That these particular circumstances managed to transpire — to align themselves tidily — on the same night was just a matter of convenience, really: Pat Misch was going to be exposed as a Quadruple-A ace at some point, and Oliver Perez couldn’t be hidden from sight forever in the bullpen, and Jenrry Mejia was going to continue his ascent because he’s a blue-chip prospect, and that’s what players of such promise generally do. It was all more than gently ironic.
With all of this going down on Aug. 30, I was firmly entrenched in the game-night flurry of tweets and blog updates — to a degree that bordered on the unhealthy, which I normally wouldn’t be able to pull off. But seeing as I had nothing else to do, I indulged. Rare are the occasions that one can justify sacrificing basic human functions (eating among them) in favor of a ballgame and a seemingly endless deluge of 140-character, Mets-inspired diatribes. But I digress.
There was something surreal about it all. The Mets were maintaining that they were still in playoff contention, but, fittingly, the Braves’ Jason Heyward squashed that hoping-against-hope optimism for the few who were still drinking the Kool Aid with a three-run blast, KO’ing Misch after three innings. I say fittingly because it was as stark a symbolic contrast as I can recall: Hewyard, the 20-year-old uberprospect, battering the also-ran Misch and reminding the delusional franchise that it’s closer to eternal mediocrity than playoff contention. Then, Perez returned from his bizarre exile — conveniently in a game aired by ESPN just a day after SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt reported that Perez said he felt he was being treated unfairly by the Mets. The lefty was greeted rudely by Brian McCann’s majestic two-run blast, and I had a creeping suspicion that Jeff Wilpon, who was apparently in attendance at Turner Field that night, perversely delighted in Perez being shellacked on national television.
Meanwhile, the Mets’ closest thing to Heyward, Mejia, was mowing ‘em down in a remote corner of the Rust Belt with Triple-A Buffalo. The promising 20-year-old right-hander somehow managed to make that locale a baseball hotspot if only for a night, what with seemingly as many (if not more) fans and bloggers and reporters scrutinizing the game in Buffalo as were the one in Atlanta. The minutest details were tweeted and retweeted and aggregated with glee: the phenom’s tweaked windup; his burgeoning curve. With that runaway train only picking up speed, the Mets had little choice but to recall Mejia, which they did the next night after yet another drubbing at the hands of the Braves.
In some regards, it seemed like a no-brainer. Mejia is a vast improvement over Junky McJunkerton du jour — the Misches and Nelson Figueroas of the world. And I was at Citi Field a couple Saturdays back, when the Mets were set aside by Brett Myers and the Astros in the most humbling and, frankly, depressing manner imaginable, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to reward those attendees — the numbers of which are bound to dwindle as September wears on and football takes its hold — with a modest measure of excitement.
But, let’s face it: This was an extremely aggressive promotion.
The Mets should hedge. Let the 20-year-old kid finish out this meaningless season in Buffalo. Let him ply his trade a bit out of the spotlight, where he’s not the savior of a team that needs more salvation than he can possibly offer every fifth day. He’s already been yo-yo’d this season — between the bullpen and starting, the Majors and Minors. And for an out-of-contention team that’s had a dubious recent history of handling the development of its top-shelf prospects, I think it’s fair to play it conservatively. Arm injuries are a very real concern, as is stunted growth due to indecision. The former may be inevitable in certain cases (Mejia himself suffered a strained rotator cuff in June), but the latter is simply unnecessary. Brandon Morrow bounced between the rotation and ‘pen for three years with the Mariners before he and they finally grew tired of his string of nagging injuries and frustrating inconsistencies. Finally, Seattle dealt him this offseason to Toronto in exchange for a setup man, and Morrow came into his own as a full-time starter, piling up strikeouts in baseball’s toughest division.
That Mejia didn’t fare too well in his first Major League start vs. the Cubs on Saturday is actually immaterial to my argument. I thought he pitched a tick better than his line showed on account of some bad luck on balls in play, spotty defense and shoddy managing, although he did give up some hard-hit balls to a below-average lineup, too. He was pretty much exactly what you’d expected of a raw 20-year-old with electric stuff: dazzling at times, frustratingly inconsistent at others. I’m still excited to see him up in the bigs, and I’ll be watching intently tomorrow (Friday, 9/10), when he takes on the vile Phillies. But I’ll also be on eggshells, knowing that it may simply be too soon for Mejia, that he’s pitching in a meaningless big league game — perhaps at risk of incurring an injury and perhaps to the detriment of his long-term development. Of course, this is not to guarantee that any ill fate will befall him; I’m not a soothsayer. But if any doubt should exist, wouldn’t it be wiser to err on the side of caution?
And that’s what this is about, really: the Mets’ misguided sense of urgency. This weird night in August, on which the Amazin’s were already long out of contention and were further pounded into submission with a string of forgettable guys on the hill, saw a ground swell of hope and optimism pinned on an unrefined kid with fewer than 300 professional innings under his belt. And the want for Mejia’s recall seemed so overwhelmingly popular that nothing short of a revolt would take place if it weren’t carried out post haste.
The popular move was made. I just hope it doesn’t prove to be the wrong one.