To the world west of the Hudson River, who don’t see New York City as the vortex of the sports universe, we have two baseball clubs that have lived on opposite sides of the tracks.
The Yankees you know. Their history is basically baseball history, their legends a roll call of Cooperstown, the stuff of fame, fortune and fable. The Mets, created to somehow replace both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, have not been so fortunate.
But as the residue of the Joe Torre dynasty faded, and the last of the Core Four finally retired, the Mets had recently emerged as Gotham’s baseball chic, the new, big kids on the block.
It started with Matt Harvey, the self-styled Dark Knight, who remolded a moribund franchise in his hulking, fireballing likeness. After trading a few vets for young bucks and mining more arms from their farm system, the Mets added Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zach Wheeler and Jacob deGrom to round out the most naturally gifted and promising staff the sport has seen in years.
But since they’re the Mets, it feels like only deGrom is left from that glittering pile of gifted pitchers.
Through an amalgam of injury, ineffectiveness and indifference, Harvey has gone from the ace of a sterling staff to on the verge of the abyss. While anyone can forgive a torn tendon, Harvey seems to have let the limelight infect his head, and appears more interested in Page Six than pitching, racking up more runway models than strikeouts. The latest malfeasance was a suspension for a violation of team rules. If Harvey isn’t careful, the Dark Knight will be far more mascot than master of the mound.
Syndergaard, who had emerged as the ace in Harvey’s place, looked the part even more than Harvey did. Long, large, blonde, the monstrous pitching Viking even assumed his own comic book nickname — Thor. But unlike Harvey, Syndergaard wore the handle with the perfect slice of self-effacing humor. After he complained of soreness in his shoulder and bicep, the Mets allowed him to refuse an MRI, then refused to make him skip a start. Result? A torn lat and up to three months on the DL.
Steven Matz hasn’t pitched yet this year. About all you need to know. Matz is not only wildly talented, he’s also a lefty, a most precious commodity in baseball. Sadly, Matz hasn’t made enough consecutive starts to give the Mets or their fans a sense that he’s ready for a string of 20-win seasons. He certainly has the requisite quiver of pitches to do so. It’s a shame that’s not enough.
Wheeler was supposed to be Harvey’s sidekick into the blinding future of greatness. But Wheeler was felled by Tommy John and took nearly two years to recover. He’s just now getting his legs. The jury is out.
And that’s to say nothing about injuries that have plagued their lineup, from team captain and local legend David Wright to their current star slugger, Yoenis Cespedes, and a gaggle of good bats in between.
If all that — all that — were not enough, the Mets just learned that their closer, Jeurys Familia, has an arterial clot in his shoulder. The Mets not only find new wounded players, they find new ways to be wounded. While they are in second place in the NL East, they are 16-17 in a division where only the Nationals know how to play baseball.
No sport is more tethered to numbers than baseball. But as our pastime it also lives on legend, on the physical and metaphysical. Whether you believe in hexes or curses or karma, it’s impossible to ignore all that’s happened to the 2017 Mets, in such a short period of time. And it’s impossible to judge or measure it by normal metrics.
The Mets were not considered contenders by accident. This is essentially the same club that was a few blown saves from winning the 2015 World Series. And while they didn’t dent October last year, they did reach the playoffs, and were shut out by the ever-clutch San Francisco Giants and October ace Madison Bumgarner.
No team can survive the biblical swarm of maladies that have clouded the Mets. And Mets fans need not look any farther than across the East River to find a team that doesn’t ever suffer in these epic terms. The Mets are in the wrong town for their brand of implosion. And they couldn’t have a more vivid contrast to their historical ineptitude and just plain bad luck than their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, the most famous and fabulous team in the world. Even in a year already granted to the Mets, the Yankees have the better record, and future.
Meet the Mets. Meet the Mets. Step right up and meet the mess.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.
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