This is starting to feel like Dominic Smith’s last chance
ATLANTA — Another night, another loss, another game when the Mets try to skate by with three hits and two runs and discover, one more time, that’s a brutal way to try to make a living in this racket.
Not even Mickey Callaway’s first career ejection could carry the day, even if the Mets did rally for their only two runs immediately after he was shown the door by home-plate umpire Stu Scheurwater (assuming you can qualify as a “rally” an inning that goes walk-walk-error-ground-rule double).
It ended 8-2, Braves. It ended a one-game winning streak. It extended a morass that threatens to swallow the Mets’ season once and for all before they see Citi Field again.
One of the Mets’ hits was by Dominic Smith, the first baseman on his first day on the job in his second look as a big leaguer. By rights, these should be exciting times for Smith, and for the Mets. There was a time, not so long ago, when Smith was the crown jewel of the Mets’ farm system, hitting for average, hitting for power, a player on the come.
Yes, he was a pound or three above his ideal playing weight. Yes, those numbers were compiled in the Pacific Coast League, where thin air and friendly ballparks can make any player with a bat feel like Roy Hobbs. Still, the Mets had plans for him. The Mets had a vision of what he could be.
Smith rejoined the Mets on Tuesday for a third time, and while nobody quite put it this way it is pretty evident that this is a do-or-die time for him. He had a forgettable 49-game cameo with the Mets last year, hitting .198/.262/.395, though he did hit nine home runs among those 167 at-bats. He was back for a weekend in Philadelphia last month, striking out in his only plate appearance.
And that came on the heels of a spring he’d like to forget, which started with him oversleeping and reporting late for the first game of the exhibition season, hurting his quad the next day, earmarking him for a return trip to Vegas where he was hitting a soft .260 with only two home runs.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson did compliment Smith for keeping off the weight he famously lost in the offseason, and said his defense had improved, and that’s all wonderful.
Still, what struggling teams like the Mets covet when they make the moves they’ve made in advance of this quick two-game series with the Braves — releasing Adrian Gonzalez and essentially handing the first-base job to Smith — is the kind of buzz that a hot minor-league call-up is supposed to generate. Smith had that around him last year, Amed Rosario, too.
Now the player Mets fans most want to see is Peter Alonso, whom Alderson happily reported is likely to be promoted soon … from Binghamton to Vegas. Whatever the opposite of buzz is, that’s what’ll greet that transaction.
“All these guys,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said before the game, “have some sort of drive. They all want to be the best player they can possibly be.”
Callaway was responding to the notion that kids who come to the Mets in this time, in this era, do so with a little extra pressure attached to the case, since there are so many instant examples of youngsters who have made that leap right away. In their own division, the Nats have added 19-year-old Juan Soto and the Braves 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. Across town the Yankees have brought up Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, both of whom hit the ground raking and haven’t stopped.
“They look across the field,” Callaway said. “They look at their peers and they say to themselves, ‘If they can do that, I can do that.’ I’m sure they all feel the need to be compared favorably to players like them.”
Things would certainly feel less dire for the Mets if the homegrown hitters who are going to form the core of this team for the foreseeable future take to the big leagues as quickly as so many of the much-more-balleyhooed pitchers did when they started arriving here in 2013.
Brandon Nimmo has endeared himself to the faithful with his hustle and his smile. Michael Conforto is a riddle, a contributor to a World Series team in 2015 and an All-Star in ’17, and barely playable in the alternating years.
And then there is the Smith-Rosario tandem, who would do well to change this team’s narrative by reaching — and dare we say, exceeding? — their potential. It’s a change that would do everyone, from the GM on down, a world of good.