You get the sense that if they could, the Mets would channel one of the signature moves of the seminal figure of one of their ancestral forebears. That would be John J. McGraw, also known (though never to his face) as Muggsy, who for 31 years won 59.1 percent of the 4,424 games he managed for the New York Giants.
There is little question that Little Napolean (the nickname he preferred) would have some troubles adjusting to the modern game, despite the 10 pennants and three World Series he won while patrolling Coogan’s Bluff. Among them:
1) The first time his general manager offered a lineup “suggestion” he would either have quit or broken the lad’s jaw.
2) The first time he saw one of his moves questioned by a smart-aleck columnist or talk-radio host he would either have broken the lad’s jaw or … well, broken the lad’s jaw.
3) He sort of liked to bunt. A lot. That would’ve been a problem.
However, he was also the master of something the 2020 Mets would certainly love to employ, if they could. McGraw never much adhered to the trend at the early part of the last century to announce starting pitchers (or any other kind of roster move, for that matter). He was known, in fact, in big games to send two pitchers to the bullpen to warm up before the start of the game.
(Sometimes, this was just some silly gamesmanship. Before Game 1 of the 1912 World Series, he sent Christy Mathewson — no worse than the third-greatest pitcher who ever lived — and a rookie named Jeff Tesreau to warm up. This was believed to be a brilliant trick to fool the Red Sox. Except McGraw used Tesreau (think choosing Corey Oswalt over Jacob deGrom). The Red Sox won the game. They won the Series. Twitter would’ve gone bonkers.)
The Mets of Luis Rojas and Brodie Van Wagenen adore such subterfuge, and in this odd year they are allowed to engage in it. There have been several times already when a starting pitcher hasn’t been announced until the day of, mostly because there have been injuries or other mitigating factors. Roster moves have been announced occasionally as oh-by-the-way addendums, and usually on a need-to-know basis.
And now, with the Mets resuming their season after a five-day pause due to a player and coach contracting COVID-19, Monday was a perfect opportunity to engage in a full day of need-to-know. The identity of the affected player, of course, won’t be revealed for privacy reasons — although Tuesday, when someone mysteriously lands on the IL, that whodunit will be solved.
More to the point, the Mets have a pitching issue — namely, a need for seven starters to pitch in the nine games scheduled for the six days between Tuesday and Sunday. There are a number of possibilities for the Mets, some of them good, some of them less so. The two who start against the Marlins on Tuesday will also be able to pitch against the Yankees on Sunday.
Mets fans, for certain, would like for one of those names to be Jacob deGrom, not only because he is their Mathewson but because a weapon like him could be particularly devastating in a seven-inning doubleheader game. DeGrom has yet to make a pitch in a seventh inning this year, so letting him pitch shortened games ought to be a gift from the baseball gods.
But deGrom last pitched Wednesday, and the Mets suspended operation Thursday, and that means unless deGrom snuck in a side session using one of the catchers for the South Side High baseball team over the weekend, Monday was his return to live throwing. And as cautious as the Mets are with deGrom, that would almost certainly indicate they’d wait until Wednesday — which means he’d miss all of the Yankees series.
(We pause here for a sad sigh from Mets fans.)
Of course, there are many other interesting possibilities. Rick Porcello will almost certainly be one of Tuesday’s (and Sunday’s) pitchers. Seth Lugo was set to make his starting debut last Thursday; he could easily pitch those two days, also. Michael Wacha and David Peterson could well be activated. And Steven Matz, working on about his seventh life as a starter, should be part of the crowded mix, too, along with Robert Gsellman.
And there you have your seven.
Of course, we know none of this now because all of this was pondered in repose Monday at Citi Field, away from media observation and interrogation, at the team’s preferred all-in-good-time-my-pretty pace, so it’ll all be a neat surprise Tuesday afternoon for everyone. And will be an especially nice touch if Muggsy Rojas sends two pitchers out to the pen around 4:30, just to keep the riddle going as long as possible.
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