Bring on the SHaMs

So as I write this, the Mets will end the so-called first half of the year either 14 games under .500 or 16 games deep (and maybe if we get rained out, 15). Any one is a farce and speaks to a truly dreadful year in which we learned that young players don’t always perform well and older guys don’t stay healthy, first-year managers make lots of mistakes, and the destabilizing effect of a meddlesome and accountability-free front office in the throes of crisis, completely unprepared for a succession.

Actually we learned every one of those things before, but thanks for the reminder, Mets.

Now here’s the punchline: I’d been slow to catch up to this week’s comings and goings in part because I was too busy going to Mets games.

Last Sunday’s nice weather tempted us to head out as a family only to see a near no-hitter. My regular Tuesday night game with my brother was nearly a repeat but notable because I did to recognize the day’s starting pitcher when I saw it listed and I’m a guy who makes it his business to be on top of that kind of stuff. Then on Friday it was the annual outing with scattered former work colleagues. That one turned out nice, with a big assist from an exceedingly sloppy Washington club.

So meet Drew Gagnon. He nearly got five innings in, had a little bit of bad luck, but when it was over took an 11.57 ERA back to Las Vegas where he’s got to be wondering whether he’ll ever a shot at big-leaguedom again. Gagnon was issued No. 47, which we last saw on Hansel Robles.

Matt den Dekker is also back in action. I liked seeing this addition as the guy could always go and get in center field, and that’s what he’s been doing. He’s wearing 23 now, and not the 6 he used to in his first go-round, since 6 remains tragically bogarted by hitting coach Pat Roessler, and the No. 16 he was wearing in Spring Training had been relegated to since-demoted outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski. 23 belonged last to Adrian Gonzalez.

The Mets are racing toward a record number of players on the roster in a single year — an active trade deadline could nearly assure it — but thus far have only re-issued numbers three times (23, 47 and 62), believe it or not. That’s in part because of their willingness to just keep going higher. That’s one thing to watch as the SHaMs (Second-HAlf Mets) get underway.

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Hey, Joe

Today my friend David passed along this photo on social media. It’s Joe Sambito pitching for the Mets, and he’s wearing No. 38.

This does not jibe with our records — and some others — listing Sambito having worn No. 35 for the entirety of his brief Mets career, which lasted a little more than six weeks in 1985.

Solving this mystery doesn’t appear to be too difficult, but I’m calling on the MBTN readership to pull out the magnifying glasses and take a shot with me, and confirm it best we can.

Here’s what we know about Joe, who by the way, turned 66 years old the other day. He was a Brooklyn-born and Long Island-raised lefty fireballer who established himself as one of the National League’s strongest relief pitchers with the Houston teams of the late 1970s and early 80s before elbow and shoulder problems stalled his career in 1982. He wore 35 for the Astros. By the time 1985 came around Sambito was still struggling to get his stuff back. When the Astros asked the veteran to accept a minor league assignment he refused, becoming a free agent and fielding offers from several clubs before accepting a major-league minimum deal from the Mets.

The picture shows Sambito pitching in a day game at Shea. That helps narrow things considerably, as Sambito appeared in just two of those. The guess here is that this was the first of those games, and also, Sambito’s Mets debut, on April 28 against the Pirates.

That was a memorable day. Not for Joe Sambito, who quietly pitched a scoreless seventh inning in a 4-4 game — but because the game was only getting started then. It lasted 18 innings before Mookie Wilson scored on an error and the Mets walked off with a 5-4 victory. In the in between, 41-year-old Rusty Staub, who entered as a pinch hitter in the 12th inning, spent the next five innings in the outfield, switching corner outfield positions with Clint Hurdle depending on the handedness of the batter in a concession to Le Grand Orange’s failing knees. Despite that, Rusty made a game-saving running catch in the top of the 18th to retire Pirate pinch-hitter Rick Rhoden who hit an opposite-field fly (if you don’t remember Rhoden, he was one of the best hitting pitchers of his era). Reliable Rusty also had a double that could have won the game in the 12th, but the inning died on a Ray Knight double-play and a bases-loaded popout by Gary Carter. I remember that game well, as it helped to cement my image of Davey Johnson as a master strategist.

The starting right fielder in that game was John Christensen, who was double-switched out in the 12th when Staub entered. And until that day, Christensen was wearing 35. Our records show Christensen wore No. 7 from that point on, so likely lost in the excitement of that thriller was news that Christensen set aside 35 for Sambito.

Sambito struggled mightily in 35, by the way, was sent to Tidewater in June, and released by the Tides that August. The Mets would see him next in Game 3 of the 1986 World Series, pitching ineffective relief for Boston.

So that’s our working theory, thanks to this picture: Sambito wearing 38 for 1 game; 35 for his other seven Mets appearances. Anyone have further observations or concluding proof? Let us know. And happy birthday, Joe!

 

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Wheels Off

What a disaster that was. I mean everything, from the stealth firing/resignation of Sandy Alderson, to the reason it happened of course, to the decisions of the manager he named, to the play of the guys he acquired, to the typical Mets clusterfuck of a succession plan, and even when things go well, or especially when they do, the worst is sure to come.

I liked Alderson generally and trusted him but it surprised me when he came back given his age and health issues and like everyone I was more than a little concerned given the collection of old guys and bargain gambles he took with this crew. The injuries haven’t helped but to some degree are a function of the club. Who’s in charge? No one anymore. Most messed up.

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Bashlor No. 49

The moves are coming faster than I can mock them, but sadly not as frequently as the losses, for these cursed Mets.

Tonight Chris Flexen, who was here presumably as an emergency starter but didn’t get a start even amid an emergency, is headed back to Las Vegas while Tyler Bashlor is up from Class AA. Some prospect watchers have a thing for Bashlor so perhaps he stays for a bit but who knows. If we’re lucky he’ll craft together as good a few months as Hansel Robles, who once upon a time was a stealthy minor league prospect who slipped into the bullpen. Bashlor will wear No. 49, last belonging to Josh Smoker a year ago.

As for Robles, he was DFAed last week, as even the talent-starved Mets had had enough of waiting for him to regain the form that resulted in one of 2015’s biggest surprises. Without him, the Mets still gave up seven home runs yesterday. I was a fan of Robles back when. Tough customer with an ornery attitude, got under the under guy’s skin. One night during a rain delay in Washington, he signed a ball for my son. Thanks for that, Hansel, and best of luck in Anaheim.

 

When Robles departed, reserve outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski arrived, wearing No. 16, while Drew Smith, the booty in the Lucas Duda trade also came by wearing No. 62: It was only a few weeks back that Scott Copeland (who?) was wearing that number. Paul Sewald in the meantime is back at AAA and Jason Vargas is on the disabled list again, so we have that going for us.

***

Hey! I’d like to invite you all to a special night of baseball, guaranteed to come without a Mets loss. This Thursday at 7 p.m., head over to Two Boots Midtown East, for an event thery’re calling “Reading, Writing and Rusty” where Greg Prince (Faith & Fear in Flushing; PIAZZA; AMAZIN AGAIN); Dave Jordan, author of co-author of the terrific John D’Aquisto biography FASTBALL JOHN; and me (ONCE UPON A TEAM) will be on hand to promote our various projects, sign books, eat pizza and discuss Rusty Staub. Two Boots has great pizza! 7 p.m. June 28: 337 Lexington Ave., between 39th and 40th Streets in Manhattan, convenient to Grand Central Terminal. More details here and here.

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I’m A Loser, Baby

As been pointed out below, Chris Beck has joined the Mets and is wearing No. 61. I happened to have been listening on radio when Josh Lewin described it as having been the previous jersey of Jack Egbert, whom I have argued might go down as the most obscure Met ever. Both Egbert and Beck came from the White Sox organizations. Most recently 61 belonged the Kevin McGowan, who has been getting knocked around the Las Vegas bullpen.

Speaking of the Las Vegas bullpen, anyone stay up to see Jason Vargas pitch last night?

In the meantime, MBTN favorite Ty Kelly was sent back to Vegas before appearing in the 66 jersey he was issued; Jay Bruce hit the disabled list; Tim Peterson was recalled and AJ Ramos is headed for season-ending shoulder surgery.

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Triple Play

So the time has come to move on from Adrian Gonzalez, who more or less did what was expected of him, providing the Mets with evidence of a long but steadily declining career while giving prospects like Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso a little more time to bake in the oven. I said it before the Mets would be lucky if either of those prospects crafts a career nearly as good as the one Gonzalez had, and if weren’t for the fact that Yoenis Cespedes will be missing even more time than expected we might be seeing Jay Bruce as the new first baseman beginning tonight.

Instead Dom Smith gets a new chance and hopefully he runs with the opportunity this time. You may remember Dom as having worn No. 22 last year and very briefly this year.

Coming up along with him is the switch-hitting utility player Ty Kelly, whom I like and have advocated for previously. Sure he’s not not exactly lighting the world on fire in Vegas, and he won’t up here, but he’s understanding of his role and oozes with regular-guy appeal that I want to think will help light up a morose clubhouse where there’s a failure virus infecting half the lineup.

What number will Ty wear? The Mets haven’t said. He’s previously worn 55, 56 then 55 again and upon his return to the organization this spring was issued No. 11 — a designation I’d argued for in the past. The Mets in the meantime issued 11 to Jose Bautista. He’s sort of out of uniform himself, preferring No. 19.

So here’s my suggestion. Let’s get Jay Bruce out his slump, Jose Bautista back in familiar clothing and Ty Kelly into his preferred No. 11 with a three-way trade putting Kelly in 11, and Bautista in 19 while Bruce moves to occupy the No. 23 left behind by Gonzalez. For Bruce it could mix up the mojo while also reflecting a spin on the 32 he wore previously with the Reds.

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Meet the Mess

I don’t have anything profound or interesting to say about the trainwrecking Mets, their putrid play, their washed-up struggling veterans, their suddenly ineffective manager, their underperforming bullpen, the developing war between the front office and their slow-healing superstar or the appropriate fire in the CitiField lobby, but I can get you caught up with the parade of stiffs help making it all happen after missing a week to a biz trip and other calamities.

Joey Bautista, who passed through on paper during another disaster of a season 14 years ago before collecting 300+ home runs for other teams so the Mets could finish 25 games back with Kris Benson, has come back on — you guessed it — a cheapo deal and is now hitting 3rd in our order and wearing No. 11. I’m with Richard who suggested below that Jay Bruce ought to give Joey Bats his customary No. 19. Jay can try and negotiate with Steven Matz for 32, or just, you know, wear a blank jersey because that would match his contributions so far this year. Get it together, Jay.

The banged-up relief corps has added and subtracted a bunch of stiffs, some of whom we’ve seen before and some whom we may hopefully never see again.

They include: Scott Copeland (who?) who wore 62; and Tim Peterson, given 63; and Chris Flexen, 64. Could Kevin McGowan be far behind? Regardless this past week marks the first time the Mets have suited guys in Nos. 62-65 in the same season, which tells you something. Gerson Bautista whose surrendered home run to Javier Baez will land shortly, I’m told is back in 46, as is Buddy Baumann whose sidewinding, stirrups and No. 77 would all work better were he capable of having a single good outing, but we’re still waiting.

On the injury front we’ve lost Noah Syndergaard and Wilmer Flores, two guys who have been something less than best selves so far but so still better than the ones replacing them. Steven Matz is having his usual scares. Kevin Plawecki came back in time to address the dearth of right-handed bats and lose last night’s game hacking at the first pitch against a gassed tomato can having the night of his life. Phillip Evans and Tomas Nido both came and went again. Hansel Robles and Jose Lobaton — there’s a late-inning battery to inspire, huh? — came back.

Can anyone here play this game?

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A Decade of Dumbth

I’ve mentioned this over the years, and perhaps this makes me come off as the grumpy old fart I’m becoming but my Met fandom was irreparably damaged by 2008, when the Mets coughed up another playoff gimmee, they joyously destroyed Shea Stadium, the Bernie Madoff scandal that would ensnare the Wilpons and cripple the Mets for year was revealed, and Omar Minaya in a show of foolish bloodthirstiness followed the idiotic signing of Francisco Rodriguez with an even stupider trade that amazin’ly, still resonates.

Today the Mets announced they’ve signed Ezequiel Carerra, one of the five guys they threw away for a few ineffective months of JJ Putz, to help fill the void created by Juan Lagares’ season-ending foot injury suffered the other night. Carerra, may be no great shakes, but joins Joe Smith, and the boomeranging Jason Vargas as guys still worth something ten years after that stupid trade. Drives me nuts.

I’ve caught up with the comings and goings. Luis Guillorme is wearing 15, and Buddy Baumann got No. 77 and stunk it up, DJ Carrasco style. Paternity leave (Bruce, Blevins) and injuries (Robles, Cespedes, Lagares) resulted in shuttling to and fro of PJ Conlon, Corey Oswalt, Dominic Smith, Phillip Evans and Jacob Rhame; only the latter two remain here in New York, where its raining again and we may not play.

 

At least we seem to have gotten Syndergaard and deGrom wins this week.

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Of Order Out

Another disgraceful showing by the Mets on Wednesday in Cincinnati where Mickey Callaway blew what once looked like an opportunity to earn Manager of the Year honors, while the offense even without the handicap of giving away a first-inning rally on a careless batting-out-of-order penalty wasted a rare decently pitched game by Zack Wheeler and lost to the lowly Reds 2-1 in 10 innings.

It goes without saying this rotten stretch by the Mets needs to stop immediately but if there’s a catalyst out there I’ll be damned if I can find it. Yoenis Cespedes is playing with his customary quad troubles, Todd Frazier’s on the disabled list and Jay Bruce is off to Texas on a weekend paternity leave. We’re not going to miss Hansel Robles who’s having a knee problem checked out, deGrom’s still a question mark, Conforto is still slumping, Amed Rosario isn’t exactly making a case to stay at shortstop and the addition by trade of Devin Mesorasco so far is a very-small-sample-but-hugely-symbolic bust. The guy caught Reds pitching for years but can’t hit it. What happens when he faces a real team?

It’s not like the cavalry has come to the rescue. Instead it’s Luis Guillorme, a wizardly fielder who is prepping to make his MLB debut wearing No. 15. We’re investigating whether he was actually assigned No. 14 but inadvertently given the wrong jersey by the manager.

And they want us to pay attention?

 

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Red Menace

So maybe it’s all connected, and P.J. Conlon got No. 60 instead of No. 29 because the Mets were secretly working on a Matt Harvey-for-Devin-Mesorasco deal all along, and had a guy already stitching a 29 jersey with his name on it. Until last night, when he made his Mets debut as a pinch hitter, Mesorasco had worn 39 for the Reds.

Anyway, Mesorasco, like Harvey, is a former top draft pick who’d become somewhat worthless for their clubs but still have contracts to play out. It practically goes without saying that Tomas Nido, whom Mesorasco pinch-hit for last night, will go back to the minor leagues and work on his game.

There more to this as well. Todd Frazier is on the disabled list with a hamstring and it’s widely speculated that Luis Guillorme will be up. That’s significant inasmuch as Guillorme — not Conlon — wore No. 60 in Spring Training. Conlon by the way was swapped out for Corey Oswalt following his appearance.

Here’s my thought, with Guillorme due to arrive and Nido likely in for a long spell of seasoning, let’s put Guillorme in the newly available No. 3, which befits his middle-infielder profile and isn’t far off from his Las Vegas No. 13 jersey.

Finally we’d like to wish chubby Matt Harvey all the luck he has coming with the last-place club and lifeless downtown he deserves in Cincinnati. He might not even get No. 33 there, as Jesse Winker wears it, and he has a promising future.

 

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