Thumbs up!

Kevin Pillar

Kevin Pillar, one of the Mets’ Thumb Bunch, after slicing ninth-inning grand salami at the Nats’ expense Sunday afternoon.

That was last weekend: A few Mets decided to give what-for to Citi Field’s boo birds of August unhappiness. They flipped the script. If they were going to get booed for coming up short no matter the effort, by God they were going to give the fans thumbs down when they came up hit, pitch, play roses.

The racket was such a ruckus—or, should that be the ruckus was such a racket—that nobody paid much attention to the August-challenged Mess winning two straight from the retooling-on-the-fly Nationals. They were too busy reading beleaguered team president Sandy Alderson’s fan-their-behinds retort to care.

This is the end of this weekend: Including that previous Saturday and Sunday, the Thumb Bunch have won seven of eight, kicked themselves back into enough of the thick of the National League East they’d lost gruesomely enough during most of August, and out-scored the opposition 41-26 while they were at it.

Who cares if it came against the Nats and the equally also-ran Marlins? The Mets looked so badly like a team that couldn’t get next to a win if they paid by the run that the worst editions of the St. Louis Browns would have looked like pennant contenders against them.

Now, they’ve finished this weekend-to-weekend raiding with a 13-6 Sunday dismantling of the Nats that included a jaw-dropping six-run top of the ninth. In which the three major members of the Thumb Bunch were very much the major players. “If there’s a higher power looking over the Mets,” said broadcaster Gary Cohen, “He or She has an infinite sense of humor.”

He or She must have, since the Mets got close enough to letting the game escape in the first place. A four-run top of the first turned into a 4-3 squeaker in the bottom of the inning. A 6-3 lead after four and a half turned into a six-all tie in the bottom of the fifth. Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika’s sacrifice fly sending Javy Baez home with the bases loaded in the eighth broke the tie.

These are still the Mess, aren’t they? They’re still virtuosi at wasting leads and putting the crash carts on triple red alert, no?

They were until Francisco Lindor faced Nats reliever Austin Voth to open the top of the ninth. Lindor saw only one pitch, a spicy meatball right down the middle, and drove it over the center field fence. A two-run lead’s better than one, right? Even with Juan Soto looming as the third man due up in the bottom of the ninth, right?

Pete Alonso wasn’t taking chances. He followed Lindor’s launch with a double to the back of left field. Michael Conforto singled Alonso home and took second on a throw in. Baez finished a 4-for-4 afternoon by singling Conforto to third. Jeff McNeil wrung himself a four-pitch walk to load the pillows. Up stepped Kevin Pillar, to hold his lumber on two out of the strike zone before fouling away a pair off the middle.

Then Voth threw Pillar a low fastball. And Pillar drove it high and into the seats above the Mets bullpen. It may yet stand as the biggest slice of grand salami with mustard on their season to date. All this on an afternoon when Lindor went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs scored, Baez scored three times in addition to his four-fer, and Pillar went 2-for-4.

Some teams crumple under the lash of controversy, whether the controversy is real, alleged, ginned up, or imagined. Others discover it’s better than a diet of pitches over the middle of the plate for a royal feast.

The 1972-74 Athletics throve on internal friction; the 1977-78 Yankees didn’t earn the nickname the Bronx Zoo because they were tame and allergic to nuclear-level back-page 72-point headlines. The 1986 Mets made St. Louis’s mythological Gas House Gang resemble an Amish picnic. This year’s Astros seem to be using the noisily lingering hostilities over Astrogate as feud for thought—and thump.

This year’s Mets won’t inspire what those A’s inspired Jim Bouton to remember (in “I Managed Good But, Boy, Did They Play Bad!”)—“[T]hey didn’t have many rules. Oh, maybe they weren’t allowed to punch each other in public. No punching a teammate, I suppose, in a nightclub. Fighting only allowed in the clubhouse. No screaming at each other when the wives are around. And don’t embarrass the manager to more than two wire services during any homestand.” (Today, of course, we’d say “to more than two Web  reporters.”)

This year’s Mets may or many not have any player ready to say of them what third base virtuoso Graig Nettles said of his time (sentence?) in the Bronx Zoo: “Some kids want to join the circus when they grow up. Others want to be big league baseball players. I feel lucky. When I came to the Yankees, I got to do both.”

Unless I’m very wrong, and I hope I am, there isn’t a Met in the bunch now who’ll look back two decades later and remember this team the way ’86 Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda would remember that team, who broke an entire airplane celebrating their National League Championship Series triumph: “We were a bunch of vile [fornicators].”

These Mets may not be quite what Nettles’ Yankees became, but there were times this year when you thought the Mets couldn’t decide whether they were re-making E.R. . . . or Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

They play one more against the Nats on Labour Day, then take a trip for three more against the Marlins. Then, they come home to face the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Phillies. Before you remind them that those three aggregations aren’t exactly pushovers—even if the Yankees have just lost five of eight—ponder the point that momentum comes from unlikely places.

Even from places in which turning thumbs down after splendid plays to retaliate against the boo birds becomes the molehill turned by the hysterical into the Himalayas.

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