This was back in the 1993-94 NHL season when the L.A. Kings were having a dreadful time of it, a year after advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. Owner Bruce McNall arranged for the team to bring in noted life coach Tony Robbins to help turn things around.
As one of the prescribed exercises, the Kings of Wayne Gretzky did some sort of communal dance in which the players had stripped down to their bare essences. In other words, nude. The Kings missed the playoffs, in uniforms and everything.
The Mets didn’t go quite that far in an attempt to end a slide that has threatened to end their relevancy more than two weeks before the first day of summer. They kept their clothes on when author and motivational speaker James Kerr addressed the group at manager Mickey Callaway’s invitation before Saturday’s game against the Cubs at Citi Field.
Whatever gets you through the night, right? Or in this case, whatever gets you through 13 innings. Unfortunately, the Mets and Cubs went 14 innings in this one. Unfortunately, the Cubs scored six runs in the top of the final inning to win 7-1 and send the home team to their eighth loss in the last 10 games and 10th in the last 13.
They’ve tumbled to two games under .500 at 27-29 not even two months removed from their 11-1 getaway. Maybe the next step is to erect a shrine for Jobu and perform a chicken sacrifice in his honor.
This one evolved into a study of baseball monotony, the two teams combining to strike out 39 times while stranding 28 runners. Mets pitchers established a franchise record by fanning 24 men. At the end of this long day’s night, it got them absolutely nothing.
It got them nothing and it got Jacob deGrom, the Maestro, nothing. What else in new? DeGrom started the night with a league-leading 1.52 ERA, 4-0 in 11 starts. One hundred and 16 pitches, 13 strikeouts and seven innings later, his ERA was 1.49. His record was still 4-0, the Mets somehow conspiring to go 2-7 in his past nine starts.
“It’s frustrating when we lose,” deGrom said. “Whether I’m pitching or somebody else.”
In the Mets universe, the saddest of words have been these: “Callaway is going to the bullpen.” For in the past 10 games before this one, Mets relievers had pitched to an 8.42 ERA while allowing 60 hits over 39 ¹/₃ innings. Their overall 4.56 ERA was third-worst in the NL.
But on this night, the meat of the bullpen was outstanding. Robert Gsellman, Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, Hansel Robles and Tim Peterson combined for six shutout innings while striking out 11. But then in the 14th, Buddy Baumann and Gerson Bautista faltered. Are you at all surprised?
Callaway said the impact of the motivational talk wouldn’t be known until the full 162 are played, even as he said the pregame activity “made some big strides, in my opinion, educating guys about certain things we need to accomplish in our organization to be more consistent and to be a better organization.”
Playing fundamentally sound ball would be a good place to start. General manager Sandy Alderson constructing a reliable relief corps — what, you mean to say this wasn’t all Terry Collins’ fault? — would go a long way. So would finding a way to keep veterans on the field, with Jay Bruce the latest senior citizen to go down. The right fielder, who left Friday’s game with back spasms, was a late scratch from the starting lineup though he did pinch-hit — and strike out — in the eighth inning.
Thus, the 31-year-old, at least temporarily, joined 32-year-olds Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes on the shelf while 32-year-old Asdrubal Cabrera was at second base and 37-year-old Jose Bautista was in left field with 36-year-old Adrian Gonzalez and 35-year-old Jose Reyes on the bench.
There is a certain measure of bad luck associated with all the Mets injuries, but the fact is that older people tend to break down more often than younger ones. And let’s just say the future leans to the past here in Queens regardless of the administration’s new-age pregame approach.
But there was deGrom, currently the surest thing in the sport, to provide instant gratification. Of course, these being the Mets, one of the team’s best individual seasons ever is becoming more a curiosity than cause for celebration.
That is the bare fact.
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