All “Matz” Puns Aside…

Devoid of any context, you couldn’t help being disappointed.

“Steven Matz is 1-1, with an E.R.A. over 8.00.”

Of course, you know where I’m going with this: Steven Matz, after a bright, shiny, three hit shutout over seven innings, looks less like a pitcher possessed of an 8.00 E.R.A. and more like one with roughly double that, in wins.  In short, Steven Matz, without wordplay or strained analogy, looked pretty damn good out there.

7 IP, 9 K, 3H.  Seven letters and numbers.  Mostly meaningless, even in the context of one game: it’s a line any pitcher could put up on any given day, if they happen to be on their game.  But right now, it means much more.

Coming off a fiasco of a Harvey Day.  Coming off the news — which has reportedly been fied, or at least downgraded — that Jacob deGrom’s turn in the rotation would be skipped, and that a D.L. stint was likely.  Coming off a potential injury to d’Arnaud and a disheartening loss that should have been a win.

7 IP, 9 K, 3H seems pretty damn important.

Within the Mets blogosphere, the self-proclaimed analysts, the writers who pride themselves on not thinking emotionally and always taking situations rationally, Steven Matz hadn’t made it yet.  He hadn’t proven himself.  He wasn’t yet a member of the big four, the four aces, whatever you want to call them.  He was supposed to be, but he wasn’t, yet.  And maybe they were right.

Indeed, they almost certainly were: Matz had absolutely not proven himself yet, in seven major league starts.  But all the same, there’s a human element to look at as well.  I won’t score any sabermetric points for this, and don’t think I’m knocking analytics because they’re obviously obscenely valuable and intrinsic to playing the game the right way.  But there was a part of me — frankly, a not so small part — that looked at Steven Matz, and asked, “How could he NOT prove himself?”

He’s a Long Islander, one of precious few in Mets history.  He’s already been knocked down — in his case, by Tommy John surgery a few years back — and come crawling back.  To slightly rephrase Moneyball, he sounded like a Met already.

And then, starting a season that was his big chance to prove himself, he went out and gave up seven runs to the goddamn Marlins.  And the next day, the Earth had been destroyed.

No, not really.  But that’s the sense you got from the headlines.  They all seemed constructed the same way — “we’re not overreacting, but that’s only because this situation is so awful you couldn’t possibly overreact.”  One paper called for Matz’s demotion, citing a scout that said he looked lost.

As I said, I’m not knocking analytics — in fact, in this case, they’re absolutely correct.  The scout was wrong.  The scout’s probably been wrong before.  Every ounce of “conventional baseball wisdom” or “player development strategy,” or more likely, simply the desire to say something worth reporting, was absolutely wrong.

Steven Matz is ready.  He’s not lost, he’s not lacking confidence, he’s not lagging behind in any of those ridiculous intangibles scouts used to cite to prove that only they could do what they did.  Today proved it; his next start, whether he’s great or mediocre, won’t disprove anything.  We saw a major league pitcher today, perhaps even a major league ace.  Small sample size won out yet again over reactionary nonsense, as it tends to do.  Sample size always wins.

And yet again, while Matz was pitching, the offense was humming along like it’s started to do.  Michael Conforto showed us — and Keith Hernandez — why he’s going to be our number three hitter for the next fifteen years.  Cespedes had a few hits.  Everyone, in fact, seemed to have a few hits.  We didn’t score for a seven inning stretch.  It might as well have been seven minutes.  It didn’t matter.

We knew coming into the season that our offense would be good, possibly even above average.  A 2-5 start didn’t change that, and going 3-1 since doesn’t change it either.  Our offense is the same — good, possibly even above average.  We didn’t hit for a few games; now, we’re all doing it.  Duda singled in two.  Asdrubal Cabrera had another hit.  Kevin Plawecki had two of his own.  We’re not the Big Red Machine; then again, the Big Red Machine didn’t have our pitching, except in all-too-literal sense.

In short, we’re back where we wanted to be — good, bordering on great.  We’re five and six.  Six and six, the formality of Noah Syndergaard wrapping up his win tomorrow notwithstanding.  The Nationals lost today, proving that a 9-1 start isn’t all that much better than 5-6.  We’ll play the Nationals soon enough; when we do, we’ll show them how much their 9-1 start is worth against Matz, Thor, Harvey and deGrom.

Now, as we said, let’s take stock of where we are without the emotional specter of a potentially decimated Matt Harvey looming over us.  We’re absolutely fine, is where we are.  We’re great.  We’ve got Thor tomorrow, and then Colón, and then a Harvey who for all we know will be completely fine.  DeGrom is reportedly on his way back after his newborn son took a turn for the better, and although as a Mets fan I’m loath to proclaim any injury healed before a player demonstrates the truth of it on the field, I’ll trust deGrom when he says that he’s ready to go.

We’re back on the track we never really left, ready to get back out there, brief notions of failure dispelled, and start beating opponents with our arms and our bats.

What the hell — I’ve got nothing more to say.  There’s only so many ways to say that we’re damn good.  Let’s go beat somebody.

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Please Don’t Stop Believin’

What a disheartening loss.  What a disappointing loss.  What a head-hanging, lips-pursing loss.

It’s ironic, somehow: this loss feels all the worse, because we didn’t play that badly.  We hit a few home runs, scored five.  We fielded the ball cleanly.  These are the things that are supposed to carry us to victory.  We score a few runs, then our deadly pitching staff brings home a win.

But there lies the problem.  And when something’s wrong with Matt Harvey, all bets are off — in both directions.

There’s no getting around Harvey’s problems.  They’re elephant in the room, the problem that we’d all like nothing more than to pretend will pass on its own but cannot in good conscience ignore any longer.  They’re a symptom of a larger problem, that’s we’ve tried to paper over even as we’ve worried on our own: pitching is fragile.  Even dream-team, rotation-of-the-century pitching.  No one is immune.

We saw it with Harvey in 2013.  My 16 year old self saw Matt Harvey and saw a God.  A Mets icon.  He sure pitched like it, despite what some have said.  9-5.  2.27 E.R.A.  The lowest E.R.A. in no-decisions of all time, not to mention all the one-run losses he got stuck with.  The way he was pitching, I knew that nothing could stop him.  I’d seen his name on injury-probable lists; I scoffed them off as naive, not aware of the bubble of greatness that surrounded Matt Harvey, which would protect him from injuries reserved for lesser human beings.

And then the news came in.  We all know what happened; Harvey, through no fault of his own, had busted up his arm.  In pitching one of the greatest Mets seasons, to that point, of the previous several decades, he’d thrown a few pitches too many, or too hard.  He was done.

After what happened to Harvey, I’ve got no similar optimistic beliefs about anyone else.  I’m resigned to the fact that Syndergaard will go down at some point, and that deGrom and Matz won’t keep up their excellence forever.  Hell, even Familia won’t last forever.

I must say, though, that I didn’t expect it this soon.

Harvey’s problem may be mechanical.  In fact, his mechanics do look different; he’s not throwing as easily as he used to.  I’m hoping that it’s a simple problem that can be fixed in one start; I’m not sure that it is.  He was throwing 97 in Spring; now he’s not.  It’s never a good sign when velocity disappears, and even less so when it’s over the course of two or three starts.

These were the games we were supposed to win.  We score, not overwhelmingly but enough, and one of our four aces carries us to victory.

Of course, there’s still a small sample size to be observed.  Harvey’s made three starts.  He’s had two and three start stretches of mediocrity before; so far, they haven’t lasted.  Here’s hoping this one does the same, and finds its way out the door posthaste.

While Harvey was shutting down the Indians for four innings and then emphatically letting them in for the next 1.2, the offense was quiet, save a leadoff home run from Curtis Granderson.  Then, after Harvey left, we got going.  Another blast from Cespedes.  A shot from the captain that was out of any other ballpark.  Another bomb from Neil Walker.  All three are working diligently at thoroughly dispelling the day-long myths that they’d lost their offensive prowess, and for the most part, are succeeding.

It’s not a game we should have lost — not at all.  But still — I’m an optimist.  I love this team.  We’ve got Matz tomorrow and Thor the day after; that’s a winning recipe if I’ve ever seen one.  Matt Harvey can come back: he came back emphatically from Tommy John surgery, and if this is just a mechanical issue, should do the same, and much more quickly.  Steven Matz isn’t going to pitch to an E.R.A. in the thirties forever.  D’Arnaud will hit.  Eventually, we’ll be better.

Matt Harvey seems weak right now.  He looks less than whole, like he’s missing something.  As such, so do the Mets.  But baseball is a marathon, and a lot can change in a day.  Let’s go get a win tomorrow with Matz on the mound, and let’s hand it off to Thor to bring us back to .500.  And then we’ve got Verrett, and then Colón, and after that, who knows; a pitcher with the spunk and winner’s mentality of Matt Harvey may have repaired his problems by then.

As much reason as there may be to panic, there’s equal or greater reason to relax, to enjoy the season, and to know that although things look bad right now, there’s no reason they can’t look good tomorrow.

And no, I don’t know which is true.  I don’t know what will happen.  But this isn’t the supreme court; it’s baseball.  It’s fun.  We watch to enjoy ourselves, to relieve stress, to relax.

So until we know otherwise, let’s not get crazy for no reason — it’s not good for anyone.  We don’t know.  So, until proven wrong, Harvey will be fine in a week.  Matz will put us back on track tomorrow.  Thor will keep doing what he’s done.

We’re Mets fans.  We’ve gotta believe.  And until proven otherwise, let’s do just that.

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How We Got Our Groove Back

Do you remember — it seems like eons ago, but, in fact, it was a day or two — when all seemed lost?  When it seemed that our luck would never return?  When we were sure that the experiment had failed, and that we’d never be good again?

Can’t you see how foolish we were?

In Bartolo Colón’s return to Cleveland — or one of many, anyway, as it seems implausible that he’s never been back to Cleveland since he left it — was billed as the main attraction of the night.  Throughout the game, we were treated to throwback footage — Bartolo throwing 95, Bartolo weighing 185, Bartolo doing backflips, etc.  It all seemed designed to highlight what a young ball of energy he’d been back then, and what a miserable tub of soft-throwing lard he’s turned into.

And, because baseball knows right from wrong, he proceeded to get the win.  Try to screw with Bartolo; you’ll get what’s coming.

Colón also, with the win, matched Pedro Martinez’ 219, tied for second on the all time list of Dominican-born pitchers.  It’s only fitting that these two unique bodies and minds have this moment together, isn’t it?  Pedro, who danced in the sprinkler, matched by Bartolo, who flipped the ball behind his back.  Pedro, who you could tell was always enjoying himself even when he was too banged up to play like it, joined by Bartolo, who was never quite as good as Pedro but has defied age to match him.  Somehow, you get the feeling that Pedro, should Bartolo overtake him, will be too happy celebrating on Colón’s behalf to mind the loss of his own spot, and Bartolo, I think, would do the same.

That’s when having charismatic vets like Pedro and Colón comes in handy: when you want a break from the nitty gritty daily grind of serious, hard-fought baseball, and a day of pure fun.  For that, it doesn’t get better than Bartolo Colón.

While he was entertaining, meanwhile, it should not escape notice that he’s been pretty good so far.  He’s been pretty good forever, of course, but he hasn’t lost anything.  Bartolo continues defying age, and making fans everywhere happy as he does so.

Behind Colón, of course, was a defense, and the other side of that admittedly unremarkable defense was an offense that finally got going.

We’ve got too many good hitters to keep hitting like this, we said.

We’ll get going one of these days, we said.

Give it some time and we’ll hit, we said.

You’re welcome.

Four home runs.  Three hits for Cespedes.  Walker breaks out of a slump, and De Aza records his first hit as a Met.  It was the kind of game you always seem to get at least one of in the course of busting a slump; an offensive hoedown, an exercise in putting men on base, and then — at least in our case, today — leaving them in scoring position.

But it didn’t matter: we had the runs we needed.

Of course, it had to get dicey near the end, because part of Mets fandom is needless nail-biting and heart-pounding anxiety.  Robles, Reed, Familia.  It should have been seamless.  It wasn’t.

It almost was, in fact.  Robles did his job.  Reed did the first part of his.  In the ninth, Carlos Santana, not to be confused with the still-touring guitarist whom Gary seemed hell-bent on promoting, made up for his shot foul in the first inning with a shot solidly fair in the last.  Reed was out; Familia, for the fourth straight game, was in.

He was coming off a bout with the flu.  Wednesday, he’d gotten a five-out save pitching in his third consecutive game, the first Met to do so since Turk Wendell.  We knew there would be some trouble — and now we had a conveniently non-rested reliever to instigate it.

On twitter, worry was rife.  Familia wasn’t throwing as hard as he should — forget the four consecutive appearances, his career must be done.  Familia had lost his control.  Familia would choke like Armando Benitez.  Really, that velocity was worrying.

And when everyone looked up, Familia had allowed two hits and a walk, and now people were really worried.  But in the time it took to compose 140 characters worth of artfully worried yet comedically disengaged sentiment, Familia had recorded the third out, and the game was in the books.

That’s two wins in a row, and tomorrow we’ve got Harvey, who’s due for a big start, and Sunday we’ve got Matz, about whom the same can be said.  The panic has passed — among everyone who watched today’s game, I think it’s fair to say that our offense is humming along smoothly, especially considering we had two runners thrown out at the plate and still managed six runs.  We’ll hit.  And, based on all evidence available, we’ll be fine in the arms department as well.

Logan Verrett and Bartolo Colón — the two starters no one would ever have imagined, on Opening Day, that we’d utilize to pull ourselves out of a miniature losing streak and back onto the right track.  Well, now it’s done, and we’ve got the heart of our rotation and the momentum befitting such fine young pitching.

And our offense has already turned its luck around — now, it’s the pitching staff’s turn.  And with the caliber of young pitching that we’ve got ready to deploy, that turnaround, one way or another, should be damned fun to watch.

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Was That Really So Hard?

Who expected, eight games in, that we’d be looking for such a player?

“We need someone like Logan Verrett.”

It sounds like a sitcom, a badly written movie where the comedy comes from saying things that simply don’t make sense.  But today, it was absolutely right.

We needed someone like Verrett.  We needed someone outside the normal ebb and flow of the team, someone not caught up in its prior-to-today downturn and what we very much hope will prove to be a post-victory upswing.  We needed a Mets outsider, a pitcher who hadn’t been afflicted by the Metsian bad luck that seemed to have plagued us early on.  And in Verrett, we found our guy.

Verrett went six scoreless, and should have gone seven, but I’ll leave the managerial decisions to the man paid to make them, since whatever else you can say, a win is a win.  He was better than Harvey, better than Matz, and, purely in terms of runs allowed, better than deGrom.  He gave us, in short, exactly what we needed.

Did you notice what was happening, as we suddenly shed ourselves of our four-game burden?  We didn’t pull together and start working as a team.  We didn’t all miraculously perfect our swings.  We didn’t discover some new well of energy that drove us on and helped us win.

No, we played just as badly as we’ve been doing, and still got a win.  That’s what happens when bad luck turns to good.  Seven hits, all but three wasted.  We ran ourselves into outs, walked the bases loaded, and struck out nine times in the first six innings.  We got a win.  We didn’t play well at all.

Nor did the Marlins, but then again, were they really any worse than they were yesterday?  They got some guys on base.  Got seven hits.  Loaded the bases once or twice.  They just didn’t score.  We’re better than the Marlins, and here’s the ultimate proof: even playing far worse than they were, we pulled out the win.

Sure, there was some luck involved.  But there always is.  That’s how baseball works: when you have seven fielders to patrol a roughly quarter-circular patch of grass with a radius of more than 400 feet, sometimes they’ll find themselves in the right place, and sometimes they won’t.  Today things went right for us.  They’d been going wrong for the better part of a week; maybe we’ve got a few games of good luck coming up.

But even more, look how we did it.  We did it with Duda and Conforto on the bench, Granderson starting against a lefty, with a spot starter on the mound, a tired bullpen, and a closer who’s pitched three days in a row with the flu.  Of the entire series, if we’re honest, this was the one we should have lost.  We’re not hitting yet, and factors were lined up to take this game away from us: they failed.

Now, imagine if we can get going?  We’re only two games under .500 — it’s not like the season was a lost cause and this win was a rare bright spot.  We’ve got a legitimate team here.  We can get Walker going, Cespedes and Wright, Granderson and Conforto, d’Arnaud and Duda.  Asdrubal Cabrera will be solid.  We’re off the schneid with a win: now, if we can, let’s look back at the team we’ve got, and consider how good we can be if — when — we start playing well, as opposed to this festival of offensive incompetence we’ve seen so far.

Luck can change in a hurry: our win today, based largely on a single well-placed ground ball, is visible proof.  We’re going to Cleveland, a beatable team.  Hell, every team is beatable.  If you’ve forgotten, it wasn’t so long, roughly six months ago, that we were playing in the World Series.

It took Logan Verrett to get us going, and now, we’ve got an off day and then Bartolo Colón, the unpredictable, incalculable Bartolo, who cannot be analyzed and can even less be accurately predicted.  We thought he’d get shelled when he pitched in cold weather; well, he didn’t.  Now he’s got the Indians, and we’ll just have to see what happens, but somehow — and maybe this is just the victorious Mets fan in me talking — I don’t see anything more or less than a stellar outing coming our way.

We can win.  In suffering four losses in a row, it seemed like some of us had forgotten that.  But now, we’re back, and ready to go.  So let’s stop with the hand-wringing nonsense, and look at things like they really are.

Our team is good.  We were unlucky.  We weren’t unlucky today.  Maybe, just maybe, things our turning in our favor.

So, let’s go off to Cleveland.  We’ve got a series to sweep and a .500 record to reach and overcome.  If we start hitting, or even if we hit and pitch like we did today, we’ll do so, and easily.

We were just in the World Series, and sometimes, League Champions start 2-5.  But that doesn’t mean it will last the season.  We can win.  We just won.  And we will win some more.

And now that we’ve finally seen it firsthand again, it’s time to stop fooling ourselves and start believing it.

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Thor, But Not Complaining

Noah Syndergaard won’t complain, because he’s not that kind of guy.  He’s 23, clearly a stand-up kid in all respects, and too decent to throw his teammates under the bus.  But he’s got more than ample reason to be angry.

Against Jose Fernandez and the hell-bound Marlins, we looked good early.  Then, as the game continued we lost energy almost visibly, deflating every inning until the ninth, down just a run, was a done deal.

We’re 2-5.  No, I won’t panic yet; I’ll tell you when I will.  I’ll panic at 2-8.  Five games under is tough to come back from, six is tougher.  Three is nothing.  We’ve got Logan Verrett going tomorrow, the kind of guy who can do wonders in getting a team going and turning in a hell of a performance, as he showed last year in Colorado.  Then, young Logan, fighting through audible bickering that Matt Harvey was being skipped, held the Rockies to one run in eight innings after the two teams had combined the previous two games to score 46 runs.

Tomorrow won’t be all that similar.  The Mets just need a win.  And Verrett, I think, is just the guy to help get it.

Or maybe that’s just the Mets fan in me talking.  I’m too optimistic; I won’t deny it.  From the start, I thought the Mets were going to win tonight.  Having seen the game, I think we deserved to.

We scored one in the first, and should have had more.  We didn’t score in the second, but should have.  We didn’t score in the third, but Cespedes’ shot should have gone out.  It would have, on any other night.  Then, Jose Fernandez shut us out for two more innings.  Then he left.

I thought we’d score in the sixth.  I still think we should have.  You’re in an offensive rut, you take what you can get.  Put on the squeeze with a man on third, one out.  Take a 2-1 lead.  Maybe Asdrubal Cabrera, who I’m starting to like, if only for being not incompetent, singles up next, and Walker comes around and scores.

But Conforto grounded into a double play.  Grounders won’t keep finding gloves forever: BABIP will go up; line drives will find holes; fly balls to the wall into the wind will go out.  It will happen: statistics works.  It’s the reason we had winning streaks of 7 and 11 last year, and the reason we’ll do similar things this year.  We’re unlucky right now.  We’ll be lucky later.  To claim otherwise is to claim that math is invalid.

We were right at .500 after 80 games last year.  After that, we went 50-32.  Luck changes.  Singles with no one on base and strikeouts with the bases loaded switch places.  Ground balls hit perfectly to fielders that start double plays find the outfield.  You could say that we can’t rely on luck, because the Mets are always unlucky, but that’s the thing: we’re not.  We’re a good team.  All we need is to be luck neutral.

And among all this, let’s not lose sight of Thor’s performance, because it’s not the kind of thing to be taken lightly.  7 IP, 12 K’s, one run that really shouldn’t have been a run at all, seeing as it scored on an infield single, a slow ground ball through a badly shifted infield, and a weakly hit line drive that had no business being a hit at all.  That’s the kind of luck the Marlins are getting.  They got it again when Dee Gordon hit about twelve foul balls then put a pop up into left for a hit.  Then they got two walks on close 3-2 pitches, then Martin Prado hit a sac fly that would have meant the inning had Gordon’s weak contact turned into the out that it should have been.

Please, let’s not keep stewing in the Mets fan mentality that everything has already gone wrong.  We can’t hit with runners in scoring position.  Our bullpen is falling apart.  We strike out too much.  The lineup is put together all wrong.

It’s ridiculous, lunatic, a poorly constructed, hastily thrown-together farce to cover up the fact that sometimes, things haven’t gone wrong.  Neil Walker is not a .214 hitter.  Travis d’Arnaud is not a .105 hitter.  Curtis Granderson is not a .074 hitter.  Unless you think we’ve been stricken by a sudden, inexplicable, team-wide 100 point decrease in batting average, you know as well as anyone else that our offense will come back, and in a big way.

And what’s more, our pitching will be fine as well.  Matt Harvey may not regain his 2013 form, but he’s not a 4.50 E.R.A. pitcher.  Steven Matz, obviously, won’t maintain his E.R.A. of 37.20.  And Thor will be just fine.

No, it’s not fun to watch our Mets lose back-to-back series to the Phillies and Marlins.  It’s even less fun when we’re playing visibly badly while doing so.  But this isn’t football: we could have five or six 2-5 stretches in a season, and still be absolutely fine.  We’ve got 155 games to go; that’s a lot of games, especially considering that last year, we were 13-3 after 16 games, but had fallen under .500 by game number 72.  After 102 games, we were 52-50.  Then we went 38-22.  Again, luck can change.  Sometimes in a hurry.

We’ve got Logan Verrett going tomorrow, due for some luck, against a Marlins team that has no business with half the hits it’s already gotten.  Frankly, we’re due for about five or six wins, and they’ve got to start sometime.

Please — we’re Mets fans, and we should be channeling Tug McGraw, not groveling like Bobby Bonilla.  We’ll be okay.  We’ll be back tomorrow, and we’ll get a win, and we’ll start moving forward again.  And even if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world, or even of the month.

The wins are coming.  Let’s hold ourselves together long enough to enjoy them.

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Hey, At Least…

I spent all day looking forward to Steven Matz’s first start of the season.  Within two innings, I had turned off the game and gone out to get food.

Not to say that the game stayed off for the rest of the night; even in a loss far worse than this one, Gary, Keith, and Ron are more than worth listening to during a blowout.  But the constant, endless specter of line drives landing in opposing gloves, bloops falling beyond our fielders’ reach, and popups inexplicably carrying for home runs takes a toll.  In my case, the toll was two or three innings of baseball that, to be honest, I didn’t mind missing.

The Mets suck right now; there are no two ways about it.  Sure, they’re hitting the ball as hard as ever, and eventually, the six or eight line drives that turned into outs today are going to become hits instead, but purely in terms of numbers, they’re pretty damn bad.  Twelve hits in their last three games.  Five runs scored, sixteen allowed.

Steven Matz sucked tonight as well.  It happens: he looked good enough in the first inning to convince me that he hasn’t completely vanished from this earth yet, and frankly, although the second inning looked bad, he was victimized by a tight strike zone and multiple infield hits of the kind that the Mets never seem to come up with.  He didn’t pitch well, but he didn’t pitch blowout-badly.

We rallied a few times, and every time, it seemed, our rallies died on line drives straight to Dee Gordon.  The same Dee Gordon who recorded two hits on infield ground balls.  Much like Jacob deGrom, you would hope, we’re just not getting lucky right now.  Teams go through bad patches.  It happens.

But does it, though?  I’ve seen bad patches, but I can’t remember every seeing anything like this before, with almost every player in the lineup simultaneously A) striking out every time at-bat and B) smoking the ball every time he swings, but getting ridiculously unlucky.  I’m not even sure how it’s happened, and I can only hope that it means we’ve got some luck coming our way when this is over, but for now, we’re just not getting the luck we need.

Don’t call it inexcusable; it’s entirely excusable.  Here’s one: all our line drives tonight happened to fly right at Marlins’ fielders.  Here’s another: it’s been only six games, and despite popular sentiment of doom, we can still, quite easily, take the final two games of this series, and just like that, be back at .500 and ready to get going again.  And here’s another: sometimes, teams play badly.  Sometimes, it happens multiple games in a row.  Sometimes, you lose three or four or five games in a row, and in many of those times, it’s not the end of the world.

The 2015 Mets lost five games in a row.  This was after they’d clinched the division; those games didn’t matter much.  The 1986 Mets got swept in four straight before clinching the division; those didn’t matter much either.  We’ve hit a rough patch; teams hit rough patches.  It’s just something that happens, just as natural as the Marlins or Royals getting luck they don’t deserve, or the ESPN broadcast booth causing severe depression and anger issues in viewers.

And guess what?  We’ll get out of it.  Even if you’ve used these six games to convince yourself that we’re doomed, that we’re nowhere near as good as everyone thinks, and that our season is already over, we’re not going to lose 100 games.  We probably won’t even lose 75, but if you think all is lost, you probably think we will.  But we won’t continue losing, especially like this: eventually, our luck will turn.  We’ve convinced ourselves before that we were simply done, out of luck and ready to quit, and our luck has always turned.

Hell, maybe it’ll turn tomorrow, when Thor returns to the mound.  He’s the kind of pitcher who just doesn’t seem all that affected by whatever general malaise has gripped the team: one high hard one that sends Dee Gordon falling backwards should be enough to get this group going again.  It won’t take much: Wright is swinging a hot bat, as is Cespedes, Duda looked more comfortable tonight, Walker is bound to hit sometime, Conforto is better than a .250 hitter, d’Arnaud is a legitimate hitter who hasn’t found his groove yet…even Asdrubal Cabrera will hit.  Just give ‘em time; they’ll get the job done.

And no, six games, miserable as they’ve admittedly been, is not nearly time enough.

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Cespedes Homers – New Fall Guy Needed

First it was fireworks.  Now it’s 1986 uniforms.  Will the Mets ever learn that anything, with bad play, can be mercilessly joked about?

Last night, the Mets advertised fireworks after the game, and took their promise literally, not providing any during.  Then today, wearing 1986 throwback uniforms, they proved that even in 1986, starting the season 2-3 can’t have been fun.

Losing to the Phillies is never fun, in itself: the Phillies are an awful group, nothing short of loathsome, and every sight of Ryan Howard fumbling and still inexplicably succeeding at anything is enough to turn any self-respecting Mets fan’s stomach.  So losing to the Phillies twice was even worse.

What I didn’t expect, though — well, maybe I expected it, but I hoped not to hear it — were the grand pronouncements of doom from the stands, the shouts that Terry couldn’t manage and Harvey was a bust and Cespedes was done and Walker had to learn to take the bat off his shoulder.  I know it’s been only five games of the season: everyone who’s cared enough to follow them closely enough knows that.  And despite what the instincts of short-memoried Mets fans everywhere are saying, five games is not a representative sample.

I remember another season that the Mets started 2-3: it was last year.  They went to the World Series, and could have won it.  I remember another as well: it was 1986.  We all know what happened that year, and a 2-3 start didn’t detract from it.

I thought Mets fans were supposed to be optimists, always believin’, always ready to leave the ballpark after a loss with our heads held high, finding the silver lining and looking forward to tomorrow.  And let’s not pretend that there wasn’t anything good about today’s loss to the Phillies, because there was.

David Wright, whose career most of the Mets online community had declared finished after his ofer on Opening Day, had two hits, both line drives, a single and a double.  Yoenis Cespedes, who many had declared a dud after his three strikeouts yesterday, had two hits of his own, including a lined shot of a two-run homer.  Jim Henderson pitched another perfect inning; struck out the side, in fact.

And furthermore, the Mets were wearing the 1986 throwback uniforms, the most beautiful jerseys in history and the only indicator available that the Mets care at all about their history.  Michael Conforto, directly below my seat in left field, wore racing stripes.  It was absolutely outstanding, a positive if there ever was one.

But no one in the stands saw these, at least as far as I could hear.  The narrative of the season so far, among bloggers, fans, and media personalities, has been twofold: that if anyone declares  the season lost based on a few games, they’re crazy, but if I, personally, do so, I have my reasons, and I’m indubitably correct.

“I guess no team is allowed to have a bad game,” said a fan sarcastically yesterday, and I was sure they agreed with the relatively solid assertion that four or five games is no way to judge an entire season.  Then, I heard what they said next.

“But there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Cespedes.”

I’ll say it now, and avoid any possibility of being less than clear: if you’re passing judgement on the season after five games, you’re nothing more or less than a loon, whether or not you believe you’ve seen something crucial that the rest of the world has missed.  Things can change: they can change over the course of a few days or a week, as we’ve seen, but they can also change in hours, or minutes.

Neil Walker has been here for all of a week: let’s hold off on declaring that he needs to work on his approach until we’ve seen more than five games worth of hitting.  Addison Reed is a proven reliever: let’s make sure he’s actually completely forgotten how to pitch before we declare, as I heard one fan do this afternoon, that if he doesn’t pick it up, we’re going to have to bring Tyler Clippard back.  And Yoenis Cespedes has hit at least 20 home runs in every year of his career: until we know that he won’t at least do that, let’s hold off on calling to pinch hit for him.

We’ve got a good team: even through these two losses, that much has been abundantly clear.  Despite the Mets fan reflex that says that everything going wrong will never turn right, that’s just not how things work.  Granderson will hit, despite the worry of every Mets fan, which is that between last year and this year he developed an incurable hitch in his swing and will never reach base again.  Walker will hit.  D’Arnaud will hit.  Cespedes will hit.  Wright will hit.  Cabrera will hit.  Duda will hit.  They’ll all hit.

And if not?  Hell, we’ll have one long season ahead of us.  But we’re five games into the season, and there’s been nothing to suggest that our entire team has taken a step back, and everything to suggest that we’ll be just fine.

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Runs Not Allowed, Fireworks Jokes Okay

I’ll say it now, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it until they prove me wrong, which, if you know me, will be damn hard to do.  I’m not getting down on this team.

Had I wanted to, tonight would have been a prime opportunity.  The chance to take a series from the putrid Phillies, squandered.  The chance to begin asserting ourselves in the National League East, wasted.  The chance to dispel any lingering worries after the opener, untouched.

But I won’t, because much as we don’t like to admit it, we all have bad days.  It’s true for ball clubs as much if not more than for ordinary, everyday citizens.  Sometimes we don’t need to heap blame, because there really is, though we hate to say it, a real, true, acceptable reason that things went the way they did.

Today it was the cold.  “We’re not using the weather as an excuse,” Terry Collins said in his postgame press conference, so I’ll do it for him.  It’s hard to hit in the cold.  The hands tighten up, all contact stings, the ball doesn’t travel as far.  We Mets fans love accountability, but sometimes, excuses are valid and completely acceptable.

Fireworks night, strictly in terms of established precedent, is not supposed to take place on the coldest day available.  The phrase itself brings to mind images of children playing in the park or on the beach, families spreading a picnic blanket at the lake, young lovers lying back and looking up at the sky.

Not irritated, bellowing baseball fans suffering silently in tooth-chattering, hand-numbing cold, wearing winter mittens and drinking hot chocolate.

There’s a reason fireworks work better in the summer, just like there’s a reason the majority of baseball season takes place during warm weather: it just works better that way.  The hitters can swing without fear of hand-burning pain, and the fans can watch without wishing they’d brought a second scarf.

Fireworks and baseball: both as American as apple pie.  But somehow, scheduled during cold weather, they seemed almost Soviet.

Although the day was unsuitable for either, the schedule said there would be both, and the Mets nearly went about taking care of the pair of them in the first inning.  Granderson walked.  Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ball that, on a day more conventionally suited for baseball, would have gone out.  After Cespedes flied out, Duda singled, then Walker slammed a ball the other way.  Again, on a day more like the hypothetical perfect one on which baseball is meant to be played, Walker’s ball was ticketed for the stands.

It wasn’t.  The Mets couldn’t conjure the fireworks, which was somehow fitting: anyone who had braved the (inaccurate) predictions of rain and the near-freezing temperatures to make the trek to Citi Field was there, at least in large part, for the baseball.  In the stands, as the game went on, we didn’t care so much about the fireworks.

Maybe that’s why the Mets couldn’t produce them, in which case, their interpretation was miles off.

While the Mets offense was looking for conflagratory scoring opportunities but not finding any, Bartolo Colón was doing what he always does, which is to say, defying all logic.  My friend and I, as we drove to Citi Field, listed a million reasons why Colón was absolutely the worst person to pitch the game.  He hadn’t grown up pitching in the cold.  He didn’t throw nearly as hard as anyone else.  His pitches would move less than usual.

The face palming formality of a Ryan Howard home run, which frankly shouldn’t even count anymore given how bad he looks, aside, Bartolo was damn near perfect.  He went six, struck out seven, walked none, and allowed just the one run.  It was a loss worthy of 2013 Matt Harvey, a loss that was both undeserved and seemingly unimportant.  You get the feeling that, had the Mets walked off in the ninth, Bartolo wouldn’t have been too upset about not getting the win.  Clearly, he’s no longer in it for the numbers.

And in terms of numbers, let’s just face it: the Phillies bullpen had to get some outs eventually.  No team can sustain a 22.50 bullpen E.R.A. without hard work to do so, and the Phillies, while incredibly bad, aren’t quite that bad.  Even if it was via a climatological irregularity, something good was going to happen for the Phillies eventually, and if it had to, better now than later.

On the whole, the season is going swimmingly.  We’ve got two losses: one to the Royals, to whom losses bear no relation to any kind of reality, and one tonight, played in weather more suited for the luge.  Neither is anything alarming.  If we don’t score when we should score, I’ll call it a problem.  I haven’t seen it yet.  We’ve scored when we’ve been expected to.  That’s no way to get through a championship season, but with 158 games remaining, doing about as well as expected is enough to get by.

We didn’t stay for the fireworks: as soon as Wilmer made the last out, we stood, and soon enough, were on the road back to Manhattan.  Somehow, the cold weather, coupled with the Mets failure to provide fireworks of their own, had made us less hungry for the real thing.

Who said being a Mets fan made sense?

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We All Expected That

With the irksome proceedings of two sparsely scheduled games in Kansas City out of the way, the Mets returned home, and the fun part of the season began.

I hate to qualify it that way, because really, baseball season is the fun part of baseball season and there’s nothing more to be said.  But no one who attended or watched can deny the magic of the home opener, when, for just a brief moment, the idealized version of baseball is played out on the field, and anything is possible.

Jacob deGrom, who could be anywhere from one to four in our rotation, took the mound, and like we knew he would be, was as good as ever.  Six innings, one run, departure with a tight lat muscle.  In previous years, this would have been cause to panic.  Somehow, this year feels different.

Maybe it was because of what happened on the field.  The Phillies came in, a ragtag band of AAA players who may well lose 100 games this year.  We came in confident, a defending league champion.  We knew we were going to beat the Phillies, and beat them handily.  And then we went out and did exactly that.

How long has it been since we’ve been able to say that?  Since we’ve been able to say, right from the beginning of a season, that we were A) overwhelming favorites to win a game, and B) able to deliver and easily win the game in question?  It’s been a while, let me tell you.  This is what they say good teams do: they win the games they’re supposed to, and give their best effort in everything else.

All of this is not to reduce the action down on the field to a generalization, even if it is a positive one. There was baseball being played, and it wasn’t bad either.  Outside of the first and last hitters, everyone in the lineup had at least one hit.  Neil Walker had two more RBIs.  Michael Conforto had three, and is batting .444.  Lucas Duda has a three game hitting streak.

In short, it’s a classic lineup, following a tried and tested formula: if you’ve got the pitching, all you need is a lineup with no easy outs.  That’s what Sandy has quietly assembled, even as he stockpiled the greatest rotation any of us have ever seen: we’ve got young, homegrown talent behind the plate, at first base, and in left field.  We’ve got not superstars but solid hitters at second and short, a quintessential team player in right, and a slugger, albeit strikeout-prone, in center.

We won’t out-slug the ’27 Yankees, but the ’27 Yankees couldn’t hit much against us either.

After deGrom left with his mysterious tightness, Jim Henderson, the former feel-good project, entered.  It’s been mere days, and yet Henderson looks better than anyone could have realistically imagined.  He set down the side 1-2-3, with two strikeouts thrown in for good measure.  For all the griping about the bridge to Familia, it’s proven, through three games, remarkably solid, and today, because of its firmness, Familia wasn’t even needed, and Antonio Bastardo, another hurler who drew curious stares during Spring Training after rather conspicuously appearing at less than his best, came in instead.

He gave up a single, recorded two strikeouts, and induced Cameron Rupp to ground to Asdrubal Cabrera, and just like that, the Mets’ first home win of the season, and of many more, was in the books.

Beating up on the Phillies.  Ah, how I’d missed it, and now that it’s back and expected, ah how wonderful it is.  And I’ll be in attendance tomorrow night, in what look to be positively arctic temperatures, looking for my own first win of the season.

Good teams beat up on bad teams.  It’s just what they do.  And really good teams play just like we did today, and beat up on the bad teams without a second glance.

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The Royals, Bereft Of Lightning

I’ll admit it: there was a moment, however brief, when I was sure that game two was a lost cause just as game one had been.

When Michael Conforto slammed a ball at the left field wall and Lorenzo Cain came out of nowhere to make a catch that, on top of all the other luck the Royals have been privy too, seemed downright unfair, I was sure, for a brief moment, that the Royals were simply too much.  They were unbeatable, unassailable, invincible, not even worth taking on.

I couldn’t help think of a Calvin and Hobbes strip, wherein Calvin is kicked off his swing by Moe, the schoolyard bully.  Walking away, Calvin thinks to himself, “Years from now, when I’m successful and happy…and he’s in prison…I hope I’m not too mature to gloat.”

That’s how I felt about the Royals as Lorenzo Cain robbed what would have been our young Conforto’s fifth consecutive time on base to open the season.  I cursed them; I clenched my fists; I wanted to throw something but didn’t have anything replaceable at hand.

And it didn’t help that, through the first three innings, we did a whole lot of nothing against Chris Young, who is plenty infuriating in his own right.

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In the midst of a hard-fought contest, the Royals and their interminable luck can conjure memories of schoolyard bullies who don’t realize that sometimes, they’ve got to fail too.

Then came the fourth, and before you could say Daniel Murphy had two hits yesterday, Neil Walker was putting us on the board and moving memories of Murph to the backs of our minds.  It’s been two games, but I’m growing to quite like young Mr. Walker, he of the power from the five spot and the dependability at second base.  He’s just the kind of player all good teams need to play second fiddle to your temperamental superstars and your overpaid veterans: the gritty, dependable, everyday guy who makes the plays you need and gets the hits you want.

But hold on: I’m starting to sound like the ESPN booth droning on about the Royals, America’s team, the scrappy underdogs who were never the most athletic guys out there, but when the going got tough the Royals got going, so they went out there and they worked harder than everybody else, and they trained their bodies, hearts, and minds so that they always knew what to do out there on the field, and as Eric Hosmer was coming home he was using complex physics equations and psychological laws to calculate that Lucas Duda couldn’t possibly throw home on time, because that’s just the kind of guy he is, he’s a true ROYAL—

I’ve had just about enough of the Royals, as you can probably see.  And what’s more, I’d had more than enough of the Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN broadcast crew, which meant the good-humored camaraderie of Gary, Keith, and Ron was all the more welcome, especially as the trio was calling a game that was shaping up very well for us.

While Walker was putting us on the board in his quiet, unassuming way, Thor was doing what he does: namely, pitching so awesomely that all normal baseball logic ceased to apply.  The Royals, who NEVER STRIKE OUT, struck out nine times against Syndergaard, twelve overall.  Runners at third with nobody out didn’t score — a cardinal sin of Baseball on the part of the Royals, but the SNY crew is too good to resort to nonsense like that.  Players who don’t go down easy went down on three pitches.  Pitches that you could’ve sworn were ticketed for up the gap and rolling to the wall were exploding into d’Arnaud’s mitt.

Thor was pitching his game, in short, and if this was indeed his game, and he can keep up anything close to it going forward against the comparatively paltry lineups of most of the National League, we’ve got a helluva year to look forward to.  And I don’t see any reason why not.

Then came the seventh: Thor was out with 92 pitches, and Jim Henderson was in.  Jim Henderson.  Scott Rice.  Greg Burke.  LaTroy Hawkins.  Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Isringhausen.  We’ve seen a million of these guys.  But never, as far as I can remember, have we seen such an effective debut by a player largely presumed to be a feel-good project: 1-2-3 inning, two by strikeout, hitting 97 on the gun and topping it off with a dirty slider.  Maybe that bridge to Familia that we’ve all heard is overdue for maintenance is just fine after all.

We hit but didn’t score as the later innings continued.  We got a scoreless eighth from Addison Reed, whose mechanical, repeatable motion filled me with confidence even if his 93 m.p.h. fastball looked like a bowling ball coming to the plate after having watched Thor for six innings, and on came Familia for the ninth.

Yes, Familia blew three saves in the World Series.  One, as far as I can remember, was truly his fault.  When you’re playing the Royals on a hot streak, you give up tying runs on weak infield grounders and mistimed throws: it’s just something you do.  But Thor had disposed of the Royals’ hot streak on Familia’s behalf, and now Jeurys needed only to finish the job.

It was almost eerie, as the ninth began: Mets ahead 2-0, Lorenzo Cain at the plate, the series at stake.  The count went to 3-2.

“Lorenzo Cain, who famously walked on a 3-2 slider against Matt Harvey,” said Gary Cohen.

Well, it’s a new year, the past is done, and apparently, Familia hadn’t gotten the memo.  He threw a sinker.  His most lethal, most unhittable pitch.  It was down, out of the strike zone.  Cain swung anyway.  He had no shot.  The brief parallels with the final game of 2015 disappeared immediately, and d’Arnaud gunned the ball around the infield casually.

That’s when I knew we’d be fine.

We still had two outs to get, but come on.  This was Jeurys Familia, and these were the Royals suddenly bereft of the magic that had propped them up in October.  Familia faced Hosmer.  Hosmer hit an easy grounder to second.  Walker bobbled it.

And again, the Mets drove home the point that they were no longer the sloppy-fielding 2015 runner-ups.  In the time it took Mets fans all over the country to gasp, Walker regrouped and fired to first.  Got him by a stride.  Two down.

Kendrys Morales came up as the Royals’ last hope.  He chopped a swinging bunt in front of home plate.

2015 effectively ended on an errant throw from Duda to d’Arnaud.  The best part of 2016 began with a perfect one right back.

d’Arnaud to Duda.  Routine play.  And thus, the game went to the books.

So that’s it: we’ve taken on the Royals, the perfect team, the team America seems to root for, and split two games with them.  We’ve held them to three earned runs over those two games.  We’ve got pitching, and away from Kansas City and closer to home, we’ve got an offense to go with it as well.  And what’s more, we’re coming home.  Friday, Citi Field, 1:10.  That’s when the magic begins.

And now that we’ve left Kansas City with a win, call me crazy, but the spell seems to be broken, just a little bit.  Maybe we’ll run into the Royals somewhere down the line, and maybe they’ll be a cellar dweller.  I won’t gloat; in fact, I’ll probably root them on.  On any other day, there’s nothing wrong with a genuine group of scrappy, battle-worn underdogs.  Nothing wrong with a real-life America’s Team.

I just happen to prefer the Mets.

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