The Starting Rotation
We watched, we saw, we celebrated. The big stories of Game Five have been the stuff of highlight reels and punditry for over 18 hours. We've deified Murph, mocked the shift that got him to third for the middle run, rooted for deGrom's resilience, Marvel-ed at Thor's Thor-iness, and praised Familia's six-out save.
Yet I am nothing if not eclectic, seeing the same things you do. And here, I present three moments from the game which have not- at least not yet- been analyzed to death, and which still meant possibly as much to the final outcome as the pitching and the Murphing.
Top first: the way the ball bounces.
Watch that first Murph hit, the one with Granderson on first. Watch especially around the eight second mark. (If that's not embedding, which is not unusual for this site, it's the first video on the page with this game story.)
Notice how close that blast came to bouncing over the wall. If it does, that's a ground rule double and Granderson is on third. Now- I put nothing by number 28 at this point; he could have stolen third and Jedi mind-tricked Curtis home before Duda got to the plate. Or, perhaps more likely, Greinke could've come apart and given Duda something other than air to hit for the first time all week. Still- with that kind of pitching up against you, there's never a guarantee. You take your claws and scrapes where you get them- and remember, that inning ended with a Met stranded on third. So the luck was much with us there.
Top four- the way the ball DOESN'T bounce.
Los Angeles's misplay of the infield shift, allowing Murphy to advance to third, was the key play of the inning- probably of the game. But overlooked in the blinding light of Murph's omnipotence is what happened next: Andre Ethier caught a ball. In deep foul territory. Allowing the run to score. Maybe I was alone in the baseball universe in thinking this at the time, but I'm again looking at the man on the mound and the overall futility of the Mets offense against him and saying, Why are you giving us a free run?
Again, the alternative universes could've gone better or worse from that point. Duda might've taken his free extra opportunity and blasted a two-run shot to Rancho Cucamonga. Or sac-flied to straightway center with the same single run scoring. Or or- and again, man on the mound here- he could've struck out, a not uncommon occurrence for the dude-a, and left Murph stranded and the Mets still behind.
There's been some minimal discussion of this point in the media, and Ethier simply said he didn't think before he just caught it. That's understandable. For one thing, he's the Dodgers' David Wright in terms of length of service and suffering. He also had just cause for being a little brain-rattled, between his amazing catch in the top of the second and his full-on scream at his manager in the bottom of the third. Finally, there's the Code, telling you never, ever to intentionally miss an out- just as NFL players were told never, ever to kneel down in the closing seconds until it finally cost somebody a game, whereupon everybody began doing it.
In hindsight, his lack of foresight worked out, and nobody will ever know what that unpitched pitch would've brought, good or ill. It was just another sprinkling of the dust on a completely magical night.
Top nine- the way the bat swings.
Managing and coaching decisions are always easy to second-guess with the benefit of hindsight- and brilliance is as likely to result as cries of Off with his head! if those little moments of luck and heads-up play change the dynamic even slightly. Terry Collins came off as brilliant for his moves: keeping deGrom in through six, sending Thor out for the seventh, and giving Familia his first-ever six-out save opportunity.
A squeaky win makes that all seem great, but a 4-3 loss would have led to endless questioning. Why all the Syndergaard warming-upping so he couldn't pitch the eighth? Why no double switch so the pitcher's spot didn't come up bottom eight? Why not a setup man bottom eight to save Familia?
Again, it all worked out, but the one unheralded moment of that whole game of Stratego was the one where Jeurys was wielding a different weapon than his usual 150-mph fastball. I utterly loved his at-bat, with a chance to extend the lead, and maybe votes changing at the next league meeting about whether the NL should have a DH after all (my vote still hasn't changed: drop the shitty thing altogether).
The TBS camera was close-in on him as he aw-shucksingly came up. Despite the bad blood of earlier games, the catcher and umpire seemed at ease and even empathetic with him. Chatting up the ump before you go back out? Nice move, I thought. And the guy's no slouch- the inevitable out lowered his lifetime batting average below .500. My biggest fear was that he'd get on, and get worn out. If Mattingly was anywhere near don't-give-a-fuck territory by then, he might've intentionally walked the guy just to up a few antes. In its way, that at-bat relieved some of the tension that was then not nearly as high when The Hated Utley opened the ninth. I had no expectation at all of a retaliatory pitch in that situation (although the next guy up did flinch on a high hard one). Vengeance is mine, I will save, saith the Closer.
I sat in my seat, not especially on the edge of it, for all six of those final outs. It just seemed inevitable before it was. And now, thanks to the strangeness of seeding rules, we advance with advantage over a team almost a dozen wins better than us and which cleaned our Longines and Armitron clocks, home and away, during the regular season....
just as the Mets had made short work of these same L.A. Dodgers during the season before they last met in 1988.
Believe in the little things, and the big things will likely take care of themselves.
That didn't take long. Whether the Mets go all the way or flame out in Flushing in two nights- whether the Three Wise (For Their Age Young) Men pitch perfectos in their next three starts- whether anybody gets injured during a post-game prank- we've already definitively carved the One Word Summation of this post-season in the Holy Tablets of Met post-seasons.
Joining them - from the inaugural word "Polish" from 1969 (that was a short O, just as it made short work of the O's) to the most recent inscription of "Looking" from 2006 (which wound up being a long look, almost nine years in duration)- is the word that should never have been heard:
I don't need to link to it. I still cringe when I look at it. Yet I come not to bury Chase Utley (that's what Met pitchers are for), but to call bullshit on the alleged arbiters that allowed the injury to be followed by four runs of insult.
He's a douche. This we knew; this, Tejada particularly knew from a previous encounter. But there's nothing to be gained by complaining about him, when the real offenses came out of the eyesights and brains (or lack thereof) on the part of the umpires and reviewers.
It was a bang-bang play, to be sure. (Ask the shortstop.) The on-field call was half right before it was re-ruled all wrong. Utley never touched that base; how could he have, when he was several feet away committing mayhem on the fielder he was out to stop from throwing? That was properly ruled on, until it wasn't. The fourth, fifth and sixth blind mice in the league office overruled the umpire's call, saying Tejada hadn't touched the bag, either, in the course of his trying to turn the DP.
But wait, we all say. Why are you reviewing a neighborhood play?
Everybody knows what it is, and why it is. It's to provide a modicum of protection to middle infielders who stand as immovable objects in the face of irresistible forces heading, spikes up and at high speed, at their middle to lower parts. If that shortstop (say, as in "say ouch") had to fear review of every potential DP turn and make that extra effort to ensure a spike on the bag, he's far more likely to get hurt during the runner's breakup attempt.
Gee- ya think?
No matter. The call that couldn't be overturned on a "proximity play" was overturned anyway as a mere "force play." In this universe of logic, if you don't try at all to touch second on the way to throwing to first, a resulting "out" call is not reviewable- but it you come as close as Tejada to doing it and you can see that bare inch of real estate between foot and bag on the replay, it is.
I'll file that absurdity along with the "tuck rule" and the new NHL coaches' challenges for posthumous offsides calls- but it wasn't even the right call anyway. It would've still resulted in a run scoring and the batter safe at first. No, what should have been called was a double play by rule, on account of Fuckley making such a brazen and outside-the-basepath run at the fielder.
They could've called it. They should've called it. They didn't call it. Scoreboard.
So a double play turned into a triple play of stupid: a non-call on the interference; a reversed call on the runner's second-base status; and a lack of any discipline on a player with a known history of being an ass, who got to stay in the game, and score, and gloat while our shortstop got carted off the field.
Worst of all, the little shit likely won't even be in the next starting lineup- and there's no designated hittee among the usual eight in it who really stands out to take the retribution. Still- if he is (and I wouldn't put it past Donnie Baseball), I'd respond by sending somebody Other Than Harvey out for the start of the game. I'd wait to see if that decision alone warranted a warning to the benches. Then, when the putrid little stain came up to bat, I'd pitch to him. Cleanly. And then bring in the Dark Knight to relieve, whether one got away from his predecessor or not.
Because beating their blue and white asses is the most important thing. Sending a message is a close second, but it needs to be the right one- and in this case, it's we're better than you are- in every sense.
We wait a little, gloat a little, spend a little too much time stuck in traffic...
Enough talk about the imminent post-season. The Mets don't need it.
Every one of their post-season appearances, good bad or indifferent, can be encapsulated in a single word. Here's the list: others will sit and stare, but every true fan can look and go, yeah....
Seven years. Seven specific moments that thrilled us on the way to victory or agonized us in the more Metiness of defeat.
What word will we add next month?
In a little over an hour- huh?!?, what's with the 3:10 starts all over today?- the Mets will get their last and best shot at that elusive 90-win season. In the five games since I first posted about that seeming inevitability, they've gone exactly 0-5, and have now taken the concept of "resting your starters" to its logical extreme. Last night's complete rest of their bats- second no-hittee of the year for them- could spell trouble.
Or, more likely, none at all.
I think I prefer the road start. Since at least four teams still have business to attend to tomorrow and Tuesday (and possibly more- the tiebreaker scenarios for tomorrow were mind-numbing last I checked), the Mets can take an early and leisurely flight to LaLaLand. Hopefully, no broadcasters or alumni, let alone active roster members, will suffer ill effects on the way. The jet lag should be all gone by Game One. Maybe their Game Three starter should just stay home. Then, when both teams have the same trip east, the worse direction from my count-on-one-hand jumps of multiple time zones, it's the Mets who will be coming home to their own beds and familiar surroundings.
They have no pressure. They're here. Their star pitcher didn't choke in the NLDS in the past. Their manager isn't having his wife go out and start the car for him every morning.
The last time these teams met in October, the Met's victory in the NLCS was a foregone conclusion. That regular season, those Mets swept those Dodgers at Chavez Ravine and won four out of the five games at Shea. The indignity of 1987 was behind, and a dynasty lay within reach.
Unfortunately, so did a certain outfield wall that was cleared by a certain ball from a certain future Angels manager. Few remember that, at least in comparison to what a certain future Diamondbacks manager did from his motorized wheelchair a week or so later. On our end? The next year, a decade-long drought began; two after that, Darryl was in a Dodger uniform.
Bigger September slumps than this one were to follow. Today, at that stupid time in some really stupid weather, many friends of this page will be saying their goodbyes to each other. I am with you in spirit- and will be in front of the idiot box with most of you for what we hope will be the best still yet to come.
"When I listen to Bob Seger, you know I'm depressed."
So spake Dave, aka Link, as in the Missing One- my varsity football-playing college roommate for one year. Large of frame and less large of mind. We still quote Link-isms, particularly one where he got mad at a coach who called him "inept" and he retorted, "Who you calling an ept?" Yet it's his epic quote above, uttered when we came home one night during exam week (always a hard time for the team) to the sounds of "Turn the Page" on the stereo. To this day, I can't listen to a Seger song without thinking of that.
Except now, possibly, this one:
I first heard that song in those pre-interweb days of misheard lyrics, where there was no easy way, short of actual lyric magazines (which often had them wrong), to get them right. I couldn't figure out why Seger was singing "Nighty Night" to such a hard-rocking beat. Maybe he was trying to overcome depression. Eventually, I got that it was "Nine Tonight." At the risk of creating another mondegreen at the Motor City Man's expense, I hear those lyrics today with an extra syllable thrown in:
Win the next game, at Citizens Bandbox Park, and your Eastern Division Champion New York Mets will have reached 90 wins. In a single season, yet.
Oh, how we laughed, over a year ago, when Sandy Alderson promised us that very total. Or challenged his team to it. One or the other. Doing so without a Tommy Johnned ace, with a soon to be joining him prospect, and Fred Flintstone on the mound (and even more frightening, at the plate) every fifth or sixth day. Doing so with only some cosmetic changes to the rest of the lineup. Doing so with the maddening methods of Terry, not Wally or Joe or any other contendah.
Does anybody even remember how close the Mets came to 80 last year? I don't- and why would I want to look it up?
With some similar bad arm surgery news and some similar applications of cosmetics going into 2015, I remember some wondering if that prediction would be any more valid this time around. As recently as earlier this month, after ownership and management finally made some moves, and didn't make others, which finally jump-started this team, I heard questions about whether 90 would be ours. We might sneak into a wild card, or just limp past the Battling Gnats, with mid to upper 80s. Sandy's magic 90mber remained a goal.
It still is. But it will be achieved. Which means that for the first time since 2006, the Mets have given us a result that, most decisively, is NOT....
Just a few things to say while you have that one leg over the rail, and they're about as good as they can be right now.
Yes, the Mets are doing a passable imitation of the Mets, fartying like it's 2007. Yes, our young arms are either stressed or inning-limited, and our bats are beginning to resemble their June rather than August selves. But there's a beauty in magic numbers: no matter how true those things are, and no matter how bad it gets, that number never goes back up. It can only get smaller, even, as it recently did, on a day you don't even play.
We all know there's no crying in baseball; there are also no style points in baseball playoff seedings. There's no NCAA Selection Committee to impress; RBI's are marginally relevant, RPI's, not so at all. You limp to the finish, you're in. In this particular year, in fact, you may do better in the post-season by doing worse. That may change after 2015, but for right now, it is what it is.
"Splainame, Lucy!", I hear you cry.
We're spending too much time looking in our rear-view mirror when nothing was ever as close as it appears; take a look in the other lanes, though. We've taken as gospel (or Torah, given this week's occurrences) that the Mets will play the Dodgers, because the Cardinals have the best record locked up and will thus be subjected to a wild card with a better record than us. As of August 1st, even as of today, that remains true. Yet where would we be if the Mets had continued that frenetic pace of earlier this month, and gone 9-1 in their last 10 games rather than the 6-4 they did go?
While you think about that, a parenthetical note, not parenthesized because I'm doing that too much: doesn't it seem worse than 6-4 in the last 10? Washington's only played one game better over that stretch.
Answer: we might be contending for best record in the National League. Remember, this is a manager who has his lineups scripted for him by the Wachowskis: "You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the orange and blue pill, you stay in wonderland." Now consider the Cardinals, who are also well known for their own analytic skillz, including the use of computers. They've been slumping too, of late. Those pesky wildcarders are within striking distance of the Central lead (actually, as close or closer to St. Louis than the Gnats are to us), but I don't hear cries of panic coming from under the Arch.
Look. I'm from Buffalo. I learned a lot about tanking in the past year, and I'm getting a whiff of the same roadkill-like stink from these two teams as they vie to not play the wildcard winner in the first round. Don't like conspiracy theories? Fine. I fully expected a clinch by today. That would have meant two weeks of tuneups, rests of starters, messes with an already messy rotation, and the dreaded word RUST being bandied about in the first games of the NLDS. Look back at last year's World Series contenders: two wild card teams that had to grip every second until they got in and then survive a one-and-done game while the division leaders all had afternoon tea. That kind of pressure helps. We've got a little of it. We also have six of our next ten games against the Braves and Phillies. My goal is for those final three at home to be irrelevant.
And oh, just one more thing, ma'am. If you know me from Facebook, friend or not, you may have seen the cover picture I've had up all season:
That's from my August visit to Citi Field with my old friend Bill. My August 2014 visit. Look at the Met lineup; it's easy, because who wants to look at the Giant one that beat us 9-0 that day with some phenom named Baumgarner on the mound? That entire lineup is still on our roster. Most of it is still on the field every day. It's the additions you don't see there, mainly on offense, that have made last year's disastering into this year's mastering. As for how those Giants are doing? Almost as far behind the Dodgers as the Ex-pos are behind us. Enjoy October, guys- hockey season's almost under way!
One of the most fascinating things about the Mets' successes of the past few weeks is how it's come on their annual extended road trip, occasioned by the august, and then some, needs of their long time tennis neighbor in Flushing. This wasn't an issue when I was first a fan; the U.S. Open was played in, and commonly referred to as, "Forest Hills," the way "Wimbledon" is the British major and "Roland Garros" is the near-universal aphorism for the French one. But since 1978, the Mets and the Sets have been the Odd Couple of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The Open is Felix, the fussy and impeccably dressed one, with commercial photographs of the contenders (portraits a specialty) being well known all over town. We've been Oscar for as long as there's been an Oscar, his connection to the Mets showing up in the Shea scene in the film and in every opening title scene of the sitcom. (Yes, his Mets cap is on backwards, but that's Oscar for ya.)
For the early days of the contested games, sets and matches, the roommates get along under the same elevated track. Those rounds don't draw all that much extra foot or highway traffic. Indeed, as I found out when taking a wrong turn into Flushing on my August 10th trip, things over there are already starting to swing even weeks before the racquets do. Even though this was days ahead of the first ball being served in anger, ESPN already had a full facility set up over there, across a park road from a gauntlet of transmission huts for every contending nation- Telemundo, Globo, Wowow, I think even Grand Fenwick had a trailer).
But as pretenders vanish (the daughter of Bills/Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula made it to the second round) and the contenders vanquish, the respective Lords of Sport typically send the Mets a Labor Day Love Note to remove themselves from their place of residence for the Open's final weeks. That's why this extended foray to Miami, DC and Atlanta pulled our beloveds from our presence just as things were getting good.....
only to have them get better?!?
In hindsight, having the Borasghazi controversy erupt on the road was likely a good thing. It kept the media vultures from getting too stupid about the whole business until the rest of the team found their own special way to tell Scott and his statistics to shut up. The 2014 Mets had no choice but to make Matt Harvey irrelevant; this year's team is coming close to doing it of their own volition.
It has also helped that these 10 pre/quarter/semi/final overlaps of base-and-tennis-ballgames came at the expense of two very bad teams surrounding a third imploding one. Having them away from home only reinforced the pain suffered by the opposing players, management and fans (to the extent any of the latter chose to show up or stay around).
Finally, it kept me from having any stupid ideas about showing up for any of them. Although my first August visit was a success, the second one proved again that my lifetime record on those grounds is nothing to write home (or even here) about. My next chance at a visit comes a week from Tuesday, if a federal judge in Brooklyn declines a joint request by me and Pennsylvania counsel to appear by phone. It's the Braves that night, and there's a not-quite-decent chance of it being Clinch Night; if Met and Nat fortunes are purely 50/50 starting this afternoon, it'll be over a day or two before that, but let's give the ex-Pos a little extra joie de vivre and assume they'll clean up against the Phils and Marlins later this week with six out of the eight games in the W column. That would put Washington just far enough behind for the 22nd to be the clincher.
I promise not to storm the field- or go Jimmy Connors on any of the linesmen.
Things you don't expect to see after being out of the house for almost five hours seeing a film and having dinner out for your bride's birthday:
* The Mets still playing a game that began at 2:15;
* The Mets winning a game that began at 2:15, without benefit of a hit to score either the go-ahead or insurance run in the 18th inning;
* One of the Mets' scariest all-time ghosts being invoked from the broadcast booth.
It came in that magical top 18, right after Tejada's sac fly and Campbell's squeeze bunt, as Juan Legares stepped up for the tenth time. That seemed like a lot to the boys in the booth, but Gary quickly noted that the record for such things remains safe, held to this day by a player in the still-longest of Mets extra efforts (and tied for the longest MLB game played to a victory), also against these same St. Louis Cardinals, but played that day at Shea, and on September 11th (of 1974) to boot....
That record number of at-bats still goes to 11, held by the anything-but immortal #23 on your scorecard, Dave Schneck.
I remember him from the '72 and '73 seasons, but it was 1974 that he got regularly penciled in to the outfield lineup, as the latest in the Mets' attempts to duplicate the magic of Willie, Mickey and the Duke. He instead wound up categorized among the likes of Don Bosch and Al Shirley as would-coulda-shouldas in the outfield.
Probably his longevity in that historically long game is the only team record he holds. But the sad part is? His 1974 self probably could crack the current 40-man roster. Yet despite the bad juju coming from the Beetlejuicing of his name today, those two runs held up, as the Cardinals seemed more interested in the post-game buffet than the bottom-inning opportunity. Coupled with the Nationals loss at home, the Mets wind up in much better shape than the first 35 innings of this half of the season would've suggested.
It's enough to make you put your faith in Eric Campbell. Just don't call him Al. Or Shirley.
Almost halfway through the season, and the Mets are right back where they started. For a franchise that didn't get to the .500 mark, for even a day, until 36 games into their eighth season, that's not too bad.
But everything else?
I see the vague traces of the Back-signal in the night sky, and hear the chorus of Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BACKMANNNNN! in the background. It's the one thing they could do today, tonight or next week that would fit the budget of the Miser Freeze who's running this team. It's also worth remembering that the Mets abandoned Willie Randolph on a SoCal trip seven years ago; he's probably still stuck on the Teacup Ride at Disneyland, wondering whatever happened to Lastings Milledge.
In my last very occasional post about this team, I made fun of David Wright's disease- and a former Met promptly got murdered. So I choose my words carefully from this point forward.
West Coast trips for this team have historically been one of two things and usually the second: redeeming, or Very Very Very Bad-dening. This is the one that will define 2015 and possibly years to come. If the same 25 men on the roster and the guy in the manager's office are the same ones that return next weekend, I see that as a sign of the latter- and soon, quite possibly, of last.
I'm a year removed from a half-century of loving a certain baseball team, and in those years, rare moments have stood out. The stars aligned and gave us a rotation of arms that could overcome any adversity, including, usually, our own:
Seaver. Koosman. Ryan.
Gooden. Darling. [Insert your favorite among the nominees here.]
Isringhausen. Pulspipher. Wilson. Okay, maybe not so much.
And now, through an Amazin' combination of drafting and trading:
DeGrom. Syndergaard. Harvey.
Each of them did what was expected of him this weekend. The results for each were straight from L.
Because they're all this team has.
Wait- that's not true. This team also has a trio of cluelessness:
Owners. General manager. Field manager.
Owners who have been making bad decisions ever since exercising their
right wrong and taking control of the team from Baseball's First Fucking (Legend Had It) Family, and eventually making Madoff rather than Doubleday the most important name in the future of the franchise. Owners who think a moment of silence this week is a fitting tribute to the man who saved the team, rather than, you know, an inspirational patch or something. Sorry, but moments of silence at Citi Field are redundant.
A general manager who's had the blessing of high draft picks and some early-on shrewd signings to benefit from, but who cannot react in time- if at all- as his one star player is lost to a disease that will probably be named for him when he dies from it, and the remainders of his offense and bullpen collapse in an infinite combination of chaos.
A manager who could set Matt Harvey's pitching arm on fire and still wouldn't get fired because the Cheapons don't want to pay for the remainder of his contract, much less pay market rate to someone who could make decent decisions.
So we've got all that going for us, too. Along with second place, soon to be fifth.
But come on out and see our bright young pitching stars!