Mets Fans, Onward

If you root for the Mets, eventually you’ll get the feeling that for whatever reason, it’s not supposed to be easy. The Mets hammer their fans’ emotions like nails into two by fours. Rarely a stop, and even more rarely a payoff. Your young first baseman: bone bruise. Your ace: rotator cuff surgery. Your third baseman: one back issue after another. Your $30 million outfielder: double heel procedure.

The obvious takeaway, to me, it is that the baseball Gods, or whoever’s in charge up there, hate us passionately. Either that, or we’re all being tested to hell and back. Either way, the circumstances surrounding Mets baseball for the last long while all point to the inescapable conclusion that the forces behind Mets baseball are deeply invested in dissuading Mets fans from continuing to associate themselves with it.

It’s almost obvious, isn’t it? Ike Davis…Matt Harvey…David Wright…Noah Syndergaard…Yoenis Cespedes…and now — we sincerely hope not — Jacob deGrom. Jake will be back in New York tonight or tomorrow for an MRI on an angry elbow. His elbow is acting up worse than my dog when the Chinese food arrives, and my dog, to my knowledge, has never thrown a slider at 90 miles per hour, let alone 95. The Mets say they’re not concerned, which couldn’t be more concerning. There’s probably an old saying about that: “If the Mets ever tell you they’re not concerned, make sure your life insurance is up to date.”

So, yet again we face a challenge: can the baseball Gods knock us from our team? And the answer, of course, is of course not. The baseball Gods think they’ve got what it takes to dampen the souls of Mets fans, but it’s all too clear that they’re dealing with something greater than they realize. We Mets fans are hearty folk. We’re in it for the long haul. The obstacles come, and we react sadly. Then we take our seats at Citi Field as our team is diminished by injury, and we continue rooting. One setback after another, and we soldier on. How do we do it? Did David Wright teach us? Is it conditioning, perversely brought on by one setback after another for a more or less uninterrupted half-century and change? I can’t say. But we make do.

Jacob deGrom will be fine, or he won’t. The Mets will win the division and the World Series, or they won’t. Anything can happen and many things will, and if I know Mets fans, we’ll stick it out, try as those pesky baseball Gods might to strike us down.

Mets fans, onward. We push ahead to better times, and until then, we savor the team we have and whatever it manages to produce, neither sadness nor euphoria but certainly, emphatically, Mets baseball. Now, if you’ll allow me, the game is starting, and I’d love to watch. I don’t care for Jason Vargas pitching, of course, but these are my Mets, and so long as they’re playing, I couldn’t be happier.

 

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No Losses Here

Pete Alonso jerseys are selling fast, and do you know how I know? They wouldn’t sell one to me.

I wanted a road grey jersey, inscribed with ALONSO 20, size small. A request that seems simple enough at Citi Field, a building designed to sell Mets gear to fans like me. I went to the team store: nothing. I tried the dugout shop on the field level: nothing. Outside the dugout shop is the jersey customization station, which I figured had to be able to help me if no one else could.

I punched in my order: Pete Alonso, number 20, adult small road grey. I took my order ticket and handed it to the cashier.

“Can’t do it,” she said. “We’re out of N’s.”

Yes, really: “We’re out of N’s.” The N’s were going like hotcakes, it seemed, and unless people were splurging on Nimmo or Nido, it seemed like those N’s had all been used up on Alonso jerseys. The man behind me in line asked the same question, and got the same answer: “Can’t do Alonso. We’re out of N’s.”

It wasn’t hard to understand, of course, why Alonso jerseys might be hot right now. Pete is hitting the cover off the ball, knocking the stuffing out of out of grapefruits, mixing metaphors and not caring a whit. He’s dominating the exit velocity leaderboards and the rookie rankings, and is slowly but surely — well, not particularly slowly, but definitely surely — winning the hearts of Mets fans. And meanwhile, he’s driving in runs that are helping us win games, or at least, are turning games that much more fun.

When Pete came up in the sixth, for instance, we found ourselves in something of a rut. Zack Wheeler was done, and hadn’t exactly been honorably discharged; Tim Peterson had given up two runs of his own in the top of the inning. And Max Scherzer was doing what he always does, which is to say mowing down our lineup without so much as a modicum of attention, goddamnit, for how it makes us feel.

So Alonso decided to do something about it. He took Scherzer down the third base line at 112.6 miles per hour, if I remember correctly, and suddenly the Mets offense felt alive. Cano flied out, and after Conforto was hit by a pitch, Ramos lined sharply to right, but Scherzer had been knocked back a notch. You could feel it all over the park.

The next time Alonso came up, we — in the person of Luis Avilan — had given up three more runs, but things had gone from decrepit to promising. A Guillorme single; a Rosario single; a Brandon Nimmo double, thank heavens (sorry, Brandon); a Jeff McNeil single. These Mets, these godforsaken, lovable Mets…they can really hit when they get around to it, but they didn’t get around to it until Pete Alonso got them going. The score was 12-3.

So what did Pete do? He got us going again. Facing a 3-1 count against a Nationals bullpen that, frankly, is quite bad, he did what he does. He crushed. A three run homer, a crowd alive, an 11-run deficit suddenly cut to nine, after Alonso’s double, and now cut to six.

In the end, even Pete couldn’t save us. He did his part; he walked in the ninth inning, and scored on a Conforto line drive home run, but that was all we could muster, and we went down 12-9 to lose our first series of the year. But it barely felt like a loss by the end. And Pete Alonso, thank you for that.

With all the positives that came after Alonso’s sixth-inning double, it couldn’t be a loss. There was a strong inning from Gsellman, and a stronger one from Lugo, both of whom will be essential to this team going forward. There was Brandon Nimmo, who finally seemed to bust out of an eight-game slump when he knocked a double down the right field line in the seventh, and then drove a deep lineout to right-center in the eighth. There was the return of Travis d’Arnaud, who just barely missed a three-run homer in the ninth, one batter before Conforto made up for it. Jeff McNeil was two for three. Conforto had a double and a homer. J.D. Davis had another hit. And Pete Alonso is a superstar.

We lost, but it didn’t feel like it. Handed an 11-run lead, the Nationals flailed and careened into dangerous territory. The Nationals, I can’t help but feel, demonstrated today that they can’t hang with us. We walked them 12 times today, for goodness’ sake, and even with all that they were a few lucky bounces away from giving back the game. “Take the L,” the Nationals said, up twelve to one, and we responded, “we’ll see your 11 run lead with your bullpen, and raise you Pete Alonso and the lineup around him.” And it’s not hard to tell who wins that bet.

No, there were no N’s at Citi Field this Sunday afternoon. And despite the loss that was, once Pete Alonso got done with the Nationals pitching staff, there was no L to be taken either.

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Ignore the Birds

The woman sitting behind me at Citi Field this afternoon didn’t like birds, and wasn’t afraid to let the world know. Early in the game, some pigeons flapped past us, and she said, “Ooh, birds…I don’t like birds.” Then each time the pigeons flew past, which happened fairly often, she turned to the person next to her, and said, as if it was breaking news, “birds…I really don’t like birds.” By the seventh inning, when the pigeons flapped past again, I wanted to turn around and say, “so I’ve heard!”

The bird-talk was especially irksome since it was a distraction from the action on the field. The Mets were slugging. It was a game full of cracks of bats and wild cheers, and repeated announcements that the woman behind me was afraid of birds really didn’t fit the tone.

First, there were wild cheers for Steven Matz, who didn’t have his best stuff but fought through it anyway. This wasn’t a Jason Vargas fight through bad stuff either; this was a legitimate grind. Steven walked four and had thrown 100 pitches by the time he got the last out of the fifth, but despite clearly not being on point, he got through five scoreless, and struck out eight.

In the bottom of the fourth, meanwhile, J.D. Davis took Patrick Corbin over the fence on a frozen rope of a line drive that landed between the apple and the bullpen. Complaining about J.D. Davis seems to have become a pastime for Mets fans, which rankles me. Maybe he doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot, but it’s been eight games and Davis has committed no egregious wrong.

Today, in fact, he was emphatically right. Besides the homer in the fourth that was the Mets’ first run of the game, he walked in the first, then in the sixth, after the Nationals had tied it on an RBI groundout, hit a 2-1 pitch from Corbin out of sight. 446 feet, to be exact, a no-doubter in a stadium that makes doubt so difficult to avoid. Then, in the eighth, Davis singled to left. He was three for three on the day with a walk, and might just have shut down the critics for a few days, which, if you know Mets fans, is no easy task.

Two batters after Davis’ home run in the sixth, meanwhile, Michael Conforto did something to a baseball that I’m still struggling to understand. In left, Adam Eaton didn’t move. The ball hung in the air seconds, or minutes, then landed somewhere in Flushing, probably closer to the bay than to home plate. Conforto was on point. So was Davis. So were the Mets.

Well, besides the bullpen, which, unfortunately, is becoming a common refrain. Gsellman gave up his run on a double and an RBI groundout, not ideal but not apocalyptic either. Familia…well, who can say? It’s undeniable that Jeurys Familia is a good pitcher, but he’s been inducing heart attacks in Mets fans for years, and eventually one of them was going to be serious.

The run Familia allowed in the seventh, which came on a two-base passed ball after Wilson Ramos lost track of where exactly Familia’s pitch in the dirt had got to, was bad, but it wasn’t a gut punch. We still had the lead. By the end of the top of the eighth, though, three runs on two home runs later, there was a distinct and not unfair sentiment in the stands that Familia had blown it. As he left the field, Familia got booed. Not quite as loudly as he’d gotten cheered when Danza Kuduro had played for the first time at Citi Field since mid 2018, but yes, he was booed.

Leave it to the big boppers to bring the Mets back. Pete Alonso, who turned a swing that looked like a weak groundout to third into a line drive over the center field fence, and Robinson Cano, who hit a ball that must have gone as far as Conforto’s. Fans on their feet, stadium ready to explode…Wilson Ramos grounded into a double play, which killed the momentum just a bit, but we weren’t done.

A pitching change. Tony Sipp entering for the Nationals, a lefty to face Conforto. No chance. Michael, as I say, was on his game, and the double he mashed down the right field line almost seemed routine. Jeff McNeil pinch-hit, and Sipp hit him. Which meant that with two on and two out, our fate was in the hands of Keon Broxton.

Broxton hit .179 last year, which seems like something someone like him — Alejandro De Aza, cough cough — would usually do after they come to the Mets, and not before. But this year feels different. This team feels stronger. We’re not getting the .179 years. We’re getting the good years at the right times. The years that turn good teams into champions.

I could just feel it. This was a game we were going to win. Keon Broxton was going to win it for us, because this team is a special one.

I wasn’t wrong. Broxton lined a single to right-center. Conforto came home. Three Edwin Diaz outs later, the win was in the books.

I wasn’t the only one who could feel it, either. The entire stadium knew. These Mets are special, and if you watch them, you can tell. Just as Broxton was singling and Conforto was coming home to score the go-ahead run, the pigeons flapped past us again. I tensed, but didn’t hear anything. The exploits of the 2019 Mets had the woman behind me too excited to notice.

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Happiness is a Warm Feeling

Baseball season is three days old. The weather is getting warmer. The Mets are two and one, and started the season with a fairly resounding series win over a division rival. Now we’re headed to Miami for a shot at the N.L. East’s punching bag. Jeff McNeil is ripping; Pete Alonso is crushing; Jacob deGrom is scorching.

I’m thrilled. Aren’t you?

Oh sure, there are problems. There are always problems when the Wilpons are your owners and God hates your team. Noah Syndergaard didn’t look completely precise in his first start of the season, and Zack Wheeler didn’t either. At one point, Mickey Callaway somewhat questionably declined to pinch-run for Wilson Ramos, although the decision proved astute. Brandon Nimmo has struck out a few too many times, and he will sit tonight in Miami, hopefully to return tomorrow with a clear head and a smooth swing. And on Saturday, J.D. Davis made an error.

But problems will happen, and as problems go, these ones aren’t bad ones. Wheeler and Syndergaard will straighten themselves out. Nimmo, if you know him, will be just fine. Ramos can really hit. And J.D. Davis is a solid player.

Really: if J.D. Davis is the preeminent problem with our team, isn’t the reality that our team doesn’t have any problems worth mentioning? J.D. Davis, over ten at-bats, has two hits, including a single against the Nationals that went a long way towards getting us a win. He passes the eye test, whatever that means and whatever you count it for. By all accounts, he’s a hard worker and a talented player, and he certainly doesn’t look out of place on a major league field. He seems at least fairly able to hit and field. He is 25 years old, and in the minor leagues, has hit like a star. He’s neither Mike Trout nor Brad Emaus, just another fairly solid player on a team chock-full of them.

So J.D. Davis shouldn’t hit cleanup. Fine. But really, what’s the matter? We’ll be okay. In fact, I’ve got a feeling that we’ll win tonight, wherever J.D. Davis bats and however he plays. Our team has started out strong and looks like a decent bet to stay that way, and it’s something to savor.

In Miami tonight, J.D. Davis will bat cleanup. Robinson Cano will hit in front of him, and Michael Conforto behind. Wilson Ramos sixth, and Pete Alonso second; Amed Rosario in the leadoff spot, and Jeff McNeil seventh. That’s a lineup that can win a team some games, and if I have any qualms with it, they’re not serious enough to be worth mentioning.

The Mets will take the field tonight in Miami, and J.D. Davis will be among them. Maybe he’ll get a few hits, or make a big play or two. Around him will be the rest of the lineup, a lineup that twice — and almost three times — beat the front end of the Nationals’ rotation, and shot Queens full of electricity and raw hope. We’ve got a shot at the division, and a roster that’s going to have a lot of fun competing for it. In Miami, the forecast calls for nothing but warmth, sun, and clear skies. There are at least 159 games left in the 2019 season.

Now, who wouldn’t be happy with that?

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