The Starting Rotation
When last we spoke in this space, the Mets had just seen the final not-so-fleet-ing moment of their Labor Day "push" get appealed away from them. That was followed by a split of the two remaining Cards, and finally by the debacle of the past three days on the Hats Off To Larry Tour.
What could there be possibly to look forward to now? The final 2012 appearance of Stephen Strasburg, I suppose. I saw his first AAA appearance at a Bisons game, many pre-Tommy John seasons ago, and the guy's the real deal. So naturally that rules out running him out against the Mets.
Our oppo-Nats for the next three nights, per Yahoo Sports?
G. Gonzalez (18-7, 2.98)
J. Zimmermann (10-8, 2.99)
J. Lannan (2-0, 3.46)
No sign of Steve in the first game of the weekend Atlanta series, either, which is as far as their probables go, so maybe they've just decided to begin the shutdown sooner. Or, more likely, why would they waste any of those precious innings on the likes of Josh Thole and Jordany Valdespin? I heard the far-off voice of Bill Murray, telling me that we've hit the depth of despair in comparing ourselves to real competitors, and while his message of "It just doesn't matter!" wound up being an inspirational one-
- the simple fact is that, for at least the balance of 2012, it's the Mets that just don't. They don't get it, they don't care to rock the boat, and from everyone from their old hated rivals in Atlanta to their won't-be new ones in the District, they just don't matter anymore.
My football team just got run over by a clown car, my hockey team is likely to be shut out for another season of BS labor law, and I'd really like to find something right about now that DOES matter.
I've referenced my August trip to Citi Field a few times, never mentioning the actual game. What was to mention? By the time I got home and was able to even think about writing about it, the Mets were mired in a losing streak against two of the worst teams in the league where they couldn't muster more than two runs, and even that, or one, was a near-impossibility for most of the week. By the time the homestand was over and they'd eked out a couple of good-riddance wins against their soon to be ex-pansion cousins, all hope of this season going anywhere was largely out of the box- or, rather, hopelessly stuck inside it.
Yet there was this play at the end of that first Rockies game. Sharon and Taryn had already said their farewells (Coop not entirely of her free will, as the Caesars Police wouldn't let her back in), so Greg and I got to experience the moment of reverse schadenfreudestalisis that is an attempted Mets comeback.
Recall the scene. Bottom eight, Mets down 2-1, that early staking of a Dickey lead having long passed into that deficit and the offense having managed exactly one hit in six innings against a less than stellar crew. Yahoo tells it, retrospectively and impassively, like this:
- R. Tejada popped out to shallow right
- M. Baxter doubled to shallow left
- D. Wright intentionally walked
- I. Davis struck out swinging
- D. Murphy walked, M. Baxter to third, D. Wright to second
- M. Belisle relieved R. Brothers
- J. Valdespin hit for S. Hairston
- J. Valdespin grounded out to first
All due respect, Son of Serious, but that's not how it happened. Jordany, who'd been with the Bisons in recent days and would be back here eight nights later for their home (and likely Met) finale, hit the squibbiest of squibblers up the first base line. The tying run crossed, the go-ahead might have been in motion as well, but the fielder threw to first and, by the barest of measures, if any, he was out, the inning was over, and the ninth was completely anticlimactic.
From there, it got worse before it got even a little better. The wrapup wins against the 'Stros helped; so did the road results against our true current competition. And yet, I saw the stories about post-Labor Day collapses. The Braves and Red Sox can tell you how safe a big Labor Day lead is, they said. I checked the standings for the first time in a month, and there we were, nine games out with 30 to play.
Hell, we've come from almost as far ahead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Could I believe? Today's Citi Field contest would tell a lot, as the Cardinals are one of the teams we'd likely have to beat out in that stretch.
Except it wasn't AT Citi Field. My bad; turning the game on and seeing an Arch dispelled that. Also seeing an Arch enemy behind the plate and probably the worst choice of starters for a key-to-any-chance victory.
I saw Collin McHugh on the preview page. He pitched great in the Bison game at Fenway I attended three Saturdays ago, then pitched almost as well in the fourth lost-cause game against Colorado three days after I was there. He was back in Buffalo for that rather depressing Bison finale, where he was staked to an early 2-0 lead, lost it, left in the fifth with the bases empty and the score tied at 2 when a pitch count limit kicked in, got into a Twitterfight with the local baseball columnist later that week, and then promptly lost his stuff in his fewer-than-five stint early this afternoon.
It looked bleak. I started catching up on Newsroom episodes I'd missed on my computer; I put laundry in; anything to avoid the Cardinal sin unfolding before me. Yet the picture was always on, and before I knew it, first Shoppach and then Murphy had gone yard and a seemingly random insurance tally against Robert Carson (by my count the 2,130th reliever on the staff this year) was all the difference going to the top of the ninth.
Crucially, the Mets got that second tater and a lot of wear and tear off a variety of Card relievers, forcing them to bring in their closer top eight to get five outs. Of which he got exactly four. The fifth came through another of those bang-bang inch plays at first, so much like the aborted mission I saw in Queens, that might have been the Budweiser Turning Point of the Season, which, when you're the beer that owns the opposing team, can never be good.
Andres Torres, leading off, hit a shot almost straight along one of those lawnmower-perfect lines fanning out near, but not quite in, the right field corner. He's gonna try for two!, my heart pounded, while my head did some basic math and trigonometry to gauge his chances of making it. They were good, and we had the tying run in scoring position with nobody out and the top of our order one pinch hitter away.
Only then came.... well.
Until I was about eleven, I thought there was something in baseball called "a peel play." My father could never explain it to me, and it took years to get the metaphysics of it all.
And that goddam LaRussa acolyte in the dugout promptly tossed a peel on the field and Torres slipped right on it. Bang bang, season dead, ten game deficit in your head.
Collins put up a semblance of a fight, but as SNY the boys properly noted, the runner never bothered to react himself. (At least Ike Davis, when he'd been nearly doubled off in the previous inning, did his best imitation of a wide receiver signaling the officiating crew to move the chains or change possession.) And from there, as with the final Met turn I was at against the Rockies, it was all over except the waiting. They got a guy on, who would've made it two on and one out in a parallel universe, but you just knew, as you saw him standing there, that this team, on this date, was just Beat All.
It ain't over until mathematical elimination pays a call, probably sometime in the next homestand. But today felt like our last and best chance, and it is even more painful to realize that we missed it by that much. Or little.
It's been a week now since Sharon-ing a lovely evening, Taryn' up time, and enjoying some of the most Greg-arious company Citi Field has ever had to offer. Parts of those stories are in words and pictures here and here, respectively, but I will try to get back and give them more of a happy recap before this summer completely falls away.
Fine. Have a picture.
In the week since then, however, other Met things have happened. Few of them involved scoring runs, as the home plate drought in Queens threatens to overwhelm even the worst of the one in the Midwest. When your weekly run totals against two of the worst teams in your league are 1, 2, 2, 0, 1, 3 and 2, and you still somehow manage to win the last two of those games? Something is terribly rotten in the neighborhood of Chop Shops.
Yet all of that, you know. It's as plain as the no's in your run column. What you may not know, though, is that a potentially beautiful friendship is about to come to a sudden end and it is only going to make things worse for the Mets in years to come: tomorrow night, in all likelihood, is the final home game for the Buffalo Bisons under Mets affiliation. The starter will be last Thursday's Citi Field Flavor of the Week Collin McHugh, one of the five Met pitchers with a good claim against ownership for failure to provide support; he did a little better in his last Bison appearance, the one I saw him in at Fenway weekend before last, where he pitched six strong shutout innings with only two runs to show for it. (Unlike the parent bullpen's usual results, that lead held up in the end.)
It was Wally Backman who spilled the beans the day after that game:
Backman pretty much confirmed late Sunday afternoon what has been plainly obvious for several weeks: These are the New York Mets' final days as the parent club of the Buffalo Bisons.
Speaking to The News following his team's 4-1 loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium, Backman pulled no punches when asked if he was disappointed he couldn't produce a playoff club in Buffalo. That was probably the only way the Mets could get an extension of their player development contract.
"I would guess that's true," Backman said when asked if he expected the homestand that begins Monday night to be the Mets' final one in Coca-Cola Field. "It's a shame for us, really. Buffalo is a great city but I don't envision us coming back, from the things I've heard from the grapevine."
The Bisons are 62-67 and headed to their third losing season in four years with the Mets. Backman is convinced things would have been different if not for injuries, both in New York and Buffalo. The Bisons have gone through 61 players and 154 roster moves this season.
And the next thing the Mets are almost certainly going to go through is the Pacific Coast League:
Teams execute player development contracts for either two or four years, and the Bisons are the only International League team not signed for the period covering the 2013-14 seasons. They are expected to sign next month with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Buffalo became the lone holdout when Rochester surprised some observers by signing a two-year extension with Minnesota on Friday. Their agreement dates to 2003 but seemed to be in jeopardy after the team posted horrendous records of 49-95 and 53-91 the last two years but bounced back this year to get within 3½ games in the wild-card race.
Bisons officials face fines from Minor League Baseball if they discuss affiliation switches prior to the opening of the 15-day window to make those deals on Sept. 16. At that time, Buffalo is likely to make the move to the Blue Jays. The Mets will thus be forced to the Pacific Coast League, to either replace the Blue Jays in Las Vegas or perhaps step in for the Houston Astros in Oklahoma City.
Which gets us back to the bad old post-Norfolk years, where the Mets prospects will not only be based far away (a switch to the Red Wings had seemed likely until they re-upped with the Twins) but won't even be passing through Buffalo or Rochester as visitors. These past four years have been a shotgun marriage at best, with little love coming from the parent club this year in terms of past-player appearances or career-minor-leaguer signings. At this past weekend's 25th anniversary celebration of the downtown era of the team, the old-school red-and-green Bison uniforms were much more in view than they'd been in the Met-color era.
The short, and soon to be ended, era.
You might think the Blue Jays would be a logical choice for us, given how close Toronto is. (Unless your name is Taryn, anyway:P) You would be wrong. Their cable-package games are not televised here; their major league stadium is atrocious from a playing-field standpoint; local sports fans hate the city for their snooty ownership of the Maple Leafs and their poaching of one of our annual Bills home games; and the Jays ownership basically wore out their welcome in Syracuse prior to the Vegas move after years of neglecting the affiliate. Yet the local ownership seems determined to go with the devil they don't know rather than with the Wilpons they do.
After the past week of agony, can you blame them?
Crack investigative reporter peers into Mets Executive Offices and finds lights on, nobody home.
Weather permitting, I will join McHugh and Nickeas and possibly Valdy for one last Met hurrah tomorrow night. I fully expect the focus will be on the distant past and on the future rather than on these past four years. And that's a damn sad reflection on what might have been.
Only that can explain why I've been so silent for the past month.
There are third-world regimes that have conquered and been deposed since we last witnessed a top-nine end of game in the 11368.
A trade deadline came and went. Another 40 percent of the starting rotation left the building. Dudae and Nickei burned out EZ-Passes coming back to the Bisons, while Harvey pulled at least one rabbit from his hat and his AAA replacement found his way into his Wheeler-house (one night and one thunderstorm away from my seeing him do it).
We saw Dickey lose twice. That might be the strangest occurrence of all, squared. But today, he was back with a vengeance, and even though I missed the sight of it, I was still within the sound of the posts about it. Why this man does not start pitching every fourth day is beyond me- even if that gorks the rest of the rotation and maybe sends Chris Young back somewhere more appropriate to his Young-ness.
Tomorrow begins our penultimate chance to say goodbye to Hello, Larry. Then, a brief roadie to the west and south awaits before the triumphant return to Citi of....
I sure hope so. Sharon Chapman was gracious and kind in securing ticketing and parking for the weary traveler, but a Rochester apartment complex just grabbed about half of my travel budget, so I need to work, hope and even pray a bit that replacement funds will roll in between now and next Thursday to enable the full trippage I have planned. Otherwise, it may wind up being an either/or proposition between a Bison game at Fenway with a next-morning 5K, and Rockies and Met fans two nights later.
But hey. The Mets won a home game, so anything is possible:)
The team is in freefall. We're losing an average of a player a game to injury, apparent intentional injury, or demotion. Yet the rest of MLB keeps doing what it does as the trade deadline approaches:
Bypassing the Mets.
Come off it Mister Dent, you can't win you know! Look, there's no point in lying down in the path of progress!
I've gone off the idea of progress. It's overrated!
But you must realise that you can't lie in front of the bulldozers indefinitely!
I'm game. We'll see who rusts first.
I'm afraid you're going have to accept it! This bypass has got to be built and it is going to be built. Nothing you can say or do -
Why has it got to be built?
Wha - what do you mean, “why has it got to be built?” It is a bypass! You've got to build bypasses!
One could easily mistake "Arthur Dent" for "Alderson" in a crowded pub, both their names and their strategies. Both seem resistive to the idea of a bypass, but neither seems set on doing anything to do anything about it short of rusting.
The Yankees seem determined to acquire replacement bats even before their stars get injured, and every third base incumbent on 28 (I would pray not 29) other teams are likely fair game for the Bronx Bankers between now and next Tuesday. The Dodgers add, the Phillies protect. The Mets? Call up a starter who should've been called up in June, and ship out Duda while still keeping one-eighth of their lineup at Bay.
Game starts in 15 minutes, and hurry; the world's about to end.
Forty summers ago, the rallying cry of this team was "Ya gotta believe." For 2012, I submit it should be "Ya gotta admit."
Ya gotta admit it's been fun. For a group of castoffs and hopeless prospects who were given no hope at all, we got half a season of utter amazement. We witnessed the wresurgence of Wright and many comings-of-age in the infield and outfield and some of the lowest numbers of hits allowed in 50 seasons of history.
Ya gotta admit the ballpark has finally become something resembling home. The reconfiguration did a little of it, but most of it was just having players on the field who we cared about and who, for the first time, seemed to care back.
Ya gotta admit that the injury bug, which seemed infectious in spring training, has been positively virulent of late, particularly among the pitching corpse. I have to think that a July with Gee and Baxter and even (horrid as it sounds) FrankFrank would have been better, if even more nail-biting, as this 7-train wreck of a July has proved itself.
Ya gotta admit that we're still comfortably ahead of the Fish and Phillies, two hated rivals whose dust we were supposed to be eating.
The next two weeks hold the key to whether that cry will still rally me, or even Tug itself back into believing territory. Three home games against the Ex-pos, followed by the annual West Coast extendo-swing that has historically been make-or-break for this team, will tell much of that tale. As will whether Sandy becomes a buyer between now and the 31st instead of Beltraning my heart like he did last year.
Tomorrow would have been my sister Sandy's birthday, and Ya gotta admit that always stands for something good.
I'd marked this event on my baseball calendar. SNY's broadcast of the Met Yearbook tribute to 1964, that first magical year of Shea, was one not to be missed. I wound up DVRing it, since dinner fell at the exact hour; but I replayed it about an hour ago, when the Wayback Machine kicked in and there I was, in the days of Don Draper.
Lindsey and Bob did the commentary, Ralph only making a brief cameo from the booth as the all-time home run leader among broadcasters. (Blessedly, he still holds that distinction over the likes of Singleton, Hernandez, and, best of all, McCarver:P) Yet there was enough innuendo in that Yearbook to last an entire AMC season: the '64 Mets and their fans were a love story, years before some guy named Segal appropriated the term. Shea was their new swinging bachelor pad, saying to the fans of that season, Come on up and see my escalators. (This, remember, was back in the first season, when they more-or-less worked.) Men were welcome to leave their wives behind at the Fairgrounds, although one of the narrators was quick to suggest that some wives might run that dodge in reverse. The Diamond Club was hostessed by some of the Mets' best prospects not coming out of the Instructional League. Wink wink nudge nudge.... what's it like?
Well, at least some of the players knew what it was like, since their male spawn were shown beating the pants off their dads in the annual Players Family Game as representatives of the far-future Met "Class of 1980." Given how our real Class of 1980 did turn out, I wouldn't have minded a whole outfield of Jim Hickmen descendants wearing Number 9 simultaneously. (I wonder if John Lennon was at that game, as the gaggle of them might well have inspired his Number 9 song.)
Best of all, though, was the shiny and new of the venue, shown being constructed in much the same way, forward rather than reverse, that we watched its demolition four sad Octobers ago. The sightlines, the scoreboard, but especially the size were perfect for this New Breed of team and their equally New Breed of fan. They (for I would not join "them" for three more seasons) still carried torches for former loves like Mays, Snider and Musial(???), but in the end it was Christopher and, yes, Kranepool who would win their hearts.
The banners of Eponymous Day got good play. They riffed on Barry Goldwater, predicted Great in '68, and best and shortest of all, just exhorted us to PRAY. It was nice of Channel 9 to preserve those moments for posterity; perhaps they even televised them while they occurred.
At the end, the lights went out on the '64 season, a year and two months before my sixth birthday, when all the lights did for thousands of miles. They invited us back for an improved '65 season (it wasn't), for Casey's even bigger 75th birthday celebration (likewise), for the hustle of Berra and Spahn (praying for rain was more like it), but most of all for the fun and friendship of a day, or as many as 81 days, at the ballpark.
That last part remains right to this day. Even on days like this, when our six-inning starter again proved he can't go seven and our long-relief corpse is befitting of that name. Still, I saw so many posts and tweets about friends of all kinds being there and part of the experience, making it more fun for me even while I was limited to listening to Keith's lamb-grilling tips on the tv. I may not be a button-down sexist like Don Draper, but you guys are the best ad campaign this team could ever have:)
or in our case, 1964. Today's win reminded me of the famed call-in to one of the New York dailies that year, immortalized in Wikipedia as well as my own memory of stories of the era:
On May 26, 1964, in Chicago, they played like champions (at least for one game) and pummeled the Chicago Cubs, 19–1. According to legend, later that day a fan called a New York newspaper to get the score. He was told: "They scored 19 runs." There was a long silence, then the fan asked: "Did they win?"
The '69 reference is pertinent to the Mets only in hindsight, but it concerns the story that was all over ESPN this afternoon as I did some final pre-5K tuning up: the one about how those pullets of pop from the Bronx managed to steal an out, and an infielder, from the Indians by having their left fielder Dewayne Wise play the ol' hidden ball trick on a foul "out." You've no doubt seen the replay, and heard the controversy and the apology, but the connection here is our official left-field line call blower of the night: MLB umpire Mike DiMuro.
Mike, it turns out, is a Western New York native, but more to the point is the son of former American League umpire Lou DiMuro, who was the final arbiter, and probably just as much the patsy, in the 1969 World Series finale's famed shoe polish incident. So I guess what goes around comes around for the DiMuro clan.
I just wonder where all this 60s nostalgia is going to go from here. Will Terry Collins break his hip coming out for his birthday cake? Will David Wright make it to his 200th home run and celebrate by running the bases backward? Is Chris Young destined to have luck as bad as Anthony Young?
Or we could just take the Orioles in five again. That'd work:)
I guess I'm lucky that at least I didn't have the same problem Metstradamus did with last night's Fox-sucking. I watched it with the sound off, as I generally do when our games get hijacked by that particular posse. So I didn't have to listen to the whining and idol worshipping of that know-it-all catcher of Steve Carlton's balls. I've had more than a lifetime supply of "Listen to me! I know everything! I used to be 60 feet away from a Hall of Famer!" Well guess what, Timmy? We have two more recent and equally knowledgeable players who used to be 60 feet away from each other, and you steal them from us every time you show your face on Faux thanks to that damn exclusive-rights-for-Saturday deal.
Did that make it any better? Not as much as you'd think, because even though I was self-deprived of the Wisdom of Chairman Tim, I still had to suffer through the cinematography.
Bottom seven sticks out. Mets have a runner on third and one out, but do we see the unfolding drama? We do not. We see all the Bombers-and-that's-all-we-do-hit-bombs, high-fiving each other and smiling snarky self-entitled smiles, a whole half-inning after taking a one-run lead on a team they supposedly outclass and obscenely overspend. Never mind that they should act like they've been there before; did the director have to spend that much time rubbing in their rubbing-in?
And then, from the Department of Non-Sequitors Department (motto: Do you carry your lunch or walk to work?), we got Pirates. PIRATES? Arrrrr, tis out of season for ITLAPD, and Johnny Depp's well past walking a plank right about now, so wtf was with that, mateys?
I didn't even stay to watch the final two. Instead, I'll save my TV time for tonight, on a better network and with a starter who might just give up six home runs. But I doubt it.
It started too late, thanks to the rain. It ended too worriedly, Franks to the second power.
But in the end, it all worked out.
(I'm old enough to remember when Chicken Delight was part of the NYC metro experience. Ours was on Newbridge Avenue between the post office and the library. As with last night's Chicken Delight, it was awful tasty when it finally got there.)
Only oddity was Gary being off. I'm guessing he's taking a long weekend of it, seeing how the next two nights are given over to the networks.
As one who tries to avoid glimpses of the Evil Empire at all costs, this is one of the few times I've actively paid attention to them, and for me at least, the most striking observance is, Man this team is old. I counted at least seven road-grey visitors last night who were on this, or at least some other, major league roster when these teams met in the 2000 World Series: Jeter and ARod on the left side, three of their only four outfielders (Andrew Jones, Raul Ibanez and Dewayne Wise), and two of their current pitchers including last night's Pettite (Freddy Garcia's the other). Sabathia just misses that arbitrary cutoff, but Rivera would have met it (and a half) had he not gone on the DL, so that's a virtually a full third of their 25-man roster in the AARP section of the MLBPA.
The Mets? Three pitchers who have MLB experience dating to 2000, and not a single position player.
Conclusion: the Yankees may be chicken, but they're no spring chickens. And they're in a division with far more troubling teams than the Mets are.
It takes a tough fan to make a tender prediction, but I'm gonna wing it here and say it: that our guys are the ones who'll be telling Yankee fans to go cluck themselves for years to come.