Justin Verlander was booed in his Citi Field debut.
Loudly. Vigorously. Repeatedly.
Imagine that. A future Hall of Famer, fresh off his third Cy Young Award after pitching the Astros to a World Series title. Owner Steve Cohen couldn’t write that $86 million check fast enough, and even turning 40 — a dicey year for aging stars — seemed like a minor detail.
Verlander didn’t have to listen to those boos for very long. He was gone after serving up six runs in five innings, inflating his ERA to 4.76. But after what went down during Tuesday night’s debacle of an 8-5 loss, the Mets might be in worse shape than we previously thought, and it already was pretty bad, based on being under .500 (20-23) and sinking like a rock in the NL East (fourth place, 6 1/2 games out).
“I understand the fans are frustrated,” Verlander said. “We’re frustrated, too. Everybody’s frustrated. We expect to be better. I expect to be better. I think this entire organization expects to be better.”
To be fair, we couldn’t distinguish what percentage of the booing was directed at Verlander as opposed to the Mets as a whole, since the aggravation level at Citi was off the charts, definitely at a season high. The decibels spiked on each of Isaac Paredes’ two homers off Verlander, along with the dejected pitcher’s walk off the mound at the end of the fifth.
Starling Marte got blasted with boos after his second strikeout. Even the gigantic scoreboard — another prized winter acquisition by Cohen — was booed when it spectacularly malfunctioned, going black before flashing to life again with a massive Rays logo as a test pattern.
“People come out here, they want to see the Mets win,” manager Buck Showalter said of the booing. “See us do well. We control that every night. Play better and that won’t happen.”
Verlander’s turn in the rotation was supposed to be the remedy for this teamwide malaise, a reason to think these underachieving Mets would have a fighting chance. Instead, Verlander stunningly became just another cog in this malfunctioning machine, a $43 million chunk of Cohen’s $375 million paper tiger. Verlander allowed eight hits, including the two Paredes homers, the second caroming off the leftfield foul pole. He walked two, struck out three and needed 96 pitches to make it through five innings.
David Peterson could have done that, and he was banished to Triple-A Syracuse a few hours earlier due to a similar debacle Monday in D.C. If the Mets can’t even get a quality start from Verlander, or at least a competitive effort, that doesn’t bode well for a rotation begging for the return of Carlos Carrasco this weekend.
The Mets are getting short on saviors. They have their fingers crossed on Max Scherzer, the other $43 million co-ace who might be coming around after his own health issues and a 10-game cheating suspension. But Verlander figured to be a sure thing, especially after two somewhat comforting efforts against the lowly Tigers and Reds.
At least he made it through the first inning, which had been a minefield for Mets’ starters (MLB-worst 7.93 ERA). But after dodging plenty of traffic early, Verlander got run over in the third inning when Paredes took him deep for a three-run homer. Adding to the pain: Verlander was a strike away from escaping scot-free, but hung a 3-and-2 curveball that Paredes hammered off the leftfield wall (but above the orange homer line).
Plainly put, this can’t continue. The Mets are running out of excuses, and we can’t just give them another pass because Showalter & Co. finally had a World Series favorite in their path for a change. Remember when we considered the Mets to be a championship-caliber franchise? They just went 4-9 during a bowling-pin segment of all sub-.500 teams, and now find themselves in a systemwide fail. The hope Tuesday night was that Verlander would revitalize a rotation that came in with MLB’s fifth-highest ERA (5.33) and had surrendered 37 homers, fifth-most overall.
The opposite happened. Verlander only prolonged the misery, dumping the Mets back into the same hole they’ve been digging on an almost nightly basis.
“I hold myself to a high standard,” Verlander said. “I expect to lift the rotation up when they need it and I take a lot of pride in that. I work my \[butt\] off for that. To not be able to do that is frustrating.”
A Citi Field echoing with boos was not the welcome to Queens anyone envisioned for Verlander. But these certainly aren’t the Mets we expected, either.