And The Crowd Applauds Politely

Yesterday, fans saw Marcus Stroman's new pitch for the first time — and Mets baseball for the first time in a while.

On the day Mets fans saw baseball in-person for the first time since 2019, Marcus Stroman debuted his new pitch. He calls it a split change, apparently, and after only two innings with the new weapon in his pocket, he’s already used it to make Michael Brantley look silly. That’s a pretty nice bar to clear, if you’re trying to judge the confounding power of a pitch. Overwhelm Michael Brantley, and you’ve got a pitch that can stick around. If Stroman had pitched in 2020, maybe fans would have seen it in-person sooner — that is, if fans had been allowed in the ballpark in 2020. But things didn’t turn out that way, and it’s only now that fans can finally see Marcus Stroman’s new changeup.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty small bit of news, isn’t it? Marcus Stroman has figured out a new way to position his fingers and move his hand as he throws the ball, with the result that it sinks a bit more nastily. It’s far from front-page news. But that’s Spring Training for you. It’s the little things. If Marcus Stroman is trying out a new pitch, it must mean he’s back on the mound after missing a year. It must mean the Mets are playing games again. It’s a twist on a changeup, but it’s also a breath of fresh air, a sign of spring near the end of a year-long winter. In Spring Training, every little bit of news, every new grip and revamped batting stance and improved stretching routine, brings with it the scent of tropical air and the certainty that baseball is coming back. 

You won’t see Marcus Stroman’s changeup in bold on the front page. For one, you don’t read the newspaper anymore. But also, it would be out of place. “Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved — U.S. now averaging almost 2 million vaccinations per day! Millions of doses to be delivered by end of March! Marcus Stroman changes grip!” There’s big news and small news, headlines you type in bold and little things that barely register because they’re just so routine. But sometimes, somehow, those little things, the routine and the comfortable, mean more.

That’s all Spring Training is, really; lots of little things that come together to mean a lot more. It’s especially pronounced in the early days of spring, because hitters get an at-bat or two and pitchers rarely make it to a third inning of work, so there’s barely any critical analysis to be done. The Mets’ spring E.R.A. so far is 1.29. Francisco Lindor doesn’t have a single hit. James McCann struck out in his first at-bat. Albert Almora’s OPS is 2.500. 

The same is true of yesterday’s game. Sure, there are a few observations that stand out. Ronny Mauricio is gigantic now. Stroman looked unhittable. James McCann framed everything well and threw out a runner at second, even though on replay, he was probably safe. Brandon Nimmo got another line-drive hit. Jeff McNeil homered, as did Albert Almora. Luis Guillorme made a slick catch on a line drive hit right at him, around thigh level, prompting Keith Hernandez to say “I wish I could sit down like that,” in turn prompting Gary Cohen to remind Keith that while he probably could sit down like that, getting back up would be a problem. 

Mets pitchers shut out the Astros offense — (NOTE TO EDITOR: please insert garbage can joke) — with varying degrees of confidence. Stroman looked invincible. Jordan Yamamoto looked uncertain but promising. Jerry Blevins looked like he needed a haircut. Drew Smith looked — well, honestly, I missed that half-inning, because the MLB.tv stream wouldn’t stop showing the same highlights sixteen times in a row. Sam McWilliams looked lanky and laissez-faire, but struck out two and kept the Astros off the board.

The Mets only had five hits, which is fine when two are home runs and your pitching is on point. Mauricio, Brett Baty, Khalil Lee, and Pete Crow-Armstrong all took at-bats; all four were hitless. On the other hand, Mark Vientos and Jose Peraza had hits, and Johneshwy Fargas made an appearance, which was enough to make the day a happy one. The Mets left ten men on base, and in the sixth, loaded the bases with no outs but still couldn’t score. They still won handily.

All routine, nothing extraordinary, all part of the business of Spring Training. There’s nothing we know after the game about the 2021 Mets that we didn’t know before it. No big surprises, nothing that meant anything shocking, no bold-printed headlines. Just the little things. Around 1:00 yesterday afternoon, Marcus Stroman jogged out to the mound as the fans applauded. Sometimes it’s the little things, the routine and the comfortable, that mean the most.