Batman Begins Anew

One number said it all today.  Amidst the proclamations and exclamations and celebrations and declarations of “He’s back!” one number said it all.


Matt Harvey hadn’t hit 98 on the radar gun all year.  He did it last year 83 times.  And today, for the first time this year, he hit it.  More than once.

The six strikeouts were nice.  The seven shutout innings were nicer.  The snap on the breaking ball was a welcome sight, and the improved command was no small pleasure to behold either.

But 98 beat them all.  98 means things are just getting started.

When Matt Harvey is throwing 98, he’s in the zone.  When Matt Harvey is in the zone, you can’t touch him.  And when Matt Harvey can’t be touched, we win even more than we’re already winning.


Can he repeat it?  Who the hell knows, after all this season has shown us?  It’s completely impossible to say where we go from here, beyond the fact that A) Harvey’s bought himself some time, at the very least, and B) we’re in a place that’s a whole lot better than where we were yesterday.

And that’s to say nothing of Familia, who after back to back failed outings looked right back at home, or Walker, who homered again from the right side, or Reed, who looks more than ready to take over the closer’s role, not that it now looks like we’ll need it, or Cespedes, who snapped a brief skid with a single and a warning track flyout.

The Nationals?  What of ‘em?  We’ve got our guys back and ready to go, we’ve got a team hungry for revenge, and we’ve already proven that we’ve got ten times the heart that they do.  The Nationals don’t stand a chance.

Well, that’s probably hyperbole, and I’m speaking mostly out of emotion here, but why not?  This is baseball.  Baseball is all emotion.  And when Matt Harvey comes out of a funk to go seven scoreless innings, and Jeurys Familia nails down the save, it’s hard to come away with any emotion but unmitigated positivity.


More Like The Utley Reign

It wasn’t a game that started out looking like a thriller.

“Colón versus Kershaw!” people said.  “That’s not going to end well!”

But for a while, it went better than we had any right to expect.

Bartolo, for his part, pitched far better than expected — seeing as he’s a 43-year-old with the body of Ralph Kramden — but really, he pitched well, even for a normal-bodied player.  The offense was facing Clayton Kershaw: you can’t fault them for doing little.

But Colón couldn’t hold the Dodgers back forever.  In the top of the third, with one out, Chase Utley singled.  Utley was on first.  With one out.  And the entire stadium, we all knew, although no one said anything, was thinking the same thing.

Let’s see a grounder.  Right to Walker at second.  Flip to Cabrera.  And let’s see Chase Utley try to break up another double play.

But then Kyle Seager singled Utley over to third.

As luck would have it, Turner, the next batter, grounded one to Flores, so we would have our double play after all.  Or so we thought.  Flores dove, for reasons those watching didn’t fully understand, and  threw over to second.  Walker relayed to first, but it was too late to catch Turner, and Utley came home.

And then Terry Collins came out of the dugout, and the entire ballpark went silent as the realization sunk in.

We were trying to take a Dodgers’ run off the board using the Chase Utley Rule.

We, the fans, were floored; that much was obvious.  “There’s a mountain of symbolism here,” I said — really, I said it out loud — to no one in particular.  With the play under review, replays flashed, one after another, on the scoreboard.  It looked like a textbook late slide: Seager slides past second, into Walker’s leg, which could have injured him if he’d been unable to get out of the way.

And then the umpires got the decision from their headsets.  And then crew chief made an “out” call.  And then, because we’re Mets fans and our luck is awarded sparsely, we realized they were calling out the runner we already knew was out, and the other runner was safe.  And although we booed heartily befitting such a miscarriage of justice, we should have seen it coming.

Honestly, is there any situation more representative of the handling of the situation with the Chase Utley Rule than Chase Utley scoring a run based on a favorable interpretation of the Chase Utley rule?


It would prove an important run, as we learned later.  But at the time, the game went on, Colón holding his own, our offense not mustering much against Kershaw.

The Dodgers pushed across another run in the fifth, but then, finally, we struck in the sixth.  Two outs.  Two strikes.  As is often the case with Kershaw on the mound, a strikeout appears imminent.

Cabrera gets ahold of one, doesn’t get all of it, but enough to launch it to deep left.  Howie Kendrick goes back.  At the wall, he jumps.  Can he reach it?

We’ll never know.  Because a fan not content with his role as a spectator reaches over the fence and interferes with the ball.  Cabrera rounds the bases.  Kendrick signals interference.  The call on the field; home run.

But it goes to review, as we knew it would.  You can’t take two steps without going to review these days.  This one actually deserved a closer look, although it couldn’t possibly have been overturned, based on the video evidence available.

Of course, based on the luck we’ve gotten, from the umpires and otherwise, we weren’t feeling remotely reassured.

But for once, the umpires got it right; they upheld the call, the deficit was cut in half, and the game was competitive once again.

It’s Antonio Bastardo for the seventh, and he does his thing: gets three outs so easily that you’re left wondering how a pitcher that looks so jarringly average can produce outs as if they grow on trees.  We can’t hit in the seventh either: Kershaw is still in.  We move to the eighth.

It’s Reed.  He’s been rock-solid; indeed, he’s (spoiler alert!) making a strong case for consideration as a candidate for closer, if things continue the way they have.  And again, he gets three outs.

And also, somewhere in this period of two innings or so, a long, long wave started.  It went around the park.  It wouldn’t stop.  Sensible people everywhere hung their heads in disgust.

“The game?  Eh, not so much,” said the wave.  “Now, these people standing up in semi-unison, that’s why we’re here; that really catches our attention.”  Behind me, I heard two people having detailed discussions about Citi Field’s conduciveness to the wave.

“The upper deck is bigger,” said one of them, as Bastardo successfully navigated a crucial inning and kept us in the game.  He seemed really worried about it.

And finally, as the bottom of eighth began — and a fan behind me voiced simultaneous anger and disbelief that the Dodgers would have the temerity to throw Kershaw out there for another inning and take a serious risk of continuing to shut us down — we struck.  Plawecki — the second of four consecutive hitters below the Mendoza line, all of them rather significantly so — singled to center.  Campbell — miraculously — avoided grounding into a double play, and made only a single out.

Pinch-hitting — which reeked of desperation, seeing as the best left-handed pitcher in the world was on the mound — Michael Conforto slammed one.  He’s seemed to do a lot of that this year.  It went right to an outfielder.  That’s seemed to happen a lot as well.  Here’s hoping it turns around, because goodness nows he’s due for some luck.  Two outs now, Granderson coming up.

Wayne Randazzo, or maybe someone on Twitter — it’s hard to remember these days, isn’t it? — had noted before the game that in May, Dave Roberts had not left the dugout to remove Clayton Kershaw.  Not once.  He threw three complete games this month, and put up an E.R.A. substantially under 1.00.  And now Roberts was pulling him — again, the best lefty in the world — in favor of another lefty.

You kind of knew — well, you hoped, but it had some sensibility behind it — that the questionable decision would backfire.

Against Adam Liberatore — “Adam Liberator,” said Alex Anthony, and I’ve got to say, there must be a good story behind that last name — Granderson dug in.  He’d entered the game barely above the Mendoza line, but had doubled in the first against Kershaw.  Of course, Kershaw had ended the threat.  Leadoff doubles against Kershaw are like Republican threats to repeal Obamacare.  They just don’t seem to lead to anything they’re supposed to.

We know what happened next.  Granderson drove one to right.  The stadium stood.  From my seat in the upper deck behind third base, I was fairly sure that Puig was going to catch it.

Puig lept.  I was still fairly sure.  And then the ball dropped.

And then it was good, old-fashioned pandemonium, high-fiving strangers like we’d just won the lottery, giving fist pumps worthy of David Wright.  We’d tied up the game and Kershaw was gone — in every book but the record book, that’s a win in itself.

With the go-ahead run on third, Asdrubal Cabrera came to the plate, and the stadium came to its feet.  And then, in a twist of fate that seemed out of synch with the rest of what was happening, a man tapped me.

“Sit down, please,” he said, from two rows behind me.

I should have turned and told him off.  I should have told him, “I’m sorry sir, but we’re looking to take the lead, and this is when you stand up and shout.”  I should have let him know what it meant to be a fan.

Instead, I sat down, not so much fuming as sitting in stunned disbelief, feeling like George Costanza after he’s been insulted.  And from low down in my seat, I watched Cabrera strike out.


Jeurys Familia has either hit a rough patch or developed a problem, and either way, it didn’t help us tonight.  As in Friday’s game, Familia got the out he needed, and in this case two: he just got them one batter too late.  An Adrian Gonzalez 2 RBI single — Gonzalez, ironically, was supposed to rake against Colón, but came back to get us against Familia instead — put us behind.

And that was that.  Our closer didn’t do his job; theirs did.  We went down in the ninth, and what had looked like a hard-fought, extra inning thriller worthy of the ’86 Mets whose rings many of us were wearing turned into a dreary, 4-2 loss.

Look on the bright side though, as Mets fans are supposed to: we’re shot of Utley and the Dodgers.  We’re done with them.  We’ve had our moments on both sides: now our schedule with them is over, and it’s back to baseball as normal.

Well, that’s only partially true.  Because yes, our schedule with them is over.  But thanks to the way this series went, it’s hard to think that we’ll ever really be shot of Utley and the Dodgers.


Mets Win 1-0 On Strength Of Thor, Lagares

It was a battle right up until the end.  But Juan Lagares’ pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the eighth was enough to prop up Noah Syndergaard’s eight scoreless innings, and the Mets defeated the Dodgers 1-0 to clinch a series win going into tomorrow’s evening matchup against Clayton Kershaw.

Syndergaard went the eight, striking out twelve, before departing for Lagares.  With Jeurys Familia unavailable, Addison Reed nailed down the save.


The tension surrounding Chase Utley continued to mount: in the top of the third, Syndergaard’s first pitch to Utley was behind him.  The home plate umpire, a sensible, logically-thinking human being, warned both benches, not wanting to send the game into complete and total disarray by completely uselessly ejecting Syndergaard, and the game continued without trouble.

“Of course he didn’t eject him,” read a statement released by Terry Collins and co-endorsed by millions of people nationwide who know the first thing about baseball.  “You give a warning, the grudge is settled, everything settles down.  It’s clearly established precedent.”

“It was the right call not to eject him,” said the National Council for Common Sense in Baseball.  “The pitch wasn’t anywhere near him; it was sending a message.  Once that’s over, it’s clear that the grudge is settled, so there’s no need for anything more than a warning.  If you eject him, you create completely unnecessary additional hostility, so it’s a good thing he didn’t do it.”

Even Utley himself agreed wholeheartedly with the decision.

“As someone who believes — wrongly, I should add — that I ‘play the game the right way,’ I don’t have a problem with it,” he said, speaking sense for what is probably the first time in his maggot-infested life.  “I should add that I don’t feel human emotions.”

Utley finished the game 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, the dreaded “golden sombrero.”

Terry Collins, who hadn’t had the slightest worry that Syndergaard would be ejected, because he is a sane, thinking human being, agreed with others’ assessments.

“Why would he toss him?” Collins asked rhetorically, knowing that there was no sensible reason.  “To toss him would be to completely forget what the umpire’s role is in keeping the game moving smoothly.  If he’d tossed him, it would have been a decision based entirely on gut feelings and emotions — exactly the opposite of what an umpire is supposed to do.”

After the pitch behind Utley, the boos from the crowd subsided in subsequent at-bats.

“I think the crowd understood that we’d sent our message,” Syndergaard said.  “He broke our guy’s leg, now we throw behind him, messages exchanged, we move on.”

“It’s a good thing I wasn’t tossed for it though,” he added.  “If I had been, the fans wouldn’t have been able to get over the whole thing.  Everyone would have stayed really angry, maybe for the rest of Utley’s career, the grudge would have continued, and maybe even gotten worse — it would have done more harm than good.”

“Thank god our umpires are sensible, non-reactionary people,” he concluded.  “This whole game went just about as smoothly as possible, thanks to them.”


A Grand Reunion

My mind was set on tomorrow night’s game as I made my way down to the field level, preparing to watch Familia seal the win in the top of the ninth and then catch the train home, get to bed, and wake up tomorrow for the biggest day of the year, Mets wise — the ’86 reunion.  But then Familia had to throw a wrench in my plans.

It started with two cheap hits.  Familia rallied for a strikeout, then Yasiel Puig hit a grounder.

“That’s two!” shouted a fan standing behind me, in the crowd gathered four or five deep in the concourse behind first base.

It wasn’t.  It went into left, and the bases were loaded.  And then Yasmani Grandal came up.  And a few pitches later, he’d walked, and the tying run was on base.

Familia struck out Trayce Thompson — who I was convinced was going to burn us with a home run, the way he had in L.A. — and Chase Utley came up.

What demon force, what devil’s breath, has reanimated Chase Utley?  By what means is he hitting like a leadoff man, driving the ball, knocking in runs and getting on base, aggravating opposing fans like a 39 year old spawn of satan has no business doing?  Quite simply, why him, and why now?

Well, regardless of how he’s doing it, he drove a ball to the wall in right, the bases cleared, the game was tied — “that’s going to tie the game,” I said to myself in the concourse, mostly to break the monotony of groans of disbelief around me — and Chase Utley had done it again.

I can’t stress enough how well I understand the virtues behind being the bigger men, not sinking to Utley’s level, and seeking our revenge in the form of beating Utley’s team.  But I must say, it seems like until we drill Utley, and put all this nonsense in the rearview, he’s going to keep killing us.  He shouldn’t be comfortable in the box; instead, he clearly is, and far too much so.  We drill him; he loses his sense of superiority based in his conviction that he’s tougher than we are because we haven’t retaliated; he loses the spark of his ridiculous rejuvenation and turns back a 39 year old utility man.

Maybe Thor will get it done tomorrow in front of the entire ’86 team, but probably not, seeing as we’ve passed up every opportunity so far to put Utley in the dirt.  But one way or another, Chase Utley is entirely too comfortable in a batter’s box he has no business occupying, and someone, somehow, has to change that.  Thor?  Let’s hope so.

But either way, Utley had tied the game, which — after Familia buckled down and struck out Corey Seager — now went to the bottom of the ninth, the inning we never thought we’d see.  In the sixth, hoping to see the captain hit again following his home run, I’d dismissed the possibility out of hand.

“Wright’s got one at-bat left,” I’d thought to myself.  “He’ll hit in the seventh, but we won’t bat in the bottom of the ninth.”

Familia and Utley had conspired to prove me wrong.

The dismayed fans gathered around me, most of whom had remained only reluctantly, jostled for position, looking through a sea of heads down to the field.

“How about a walk-off here?” someone said.

It doesn’t hold much meaning afterwards: anyone can call walk-off at any point, and just by sheer luck, they’ll be right eventually.  But it makes a nice little story nonetheless, seeing what happened next.


Granderson hit the second pitch he saw down the right field line.  We watching from the concourse immediately lost sight of it, blocked out by the overhang of the second deck.  Half of us craned our necks, looking towards the outfield; half of us looked the other way, towards the TV.

That’s right: I was reduced to watching the game’s essential moment on a badly positioned TV, as if my ticket, price inflated by the knockoff jersey giveaway, had been for a sports bar instead of a ballgame.

I watched Puig going back — that I saw in person.  On the screen, I saw the right field corner.  And then as the crowd erupted, I saw the ball land fair.

And then I, and the crowd around me, joined in the celebration.

Curtis Granderson isn’t a flashy player.  He’s been commended mightily; usually for his professionalism, demeanor, and work ethic.  But tonight, he earned his praise for a simple baseball reason: he blasted a ball out of the park.

It hasn’t quite been his year so far: he’s barely peeking over the Mendoza line, albeit with an OBP about 100 points higher than his average.  But still, you can tell he’s working hard — he’s Curtis Granderson.  And he was due for something like this.

He was due, as was David Wright, who homered in the fourth, and Juan Lagares, who did the same in the fifth.  They were due for big nights, as was Neil Walker, who doubled home a run in the first, as was Jacob deGrom, who, despite not getting the win — and eliciting sympathy that quickly turned into anger from two women in front of me, irked beyond belief that Familia couldn’t save the win for Jacob — was, how you say, pretty deGrominant.

They were all due, and they all — besides Familia, and it all worked out fine, so let’s let this one slide — came through, and now it’s our turn.  Our turn, the fans’ turn, to prepare for a big night.  The ’86 reunion, the 30th anniversary celebration of the greatest team in Mets history.

Seriously, how great will this be?  Several times during tonight’s game, when it didn’t seem as close as it would eventually get, I was overcome by thoughts of how absolutely cool the reunion would be.  Everyone will be there — HoJo and Nails and Wally and Doc and Darryl and Mazz and Mookie and Sid and Bobby O, not to mention the more obscure names; Foster and Niemann and Santana, Ed Hearn and Terry Leach.  And, of course, the essential pair, Keith and Ron.  MC’ed, in all likelihood, by Howie Rose, it’s a celebration I just can’t wait to attend.

August 19th, 2006: the 20th anniversary of the 2006 team.  I was there that night, sitting in the rain at Shea, Dave Williams pitching against the Rockies, Mets coming from behind to win late.  Now, ten years minus a few months later, I’m back.

It’s a reminder — another reminder — that Mets fandom doesn’t stop.  The faces age; the players on the field change; but really, there’s not much that changes, in terms of just what it is that we’re celebrating.

We’re celebrating hard work, sportsmanship, and leaving it all out on the field.  And those were in abundance on the 1986 Mets, just as we saw all of them tonight, as Curtis Granderson took one big swing and brought us home a win.


Matz Like It Oughta Be

I wasn’t quite calm today, watching Steven Matz on the mound.  I was rooting — hard — for him to continue his string of excellent starts, but from the beginning, I wasn’t sure if he had it.

“Maybe today he’ll be a little off,” I thought, as he allowed Daniel Murphy to reach in the first, then allowed baserunners in each of the first three innings.

I watched, on tenterhooks, as Matz attempted to navigate the Nationals’ lineup.  Then, suddenly, I looked up, and realized that Matz had gone eight scoreless, lowered his E.R.A. to 2.36, and was in line for his seventh win, which was secured shortly thereafter with a not-unmanageable amount of stress from Jeurys Familia.

That’s Matz’s brand of nastiness.  He’s not Thor, where you can see the ball flaming as the hitter misses it.  He’s not Colón, who can amaze on any given day by something as simple as taking a swing.  Rather, the brilliance of Matz lies in his deceptive look of the everyman.

“He’s got decent stuff,” you say to yourself.  “Sitting at 93 or 94, got a curve and a change, we should hit him a little.”

Then before you can even wonder, “why aren’t we hitting?” the fastball is by you, or you’ve flailed and missed at the change, or the curve has snapped in for a called third strike, and you’re headed back to the dugout, another victim of far from everyman Steven Matz.

Just look at the career numbers of the kid who, compared to the rest of the staff, isn’t supposed to be all that intimidating: 11-1. 2.32 E.R.A.  No, he’s not intimidating.  He just gets his job done, and done mighty well at that.

Speaking of getting one’s job done, has anyone checked in on captain David Wright lately?  He’s hitting the ball hard — after the week or so slump that had many people convinced, for the third or fourth time this season, that he was done — and making every at-bat a battle.  Let’s remember, people, that this is a player with a .352 OBP and six home runs, only eleven shy of the Mets club record: next time you want to declare him done, give it a week or so, and see if it takes.

Also speaking of getting one’s job done, few people approved of the decision to let Daniel Murphy go, and, we saw this series, it was not without reason: Murph is a hitting machine, as most of us knew from his time in Queens.  Nevertheless, Neil Walker is a very capable replacement, and today we saw why: Campbell hit a ball at Murph that should have been his (Campbell’s) second GIDP of the day.  And Murph booted it.

Right through the legs it went, and to third went Matt Reynolds (as of earlier today, by the way, possessor of his first MLB hit, so congratulations are in order to the kid who’s waited an inordinate while for his chance to do just this).  And on Mets Twitter, the imaginary Murph civil war — a conflict taking place between those who know EVERYONE knows that it’s a bad thing Murph is gone, and those who think they’re the ONLY ones that know it’s a bad thing that Murph is gone — became a conflagration.  It wasn’t quite redemption for game four, but it was something approaching that.  And it certainly didn’t hurt when Rene Rivera drove home Reynolds with an RBI single.

We’ve certainly got an interesting dynamic going on this team: we’re in second place, only half a game behind the Nationals, and solidly above .500, yet we adore some of the players — Rivera, of course, but also Bartolo — as if they’re the quirky vets making a bad team fun.  This isn’t a bad thing; it’s the opposite of one.  It’s all the fun of baseball without a care, with the added benefit of a team deserving of all the care in the world and then some.

It’s Baseball Like It Oughta Be.

And speaking of which, Matz sent us into an off day on a good note, but when Mets baseball resumes on Friday, it won’t just be any other set of games.  1986 weekend is coming up, a three game set with the Dodgers, and, as one notable figure in Mets history admonished, you should come by if you’re in the area.

Saturday night, it all goes down: the ’86 Mets reunite, minus a few nonessential pieces and Roger McDowell (busy working for the Braves, which still sounds wrong).  If history is any indication, Howie Rose will MC.

On August 19th, 2006, the Mets held a 1986 celebration in honor of the 20th anniversary of the World Series winning season.  I was there that night, Mets agains the Rockies, rain falling and then letting up, Dave Williams on the mound, Mets falling behind and then scoring later to win it, as we did so often in 2006.

The two teams — the 2006 Mets who celebrated the 1986 team, and the 2016 team about to celebrate the same — have very little in common; in fact, they share only one player.  That’s the captain, obviously.  But they’re both Mets teams.  They’re both great Mets teams.

And as long as the 2016 version keeps playing baseball exactly the way it oughta be played, I can’t think of a better way to honor the ’86 team, who set the standard the 2016 team is looking for.


That’s Bleak

My afternoon started with superconducting paste smeared on my head, electrical nodes attached, and a storage bank slung over my shoulder, connected to my head with about 50 thin wires.  So either way, it wasn’t going to be the best day.

Then Matt Harvey burned out again.  I suppose I should have seen that coming.

Reactions immediately started buzzing as soon as Harvey left after the fifth, having given up five runs, all via the long ball.  What would we — that is to say, the Mets — do?  Send him down?  DL him?  Put him in the bullpen?

(Well, I didn’t hear anyone suggest that last one besides my dad, and I only mention it because of how heartily I disagreed with it.  But I suppose everything’s on the table at this point).

I can’t help but be swayed by the parallels drawn between the year that Harvey’s having and the 2015 season of — who else — Stephen Strasburg.  Strasburg’s E.R.A. was above 6.00 when he hit the disabled list.  After his return, for the remainder of the season, it was 1.76.  Fast forward to today, he’s 8-0, E.R.A. under 3.00, and the Nationals feel confident enough in his future to sign him to a 7 year, $175 million contract.

Ooh, what I’d give for that kind of confidence right now.

So, I’m for DLing him.  We’ve got Ray Ramirez on staff, after all: the main upside of that is that we’ve got pretty much free reign to misdiagnose players with injuries they may or may not have, prescribe treatments that may simply be three weeks of rest, then reevaluate an arm that, with rest, could very easily get over the fatigue that’s obviously dogging it right now.

It was all over the radio as we drove home, my head wrapped in mountains of gauze, an brain monitoring computer slung over my shoulder — I took a pitcher and captioned it #EpilepsyPerks — and surgical tape scratching at my ears: Harvey is fatigued.  It’s hardly a crazy statement to make: Harvey, in 2015, pitched the most dominant season after Tommy John surgery of all time, and then continued to pitch through the World Series, which meant more innings and less time off.  I wouldn’t call it outlandish to say that Harvey’s arm might just need a few weeks of rest.

So you DL him.  You put him on the 15 with something like arm fatigue or general malaise (I can’t help but remember John Sterling’s immortally stupid line, delivered in complete, deadpan seriousness: “General malaise?  I think I had him in the army.”), and you shut him down for a few weeks.  I’m no doctor, so I can’t tell you whether you throw twelve pitches one day, rest for two, fifteen the next, whatever it is.  But I can tell you that Harvey’s arm looks like it just needs some time to rest and regroup.  And for me, that means pitching less, not continuing to pitch regularly.

And if we’re honest, who wants to see Harvey in the minors anyway?  If it’s a beleaguered arm, which I think it is, there’s no need to send the Dark Knight mucking around the dessert in an overheated bus with the Las Vegas 51s when some simple rest could fix him.  No one really wants to see Matt Harvey in the minors, pitching to no-names to regain some sense of his pitching self.  He’s the Dark Knight, our former and future hero: let him maintain some semblance of dignity.

And finally, it’s the PCL, where the ball flies out of the yard like there’s no tomorrow.  For a pitcher with a confidence issue, it’s not your best bet.

So really, let’s DL him.  Shut him down for a few weeks, and then give him a hero’s welcome.  Nice and simple, all there is to it.

Meanwhile, as Harvey’s start blew up in his face, Cespedes continued driving the ball harder than anyone can imagine, Eric Campbell somehow hit a home run, and Dusty Baker lost a challenge of a Neil Walker potentially illegal slide, reminding me that even in our darkest hours, this team never fails to provide its share of entertaining moments.   So then, until tomorrow, when Matz takes the mound, and order resumes.


Say Goodbye To 42

Sometimes, you know that luck is on your side, and that nothing will stop you from winning.  Today, that moment came in the top of the third, when David Wright drove a ball over Jason Werth’s glove and out of Nationals Park.  But honestly, I’d felt pretty good from the start.

A few years ago, Werth pulled back Daniel Murphy’s bid for a game-tying three run homer to end a game in the Nationals’ favor.  Now, Werth is two years older, reaching for a ball hit by the only Met remaining longer tenured than Murphy, with Murph himself as a teammate.

It’s a whole mountain of potential symbolism into which I don’t even want to delve.  Suffice it to say, we had all the momentum coming in, and when the captain’s ball cleared the fence, that didn’t hurt either.

It was, for a few batters, the kind of inning you only hear about: hit after hit, barely enough time between batters for Gary and Ron to explain what had happened before the next hitter had reached base too.  It’s the kind of offense we’re capable of, too: we’ve waited until now to demonstrate it, but by our lineup’s numbers, it’s far from improbable.

Meanwhile, Bartolo Colón, after a debacle in his last start, also against the Nationals, took the mound in, as Gary Cohen delighted in announcing multiple times, his last start as a 42-year-old.  Happy Birthday, Bartolo.  The first 42 have been good to you; now let’s make the 43rd the one we remember.

Bartolo gave up a run in the first, as Mets pitchers can’t seem to stop doing.  Then, also in the vein of Thor and Matz, he shut things down.  The fastball was running; the change was sinking; the slider was doing whatever Bart wanted it to.  Honestly, Colón’s pitches, for the most part, defy explanation: they’re not “good” in the same sense that anyone else’s are.  But tonight, they were clearly getting the job done.

Colón gave up three hits in the first inning.  He gave up two hits in the next six.  Uncharacteristically, he walked two, but they came to nothing.  He won his fourth game, and lowered his E.R.A. to 3.44.

Not a bad way to close out one’s first 42 years of life.  Hell, it’s not too bad a way to close out one’s first 22 years of life.  You know it’s that much better 20 years later.

So, Colón was dealing, Wright was homering — which made the day worth it, on its own — and everything was working out fine.  Then, for good measure, Cespedes drove yet another nail into the hearts of Nationals fans, and Walker followed on the next pitch with a nail, albeit not quite as personal, of his own.  Those two bombs iced the win, which, in its 7-1 finality, brought us within half a game of first place, with two more to follow against the obviously beatable Nationals.

“The Mets have been walking Bryce Harper substantially less than other teams,” Gary said at some point during the broadcast.  He didn’t bother to get into why, but to me, it was clear at once.

Bryce Harper is a National.  We’re not afraid of the Nationals.  We beat them last year, and we’ll do it again this year.

Why walk him?  We’re the team to beat around these parts — they’re the ones who should be intimidated.


A Sweep Of Reassuring Mediocrity

What do you get when you combine a fireballing pitcher, solid relief, a young slugger, a hit with runners in scoring position, and defense that was unspectacular but solid?

A broom, you get.  And you sweep those lousy beer makers out the door.

We needed something after that Nationals series; we needed it in the worst way.  We needed a sweep, and what’s more, we needed a dominant, unquestionable sweep.  We needed to prove beyond doubt that we were the class of the division.

But in a way, this almost feels better.

We didn’t dominate.  We outscored the Brewers, over the entire series, by four runs.  We made errors; we left men on base; in multiple scoring opportunities, we failed to capitalize.

And then we looked at what had happened, and realized we’d swept ‘em anyway.

We’re not playing at our highest level yet — not by a long shot.  Pitching, almost.  But the offense is far from where it could be.

And so, like we’ve been looking forward to since it became clear that we were assembling a super-rotation, just when the offense took a step back, the pitching stepped in and won us three games in a row.

A team working just like it’s supposed to.  There are few sweeter sights.

Today, it was Thor, going 7 innings without an earned run, and striking out 11.  It could have been Matz, or deGrom, or — if he can ever get out there and find himself — Harvey.  But either way, the pitching staff that we’ve been assembling since 2012 was out in full force.

On the offensive side, it was Conforto and Cabrera.  Not much offense, but enough.  The offense that we built to complement this pitching staff — not an onslaught of runs, but enough to do the job — got its work done perfectly.

And now we’re headed into Washington coming off a sweep.  We’ve got Colón, Harvey, and Matz.  A maybe, a hopefully, and a probably.  Meanwhile, our offense is due for a turnaround any day now.

That’s the best part about this team.  You can knock us down for a while; last week, the Nationals did just that.  But we’re always just a few steps away from a turnaround.  We’re never out.


Captain Clutch


I couldn’t watch today’s game: I was busy coaching a team of eight-to-ten year olds, en route to a 10-1 loss.  But that was an obligation, so I had no choice but to get by on nothing more than a few seconds on the radio here and there, and a peek now and again at MLB at-bat.

We watched another game before our own started, and, being two veterans of the league, my dad and I couldn’t help commenting on the quality of play.

“Someone should write a book about little league,” he said, as the first baseman, quite surprisingly, caught a throw, “and call it, ‘Spasms of Competence.’”

Pretty much what Eric Campbell was currently going through, I interjected.  Everyone agreed that “spasms of competence” fit well, both lyrically and semantically.

I was listening on the radio as Granderson homered to lead off the bottom of the first.  I called out the news to my brother and his friend, both preparing to play their game, both eight years old.

At first, they didn’t hear me.  They were having a loud, shouted, happy conversation about Alejandro De Aza.

My influence has rubbed off, and I couldn’t be more proud.

They were arguing about de Aza versus Campbell — who was better?  De Aza has more home runs, the friend said.

“De Aza doesn’t have any home runs,” I replied.

“Yes he does,” said my brother.  “He hit one in Cleveland.”

Repeat: I couldn’t be more proud.

I was still listening, although not as intently, when Ramon Flores — what is it with guys named Flores? — somehow managed to homer off deGrom.  My co-coach, also a Mets fan, was listening too.  Fortunately, the game hadn’t started yet.

We both hung our heads.  Later on, over the course of a ten run loss, we’d remain chipper and upbeat.  But some things are serious.

After that, I barely even got the radio on.  I was maintaining a dugout filled with hyperactive young baseball players who couldn’t decide between watching the game, playing with the water fountain, and tackling each other: the occasional check of my phone was all I had time for.

And to make matters worse, my phone was dying.

I was doing fine on battery power when Cespedes came to the plate in the sixth as the tying run.     A few pitches later, the game was tied.  Coaching third, my dad had just seen the same thing.  I turned to the third coach.

“Cespedes, two run bomb,” I said.

“Ha, ha,” he responded, thinking that I was making a joke about our hitter, who had just swung at a pitch that had bounced in the dirt in front of home plate.

“No seriously,” I said.  “Cespedes, two run bomb, tied at four.”

He looked at me, and understood.  “Oh!” he said, grateful beyond words for a respite from the incompetence of little league.  “That’s fantastic!”

Communication between coaches on the field is difficult, especially when you’re in the field, attempting to maintain the same focus that you’re drilling into your players — not that they maintain their focus at all — and also need the other team to think you’re up to something.  We’ve got dozens of tricks up our sleeves, ready to deploy at any time; when you’ve drawn up a play called the Guggle Muggle, you know you’re ready for anything.  So it helps to keep opponents on the edge.

So, when Addison Reed finished off the eighth inning with a strikeout, stranding the go-ahead run on second, I wasn’t quite sure how to communicate it to my dad, the third base coach.  I waved to get his attention.  I gave a strikeout signal.  I pointed to my phone, indicating that I was referring to the game that I’d been using it to follow.

He picked up his phone, thinking that I was saying that I’d sent him something.  Ah well.  As he himself said, mere spasms of competence.  But he understood it eventually, when I called out, so that the commissioner watching from beyond the outfield fence couldn’t hear, “Reed got the out!”

Then came that crazy ninth, and wouldn’t you know it, we were batting again, so we Mets fans, father and son, were separated, first and third, 90 feet apart (a reduced-size field, if you know your little league rules), barely able to communicate.

First, Campbell got a hit.

“Campbell got a hit!” I called out.

“Really???” My dad asked.

“It was a slow grounder deflected by the second baseman,” I said.

“That makes more sense,” he responded.

It was fitting, I suppose, in that Campbell was the player in whose context spasms of competence had been first mentioned, and now, in the ninth, we were enjoying a bit of competence of our own.

Then, Plawecki walked.

“Familia’s up,” I said.  Then, a realization hit me.  “THEY’RE GOING TO PINCH-HIT MATT REYNOLDS!!!!!”

Sure enough, Reynolds came to the plate.  Still looking for his first big-league hit, he settled into the box.  Would he do it?  Would he record his first MLB hit in walk-off fashion?

No, he wouldn’t.  That’s not the kind of player he is.  He was asked to bunt.  He’s been languishing in the minors for years, doing nothing but perfecting his fundamental hitting.  Of course he would get the bunt down.

Then he fouled the first two attempts off.

“I don’t like the bunt here,” my dad said.

Then, with the bunt still on 0-2, he got one down perfectly.

“I suppose it’s something,” my dad amended himself.

“Granderson can win it with a fly ball,” I called out, now speaking to the diamond at large.  Then I saw ball one.  Pretty far outside.  And then I checked the pitch listing.  They were walking him.

I relayed the information to everyone around me.

“Them’s fighting words,” my dad said.

Wright stepped into the box.  I watched the screen, seeing only numbered circles but heart thumping nonetheless.  Meanwhile, we continued our offensive futility.

(At one point — this is true, although not strictly related — we had a play that started as a ground-out, and turned into two runs, with the batter being one of them.  There were three errors on the play.  For those of you scoring at home, it went 5-3-3-7-2-7-5-2).

The opposing team’s first baseman, it turned out, was also a Mets fan.  He’d heard me giving rudimentary play-by-play, but wasn’t clear on the situation.

“What’s happening?” he asked me.

“Bases loaded, one out,” I said.

“Who’s up?” he asked.

“Wright,” I responded.

“Nice!” he said.

David Wright hasn’t had a star-level season since 2013.  This year, his struggles have been mighty.  But even fans born just as Shea Stadium was coming down know what he’s capable of.  That, alone, should say all that needs to be said about David Wright’s contributions to the franchise.

As I watched, the game on the field barely snagging the corner of my eye, Michael Blazek threw ball one, then ball two, then ball three.

“He’s going to walk in the winning run!” the coach on my side said.

Almost simultaneously, Gary Cohen, in the SNY booth, said, “Blazek might walk in the winning run.”

And then a blue circle appeared.  MLB at-bat users will know the feeling: that brief, half-second moment when you can’t tell whether it’s runs or outs.  Then you look down at the pitch description.  And you find, sure enough, that it’s in play, run(s).

I pumped my fist, and ran the length of the dugout and back.  “Wright did it!” I shouted out.

“What did he do?” my dad asked.

“Won the game!” I shouted.

“How?” he asked.

“I don’t know!” I explained.

Spasms of competence indeed.

I would later learn that Wright had shot a line drive to the right-center field gap, classic captain, just like he used to do it.  I would later realize just how surprising it had been that Wright had been given the hit sign 3-0 — or, as he later explained, that he’d swung, unsure whether he’d gotten the hit sign or not.  I would later watch the highlight about six times, smiling unconsciously as my childhood hero won my ball club a game.

But for now, I was content just to watch, as both the dugout and the playing field, both filled with players, burst into celebrations, all suddenly Mets fans, all aware that the Mets had pulled out another victory.

A David Wright walkoff hit, driving a field full of kids to celebration…could there be a more perfect picture of what baseball is all about?


All Matz On Hand

MLB: New York Yankees at New York Mets

Steven Matz – I don’t know, he’s been great.  What more can you say?

Two straight embarrassing losses, a fall from the top of the division, a stagnant offense, a lost pitching staff.  Who to turn to?

Well, why not Rookie of the Year frontrunner Steven Matz?

After the first inning, suffice it to say that things didn’t look good.  A two-run home run given up to Chris Carter, to the deepest part of the park for the second straight night, put us behind early for the second straight day,  and left a bleak outlook as the game began.

But Steven Matz isn’t going through Matt Harvey’s struggles.  In fact, he’s doing just the opposite.  He’s blazing, amazing, forging a trail rarely followed by Mets pitchers, let alone rookies.

He’s won six straight ballgames, the first Met since R.A. Dickey to do so, and in those six, has a 1.35 E.R.A, and has averaged 9.45 strikeouts per nine innings.  Since his E.R.A. stood at 37.20 after his first start — “he looks like he needs some time in the minors,” said an anonymous scout, proving if nothing else that scouting is far from perfect — it’s come down every start.

Even tonight, he made one bad pitch.  Outside of that, he pitched 6.2 scoreless innings and allowed two hits.

Even with Harvey’s woes, we’ve still got Thor (4-2, 2.19), deGrom (3-1, 2.50), and Matz (6-1, 2.81).  Remind me how we’ve lost 18 games?

We had Matz providing the pitching — not to mention a little offense, which is always a nice something extra — but for a while, the offense continued its listless, unproductive drear.  With men on first and third, only one out, Rene Rivera hit an RBI groundout, the almost the least productive RBI possible.

And then, finally — FINALLY — Michael Conforto broke out.

It wasn’t the type of beautiful, almost musical Conforto home run we’re used to — it was more of a pop-up that had carry.  Nevertheless, it did the job.  Conforto was back on track, and we were back in the lead.

Inevitably, after scoring only five runs in three days, questions have come about the offense — why aren’t we scoring?  What are we going to do?  But honestly, I prefer not to dwell on them.

We won today.  Everything else is secondary.  Why waste time on the negatives?