Ain’t That A Dropkick In The Head

Oh no, the Mets didn’t get Ben Zobrist!

Oh no, the Mets didn’t commit to giving a 35 year old player 13 million dollars a year until he was 39!

In other words, good move, Mets!

With today’s news that Ben “The Inexplicable WAR Anomaly” Zobrist has agreed to a deal with the Cubs (last night, apparently, although the Mets somehow awoke today ‘very optimistic’ that they would get him, and please don’t ask me how because I just don’t know), speculation turned immediately to Daniel Murphy. What will he get? Who knows? Where will he go? Not Queens, if the Mets front office has anything to say about it, and the scary thing is that they almost certainly do.

Zobrist is older than Murph, but better on defense. Zobrist hit 13 home runs last year to Murph’s 14, and stole three bases to Murph’s two, so there’s not much there, but Murphy is also coming off a playoff stretch that I’m sure we all remember. Murph is just entering his prime; Zobrist is leaving his. Murph can steal bases just like Zobrist used to: two years ago, he stole 23. Forced to guess, I’d say Murph gets a deal similar to what Zobrist got, or maybe slightly less.

I really don’t know why the Mets don’t want to pay him. I simply cannot figure it out. Realistically speaking, it can’t be a defensive concern: Murph has steadily improved his defense every year. This year, despite the error that everyone will remember, he was about average. And it can’t be an offensive thing either, because by all measures available, Murph is one of the top offensive second baseman available. Murphy’s career OPS is 755. Asdrubal Cabrera, touted as a possible replacement, has .740. Wilmer Flores has .687. Ruben Tejada has .653. Murph is the guy – if you want offense, and boy oh boy the Mets want offense, you needn’t look further than Daniel Murphy.

But the reasons we need him – because we do need him, we absolutely do – go beyond that. Daniel Murphy, while maintaining his quiet, steady offensive presence, has become an all-time Met. He’s 2nd all-time in doubles. Eighth in batting average. Among all-time Mets second basemen, Murph’s OPS is second only to Jeff Kent. And it goes even further: Murph is – or perhaps was – the last Met to play at Shea Stadium, besides the captain. Murph is the last Met, again besides the captain, who remembers what it was like to play for a team – the Mets of 2006-2008 – that flirted with greatness not as a sudden phantasm, but as a recurring expectation. Murph can handle New York. Murph can hit in the postseason. Murph hits well at Citi Field. The list of intangibles, somewhat-tangibles, and overtly-tangibles goes on and on, and if anything exists that says that he’s not worth $10 million, or even $13 million a year, I can’t find it.

Unfortunately, it seems all but certain that Murph is headed out the door. The Mets have done all but shout publicly that they’re not going to bring him back – well, actually, they’ve done that too. They’ve said publicly that, after losing out on Zobrist, “There is no backup plan.” I hope everyone’s ready for Tejada at short and Dilson Herrera splitting time with Wilmer at second, because that’s what it’s looking like. Murph, you were a helluva player and a helluva teammate off the field (next year, when they ask him how he hit 30 home runs and batted .320, he’ll say that he couldn’t have done it without the team around him, and then list each guy individually). And watching as your time as a Met ends, it’s even worse knowing that by all logical and reasonable thought, it shouldn’t be.

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‘Dem Amazin’ Bums

It’s tough to know exactly how to feel about this, because I’m a Mets fan through and through, but we all get nostalgic sometimes (pretty much constantly, in my case), and today – honestly, for all intents and purposes, daily – I got to thinking about the Dodgers.

Yes, I know the Dodgers have not played a home game in New York since 1957. No, that does not change the fact that somehow, I feel like the Brooklyn Dodgers are my team.

Perhaps this is because the Mets have done such a job at replacing them. The two outer-boroughs teams, both overshadowed by the evil empire of the Bronx, two teams of the working public, teams that belonged to the people, in all but the most literal sense.

The Dodgers constantly battled the Yankees for that elusive World Series title before finally winning one in 1955. The Mets don’t really have a comparable story, for one because divisional play means you don’t see the same two teams in the World Series every year, and for another because we don’t really have one rival, but will assign the role to whichever NL East team is better than we are. But still, the Mets give off that same sense that the Dodgers seemed to: always working their hardest, not often succeeding but always giving everything they had.

Terrible owners; long stretches without championships; players who fans connected with on almost friendly levels (it seems like every 70 year old guy from Brooklyn has a story about the time he met Clem Labine at the deli)…the Mets are today’s version of Dem Bums, and as much as the negative aspects can wear down on us die-hards, I hardly think I would find it preferable to be a fan of New York (AL), who seem to treat fun and championships as a zero-sum game. Sure, they win – but will they ever have Thor? Will they ever have Justin Turner in his heyday? Will they ever have any of the old Dodgers who made Brooklyn their home and played each game with just as much enthusiasm as the teenagers peeking through the Ebbets Field fence, trying to avoid the patrolmen who discouraged this behavior, if halfheartedly?

No, they won’t, because they’re a business. They’re not in it for the fun; they’re in it to win, and move on. Why don’t any of the Yankees even have nicknames these days? The Mets do – Thor and Batman and Superman and Murph and the Captain and Yo (gone, thankfully) and even Familia, whose last name sounds so much like a nickname already that I suppose it could count if you were being generous. Dodgers fans knew their players as friends; Pee Wee and Jackie and Gil and the Duke of Flatbush, “The Reading Rifle” Carl Furillo, Junior Jim Gilliam and, of course, Campy himself. Just consider it: Travis d’Arnaud, listening to the fans as he warms up, is subjected to shouts of “Hey, Trav!” Wilmer Flores hears, “WILMER!!!” You’re not going to tell me that Brian McCann hears “Hey, Bri!”, or that Stephen Drew hears “STEVE!!!” No, they hear “McCann” and “Drew,” because Yankee Stadium is, let’s face it, less like a ballpark and more like the executive office of a win production factory. Do they produce wins? Usually, sure. But is it really somewhere I want to go for thrills and fun?

So, the Dodgers. They left 58 years ago, and if they ever come back, it won’t be for about another 58, at least. Frankly, I’m not sure the Dodgers of old would fit in in the Brooklyn that they would come back to. Brooklyn in 1955 was populated by people who worked for what they needed: Brooklyn in 2015 is populated – and if this is a stereotype, it’s a very widespread one – by people who wear man-buns and eat artisanal kale by the truckload while watching socially conscious Buzzfeed videos. The deli owner down the street with the thick accent who had a framed picture of the time Dolph Camilli bought a sandwich from him…those people are gone, and it’s a shame for Brooklyn that they are.

If I had to reach a point, this would be it: the Mets are today’s Brooklyn Dodgers, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. “Wait ’till next year” was the sometimes ironic motto of Dodgers fans, and if we don’t live up to that, I don’t know who does. I’d love to see a title a year, and a group of superstars who didn’t care one bit about the game but did what they needed to do to win. But you know what I’d like even better? The team we have now – Wright and deGrom and Thor and Murph (man, I hope) and Matz and Harvey, who looked at his innings limit and said, a la Stewie Griffin, “Hey – shut up,” and Familia and Lagares and d’Arnaud and every damn one of them. That’s my team, and I get the feeling it’s also a team that Brooklyn Dodgers fans would be proud to support. And from my ball club – not from my accountant, my lawyer, or my physician, but from my ball club – a group like that, who plays hard and has fun while doing it, is all I need.

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2015: A Year To Remember

I had a different post planned tonight.

I promise you, I did. It was really nice. It was all about listening to the radio after I was supposed to be asleep as a nine year old, and the necessity of letting go and accepting the past, and moving along as times – and teams – change.

I’m writing this one instead.

This series – this whole goddamned series – was just too much – however you look at it – not to be sent off, by me, with a personal touch. I had several messages to deliver over the course of the series, and if not now then never, so I figure, why not.

To Terry Collins: I wish I hadn’t predicted that your bullpen management would cost us the postseason way back in August, but there’s a silver lining: my friend who disagreed with me was wrong, and I was right. Logan said to me, and here I quote directly, “Terry’s management style is just letting Harvey pitch a complete game.” Unfortunately prophetic.

To Kevin Long: I get that our offense improved this year, but do you have any drills to cure streakiness?

To Yoenis Cespedes: You were fun for a few weeks, but no longer. I shouted that you were a bum about twenty times during this series – roughly the same amount of times you struck out on fastballs up and in – and as a major league baseball player angling for a six figure contract, you’d think that you’d work to fix that, but hey, you do you. I hope you’re priced out of the Mets range, because no offense, but I’d like never to see you in Queens again, even as an opponent, because if you do come back as an opponent, I’ve watched the Mets enough to know how that turns out: you hit a three run homer in the top of the ninth, then rob a home run for your team in the bottom to end the game. So thanks, Yo, but you really ended up a bum.

To Michael Conforto, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, Juan Lagares, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, and Noah Syndergaard: you could not have done more. I’m so proud to have you guys on the team going forward, besides Colón, unfortunately, and I’m looking forward to greatness in the future. I’ve got a good feeling about this group: let’s make it work.

To Lucas Duda: I shouldn’t be the one pushing Kevin Long for the streakiness cure. That should be you. I understand that some hitters are streaky, but when you hit 20 home runs in eighteen days and seven the rest of the year, or whatever it was, you need help. Plus, you weren’t much help in the postseason, not to point fingers.

To Daniel Murphy: Murph, I want you back. It doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, but who knows: maybe those last few errors brought you back to our price range. If you leave, however, I’ll remember your Mets tenure fondly, and I sincerely apologize for the boos you’ll get when you come back to Citi Field. This is absolutely sincere, by the way: Daniel Murphy is one of my favorite Mets, and I think they’re crazy not to bring him back.

To Addison Reed: for some reason, watching your motion fills me with confidence, even if it’s not always founded on anything concrete. Maybe you’ll be back. I hope so, because we need bullpen help like Chris Christie needs SlimFast.

To Tyler Clippard: It’s unfortunate that you will go down in history as one of the most forgettable Mets of all time. Go pitch for the Astros or wherever, and if you’re ever pitching against us, don’t forget that you owe us more than a few games.

To Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe: honestly, you guys made this season for me, more than anything else. Bringing in two guys who were professional hitters – honestly, you’d do Danny Heep proud – made me believe, for the first time, that maybe we were on to something. One or both of you may be back, but thanks for the memories.

To Jeurys Familia: the Mets sincerely apologize for crediting you with two blown saves despite recording four infield ground balls. Keep it up, because good gracious we need you in the pen.

To Curtis Granderson: You’re the real MVP, or at least the real reassuringly solid player. Keep it up, please, because with someone like that at the top of the lineup, anything can happen.

To the MLB on FOX broadcast crew: Please never speak again. Staple your mouths shut if possible. I haven’t heard such idiotic blabbering nonsense since the last Republican Debate. Sincerely, literally the entire world, including Joe Buck’s wife.

To the media at large: let’s call this one like it was. The Royals played well. They were not greek gods of making contact; they did not hammer us with a barrage of line drives from which we shied away in terror; they did not run us down in a tornado of relentlessness. I’m sorry, but the Royals got lucky, and that’s all there is to it. Call it whatever you want: when you score the tying run on a soft ground ball two days in a row, being relentless doesn’t have anything to do with it.

To the people who were in my room until I kicked them out: I probably overreacted, but all the same, I still think it might have been your fault.

To the Yankees and their fans: I envy you, because you’ve been relaxing at home all this time, and I’ve been stressing out over my team playing in the World Series. Sucks to suck, and sucks to continue to suck because your team is not going to stop aging, if you know what I mean.

To Sandy Alderson: thanks, and all. Can we not have another six-season gap before our next winning season?

To the Wilpons: don’t think one good year means you can slack off.

Finally, to David Wright, Howie Rose, and Gary Cohen: you’re all in the same boat here – waiting longer than anyone else for a championship. We’ll get one some day – next year, if the Royals’ success is any indication – and I’ll be proud to call you my captain and broadcasters when that does happen.

For the final time, from Citi Field, your 2015 New York Mets.

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One Last Journey To Be Made

You could call yesterday’s win, among other things, a meeting of a great multitude of journeys.

Terry Collins, I suppose, should come first.  He’s been from Pittsburgh to Houston, Anaheim to Tampa Bay, on to Japan for two seasons, and then on to Queens.  We’ve griped occasionally – well, more than occasionally – when the goings have been tough, but thanks to Terry and his inexplicably aggressive and overwhelmingly successful postseason managing, we’re at the point that we are tonight.

Lucas Duda drove in five runs tonight – his journey, in the short run, has been from slump to slug faster than anyone can possibly keep track.  He hit his stride in game three, kept – I don’t know, striding? – in game four, and finished the day with five RBIs.  Terry has suggested that if Duda gets going, “we can be golden.”  That’s very true; or, in Terry’s parlance, that’s gravy.  Duda was bad all postseason, but he came through in game seven.  That’s what we’ll see on Mets Classics in twenty years.  That’s what matters.

And then there’s Murph, because at this point, pretty much anything you mention can be realistically described in terms of Daniel Murphy.  If you said “eggs,” for example, I’d tell you that eggs were best described as a potential breakfast option for Daniel Murphy.  If you said “America,” I’d say that Daniel Murphy lives there, ‘nuff said.  With his 8th inning home run, Murph broke the record for consecutive postseason games with a home run.  Whose record did he break, with the home run that lodged the final nail in the Cubs coffin and helped win an NLCS and send the Mets to the World Series?  Carlos Beltran.  The symbolism there is borderline alarming.

Jeurys Familia closed it out – that’s a sentence that we’ve gotten used to over this season, and it’s proven true in our two series victories so far.  Familia started out in Venezuela.  The Mets signed him in 2007.  He came up in 2012, was okay in 2013, was dominant in 2014, and started out 2015 as the setup man, which didn’t make sense, since it was clear to just about everyone that Jenrry Mejia, PEDs or not, was nowhere near as monstrous as Familia was.  Sure enough, Mejia went down, and Familia was the closer.  No one’s looked back since.  You can look at the numbers – 43, 1.85, 2.7 WAR, 9.9 K/9…etc.  You don’t need the numbers to see that whatever Familia’s throwing – his pitches, at this point, defy conventional naming standards – is nasty.  He’s now got a nice stretch of off days before the series starts.  Good luck with that, opponents.

And so, these guys, and others, came together, played together when they were healthy, picked each other up when they were injured, and got the big hits when others didn’t.  It all led to tonight, when a win could put us in rarely-charted territory, and started right from the gun.  Granderson singled.  Wright – boy oh boy, does he deserve this win – struck out.  Murph – let’s be honest, we all expected a home run here – popped out.  With Cespedes up, Granderson stole second.  Cespedes, on the pitch that he’s been swinging at and missing all season, left the bat on his shoulder and walked.

If that didn’t augur success, you haven’t been watching this team.

Then it was Duda, who we all hoped was off the schneid.  He took some pitches, he missed a nasty breaking ball, he fouled some pitches off…I, to be honest, wasn’t optimistic.

These are the 2015 Mets; who needs optimism?  We’ve got the team work to make the dream work, in more ways than one.  Duda homered, and d’Arnaud, before we could get done fist-pumping, followed suit.

Teamwork.

For a game that, after the second inning, was never closer than five runs, it sure seemed like a nail biter.  The Cubs had their chances: the captain helped us dodge a bullet in the fourth when he nabbed a Starlin Castro liner with a leap worthy of a 23 year old, and Bartolo – yet another guy whose presence on this team is nothing short of surreal – helped us avoid another when he struck out Kris Bryant with two on in the fifth.  Of Kris Bryant’s 23.5 years of life, Bartolo Colón has been a professional baseball player for about 22.5.  It couldn’t get more cinematic Tarantino had written it.  The wily vet – the 300 pound vet, to make things that much more interesting – strikes out the young slugger, and commands the opposing lineup?  Like I said: surreal.

The Mets stranded men at third in the sixth and the seventh, and if I know my people, there wasn’t a Mets fan in the world who wasn’t convinced, at that point, that we would lose 7-6, victims of our failure to bring home that all-important runner-at-third-with-less-than-two-outs (did you ever notice how the broadcasters always say it the same way, as if it was one really long word?).  We Mets fans can be stubborn: maybe this win will help pound the final nail in the coffin of ’07/’08, but remnants of those years will surely stick with us forever.  I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Mets fan who wasn’t concerned, deep down, that a 6-1 lead in the eighth wasn’t enough.

But this team is different, as they’ve insisted to us all season.  This isn’t the ’07 debacle, or the ’08 wilt.  This is one helluva group of players – one that, I daresay, reminds me more and more of one of those underdog championship teams from inspirational sports movies.  This team is not the type – well, outside of that one game against the Padres with the two outs, the delay, the home run, the second delay, and the eventual loss – to give up leads late.  We’ve got Familia.  Literally and figuratively.

Clippard entered for the eighth and immediately resembled D.J. Carrasco.  That was Clip’s m.o. in the second half of the second half of the season, but it had seemed that perhaps he’d regained his third-quarter form.  Maybe not.  But he settled down, got his outs after giving up two, and handed it over.

Oh, and Murph homered somewhere in there too, but you already know that: as Ernie Johnson said yesterday, Daniel Murphy hit a home run because a game was played.  It’s that simple, at this point.

Familia entered.  Coghlan grounded to Murph.  La Stella grounded to Murph (boy, the Cubs just cannot shake the whole “Murphy” thing, can they?).  Montero walked.  Being a Mets fan, this was enough to raise my heart rate about 30 percent.

I needn’t have worried: as I’ve said, this team is about as different from the 2007 mess as can be.  Familia worked on Fowler, wore him down, and ultimately brushed the upper limits of the strike zone with a fastball that was too close to take, although apparently Fowler hadn’t been made aware of this.  Strike three.  Put in the books.

These Mets haven’t been together for long, and I’m not deluding myself into thinking that they’ll all be together next year – although Daniel Murphy, and I mean this with all of my heart, had better – but they’ve already accomplished what many thought impossible: what the Dodgers, with their $300 million payroll, and the Cardinals, with their vaunted – well, just about everything – could not.  Mets fans, let it sink in: we’re going to the god damn World Series.

You could, I said, call the win a confluence of journeys.  That’s nice in itself, but it’s not all.  Thanks to Murph and Granderson and Wright and Familia and Matz and Colón and every single player on this wonderful team, we’ve got one more journey to make.  And from what I’ve seen, we’ve got the stuff to come out victorious one last time.

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One Heckuva NLDS

Jeurys Familia stood on the mound, thinking.  He’d retired the first two hitters of the ninth, up a run, and now faced Howie Kendrick,  with his full arsenal available.

He looked in to d’Arnaud.  He got his sign, and was ready.  He came set, and went into his windup.

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It’s interesting, when you think about it, that this all began with a Daniel Murphy home run.

Yes, Murph, apparently extremely intent on extending his Mets tenure as long as possible, took Kershaw deep in the fourth inning of game one, putting the Mets up 1-0 and giving Jacob deGrom a lead that he would not relinquish.  Wright drove home two more – with his only hit of the series, which would have been a problem had everything not happened the way it did – and Clippard gave one back, but Familia sealed it.  1-0.

Then came game two, which has the misfortune of being known to posterity as the Chase Utley game, but was also pretty interesting in its own right.  Cespedes homered.  Conforto homered a few batters later.  The Dodgers got one back, and then four more – undeservedly, as everyone but Chase Utley has admitted – and Kenley Jansen sealed it again.  1-1.

Having gotten through Kershaw and Greinke, we figured that we’d tee off against anyone who wasn’t, well, Kershaw or Greinke.  True enough, Brett Anderson, who seemed more concerned with anger tweeting a-la-Donald Trump than actually pitching. It showed.  The Mets teed off, Cespedes hit one that still hasn’t come down, and Chase Utley got booed so loudly that Alex Anthony had to stop his introductions because no one would have heard them.  Goeddel gave three back, so Familia came in to nail it down.  He retired every batter he faced.  2-1.

Then there was the potential clincher, with Matz – noted, about 1000 times, for being the pitcher with the 2nd fewest, or thereabouts, regular season starts prior to starting in the postseason – on the mound.  Matz faced Kershaw.  They were both good.  Kershaw was better.  A dinky little pop-up from Adrian Gonzalez, which could have gone either way but ended up going theirs, should have been the third out.  It fell in.  Turner doubled in the next two.  3-0.  Murph took Kershaw deep again, because why the hell not, but that was all.  We had several opportunities, but none came to anything.  2-2.  Winner take all, game five in Los Angeles, Thursday night.

We were inundated with statistics as Wednesday became Thursday and the game still stubbornly refused to start: The Dodgers had never lost a winner-take-all, the Dodgers had lost every series in which they’d lost the first game, Greinke hadn’t lost at Dodger Stadium at all that year…and so on, and so on.  No one was interested; none of that stuff really matters, especially when your first postseason in nine years is in imminent danger of coming to a premature end.

The moment didn’t have enough poignancy, I decided.  Well, there’s only one solution to that: I’d make my own poignancy.  Wednesday afternoon, as soon as my Spanish class ended, I walked down to CVS.  I bought three bottles of root beer.  Back at my dorm, I labeled the caps.

NLDS, NLCS, WS

If the Mets won, I’d shake up the NLDS bottle, open it up for celebration, and get ready for a tough NLCS matchup versus the Cubs.  If the Mets lost…well, I spent some time figuring that one out.  My plan came together eventually: if they lost, I’d drink one cup’s worth of the NLDS bottle to celebrate a quality season, and dispose of the rest somehow, without drinking it.  Then I’d put on Grown Ups, and try to pretend that baseball wasn’t irrevocably over.

As Thursday dawned, and the game approached, I passed the time every way I knew how: watching old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway, trying to get some sleep but not being able to, watching old compilation videos of Whose Line Is It Anyway, and getting most of my work done for the weekend, in case of potential NLCS games.

Game time approached, and my excitement built as it did.  Around 7:30, I retired to my room permanently, and waited for the game to start.

What a start it had, too – Granderson hit a slow grounder that Greinke couldn’t quite get to, Turner flipped to first, Grandy was called out, Grandy had actually been safe, we could…you know the deal.  We challenged, Grandy was safe, we had the beginnings of a Greinke rally.  Sure enough, after the Captain struck out, Murph – because of course – doubled him home and went to third on an error.  Murph could have scored too, but Cespedes struck out on three pitches, and Duda made an out, to end the inning.  I’ll say this, about Cespedes: I know he’s got some power and all, but I don’t particularly appreciate the fact that every time he hits a home run, the size of his swing increases by about 300%, and the next 18 pitches he sees are automatic swings-and-misses.  Not that he can’t snap out of it; it’s just kind of irksome.

We had the lead, but deGrom gave it up quickly (I’ll take things you don’t expect Jacob deGrom to do for $800, Alex).  The Dodgers scored two.  They too could have had more, but they didn’t.  Story of their game, you could say.

From there, it went on much as the series had – the Mets offense couldn’t touch Greinke, deGrom bent but didn’t break, and the score stayed 2-1 into the fourth, when Murph, in a truly inexplicable twist of baserunning acumen, advanced two bases on a walk, which I didn’t even know was possible, and then scored on a d’Arnaud sac fly.  “Manufacturing runs”…that’s something we didn’t hear during the stretch when we were hitting four home runs a game, isn’t it?

We’d tied it, and we had deGrom, somehow not allowing anything, but we needed the lead, and Murph – at this point, you knew it was Murph – took on Greinke, and came away solidly victorious.  As you may have heard, only one batter homered off both Greinke and Kershaw this regular season – Kole Calhoun.  Murph did it in five games.  You want him back.  I want him back.  We need him back.  Come on.

With the lead, now.  DeGrom was done.  In came Thor.  Ernie Johnson made a reference to it being tough to hit a guy that throws 100, and sure enough, Syndergaard’s first pitch came in right at the century mark.  He was dominant: one scoreless inning, one walk, no hits, one giant infusion of momentum.  Syndergaard got his guys and walked off the field.  He was done – why, we’ll never know, because he certainly looked like his arm could’ve handled another inning or seven – and Familia was warming.

Well, Familia entered, and you know how that’s worked for the Dodgers so far this series.  Two innings: six up, six down, five who were angry, and one – Chase Utley – who doesn’t feel emotions.  With two men out, Howie Kendrick was the Dodgers’ last hope.

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With the count 0-2, Familia considered his repertoire.  He thought, and decided to go with a slider, down and in.  He let it go.  Right on the money.  Kendrick had no chance.  Put in the books.

Ballgame.  Series.  Mets advance.  Worded however you want it, it comes down to the same thing: Mets win, Mets continue to play, Mets are a series away from World Series competition.

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Eventually – two weeks from now, or four weeks, or perhaps after a rousing all-night celebration of a World Series win – I’ll drink one final toast, and lament the season’s end while celebrating all that came with it.  But not yet.  We’ve got an NLCS to win.

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A Hell Of A Ride

So that’s it.

The Mets ended their season today with a 1-0 win, beating the Nationals for their 90th win of the season. The last time they won 90 was 2006. That was a good year. This one is better.

Sandy Alderson took a lot of heat for his ambitious 90 win goal last year, and barely less this year, but he kept it up. It’s only fitting, I suppose, that the win that, to this point, defines Sandy’s tenure is a 1-0 shutout, with all the pitchers contributing and Curtis Granderson, who Sandy grabbed despite the protestations of many (including myself). When Granderson batted .229 last year, we thought we were right. We weren’t.

It’s even more fitting, I think, that this season, a high point in Sandy’s tenure so far, ends a 1-0 win. Sandy came in in 2011, took a year to look around, and made some moves before 2012. The first game of the 2012 season was a 1-0 win. It was Wright instead of Granderson who drove in the run. It was Frank Francisco instead of Jeurys Familia that had nailed down the save. It was Johan Santana instead of Jacob deGrom who had a scoreless but ultimately aborted start. That team was a fun team. They flirted with contention. Were, at one point, 46-39, 4.5 games back of the Nationals.

2012 – what a fun year that was. Wright batted .415 in April, Tejada was batting .320 until he slumped through September, Scott Hairston came from nowhere to hit 20 home runs, R.A. Dickey, of course, came from the same place to win 20 games and the Cy Young…that was a fun year. We didn’t win anything, but I swear, I thought we could have. Delusional? Probably. Fun? Absolutely.

But the Sandy Alderson era goes back even further, back to 2011, when Sandy came in, brought in superstars like Willie Harris, Ronny Paulino, and Chin Lung Hu, and sat back to evaluate. In the first two months of the Sandy Alderson era, I went to three games – all Jon Niese starts, all wins. Niese beat the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers, the Phillies…and then, for good measure, Dickey capped off 2011 with seven strong innings against the Phillies, on 9/24/11, the day of the immediately immortal Pascucci Blast. That was a fun year too. It’s baseball. It’s always fun.

2012, returning for a moment, was fun for another reason as well. When it started, I was away, camped out in Maine for the summer. Well, not camped out – we were in senior bunk, so we had TV and everything. Thank god, too – how else would I have known, on July 26th, to yell to the one other Mets fan in the group, “Harvey’s got 10 strikeouts through five!”? Yes, 2012 saw the emergence of Matt Harvey, drafted by Omar Minaya, watched by, well, everyone, and impressive at every level. I saw Harvey live that August, when I got home, against the Rockies. He went six, allowed one run. A typical Matt Harvey no-decision. Ramon Ramirez, one of those Alderson acquisitions who just didn’t work out, gave up two, and Frank Francisco gave up two more. With two down in the ninth, the Mets down by three, and two men on, Ronny Cedeño came up. Ronny Cedeño never hit home runs.

Ronny Cedeño got one in the air, down the left field line. It was deep. Citi Field was deeper. The ball died on the track, and the Mets were three run losers.

Welcome to New York, Matt Harvey!

Then came 2013, a quiet, ho-hum, not much there season that I loved just as much as the one that preceded it. I was in attendance the first Sunday of the year. Aaron Laffey pitched. He was just about as good as you’d expect him to be: he went 4.1 innings, gave up three runs, and left. He’d pitch in four games for the Mets that season. His opposition? A young righty that the Marlins had rushed up straight from A ball, named Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez was good that day. He pitched four scoreless. Anthony Recker – he’s still here, good for him – doubled home Tejada in the fifth, and Fernandez left. Murph homered off AJ Ramos in the 6th to cut the deficit to 3-2. That’s how it stayed into the ninth, which is around the time that I noticed my fellow Shea Bridge Report blogger sitting in the section one over from me, a few rows down.

How’s that for luck?

Sometimes, you just know. When Steve Cishek hit Tejada with a pitch after inducing a deep flyout from Duda, I knew. When Nieuwenhuis moved him over to third on a single and went to second on the throw, I knew. When Mike Redmond brought the infield in, I knew.

Marlon Byrd knocked one right past the drawn-in infield. Two runs scored. The Mets won. Hey, maybe we’ve got something here!

We didn’t. It was much of the same that year. I saw a victory over the Yankees (yeah, we swept ’em), a loss to the Cardinals during which I was berated by my friend for overestimating Jeremy Hefner’s fantasy baseball value, another typical Matt Harvey loss (7 IP, 1 ER) to the Cardinals, Matt Harvey’s final start before his surgery, and one last game, from up in the promenade, pitched by a young Georgian named Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was good. The offense wasn’t. The Mets lost again.

Who cared? We were going places.

2014, also known as “when stuff started to get interesting,” started with two new faces: Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. Combined age, 72, combined weight, who the hell knows. Sandy had brought them both in. I didn’t like the moves at the time.

If nothing else, it’s proof that I can be wrong occasionally.

My 2014 started with three losses. Then three wins. A loss, another win, another loss, another win, two losses, three wins, two losses. That’s the season in a nutshell. Outside the nutshell, there was more. Dillon Gee started on Opening Day (jeez, remember him?), Wheeler continued to impress me, and on April 19th, I saw one of the most thrilling two run losses of all time.

The Braves were the opponents, back when the Braves were good. The Mets were down 4-3 going to the ninth. Jose Valverde came on. Before the season, I’d thought that he might be good. My good will had already worn off by this point. Jordan Schafer reached on a bunt, Valverde walked Freddie Freeman intentionally, and Justin Upton hit a three run homer. It’s so simple.

Well, not so simple, actually. Kimbrel came on in the ninth. Up four runs, not a save situation. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t ready.

Omar Quintanilla (another guy who I would love back the next time we’re really bad) grounded out. Eric Young Jr. was hit by a pitch. Murph singled. Wright, the notorious Kimbrel-slayer, doubled to deep right. Tying run at the plate.

Granderson struck out swinging, but Chris Young – I don’t want him back ever – singled to center, and Murph scored. Wright moved to third. With Duda at the plate, Young stole second. Kimbrel walked Duda. Tying run in scoring position.

Kimbrel was out. Jordan Walden came in. D’Arnaud at the plate. D’Arnaud fell behind 0-2. Walden delivered home once again. D’Arnaud swung.

From up in the promenade, I was right behind the plate, and I saw this ball perfectly. I was certain, absolutely certain, that it was going into left field. Then I remembered that Andrelton Simmons was the Braves’ shortstop. He picked it, no trouble, and threw over to first. Ballgame.

Well, who cared? Jose Valverde would be gone soon.

After that loss, when we eliminated the Braves from playoff contention that September, it was doubly sweet.

And that brings us to 2015, where anyone who’s anyone knows the story. The Mets were really good. Then they weren’t. Wright was gone for a while, but came back with a bang, literally. They weren’t doing so well, so they brought in a few nice hitters from the Braves. They almost brought back a former Met, who provided some nice moments in Shea Stadium’s sunset years, but they didn’t. Wilmer Flores proved that there is crying in baseball, and we love him for it. Instead of Gomez, they brought in a monster. A raccoon-parakeet monster. A guy who you just can’t help but love, even if he occasionally makes you nervous with that underhand flip that he seems to have patented.

They brought up a young outfielder from Oregon who goes to all fields with a swing that is almost mellifluous. Their closer went down – for a while, probably, because no one likes a juicer – so they brought in a new guy. He may be the best closer in Mets history.

Atta boy, Sandy.

So that’s where we are now. This team, planned for years and thrown together over a few months, has played better than anyone (besides myself and Logan, based on our spring predictions) had a right to suspect. It’s nigh on NLDS time, and Citi Field will be rocking. Maybe it’s not Shea, but hell, we’ve got other things to worry about right now.

So here’s to the captain, for sticking it out and giving us his all. Here’s to deGrom and Harvey and Syndergaard, for showing us the value of intimidation, and here’s to Matz for showing that we might have yet another formidable mound presence. Here’s to Familia, for being straight-up dirty, and here’s to Bartolo, for showing that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Here’s to Johnson and Uribe, for reminding us what professional hitters can do when you’ve got Mayberry batting cleanup, and here’s to Conforto, for making me swoon with the beauty of his opposite-field home runs. Here’s to Robles and his quick-pitch, Gilmartin and his brief tenure as a 1.000 hitter, and Duda and his raw power and comedic level of humility. To Granderson, for going from burned out to spark plug. To Murph, for having the same season as you’ve always had. To d’Arnaud, for showing us that maybe offensive catchers are not a thing of the past. And to Lagares, Niese, Cuddyer, Tejada, Flores, Recker, Plawecki, Reed, Parnell, and everyone else who I’m sure I’m forgetting – you all did your parts, and we thank you for that.

So on to LA, and the NLDS. Maybe we’ll win. Maybe we won’t. It’s been a hell of a ride either way.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 New York Mets.

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The Price Of Power

For the longest time, Citi Field was a ghost town.  A ruin.  A shell of a stadium.

That was when the Mets were bad.

Well, now they’re good.  And almost too quickly to believe, Citi Field is filling up again.  Tickets are selling, fans are entering in droves, and once again, the Mets have a full audience to play for.

And I thought that was a good thing…until yesterday.

Let’s talk about yesterday, because it deserves some mention – beyond the absolutely dreadful loss of two key players, the Mets won their eighth straight, and completed a sweep of the Marlins.  Taken completely out of context, it was a good game – and indeed, for the people in the stands, it was out of context, as most of the fans didn’t learn of the extent of the injuries to both d’Arnaud and Blevins until after the game.  For fans in the stands yesterday, there was a hell of a time to be had.

Now, I’m not against bandwagon fans in principle.  Here’s what I am against: fans who come out to a ballgame as if it was some kind of fun activity like going out for coffee, as opposed to something that a substantial number of people really care about.  Fans who go to Citi Field because they’ve heard the name “Matt Harvey” bantered about recently and they wanted to see him, then lose interest after Matt runs out of gas, and start doing whatever they want in the stands to entertain themselves.

Now, here’s something else that may surprise you: I’m not against the wave, in itself.  In the sixth inning of a 10-1 loss, it’s something for the crowd to do to keep occupied.  Anyone who’s still at the game at that point is a fan; you can do the wave if you want.  However, here’s something I am against: a crowd, composed mostly of people whose idea of baseball knowledge is knowing that the Mets and the other team keep taking turns on the field, starting the wave around the fifth, keeping it up pretty much nonstop until the ninth, and complaining mightily when one section – mine – decided, stubbornly, not to oblige them.

Here’s a message to the fans in section 529, and in particular, the two drunk-looking guys who stood for almost the entire second half of the game, yelling over at our section, making rude gestures, and generally communicating the concept that anyone who doesn’t do the wave is not cool enough for them: it’s a baseball game.  It was a hell of a game, too.  A one run game, going to the ninth.  You call yourself a fan?  You’re getting excited that the Mets are suddenly winning?  Well then, here’s the first step to being a real fan: when Alex Torres enters the game in the eighth with two outs and the tying and go-ahead runs on base, you don’t do the wave.  Honestly, it’s just not the time.  You know what else you don’t do?  You don’t A) start the wave, then B) literally start booing the section that stopped it (louder than anyone booed any Marlins players, I might add).  You are at a baseball stadium, watching a baseball game.  You are not coaching a wave-doing team, and continuing to attempt to start the wave, while Alex Torres is LITERALLY ONE PITCH FROM GETTING OUT OF THE EIGHTH, is absolutely asinine.  You know what fans do?  When a pitcher gets a strikeout to end a key inning, they cheer loudly.  Here’s what fans do not do: fans do not fail to notice that a pitcher has ended an inning with a key strikeout because they were too occupied with chastising another section for not doing the wave.  You’re at a baseball game.  If you don’t want to watch, that’s fine.  Just keep to yourself.  But know this: some people are real Mets fans.  When they go to Citi Field, here’s what they want to do (I can imagine how hard this may be to comprehend, at a baseball stadium) – they want to watch a baseball game.  And literally booing an entire section while Alex Torres is working his heart out and ultimately succeeding to get the Mets to the ninth is not something that “real” fans do.

And one more thing, to all the people who went to the park to see Matt Harvey and lost interest around the fourth inning: there are very, VERY specific times that it is okay to boo a Met.  Here they are, for the most part: you can boo a Met if he has displayed a lack of interest and effort for a prolonged period, then fails at an important moment of the game.  That’s it.  You do not boo a player who is out on the field, working his hardest to get the outs that his team – our team – needs.  In the eighth inning, a group of fans – led, it barely need be said, by the same drunk guys who booed a section for not doing the wave – decided that the game was going too slowly.  Never mind that Buddy Carlyle was on the mound, working his hardest to retire the Marlins: this group of fans, who just NEED you to know how cool they are, decided that Carlyle was not working quickly enough for them. So they decided to boo him.  That’s right: a Mets crowd booed a Mets pitcher, working in a jam and trying to maintain a lead, for stepping off the rubber.

Another message to people who plan on attending a Mets game in the near future: when a pitcher is working out of a jam and trying to contain an opposing offense, you do not boo him for taking a few seconds too long.  This should not even need to be said; apparently, the stands yesterday were filled with people who had been promised a Matt Harvey complete game, because as soon as Matt left, and the game took on a normal baseball pace, these people completely lost interest.  Yeah, you’re great fans, absolutely tuning out of a game after your starter leaves in the seventh.  But back to the point: you DO NOT boo a Met for making the game go, in your most probably incorrect opinion, too slow.  If you want to boo a visiting pitcher who makes several pickoff throws in succession, go ahead.  But don’t do it to a Met.  You look like a bigger idiot than M. Donald Grant.

So you know what?  It’s great that Citi Field is selling out once again.  But I hope, for the sake of those Mets fans who actually care about what the Mets do, that fans like this lose interest quickly.

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