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First-place Nats show Mets how to maintain even keel

Jul 23, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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The Mets decided to put everything they had into this week’s series at Nationals Park. They held back their top three starters specifically to pitch in D.C. Their manager openly admitted these games were more important than others. Then he took blame late Wednesday for not bringing in his closer in the bottom of the eighth in search of a 4-out save.

The Nationals, on the other hand, decided this series was no more important than any other. They lined up their rotation with the long-term in mind, not the short-term. They didn’t get overly excited when they won Monday night’s opener, didn’t get terribly down when they lost Tuesday night and kept the celebration to a mostly modest level Wednesday afternoon.

That’s because the Nats are the frontrunners in the NL East, and they are appropriately acting like it, while the Mets are the ones doing the chasing and ultimately looking desperate in the process.

“That’s all on me,” New York manager Terry Collins volunteered after Wednesday’s game, telling reporters he erred by not replacing setup man Bobby Parnell with closer Jeurys Familia during the decisive bottom of the eighth.

Really? Collins was mad at himself for not asking his closer to record a 4-out save on July 22? Talk about desperation.

The Mets are only 3 games back with 67 still to play. They’ll face the Nationals nine more times in 2015, including the final three games of the regular season, at Citi Field. Guess what, they’re still very much in the race, even if their actions suggest they put all their eggs in this week’s basket.

Give credit to the Nationals for not falling victim to that kind of desperate mindset. Say whatever you want about Matt Williams, but he has done a masterful job the last two seasons at getting his players not to look back and not to look ahead, focusing solely on the particular task at hand that day.

The Nats did that this week, and perhaps that philosophy helped them take 2 of 3 from the jittery Mets and ensure their lead in the division would not dwindle into dangerous territory.

“That’s big for us,” said closer Drew Storen, who struck out the side in the ninth Wednesday to earn his 29th save. “If we can pull two out of the series against those starters, it says a lot about our team.”

The Nationals, despite their flaws and spate of injuries, actually are a very good ballclub. Obviously they have elite talent at many positions, but they also have impressive depth around the diamond and the resiliency to overcome the kind of injuries that would spell doom for many teams.

Remember, these guys still have not fielded their entire projected starting lineup once this year. And they may not for awhile longer if it turns out Yunel Escobar suffered a significant injury to his left wrist.

Escobar went down in a heap after an awkward check-swing in his first at-bat Wednesday, clutching his left wrist. After an examination from head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and some practice swings, Escobar said he was good enough to keep batting. But when he fouled off the next pitch and immediately threw his bat to the ground while walking straight down the dugout stairs, it wasn’t inappropriate to wonder if the Nationals just suffered yet another major blow.

Initial X-rays taken of Escobar’s hand and wrist came back negative, according to Williams, but the club had him get an MRI of the same area. Though there was no official word on the results of that test, the Nationals are at least concerned there could be some structural damage to the wrist, whether in the form of a torn ligament or a small facture.

Now, Escobar has shown a propensity to return quickly from what initially appeared to be serious injuries. So perhaps he’ll be back out there within a day or two. But if there’s doubt he can play again soon, the club may have no choice but to place Escobar on the DL and add somebody else to the roster.

Somebody like Anthony Rendon, who on Wednesday night went 3-for-3 in his fourth game with Class A Potomac and now is 7-for-10 with two walks while on rehab assignment. Yes, in a perfect world Rendon would get another day or two to get his timing down. But the Nationals don’t live in a perfect world. They’re already without Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Denard Span. And now they may be without Escobar for some period of time.

The path doesn’t get any easier. After facing Dodgers aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke over the weekend and the New York triumvirate of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard the last three days, the Nationals now head to Pittsburgh where another electric staff awaits. Over the next four days they’ll be seeing the Pirates’ three best starters: Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.

Then comes a series in Miami that is likely to feature ace Jose Fernandez, followed by a series in New York against none other than these same Mets.

At this point, you know the Nationals aren’t going to make too big a deal out of that series at Citi Field. The only question is: Will the Mets have learned to follow their counterparts’ lead in this regard, or will they once again put too much stock in a July series?

 

  1. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 23, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    I dissent to the implication that these were not critical games for the Mets. They now have six games left with the Nats; each game they lose is a two-game swing. If they lose four out of the six, that’s a four-game swing on top of the ground they lost this week. That, with the Nats’ current three-game lead, would put the Mets in a much deeper hole. They’d be reduced to scoreboard watching the rest of the way.

    Having said that, I don’t know why they held back from throwing their best against the Cardinals With the Nats failing against the Dodgers they missed an opportunity to pick up two games, which amplified the urgency of the last series.

    They also have to realize their lineup — unlike the Nats’ — is not really going to get any better. I don’t think anyone believes Wright is going to come back and make them an offensive juggernaut. They have to get accustomed to the idea they have to win with the efforts of the scrubinis that make up their lineup and not expect a succession of five-hit shutouts from now to the finish. They’re lucky the outcome of this series wasn’t worse; Ross was going to beat deGrom before the BP flushed it.

    • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      I have no idea what the Mets are thinking, beyond what the NY reporters say, but even MLB teams can get broken, and if the Nats aren’t in their heads by now, I’d be surprised. They’re looking at losing a series, and being three games out, to Syracuse, if not Harrisburg, with better starters.

      “We’re losing to THESE GUYS?? A team with Dan Uggla hitting cleanup?? With den Dekker starting — and killing us??”

  2. rayvil01 - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    Nine games are left with the Mets. Three game sets up there next weekend, the last three of the season, and a home set here on Sept 7,8,9.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:23 AM

      I couldn’t find the third series on the schedule. Still, the pressure is really on the Mets.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:33 AM

        No argument here. The NY papers were talking about the depressed mood in the Mets locker room post-game. Just July or not, that was a biggie.

  3. natsguy - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:50 AM

    I actually think this series against the Pirates is going to be more important. I would be very content with a split. The Pirates are a tough team and the Nats have trouble in Pittsburgh.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      And the Pirates are pretty much at full strength.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:19 AM

        I’m not sure about that. They just lost IF Jody Mercer this week to an MCL sprain, on top of losing utilityman Josh Harrison to thumb surgery right before the ASB. I keep expecting them to call up Steve Lombardozzi any day now.

        In their two series since the break, they were swept by the Brewers and managed to win 1 out of 3 from the Royals.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:35 AM

        My bad. Thanks for straightening me out.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:38 AM

        When Kang starts, Mercer is just a bench player. Josh Harrison is the guy they miss.

        Now Esco avoided the DL earlier this year when injuring his hamstring and they had Burriss in DC if they put him on the DL which didn’t happen.

        Can’t imagine that Rendon isn’t in Pittsburgh.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:46 AM

        I know they will miss Harrison in this series. IIRC, he always hit well against us.

        They also, I believe, are having troubles (performance-wise, not injury-wise) with Pedro Alvarez. He was terrible at 3B, so they thought (a-la RZim) that a move to 1B would do the trick. Apparently not.

  4. Doc - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:52 AM

    If the Mets, in future years, actually put a real lineup together we’re gonna have our hands even more fuller than the last series. Man what a bunch of young pitchers!!!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:14 AM

      deGrom is the one I like the best of all of them.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:14 AM

      deGrom is the one I like the best of all of them.

      • 3on2out - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        You can say that again!

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jul 23, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Boz had a column in today’s WP print edition raving about the job the bench has done while all of the regulars are out. He gave pats on the back to Taylor, Robinson, Ross,Espinosa, and Uggla. But not one word about denDekker, the guy that had four plate appearances yesterday and reached base all four times with a BH and 3 walks.Now, I’m with Ghost of Steve M in feeling that Matt denDekker is unlikely to ever be an everyday outfielder on this club, but gosh, you have to give him a ton of credit for the contributions he has made during his call-up, especially this series against the Mutts. I also agree with Steve that comparing MdD to Billy Burns is at this point rather silly. Burns is hitting .308 which is 7th overall in the AL and is first in hits, OBP, OBP+, and stolen bases among AL rookies. Now, will Burns keep it up? Who knows? Will denDekker keep making contributions? Who knows? But in my mind both players are over-achieving underdogs and I get a kick out of watching both of them.

    • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:04 AM

      adding: den Dekker has a lot of speed, is a good outfielder, and a fast/smart baserunner. All those things came into play this series. On MAT’s big hit, he made it so that the throw to the plate wasn’t even worth it — the LF’er had no chance at all.

      • Section 222 - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:09 PM

        Excellent point wonk. dD was absolutely flying on that play.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:32 AM

      I’m glad Boz gave props to the Federal Reserves. Don’t forget the game winning 2 run HR from MdD to win the game against the Dodgers to take what was technically the opening game of the series and saved the Nats from a sweep.

      They have all come up big off the bench where you point to and say these guys have won games for this team and that includes TyMo.

      I don’t know how the bench will shake out in the end and each player on this bench has there + and – . Collectively they rank only 23rd in the MLB in pinch-hitting OPS but when they start games they seem to step it up.

  6. adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:01 AM

    I agree with Mark here.

    It’s too early for the Mets to think it’s do-or-die. That’s unnecessary pressure. It’s still July. Three games out with 65+ games left, and nine more against the Nats, is not exactly insurmountable. (I question the wisdom, btw, of using Familia the night before — with a 7-2 lead. He threw 20 pitches. He already leads all of MLB in games finished. Parnell was also used the night before — he threw 10 pitches. And he had allowed only one run this year (in 13 prior appearances)). They acted with the perspective of a fan, rather than seasoned ballplayers.

    In the meantime, they now go to LA to face Kershaw and Greinke with their #4 and #5 starters. (Granted, the last two games of that series, they will use Harvey and deGrom against the Dodgers #3 and #4)

    The Mets need some more bats, plain and simple. Dead last in MLB in BA and runs scored ain’t gonna cut it for them.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:03 AM

      Actually, the LA-NY series is in NY, but otherwise I agree with everything you wrote.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      It depends what the Mets do this week with a trade. They could trade Jon Niese to Toronto for a bat or really make a splash and trade Syndergaard or Matz to the Brewers for Aramis Ramirez and Gerardo Parra.

      • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:44 AM

        I agree. Just like we’re hoping to tread water until our starters return — they should be hoping to tread water until they get some hitting.

        If they aren’t going to get some hitting, then the playoffs are out of the question for them this year.

        OTOH, they do have a ton of young arms, and if they could part with some in order to get some hitters . . . then we may have a real race here.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:56 AM

        That’s the perfect analysis. Their offense is so weak that their pitchers can’t give up more than 2 runs.

        When you look at Tuesday’s game, the Nats I believe win it if CRob fields that bouncer. The Nats were ahead 2-1 at that point in the game with Joe Cool cruising. Forget the final score as Drew would have been in for the Save in the 9th, not Roark in a 3-2 deficit. Nats win it 2-1 in my mind and sweep the series.

  7. purchasedexperiences - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    “Somebody like Anthony Rendon, who on Wednesday night went 3-for-3 in his fourth game with Class A Potomac and now is 7-for-10 with two walks while on rehab assignment.” – Rendon didn’t play Wednesday night, the game started at noon. Just FYI.

    • Purchased Experiences - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:38 AM

      I’m wrong, was thinking of Tuesdays’ game, I’m stupid.

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:13 AM

    If you have friends or family members who like that Ohs team, take sharp instruments away from them so they don’t cut their throats. They just lost 2 straight to NY.

    • virginiascopist - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:25 AM

      The Orioles really need to be active at the trade deadline, except they really don’t have many (healthy) trade chips. I believe they also stand to lose quite a number of players to free agency. If the AL East weren’t so weak, if I were them, I might be inclined to sell.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        They talk about trading Gausman, he’s the guy that gave up 4 runs last night over 6 innings. That’s not great.

    • natsdial8 - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:11 AM

      And they are 6 back chasing multiple teams . Tough road for them . Yeah 😜

  9. water47 - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    I teresting all the talk about stqndings. We should not forget that the Nats have 2 games at hand on the Mets and 3 games on the Braves.It gives them a little extra breathing roo .

  10. adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    Question about Rendon. As noted earlier, he’s gone 7-for-10 in Potomac.

    Has he played the field? Or just DH? Or both?

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 9:49 AM

      According to this page, he’s played 4 games in the field, 17 innings.

      http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?player_id=543685#/career/R/fielding/2015/ALL

    • natsdial8 - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:17 AM

      Big Anthony fan here . I KNOW injuries often random but I would like to see him do a complete review on his work out programs and diet and nutrition . He is way too talented and young not to explore all options here.

  11. veejh - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    If I were the Mets GM, I would stand pat. There’s no need to sacrifice the future for a long shot this season. No way I trade any of those starters at the deadline. No way.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:15 AM

      Agreed. I’d love it if the Mets gave up a young starter for Ramirez and Parra!

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        +1

    • scnatsfan - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:36 AM

      Agree. Write this year off as a bridge year; if you make the playoffs great, if not know you are well positioned next year.

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Mets need to hang on to their young starters. They seem intent on saving innings — which would be good in the event they squeezed into the playoffs. Which they won’t. But good pitching — and I think they have four guys who could develop into No. 1s someplace — is harder to come by good hitters. While they need hitters, anything over Niese would be an overpay for either Ramirez or Parra. What they need, in order to scrape by while some hitters mature, is defense. Their entire infield is shoddy and Lagares has plateaued. Pitching could win a lot of games if their fielders weren’t lobbing balls to 1B like they were horseshoes.

    • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:56 AM

      We might be thinking similarly. In fact, it’s Niese who I would offer to see what I could get.

      (BTW, while their infield is bad defensively, does anybody have an OF where none of the players are hitting .260?).

      Interestingly enough, I just happened to read the following, which, among other things, suggests Niese to the Dodgers for OF Van Slyke (who’s also under .260) and pitching prospect Urias. (He also suggests trading Dillon Gee for a mediocre hitter one-real rental)

      http://thebeanball.com/2015/07/21/three-unexciting-trades-that-would-immediately-help-the-mets-offense/

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:02 AM

        I don’t think Niese gets you Urias, let along both Urias and Van Slyke.

      • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:13 AM

        But I think we do agree that if you or I were the Nats GM, we’d be shopping Niese for a hitter, no?

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:39 AM

        Absolutely. But I’d only expect a rental, and not a particularly good one at that.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:34 PM

        Van Slyke might help the Mets — if they get him to protect Puig in their order.

        They need a lot of help.

  13. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 23, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    To Mark Z: this autoplay is annoying as All S__t. I have an add-on that’s supposed to block auto-play but apparently Comcast has decided to defeat people who want to choose what things are going to interfere with their concentration.

    • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:05 AM

      What he said.

      • natsfan1a - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:20 AM

        What they said.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:17 PM

        Seconded, thirded, and fourthed.

  14. micksback1 - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    The only thing that would hurt the Mets could be their owner, who fortunately has stayed out of the way of Terry Collins. As a Nats fan, I hope the owner gets involved and screws them up because they have a great future pitching core.

    I hope Escobar can get back soon but with Rendon coming back, I would not rush it.

    • npb99 - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Let’s hope Dan Snyder buys a minority stake. Or even better, a majority.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:40 AM

        +1. I’d rather have him buy the Cardinals or the Dodgers, but I’d be fine with him buying the Mets.

  15. mlblogsnatsboy - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    Its really hard to take the Mets seriously. On Monday night, they got two runs because Gio walked a guy hitting.169 and intentionally walked another hitting .140 before giving up a bloop hit to a pitcher. If that’s how they generate their offense, any decent team is going to beat them (let alone one that has won the division two of the past three years.)

    The Mets staff is all nicknames and hype, with the exception of deGrom, who truly is an excellent pitcher. Harvey is more interested in being famous than pitching well, and it shows. He is busy playing Batman (he has a Batman symbol rather than his name on his locker room nameplate). Harvey posts ridiculous articles on the internet about feeding monks, and feels the need to inspection kitchens in restaurants before he eats there to be sure his favorite chef is on duty. This is the stuff of Paris Hilton, not a guy interested in winning baseball games. And then there is Noah Syndergaard , aka “Thor”, who posted an ERA of 4.60 in AAA last year, and Matz, who is constantly injured but gets headlines because he got a couple of lucky hits in the two games he actually pitched at the big league level. The vaunted Mets rotation is a creation of the NY media and Mets fans who are trying to will themselves into having a good team. The Mets had a vaunted rotation in the 1990s too — how’d that work out?

    So the Mets have got a lineup with multiple hitters under .200 and a starting rotation with one genuine star and four (or five) wanna bes. Not exactly something to overly concerned about. If Matt Williiams hadn’t decided to recreate Game 2 of the playoffs last year on Tuesday night, they would have been swept.

    • npb99 - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:19 AM

      Good point on the NY media hype. Everything up there gets inflated by the media.

      • fstop1970 - Jul 23, 2015 at 1:47 PM

        mlblogsnatsboy……you nailed it! Everything (and then some) that I was thinking about the Mets, you verbalized quite well. The only young arm on that team to accomplish anything is deGrom (ROY), and the man flat out knows how to pitch.

        Odds are, as soon as Harvey’s contract up, he’s gone!

  16. rlndtln - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    Realistically if we can not beat the Mets we are not even close to a WS.I know we have injuries unfortunately that has been going on for 2 years.We do not have Werth or Zim to play in the big games as they are always hurt.This is our team not the one we wish we had.We will never be the team on paper that is the best in baseball.If you played on paper we are the champs.The facts are some of these bench players will always be the real Nats.

    • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:25 AM

      Realistically if we can not beat the Mets we are not even close to a WS…

      First of all: we just proved we _can_ beat the Mets, right? (This is the second time we’ve won 2 or 3).

      More importantly: Small sample size.

      The Dodgers played the Mets earlier this season — the Mets outscored them 13-5 and took 2 of 3.

      Does that mean the Dodgers are not even close to a WS?

    • jfmii - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:39 AM

      The bench players ARE real Nats. What other designation would you give them? So are Werth and Zim.

  17. adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    The vaunted Mets rotation is a creation of the NY media and Mets fans who are trying to will themselves into having a good team.

    Their team ERA is 3d best in the NL. deGrom, Harvey, and Thor all have an ERA of under 3.20, and are all age 27 or younger. Matz might be a real pitcher (obviously, too early to tell — and he’s 24).

    The Cards have a better rotation than the Mets, but the Mets rotation is pretty darn good, imho.

    If that’s how they generate their offense,

    Nobody disagrees on your assessment of their offense. After all, they’re last in MLB in BA and runs.

    • nats128 - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:03 PM

      There you go. If people didnt see the last 3 games how good those 3 young Mets pitchers were than not sure how to help them assess pitching talent. I agree with previous comments that deGrom is there best and if it werent for Ramos taking a high outside pitch oppo for a HR he has a shutout.

      Now if this was a playoffs the Nats would have lined up Scherzer to Harvey, JZ to deGrom, and Gio to Thor and probably still won 2 of 3.

      Joe Cool did a fine job of pitching and only gave up 2 earned runs altho I agree if Clint Robinson fields that grounder that he took the error on the lead runner is on 2nd with 1 out and may not have scored as the Nats were leading 2-1 over deGrom at that point in the game.

    • therealjohnc - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:20 PM

      They’ve scored fewer runs than the Phillies, but only because the Phillies have played two more games than the Mets. Ranked on a “per game” basis, the Mets are actually just slightly ahead of the Phillies. Across the other stats it’s a coin toss as to which is worse between the two, but there’s a gap between the Mets/Phillies and everyone else. The difference between the two is that the Mets can pitch, the Phillies not so much. The Mets can also field pretty well (#7 in defensive efficiency) and the Phillies stink (#30, DFL in MLB).

      Goodness, the Phillies are terrible. Breaks one’s heart, it does … 😀

      • adcwonk - Jul 23, 2015 at 1:58 PM

        OK, so modify to: the Phillies and the Mets are clearly, by stats, the worst hitting teams in the NL. 😉

    • sec112 - Jul 23, 2015 at 2:53 PM

      I would argue that aside from Max Scherzer, I’d trade our rotation for theirs any day. I’ll probably get beaten up for saying this, but I think Jordan Zimmerman would be their 3rd or 4th starter. Harvey, who is effectively their third best pitcher this year, has pitched better than JZ (Check WHIP and ERA) And he’s coming back from TJ, which we have seen tends to impact performance in the first year back. So our #2 would arguably be their number 4 – and all of their top 3 plus Matz are in the part of their age curve where they can be expected to improve. Strasburg (despite rarely getting love here) is our only guy on the front side of that curve (the reason I’ve not been a fan of a long term contract for JZ). So – yeah – the Mets starting pitching is very good – it’s not NY media hype. But their offense is awful (and middle relief iffy), so for this year at least, we don’t have too much to worry about.

  18. edshelton2013 - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    The Post said Espinosa has played five positions this year: SS, 2B, 3B, LF. What’s the fifth? 1B?

    • therealjohnc - Jul 23, 2015 at 12:21 PM

      Correct, first base. Shortest first baseman in the league, I’d bet!

      • zmunchkin - Jul 23, 2015 at 1:56 PM

        Could be.

        And as I recall he acquitted himself quite well at first.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 23, 2015 at 4:09 PM

        For a guy who had never played there, he did well. It wasn’t perfect; he had a couple of “adventurous” plays where his footwork was not the best (I remember one where he left his foot in the center of the bag instead of the edge thus putting himself and potentially a baserunner at risk), and I believe he did muff a couple of throws in the dirt. But he certainly didn’t embarrass himself or the team, which for a guy who had never played there before was pretty good.

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