These are the dog days, all right. The days when two teams, a combined 37 games under .500, are forced to play two. The days when the Mets, so very far from their hopes, dreams and expectations, must find meaning in the meaningless void that is this final week of the season.
And maybe they did, a little.
Maybe by having Chris Flexen team with his old Double-A batterymate Tomas Nido in Game 1, they helped their fledgling starter find some of the confidence he lost when he was rushed to the big leagues. Maybe Brandon Nimmo needed this time to prove he could be here every day, and hey — maybe Kevin Plawecki could be used at first base in the future, much as he was in Game 2.
“I think we need to take a look at our catchers at other spots in case we ever have to need that down the road,” Terry Collins said of Plawecki’s first start at first.
Sure, it’s not much. But in a season that so far has been marked by what could have been, this final farewell is all about salvaging whatever the Mets can, no matter how ugly it looks. On Monday, that meant five strong innings by a more aggressive Flexen before he unraveled in the sixth inning of a 9-2 loss to the Braves in the opener. That put the Mets 24 games under .500, their lowest mark since their 92-loss season in 2009. That evening, Nimmo — whose bat has been a true bright spot in a bleak month — went 3-for-4 in the Mets’ 3-2 victory in Game 2. Seth Lugo allowed no runs and two hits in six innings.
“Some of the players that we’ve called up from Double-A, they seem to handle the call-up very easily,” Collins said. “I think it’s still a big jump. I really do. I see it, you know, those young guys get here and there’s something about playing and getting a little bit of experience.”
Their cavalcade of young players made significant cameos in Game 1. There, Nido, recalled this month from Double-A Binghamton, made his first major-league start, driving in both Mets runs. Phil Evans (Triple-A Las Vegas) started at third while Kevin McGowan got the call in relief. He allowed three runs in his one inning.
And then there was Flexen. In a perfect world, the Mets’ bright, young arms would have dominated the season and the narrative. Flexen, who started the season in Port St. Lucie, would have been left in the minor leagues to develop. Instead, he was stuck feeling the disappointment from his last start, a loss on Sept. 3 against the Astros in which he allowed seven runs in four innings. He since has had four relief appearances, but it was important, Collins said, to start at least one last time.
On Monday, he allowed a single and a solo home run through five before a hiccup in the sixth. It was then that he allowed a leadoff single to the opposing pitcher, Lucas Sims, and walked the next two. He was pulled for Josh Smoker, who allowed a two-run double to Nick Markakis. Flexen (3-5, 7.14 ERA) pitched five-plus innings, allowing four runs and three hits.
“I’m glad I got another start,” Flexen said. “ I thought there was a lot of positives to take from today — strong, solid through five. I struggled in the sixth and lost command there but overall, a positive performance . . . [I got] to be able to come out and just let it fly and just be a little more free-minded.”
In a game that easily could mean nothing, it’s something.
D’Arnaud makes history. Travis d’Arnaud’s solo homer in the eighth inning of the second game was the 219th homer of the season for the Mets, a franchise mark. The sparse crowd at Citi Field jeered when the home run apple didn’t rise after d’Arnaud’s homer, then cheered when it finally came out of the bin it’s housed in three batters later.
“You have a good finish, you go in feeling pretty good about yourself,” Collins said of d’Arnaud. “You take those at-bats with you all winter long. You start to get ready for spring training and all you are thinking about is how you finished.”