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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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Only Yesterday

Steven Matz made his debut for the Mets in June 2015, pitching against the Reds. It didn’t start out ideally — the young lefty from Long Island surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced in the big leagues, Brandon Phillips — but it soon got better. A lot better: Matz doubled in his first big-league plate appearance, grabbing a 2-1 lead for himself, and collected hits his other two times up, including a two-run single that put distance between the Mets and the Reds. Meanwhile, the enthusiastic reactions from his grandfather, Bert Moller, created an instant folk hero.

Matz won, we were all beside ourselves, and why not? Here was a lefty power pitcher with a wipeout arsenal, and as a bonus he apparently could hit, too. And his story was straight out of central casting: a kid from Stony Brook who’d lost two years to Tommy John surgery before throwing a professional pitch, finally getting to make good. Heck, Grandpa Bert had even been a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Honestly, it was perfect.

These are the scenarios the baseball gods concoct to toy with us.

Matz had some very good stretches for the Mets, and did an enormous amount of work for local charities. He also spent a lot of time on the shelf, bedeviled by a run of injuries and surgeries. And there were long runs during which he was on the mound but shy of his vast potential, often struggling to shake off bad luck or teammates’ misplays.

Matz went from prospect to suspect, from bright young thing to question mark. He even got usurped as Local Boy Makes Good, yielding that status to Marcus Stroman, a schoolboy rival from Matz’s high-school days. Then it all came apart in the pandemic season: Matz looked utterly lost, was removed from the Mets’ less-than-stellar starting rotation, and wound up with a 9.68 ERA in nine games. It was over — in January, the Mets traded him to Toronto for Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski. You’re familiar with the first two but might have forgotten about Winckowski, who went to Boston in the three-team deal that brought Khalil Lee to the Mets. Meanwhile, Matz’s Blue Jays career has been a lot like his time in New York: He looked rejuvenated in winning his first four starts but has sort of bumped along since then, mixing good starts with bad.

On Friday night Matz returned to New York and Citi Field, and what followed was something you almost never get: a perfectly calibrated return for an enemy player.

Matz surrendered a two-run bomb to Pete Alonso in the first inning, then gave up nothing else the rest of the way, departing in the sixth with five Ks and that Mets’ 2-0 lead intact. He got the pomp and circumstance reserved for favored sons — tribute video entering, warm ovation exiting. Matz tipped his cap coming and going, something pitchers now largely neglect to do despite the game having become far more demonstrative.

That’s the formula, isn’t it? The guy who used to be our guy but no longer is does well against us … but not well enough. He gets to say nice postgame things leavened with regret about the score; we get to offer up applause that doesn’t sound sarcastic, pitying or grudging.

On the other side of the ball was Tylor Megill, a California kid who arrived in near-total anonymity and has quickly evolved into a mainstay of the starting rotation, which could be faint praise but isn’t. Megill’s shown better stuff than his scouting report promised and a veteran’s even keel, but those things hadn’t translated to a major-league win — to cite an obsolete but stubbornly resonant stat — until Friday. He even got his first hit, though it wasn’t greeted with Grandpa Bert levels of rapture.

The Mets remain cautious in navigating Megill’s third trip through an order — a particularly good idea against the Blue Jays and their murderers’ row of next-generation sluggers. Megill handled them with aplomb and got some help from his defense — an airborne Michael Conforto, a pirouetting J.D. Davis, an alertly scrambling Luis Guillorme. He gave way to Seth Lugo, Trevor May and finally Edwin Diaz, who gave up hard contact but no hits to secure the game.

(Necessary assistance: a second bomb from Alonso, ushered out with entertaining calls on TV and radio. On the radio side, Howie Rose marveled that “this ball’s in orbit!”; on TV, Ron Darling let out a startled, admiring “uh-oh” as the ball rocketed skyward. Oh, and the Mets now have a stuffed horse for home-run celebrations — not quite the Padres’ swag chain, but an amusing addition.)

Players come, players go — that’s the way baseball always has been and always will be. Rookies become veterans in a blink and in another blink they’ve turned into visiting alumni saying a few words on the broadcast. Local heroes wind up with jobs that need passports; newcomers assume their roles and claim our affections. That can be painful, it can be celebratory, it can be a little of both. Either way, it happens, and the participants wind up knit together in all-time rosters and statistical tables, in team lore and most of all in our memories.

Big Score Hunting

Bill James recently tweeted, “Things happen in baseball every day of the season which haven’t happened before. It isn’t ‘History’ unless someone writing a history of baseball or a history of the franchise or some such would bother to mention it. Otherwise, it’s just an oddity, or trivia.” In that case, I’m here to mention the 15-11 Mets win from the other night and its brush with history. Given my bent for tracking final scores of Met wins, it rated as more than an oddity or trivia to me.

The Mets beating an opponent by the score of 15-11 is something that had happened before — once before. That strikes me as fairly historic. By comparison, the next time the Mets won, on Wednesday by a relatively sedate 7-0, they posted a score by which they’ve won 48 times. Uplifting, but not necessarily historic on its own numerical merit. Yet anytime a score has to be shaken awake from deep in the Metsian archives, I think that transcends trivia.

Erstwhile Unicorn Score 15-11 had lingered undisturbed in the annals of Met triumph since June 16, 1989, 32 years ago for all you kids out there. The Mets were in Philadelphia; came to bat in the top of the first; pounded base hits all over the Veterans Stadium turf; put an eight-spot on the board; handed the ball to David Cone; and…all hell that had broken loose offensively continued to ooze about the carpet regardless of which team was batting. The Phillies made it 8-5 after one, 9-7 after three and took a 10-9 lead heading to the fifth.

Despite having taken the measure of Cone and throttling Roger McDowell as well, the Phillies hadn’t won a damn thing or, for that matter The Damn Thing. No, 10-9 scores in Philadelphia don’t always tell the tale, especially when at least five innings remain.

The Mets tied the game in the sixth on a Kevin Elster single, gave back the lead on a Juan Samuel triple in the seventh, yet mounted one final comeback when Mackey Sasser doubled in two runs and Lenny Dykstra followed with a sac fly in the eighth. Ahead, 13-11, the Mets took no chances and insured their lead via the good hands (when he had them around a bat handle) of Gregg Jefferies, who hit the Mets’ only homer in the game, a two-run shot in the ninth. Randy Myers, who’d given up Samuel’s triple but hung in there for two-and-two-thirds, protected the lead that officially belonged to him, and the first 15-11 victory in Mets history was born.

I was in Boca Raton, Fla., that Friday night, preparing to serve as best man at a somewhat hastily arranged wedding. I’ll leave it to you to deduce the reasons a wedding is hastily arranged. At some point in the evening, I called home to check in on the Mets game. My mother, who was watching, tried her best to explain how an 8-0 first-inning lead had dissipated into chaos. She indicated she had never seen anything like it before, or at least hadn’t been awake for anything like it before. The Mets’ 16-13 outlasting of the Braves on July 4 and 5 of 1985 had taken place less than four years earlier, very much within the window of my mother’s sudden and fierce Mets fandom during the latter half of that decade, but the real action in Atlanta happened very late, and even if she was the parent from whom I inherited my nocturnal habits, she was nonetheless asleep as fireworks lit up the Fulton County Stadium sky.

I thought she had to be confused about David Cone being on the mound with an 8-0 lead and then proceeding to not hold an 8-0 lead. The same Coney who went 20-3 in ’88? When I spoke to my dad, I asked for confirmation, and he confirmed it. I still had a tough time believing it. Granted, David wasn’t off to stellar start in ’89 — his ERA coming in was 4.38 — but who blows an 8-0 lead?

Those guys, two of whom wouldn’t be those guys within a couple of days.

The 15-11 win that encompassed both an eight-run first and a stirring comeback was overshadowed come Sunday when McDowell and Dykstra were traded by the visitors to the home team for Samuel. Roger couldn’t have known on Friday that he’d just pitched his last innings as a Met in what oughta be a dark horse candidate for craziest game that never comes up in conversation the way four in the morning Fireworks Night in Atlanta or Bob Murphy’s indelibly called ninth inning at the vet just a year later do. Dykstra pinch-ran and stayed in for defense late on Saturday night, a 1-0 route-going effort spun by Bobby Ojeda that restored order and reminded any doubters that momentum is only good as the next game’s starting pitcher. Then again, David Cone was a pretty good starting pitcher, so go figure.

Juan Samuel was a pretty great offensive weapon, provided you had an enormous bowl of a stadium whose artificial surface played to his strengths — and if you weren’t counting on him to master a new position in the midst of a divisional race. Samuel had made his name as a speedy second baseman between 1984 and 1988. The Phillies, who were going nowhere anyway, switched him to center in ’89. The Mets, who had aspirations of going all the way, viewed him as their on-the-fly center field savior at Shea, which had grass, fan expectations and didn’t particularly suit Samuel’s style. Dykstra had been slumping for about a month before the trade. Mookie Wilson was mired in a seasonlong hole. Together or separately, the 1989 version of Mookstra left something to be desired. Samuel, however, managed to be worse that either or both of them. McDowell, who was trudging a 1-5 record in relief around, probably would have been a more inspiring choice in the outfield. (He certainly was when he tried his hand at it in Cincinnati 35 years ago yesterday.)

It’s been more than two days since the second 15-11 Mets win in Mets history, the one that turned a Unicorn Score into a Uniclone Score, and the extent of the Mets’ transaction sheet, besides the usual whirlpool of callups, options and IL-ings, has been trading DFA’d Billy McKinney to the Dodgers for minor league outfielder Carlos Rincon; claiming reliever Roel Ramirez off waivers from the Cardinals; releasing the injured Stephen Tarpley; losing Johneshwy Fargas on waivers to the Cubs; and picking up superveteran Rich Hill (41 years old) from the Rays for Tommy Hunter and Matt Dyer. Making this many moves in so short a span might be the equivalent of scoring fifteen runs. Or giving up eleven.

I can’t vouch for McKinney, about to play for his third legitimate contender of 2021, not coming back to haunt us at the worst juncture possible. He probably will, considering he helped us at the best junctures possible. I can’t say anything definitive about Rincon’s prospects. All I know about Dyer, who’s been at St. Lucie, is he’s a catcher, which experience teaches us all Dyers are. I know Tarpley posted an earned run average of infinity in his lone Met appearance in April, so he has nowhere to go but up — while the opposite can be said for this ERA. I also know Hunter got himself a hit for us despite being a relief pitcher and enjoyed a well-earned laugh about it (“that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done in the big leagues — I got a knock in The Show!”) before an injury unfortunately shooed him from view. Roel, until he comes here and does something, is a headline pun waiting to happen. Fargas was fast and injured, and we have too few who fit in one of those categories. Hill, the big news in all of this, projects as a much-needed starter for a rotation depth eludes with a vengeance. Samuel projected as a much-needed catalyst. Different players, different times, but since 15-11 is in the air, let us hope whatever happened in Cincinnati this week doesn’t augur a spiritual Summer of Samuel in Flushing.

Precedent predicts little in this world. I’ll take my chances with a 15-11 win every 32 years.

While I always welcome a Met game won by a set of numbers worthy of history, I have to admit the score for which I was crossing my fingers hard (and not just from arthritis) as Monday night’s pinball tally flashed TILT! was 13-12. It certainly looked possible when the Mets and Reds tied at 9-9 in the ninth and 10-10 in the tenth. Nudging the action to an 11-10 final would have been noteworthy, too, because the only Met win of that precise nature put in the books across sixty seasons was in 1999, which is technically a while ago now. What should make it resonate in the windmills of our mind was that when the Mets won, 11-10, on May 20, 1999, the first game of a doubleheader, Robin Ventura had hit a grand slam. Robin Ventura would return to the lineup in the nightcap and hit a grand slam again. That sort of two-step slam dance hasn’t been replicated since, whether by a Met or anyone. But that score, when Jeff McNeil singled in Jose Peraza after Jose Peraza magically materialized on second base to begin the eleventh inning, had a real chance to repeat.

And that would have been somewhat satisfying, but I’d been gunning for 13-12 all night. Well, maybe not when the Mets were up, 9-8, in the ninth and I would have been happy with us notching what would have been the 28th 9-8 win in Mets history (our first since 2017). Edwin Diaz had other ideas, though. One other idea. A tying run was Edwin Diaz’s idea. Let’s be glad he didn’t have a second idea.

Trying to mentally choreograph an outcome other than “win” is dangerous, like the fan who has tickets for a playoff game that might not be played if his team clinches its round on the road being tempted to wish for a harmless loss en route to an ultimate win. Karma rarely sanctions harmless losses. You’d love to be in the house for history like that, but you have to sate yourself with “win,” wherever it takes place. You have to. Nevertheless, amid lower stakes presumably with which only I was concerned, I indeed tried to figure out how to put the dancers in place so the Mets could add two more runs and go up, 13-10, and, if it didn’t cause too much trouble, direct the Reds to score two — but no more than two — runs in the bottom of the eleventh and thus produce Mets 13 Reds 12.

Why was this my concern? Because on May 12, 1963, the Mets beat the Reds, 13-12. And the Mets haven’t beaten anybody, 13-12, since May 12, 1963. It’s not just that it’s a Unicorn Score. It’s the oldest Unicorn Score in Met captivity. Older than 16-13 in 1985. Older than 19-1 (the “did they win?” game) in 1964. It’s almost as old as me. I was all of 132 days old at the time, so I can’t say I remember watching it or even asking my mother about it. But ever since I combed Baseball-Reference to build my Met winning score database in 2015, I’ve looked longingly at 13-12 and wondered what it must’ve been like to experience. The box score is to die for.

Future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson is a Red. Future Hall of Famer Duke Snider is a Met.

Rookie Pete Rose is playing second and batting second for the Reds. Rookie Ron Hunt is playing second and batting second for the Mets. They would finish one-two in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Eighteen-year-old Ed Kranepool is around in right, batting third and scoring thrice; he even triples!

Hot Rod Kanehl gets himself hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, perhaps earning the $50 bonus Casey Stengel promised to any batter heady enough to sacrifice his body for collective Metropolitan advancement.

Leo Cardenas and Vada Pinson homer for Cincinnati. The Duke and Jim Hickman homer for New York.

The Mets’ 5-0 third-inning lead is erased by the middle of the fifth.

The Mets break a 6-6 tie with five the bottom of the fifth.

The Reds score six in their half of the sixth to lead, 12-11.

Yet the Mets, who’d won only 53 games since coming into existence thirteen months earlier, cobble together a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Kranepool walks. Snider walks. Harkness singles. Jim Hickman delivers a fly to left to tie it at twelve. Choo Choo Coleman singles to send Duke’s pinch-runner Al Moran home. It’s 13-12.

And the Mets don’t blow it. Tracy Stallard, in relief of Larry Bearnarth, pitches a scoreless ninth, and the Mets win their 54th game ever, their first by a score of 13-12. They’d play another game that day at the Polo Grounds (it was a Sunday doubleheader), they’d play the rest of the year at the Polo Grounds, they’d move to Shea Stadium, they’d play there for 45 seasons, they’d move to Citi Field where they’ve been for 13 more seasons, and between their home ball parks and the myriad road ballparks they’ve visited, they’d never again post a 13-12 win.

At least until this past Monday night, July 19, 2021. It had a chance to happen. It was 11-10, balls were flying, left, right and out of Great American Ball Park, and wouldn’t it be something if the second 13-12 win in Mets history emanated from another game against the Reds?

Sure would be. Except in the time it took me to breathe in the possibility of my beloved 13-12 Unicorn at last being cloned, Kevin Pillar launched a three-run homer, and the Mets were up, 14-10…and two pitches later, Michael Conforto went deep, and it was 15-10. A half-inning later, 15-11 became the winning score, which would have to do for history’s sake. Or something approximating history’s sake. It was only the sixth time the Mets had won a game in which they’d given up as many as eleven runs, and the first time they’d won a game in which they’d given up double-digit runs since outlasting the Nationals, 13-10, in 2008.

Historic enough for one night, I guess.

Good Afternoon, Good Night

Marcus Stroman, intermittent instigator of excitement, monitored a Wednesday afternoon nap in Cincinnati as if moonlighting as a day camp counselor for the six-and-under set. He authoritatively lulled the Reds’ offense to sleep and relaxed Mets fans no end with eight innings of shutout ball. Marcus plunked leadoff hitter Jonathan India to begin the game, allowed a single to Aristides Aquino to start the third, walked Joey Votto with two out in the seventh, and…that was it. Mr. Sandman sprinkled his changes of speed in the home team’s eyes all day and, from there, it was off to never never land.

Never did you think the Mets could play a simultaneously rewarding yet placid game on this road trip, yet there they went, winning with ease — and homers. Three homers. A solo shot from Jonathan Villar in the second. A grand slam from Dom Smith in the third. A two-run job from Luis Guillorme in the fifth for the infielder’s first circuit clout in two years. Each homer cleared the Great American Ball Park Fence by barely more than a few rows, if that. One inch over the line, of course, is all it takes for four bags. The Mets wound up a three-run blast short of the home run cycle, but the 7-0 win needed no further power embellishment.

Likewise, what Marcus did, shutting out the Reds on one hit for eight innings, didn’t need to go one inning further. Maybe in another era eight wouldn’t have been enough. A full-fledged shutout might have been sweeter than the Graeter’s Ice Cream recommended as an alternative to his culinary bête noire Skyline Chili on the menu of high-profile Cincinnati delicacies. Either way, Marcus wasn’t getting a chance at that final scoop of outs, as Luis Rojas and whoever confers with Luis Rojas on how pitching is managed calculated the greater good would be served by limiting Stro to 90 pitches and getting Jeurys Familia a dollop of work.

So it was a combined one-hit shutout, which, after the five tense, wacky, frustrating and what have you games that constituted the first five-sixths of the Mets’ jaunt to Western Pennsylvania and Southern Ohio, was simply delicious. What did Stroman think of not going nine when nine was within reach? Don’t ask. Seriously, don’t ask. Somebody did and the pitcher’s answer was, “Next question.” Not the most helpful response to a reporter who was just trying to glean insights for the fans back home, yet as unhelpful responses go, it was better than the rat/raccoon sighting Francisco Lindor cooked up (with Jeff McNeil as sous chef) in May. Lindor appeared to be obfuscating. Stroman, I thought, shifted, however tersely, into “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies” territory. Publicly concurring with Rojas’s decision may not have jibed with his honest emotion. Taking issue with the manager over Zoom could have stirred a pot he judged best left to simmer on low. The man preaches positivity through his social media. “PITCHER RIPS MANAGER” doesn’t exactly mesh with the profile he strives to put forth. One would infer it doesn’t help him pitch better, either.

Wednesday’s was the kind of game where if your only issue was Marcus Stroman not going all the way and not opining on not going all the way, then it was a pretty delightful Met afternoon. Marcus Stroman has been responsible for many a splendid day and night in 2021. When the games haven’t definitively gone his way, he’s generally kept the Mets close. That’s what he was doing in his previous start, last Friday in Pittsburgh. In that game, Stro worked out of a touch of trouble (runner on third, two out) by coaxing a lineout from John Nogowski to end the fifth. Stroman emoted as Stroman does when he finishes an inning unscored upon. Nogowski barked. Stroman noticed. Benches emptied. Neutral corners were eventually returned to. Then a little more yammering was exchanged, but nothing physical. Marcus didn’t mind expressing himself to the media after that dustup. “He’s just a clown,” the pitcher said of the hitter.

What struck me most about the contretemps, besides how ridiculous Nogowski looked for acting insulted by a pitcher exuding in an age when hitters are regularly lauded for celebrating themselves and their achievements, was how this wasn’t new. It was almost a latter-day facsimile of something I recalled from nearly four decades prior. On July 18, 1982 — 39 years minus one day before Nogowski v. Stroman — a Met pitcher heard from an opposing batter that he needed to behave himself. Then, as now, the batter should have concentrated on his stance, his swing and his business.

The Met who ruffled feathers way back when was an unlikely candidate when viewed through history’s sometimes fuzzy lens: Terry Leach. If you remember Terry Leach, chances are you remember him for his baseball-heroic performance across the injury-pocked Met summer of 1987. That was the year when the Mets never had their vaunted starting rotation in one workable piece. Literally never. The arms that carried the Mets to a world championship in 1986 last threw as a unit in Spring Training. The sure thing that was supposed to be Gooden, Ojeda, Darling, Fernandez and Aguilera (with dashes of David Cone if there was room for March’s surprise pickup) became an exercise in improvisation. A dash of Don Schulze here. A sprig of Tom Edens there. Glaze with John Mitchell.

Hence, thank goodness for the extra-large serving of Terry Leach, unassuming submarining swingman who emerged from the bullpen at midseason, took the ball regularly, and did nothing but win. Three wins in relief in May. Seven wins as a starter in June, July and August, highlighted by a two-hit shutout at Cincinnati on Independence Day weekend. A reassuring, low-key veteran presence all along. Terry was 33 in ’87. None among the Mets, the Braves and Cubs ever gave him a real shot as he drifted through their organizations for a decade. He never much impressed Frank Cashen, not even after throwing an emergency start at the tail end of 1982 that became the only ten-inning one-hitter in Mets history. “Don’t worry, Leachie,” the GM told the righty by way of consoling him when it appeared there’d be no room on the post-championship Opening Day roster for him. “You’ll always keep showing back up around here. You’re like a bad penny.”

Some pep talk, eh? Nevertheless, Leach maintained his demeanor, his dignity and his determination. The ten-game winning streak that kept the Mets afloat followed. But that was 1987. That was five years after the aforementioned incident from the summer of ’82. Back then, Terry wasn’t exactly what you’d call an instigator of excitement, yet he wasn’t reticent about demonstrating satisfaction for a job well done. We’d seen somebody like that in our distant past. His name was Tug McGraw. A gesture of exultation was part of our physical vocabulary.

Less prone to kindly interpreting an opposing pitcher’s body language was Dusty Baker. The same Dusty Baker who today is the almost universally revered wise old head who has managed the almost universally reviled Houston Astros into first place, the same Dusty Baker who’s taken five franchises in all to the postseason. In 1982, Baker was an All-Star outfielder for the second season in a row, a pro’s pro who’d been on the scene since 1968, an essential member of three Dodger pennant-winners, including the club that captured the World Series the October before. By the middle of July the year after, which is to say when Leach and Baker crossed paths at Dodger Stadium, L.A. was flailing in the NL West, failing in their quest to pick up ground on the surprising Atlanta Braves. The Mets were having a much lousier year, but they weren’t expected to do much. Thus, when a middle reliever with little in the way of reputation notched a big out against a big star from a big team, could you blame him for a little bit of a big reaction?

Leach, you see, had struck out Baker while protecting a one-run lead in the seventh. He pumped a fist. Heaven forefend! Wheel out the fainting couch at once! Baker took exception to being what he thought of as shown up, one of the no-nos of twentieth-century sporting sins. Everybody in days of yore had to act as if he’d been there before. Leach, however, had mostly been in the minors since 1976. To not have been excited by succeeding in the major leaguers would have indicated being a little dead inside.

The 1982 Mets being the 1982 Mets did not hold their lead against the Dodgers that Saturday night. Leach left the mound in the ninth, with the bases loaded and one out, entrusting what was now a 5-2 lead to Neil Allen. Allen was the Mets’ closer, one of the few bright spots to light up our perpetually dim early 1980s. Alas, Baker singled home two runs off Allen and, after Pedro Guerrero walked, Ron Cey singled home the tying and winning runs, the latter carried across the plate by Baker himself.

Did Dusty high-five his teammates and head directly to the home clubhouse to spout platitudes to the Southern California press? Not without a detour. The veteran saw fit to, as the Daily News put it, “derisively thr[o]w up his arm with an extended finger at the Mets’ dugout.” Specifically, the Times reported, “Baker pointed at Terry Leach, the rookie relief pitcher. […] Baker had been upset when he took a called third strike earlier in Saturday night’s game and watched Leach punch the air in celebration, something Leach says he has done since he played in high school.”

“The only thing I’m mad about,” Baker reflected a day later, “is that I stooped as low as I did, to his level,” meaning Leach’s. All Leach was doing was being happy and showing it. That sort of crime against baseball decorum was treated as a felony in 1982. It selectively provokes a misdemeanor citation in 2021, as evidenced by Nogowski bristling that Stroman pulled what for our purposes we’ll call a Leach — even if Leach, save for a fist pumped on a long-ago Saturday night, lingers in the mind’s eye as the epitome of mild-mannered.

In case you’re wondering, the Mets would exact a little revenge the next afternoon, pounding the Dodgers, 8-3, and letting Baker know they didn’t care for his act. “This was a good win,” manager George Bamberger affirmed, according to the News, “because of that bleeping finger Baker gave us last night,” though one assumes Bambi didn’t say “bleeping”. “That kinda spurred the boys on. They were telling Baker something after that bleeping finger. Added catcher John Stearns, “When Baker came to bat in the first, I told him, ‘A lot of our guys were mad at you for last night.’”

So much anger can be ginned up over a kids’ game, all regarding who’s excited and who’s offended. That’s why when you get a 7-0 one-hitter, combined or otherwise, it can really soothe the soul.

Roster Churn: A Fabricated Oral History

CHAPTER 92: STOCK, NOGOSEK & HARTLIEB

Following the Mets’ heaven-shaking, seven-homer, eleven-inning 15-11 triumph on Monday night July 19, their active roster didn’t have time to settle down. Dave Jauss, running the club during Luis Rojas’s two-game suspension, had announced in the aftermath of that historic victory — it was the only the second time the Mets had ever won, 15-11 — that Robert Stock would start the next night, July 20. In the hours leading up to first pitch Tuesday, it was confirmed Monday’s starter, Jerad Eickhoff, would be designated for assignment to make room for Stock. Eickhoff had given the Mets three-and-two thirds innings, in which he allowed seven runs, albeit only two of them earned.

EICKHOFF: I need all the help I can get out there. Suffice it to say my defense didn’t give it to me.

LUIS GUILLORME, infielder: Usually I wear a glove. That night I wore a frying pan, I guess. Three errors…I swear I never did that before. Can you apologize to Jerad for me? I feel really bad.

JAUSS: Luis had developed a reputation as a good fielder. He was just having one of those nights. Gosh, that was a tough move, having to let Jerad know the organization couldn’t find a spot for him. Honestly, he didn’t pitch that badly. He just caught some bad breaks.

EICKHOFF: I caught the next plane out of town is what I caught. Guillorme probably would have missed that, too.

The DFA of Eickhoff, his second of the season, marked the eighth designation for assignment of a 2021 Met directly off the active 26-man roster.

JAKE HAGER, utilityman: I was DFA’d after a week. We were on the road the whole time. I hear I set a record for Mets who never played a home game: five games, all away from…what’s the name of their stadium again? Doesn’t matter. Whatever it’s called, it’s a long way from where I wound up in Tacoma.

CAMERON MAYBIN, outfielder: The most embarrassing part of being DFA’d is when 29 teams say ‘”no thanks, we don’t need that guy for basically nothing.” To be fair, I had hit basically nothing for the Mets. Even still.

WILFREDO TOVAR, infielder: That’s right. I was on the Mets in 2021. Wow. I’d forgotten.

TRAVIS BLANKENHORN, infielder: I wasn’t DFA’d, but I was optioned a couple of times, including after I hit a big home run in Pittsburgh in a really wild comeback victory. I didn’t even make it to Cincinnati the next night. How is that even possible?

BILLY McKINNEY, outfielder: They told me it was a numbers game. I put up numbers for them, but I was out of options, so “designated for assignment” it was. Whatever, dude. Call my agent, y’know?

The ink on the Eickhoff-for-Stock transaction was barely dry when the Mets surprised those who follow them closely by announcing infielder Jose Peraza was going on the injured list minutes before the Tuesday game.

PERAZA: Did ya ever? I hurt it turning a double play during that 15-11 craziness. First I lose playing time when McNeil comes back. Then I think maybe I’m gonna get some when Lindor goes out. At the very least, I’m the dangerous hitter off the bench. Now I’m on the IL. No chance I’ll get lonely there.

The placement of Peraza on the injured list marked the 26th different time the Mets transferred a player from the active roster to the IL in 2021. That didn’t even count players who’d had yet to have played for the major league club during the season.

JOSE MARTINEZ, utilityman: I can play first. I can play outfield. But when you get hurt in Spring Training, nobody knows what you can play. I’m surprised you even remembered me.

DELLIN BETANCES, relief pitcher: That’s right. I was on the Mets in 2021. Wow. I’d forgotten.

JOEY LUCCHESI, starting pitcher: Do the guys still make the churve gesture with the fingers? That was so cool. Do you know if I still have a locker at Citi Field? I left some stuff there before going on the IL. Man, that might not’ve been a good idea.

Taking Peraza’s place on the roster would be Geoff Hartlieb, a pitcher rather than an infielder, called up to reinforce the Mets’ overworked bullpen.

HARTLIEB: That’s H-A-R-T — no “e” — L-I-E-B, “i” before “e.” And Geoff with a “G” and an “o” in the middle, which isn’t how most people spell it. When I was a kid, I used to take a lot of ribbing from the other kids. At first, I thought it was in good fun. But you know how kids can be. To be honest, I’m still a little traumatized.

Stock and Hartlieb represented half of the contingent of pitchers the Mets had brought up between their weekend series in Pittsburgh and their next stop in Cincinnati. On Monday night they had promoted Anthony Banda, who the Mets had acquired from San Francisco to little notice at the beginning of the month, and Stephen Nogosek, a reliever who’d last pitched for New York in 2019.

BANDA: I replaced Jacob deGrom on the roster. Got that? That makes me the new Jacob deGrom! I’m gonna ask for a raise! Geez, I shouldn’t even kid about that, should I? I’m sorry, that’s blasphemy. There’s only one Jacob deGrom. My thoughts and prayers are for his speedy recovery from his tight right forearm. Just put down that I was happy to be here. Can we start over?

NOGOSEK: You’re starting at my mustache, aren’t you? I’d appreciate it if you…yo, my eyes are up here. C’mon.

When Stock was handed the ball in the bottom of the first at Great American Ball Park, he had been staked to a 1-0 lead, thanks to a solo home run off the bat of a resurgent Pete Alonso, still sizzling from his win in the previous week’s Home Run Derby.

ALONSO: Man, that was so sexy winning the Derby, then hitting some bombs in Cincy. But the main thing is I just wanted to get runs on the board for…oh, help me out here. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time keeping track. Eickhoff was the night before, right? Did we still have Yamamoto had that point?

JORDAN YAMAMOTO, starting pitcher: He said that? Damn, I hadn’t pitched for the Mets since like May. Geez, Pete, get a clue.

ALONSO: No, I wanna get this on my own. Szapucki? Oswalt? OK, I give…Stock? That was my next guess, seriously. Raymond Stock is a totally good dude. What’s that? Robert? That’s what I meant. Robert Stock. Totally good dude.

STOCK: Cincinnati’s a tough ballpark to hold a lead in. To be fair, every ballpark seems like a tough ballpark to hold a lead in to me. Have I even pitched with a lead? To be honest, I’m just repeating what I’ve heard some of the other guys say.

Stock gave up a run in the first on a leadoff homer to Jonathan India, but worked around further trouble. He came up to bat in the top of the second with two runners on and two out.

STOCK: This is the league without the DH. I keep forgetting which is which. Anyway, I was pretty excited to get my cuts. And I made contact. But then I forgot about the running to first and by the time I remembered, I felt something.

Stock injured his right hamstring in making the third out of the second inning.

STOCK: If I’d known that’s what we were supposed to do — swing, hit, run — I would have practiced the whole thing as a set. I have to blame the commissioner. He makes it easy to forget which league is which. I’d really hoped to pitch a second inning.

Once Stock’s injury became apparent, Jauss had to go to the Mets bullpen early, the third time in three days that was the case for New York’s exhausted pitching staff.

JAUSS: We prepare to have our players prepared for all eventualities. Nevertheless, you don’t want to pick up the phone that quick during a game.

ROJAS: I was watching from my hotel room when I saw Dave and everybody gather on the mound around Stock. “Oh, I know what that is,” I thought. Let’s just say the hospitality staff needed to refill my minibar a couple of times after that.

The unexpected exit of Stock meant the even more unanticipated entrance of Nogosek. The mustachioed righty had registered a 10.80 in seven appearances for the Mets two years earlier.

NOGOSEK: You’re gonna describe me as “mustachioed” or some shit like that, aren’t you? I get it. I’ve got a unique look. It works for me, I believe. It distracts the hitters. And, I’m not gonna lie, I catch myself in the mirror and say, “all right, Nogo.”

EICKHOFF: Steve probably catches himself in the mirror better than Guillorme catches grounders. No, I’m not bitter.

Despite no notice, Nogosek retired the Reds in the bottom of the second and then struck out the first two batters he faced in the third before Joey Votto and Aristedes Aquino took him deep in consecutive at-bats.

NOGOSEK: Stock said something like Cincinnati’s a tough ballpark to hold a tie in, and he wasn’t kidding. He’s a wise man. No shame giving one up to Votto, though. Even without a mustache, he’s a monster.

ALONSO: Man, that was some sweet pitching that guy with the mustache did. Not Megill. Not Tropeano. He was like two weeks ago. Was it the guy with the hyphen? No, I think he’s injured. Who? Yeah, Nogosek! That was totally my next guess.

Nogosek gave the Mets three innings in all, applying a tourniquet to the Mets’ pitching woes. New York was down, 3-1, when Jauss turned to Yennsy Diaz.

JAUSS: Yennsy gives us a different look, yes he does. Hey, his name is like that old song, “Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today!” I never noticed that before. I gotta tell my wife that one, though she probably noticed it before I did. She’s a sharp cookie.

DIAZ: I’m not Edwin. I’m not being humble. It’s bad enough the fans think I’m Edwin. They’re not too crazy about Edwin and I’m the one who has to hear about it.

While Yennsy Diaz kept the Reds from increasing their 3-1 lead, the Mets’ bats had gone cold against Cincinnati starter Wade Miley, who hadn’t given up any runs since Alonso’s first-inning homer.

ALONSO: Oh, that dude was nasty. I don’t have to know his name, though, right? I mean he’s on the other team. I’m not as good with names as I am initials. LFGM!

The Mets trusted the sixth inning to Hartlieb, who became the 33rd player to make his Met debut in 2021, the 54th player to play for the Mets on the season and the 1,144th player overall in franchise history.

STOCK: Somebody threw those numbers at me when I came up to pitch against Milwaukee. All I know is I gave up one run in one inning at Cincinnati and my ERA stayed below nine. But that’s only if you include the time I pitched for the Cubs against the Mets. With the Mets only, it’s below six.

PATRICK MAZEIKA, catcher: I really liked being on the Mets. I hope I get to be on the Mets again. They tell you Syracuse is part of New York, yet I haven’t had a decent slice since I got here.

JOHNESHWY FARGAS, outfielder: I figure if I work hard, keep my head down, do all the right things, I have a chance…what do you mean they DFA’d me Monday? What the [indecipherable]?

BRANDON DRURY, utilityman: That’s right. I was on the Mets in 2021. Wow. I’d forgotten.

HARTLIEB: I once asked my parents why I couldn’t have a normal name. They told me not to worry, that Geoff is a very nice name, and if the other kids have a problem with it, well, that’s their problem. I was getting into fights every other day in gym class with those jerks who teased me with “Geoff can’t spell his own name!” Thanks, Mom and Dad.

FARGAS: He said what? Play me the world’s smallest violin, Geoff. I’m Johneshwy, I’m DFA’d and now I’m really [indecipherable].

Hartlieb notched two scoreless innings versus the Reds, holding the fort while the Mets closed the gap to 3-2 when Votto mishandled a throw at first base.

NOGOSEK: HA! Serves that fucker right for ruining my night. No, he’s a good player. A real credit to the game.

EICKHOFF: I got an alert on my phone at the airport that the Mets pulled to within one because of an error. TSA had to check me for bitter irony. I thought I disabled those alerts once I got DFA’d. Must’ve been Guillorme screwing with my settings. Like he didn’t do enough for me on the field Monday.

GUILLORME: I swear it was nothing personal. It was just a bad night and a clubhouse prank I’d forgotten about.

After Hartlieb’s successful Met debut, he was replaced by established Met relievers Aaron Loup and Drew Smith, both of whom threw 41 pitches on Sunday. Each man still looked tired, but the Reds managed only one more run versus the duo.

LOUP: Get this — I’m one of only six Mets who’s been on the active roster since Opening Day. And, y’know, I pretty much just got here. It’s a dizzying business sometimes, but I really appreciate the trust the coach staff has in me.

JAUSS: Between you and me, I just picked up the phone out of desperation before the eighth and waited for somebody to answer. It was Aaron. I did the same thing in the ninth and got Drew. We’re out of arms. I hope Zack [Scott, the Mets’ acting GM] is aware.

ROJAS: Those little bottles in the minibar pack quite a punch. I wonder if they call it the minibar because the bottles are miniature.

Despite the bullpen mostly coming through across eight innings of work, the Mets’ offense could never quite get the big hit they needed to pull even. Guillorme doubled in James McCann in the eighth, but a leadoff walk to Dominic Smith in the ninth led nowhere and the Mets bowed, 4-3.

JAUSS: It’s a funny game. Not that funny when you lose, but still pretty funny. One night we whack seven homers, and that’s a day after we come back from six runs down. Then, we have no pitching to speak of, yet the pitching carries us, but the hitters can’t quite connect. This managing was fun, though, even if we couldn’t win ’em all. Good guys. First place. I get to slide next to Luis again and whisper in his ear for a living. Not bad, huh?

ROJAS: You drink enough of those little bottles, you forget why you were suspended. You can’t drink too many, though, because the next game’s a day game sometimes.

TOMMY HUNTER, relief pitcher: I’m still on the Mets, aren’t I? I mean not on the Mets like on the Mets, but they didn’t DFA me while I was rehabbing, did they? Tell ’em I’m still alive, would ya? The only thing I’ve gotten from them since I went on the IL was an official-looking letter that started “Dear Mr. Hildenberger,” which I don’t think was meant for me.

TREVOR HILDENBERGER, relief pitcher: That’s right. I was on the Mets in 2021. Wow. I’d forgotten.

Agents of Chaos

There are games you’re clearly fated to win, ones you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose, and ones where the outcome teeters and totters between joy and horror while your heart tries to keep pace. And then there are games like Monday night’s in Cincinnati — ones where the sheer insanity of everything gobbles up logic and equilibrium and finally emotion itself. You don’t win games like that, even if the outcome reflects a victory in the standings. You merely survive them, staggering out of the tornado blinking and dazed and exchanging disbelieving fragments of what you think you saw with others stumbling around in the wreckage.

Once upon a time Monday night, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil hit first-inning home runs to give the Mets a 3-0 lead and make you imagine that Sunday’s unlikely uprising against the Pirates was a turning point in this completely baffling, seemingly ad-libbed season.

But that was before poor Jerad Eickhoff was out there for about an hour, trying to look imperturbable as Met infielders heaved balls unlikely places and kicked them around their surroundings and did everything but shot-put them into the outfield with their noses. It should have been a warning that the Met in the center of this maelstrom of malpractice was Luis Guillorme, normally the most sure-handed of defenders but suddenly looking like he was playing his position blindfolded. In a blink it was 4-3 Reds and in another blink it was 7-3 Reds, and it was only the second inning, so the question was which unlucky Met position player was going to draw the black spot once the wolves had reduced Eickhoff and newly recalled cannon fodder Stephen Nogosek and Anthony Banda to pink ribbons.

But Eickhoff somehow got through the third without a teammate doing something ill-advised with a baseball, and Michael Conforto homered and Alonso singled and suddenly it was 7-6. And it was only the fourth inning.

From there, well, it’s a bit of a blur. The Mets tied it on a Dom Smith homer, lost the lead on a Jesse Winker double off suddenly unreliable Seth Lugo, then took the lead when James McCann subbed for Tomas Nido and connected for a pinch-hit home run, sending the bull market on Dave Jauss genius shares into a frenzy even given the wonders of last week. (Nido, to his credit, was front and center to high-five his fellow catcher in the dugout.)

The Mets were up 9-8, but with six outs to get. Jauss sent Lugo out for another tour of duty and he survived, though Ed Hickox’s bizarre strike zone had something to do with it, as Joey Votto would tell you quite emphatically. The Mets handed the ball to Edwin Diaz, and I assumed the fetal position to save myself time. Diaz walked the leadoff guy, because of course he did, got two outs, because of course he did, and the Mets opted to pitch to Winker instead of putting him on first and facing Mike Freeman. Winker doubled to left center, the game was tied, and I’d like to tell whoever replaced Diaz with the vat-grown love child of Braden Looper and Armando Benitez that their little prank isn’t funny anymore.

(Aw hell, that’s a lot of work. Our prankster just replaced Diaz with his 2019 self. Same outcome and a lot simpler.)

So, it was 9-9 in the ninth. The Mets cashed in their ghost runner, but with Trevor May and Jeurys Familia and Aaron Loup all gassed, they handed the ball to the briefly aforementioned Banda. To call Banda unassuming would be putting it mildly — he looks like a fan who won a Closer for a Day! contest. (Of course he also throws 95 — it’s 2021.) Banda immediately yielded a pair of singles to knot the score at 10-10 and looked like he was headed for Mac Scarce territory, to be remembered with a sad shake of the head decades from now by those whose taste for trivia runs towards the tragic. But he somehow coaxed a double play from Eugenio Suarez and a harmless groundout from Shogo Akiyama to survive. (After the disasters of the early innings, every Met who fielded a grounder in the late going handled the ball like it was filled with nitroglycerine, for which I blame them not at all.)

It was 10-10 after 10, just like it had been 7-7 after seven and 9-9 after nine, so of course Brandon Nimmo led off the 11th with a single, sending ghost runner Jose Peraza to third. Alonso struck out and the Reds decided to one-up the Mets in head-scratchers, choosing to pitch to McNeil with the pitcher up next and the Mets out of position players. McNeil promptly singled in Peraza, and I was both happy and offended. (Seriously, what in the world?) I was also exhausted — the game had degenerated into madness, leaving me feeling like I’d watched it while standing on my head doing Whipits. Surely it would be 11-11 after 11, and then 12-12 after 12, and my wife would find me at five in the morning lying on the living-room floor laughing and sobbing at the same time while the last 18 ambulatory Mets and Reds lay on the field in two exhausted heaps and occasionally chucked a ball back and forth.

But no, Kevin Pillar hit a bomb of a homer and the potentially rejuvenated Conforto connected for his second of the night and it was 15-10. Of course the game had a few last dregs of madness at its bottom — a reluctantly summoned May came within a whisper of having to face Votto as the tying run, which would not have been entertaining to recall until the mid-2030s at least. Happily, Freeman swung through a 3-2 fastball, leaving Votto as a spectator, and the Mets had won.

Or survived, which is close enough. They’ll play again Tuesday night, and anyone who can tell you what will happen is either lying or insane. Because who the heck knows? They give up a thousand runs, then somehow snatch them back. They play baseball so ineptly that you want to lie down in the road, and then they summon magic and make you want to dance on top of cars. They shed All-Stars, and anonymous bench guys manage to hold the line. Guys with good gloves inexplicably kick balls around and the reliable relievers explode and somehow they win anyway, except on the nights when they lose hideously and you wish they’d release everyone.

I don’t know what to make of it. I doubt they do either. We’re all just whirling around in the same storm.

Get It Right the Next Time (That’s the Main Thing)

Earl Weaver’s oft-cited quote that “this ain’t a football game, we do this every day” came in handy after Saturday night’s debacle — up 6-0 in the 8th, only to lose 9-7 in the 9th — that indicated we should never do this again. The Earl of Baltimore’s observation is equal parts…

instructive — 161 baseball games every year are indeed scheduled to be followed by another;

reassuring — the sun implicitly comes out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar (MLB does not endorse gambling, but, judging by the sponsored segments on the pregame and postgame shows, is delighted to facilitate it);

and disturbing — do we really want to risk incurring another fall-from-ahead loss that leaves us growling, griping, groping and grimacing as if the team we chose and the fandom we applied to it was the biggest mistake of our lives?

The Mets disposed of the déjà vu threat of another Saturday night on Sunday afternoon as soon as they could. Instead of building a lead, they squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the top of the first and then ushered in, as if pointing a flashlight so the Pirates wouldn’t miss the plate, six runs in the bottom of the first. The first three scores were the culmination of Pittsburgh walking and hitting and New York not quite fielding. Taijuan Walker, author of enough solid starts to legitimately pick up Jacob deGrom’s mantle as Met All-Star representative, was having an indisputably tough outing. His timing in choosing Sunday to suddenly go from solid to squishy wasn’t great, considering deGrom and his tight right forearm had been placed on the IL before the game and the taste from the previous evening’s debacle was still fresh in the back of our throats. Still, a rough beginning wasn’t something we had never seen before.

Nope, that was on deck, figuratively speaking. We didn’t want it, we didn’t order it, we didn’t sign for it when it arrived. But it was left on our doorstep nonetheless. We would’ve liked to have returned it, but try getting customer service to answer on a Sunday.

Easily triggered John Nogowski was on third with one out. Walker walked Gregory Polanco. Polanco stole second. Then Michael Perez walked to load the bases. Nine miles of bad road face the big righthander, Bob Murphy probably would have said. Was another grand slam beckoning? No, because we’d seen a grand slam before. We’d seen one less than fifteen hours earlier.

This is what we saw:

Kevin Newman tapped a Taijuan toss into the batter’s box dirt.

It barely trickled forward.

It was foul for a few feet.

Walker hustled over to grab it before it turned fair.

Except it turned fair before he grabbed it.

And he didn’t grab it.

The ball not only missed the pitcher’s grasp, but his swipe attempt had the effect of swatting it toward the third base stands, jai alai-style.

The ball was in play, though Walker didn’t seem aware of that inconvenient truth.

Nogowski understood, however, and rumbled home.

So did Polanco.

So did Perez.

Newman landed on second.

Third base coach Joey Cora was a veritable carnival barker, urging every runner to come on over and touch a real, live home plate!

The Mets and their starter were too busy huffing about the fair/foul distinction with umpire Jeremy Riggs to effectively chase down the ball and direct it toward the business of preventing opposition advancement, therefore making a three-run single out of a ball that didn’t travel thirty feet a twenty-first century reality.

Told ya it was something we hadn’t seen before.

Walker was livid. Luis Rojas was livider. The manager got himself booted, yet kept arguing as if channeling Weaver when he was bleeped rather than quoted. If Rojas wanted the umpires to confer and reverse the call on the ball, he didn’t receive quite the conclave he desired. If he thought he could shout fair into foul as if transforming water into wine, he wasn’t that powerful, either. But for anybody who thinks replay review has doused managerial fire, at least we now know different, for Luis Rojas went out in a certifiable blaze of indignant glory.

Which didn’t change the score, which had clicked to Pirates 6 Mets 0 with still only one out in the bottom of the first — not to mention Pirates 15 Mets 1 across the three most recent innings the two teams had played. Baseball doesn’t keep track that way, thank heaven for small favors.

Six-zip was bad enough. Walker didn’t improve the situation by walking ensuing batter JT Brubaker, who happened to be the Bucs’ pitcher. It was Tai’s fourth walk and the end of the line for our de facto ace. Nine batters faced. One batter retired. A big fat “6” posted. And one unbelievable blooper reel featuring 50% more embarrassment than the time David Cone jawed at the ump rather than turn away from first and throw a ball home (only two runs scored on that 1990 brain freeze for the ages).

Could it get any worse for these Mets?

Wrong question.

Could it get any better? That was the important question. Saturday night was horrific, but Saturday night was over. All those robotic quotes after being on the wrong side of thumpings that “we need to turn the page” and “we just have to flush it” are manfully uttered in service to what comes next, not what happened last. We already know what went wrong. Now go right. Walker’s stint was horrific, too, but Walker was likewise done. It was now up to Dave Jauss to steer the Mets’ bullpen cart on a new path. Jauss, managing in Rojas’s enforced absence, wasn’t really driving a bullpen cart, and the Pirates, despite honoring their 1971 world champs this weekend, don’t seem to furnish bullpen carts, but, honestly, anything to distract from the hole at hand would have been welcome.

First in to fill the hole, Drew Smith, perennial Next Moderately Big Thing among the Mets relief corps. Drew is the last of the promising righties the Mets collected when they were trade-deadline sellers several seasons ago. He’s always tantalized. He’s never blossomed. There was Tommy John surgery interrupting his development. He’s had his chances this year to make strides. He hadn’t meaningfully progressed.

Not until Sunday, that is. Smith drew the Mets from their first-inning quicksand via a lineout and flyout, and we had the closest thing we could get to a clean slate. More like an Etch-a-Sketch that we couldn’t shake fully clear, but it was only 6-0. Yes, 6-0 is hardly an “only” deficit, but eight innings remained and we had just seen some poor collection of saps give up a 6-0 lead only the night before.

What’s that? It was the Mets who blew the 6-0 lead only the night before? And we were supposed to take comfort in that after plunging behind 6-0 in the here and now?

We could do anything we liked. Like Earl said, this wasn’t a football game with a week to dwell on our missteps. We get a game approximately every day and no clock to choke off our chances at resuscitation. Just don’t give up any more runs or too many outs, and we’re not dead yet.

This passed for optimism on the day a) Lugo and Diaz were definitively not available (as if we were clamoring for an encore); b) nobody immediately replaced deGrom on the roster (we know Jake’s irreplaceable, but we didn’t think literally); and c) who wants your crummy optimism? We’d slept in the company of the Four Horsemen of the Metspocalypse — pessimism, skepticism, cynicism and fatalism. Did we really have to wake up and treat the new day as a new day, especially when the new day started as a taunting facsimile of the old day?

We didn’t have to do anything except continue to be disgusted. But it was a new day, the game was still on, and, for the record, the sun had come out tomorrow. We know how much it tends to rain when the Mets travel to Pittsburgh. Maybe it was a sign that Western Pennsylvania was finally something other than soggy.

Drew Smith kept the Pirates off the board in the bottom of the second. Dom Smith put the Mets on the board in the top of the third, singling off Nogowski’s highly sensitive glove to bring home Brandon Nimmo from third. The Mets were down by five and Drew Smith kept them there by retiring the Buccos in order in the next half-inning, making it two-and-two-thirds scoreless for the Smith who chose Sunday to never be better.

So many Smiths on this team. But only one Travis Blankenhorn, your roster replacement for Francisco Lindor. Batting in the top of the fourth for Smith — Drew — with two on, Travis, who’d almost hit one out on Saturday night, removed all doubt and hit one more than out on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t just over the fence. It departed the entire PNC Park physical plant and flew into the Allegheny River. The breach of the initial barrier ensured a three-run homer, the first round-tripper of Blankenhorn’s career. Launching it so far that it departed dry land, well, that was just darn impressive.

Most impressive was the Mets now trailed by two. Not six, not five, but two. If the Mets came back to win this game, which even Joe Namath wouldn’t have guaranteed, we’d have an anecdote to reference for the many times in our future when things would appear hopeless. The Mets actually came back from six in Pittsburgh, and it was after the worst six imaginable had scored in the first, on the heels of a grand slam walkoff loss the night before, so maybe we don’t have to be completely pessimistic, skeptical, cynical and fatalistic. It would make for a heckuva story. But that wasn’t the story in the present of Sunday as of the middle of the fourth. The story was a two-run game. Other than in extraordinary circumstances — say the Red Sox up, 5-3, in the bottom of tenth and the Mets batting with two out and nobody on — the Mets overcoming a two-run deficit isn’t that big a deal. The Mets overcoming a two-run deficit is unremarkable. The Mets overcoming a two-run deficit is doable.

Doable was all we asked for when the page turned and whatever needed to be flushed was flushed.

To navigate the next phase of doability en route to reaching the cusp of actually doing it, Jauss handed the ball to Miguel Castro. Castro had been depended on early this season and delivered commensurate to the faith invested in him. Then he pitched more and succeeded less. Tacky substances or the lack thereof may have played a role. I personally don’t trust Miguel Castro, but it’s nothing personal. I don’t trust any Met reliever. No Met reliever has yet to earn it. I get as far as “I should really trust this guy more, he’s been pretty to very good, except I remember that one particular time he came in and terrible things happened.” No reliever is perfect. Unreasonably, that’s my standard for trust.

Son of a gun, Castro was perfect on Sunday, retiring the side in order in the bottom of the fourth before being pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth. Miguel gave way to Aaron Loup, the closest thing we have to an always trustworthy reliever. The lefty is the one Met reliever I can’t remember letting us down in a meaningful spot since April. He might have done it in May or June, but his offenses don’t spring to mind and it would be chintzy of me to go look them up. In the bottom of the fifth, Loup committed no trust-averting offenses. The score remained Pirates 6 Mets 4.

In the top of the sixth, the score changed to Pirates 6 Mets 5, thanks again to Dom Smith, this time doubling to right with Jeff McNeil on first. McNeil roared around third once he received word from Gary DiSarcina that the throw in from right field wasn’t being handled with aplomb in the infield. Jeff beat the late relay and, whoa, it was a one-run game with three innings to go. The Mets had reduced their mountain to a molehill.

Aaron gave up two Pirate hits and hit ex-Met Phillip Evans to begin the bottom of the sixth. That’s what is referred to in certain circles as a sticky wicket. But you know that stuff you see commercials for to resolve stickiness? It’s called Loup. Spray it on the toughest jams and it strikes batters right out! I know, it sounds like a scam, but it works. Loup struck out Adam Frazier, struck out Wilmer Difo and struck out Bryan Reynolds, thus leaving the bases loaded.

“Wow,” you might be wondering, “can I get a can of that Loup for my sticky wickets?” Sorry, they’re all sold out. But how about some Familia? What’s that? You’ve got plenty of that left over in your garage from 2016 and you can’t get rid of it? Oh, go ahead and try it. It might still have zip left in it.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Jeurys Familia experienced a little difficulty (he is Jeurys Familia), but allowed no runs. Asked to pitch the eighth, it was a similar sequence of events. Jeurys bent. Jeurys didn’t break. The Mets’ bullpen, dating back to the first inning after Walker & Co. imploded, hadn’t given up a single run, while the Mets had packed on five.

Only problem on this sunny Sunday was it was kinda getting late and the Mets needed at least one more run to make this more than a lesson in never giving up. After Saturday, defeated yet admirable was neither optimal nor acceptable. We’d come too far to end shy of victory. We would need to tie the game en route to winning the game, and we would need to do it versus the Pirates’ closer, Richard Rodriguez.

(Except even if we’d lost, there’d be another game tomorrow and a whole new opportunity to right the ship. But who wanted to test that theory?)

We had the right man to lead off the top of the ninth. Dom Smith, who you’ll recall as instrumental in whittling deficits of 6-0 and 6-4, singled for his third hit of the day. Michael Conforto, who had to this point not appeared in any of our scoring recapitulation, muscled his way into the narrative, taking Rodriguez over the wall. It didn’t soar into the drink à la Blankenhorn, but what Michael’s home run lacked in distance it made up for in drama. A ninth-inning, go-ahead, two-run homer! After trailing, 6-0, the Mets were ahead, 7-6! “Oh my god,” I heard myself declare Sunday, just as I had declared “oh my god” Saturday after the score flipped from 7-5 to 9-7, except the intonation was 180 degrees different.

The Mets went to the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead to protect. No Edwin Diaz. No Seth Lugo. Instead, Trevor May. You sure we can’t get Loup back out there? May is very likable and periodically trustworthy. Personality isn’t really the issue when three outs are needed to secure the most desperately needed win of the season. We need to trust ya, Trevor. Can we do that?

Turns out we could. We’re not used to the notion of truly trusting relievers, and we’ll never get used to the notion of truly trusting relievers, but our closer du jour was the arm of the hour, following in the inspiring footsteps of Smith, Castro, Loup and Familia and putting down the Pirates without a run. Inspired by Met relievers? On a day when 6-0 was erased and 9-7 was spit out, any and all reactions to Met triumph were valid. That included not just yay, we won, 7-6! but “big deal, they blew it the night before, they were a clown show in the first inning, they lost four of seven to the crappy Pirates, they’re without Lindor, they’re without deGrom, they don’t have enough pitching, they don’t hit enough, they’re the worst first-place club I’ve ever seen.” All of those plaints hold up under examination. And they might all magnify themselves if the results that follow Sunday’s don’t follow in the footsteps of Sunday’s.

But Sunday’s result was very good. It was the kind of result that makes a fan quite happy that we do this every day.

There's No Such Thing As Rock Bottom

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in more than four decades of having my heart ripped out by baseball, it’s this: Don’t ever assume you’ve hit rock bottom.

A reasonable person might call the Mets taking eight innings to blow a five-run lead over the Pirates, with Edwin Diaz surrendering the fatal runs, rock bottom.

But no, we call that “last Sunday.” As in a mere week ago.

On Saturday night the Mets blew a six-run lead over the Pirates, with Edwin Diaz surrendering the fatal runs. But this time it only took them two innings to do it, and Diaz pointed at the sky after Jacob Stallings connected for what would be a two-out walkoff grand slam, like he was the even more hellish reincarnation of Hansel Robles.

A reasonable person might call that rock bottom, but just go read those four paragraphs again. Tomorrow, perhaps, the Mets will blow a seven-run lead in just a single inning, with Edwin Diaz surrendering the fatal runs and celebrating unawares while doing so. On Monday maybe they’ll blow an eight-run lead over the course of two outs. On Tuesday….

You get the idea.

If rock bottom is an entity that flees before you like the end of the hallway in Poltergeist, the only sensible course of action is for all of us to stop doing this thing that makes us miserable, and for the Mets to stop enabling it by inflicting pain on hapless innocents.

The team should release all of the players, implode their stadium, hold a public burning of their gear by way of penance, and then voluntarily contract themselves, after which we should all find something else to do with our lives, something that makes the world better instead of merely making our own lives small and full of pain. And right now, honestly, if a press release to that effect showed up on Twitter I’d be a bit relieved.

But none of that is going to happen. Instead, they’re going to play another baseball game on Sunday, and maybe it will go horribly wrong in some new way and maybe it will go dully wrong in some familiar way and maybe it will even go well, and whatever the case, most of the people reading this and certainly the person writing it will watch, grousing and grimacing and gnawing on fingernails but watching nonetheless. Because it’s what we do and it’s too late to stop.

And really, that’s the cruelest thing about baseball. It’s not that closers give up walkoff grand slams and point at the sky while doing so, though that was pretty breathtakingly cruel. It’s that after such disasters, we still stubbornly insist on hoping, even if we won’t admit that’s what it is. And it’s that deeply deluded yet inextinguishable hope which ensures the countdown has started again to the next time you’ll get your heart ripped out.

See you on Sunday, fellow masochists and suckers.

So You Wanted Baseball Back

The first game after the All-Star Break is supposed to feel like a warm bath.

Oh that’s better, you think as you sink back into the routine of having something to do a little after 7 or 4 or 8 or sometimes even 1 in the afternoon on the weekends. At first that little break was nice, and there were All-Stars doing All-Star things and looks back at the first half and trade talk and predictions about the second half, but then the novelty faded and you remembered that all you wanted was the metronome of knowing there will be a game tonight, unless it’s a day game or an off-day or it’s going to rain.

Four days without baseball, what a terrible idea! Blink your eyes and it will be winter and then four days will be the very least of it.

Well, Friday night was not a warm bath.

It was a motel bathtub full of ice, the one in which you wake up blue and groggy and wondering what the hell happened, only to realize your back hurts really badly, and then you find the note on the floor, the one in which the organ traffickers explain that they’ve removed one of your kidneys (or your liver, or hell maybe everything) and you should probably call someone with access to an ambulance.

(The note thing always struck me as oddly polite for organ traffickers, but then I am unacquainted with their ways.)

The Mets kicked off the second half against the Pirates, the same ramshackle ballclub that made the supposedly first-place Mets look like a bunch of shambling oafs last Sunday to send us into the break miffed and muttering. And then the outcome of Friday’s game made that wretched loss look like a walk in the park. In that one, you may recall, the Mets jumped out to a 5-0 lead and then got hare-and-the-tortoise’d; in this one, they didn’t even bother with a first hop away from the burrow.

They faced someone named Chad Kuhl, who walked five guys and threw approximately 54,288 hanging sliders, every single one of which a Met hitter popped up or missed or grounded straight at an infielder.

Mets pitchers didn’t throw quite as many broken breaking pitches, but every single one they did throw was hit into the next county by some Pirate or other, and it was not amusing.

Marcus Stroman was once again somewhere between unlucky and not particularly effective on the mound and got into a ridiculous tiff with Pittsburgh’s John Nogowski, possibly about whose baseball team it’s currently more dispiriting to be employed by.

And Francisco Lindor got hurt. The Mets weren’t providing updates, but he grabbed at his side after hitting a grounder, barely got out of the box and then disappeared, and given the nature of injuries to the oblique, he may remain disappeared for some time. For all his early-season troubles, Lindor has been a useful offensive contributor for the last few weeks and a plus defender and leader the entire year. So that’s bad, to say the very least.

And the Mets had finally gotten the lineup they’d envisioned off the IL, too. Of course they had — haven’t you learned baseball’s cruel like that?

Anyway, it was that kind of night. So call the ER, tell them, “you’re not going to believe this,” and then read them the note left on the bathroom floor. But first, tell them you’re a Mets fan. It’ll all make sense after that.

Going...Going...Yet Still Here

Baseball, that thing which I love and you love, still doesn’t feel quite like the baseball you love and I love. Not in 2021, not after 2020. The rule alterations that linger from last year have the sport askew and to no apparent useful purpose. We bought into the pandemic requiring trims around the edges. The pandemic isn’t exactly over, but it no longer provides much of an excuse for innings lopped from nine to seven and runners added to second and all the norm-nipping that has diluted the flow. Maybe the bulk of it will go away next year. Maybe it won’t. I’ve felt a little at sea where baseball is concerned ever since MLB sold Nike the right to slap swooshes on the fronts of jerseys. The logo just stares at me, telling me that if I don’t like it, too bad, it bought its way on. Nothing’s quite felt right since the first swoosh.

I keep waiting for a turning of the emotional tide, for a day or a game when baseball doesn’t feel off. DeGrom strikes out record numbers of batters, Bench Mobsters crowd their way into walkoff heroics, the Mets maintain first place. Yet something’s slightly and uncomfortably awry. I keep coming back to an aside from Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of Joe DiMaggio. The Yankees had won the 1947 World Series. “Now,” Cramer wrote, “the war was really over, all was right with the world.” Ptui! to that particular result as a bellwether of normality, yet I’d welcome something that decisively rips at least the metaphorical swoosh off baseball as it’s become these past couple of years.

Nevertheless, here I am. Dissatisfied? Perhaps. Dissatisfied enough to hand-sanitize myself of the whole thing? Like I said, here I am.

Pete Alonso hit 17 home runs before the regular season paused and 74 home runs before it resumed. The 74 don’t count in the way we count home runs that count, but for his non-counting trouble, Pete won a million bucks by taking the trophy/swag chain for his second consecutive Home Run Derby, along with the adulation of a packed Coors Field. TV stressed the presence of Shohei Ohtani most of all among the eight sluggers who competed, but Ohtani, who can do it all, couldn’t do it all in the Derby. Pete could. Pete’s very good at this event. He’s undefeated at winning it and he’s undefeated at loving it. If it wasn’t quite as invigorating as watching him take his first Derby in 2019 (second consecutive anythings rarely are), it was still a swell reminder of what an uncaged Polar Bear can communicate in the way of raw passion for the game.

My favorite part of Pete going deep wasn’t from any of his 74 exceedingly long shots flying over Denver, but rather the bopping around he did between pitches and rounds. Head up, head down, his head into his moment. I felt I’d seen that move before. I had. After the Mets completed their division-titlist schedule in 2015, the players took a goodwill lap around the track at Citi Field to thank the fans for our support. While “ Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” percolated over the PA, Daniel Murphy bopped his head in time to the music while cradling his son in his arms. Murphy was a Met All-Star once, as was Alonso. Not a bad connection to make.

That’s baseball when you’ve been at it for more than five decades. You see something, you feel something. You’ve probably felt it before. You don’t mind feeling it again. That’s why the All-Star Game itself was such a resounding disappointment on a couple of counts. First, there were those absolutely awful uniforms. One set was white. The other was dark blue. None was a uniform associated with any of the thirty clubs the players were representing. Pete wore his Mets garb in the Derby. He represented us, like Seaver in the ’70s, like Stearns in the ’70s after Seaver was traded to Cincinnati.

Taijuan Walker didn’t have that privilege when he pitched in the game. He pitched for white vs. dark blue. And not very well, honestly. The National League used to win these games annually. Tom pitched in eight of them. The NL went 8-0. Dude was named to four of them. The NL went 4-0. Tai was part of a losing NL team, just as almost every Met chosen in this century has been, leading me to the second resounding disappointment. I connect to the National League regularly topping the American League, but when I do, I connect to ancient times. That will happen when you’ve surpassed fandom’s half-century mark and the NL is losing all but six of the past thirty-two Midsummer Not So Classics. Then again, bemoaning that the All-Star Game isn’t what it used to be has become its own cherished tradition.

Bemoaning the presence of black jerseys was like that for some Mets fans during the denouement of their heyday. Bemoaning their disappearance eventually replaced that complaint for other Mets fans. Now we learn black jerseys are to return to the torsos of Met bodies two weeks from Friday. The big night will be July 30, a date drenched in Metsian overtones. Casey Stengel was born on July 30, 1890. Gil Hodges strode purposefully to remove Cleon Jones from left field on July 30, 1969. Jeurys Familia gave up a rain-soaked, ninth-inning home run to Justin Upton between rain delays to complete a lethal lead blow on July 30, 2015, except it turned out to be not lethal at all. A little over three months later, Jeurys would be among the Mets joining Murph bopping around the Citi Field track to celebrate the NL East flag and gear up for the playoffs.

Familia made his MLB debut in September of 2012, just missing the black jerseys when they were last an official element of Met gear that July. They were all but phased out after 2011, a nod to the Mets reaching their fiftieth birthday and the desire of so many to have the Mets hit the big five-oh in their birthday suit: orange and blue, hold the gimmickry (in 1962, Casey took care of the gimmicks). But black was on our backs for some very good years just before and a little after the turn of the millennium, and this iteration of Mets black is for home Fridays only. Younger fans admire the look — younger fans who are about twenty years older than when the Mets won a pennant in black and fans younger than that, too. I’m generally a shades of gray person when it comes to stuff that turns people goopy or irate, so I’m fine with a night every couple of weeks to turn black the clock.

I’m not fine with those All-Star uniforms, but I didn’t see any shades of gray in them.

Younger fans are said to be immune to baseball’s charms and in ever shorter supply. That’s why we get Nike swooshing up the apparel to the apparel’s detriment and why MLB hits us over the head with the idea that a player flipping a bat will make the game hep as heck to the under-my age set. Nevertheless, the last two games I’ve been to — and pretty much every game I’ve been to these many decades — I see plenty of what you’d call younger fans on hand. Not dragged by their parents or cool older relatives, either. I light out for Citi Field by Long Island Rail Road. I share my train with fans quite clearly in their teens and early twenties. Sometimes I think somebody’s slipped them free tickets, but there’s too much critical mass for their participation to be wholly anecdotal. These are fans who are wearing Mets gear, getting loud for the Mets miles from the Mets’ stadium, drinking many toasts en route to the Mets game. They missed Seaver’s career. They missed Piazza’s, too, probably. They’re not missing Alonso’s. The return trip — on the platform at Woodside and on the next train that comes — emits that vibe as well. Too much so, for my taste. The line about “keggers with kids” from Heathers springs to mind. But on some level, I don’t mind being the senior member of whichever car of the LIRR I board. The Grand Old Game isn’t gonna die off with me and my demographic ilk. The Youth of America hasn’t given up on baseball. Now shut up and let me listen to the highlights.

Speaking of listening, I experienced my first-half highlight less than a week ago. It wasn’t at Citi Field and it wasn’t via SNY. Talk about a connection. I’m the kid who walked around with a transistor radio if the Mets were playing and I couldn’t stay home to watch. I loved walking by any radio outdoors if it was broadcasting the Mets game. I loved just as much being the one to carry the play-by-play as if I were WHN, WNEW or WMCA. I got to enjoy that sensation anew last Saturday on the boardwalk in Long Beach. Stephanie and I had returned to my hometown for a barbecue at my friend Larry’s house. The last time I was there, it was to sit shiva for Larry’s mother. This was happier. This was a coming-out-of-COVID celebration of sorts, with a small-scale high school reunion on the side. My class is marking its 40th anniversary of graduating this summer. I won’t be going to the swanky affair some other classmates have cooked up. I went to two previous iterations and realized it was filled by old people. Five minutes later, most everybody with whom I’d exchanged middle age small talk had reverted to 17 or 18 in my mind’s eye anyway. But Larry’s in that handful of my LBHS compadres with whom I’ve found the years immaterial. Friends then, friends since, friends now. Like my friend Fred, who was up from Baltimore for the barbecue. Like my friend John, who was down from Boston. We had just enough members of our school newspaper staff to procrastinate on putting out our next edition. Why would I need more than that?

Between hot dogs and catching up, somebody suggested a late-afternoon stroll on the boardwalk, a must if you’re in town in summer. Stephanie welcomed it for the ocean breeze. I welcomed it for the opportunity to click on the game. I’d decided I was going to be a somewhat normal adult at the barbecue and not sneak an earbud into my ear or even a glance at my phone. Let the Mets open their truncated doubleheader without my attention for a change. But, you know, I get Met-curious and my phone is equipped with the At Bat app, so without fanfare, I clicked it on from my shirt pocket. No wire, so everybody who wanted to hear it could hear it. The volume was high enough for me to keep track, low enough not to bother anybody.

I was never more home than with the Mets game coming out of my shirt pocket on the boardwalk in Long Beach in 2021. This was me in the summers off from high school and junior high and elementary school. Wayne Randazzo narrating a Jonathan Villar homer meshed with the soft crash of the waves. It sounded like my life. That baseball radio play-by-play was emanating from my person didn’t merit commentary from my wife, who is very used to the sounds my body makes, nor from my old pal Fred, who knows what I’m all about. The first thing I can ever recall Fred and I doing outside of school involved a walk and a Mets game on my transistor radio. I told him I don’t like to miss the Mets when they’re playing, and I never had to tell him again.

Even when the Mets fell behind last Saturday, even with Wayne cautioning us this was a seven-inning game so there wouldn’t be as much time as usual to mount a comeback, it was as if nothing of substance that I would have wanted to change had changed. Long Beach was still there. The Mets were still there. I was still there with what and who I would have wanted nearby had somebody thought to ask. The strides on the boardwalk didn’t match those of Gil Hodges marching to left field for determination, but they had their own purpose. I was going somewhere I needed to be.

Nike might ruin uniforms. Manfred might ruin doubleheaders. The high bar of the National League romping through All-Star competition might be a thing of the very distant past. But I cheer Pete Alonso when goes deep 74 essentially meaningless times. I join the Youth of America in the stands in Flushing and on the train out of Queens. I’m very happy to have the game on, even if it’s low and just for a couple of innings. It’s all still a little off, but not irrevocably.

The Mets play again Friday night in Pittsburgh, presumably in gray. Just like my sideburns.

When the Gut Rules the Mind

What a way to get a game going!
A two run homer from Lindor!!
A three-run homer from Conforto!!!
In the first inning!!!!
The first-place Mets are ahead of the last-place Pirates, 5-0!!!!!

Which is where a Mets fan of tenure turned from dispensing exclamation points to issuing question marks. The way this Mets fan of tenure saw it, there were four possible scenarios facing us over the next eight innings.

Would it be…

1) A Mets romp, building on the early good vibrations worthy of a late-‘70s orange soda commercial, with more and more runs scoring and the absence of a starting pitcher no more than a technicality, even once Aaron Loup finished his limited engagement as a two-inning starter and transitioned seamlessly into an opener of Busch Light?

Maybe. But probably not.

2) A little disconcerting but ultimately fine, like a game I remember against the Pirates right around this time of year in 2006, when the first-place Mets also posted five runs in the bottom of the first, but then not only stopped hitting, but stopped scoring, yet it was OK because the last-place Pirates then weren’t having any better a season than they are now?

Maybe. But probably not.

3) Very disconcerting but ultimately exhilarating, à la one of those games that almost gets away — the lead may even temporarily change hands — yet some Met sets it right in the bottom of the ninth, and there’s a congregation shouting “HALLELUJAH!” at home plate or a jersey-tearing summer jam at first base, or perhaps both in celebration of the one that was deliriously snatched back?

Maybe. But probably not.

4) The first-place Mets blowing a 5-0 lead and losing to the last-place Pirates, 6-5, because the Mets demonstrated minimal pitching and absolutely no hitting after the first, while the Pirates forgot they were dead, buried at sea and not in the Mets’ class?

Yup.
The fourth, it turned out.
Exactly the fourth.
I mean on the bleeping nose.

While I considered the first, second and third scenarios as legitimate possibilities, straining in particular to believe the third was our destiny when Luis Guillorme led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to spark our potential comeback-as-destiny rally, I felt in my Metsian gut that we were gonna lose the way we lost. Not because “the Mets suck!” or because “we always lose!” but…I don’t know. Yet my gut knew. Michael Conforto wasn’t across the plate in the first with the fifth Met run when, on the advice of my gut, I was moved to publicly all but predict something like this was coming (and if you doubt my reluctant prescience, here’s my receipt).

Thus, the fun of the first — with Loup nice and loose, Francisco Lindor ablaze (he’d add two more base hits to his total) and Conforto homering for the first time since approximately 1963 — evaporated into stone-cold Sunday afternoon somnambulance. The Pirates, led by their defiant starter Chase de Jong sticking it out for five and their sudden slugger Rodolfo Castro going deep twice, made the comeback and didn’t deal in givebacks. Guillorme did get that leadoff single, but Brandon Nimmo grounded into a double play, and Lindor couldn’t arrange the drama necessary to turn the beat around. In between Loup and the losing, there was little dependable Met pitching of which to speak. The glaringest culprit was Edwin Diaz in the ninth not getting the fifth of five outs Luis Rojas requested after Diaz took over for Miguel Castro in the eighth. Diaz wasn’t 24 hours’ removed from his nearly immaculate Saturday night inning (10 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 outs). It’s hard to pin this loss on Edwin, even if he was, in fact, pinned with the loss.

Jerad Eickhoff, Jeurys Familia and Castro weren’t much help. Nor was whichever rainout pushed Jacob deGrom from his scheduled Sunday start into the All-Star break abyss. Kumar Rocker simply wasn’t drafted, developed, promoted and inserted soon enough. Regardless of whoever was available; wasn’t available; or could have been leaned on a little with a quartet of off days in the offing, let us not ignore that the Mets did no scoring from the second inning on. Not a load of hitting, either.

My gut having courteously prepared me for the nominal Worst Loss of the Season, I wasn’t nearly as disturbed by the least optimal outcome as I would have been had it come out of nowhere. Nope, my gut was on target. I hope it took SNY up on its offer of betting $415 to win $100 or whatever it is Gary Apple goes on about in the postgame show as he touts the network’s wholesome gambling sponsor.

The Mets are still in first place. They are still the first-place Mets as baseball pauses and they will still be the first-place Mets when baseball again presses play. They don’t emit unbeatable first-place vibes most recently evinced in these parts in 2006 and there’s not really that slam bang tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth and 1984 when you step back and consider their lofty status. Nevertheless, here they are: first, and by more than a hair. We’ve got that to sate us for the four-day void, which, if we think of it as one big rainout, we’ll make it through as if it’s just another week on our perpetually soggy calendar. Once the break is over, we’ve got another series on deck with these last-place Pirates, who are not to be taken lightly, just as the first-place business isn’t to be taken as a given.

We’ve got a good team. Greatness they need to work on.