“So appalling as to be almost beyond belief:” The 1897 letter that everyone really needs to read

NEW YORK — I was sitting against the wall in a booth at City Diner on 90th Street and Broadway. My friend Weinstein was sitting across from me. I was trying to convince him to come to a baseball trivia event that I’d just heard about, hosted by Ted Berg, the nation’s foremost expert. Weinstein, characteristically, was underselling himself.

“I suck at baseball trivia,” he said. “The only thing I know is that in 1897, the commissioner sent out a letter yelling at players for saying ‘go fuck yourself.'”

I paused.

“What?” I said.

It was true. Weinstein pulled out his phone and googled it. Seconds later, he began a dramatic reading. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

I am passing the contents of this letter along, because I really do believe that they deserve to be known far and wide. Here is how the letter, which was really sent out by the commissioner of organized baseball in 1897, begins:

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS:

In a contest between two leading clubs during the championship season of 1897, the stands being crowded with patrons of the game, a gentleman occupying a seat in the front row near the players’ bench, asked one of the visiting players who was going to pitch for them. The player made no reply. He then asked a second time. The gentleman, his wife who sat with him, and others of both sexes, within hearing distance, were outraged upon hearing the player reply in a loud, brutal tone, “Oh, go fuck yourself.”

On being remonstrated with by his fellow-players, who told him there were ladies present, he retorted he didn’t give a damn, that they had no business there anyhow.

This shocking indecency was brought to the attention of the League at the Philadelphia meeting in November, 1897, and a committee was appointed to report upon this baseball crime, define and suggest for it a remedy.

Weinstein was in the midst of a dramatic reading, but when he reached the line about a committee investigating the baseball crime, he broke character and burst out laughing. Then he pulled himself together and continued.

In response to nearly one hundred communications addressed to umpires, managers and club officials, soliciting definite, positive and personal knowledge of obscene and indecent language upon the ball field, the committee received a deluge of information that was so appalling as to be almost beyond belief, showing conclusively and beyond contradiction that there was urgent need for legislative action on the part of the League.

He took another pause to comport himself. Then he read the last paragraph.

That such brutal language as “You cock-sucking son of a bitch!” “You prick-eating bastard!” “You cunt-lapping dog!” “Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!” “A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!” “I fucked your mother, you sister, your wife!” “I’ll make you suck my ass!” “You cock-sucker!” and many other revolting terms are used by a limited number of players to intimidate umpires and opposing players, and are promiscuously used upon the ball field, is vouched for by the almost unanimous assertion of those invited to speak, and who are competent to speak from personal knowledge. Whether it be the language quoted above, or some other indecent and infamous invention of depravity, the League is pledged to remove it from the ball field, whether it necessitates the removal of the offender for a day or for all time. Any indecent or obscene word, sentence, or expression, unfit for print or the human ear, whether mentioned in these instructions or not, is contemplated under the law and within its intent and meaning, and will be dealt with without fear or favor when the fact is established by conclusive proof.

I don’t remember what I said when he finished reading, but the commissioner would have hated it. And then my mind drifted to Juan Soto, and I had a laugh thinking of how angry he would make an 1897 baseball commissioner, and how funny it would be to watch.

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A Double in August

NEW YORK — The Mets have hired Carlos Beltrán as their manager, which seems to have aroused in Mets fans all sorts of pro and anti-Beltrán stances. We all remember Beltrán, and the moment that divides fans so strongly. It was an unhittable pitch. He had a great series. We didn’t have to wait until the ninth inning to put together a scoring opportunity. But the facts remain.

Personally, I’m a Beltrán fan. You don’t judge a career by an at-bat, and Beltrán, with his 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases as a switch hitter, had a helluva career. Now, he’s all the more likely to enter Cooperstown with a Mets cap on his head. But forget 2006 and his Mets career for a moment: judge Beltrán as a manager. He knows baseball and can handle New York, and as such, he will do just fine.

I’m not too concerned with who the manager is, if we’re honest. I could have learned to love Joe Girardi — although I don’t understand where Mets’ fans’ sudden fervent zeal (Zeile?) for him came from — just as I’m sure Beltrán will do the job admirably. I cared far more about last offseason’s GM search than this year’s parade of interviews, and since the Wilpons passed on Chaim Bloom and let him turn some other team into a powerhouse instead, Beltrán, or anyone else who got the job, was going to manage Brodie Van Wagenen’s team. Managers are temporary. Ripple effects of GM moves — Jarred Kelenic has left the building — can be forever.

In fact, Beltrán wasn’t the only Mets outfielder in the news. The Mets officially declined Juan Lagares’ $9.5 million option, making Lagares a free agent. Besides 2014 and other occasional flashes, Lagares never managed to turn himself into a complete hitter at the plate. The field, of course, was a different story. Lagares won a Gold Glove in 2014, and if he’d stayed healthy and hit well enough to play every day, surely would have won several more. His defense was so good that it earned him a $23 million contract extension in 2015.

The offense, just good enough (.281/.321/.382) to keep his glove on the field in 2014, faded. But Lagares’ glove was always there, lurking just out of sight. A line drive to deep center evoked familiar worry, but also excitement: what’s Juan going to do this time? He became an offensive liability, but never seemed disgruntled or angry. He worked quietly and hard, always hoping to return to where he’d once been, but never quite getting there.

Now, though, we have one of those good problems. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo each hold down outfield spots; Robinson Cano is anchored, all too literally, at second base, which means that if Beltrán wants both Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis and their formidable bats in the lineup every day, one will have to play left field while the other plays third base. Lagares, then, does not have a starting spot, and to Wilpon and company, a reserve outfielder is not worth $9.5 million.

I remember the last time I thought very specifically about Juan Lagares. It was August 4th. The Mets were below .500 but rising fast, beating up on the Pirates. I was in a boat whizzing around a lake in southern Maine, making sure campers didn’t moon houses as we passed, or whatever campers might find funny these days. I was also tracking the Mets game on my phone.

Top of the sixth. Lagares is taking his first at-bat of the game; he came in earlier to replace Michael Conforto in center. Conforto moved to right to replace Jeff McNeil. McNeil moved to second to replace Robinson Cano, because Cano came up limping as he tried for second on a line drive off the fence, because he is 36 and too fragile to dive or run fast.

So Lagares hits. He’s batting .186. But he gets a pitch down the heart of the plate, and he doesn’t miss it. A double down the left field line, a run coming home, Lagares trotting into second.

It was baseball justice. Vindication. A lollipop down the heart of the plate, and Lagares smacked it. Saw his pitch and hit it. It’s a lesson, indeed, that our new manager would do well to impart to his players, and also to fans who may dislike him: there is justice in baseball. No matter how many called third strikes you’ve taken, how many plays you haven’t made, how many hanging curves you’ve fouled off…eventually you’ll see a meatball and mash it for extra bases, and things will fall right back into place.

I don’t know where Juan Lagares will end up, or indeed, whether there’s a chance he stays in Queens. But I hope he comes back to Citi Field eventually. I’ll wear the snow-white LAGARES 12 jersey I bought in early 2014, and cheer on a kid who worked his heart out. Maybe he’ll smack another one of those doubles down the left field line, and I’ll think of August, when the sun was hot and the water was cool, when Juan Lagares was a hero and the playoffs were on the horizon and there was always another chance to make things happen, whether Carlos Beltrán struck out or not.

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Goodbye, J.D. Davis

Closing Day, like its older, cooler brother Opening Day, seems to have a habit of presenting perfect backdrops for baseball. My memory is certainly flawed, but I can’t remember a Closing Day that wasn’t bright, sunny, and warm; one last invitation to take in the Summer Game before the calendars and the climate turn. It’s proof, if nothing else, that baseball really is America’s Game, and that on the last day of the season, whoever’s running things up there wants nothing more than one last perfect ballgame.

It certainly seemed that way, anyway, when I got to Citi Field to watch the Mets close out their 2019 season against the Braves. I arrived minutes before the ballpark gates opened, and waiting in line, if anything, the weather was too bright and hot. I covered the back of my neck with my hand and pulled my cap low over my face, and when I finally got into the stadium, my eyes took a long moment to adjust to the darkness of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

The Rotunda. Last time in there for a while. Last time at the Mets Team Store for a while, which I suppose justified the four t-shirts I bought. John Franco and Tim Teufel were signing autographs in the Mets Hall of Fame — last time there for a while too — but as I waited in line for signatures, a door in the back of the Rotunda opened, and J.D. Davis walked through it.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Mets’ website had advertised players surprising fans at the gates before the final game of the season, which was why I’d been keeping such a close eye on the door, which I knew led to a tunnel straight to the clubhouse. And I’d even fantasized that one of those players might be J.D. Davis, as close to a mythical figure as I could think of. I’d prepared for it: on my phone, I’d pulled up a picture of my graduation cap from May, the one I’d decorated with a simple phrase that, since then, has  proven true over and over again — and, I’m fairly sure, has infiltrated Mets Twitter. “J.D. Davis is a Professional Hitter.”

I snaked my way out of the Franco/Teufel line — a security guard looked at me disapprovingly, but I persevered — and slowly but surely forged my way through the Rotunda to where Davis was standing by a gate, shaking hands with fans as they entered, surrounded by handlers. They weren’t allowing pictures, but I shook Davis’ hand and showed him my cap. He laughed.

“Love it,” he said.

It was fitting, I suppose. J.D. Davis is the closest thing there is to a symbol of everything the Mets went through this year, and everything that Mets fans went through with them. Davis is an excellent player, on the border of stardom, but certainly not perfect. He has his ups and his downs, but ultimately gets the job done — and then some — while being, as his new unofficial nickname “Sun Bear” might suggest, entirely too lovable to handle.

Davis has also gone from being a player who seemed fine, to someone who I defended from what I thought was unwarranted criticism, to a player I genuinely liked, to a player I list among my favorites. The thing about the 2019 Mets, of course, is that there are six or seven players among my favorites, which was part of the reason I was so unprepared for Closing Day. I loved the 2019 Mets in a way I don’t think I have before, even when the 2015 team was taking our breath away. To see them cease to exist, therefore — as we must every Closing Day, sad as it always is — was going to be an emotional gauntlet.

I needed food, and I knew exactly what I wanted. There are all sorts of fantastic options at Citi Field — I’ve grown partial to the Chicken Parm hero in the outfield on the field level this season, as well as the Arancini stand in the upper deck — but today, for such an emotional occasion, I needed a comfortable classic.

From one of those stands that are everywhere at Citi Field, but seem to close their doors one at a time as seasons go on and attendance drops, I ordered two hot dogs and a lemonade. The classic. Two hot dogs and a lemonade has been what I’ve eaten at Citi Field since going to Citi Field has meant anything. Late in the 2014 season, as I started my senior year of high school, I found that I could spend more or less every free moment I had at Citi Field, and no one would mind. So I did. And hot dogs and souvenir lemonades were my fuel. If I have a soul, it is made of Citi Field hot dogs and souvenir lemonades, and it is sitting in the upper deck at Citi Field watching the 2014 Mets, and realizing that maybe they’re not so bad after all.

***

The story of the 2019 Mets started exactly one year before Closing Day, when David Wright left the field for the last time, leaving the captain’s position, and the role, vacant. The story continued with the hiring of “Mad Men” extra and former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as General Manager, and the first twists appeared when Brodie sent Jarred Kelenic, outfield prospect and (to me, anyway) surefire future Hall-of-Famer, to the Seattle Mariners, in exchange for — don’t laugh — offensive powerhouse Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, the best closer in baseball.

Really, though, the story got going, as it usually does, in Spring Training. Pete Alonso’s first swing of the year hit a ball about 450 feet to center. Jeff McNeil hit the ball everywhere. Jacob deGrom looked strong. Brandon Nimmo, when he wasn’t deathly ill, couldn’t stop walking. They were more or less the same team that we remembered, except that we would get a full season of McNeil (and, it turned out, Alonso); Wilson Ramos and his steady bat would take over behind the plate; Jed Lowrie would help all around the infield (ha!); and Edwin Diaz would nail down the ninth inning just like he had in Seattle the year before, when the Mariners hadn’t lost a single game that they led in the ninth inning. We had a solid young core, and we’d added strong win-now pieces; things wouldn’t be easy, but our team, we were sure, was at least pretty good.

But as they always do, things didn’t all go as expected. McNeil and Alonso exceeded expectations; Diaz and Jeurys Familia didn’t. J.D. Davis was a breath of fresh air, a ray of light; Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, sat around somewhere in a dark basement getting mildewed and stale. The season was over by July, except suddenly it wasn’t; we won 15 out of 16 and moved into playoff position, only to promptly fall out of it; things came down to the wire, but we fell short with less than a week remaining.

Throughout all the ups and downs and sudden left turns of the season, though, one thing didn’t change. These 2019 Mets never lost their lovability, their wonder. In fact, as the season went on, it only increased. Whether we were 10 games over .500 or ten under, there were players to root for. deGrom pulling himself together after a rocky start to emerge as a front-runner for a second consecutive Cy Young award. Pete breaking free of the Home Run Derby curse to barrel past the all-time rookie home run record in the second half. McNeil hitting for average, then adding power, and all the while eking out hits like a madman. Davis hitting the ball harder than anyone. Nimmo running harder than anyone. Seth Lugo spinning curveballs, pitching multiple innings, and providing a steady presence exactly when Diaz didn’t.

I loved the 2019 Mets more than any other Mets team I’d ever watched, because I loved the players. I had six favorite players on the 2019 team: Pete, Jake, McNeil, J.D., Nimmo, and Conforto, rock solid, always hitting or walking, setting career highs in home runs and RBIs.

2019, of course, didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to. Seasons rarely do, if you watch baseball at Citi Field and orange and blue are your favorite colors. But it had to end eventually, and regardless of how it ended, I knew that I’d rather it didn’t.

***

From my seat in the upper deck, I watched Mickey Callaway bring out his lineup card, and wondered whether it was the last time he would do so. At the time, Mickey’s future with the Mets was unclear: he’d given some strange for missing the organizational meetings the Mets would hold the next week, which hadn’t seemed to augur well for his prospects, but he’d also held meetings the previous week that indicated he might stick around. Or something. Frankly, it barely mattered to me whether he stayed or left. Mickey always seemed about average as a manager, his faults canceling out his strong points, both minimal. His absence will not be the reason the 2020 Mets fail or succeed.

I finished a hot dog and my fries, and as I was storing the second hot dog in its Nathans’ container under my seat for later, Noah Syndergaard took the hill. Noah’s season was fairly average, which for him means it could have been better. There were flashes of brilliance, and too often stretches of mediocrity; clearly, he can go pitch for pitch with anybody in the game, but over multiple innings, he sometimes makes one mistake too many. But know this. Noah will be back in 2020, and he’ll be better — write that down. On 2018’s Closing Day, he pitched a complete-game shutout, and as he took the mound a year later, I was hoping it would prove part of a pattern.

Syndergaard allowed a run in the top of the first, on an RBI single by Adeiny Hechevarria, but limited the damage. The bottom of the inning: Alonso singled with one out, and went to third when Conforto singled off the tip of Ozzie Albies’ glove. Already, it seemed that the bounces were going in the Mets’ favor, which didn’t surprise me. The Mets have a penchant for winning in games that, while symbolically significant — Opening Day, Closing Day, 9/11 — do not matter more in the standings than any other game. Cano, up next, hit a deep fly ball to left, and Alonso trotted home uncontested. In the year of the juiced ball, a clean sac fly felt like an antique.

Davis came up. This season, he has hit the ball harder than just about anybody, and he seemed thirsty to continue proving himself. With the count 3-1, he lined Mike Soroka’s pitch over the left field fence at 106 miles per hour. His 22nd home run of the year, a two-run shot, and the Mets led 3-1.

After the first, the innings began to speed by. Noah let the Braves tie the game in the fourth, when Rafael Ortega, average hovering below .200, launched a monstrous home run onto the Shea Bridge. The Mets’ offense, meanwhile, threatened but could not muster a run. A hit here and there, sometimes a runner in scoring position, but never anything more.

The regulars began to exit, as is Closing Day tradition. First it was Todd Frazier, who singled in the fourth and was replaced by Luis Guillorme. Frazier exited to modest, polite applause. He was dreadful in his first season as a Met and solid in his second, and may well never play for the Mets again. After a “tailgate trivia” game in the middle of the fifth that was far easier than it should have been — I won a few weeks ago, and my questions were way harder — Joe Panik replaced Cano on defense in the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, Callaway decided that Noah was done, and he sent out Sam Haggerty to pinch-hit.

Haggerty, just up from AAA this month for the first time, did not yet have a hit, although he had scored multiple runs in pinch-running appearances. If my memory is right, I have seen every single one of his at-bats, and each time I have rooted hard. I have never seen a Met’s first hit in person (again, if I’m remembering correctly), and it’s something I’d like to experience. This time, in any event, Haggerty struck out, and one batter later, the game went to the eighth inning, still tied at three.

It was impossible not to think of David Wright’s final game. That one went 13, and all anybody wanted was for it to end, regardless of the outcome. This time, a Mets win was the distinctly preferable result. But extras? Free baseball? It’s hard to say, even in hindsight, whether I wanted to see them or not. It’s more time at Citi Field, but it’s bittersweet, marred by the fact that each extra inning just further drives home the point that this is it for the year. Still, though…extra innings meant more time at Citi Field, if they happened, so I think I wanted to see them. Unless, of course, it meant the Mets had blown a lead. Who wants to see that?

***

Paul Sewald pitched the top of the eighth, and did so scoreless, which, for those of us used to watching Paul Sewald, seemed like a miracle on its own. In the bottom of the eighth, Alonso and Conforto, each taking what might be their last at-bat of the season, made outs. They jogged off the field to warm ovations, Alonso’s louder but both appreciative. With two outs, Joe Panik came up.

The Giants non-tendered Panik in August, and a few days later he was a Met. Immediately after coming over, he hit well for a few games before reverting to his .240 self. But I’m a fan of Panik. He’s not a great hitter, but he’s also not a clueless hitter. He takes competitive at-bats, even if they don’t often end well. If the Mets can’t find a better infield bench option, and Jed Lowrie remains moribund, I hope Panik is back next year.

Am I biased? Maybe by recency. Because Panik hit the second pitch he saw into the second deck in right field. Mets lead 4-3, three outs between us and victory. In 2019, the year of six favorite players, of course the crown belonged to Joe Panik. If there’s one lesson to be learned from watching Mets baseball, it’s that things never go the way they’re supposed to. Like in David Wright’s final game. He comes up in a perfect spot, man on third, one out — almost any contact drives home a run and sends the crowd into a frenzy. So David doesn’t make contact. He walks, probably the worst good outcome in that spot, the opposite of the Hollywood version. Not a Hollywood story, but a Mets story, told to perfection. That’s usually how it goes.

Three outs to get; three outs to send fans home with a happy Closing Day to wash away the sour taste of elimination. So Mickey stuck with Paul Sewald. J.D. Davis was out of the game by now; he’d been replaced by Rajai Davis after singling in the eighth, and departed to an ovation somewhere between Pete’s and Conforto’s. He finished the year with a .307/.369/.527 line on offense, good for an .895 OPS. Adeiny Hechevarria led off the ninth.

Among Mets fans, Hechevarria became known this season for an unfortunate confluence of events. He played for the Mets, until they released him, likely in order to avoid paying the $1 million he was due the next day. He bolted town and signed with the Braves, and seems to have hated the Mets ever since.

Was it wrong to cut Hech in order to save a few dollars? Certainly. Did it come at great cost to the Mets? Not at all: as a Brave, Hechevarria has been supremely unimpressive, not as good as Luis Guillorme, who replaced him in Queens. The entire argument, really, seems uninteresting and overblown. All we know for sure is that Hechevarria hates the Mets with a passion.

As he led off the ninth, it had started to get colder. There was a chill in the air that hadn’t been there even the night before. It’s funny: sometimes, just as baseball can go off-script and do the opposite of the Hollywood version, it will go the other way, take itself far too seriously and start getting gratuitous with the symbolism. Yes, it’s fall now. But starting the day warm, as if it’s the middle of summer, and then getting progressively colder just to drive the point home? It’s overkill. It’s like that scene in “Interstellar,” where the character meant to represent the idea that man is his own worst enemy is named “Dr. Mann.” Baseball can crush our hearts and send us off into the cold of winter, as it does every year, but please, at least be subtle about it.

Hechevarria lined a ball into the left-field stands for a game-tying home run.

Really, why not? Closing Day is when it all comes together, when the narratives of each season are sealed up and written in stone. Really, it made sense. Perfect sense. If Adeiny Hechevarria wasn’t going to take his revenge, what had this all been about?

Sewald got one more out, then Mickey came out and got him. The crowd was booing as Mickey took the ball: I couldn’t tell who they disapproved of more, the pitcher or the manager who had just sent him packing. Daniel Zamora came in and finished the ninth inning scoreless; in the bottom of the frame, Nido grounded out, and Jed Lowrie and Sam Haggerty, despite the perfect story it would have been, both failed to get their first hits of the season.

The Mets took the field. Tyler Bashlor came in. Extras!

***

At least it was early. This wasn’t like the David Wright game, when my mother started telling me in the ninth or tenth inning that my brother, at the game with me, really had to get to bed. It was just past 6:00 in the afternoon, as dark as 8:30 in July, plenty of night left for baseball. It was, however, getting colder.

Bashlor, intimidating and erratic as ever, got through the tenth unscathed. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Conforto singled, and Panik, suddenly the Mets’ best hitter, singled him to third. Up came Davis, the left fielder, Rajai instead of J.D.

I can’t even count how many times Mickey Callaway has been burned by bringing in his defensive replacements before the offense has finished its’ day’s work. Today was no exception. All we needed was a ball in play. J.D. Davis, I told myself, could have done it. Rajai, 38 years old, .200 hitter, couldn’t. He struck out, and Amed popped up before you could say “sure he’s gotten better but he’s still really gotta improve his approach at the plate,” and now Walker Locket was coming in to pitch the 11th.

You know where this is going. I knew where this was going. “Gotta pitch to Hechevarria with the bases empty,” I muttered to myself.

Billy Hamilton singled leading off the inning, but somehow, a pitchout worked perfectly, the way you almost never see, and Tomas Nido cut down Hamilton at second. Hechevarria, sure enough, would bat with the bases empty.

Good thing, too. I thought I knew where this was going, but even I wasn’t prepared for exactly where it was going: into the second deck, a shot of Alonsic proportions. Hechevarria must really have wanted that $1 million. Up next, Adam Duvall also took Lockett deep. And as the stadium groaned, I just sat in my seat laughing.

It’s always good to be reminded that whatever may happen, these are the Mets, and things are going to get silly. Adeiny Hechevarria is going to hit not one but two soul-crushing home runs. Jon Niese will shut us out as a Pirate. Mike Scott will learn the spitball. Oliver Perez will come back to New York reinvented as a reliever and shut us down every time he pitches. “LOLMets” isn’t just a quirky thing people say: it’s a tortured expression of the truth of the world, which is that if Mets fans cannot laugh they will cry, and there’s no sense crying on Closing Day, at least until the game ends.

6-4 Braves. Chris Mazza induced a double play to stop the bleeding, but the damage was done. Three outs to play with, three outs to salvage not quite a season, but at least a good feeling. Three outs between me and the inescapable, eternal feeling that maybe, if Mickey had stuck with J.D. Davis for another turn through the lineup, everything would have turned out fine. Guillorme, Nido, Haggerty. Go get ’em, boys!

Luis Guillorme is an interesting player. On a far less fortunate Mets club, he might just be my favorite: he plays hard, defends beautifully, and is competent but refreshingly imperfect, or imperfect but refreshingly competent. Now that he’s proven that he’s a not-bad hitter at the big-league level (.246/.324/.361, and he passes the eye test), Guillorme might be a piece of the Mets’ future, especially if Jed Lowrie’s season is any indication of his future capabilities. Guillorme took a tough at-bat, in any case, and singled to left. Nido came up, and I wondered whether Mickey had forgotten to pich-hit Ramos for him. After Nido struck out, sure enough, Ramos pinch-hit for Haggerty and singled, and I wondered whether Mickey had forgotten to pinch-run for him. Rene Rivera pinch-hit for Mazza and struck out, and only then did Mickey pinch-run Juan Lagares for Ramos, leading me to believe that for one batter, he probably had forgotten about pinch-running. Ah, well. These things happen.

In the tenth, after Hamilton’s single, Mickey had made his final applause move of the night: he called on Dom Smith, out of action since July, to replace Alonso. Pete got some of the loudest applause of the night as he took his exit, and Dom, a fan favorite for his exhuberance and hard work, was well-received too. But now he was batting in Pete’s spot — coming up with two men on and two outs in extra innings, representing both the last out of the season and the winning run.

Brian Snitker came out to bring in a lefty. Dom stood in the box, his familiar crouched stance a welcome sight, if not the first thing you’d like to see in that situation. I knew how improbable it was, but I couldn’t help thinking…“those right-field stands are calling your name, Dom, just a little poke right there…be a hero, send us all home happy.”

And unbelievably, almost cinematically, he did.

A line drive, deep to right, towards the fence…outfielders backing up, giving chase, reaching the track…and then, the ball falling out of sight, the stadium exploding into a roar of incredulous satisfaction, Dom rounding the bases, flinging his helmet in the air, landing on home plate as the Mets danced and celebrated around him…and then, all of a sudden, baseball season was over.

Everyone celebrated for a while, and as the park emptied out, the mood became more and more reflective. The players handed their jerseys to season-ticket holders assembled by the Mets’ dugout. They milled around shaking hands and slapping backs. Then, one by one, they made their way into the dugout and up the tunnel to the clubhouse, and thus, the 2019 Mets were written into history, and that was the last we saw of them.

A photo montage started up on the scoreboard, and “The Scientist” came over the P.A. system. I stood at the back of my empty section and watched as slowly, the 2019 Mets, my favorite Mets team yet, disappeared for the last time, as their best moments flashed by on the scoreboard. The end credits to the greatest movie I’d ever seen. The backup first baseman hits the walk-off homer to end the season three games out of a playoff spot. Never a Hollywood story, but a Mets story, told to perfection.

Nobody said it was easy

It’s such a shame for us to part

Nobody said it was easy

No one ever said it would be this hard

Oh take me back to the start…

I waited for the song to end. Then, dark sky beyond the outfield stands, fall breeze getting colder still, I took one last long look down at the field. And I left Citi Field, and the 2019 Mets, for the last time.

***

Out in the parking lot, the long walk to the subway, the last one for a long time. So long until we’ll be back again.

I stopped on the subway steps and walked down again, taking one last look up at the stadium. Brightly lit up against the Queens night, overhead lights still shining…if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was any other game. I knew, of course, that it wasn’t any other game, and in fact, for the longest time, there wouldn’t be any other game.

But I’ll be back, and the offseason, as it always does, will end. There’s the coat drive and the food drive and a few other miscellaneous events that serve as enough of an excuse that they justify getting back to Citi Field for an afternoon and seeing those beautiful bricks again, even if they’re not quite the same without the sun shining and a ballgame on the schedule.

I’ve spent my entire conscious life as a Mets fan, and leaving baseball behind every September has never gotten easier. And with a team I loved as much as the 2019 Mets, this one may have been the most difficult of all. These Mets will never be back, even if the most important pieces return. Something will be different. Something is already different. Life without the 2019 Mets is colder, darker, less joyous and fun. Life with the 2020 Mets, we must hope, will be every bit as enjoyable as these past six months. 172 days from now, when baseball resumes in Queens, we’ll have that light and joy back again. Until then, all we can do is muddle through the cold, dark winter.

As I stood on the first step of the subway stairs, I realized that I’d forgotten something. Talk about symbolic overkill. Leaving Citi Field and the 2019 Mets for the last time, I’d left a hot dog and a souvenir lemonade in my seat for the winter.

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They Say There’s a Heaven

It’s well-known, according to Phil Regan, that when Jacob deGrom pitches a 7:10 game at home, he starts his warm-up tosses at exactly 6:45. So when I finished my hot dog and noticed that the stadium clock showed 6:44, I looked across the outfield grass and saw deGrom standing like a statue front of the Mets bullpen, staring at the clock just like I was. A few seconds later, the last four became a five, and when I looked from the clock to deGrom, he had already started throwing.

I was sitting behind home plate in the second deck, a premium seat that you can get for next to nothing on Wednesday nights when the Mets wildcard hopes have all but died. There were five games left in the regular season, and I was living in New York in September for the first time in five years, so it was obvious where I was going to be. I got the 7 express to Citi Field, loitered on the field level for a few minutes staring at the playing field and thinking about winter, then took my seat in the second deck with two hot dogs and a lemonade. Soon after I finished, and watched deGrom take his warm-ups, it was time for the ceremonial first pitch.

The Mets have fallen into a strange habit in recent years: the number of ceremonial first pitches has steadily increased, such that these days, it’s strange to see fewer than three. They try to get around this by labeling one pitch “honorary,” then the next “ceremonial,” and the third something like “very special,” but for an unfocused observer, it seems, not at all wrongly, that they’re simply throwing out one first pitch after another for no apparent reason.

A child came out, maybe 11 or 12, for the first first pitch, representing the police. He was there to honor an officer, Anthony Dwyer, who died 30 years ago when he was pushed off a roof during a struggle with a suspect. I’d seen an entire family wearing “Dwyer” jerseys in an elevator on the way to my seat. A few minutes later, the second first pitch: a man, probably 25 or 30, walked out to the mound. “Ladies and gentlemen,” said the P.A. announcer, “fulfilling his dream of throwing off a big-league mound, Bob Fleegle.” No one knew who “Bob Fleegle” was, and no one was telling. And finally, a few minutes after that, the third first pitch: a woman from the Boys and Girls club, who made her pitch to Wilson Ramos as deGrom waited on the mound behind her. Then, finally, it was time for the fourth first pitch, a 97 mile-per-hour deGrom fastball that John Berti, Met-killer of sudden renown, took for a ball.

Two women, between 40 and 60, were sitting in the row behind me. Their names were — really — Alisa and Alison — I don’t know who was who — and soon after the game started, one asked the other a question. It must have been a poignant one, because the conversation it sparked lasted, as far as I could tell, until about six minutes after the game ended. It was an adventurous one too. Sometimes they returned, briefly, to baseball: Brandon Nimmo would walk, or deGrom would throw a particularly impressive pitch, and they would offer their thoughts. But then they would diverge again.

They really discussed the world, did Alisa and Alison. Let’s pretend I knew who was who. They talked about the previous night’s game; Alisa’s aging cats; Jacob deGrom’s pitch count (“he’s thrown so many pitches! Just be done!”); the newest iPhone (“So I told her, ‘I have to have this! It’s so nice! It’s lovely!’”); Alisa’s husband being nice enough to pick her up at 6:00 one morning; Mets broadcasters; Alison’s dogs (I would later learn, as far as I could tell, that she is a professional dog-walker); Alisa’s mother; Alisa’s mother’s childhood friend; an art opening down in SoHo, for either the mother or the mother’s friend; bad traffic on the Grand Central Parkway; the problems with Pete Alonso’s swing (“He’s trying to hit home runs, that’s what’s wrong with him!”); Facebook; a four-year-old diabetic dog that Alison is taking care of; social anxiety; what exactly the newest iPhone was called (“Tell her you want an 11, because it’s an 11”); social functions; two people named Jeff and Joanne; the ability to read faces and know whether people want to talk; a third person named Ron; the state of contemporary radio; and an article in the New York Times about books being made into movies. As they were discussing this last one, the first inning ended.

Meanwhile, by the end of the second, the Mets had scored seven runs. Brandon Nimmo led off the game with a walk, as he’s done refreshingly often since returning from the IL. Jeff McNeil shot a line drive into the right field corner, and Nimmo scored. After Pete Alonso struck out — too busy trying to hit home runs, Alison or Alisa said — Michael Conforto roped a double to right as well, and McNeil scored. Lewis Brinson bounced the throw in from right and Conforto went to third, and already, it seemed, the Marlins were unraveling. Wilson Ramos drove home Conforto with a sac fly.

It was a productive first inning on any day. For a Jacob deGrom start — in which, despite deGrom’s ERA near 2.00, the Mets are 28-36 since 2018 — it felt unprecedented.

***

The top of the second ended when Amed Rosario dove to his left and flipped to Robinson Cano covering second, who caught it with his bare hand and fired to first for the spectacular double play. In the bottom of the second, two amazing things happened.

The first came with one out. Todd Frazier was on first, and deGrom was batting. He took the first pitch for a ball, showing bunt. As Miami’s pitcher Robert Dugger delivered the second pitch, Frazier took off for second. deGrom swung — and mashed the ball right up the middle. It was a hit-and-run pulled executed perfectly, the kind of play old bearded men complain that you never see anymore. Briefly, it was perfection embodied, a play that reminds you of days when baseball was young and ballparks were made of wood. Leaving aside the leaps — or suspensions — of faith required to hit-and-run with the pitcher batting, maybe Mets manager Mickey Callaway was redeeming himself, or at the very least, giving an audition. Callaway’s job may well be in jeopardy; whether he remains is anybody’s guess, and frankly, seems almost inconsequential to the Mets’ fortunes in 2020. But a hit-and-run like that, if it works, is the kind of play that makes managers friends.

Brandon Nimmo was up next.

“Come on, Mr. Nimmtastic!” shouted Alison or Alisa, with no prompting. Brandon Nimmo, for context, does not have a well-established nickname, and if he did, it certainly wouldn’t be “Mr. Nimmtastic.” Nimmo walked for the second time in two innings, and McNeil drove Frazier home with a sac fly. Up strode Alonso, 50 home runs on the year, two off Aaron Judge’s MLB rookie record. One pitch and 437 feet later, the number was down to one. A three run homer, Alonso’s 51st of the year, and a 7-0 Mets lead.

If there is one thing you can say about this Mets team, it is that regardless of their talent level, they play the game right. For instance: Jacob deGrom tagged from second and went to third on McNeil’s sac fly. There’s no need to tag from second with two outs on a sac fly; in fact, tactically speaking, it’s probably a bad move, carrying more risk than reward. But deGrom did it, apparently out of a simple love of hustle. Alonso, of course, rendered the gesture useless one pitch later, as if to put deGrom in his place for hustling when, as a pitcher, his only role on the base path is to rest. No one will beat out Mr. Nimmtastic for hustle, of course, with his sprints to first base whether he’s walked, grounded to the pitcher, or hit a home run. But the entire team works hard — unless they’re 36-year-old second basemen making $20 million, too fragile to dive or run fast — and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Alisa and Alison’s conversation slowed down after the second, although it didn’t stop completely. Dugger was exhausted and ineffective; in the third, Don Mattingly replaced him with Wei Yin-Chen.

“Whooooaaaaaaa!” said Alison, as if she’d just won the lottery. “Wei Yin-Chen!”

The Mets scored two more runs on RBI doubles by Rosario and Nimmo. “He’s Nimmtastic,” said Alisa to the world. “That’s what I call him.”

It occurred to me, as the middle innings passed, that I hadn’t actually turned backwards and observed what Alison and Alisa looked like. They were characters in my mind, living embodiments of something, but I wasn’t sure what. Looking back at them and seeing them in the flesh, as nothing more than real, ordinary people, might be a disappointment, not unlike learning that Yoenis Cespedes is actually only five foot ten, or that Christie Brinkley has a bad personality.

***

“Some people are ept, and some people are inept,” said Alison. I didn’t know who or what she was talking about. It was the top of the fifth. “And the people who are inept…” She trailed off. deGrom struck out Isan Diaz.

Lewis Brinson, up next, was certainly inept. Brinson’s OPS+ this season is 30, meaning that roughly speaking, he’s been about 70% less effective on offense than a league average hitter. Perhaps more impressively, his WAR, as measured by Baseball Reference, is -1.9. Brinson has appeared in 70 games and taken more than 200 at-bats despite a .477 OPS, which says things, none of them good, about the Marlins, their lineup, their Front Office, their finances, whoever decided to trade Christian Yelich, and, probably most satisfyingly, Derek Jeter. Brinson struck out.

In games like this one, where the Mets dominate in the early innings, there always comes a point where everything stops, and the offense seems to decide that it’s done enough for one day. After the Mets went down without scoring in the fourth and fifth, I suspected that that point had come. But it wouldn’t be a problem. deGrom was cruising. Scoreless through five, then six…the only highlight of the sixth was when Curtis Granderson batted. Granderson played for the Mets for three and a half seasons, and it was exceedingly obvious that he was always the nicest guy on the field. He signed autographs down the first base line before every home game, said during his introductory press conference that “true New Yorkers are Mets fans,” and seemed to always throw himself into several philanthropic projects at once.

When Granderson came up as a pinch-hitter, the entire crowd applauded. He grounded out to first, and the crowd applauded some more; now, much of the field level was standing. Grandy waved halfheartedly, appreciative of the applause, no doubt, but perhaps wishing that he was waving after a home run and not a groundout.

deGrom got through top of the sixth, and in the bottom, with one out, McNeil batted against Josh Smith. With the count 3-1, McNeil took what he thought was ball four and started towards first. Home Plate umpire Jeremie Rehak thought differently, and called McNeil back.

Thus, it seems fair to say that what happened on the next pitch was more or less the umpire’s fault. Smith threw an inside pitch that didn’t break, and it caught McNeil on the hand as he leapt back. McNeil stumbled up the first base line, shaking his hand angrily, then crouched over in pain. Out came Mickey Callaway. When McNeil stood up after a minute, he walked down to first, as if just to show that he could, and then trudged slowly off the field. Juan Lagares replaced him on base.

Injuries are unfortunate, of course, but it seems that the Mets are making something of a tradition out of late-season injuries to key pieces, which, if you’re going to have an injury to a key piece, is the best time to have one. Last season it was Nimmo’s pulled hamstring on the second-to-last day of the season, and now McNeil, after playing about a full season’s worth of games, will have six months to recover. We don’t know exactly when he’ll be back, but he’s got a postseason and then an offseason to rest.

McNeil, according to the latest medical updates, has a Distal Ulnar Fracture. When Alison and Alisa heard the news, they took it about as well as I expected.

“I’m sad about Jeff,” Alison said. Then, out of nowhere, she gave a cry that can’t possibly be spelled, an operatic wail of sadness and loss. Then, even further out of nowhere, she calmly continued, “it’s okay, I’ll see him in the park with the dog.” I just sat there, low in my seat, mystified by the characters in the surreal drama I was watching.

***

deGrom got through the seventh inning, shutout still intact, with 95 pitches. In his last start of the season with a very successful line already in the books, he was almost certainly done. But Alison and Alisa had other ideas.

Alisa read a text out loud. “He says, ‘let him go out, throw his pitches, then pull him,’” she said. “So everyone can cheer for him one more time.” She paused for several seconds. Then she said, “I’m okay with that.”

After Joe Panik led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk, with deGrom’s spot two batters away, Todd Frazier batted.

“He’s a nice guy,” Alison said. “He wants to coach! In his hometown! He wants to coach high school baseball!”

“He should!” Alisa shouted back. “He should do that!”

Frazier flied out, and as Rosario stepped into the batter’s box, Rajai Davis came out on deck to pinch-hit. Mickey Callaway, it turned out, hadn’t listened to Alison and Alisa’s indirect advice. As Rosario batted, a man in the front row of the section turned to me.

“Excuse me,” he said. He was balding, and wearing blue jeans and a blue windbreaker, and thick black leather work shoes. “Are the Mets in the running for a wildcard spot? Do they have any shot?”

I looked at the scoreboard. “Not if the Brewers win,” I said. “And they’re winning 9-2 in the eighth.”

“So they’ve got no shot?”

“Doesn’t look like it, no.”

It was true. After a long, up-and-down season that Gary Cohen later described as “from ‘come and get us’ to ‘they came and got us,’ to the Summer of Love, to the Autumn of Discontent,” the Mets were on the verge of official elimination from playoff contention. Their fate had been clear for some time — give or take, since they blew a six-run lead in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals, which was the first time in club history that the Mets had ever blown a six-run lead in the ninth inning — but it was about to become official.

I wasn’t too bummed about it, to be honest. Ten days before, when I’d sat in the stands and watched a 2-1 lead against the Dodgers become a 3-2 loss and end whatever vaguely realistic hopes we had, I’d been crushed, distraught. But now I was absorbed in the beauty and joy of the game. Sure the Mets weren’t going to make the playoffs. Besides a brief, entrancing stretch in July and August, I’d never thought that they were. But the 2019 Mets were a fun team, one that was easy to love and easier to get excited about. We weren’t going to make the playoffs — we could worry about that later. There was a game right in front of us. Our biggest stars were securing their cases for Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. We were hitting and pitching and fielding. Life was good.

Rosario blasted a line drive towards right, but Harold Ramirez caught it. Up came Rajai Davis, and as the crowd received official confirmation that deGrom was done, I heard scattered boos.

“Don’t worry,” Alison reassured Alisa. “He’s not offended. He knows nobody’s really booing him.” Six pitches later, Davis smacked an RBI single up the middle. It was 10-0.

***

It was the top of the eighth.

“Now pitching for the Mets, number 49, Tyler Bashlor,” said the P.A. announcer.

“Oy vey,” I said.

Over the last year or two, I think I’ve more or less figured out what it’s like to watch Tyler Bashlor pitch for your team. Watching Tyler Bashlor pitch is roughly the same as driving around New York until you find a biker gang, selecting the most intimidatingly handsome member, and telling him that he’s a professional baseball player now. Bashlor has tattoos and a prominent chin that is handsome in a violent, cruel way. He lights up the radar gun, and occasionally blows hitters away; in fact, I’ve long been intrigued by his potential. But like a biker pulled off the street and onto a mound, his pitching lacks subtlety and tact. He’s the last person you’d ever want to fight, but one of the first you’d like to bat against. His E.R.A. as he entered the game was 7.65.

He struck out Isan Díaz on a 97 mile-per-hour fastball. He walked Austin Dean, a .222 hitter, on four pitches. He struck out Brinson with a fastball at 96. Martin Prado pinch-hit, and Bashlor’s first pitch was a fastball that split the plate — but fortunately, Prado lined to right.

Alison was looking at her phone. “He’s talking about Mets pitching,” she said to Alisa. “He says, ‘Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom.’ That’s it.”

“I’m not sure I agree,” Alisa said.

“Oh! It’s Mount Rushmore!” said Alison. “He’s talking about Mets pitching Mount Rushmore!” She turned backwards, to the rest of the section, and shouted, “It’s Mount Rushmore! He’s talking about Mount Rushmore!”

The Marlins brought in Hector Noesi to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Noesi is one of those players who seems to have been around for 20 years; while it’s impossible, because he’s only 32, I am sure I have distinct memories of Noesi pitching against the Mets throughout the first decade of the 21st century. You encounter players like that, every so often: Rex Brothers is one, and so is Josh Collmenter, both of whom seem embedded into my Mets consciousness circa 2004, but did not pitch in the major leagues until 2011. As Noesi worked the eighth, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that the Brewers had beaten the Reds, and clinched the last playoff spot in the National League.

With two outs in the eighth, and Alonso on first, Mickey inserted Sam Haggerty as a pinch-hitter. Haggerty is getting his first major-league experience this month, and has been used as a pinch-runner several times, but does not yet have a hit to show for it. I saw his first at-bat, a late-inning appearance on September 11th when all sorts of emotions were running through the crowd, but he could not manage a hit. Now I was seeing his second as well.

The crowd was thinning out alarmingly quickly. As soon as Alonso had walked, and lost his last chance of the day to hit home run number 52 and tie the rookie record, it seemed that half the stadium stood up and left. But somehow, as Haggerty strode up to the plate, the crowd started chanting.

Haggerty! Haggerty! Haggerty!

Ball one, then strike one…Haggerty! Haggerty! A foul ball, and then a swing and a miss to complete the strikeout…but the crowd kept applauding. One of these days, I am very much hoping, I will see Haggerty’s first hit. Until then, and one would presume after that as well, New York will love him regardless.

Drew Gagnon, E.R.A. above 8.00, came in to pitch the top of the ninth with a ten run lead. He lost the shutout on a Neil Walker RBI single and a monstrous Jorge Alfaro two-run homer, but by now there were two outs, and the situation seemed, if not ideal for the Mets bullpen, at least contained.

After Alfaro’s home run, Gagnon struck out Isan Diaz, and the Mets won. They were 83-75, and were already guaranteed a winning record. With the win, they clinched at least a tie for third place. deGrom finished the season with an 11-8 record, a 2.43 E.R.A., and a favorite’s chance at a second consecutive Cy Young Award. It’s no championship, but it’s third place with a winning record. It’s not the worst place to be, especially with a team that you’d love even with 100 losses.

As Diaz was batting, though, Alison and Alisa looked at the scoreboard and realized that the Mets had been eliminated from playoff contention.

“It was fun while it lasted,” Alisa said. “I’m still coming to the games.”

“It was,” said Alison. “And you know what? Up until there’s four games left in the season, we’re still in it. I mean, given where we were before the All-Star Break, how much money would you have put on that? It’s a miracle…

***

On the way out of the stadium, I saw a Marlins fan in a Jose Fernandez jersey. It was three years, to the day, since Fernandez’s death.

The first game I ever attended on my own — with a friend, but I navigated on the Subway from The Bronx to Queens; the game that made me realize I could make Mets fandom work all on my own if I had to — Jose Fernandez was making his major league debut. He was impressive but not dominant, and the Mets won on a Marlon Byrd walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. I sat in the field level with my friend, on the first-base side.

I’d been thinking about it all night, but the jersey drove it home. I looked at the red wooden exterior of the Willets Point subway station, weathered and faded so that it would have looked right at home in a 1950s post card. I turned and looked back towards the stadium, shining in the dark, a beautifully created replica of a building that stood in Brooklyn from 1912 to 1957. Timeless. The hit-and-run, the gutsy strikeout, the diving flip to start a double play…the details change, of course, but baseball has been the way that it is about as long as there’s been baseball, since the fans wore hats and rode streetcars to the games and the stadiums creaked and groaned and held memories and ghosts of seasons past.

This is all to say, of course, that there’s always next year. One of these years, we’ll actually make the playoffs, and we’ll have more than silver lining to celebrate. But there is always next season at Citi Field, a beautiful team playing a beautiful game, the game we’ve watched for so long that the years eventually cease to matter. All that matters, it turns out, is that baseball always comes back. The seasons turn and the weather gets warm again, and if there’s one thing to celebrate, it’s that baseball is permanent, and playoff elimination is only temporary.

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We’ll Remember Sam Haggerty

You probably know that MLB doesn’t let the Mets wear first responder hats on September 11th each year, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I’m an American and a New Yorker, after all, and a fan of the team that did once wear those hats in play, even if once wasn’t nearly enough. So I bought an FDNY hat, dark blue with red lettering, from the Citi Field promenade store, then took the stairs down to my seat just as the pregame ceremony was starting.

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters in uniform were lining the warning track, and just as I got down to my level, the music started. A video, then a moment of silence; the camera panning past one uniform after another, then the national anthem, performed by the Cops & Kids Chorus. Then I blinked a few times and bought a pretzel and made my way back to my seat, and it was time to play baseball.

September 11th, 2001, was my first day of pre-k, but besides the sense that all the adults seemed distracted, I don’t remember anything. My friend heard that there was an emergency, and set up all the model ambulances and fire trucks around a block tower he’d built. It wasn’t until a long while later that I heard about what had happened, at least as far as I can remember. I certainly didn’t remember what happened ten days later, on September 21st, when baseball came back to Shea Stadium. Two and a half years after that, give or take, a new baseball season started and I was finally old enough to focus full-time on the Mets, and I started remembering game results. But that hadn’t happened yet.

For me, it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t have some sort of association with the Mets. But I think most of New York has at least some idea of how much the Mets figured into the days after 9/11. Supplies in the Shea parking lot, players and coaches loading trucks…and then, of course, the Mets returning, Liza Minelli singing, Mike Piazza homering, and everything being okay, if only for a second.

I’d never been to a September 11thgame before, so I don’t have any reference point, but this one was exquisitely done. The pregame ceremony left me grinning and blinking, remembering all that we’d been through and proud of what we’d done. It was the perfect place to be. Baseball in early September, stands full of police officers and firefighters, flag flying over the outfield, a large, cold glass of lemonade. It doesn’t get any more American, in the best way possible, than that. And what’s more, I was sure we were going to win. It was a New York event. It was ours for the taking. Mets baseball in New York on September 11th is little more than a celebration of how much our city overcame, and how far we’ve come since. We weren’t going to lose.

I was even more sure one batter in. Amed led off, and he smacked a ball down the left field line faster than anyone could see. Immediately, I thought of Jose Reyes’ leadoff double in the last game of David Wright’s career. There are moments when when baseball comes to life, when the story takes off on its own and you know it can’t possibly be derailed. That was one of them, and this was another. We weren’t going to lose.

With one out, McNeil was hit by a pitch. Then he and Amed executed the most fundamentally beautiful double-steal I’d ever seen. Now the entire crowd could feel it. This was one of those games. Things were going our way. Ramos hit a grounder to second that would have been an inning-ending double play but for the double steal; instead, it brought in a run. J.D. Davis singled; McNeil scored. Frazier drove a ball over that damned Wall of Flushing. After a mound visit, Nimmo, too, put the first pitch he saw into the bullpen.

Even when things got dicey, the outcome was never really in doubt. Steven Matz walked the first three hitters, he saw in the second, then induced a strikeout and a double play. Of course, I thought to myself. McNeil hit a ball 440 feet into the Coca Cola corner. Obviously. In the third, Frazier hit another one. Why not?

You know how we’re almost always waiting for that one day when things just go right? We’ll be down 5-2 in the eighth, say, and we’ll put two men on, and you’ll think to yourself, all we need is three hits in a row to tie this game right up…but you know those three hits aren’t coming, because it’s just not our day? Today, finally, was our day. We recovered from 9/11, which meant the Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t going to present much of a challenge. Hell, the stands were full of police, and even the Diamondbacks know that the New York City Police and Fire Departments, on September 11th, deserve to see a win.

Diamondback liners found gloves. Ground balls came just when we needed them. Each time he seemed lost, Matz found himself — and then Familia, Sewald, and Bashlor did too. Two home runs each from Frazier and McNeil, two hits each for Nimmo and J.D. Davis, six shutout innings with seven strikeouts for Matz. To the bottom of the eighth, still 9-0. Game in the bag, uncertain as the Mets bullpen may often be. But then something interesting happened.

Mickey Callaway was subbing out his regulars for defensive replacements, and Sewald needed a pinch-hitter. Up came Sam Haggerty. 25 years old, just up from Syracuse, somewhat familiar to Mets fans for the video of his call-up even if, in general, he’s a complete unknown. He had already pinch-run, but now he was coming up for his first career at-bat. And in the stands, fans were standing and cheering.

I said that it didn’t get any more American, in the best way possible, than a ballgame with the flag flying. I was wrong. This made it perfect. Cheering for the perfect coming-of-age story, the American Dream’s American Dream…as Sam Haggerty stepped up to the plate to finally achieve the goal he’s been working towards all his life, I don’t know that I’ve ever rooted harder. Sam Haggerty had to get a hit. He had to make the night perfect.

He didn’t. He took two balls, fouled off two tough pitches, then swung through strike three. No perfection for Sam Haggerty — at least, not yet. But then Sam Haggerty walked back to a major league dugout and a major league manager slapped him conciliatorily, a major league batting line now to his name. The chance to watch the moment a player finally takes the ultimate step, and takes a major league at-bat…it’s a special occasion, regardless of the outcome.

Soon after Haggerty struck out, Tyler Bashlor inched his way around some erratic fastballs and closed the deal. We won 9-0, and moved within 2.5 games of the second wildcard. Jeff McNeil and Todd Frazier had 20 home runs each on the season. J.D. Davis was batting .305. Steven Matz got his 10th win.

I just missed my subway train at the platform in Times Square, and stood waiting for the next one. It could have been any day and any game, besides my FDNY cap and the pride that was running through me. Proud American, proud New Yorker, proud Mets fan. We Americans…for all our faults, sometimes we can do beautiful things, and on nights like tonight, baseball is a great example. Dreams come true, stories play out, cities find solace — all on a baseball field. Sure, it will end eventually, but the things that matter will stick with us. All games end and all seasons fall apart, but the memories…well, you might say we’ll never forget.

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The Lonely and the Strong

Welcome to Mets fandom.

It’s tempting to say that we just saw the Mets at their absolute lowest. But I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s always another step down, a further descent into hell. Yes, the Mets season is almost certainly — ah, to hell with it, certainly — over. But seasons have ended before. We’ve seen worse, unless we haven’t, in which case we will eventually. There’s only one rule when you follow the Mets, and that is that things can always get worse. See exhibit A: Paul Sewald. But I digress.

The crucial fact that we all should have understood long before tonight is that the 2019 Mets are Mets. Like all Mets teams, they’re cursed to fall prey to something or other. They’re good, but not good enough to defy the inexplicable weight that drags us down every year. This was always going to happen. We’re the Mets. Honestly, I’m surprised I’m surprised.

Sure, they gave us hints every now and again that maybe something was really happening here. Winning fifteen out of sixteen on things like Luis Guillorme pinch-hit home runs will do that. But there were always signs that we would fall back to earth. We lost every game that we seemed absolutely certain to lose, which in Mets parlance means that good as we may have been, we weren’t good enough.

You’re not telling me you didn’t have some doubt. When Mickey pulled Lugo, I doubted. When Sewald entered, and looked like Sewald, I doubted. When Sewald was followed by Avilan, and Avilan was followed by the 2019 version of Edwin Díaz, I doubted. And when Díaz did what Díaz does, I was absolutely certain. When there’s that much doubt, there’s really no doubt at all.

The fact that our hopes and dreams were just crushed by Kurt Suzuki is a damn shame — there’s no getting around it. But none of us, I don’t think, ever expected to get around it. We’re Mets fans. This is what we do. Yes, this one hurts. But at this point, who wasn’t ready for it?

This is what being a Mets fan is like, and if you weren’t ready for this, you will be soon enough. Our manager will make bad decisions. Our biggest acquisitions will founder and fail. Playoff pushes will come up short, or they’ll succeed and then end prematurely. Brandon Nimmo will pull his hamstring then ruin his back. Jeurys Familia will lose whatever he once had.

That’s Mets fandom. No one knows why, exactly — meddling owners? Cruel Gods? Lack of investment in player development? A Nolan Ryan jersey buried under the 7 train? But regardless, it happens, and it’s not going to stop. And it’s why Mets fandom is such a noble endeavor.

We’re the ones who go through this, and the whole world knows it. We don’t call ourselves the best fans in baseball the way Cardinals’ fans do — I live by the principle that one should always do the opposite of what a Cardinals’ fan would do — but it’s starting to seem that way. The rest of the country couldn’t survive what we’ve been through. We Mets fans — those who are left of us — are the superbacteria of American baseball fandom. Everyone else laughs at us. Because they know we’re stronger.

On Friday night, I’ll be back at Citi Field. I’ll wear a Mets jersey and a Mets cap, and I’ll cheer for our boys as if nothing was ever wrong. I’ll watch this great American game and root for this wonderful damnable team and get myself a hot dog and a beer. If I’ve ever been sure of anything, I’m sure that Edwin Díaz won’t ruin the Mets for me. We Mets fans, after all, are way too strong for that.

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Panik, Pete, and Well-Timed Hitting

I can’t be alone in thinking that the double Pete Alonso hit in the seventh inning against the Royals today actually went over the fence. I didn’t see the play live, but I saw the replay soon after, and it left me distinctly unsatisfied. The ball falls toward the right field corner, disappears…then, eventually, reappears back onto the field. On the replay that I saw, at least, where it went while no one could see it is anyone’s guess. But Pete was stuck at second, close to going all the way but not quite there.

You have to hope it’s not a symbol of things to come. The Mets, former winners of 15 out of 16, have slowed down a tad: we’re three and four since those magical 16 games, and have fallen out of a wild card spot, albeit not too far. A deep fly ball, arcing towards the seats…the worst case scenario, right now, is that we bounce off the top of the wall and land back on the field, an extra base hit but not a home run, a good team but not quite a contender.

Like Pete’s dubious double, the question is where we land. The answer, of course, is uncertain. What’s clear is that for the Mets to finish the job and make the playoffs, things will have to go more or less as they went today (except, of course, we’ll thank Gary Apple for his service and welcome Gary Cohen back to the booth). Wilson Ramos will have to hit, as will Amed Rosario. J.D. Davis will need to continue raking. Juan Lagares will need to continue his rebirth; Todd Frazier will need to remember that he once knew how to hit; Tomas Nido will need to show more of that minor-league-batting-title-winning form. Joe Panik, meanwhile, can just keep doing his thing.

Pete was the hero today, but Panik might have been more impressive. Three times, innings looked sour — and three times, he turned them around. First inning: Amed singles leading off, then gets caught stealing. On a bad team, that’s that. Momentum disappears, the next two hitters meekly concede. Joe Panik disagrees. Joe Panik seizes that vanishing momentum and turns it into a triple, and a bad start to an inning becomes an intriguing middle, and suddenly, two batters later, Michael Conforto hit a ball that, from what I saw, must have landed in Kansas.

Sixth inning: Panik comes up with one out and singles again. If Panik makes an out, Pete bats with two outs and nobody on. But now there’s a rally in motion, and Pete singles too. It ultimately comes to nothing, but that’s twice already that Joe Panik has turned what look like quiet innings into exciting ones.

Seventh inning: Panik bats with one out, Mets leading 6-4, Amed on first. Pete is on deck, and the Royals can pitch around him if Panik makes an out. So he doesn’t. Another single, another rally sustained, and sure enough, the next three batters all drive in runs.

His numbers aren’t flashy, but how in the world did the Giants let Joe Panik go? He’s 28 years old, and has shown major offensive talent as recently as two years ago (not to mention today). Joe Panik, it seems easy to say, is a major league second baseman. Panik isn’t Brad Emaus…or Vinny Rotino…or Andrew Brown…or Wilfredo Tovar…no, he’s a genuine Major League player, flaws included like everyone else, but a ballplayer all the same.

If Joe Panik can put together a month and a half of competent offense, as he seems abundantly capable of doing, the wildcard race is ours for the taking. Joe Panik hits in front of Pete Alonso, and if Pete has runners on base in front of him, the National League will tremble. Joe Panik, only weeks ago a castaway searching for a home, is perfectly positioned to light a fire under the entire Mets’ offense, just as he did today. A fire that, kindled just right, could burn all the way to the postseason.

Of course, a few hot weeks from Joe Panik don’t guarantee anything. This is only one game, even if it’s an impressive one. Baseball is never that simple. Joe Panik can’t carry a team himself: other heroes will need to step up, and we fans will just have to wait and see whether they ever do. And so, like Pete’s seventh-inning double (home run?), the Mets’ eventual fate remains an open question.

Pete, it seems, doesn’t like that. Leading off the ninth, he sent a Jacob Barnes fastball deep into the stands. It was a home run off the bat: this time, there was never a doubt. Can the same be said of the 2019 Mets? Joe Panik would like a word.

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