lindor reminded us what a fully formed shortstop looks like. He plays a very fast game. Maybe too fast? For a skosh, I thought so when, on a potential double play ball, I saw Stroman’s fling to Lindor on a sacrifice attempt apparently bounce out of his glove. But no, Francisco had grabbed the throw and got credit for an out before the ball briefly escaped his clutches “on the transfer”. That may not be the best example of a smooth play, but it felt like Lindor knew what he was doing. What Conforto said about confidence vis-à-vis Stroman applies to Lindor. He knows what he has to do out there and he knows he’s going to do it.

Stroman demonstrates the most defensive confidence in Stroman. If he’s around a ball, he’ll be involved and he won’t worry that he’s only the pitcher. He’s a Gold Glove pitcher (2017 AL) and he trusts the fielder who was thusly awarded. On Sunday, in the seventh, Marcus had to leap high en route to first to pull down a toss from Alonso to make the first out on Ryan McMahon. He did, assuring us he can indeed do as Mountain Dew commercials once advised and get vertical. In the eighth, Stroman pivoted from 3-1 in the scorebook to 1-3, but not like you’re conditioned to expect. Josh Fuentes’s sharp grounder to Marcus’s right necessitated the pitcher make a spectacular behind-the-back stab — which he did — and then a kickball kind of pitch toward Pete (“I want it slow and bouncy”) — which he also did. “That was bizarre!” Gary Cohen marveled. But it was also effective. It was an out.

Eight innings is almost unheard of in today’s game, at Coors Field or any field, but Stro went nearly the distance. Luis Rojas, learning as he manages, left him in for ninety pitches. In the ninth, it wasn’t surprising to see Edwin Diaz relieve him. It was a little stunning, however, to notice the Mets simultaneously make three defensive maneuvers, sending in Luis Guillorme for Davis at third and Albert Almora, Jr., for Nimmo in center while shifting Brandon to left in place of Dom Smith. The Mets had their defensive lineup out there.

I swear I can’t remember the last time the Mets had a defensive lineup.

Though the Mets seemed confident, and their confidence was internally contagious, no Mets fan can ever have be vaccinated with enough doses against doubt. For all the sharp plays they’d made, they were still leading by a single slender run. The Mets were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. McNeil’s calculated risk in trying to stretch a double into a triple in the top of the ninth didn’t pay off. Lindor’s offensive momentum didn’t carry over from Saturday’s big hit; he went 0-for-4 and is batting .189. As deep as the lineup looks, the Mets have scored more than four runs in a game only twice in eleven games.

Which is why, for now, the Mets have to rely on pitching and defense. Especially defense.

Diaz struck out the side Saturday. A less fresh Edwin couldn’t strike out anybody Sunday. But he had gloves on his side. Francisco took care of a liner for the first out of the ninth. Brandon, having just moved to left, raced to the wall and brought down a scarily long out for the second. Trevor Story singled to keep the Rockies alive, bringing Charlie Blackmon to the plate as the potential Sugar shocker. Blackmon could theoretically ruin the entire day and series with one swing. Never mind a Coors Field homer. A gapper could get Story on his horse and galloping for the tie. Trevor understands the dimensions as well as anybody in Colorado. He also grasps that scoring from second is an easier sprint in mile-high elevation than scoring from first.

On the first pitch Diaz threw Blackmon, Story lit out for second. Cringing replaced confidence back in New York. Great, they have a runner in scoring position was my initial reaction, brewed with only the most natural ingredients of Rocky Mountain water, Moravian barley and Mets fan anxiety born of perennially porous defense.

But what’s this in my mug? It’s James McCann — @McCannon33 to his tweeps — rising and throwing and gunning to second. And it’s Francisco Lindor, swiftly covering, catching and tagging. In a blink, Story is out and the game is over. A couple of extra blinks are required partly because replay review has to be fired up and partly because we are rubbing our eyes from a touch of disbelief.

Yup, he’s out, and yup, we won a defensive struggle. We have a defensive lineup. We have gloves and players who know how to use them. And we finished off our Sunday on a play that rarely finishes off any Met day. Some helpful Twitter researchers and an additional dive into Baseball-Reference’s Stathead service indicated this was only the eighth time a Met catcher recorded a caught stealing to seal a victory. Jerry Grote did it first, in 1968. Omir Santos had done it most recently, in 2009. In between, there were Duffy Dyer in 1970; John Stearns in 1976; Mike Fitzgerald in 1984; Gary Carter in 1989; and, in his brief recidivist return, Kelly Stinnett in 2006. I was at what we’ll call, for our purposes today, the Stinnett game, versus the Dodgers at Shea. The Santos game, too, against the Brewers at Citi. They were smashing notes on which to exit the ballpark, but they didn’t necessarily seem to capture the Metgeist of their moment. I looked up what I blogged in the one-run victory recaps that followed and didn’t think to mention either throw.

McCann to Lindor, however, felt like something that tells us something about these Mets and their latest one-run win. They’re not scoring a ton, but they are winning a lot, even if it’s not by a lot. Sunday’s was the Mets’ fourth one-run win out of a total of seven. They’ve pitched, defended and edged their way into a division lead. It’s early. But it’s confidence-inspiring.

Let's Play One

Here’s a proposed rule change for baseball to consider: A team that wins the first game of a doubleheader in inspiring style doesn’t have to play the second game. They get to defer it for a day and bask in the afterglow, instead of going right back into battle and risking an emotional fallen souffle.

The Mets would have been in favor of that Saturday. They recorded one of their most satisfying wins of the young season in the matinee against the Rockies, spitting in the eye of recent history and exorcising some pesky statistical demons. Then they looked flat and overmatched in the nightcap, going down meekly. That second loss didn’t cancel out the good vibes of the opener, but it did affix a moderately sized asterisk to the proceedings.

On the other hand, the Mets actually getting to play was a victory in its own right, after two days of being sidelined by rain and snow. Despite the sun finally shining on him again, Jacob deGrom looked out of kilter early, struggling with his posture on landings and wearing the perturbed look that he reserves for such situation: I’m the best pitcher on the planet. Why are things I do better than anybody else suddenly hard?

But as is so often the case, the prospect of an emergency — runners on first and second, nobody out — helped him find his footing, and boy did he ever find it. Nine Rockies up, nine Rockies down, all by strikeout. One more K, and deGrom would stand alongside Tom Seaver — a Met immortal whose place in the firmament is a little less above deGrom’s head with every start — as the only pitchers to fan 10 straight. Two more Ks, and deGrom would stand alone.

Ah, but baseball is baseball, Denver is Denver … and there’s no Jacob deGrom masterpiece that his teammates won’t try to improve with crayons and finger paint. After swinging through deGrom’s first pitch of the fifth, Josh Fuentes slapped a hard grounder back of the middle that eluded deGrom and handcuffed Jeff McNeil, who flung it past Pete Alonso. After a strikeout, Dom Nunez rifled a ball off the right-field fence that Michael Conforto had to corral halfway back to the infield. Tie game. The next batter, Yonathan Daza, hit a low liner to Conforto in short right; Conforto looked like he had a play at the plate, but threw wide of James McCann. Then Raimel Tapia rifled a ball down the right-field line for a homer, and hey, you couldn’t blame that one on defensive slapstick. In a few minutes, deGrom had gone from flirting with baseball glory to being once again on the wrong side of the scoreboard and practicing his thousand-mile stare in the dugout.

Except, well, rerun that part about baseball and Denver. A line-drive homer by Alonso brought the Mets within one, and in the top of the seventh they rose up in indignation: McCann started the inning by singling and Jonathan Villar doubled into the corner, with Gary DiSarcina sending pinch-runner Albert Almora rather than leave things to Brandon Nimmo with runners on second and third and nobody out. Almora was safe at the plate, by somewhere between a pinkie and an eyelash; Francisco Lindor then singled through the infield for the lead.

Which Edwin Diaz secured with so little fuss that you felt a little bad for thinking about, well, all the times he hasn’t. The Mets had got to play baseball and they’d won. DeGrom had even won. It had been downright inspiring.

At the risk of being told it’s rude to do that in the punchbowl, though, a note of discontent has crept into the year for me.

DeGrom and Diaz combined to strike out 17, meaning just four Rockie outs were recorded away from home plate. Now, I find even routine baseball plays beautiful — the way shortstops glide across the dirt to pick off a grounder before it can reach the grass, or the instinctive paths outfielders carve across so much green to corral a fly ball’s arc. But a pitcher and catcher tossing the ball back and forth past a human windmill? There’s not a lot of beauty on display, even when a generational talent like deGrom is involved. Frankly, games like that are boring — static and leaden instead of balletic and filled with possibilities, like baseball ought to be.

They’re boring and they’re increasingly common. I bristle at tinkering with baseball’s essentials, but my muttering has become half-hearted as too many games become dull affairs. Something needs to change, even if it means messing with elements I once considered sacrosanct.

Anyway, there was more to the Mets’ day than that, but I’ll make it mercifully brief: They played more baseball and were carved up by German Marquez and his merciless slider, able to mount very little resistance. But let’s not talk about that, because remember the Mets invoked the inspiration rule after Game 1, meaning the rest was just a strange dream and they’ll play two tomorrow.

Oh wait, that experiment hasn’t even reached the Atlantic League yet. Shoot. Would’ve been a good day to give it a try, right?

Friday Night Void

When the Mets are on a TV near you as a matter of course, which I grant you isn’t often this month, it’s swell to sit down and watch, but it’s not what I’d classify a treat. A steady diet of even the tastiest dessert — and what are Gary, Keith and Ron if not a brownie sundae after dinner practically every night? — can’t be a treat if you come to expect it.

On Friday night, April 8, 1983, I was ready for a treat. My kind of treat. As a college student in Tampa, I almost never saw the Mets on TV. True, I’d seen them in person a week before at Al Lopez Field, but that was Spring Training. I was supposed to see them the next afternoon in St. Pete, too, but it rained.

It was a foreshadowy shower, it turned out, just like every instance of rain has begat more rain this month, or in the case of the Mets in Denver at the moment, snow. Tonight, a Friday night, there’s no game. We haven’t yet had a Friday night game in 2021. Or a Friday day game, come to think of it. There were none scheduled the last two weeks because Openers were set for the respective preceding Thursdays (even if only one was played) and baseball where fields were built unroofed thinks it outwits the elements annually by holding aside the day after its Openers lest it risk losing a gate in case of inclement weather. (Seen a lot of big gates lately?) A Friday in baseball season without Mets baseball is no better than chicken broth for the soul. You’re glad it’s Friday, but where are the noodles? Where are the bits of chicken and slices of carrots?

Where’s the nourishment?

The 1983 Mets opened the season at Shea on Tuesday the Fifth — fella named Seaver pitched in home whites for the first time there in a buncha years — and continued on Thursday the Seventh. They reached a quick 2-0 and had themselves a night game set for Friday the Eighth.

A night game that was going to be televised in the Tampa Bay area! Not a national broadcast, mind you, but a feed picked up from one of the combatants. It was Mets and Cardinals, both of whom prepped for the season ahead at Al Lang Stadium, not to be confused with Al Lopez Field, springtime home of the Reds. When it came to baseball in Tampa-St. Pete and environs, it was Al in the family. If you trained in Tampa Bay, they remembered you now and then once you broke camp. There were no Rays. There were baseball fans. There were a couple of independent stations, Channels 28 and 44, that aired baseball games from distant precincts. They weren’t always Mets games, but you can be damn sure I was all over it when one was.

This was my wheelhouse. This was my Friday night. I thought about it all week long. Mets and Cardinals, live from Shea, 8:05 PM in the TV lounge on the ninth floor at Fontana Hall. If I were home, I imagined, I’d order a pie and maybe a quart of a leading national brand of cola from Capri. Gino’s was the best, but Capri delivered and would do very nicely in my dream scenario. I’d bring the pie in from the delivery guy and turn on the set. Who am I kidding? The set would already be on, but I’d tune it to Channel 9 at the end of a long day. I saw myself ending the workweek in the city in the late afternoon sun, trudging toward Penn Station. There was a little trash in the gutter at the corner in my mind, but that was OK, because it’s Manhattan in 1983 and that’s what New York looks like.

Joe Walsh scored the scene for me.

Somewhere out on that horizon
Out beyond the neon lights
I know there must be something better
But there’s nowhere else in sight

Yes, Joe, there was something better, and of course it’s in sight. The Mets game! Tonight! Channel 9! Let’s go!

Never mind that I was 20 years old, had no job in the city and was nowhere near town. Tampa would do for tonight. Three weeks from now I’d be back in New York, but I didn’t want to wait for proximity to the Mets while they were playing games that counted. My favorite part of the long drive from Florida, other than concluding it, was reaching Baltimore or thereabouts. The East Coast began to look more North than South by then. It looked lived in, like the city Walsh sang about on The Warriors soundtrack (and the Eagles recorded on The Long Run). Time it right, and you might hear Bob Murphy and Steve Lamar calling a John Stearns at-bat through the static, or at least a sports report at fifteen after or fifteen before the hour on WCBS or WINS attesting to the existence of the Mets, something that didn’t often come up on Tampa Bay radio.

When you’re living somewhere else in the pre-Internet age, you get romantic about where you’re not anymore. You get famished for any nibble from home. A nibble of Mets baseball would satiate. An entire nine innings projected as a feast.

The game was an eight o’clock start, as night games were in those days. Games didn’t routinely yawn for three-and-a-half hours, so it wasn’t really late. Daylight Savings Time didn’t kick in until late April, so it had to be dark, not only in New York but in Tampa. Still, in my mind, that golden late afternoon sun is streaming through the window when I head out into the TV lounge to ascertain it’s unoccupied and lay claim to the channel-changer. First come, first served. Did my neighbors think they had better things to do than watch a Mets game on a Friday night? Trick question: there was no thing better to do than watch a Mets game on a Friday night.

Ha, nobody’s out here! It’s mine! All mine! I get to watch the Mets on a big color TV! What a treat! Should I order a pie, or would that be gauche?

Bob from down the hall saw me approach the set, my fingers practically flexing in anticipation of dialing in the UHF frequency that would allow me to commune with my baseball team. Bob was from Jersey. We weren’t particularly close, but Bob knew me well enough.

“Hey, Greg, if you’re looking for the Mets game, forget it. It was rained out.”

So it was. There went Friday night. No treat for me. No game on tonight, either. Pizza sounds good, though.

Sounds great, actually.

Washed Out April Afternoons

The Mets had an April in 1981 that would seem familiar to any Mets fan feeling all rained out forty Aprils later. Opening Day arrived as scheduled Thursday, April 9, in Chicago, followed by an off day, followed by a Wrigley Field weekend as planned…except it was nasty on the North Side on Sunday the Twelfth and would-be rookie phenom Tim Leary felt something in his elbow and didn’t get the chance to be phenomenal for more than two innings and wouldn’t be back on the mound for the Mets until September 25, 1983. Still, they took two of three from the Cubs and lived up to the notion that the Magic, as the ads promised, was Real.

Monday the Thirteenth was a scheduled off day. Tuesday was set to be the Home Opener versus St. Louis, except it rained on April 14, 1981, like it’s rained on April 15, 2021. I can vouch for the former, having held a ticket to the first Home Opener I was going to witness in person. Sure I had a Spanish test that day, but what’s the point of being a high school senior if not to learn to make vital life choices?

My first choice was to skip the test. My second choice was picking a date to exchange the rain check for at the Shea box office once my pal and fellow Spanish classmate Joel and I were told the gates would not open. We were deprived of our first glimpse of the newly installed Mets Magic-branded Home Run Apple (it sat in a top hat, in case the theme wasn’t abundantly clear), though I think we eventually got to take a makeup exam en Español. Thus, we wound up indulging our late-stage truancy for the pleasure of a round-trip train ride; a peek at the KINGMAN FALLOUT ZONE placard on a parking lot lamp post; and a bowl of matzo ball soup at Marron’s of Long Beach at the end of our return journey. We needed the comfort.

The Mets played on the Fifteenth and Sixteenth, winning one and losing one to the Cardinals. Good Friday on the Seventeenth was another off day. Saturday the Eighteenth was a home loss to the daunting Expos. Sunday the Nineteenth was a scheduled Easter doubleheader versus Les Spos and the presumed crown jewel of Nostalgia Album Weekend. Attendees were handed glossy magazines with reprinted articles from the Times confirming that Mets Magic used to be less hype and actually actual. The Mets went .500 that day, forging a split that left them 4-4 on the pokey young season.

Even Steven was an ethos that would resonate across the ensuing week. April 20 was a scheduled off day. So was April 21. The Mets got back on the field at last in Pittsburgh on Wednesday the Twenty-Second. They played one game there, though you wouldn’t know it from its impact on the standings. The final score was 2-2 — a tie…an honest-to-goodness regulation tie, with the Mets and Bucs deadlocked the middle of the ninth and the umpires ruling in favor of shelter. Rain ended up triumphant, and precipitation’s momentum carried into the next afternoon. April 23, the day after Earth Day, brought a good soaking to the Three Rivers artificial turf and another postponement to the Mets. Mother Nature sure had a quirky sense of humor.

Off to Montreal for a matinee on Friday the Twenty-Fourth. Mère Nature traveled with the team. Olympic Stadium’s roof wasn’t operable in 1981. It rained in Quebec as it had in Pennsylvania, meaning a) another rainout; and b) over the course of five days, the Mets had played no games to a decision.

The Expos won what became the series opener on Saturday the Twenty-Fifth and swept the makeup doubleheader on Sunday the Twenty-Sixth. Not a fun threesome, but it did yield a fun fact: each game in that twinbill lasted nine innings by design.

Hooked on looking back wistfully.

The Mets flew home and cooled their heels Monday the Twenty-Seventh for yet another scheduled off day. When they returned to Shea to host the Pirates the next night, April 28, the Pirates shut them out, 8-0. The night after that, April 29, was pretty much the same, except the final was 10-0, and Joel and I got to use our rainchecks. That was the game we chose. Our choosing skills, like the Mets, obviously needed more reps. Not only were our beloveds shut out by a double-figure margin, but for a spell they couldn’t easily see how much they were losing by, thanks to an electrical glitch reduced stadium lighting enough to cause a non-rain delay. (Cruelly, the scoreboard remained illuminated.) It wasn’t so pitch black that they had to postpone, but the Met-aphor couldn’t be missed. You’re truly dim if you come to Shea. On the rare bright April 1981 side, I was able to purchase a leftover Nostalgia Album at a concession stand. At eighteen years of age, I was already hooked on looking back wistfully.

On Thursday the Thirtieth, the Mets scored four runs, but the Pirates scored several more en route to making it a three-game sweep.

That was the final scene of intermittently soggy, exasperatingly idle April 1981. The Mets finished the month 4-10-1, with whatever springtime momentum they’d packed from St. Petersburg in disarray and our Magical thinking proving no more than wishful. Too many open dates to begin with. Too much rain coming down in buckets. Not enough pitching to withstand the Expos or Pirates. April pretty much killed the season’s vaguely hopeful vibe — our record would sink to freaking 8-24 — before the strike killed it all over again in June. They’ve yet to print a Nostalgia Album highlighting that blip of Mets history. (Though I’d buy one.)

Postponements of baseball games are never good. Postponements of baseball games in April, any April, are the worst. There are no reserves in our tank, no easy acceptance that a pause from the grind isn’t the worst thing in the world. Rainouts, we’re pretty sure in April, are the worst thing in the world, at least in our world, especially when they keep occurring.

Or maybe you’ve recently noticed.

The Mets were rained out today, Thursday. They were rained out Monday. They were all but rained out Sunday. There were also those three games punted well into summer by the Washington baseball club via positive COVID testing, an innovation (like seven-inning doubleheaders) we didn’t have in 1981. And there was the surfeit of — wait for it — scheduled off days to protect against rain. We’re fifteen days into the 2021 baseball season and we’ve played all of eight complete games, and only six of those have gone what we used to think of as the full nine. Our next stop, as if we need more stopping, is Denver, where the potential for snow and cold scoffs “hold my Coors” toward our chilly rain.

Then again, we’ve already won more games halfway through April 2021 than we did in all of April 1981, with a couple of weeks to go (weather permitting). Every cloud such have such an orange and blue lining.

The Shadow of the Past

I was uneasy about Wednesday night, as if the shadow of the past was reaching out for the Mets. It started with news that Jed Lowrie is alive and well and back in Oakland, perfectly ambulatory and hitting home runs now that his knee has been surgically repaired. It turns out, in whatever the opposite of a shocking twist is, that the Wilpon-run Mets wouldn’t allow him to have surgery, instead threatening him with a grievance and preferring to spend two seasons setting his salary on fire.

Then word came that Bernie Madoff — the proximate cause of the Wilpons’ financial woes, though not, to be sure, of their serial micromanaging, failson megalomania, backstabbing or mendacity — had died in prison. That was good news — the world was instantly and obviously better off unencumbered by a man who stole the life savings of freaking Elie Wiesel — but I wondered if Madoff might have one final sigh of poison for the world and the Mets’ portion of it.

Adding to my unease: Zack Wheeler was set to take the mound for the Phillies, the same Wheeler whom the cash-strapped Mets let walk as a free agent despite his desire to stay in Queens. After leaving for Philadelphia, you may recall, Wheeler described the Mets’ response to his inquiries about an offer as “basically just crickets … Because it’s them. It’s how they roll. Everything was kind of jumpy because certain people would want something, others wouldn’t. I don’t think everyone was on the same page.”

That’s certainly an accurate description of most Mets decisions before the Fall of the House of Wilpon. Just like it was no surprise that Brodie Van Wagenen’s answer was to snipe that Wheeler had parlayed “two good half-seasons” into a big contract — the Wilpons saw every departing back as a logical place for some flunky to stick a knife. What followed was karma: While the Mets tried reanimating the corpses of Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, Wheeler took the next step as a pitcher in 2019, cutting his home-run rate (in a bandbox, no less) and working more efficiently. He was exactly what the Mets’ rotation needed, he would have cost them nothing but the money they refused to spend, and you better believe I’m still pissed about it.

Anyway, Wheeler was perfectly poised to end the good feelings brought about by Tuesday’s doubleheader. Except events then veered delightfully off script.

In the first, Wheeler looked more like the work in progress he’d been before Tommy John surgery and been again when he tried to restart himself after it. He struggled to command his pitches, needing 29 to stagger through that first frame and finding himself down 2-0. He settled in after that, but David Peterson — last seen being ambushed by these same Phils — looked untouchable, racking up strikeouts and commanding everything in his arsenal.

Being a Mets fan means a certain wariness about good news: After a Jean Segura homer ended the usual dreams of glory and cut the score to 2-1, I feared those old ghosts still had some teeth. But the Mets weren’t inclined to lethargy. They added a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth, thanks to contributions from so far somnambulant personnel: Francisco Lindor had two hits and James McCann had three, including his first homer in orange and blue. To the roster of Good Things we can add Brandon Nimmo being impossible to retire right now, Dom Smith continuing to chip in solid offense, a clutch outing from Aaron Loup, and more nifty fielding from Luis Guillorme.

Amazing what can happen when a team actually gets to play more than every few days, huh?

On that note, alas, it looks unlikely that the Mets will play tomorrow, unless Steve Cohen just bought a roof for Citi Field and a supernatural construction crew. And the weekend conditions in Colorado … well, you don’t want to know.

I’d say it’s always something, but you know what? Enough of that. Eventually even the most persistent haunts stop going bump in the night, or if they do you learn to sleep through it. The Wilpons really are gone, and so is their cheapness and their serial grifty pettiness. It’s been hard for me to really and truly celebrate that, probably because I’m still not sure I believe it. That’s ridiculous, of course — but hey, I’m part of a fanbase that’s been in a defensive crouch for years, and part of a country weary of woes that may or may not have receded for good.

The Mets won, and in convincing style. That won’t banish every fury or scatter every shadow, but it sure does cut them down to size.

They Win the Dumb Thing

Acknowledging up front that a pair of regulation baseball games trimmed in advance from nine to seven innings apiece — with ties in the top of the eighth and beyond designed to be resolved expediently by dispatching a runner to second base before anybody stands in the batter’s box — is an affront to nature, we can at least revel in the Mets proving naturals at winning such atrocities. “Mets win! Mets win!” is always something so nice when we say it twice.

Is the modern twinbill travesty dumb?

Yes, it is.

Is taking each half of said travesty rewarding nonetheless?

You have to ask?

Except for fans supplanting corrugated cutouts at Citi Field, Tuesday presented us with an In These Challenging Times twi-night doubleheader straight outta 2020. Fortunately, our New York Mets were up to the challenge this time, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies and dislodging the Schuylkill Seguras from the top of the NL East. They won the dumb thing by scores of 4-3 in eight and 4-0 in seven. The part with the sweep sounds brilliant. As for the rest of the salient details, hey, we just play here.

After a scant five episodes of baseball in the first twelve games of the baseball season — and nine soggy pitches in a 72-hour period — anything under the sun might have looked good, especially baseball under the sun, which is what the Mets finally got to retry their hand at late Tuesday afternoon. For a while, it looked like Mets baseball as we’ve lately come to expect it. Fierce starting pitching, this time from the right hand of Taijuan Walker, and barely enough hitting to support it. The offense was a Brandon Nimmo walk, a Dom Smith home run and a sense we were gonna need a bigger bat. Taijuan’s eight Ks were impressive, but his portion of the day ended ahead, 2-1, in the fifth after Walker put the walks in Walker. Wiggle room is for the pitcher who has a larger lead than just one run and a game that has a later planned end point than the seventh inning.

The Phillies cobbled together a tying run off Miguel Castro in the sixth, as the Phillies of Jean Segura are wont to do. Ever since he arrived at the other end of the Turnpike, the Phillies appear to be comprised of Jean Segura; guys who drive in Jean Segura; and guys Jean Segura drives in. The Mets characteristically didn’t make anything of their three baserunners across the sixth and seventh — none of them the result of a base hit — and it was off to early extras. Or just “extra,” since the whole idea of the runner on second is to get these games over with out of an Abundance of Caution or plain old institutional impatience. I forget which.

Though Smith didn’t produce with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, he did the Mets a great favor by positioning himself to be double-switched out of the game in the eighth, ostensibly in the interest of pitching and defense, yet ultimately for offense. This wrinkle is contemporary baseball at its weirdest, but when in Rome, cleverly deduce a way to beat the team with Roman Quinn. See, third-outmaker Smith projected as the imaginary runner on second base in the bottom of the eighth, given that the batter who made the last out in the previous inning is directed to go stand at second like he’d actually achieved something…but when the batter who made that last out has been taken out of the game and replaced by a new pitcher, then the honor of standing at second reverts to whoever batted before the guy taken out.

Also, according to a source close to Rob Manfred, the guy in the top bunk has to make the guy in the bottom’s bunk. Unless we were in Germany.

Got all that? Luis Rojas did. By removing three-hole occupant Smith and inserting Trevor May in his slot in the batting order, he got to deploy the speedier two-hitter Francisco Lindor to kickstart the eighth, which was helpful since, by then, May helped put the Mets in a 3-2 hole. Not that giving up a go-ahead run was entirely Trevor’s fault. The Phillies scored in the top of the eighth in great part because, like everybody in these situations, they started with a runner on second and nobody out. Gads, what a dumb rule.

The Mets were behind by one in the decisive eighth until Pete Alonso lined a single to left to score the magically reappearing Lindor. The Mets may not hit with legitimate runners on base, but they sure can drive home the unearned kind. Score tied, the Mets ramped up their attack, Mets-style. A double play ball from Jeff McNeil yielded only one out, eliminating Pete at second but getting Squirrel to first. Michael Conforto walked. James McCann grounded not out for a change but into an infield hit. The bases were loaded, which isn’t necessarily encouraging news in Flushing’s RISP-averse circles, but Jonathan Villar had to lift only a long fly ball to win the game.

Which he did. It fell in for an unpursued single and a 4-3 win that snapped what felt longer than the one-game losing streak the Mets had been on, probably because they had gone five days without a win.

It wouldn’t be very long before there’d be a duplicate sensation. The nightcap belonged to all of the Mets, but particularly the two who leave no doubt how much they enjoy plying their craft. Marcus Stroman — six strong and effusive shutout innings (not to mention taking a walk and donning a jacket upon reaching first as a real National League pitcher should) — and Brandon Nimmo. For the first five games over those first twelve days, grinning Nimmo was the Mets’ most dependable plate-appearer, garnering seven hits and six walks. Of course he rarely had the pleasure of crossing that same plate after generating his glittering on-base percentage, scoring only two runs prior to Tuesday. Heretofore more a takin’ machine than the hitting kind, the eye of the Nimmo turned to swinging in Game Two, and boy did it get us rising up, straight to the top.

One particularly delightful sequence, in the fourth, encompassed Kevin Pillar singling; recent walkoff hero Villar doubling; Tomás Nido absorbing a hit by pitch; and good old reliable Nimmo singling. The end result was three home team runs and echoes of George and Ira Gershwin.

Pillar! Villar!
Nido! Nimmo!
Let’s call the whole thing Mets!

Brandon reeled off three hits and three RBIs in all, sweet music to Marcus, who doesn’t mind showing anybody watching how much he relishes competing and succeeding. Every inning he left the mound unscored upon was a cause for cathartic air-punching celebration, even if Stro was the only one taking part. The feisty righty is a veritable human exclamation point. As long as he’s getting outs, he can punctuate any way he wishes.

The 4-0 blanking, in seven MLB-mandated innings, vaulted the Mets over .500 and the rest of the division. That’s right, the Mets who haven’t played particularly crisp ball — or much ball at all — are alone in first place, albeit by percentage points and albeit after seven games, two of which didn’t even go nine innings.

Like we’re gonna albeit ourselves up over technicalities.