Mets 3, Cespedes -1, Season Still On Track

Did anyone really expect anything different than this?  What else, if we’re honest, could have happened?

I did expect something different, for one.  I expected the Mets, based on the veritable mountains of luck due to them after that travesty of a World Series, to pull out a win.  But then the Royals propaganda office went to work, brought in what, from the best I could tell, were two dying fire fighters to raise the championship banner, and got their crowd screaming over whatever was happening, which as far as I could tell was mostly a bunch of highlight reels and the like that reinforced the idea that, whatever else, the Royals were pretty damn good.

How could we win after that?

For those of us at home, meanwhile, we were stuck watching the game on ESPN, listening to commentary that consisted mostly of talking about how relentless the Royals were for doing things like hitting ground balls, not to even mention the occasional fly ball.  Everyone knows that this is a load of nonsense; the Royals have been lucky when they put the ball in play, and it’s as simple as that.  That didn’t stop the booth: for every Eric Hosmer grounder through the hole, we were treated to a lengthy explanation of how while Hosmer hadn’t really hit the ball well, he had put the ball in play, and because it had happened to find a hole, he had done so relentlessly and scrappily, with the heart and hustle befitting an underdog.

This is not even to mention the “K-Zone,” which seemed to be the main objective of the entire broadcast.  “We’re going to take a break now and show you some baseball,” I kept expecting to hear, “but after that, we’ll be right back to take another extended look at the K-Zone.”

But there was baseball, between the lengthy treatises on the K-Zone and the tiresome dogma spoutings regarding how the Royals PLAYED THE GAME THE RIGHT WAY, GODDAMMIT, there was a ballgame, and if we’re honest, again, did we really expect it to go any differently?

For the first seven innings, the Mets appeared to have not even a semblance of an offense, which is nothing more or less than a disease that strikes once in a while.  The Mets could put together a lineup to rival the 1927 Yankees: every once in a while, we’d simply know, deep in our hearts, that we had absolutely no chance to score.  When your lineup is not the 1927 Yankees but a mix of inconsistent aging sluggers and left-handedly flailing shortstops, it happens more often.  Not necessarily too often to preclude a winning season, but it happens.

Meanwhile, Edison Volquez, on the mound, was just having one of those games.  Maybe our lineup was just bad; maybe he was just good; it was probably a little of both.  Everything he threw fell just right for him, and on the multiple occasions when the Mets hit balls harder than anything the Royals hit all night, they went directly to fielders.  Pitchers have those days: it’s yet another thing that just happens.

Then the eighth came along, and against a pitcher who by the numbers alone is very ordinary, but because he’s part of the Royals self-proclaimed super-bullpen must be a mound wizard, we finally pulled ourselves together.  We scored three.  We couldn’t score a fourth, because Asdrubal Cabrera came up with two outs, and Asdrubal Cabrera’s swing just doesn’t do things like driving in runs.  We went to the ninth down 4-3.

Mets/Royals.  4-3 going to the ninth.  A hard-throwing reliever on the mound.  Sound familiar?

Well, not for the Mets, it seemed.  A walk, a fielder’s choice, a single, a strikeout, and another strikeout combined for three outs without a run.  With two outs, Michael Conforto was three batters away – three batters too far, as it turned out.  Cespedes gave Wade Davis a bit of a battle before striking out, which frankly is more than he usually does before striking out, but he couldn’t hold off his free-swinging tendencies forever, and he chased a pitch a foot off the plate to end it.

So there we were, same old one-run losers despite two hits from Conforto and an effort from Harvey that wasn’t as bad as his final line would indicate.  And with that, the perfection of Opening Day dissipated, and we were the same old Mets, not enough offense, pitching not quite good enough, just a little too old, not quite good enough.

Or maybe not, because three runs today is three runs more than I thought we’d get over the Royals rumoredly-deadly bullpen, and, dare I say it, three more than we would have scored in 2014, or 2012, or 2010, or a bad year.  This is a good year — even with the disheartening loss, that much still seems evident.  One League Champion had to lose today, and it was us.  But we’ve got Thor on Tuesday, and they’ve got someone, almost by definition, who is nowhere near as good.

No, Opening Day didn’t go the way we wanted.  Yes, there’s a lot we need to improve.  But that’s the point: that’s why it’s Opening Day.  This is not a good game 160.  But for game one of a whole lot, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

We’ll be back Tuesday, ready and rearin’ to go with a long tall Texan on the mound and a fresh fire in our bats.  And now that we’ve got a real team, those obscure terms actually mean something beyond being angry.

They mean the Royals need to watch out for an opponent with something to prove and the means to prove it.  And they mean that we’re going to win on Tuesday, and a whole lot besides.  And disheartening as it seems, one Opening Day loss doesn’t change that one bit.

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Mets Fans Bid Winter Adieu

It’s been cold, dark, and windy.  It’s been bleak and grey.  It’s seemed interminable.  At some points, it’s seemed the norm.

It’s over.  Baseball is back.

Really, that’s all there is to say, because what else matters?  What else need be added to make the simple pronouncement any more spectacular?  Baseball is back, and that’s all.  No qualifiers or confirmations are needed.  The three words are enough.

In a few hours, we’ll be ready for warmups, player introductions, and the national anthem.  Soon after that, it will be Edinson Volquez on the mound, and our guys at bat.  Picking up right where we left off, in more than one sense.

Who knows where we’ll go from here, or how we’ll get there?  That’s the beauty of Opening Day.  The season exists fully in our imaginations, different to each but ending well for all, meandering in its path but arriving at the same happy destination regardless.  We can’t say that after today.  Maybe we win, or maybe we lose, but regardless, we won’t be perfect.  After today there’s minute, obsessive analysis to conduct, lineups to tinker with, fielders to move around.  After today, things, small or large, but things regardless, start to go wrong.

Today our team is perfect, and don’t bother telling us otherwise because you’ve got no leg to stand on.  It’s Opening Day: anything can happen yet, and until either of those changes, our team is whatever we want it to be.  We’re an offensive juggernaut, a swaggering frontrunner, a stingy cheese factory, a heroic underdog.  Whatever notion we hold of our team, based in fact or fantasy, reality or wishes, today it’s absolutely true.  But not for much longer.

It seems only yesterday we were hunkering down for the long wait through Spring Training, telling ourselves while not really believing it that Opening Day would be here before we knew it.  Once again, we thought we were wrong, but we weren’t.  We never think we’ll make it, yet we always do.

Yes, whether you’re talking about Opening Day or the World Series, we never think we’ll make it.  But we always manage to get back there somehow, whether it takes five months or fifteen years.

Scant hours remain, which somehow always seem to drag on endlessly, but regardless, we’ve made it.  Practicalities of 8:30 p.m. starts notwithstanding, we’ve made it back to baseball season.  That’s today’s real magic, even more than the return of baseball itself, although a win wouldn’t hurt.  The two sound the same, but they’re subtly different.

The Mets aren’t playing yet.  They won’t, for some hours.  But there’s a game today.  Whether it’s late or early, that’s what matters.

We’re back, once again, to days that have Mets games attached.

I’m ridiculously happy about that, and ridiculously excited for “gameday” becoming “gametime,” because who isn’t?  We’ve got our best team in a good nine or ten years, and now, we’ve got weather and an opponent to go with that.

I was excited for Opening Day 2015, when we had a glimmer of hope that maybe something would happen.  I was excited for Opening Day 2014, when the Mets, supposedly nearing the end of their rebuild, took the field with a former (and, I suppose, future) star in right field and a short, squat, lovable pitcher in the dugout.  I was excited for Opening Day 2013, with the promise brought by a resurgent David Wright and a fireballing Matt Harvey and the brief craze that was Collin Cowgill.  I was even excited for Opening Day 2012, because no matter how bad it seemed we would be — and this was a team that, beyond anyone’s expectations, severely overperformed in the first half of the season, cresting at 46-39 the game before the all-star break — baseball was back.

But today?  Opening Day 2016?  Defending National League Champions?  This tops them all, and not narrowly.  We’ve got a team for the ages, a team full of youth and character and grizzled veterans and jumpy rookies and every other baseball cliche you can imagine, thrown together through a combination of patient rebuilding and desperate, on-the-fly signings to win a championship or die trying, and give the fans something fun to watch either way.

Everything’s back, after today.  Bartolo’s behind the back flips.  Thor and deGrom and Harvey, all striking out hitters with fastballs that don’t give much of a chance.  Conforto and d’Arnaud hitting line drives all over the field, Grandy getting on base like Ted Williams, Duda slugging balls to God knows where, Matz bringing his grandfather to the edge of his seat, the captain going out and giving us everything he’s got every single day.

Or maybe that’s the optimist in me talking, and the season won’t go nearly so well.  But that’s the point.  It’s Opening Day, and the season is whatever we want it to be.  It’s a romp, a bash, a charge through the shoddily defended N.L. East and right on back to the World Series and through whatever opponent they’re foolish enough to throw at us and on, on, on until there’s a new trophy in Flushing.

We’re headed that way.  We’ve got just the team to do it, and today, they get started.  And hell — even if they don’t, today’s when we know for certain that they will.

Happy Opening Day.  Let’s get out there, and let’s play ball.

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An Ode To The Op’ner

(Originally published March 30th, 2014 via Pedro Beato Fan Club)

 

Tomorrow there’ll be baseball

The teams will take the field

And shouts of good or negative

The tow’ring stands will yield

 

‘Morrow shall the game be held

At the ground once called Shea

But negatives we will not feel

For there’s a game today

 

The fans will show up early

On the number seven line

“I see it! There’s the stadium!”

The children will opine

 

The veterans, the more seasoned

Will overtake the parking lot

Happily preparing

Sausages and burgers hot

 

Those who cannot be there

The students, the oppressed

Of their wretched situations

Still will make the best

 

List’ning on their radios

Dawdling in the halls

Eagerly will they follow

Josh and Howie with the call

 

Meanwhile those attending

Gametime will await

Their six month thirst for baseball

Food and drink just cannot sate

 

Finally as the time arrives

These fans begin to wake

Then they move more quickly

For they’ve a game to make

 

The lines of eager attendees

With haste approach the seats

For today’s a day for baseball

And the fans will not be beat

 

As game time fast approaches

The players are introduced

And still the fans’ excitement

Has yet to be unloosed

 

But as the fans do take their seats

They are yet called to stand

And sung out with great passion

Will be the song of our land

 

Finally will the players yield

To whomever will M.C.

Who will introduce the home team

in this baseball game to be

 

He’ll start out rather simple

He’ll say “And now, here they are,d”

Then the eager fielders

will be quick to heed the call

 

Then nigh on 40,000 fans

Will shout out loud with joy

Being, for a moment

A young girl or boy

 

Meanwhile those being kept away

Their radios will wield

Hoping to hear Howie say

“Live from Citi Field”

 

And as we see them on the field

Our team of these nine men

We’ll finally absorb it –

Baseball’s really here again

 

The game will soon proceed

Because the season must begin

Steadfastly will the Mets advance

Hoping for a win

 

To later innings will the game

Rapidly progress

We’ll hear our first Lou Monte

At the 7th inning stretch

 

When at last the game concludes

Regardless of the score

Back to real life we must go

But we’ll all long for more

 

And as we leave the building

As we travel to our cars

We won’t think of women

Or of drinking at the bars

 

Of social state, of government

Of problems, of our pay

We will not fret, complain, or worry

‘Cause tomorrow’s Opening Day

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