“I felt like there was an angel by my side tonight”

Noah Syndergaard

The mighty Thor didn’t have to strike ’em out to get ’em out and help shut ’em out Saturday night.

About the only correct observation out of the Angels’ 2-0 shutout of the Astros Saturday night was this, about the starting duel between two returning Tommy John surgery patients, Noah Syndergaard (Angels) and Justin Verlander (Astros): it was a matchup of returning former aces. Vintage, it was not.

But it didn’t have to be. Especially so far as the Angels were concerned. “He’s just a strike thrower,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon of his new pitching toy. “The changeup is outstanding, and the slider, he’s willing to pitch inside . . . He was totally in command of everything that he’s doing out there.”

“It was fun to play behind him,” said Mike Trout, who accounted for the second Angels run with a mammoth late game home run. “He gets on the mound, throws strikes. He tries to get back in the dugout as quick as he can. You saw that tonight. He’s just out there grinding.”

Syndergaard entered the game with a lifetime 4.63 strikeout to walk ratio and 9.7 strikeout-per-nine rate. Verlander entered with a lifetime 2.33 strikeout-to-walk rate and a 12.6 strikeout-per-nine rate. Now, have a gander at their Saturday night special.

The former Met known as Thor struck nobody out, surrendered two hits and issued two walks, and lived mostly on the ground, with eleven grounders among the sixteen outs he got in five and a third innings’ work. Verlander struck seven out (including designated-hitting Shohei Ohtani thrice), walked three, and surrendered three hits while getting an even number of grounders and flies.

“It’s a long road, man,” Verlander said postgame. “Lots of nervousness and anxiousness leading up to it. Felt like my debut. Got some things to work on, but coming out of it feeling pretty good.”

One problem was Verlander feeding Angels first baseman Jared Walsh a fat enough fastball to open the bottom of the second and Walsh hitting it over the right center field fence. Another was no Astro except Kyle Tucker (in the top of the second, a single) and Chas McCormick (top of the third, single) hitting anything that didn’t find an Angel glove, though a third (Aledmys Diaz) reached on a throwing error opening the top of the seventh.

A third, for the Astros, anyway, was Trout serving notice that he’d had it with the slump that marked his first two games and the Astros demolition that accompanied it. The Astros had battered Angels pitching for eight home runs in those games. But while their contact wasn’t hard Saturday night, Trout’s was.

He smoked a fly out to the rear end of Angel Stadium in the first, a hard ground out to second in the fourth, a hard line out to center stranding two runners ending the fifth, and then—as if to prove practise makes perfect—he turned on a 1-2 fastball a little low and a little away, from Astros reliever Ryne Stanek, and yanked it off the rocks behind the left center field fence, 445 feet from the plate, in the eighth.

“Trout’s gonna get you,” observed Astros manager Dusty Baker postgame. After a 2021 ruined early enough by a torn calf muscle, and an owner-lockout-imposed short spring training this time around, one that included a short illness toward its end, Trout found a dramatic way to shake away his season-opening rust.

So did the Angels’ bullpen. Ryan Tepera entered Opening Night by surrendering prompt, back-to-back homers to Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, but on Saturday night he got five straight outs in relief of reliever Aaron Loup—who’d gotten three in relief of Syndergaard but was hapless to prevent Diaz reaching aboard third baseman Anthony Rendon’s off-line throw. And designated closer Raisel Iglesias used only eight pitches to retire the Astros in order to finish it.

The bulls also struck four Astros out, three more punchouts in their 3.2 innings’ work than Syndergaard in 5.1.

Syndergaard had other things on his mind to accompany his manhandling of the Astros’ formidable lineup. Wearing the same number 34 he’d worn as a Met, the number had particularly sober significance for his new team.

No Angel had worn the number since 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart, thirteen years to the day before—when Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver celebrating his successful Angels debut. The Angels didn’t retire 34 officially, but no player sought that number since, just as no Angel since the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs almost three years ago has asked for Skaggs’s number 45.

By most accounts, Syndergaard asked the team to wear the 34 he’s worn all his life, after signing a one-year, $22 million deal with the Angels, and he was only too well aware of what Adenhart’s death meant to the franchise and its fans. “I felt like there was an angel by my side tonight,” Syndergaard said postgame. “That was really special to me.”

As athletes, I feel like our number—to the everyday person, it’s just kind of a number—but to us, it’s part of our identity. Growing up, my number was 34 because I was a huge fan of Nolan Ryan. But now it kind of means something a little bit different to me. I want to use that to lift up his name.

If Syndergaard continues lifting his team the way he did Saturday night, there could be more than a few angels on the Angels’ shoulders over the long, arduous season yet to come.

The Edgy Angels?

Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout

I’m to a point now where I can speak up a little bit. That’s a new thing for me. I just go out there and play. But I think this team needs it . . . There’s a time and a place. If something needs to be straightened out, I’m going to take care of it. That’s a big step for me. I think that step needs to be taken for this team to win.—Mike Trout.

Ask manager Joe Maddon, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal has, how long he wants to keep managing, and he’ll smile when he says it even if he’s not kidding. “As long as Mick Jagger performs,” the skipper replies. Well, now.

Maddon’s Angels aren’t exactly the Rolling Stones of baseball, even if the team was created three years before the original Stones lineup cut their first record in England. The Angels have had disasters in their midsts, too, but nobody to the best of anyone’s knowledge has been killed during an Angels game. Yet.

There were times over the years when you might have thought the Angels might have wanted to kill a manager or two, if not each other, but no edition of the Angels was ever as willing to fight each other as the 1972-74 Athletics.

For several years, now, two themes have attached to the Angels: 1) They find everything they need except quality pitching. 2) It might be easier to pass the proverbial camel through the proverbial eye of the proverbial needle than to get the Angels back to the postseason before Mike Trout earns the last dollar on his contract. (In 2030, if you’re scoring at home.)

This is a team that’s had the single greatest player of his and many generations (Baseball Reference lists him as the number five center fielder of all time), a guy who plays a solid center field and whose five top comps as a batter through age 29 are, in descending order, Duke Snider, Willie Mays, Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.), Barry Bonds, and Frank Robinson.

And he hasn’t seen even a sliver of a postseason since his Rookie of the Year 2012, through no fault of his own. Trout exercised maybe baseball’s greatest sense of loyalty when he decided to forego his first entry into the free agency market to sign that $330.1 million contract extension just a sliver over two years ago. Questioning the Angels’ loyalty to him—as in, a team their and baseball’s best all-around player could be proud of—was wholly appropriate.

But Rosenthal now gives the Angels two cheers. Not just because the Angels in this abbreviated spring training look healthy and even happy, but because second-year general manager Perry Minasian has impressed the living daylights out of just about everybody in an Angel uniform, from the manager to Trout to all the way down the roster.

“It starts from the front office, the desire to win, the desire to be better every day,” says one of Minasian’s signature signings, former Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, a guy who’s been to the World Series and to two postseasons total. “I see a lot of what I saw in 2015, just the overall grit and badass persona, playing with a chip on our shoulder. It’s been a while since the Angels made the playoffs. This is my first year here. The overall tone is they’re kind of all sick of this s—.”

If anyone has credentials to discuss badass personae, it’s the guy who thought nothing of opening Game Three of the 2015 World Series by dropping Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar—who’d gotten a little too comfortable at the plate in the first two games—right onto his seat with the first pitch, before striking him out emphatically. Perhaps coincidentally, it was the only Series game those Mets won in a set during which their then-porous defense blew three other games they could have won.

That was then, this is now. Syndergaard isn’t the only Angels pitcher saying they’re sick of all that you-know-what. “I see a bunch of guys that are hungry, that know the pressure is on us,” says young starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval. “Everyone says the Angels’ rotation is a question mark every single year. The guys like me, Shohei [Ohtani] and [Jaime] Barría, we’ve heard it for three years now. We’re kind of sick of it.”

Minasian also did what was once thought unthinkable, never mind undoable in the recent Angels past. He overhauled the bullpen, $92.75 worth of overhaul, keeping closer Raisel Iglesias (2.83 fielding-independent pitching rate last year) on a four-year deal, and guaranteeing former Met/Ray/Padre/Phillie/Blue Jay Aaron Loup (2.45 FIP last year) plus former White Sox/Cub/Jay Ryan Tepera (2.56 FIP) two years each.

The Angels also think that a healthy Trout and Anthony Rendon married to Ohtani’s bat in the lineup makes them a little more formidable at the plate. They may not be wrong. Especially playing under the new rule that allows Ohtani, the defending American League Most Valuable Player, to stay in a game as the designated hitter when his starting pitching assignment ends for the day. Just as he did in last year’s All-Star Game.

Trout is even doing something a little more overtly now that he did only by example his first ten seasons: leading. What he began when he made himself the team’s public face in the shock of Tyler Skaggs’s death in 2019 he’s continuing more verbally than he ever has in the past.

He spoke often of what Skaggs meant as a person as well as a pitcher. (This was well enough before we learned sadly enough that Skaggs was badly hooked on painkillers, a hooking that may have gone back to his Tommy John surgery and may have been abetted by his own agent urging him to pitch through pain regardless.)

Maybe the most staggering and surreal recent memory for Angel fans was their first home game after Skaggs’s unexpected death. When Trout opened the evening’s proceedings against the Mariners with a mammoth two-run homer in the bottom of the first, launching a combined no-hitter (by Taylor Cole and Felix Pena) and a 13-0 blowout.

“When I first came up, I kind of just went out there and played my game, let my game speak for itself,” Trout admitted to Rosenthal.

I’m to a point now where I can speak up a little bit. That’s a new thing for me. I just go out there and play. But I think this team needs it. I’ve had a lot of talks with the front office and players. There’s a time and a place. If something needs to be straightened out, I’m going to take care of it. That’s a big step for me. I think that step needs to be taken for this team to win.

Trout’s coming-out party as a conscious leader came before this lockout-abbreviated spring training began. When commissioner Rob Manfred announced that first set of canceled games, Trout was distinctly unamused. The guy who did his talking with his bat, his glove, and his personal fan-friendliness fired back.

“I want to play, I love our game, but I know we need to get this [collective bargaining agreement] right,” he tweeted on 2 March. “Instead of bargaining in good faith-MLB locked us out. Instead of negotiating a fair deal-Rob canceled games. Players stand together. For our game, for our fans, and for every player who comes after us.”

Maybe it’s the Angels about to play their first full season since Albert Pujols’s departure last year, but Maddon thinks it’s just a question of Trout having the chance to lead. “He wants to lead,” the manager says. “To me, that means, on a daily basis, when you walk in the building to put everybody else before you. He’s definitely got that in him. He’s very empathetic. He wants to win. He’s willing to share his knowledge. He’s got all the ingredients. He just needed the opportunity.”

And he doesn’t mind pulling others up with him. When Ohtani hogged the headlines last year, after the calf tear put paid to Trout’s season prematurely, Trout enjoyed Shohtime as much as anybody else.

“Shohei’s season was nothing short of electric,” he said when Ohtani won the MVP. “At times, I felt like I was back in Little League. To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base, and then go play right field was incredible. What impresses me the most about him, though, is the way he carries himself both on and off the field. With so much on his plate daily, he still manages to do it with a smile.”

Imagine that. The Smiling Angels. Whom FanGraphs projects to a seventh-best 82 wins among American League teams. Not so fast, Rosenthal warns:

Projections are largely pointless except as a discussion point, especially in a season when injuries might be more prevalent after a shortened spring training. But the Angels face so many “ifs,” it’s difficult to imagine them being better than the six teams ahead of them — the Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, White Sox, and Rays. They also might not be better than the Twins and Mariners, the two teams immediately behind them.

I have more than the usual skin in this game. Somehow, I managed to score tickets for what was first the Angels’ mere home opener but, thanks to the owners’ lockout and Commissioner Nero’s first cancellations, is Opening Day, period, at Angel Stadium. Ohtani is already announced as their starting pitcher. My 28-year-old son and myself will be seated in our standard perch down the right field line.

We’ll look for two things at minimum: 1) Whether there will remain Angel fans willing to hammer the visiting Astros with inflatable trash can bangings and other signs, shouts, and sneers over Astrogate. 2) Whether these Smiling Angels, these Edgy Angels, these Fed Up With All That You-Know-What Angels, show just how fed up they are at the plate and in the field through those edgy new smiles.

Being an Angel fan has been many things in the decades since they were born in the American League’s first expansion. Dull hasn’t been one of them, though being dulled–if not sent to their nineteenth nervous breakdowns—has been something else entirely. And living on that 2002 World Series triumph got tiresome well before they wrapped their silks around a big fish named Trout.

Correa vs. Jeter vs. Syndergaard

Carlos Correa, Derek Jeter

Carlos Correa’s jab at Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove awards inspired the New York Post to insert Jeter showing one of his Gloves into this action shot of Correa with the leather. But was Correa really out of line?

Carlos Correa versus Derek Jeter isn’t exactly the equivalent of a cage match, no matter what Noah Syndergaard might want to make of it. Correa has just finished his seventh major league season; Jeter is a Hall of Famer who played twenty major league seasons. Correa’s career has miles to go before it sleeps; Jeter’s baseball legacy is secure in Cooperstown.

Correa actually said, aboard a recent Me Gustan Los Deportes (I Like Sports) podcast: “Derek Jeter didn’t deserve any of the Gold Gloves he won.” Syndergaard, now a former Mets pitcher freshly signed with the Angels, was not amused: asked by MLB Network whom he’d like to strike out the most, Syndergaard didn’t flinch.

Thor’s preferred strikeout target is Correa. “Not just for the obvious reason, but just what he said about Derek Jeter not deserving his Gold Gloves,” he said. “I think that was a little ridiculous to say.”

The “obvious reason,” of course, is the lingering stench of Astrogate and Correa’s frequent willingness to embrace the villain role the scandal imposed on the Astros, an imposition too likely to remain until the last member of the 2017-18 Astros no longer wears their uniform.

The next-obvious reason might be Correa winning this year’s American League Gold Glove award for shortstop, plus being a free agent and drawing a lot of attention as a contract candidate for the Yankees and other teams looking for better than they’ve got at shortsop.

Jeter wouldn’t let himself be drawn in. Today the Marlins’ chief executive officer, Jeter simply dismissed Correa’s jab: “I didn’t think much about it. I don’t know how my name came up. My Spanish is not that good, I still haven’t seen it, I don’t know how my name was brought up, but it doesn’t even warrant a response. I mean I could go a lot of different directions but I won’t.”

That was the same kind of high-road travel for which Jeter was known well enough during the prime of his playing career. But was it actually that ridiculous to critique Jeter’s Gold Gloves?

When Jeter wasn’t yet eligible for Hall of Fame election, Jay Jaffe wrote The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques in 2017. He did it position by position. When it came to the shortstops, Jaffe looked at Jeter in the chapter’s “Further Consideration (upcoming or overlooked candidates” subsection.  And this is what Jaffe concluded about Captain Clutch:

Seemingly engineered to withstand the spotlight’s glare, Jeter spent two decades in Yankee pinstripes pulling off the remarkable feat of simultaneously exuding charisma and remaining completely enigmatic, able to evade virtually every controversy that surrounded the franchise. A starter for sixteen playoff teams, seven pennant winners, and five [World Series] champions, he ranks among the position’s best hitters, collecting more hits than any other infielder, and ranking third in batting runs among shortstops (353) behind [Hall of Famer Honus] Wagner and [Hall of Famer Arky] Vaughan. Defensively, his strong arm, sure hands, and low error totals helped him pass the eye test of casual fans, broadcasters, and even the opposing managers who bestowed those Gold Gloves. However, his range was limited—he moved to his left about as well as Dick Cheney—and his -246 fielding runs is more than double the total of the next-closest shortatop; he was at least ten runs below average in three Gold Glove seasons. Still, Captain Clutch was unflappable in the big moments, hitting .304/.374/.465 with twenty homers in the postseason. Expect him to pull in at least 97 percent [of the Hall of Fame vote] in 2020.

Jeter ended up pulling 99.7 of the vote for his Hall of Fame election. He also inspired the strange phenomenon of Hall voters all but conspiring actively to make him the twenty-third Hall of Fame player to stand alone among incoming players on the Cooperstown podium.

The pan-damn-ic kept it from working out quite that way, of course. Jeter was inducted formally in 2021 with Ted Simmons and Larry Walker, both of whom were elected last winter, as was longtime Major League Baseball Players Association leader Marvin Miller posthumously. He didn’t quite get to stand alone.

But notice the text on Jeter’s Hall of Fame plaque:

Heartbeat of a Yankee dynasty defined a two-decade run of Bronx dominance that produced 17 postseason appearances, seven American League pennants and five World Series championships. Selected to 14 All-Star Games and named 1996 AL Rookie of the Year. Winner of five Gold Glove Awards, appearing in all of his 2,674 games in the field at shortstop. Totaled 200-or-more hits in eight seasons, retiring sixth all-time with 3,475. Scored 1,923 runs, with 100-or-more in 13 seasons. In a record 158 postseason games, batted .308 with 111 runs, 200 hits, 32 doubles. Earned 2000 World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

There you have it. Except for mentioning his five Gold Gloves almost in the middle of his other accomplishments, there’s not. one. single. word. about Jeter’s shortstop defense. Not one. Mentioning that he played every major league game of his career at the position is a question of presence, not performance. The plaque speaks essentially to what Jaffe isolated, Jeter being that great a batter among his fellow shortstops.

Let’s revisit where Jeter stands among his fellow post-World War II/post-integration/night ball-era Hall of Fame shortstops, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances:

Shortstop PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP RBA
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 22 177 27 .398
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 79 277 33 .422
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 35 195 49 .446
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 67 176 26 .477
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 48 200 37 .488
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 95 227 48 .495
Derek Jeter 12602 4921 1082 39 155 170 .505
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 126 55 .520
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 107 137 66 .539
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 202 141 70 .565
HOF SS AVG .486

There’s no question. Jeter is an above-average Hall of Fame shortstop at the plate; only Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, and Ernie Banks (in ascending order) are past him there.

But that’s entirely at the plate. In the field, at shortstop, Jeter has a pocketful of isolated highlight-reel plays—the Flip, the Seat Dive, you name them—and they surely contributed to the image that he was an overall virtuoso with the leather and on the run. And that’s the problem. Perception is still everything to the casual observer and to the fanboi alike.

But perception is not evidence. The real evidence says that Jaffe had Jeter right in the field: he had the basic skills to enable him to pass the eye test with the minimum passing grade. But like the student who could pass his subjects without trying too hard wouldn’t advise anyone else to try it, you wouldn’t advise another shortstop to try passing the eye test with only the basics in the field unless he, too, is embedded on a passel of division/pennant winners and five-time World Series champions.

The table that follows is Derek Jeter’s fielding record during his five Gold Glove seasons, looking strictly at the number one job a defensive player has; namely, helping his team keep the other guys from putting runs on the scoreboard. The glossary is: DRS-defensive runs saved; RF/9-range factor per nine innings’ play; RF/9-LG-his league’s range factor per nine innings; RF/6-range factor per game; RF/6-LG-his league’s range factor per game.

Derek Jeter Gold Glove Years DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2004 -13 4.46 4.56 4.32 4.53
2005 -27 4.76 4.60 4.56 4.55
2006 -16 4.14 4.60 3.97 4.42
2009 3 3.90 4.36 3.64 4.31
2010 -9 3.78 4.40 3.62 4.36
AVG-Gold Glove Years -15 4.21 4.50 4.02 4.43

Jeter won his first Gold Glove at age thirty, after he’d been the Yankees regular shortstop for nine years and after he and his Yankees already earned four pennants and World Series rings. There’s an awful lot of cred attached to him already just by dint of that kind of flight jacket.

He’d already shown his postseason mettle. He’d already proven himself money at the plate in those postseasons. He’d already secured his eternal image in Game Three of the 2001 American League division series with the fabled Flip—hustling down from his position across the first base line, grabbing an off-line throw home as he crossed the line a third of the way up from home plate, and throwing backward still on the run to get Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

The most likely reason Jeter won those five Gold Gloves to come was his image, the rep his image produced, perhaps the fact that he produced both as a Yankee—but not for his actual position performance. With the possible exception of his fellow Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Jeter was the first player you thought of when someone mentioned the Core Five who brought the Yankees back to greatness during the first half of Jeter’s career.

He was a good defensive shortstop who had periodic highlight-film plays in him, and executed them memorably, but shook out in the long run as a slightly below-average defensive shortstop for his time and place. It’s no crime to look at the evidence and make that conclusion based on the evidence as a whole, surface and depth alike. It doesn’t diminish the plate skills, the leadership, the public carriage that really put Jeter in the Hall of Fame in the first place.

If you were to see a shortstop with those net results who didn’t wear the Yankee uniform during Jeter’s career, you’d probably laugh your head off at the suggestion that you’d seen a Gold Glove shortstop. Just don’t let yourself go there about whether Correa did or didn’t deserve his Gold Glove this year:

Carlos Correa’s Gold Glove DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2021 20 3.91 3.81 3.83 3.72

You can see this year’s American League shortstops weren’t quite as rangy as they were during Jeter’s five Gold Glove seasons, but you can also see Correa standing well above the league average for saving runs from his position and standing at least ten points above his league average for getting to balls in the first place.

If someone other than Correa had said aloud, on the record, that Jeter didn’t deserve his five Gold Gloves, it wouldn’t have been even an eighth as momentarily controversial. Neither would it have broiled Noah Syndergaard into having to defend a boyhood baseball hero’s honour with an urge some think may not stop with just a strikeout.

What Syndergaard wanted most

Noah Syndergaard

Met fans won’t forget Noah Syndergaard dropping Alcides Escobar to open Game Three of the 2015 World Series. Now the talented but oft-injured Syndergaard will be an Angel because the Mets’ administration slept at the switch after making his qualifying offer.

Go ahead and cling to the surface look if that’s your preference. Cling to the Mets showing Noah Syndergaard a qualifying offer and Syndergaard electing instead to let the Angels seduce him for a couple of million dollars more for next year, if it makes you happy. Cling to the narrative that Syndergaard’s heart with the Mets could be bought, if you must.

But now you must ask yourself concurrently just why it was that Syndergaard’s Mets heart was abandoned while the Angels swept in and swept him off their feet. Your answer is no further than New York Post writer Joel Sherman, who says the Angels had a plan for the power-pitching righthander coming back from Tommy John surgery—and the Mets apparently lacked one.

Oh, sure, the Mets plan to win if they can help it. But that’s it. When they tendered Syndergaard his qualifying offer, that was it, too. They had no general manager at that moment. They had no manager. They still don’t. They’ve got a pitching coach, Jeremy Hefner.

But nobody in the Mets’ organisation talked much of anything yet about how they were going to shepherd a starting pitching staff going forward. They didn’t talk about how they were going to manage Syndergaard’s work load during his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, recovery, and rehab.

Enter Angels general manager Perry Minasian. He knew Syndergaard wanted a deal and the physicals done before today’s qualifying-offer deadline, just in case the physicals didn’t wash, leaving Syndergaard a Mets fallback after all. He also knew what Syndergaard wanted beyond a solid-enough, prove-it-year’s deal.

Syndergaard wanted a plan. Minasian high tailed it to New York to present him one. “[F]or the best organizations these days preparing pitchers physically, for the season and for each game, is a collective effort across multiple departments,” Sherman writes.

There were efforts in the first year under [Steve] Cohen’s ownership to bulk up these areas, but [the Mets] still pale in comparison to clubs such as the Dodgers, Giants and Blue Jays, among many others.

Minasian . . . came to New York armed with details on, among other things, how his club would have him pitch to individual players on each team in the AL West. He spoke of the success the Angels enjoyed last year with a six-man rotation, which helped get Shohei Ohtani through a season of hitting and pitching healthy. Minasian said the plan would stay the same and showed Syndergaard how pitching in a six-man rotation would give more time for recovery and lower his overall inning total when all he had in 2020-21 in the majors was two one-inning stints to close out the past season. Minasian brought data to show what the Angels liked about his delivery and pitch mix and how to make them even more effective.

In other words, Minasian caught the Mets sound asleep at the Syndergaard switch. While the Mets just slid a qualifying offer under the righthander’s nose with nothing substantial behind it to show him anything resembling love or respect, the Angels’ GM—who goes back with Syndergaard to the Blue Jays, having been part of their drafting team when they first picked him—brought all three. Love, respect, and substance.

Minasian also brought it with the most aggressive and committed push among several contenders for Syndergaard’s prove-it season, including the world champion Braves, the Red Sox, and the Jays.

Sherman notes that the Angels weren’t exactly thrilled about having to lose a draft pick for signing Syndergaard, but they were less thrilled than that about the prices in the free agency starters’ store—and starting with a Syndergaard whom Minasian knew well enough would give them decent odds in the upside department before pondering another starter or two on that market

The Angels’ seduction, Sherman writes, mattered as greatly as the Mets’ apparent lack of it: “Syndergaard is going to pitch at 29 this year. He recognizes how vital it is that he performs well to set himself up to re-enter the market next year at 30 to try to score a lucrative, long-term pact. And here were the Mets not even talking to him throughout this process. Here they were without an infrastructure in place. Here they were unable to provide a detailed plan to him beyond the big picture that Cohen wants to win now.”

The Mets hired former Angels GM Billy Eppler—Minasian’s immediate predecessor—as Syndergaard’s deal with the Angels came forth. This can be called crossing one end of the street without bothering to see who’s coming down the block from the other end. This can also be called too little, too late. This can be called, further, that’s still so Mets.

Leaving Mets fans with memories of a stout, tenacious pitcher who could be lights out when healthy and who gave them one whale of a performance in the 2015 World Series: Syndergaard dropping plate-crowding, plate-overcomfortable Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to open Game Three, the only game in the Series that the Mets’ then-porous defense couldn’t cost them.

God knows the Angels themselves need a starting pitching overhaul—again. If a year’s worth of Syndergaard at minimum helps it begin, the deal will have been worth it. If Minasian’s plan for him works well enough, the Angels might think of extending Syndergaard or Syndergaard will have a solid market when he hits free agency next winter.

If losing Syndergaard now means a swift enough kick to the Mets’ posterior on behalf of shaking them further out of their funk before and after any possible lockout, it might be worth it, too. Eppler’s hiring to the contrary, with these Mets that’s a glandular if.

On the other hand . . .

Javier Baez, J.D. Davis

The Good Javy (left, after scoring on J.D. Davis’s [center] two-run bomb in the seventh) returned from the injured list and doubled down against the Dodgers Sunday afternoon.

This time, J.D. Davis didn’t shrink. Either with one man on or with the bases loaded.

This time, too, trade deadline addition Javier Baez came off the injured list, swung like a pro, scored like a pro, and doubled down, literally. He put a small shot of rocket fuel into a team looking like the living dead too often this month.

This time, the Mets may have left eight men on but they also sent seven runs across the plate. They’ve now done that only twice since 21 July. And, this time, too, they didn’t let the Dodgers take a single lead all Sunday long.

The bad news is that Sunday’s 7-2 win to stop the Dodgers’ winning streak at nine probably won’t be enough to salvage the Mets’ 2021. They’d need a finish from here that you can describe politely as miraculous to do that. Losing eleven games in the standings this 6-15 doesn’t leave room for miracles.

But let’s worry about that later. Right now, let’s savour Baez cashing in Brandon Nimmo (leadoff full-count walk, on which he sprinted up the line to first) with one out, sending one ricocheting off the left center field fence in the top of the first, with Nimmo gunning home all the way from first.

Let’s savour Davis shooting one the other way up the right field line to send Baez home, and Jonathan Villar with two outs punching a quail into short center, Davis scoring when Cody Bellinger’s throw in brought Dodger catcher Will Smith well out in front of the plate.

Let’s savour Villar trying to take second on the throw in and Smith throwing wild enough to let Villar have third on the house, before a foul out caught by Dodger starter David Price ended the inning at three for the Mets.

Let’s savour the Dodgers getting only a pair back in the fourth, when Bellinger reached Mets starter Marcus Stroman for a two-out, two-run line single to right, making Stroman pay for walking the bases loaded ahead of Bellinger—whose season has been compromised badly by a couple of nagging leg issues and not having been able to recuperate properly from off-season shoulder surgery.

Let’s savour the Mets catching Bellinger in an inning-ending rundown out, catcher to short, Baez playing his old position in Francisco Lindor’s absence, feinting a throw toward third to keep A.J. Pollock from even thinking about a score before tagging Bellinger as he tried turning back toward second.

Let’s savour Stroman managing to keep the Dodgers at bay long enough for Baez to hustle a single into a double after two swift outs in the top of the seventh and Davis, right behind him, hitting the first pitch he saw from Dodger reliever Phil Bickford on a line over the left field fence.

Let’s savour the Mets loading the pads with one out in the top of the ninth off Dodger reclamation project Shane Greene—Nimmo’s base hit to right, Pete Alonso taking another plunk for the team, then Baez taking another plunk for the team.

And let’s savour Davis yet again, a day after he’d swung through a Max Scherzer meatball with the bases loaded for a strikeout. This time, Davis recovered promptly from falling into an immediate 0-2 hole. He wrung his way from there to a walk on four straight balls, resisting the temptation to pull the trigger on a sinker that sunk just a little too far below the strike zone floor for ball four and Nimmo trotting home.

But let’s not fool ourselves. These Mets may have a few energy reserves left, but there’s just a little too much still missing to give them much more than prayers. On paper, they’re only seven games out of first in the National League East. On the field and at the plate, Sunday’s showing is what they’ll need only every day from now on, practically, to have the prayer of even a prayer.

It may require what they may not have the rest of the way.

So just spend today thinking about Baez maybe playing his way into an extension that would keep him around the keystone with Lindor, when Lindor returns days from now.

Think about the Good Javy re-joining Lindor to turn the second base region into the swamp where base hits get sunk into ground outs. Lindor may have struggled at the plate this year but he remained a shortstop Electrolux. (Thirteen defensive runs above the league average shortstop before he was injured.)

Think about the Good Javy who turns the plate into his personal game-changing playpen, providing an energy jolt through this team that not even Con Edison could deliver, just the way he did Sunday afternoon.

Don’t think about the Bad Javy who chases pitches that deserve to escape, the one who tries a little too often to hit eight-run homers on pitches that provide the power just by the bat giving them a kiss. Not until or unless he shows up again, that is.

Think about the Good Javy outweighing the Bad Javy enough to convince Mets owner Steve Cohen it’ll be worth it to keep him around and use him as the perfect out to purge Robinson Cano, who’s due back for 2022.

Don’t say the Mets “will eat” Cano’s money for the final two years of his deal. That meal already went through the digestive tract and out the other end. They accepted him as part of the deal when they wanted relief pitcher Edwin Diaz that badly from the Mariners. Once his current suspension ends, Cano’s going to get paid whether or not he suits up for the Mets again.

Cano isn’t the defensive second baseman he used to be. He hasn’t been the hitter he once was since 2016, either. That’s something to ponder especially if wisdom finally prevails otherwise and the designated hitter finally becomes universal to stay.

The Mets may not be that inclined to have back a 38-year-old millstone drydocked an entire season over actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, his second such suspension in four years. The Good Javy showed up in time Sunday to start helping make that decision so simple for the Mets that even Joe Biden could make it without screwing the proverbial pooch into a blood bath.