Yes and no, I saw it coming. Yes because one is conditioned to expect the worst particularly where these contests are concerned. No because a three-run lead is a three-run lead in the seventh and a two-game winning streak over the team you're playing should be a more immediate indicator of your fortunes than all the ghosts of 1997 and 2000 and any Subway Series you care to name.
Shoulda seen it coming, though, at least where Braden Looper is concerned. At the risk of launching a classic bash-'em-while-they're-bleeding rant more suitable to the Monday after a placekicker blows two extra points, Braden Looper's not the closer for a serious team. I say that with full knowledge that he was at least half the closer on a world champion two short years ago, but Braden Looper does not inspire confidence. A fan has a right to believe his team's closer can get three outs without giving up a run. Let alone two. I really didn't believe that Sunday night.
Ease the wheel back one half-inning. It was 4-3 and Mariano Rivera came in and kept it 4-3. Mariano Rivera (his recent October imperfections acknowledged) is not to be compared against lightly. But that's a closer. In the case of the top of the ninth, that's a holder. That's big. The Mets could've lengthened their lead and given Looper a little more breathing room, but didn't. In a moment that mattered, Rivera did his job.
In a moment that mattered more, Looper did not. Walking Martinez was inexcusable but traceable. Friday night he gave up that homer (which at the time didn't seem like a bad idea). Gave in and gave up that homer. Now Looper was facing the same batter and was overcareful. Of course he walked him. Of course Rodriguez doubled. Of course Wright wasn't guarding the line. Wright is a standard-issue third baseman right now. He will make the spectacular play and follow it up with a goof and then follow it up by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The position is one of reactions and Wright has not yet learned to anticipate. His placement may also have something to do with where the bench put him, but the bench was so busy making poor pitching decisions that how could it be expected to know where to place Wright?
Everything else was gravy for the Yankees. Didn't matter who was coming up. Walk Matsui and face Giambi? Sure. If it had been Russ Johnson or that called-up leftfielder or the late Elston Howard, it didn't matter. Looper walked Martinez. That was that.
He didn't bury us, though. The lead shovel in this funeral brigade was Carlos Beltran. Sorry, CB, but transfer your All-Star votes to Cliff, go home over the break and watch some video of yourself. WHY ARE YOU SWINGING AT EVERY FIRST PITCH YOU SEE? Yeesh, the man has worse at-bats than Jose Reyes. I understand the lack of stolen bases vis-à-vis the quad and you play a little too deep sometimes (though it worked just fine this weekend) and the homering almost exclusively for Pedro is bizarre and I'm thrilled that you're here. But WHY ARE YOU SWINGING AT EVERY FIRST PITCH YOU SEE? Why isn't Rick Down or Willie or somebody taking this guy aside and saying, “Carlos, calm down out there. We're facing one pitcher after another whom we've put on the ropes and you're killing our rallies before they can be extended by SWINGING AT EVERY FIRST PITCH YOU SEE — WHY?”
It can't be for want of job security. You've got it, CB. You're here. You're beautiful. You can lead this team to a brighter future. You said and did all the right things in spring training and you refused to sit when it might have done you some good and you tracked down a lot of balls in center that your opposite number and idol couldn't in these last three games. Even if your price was inflated by your ungodly October, you're worth it. You could be a bargain if you would just stop SWINGING AT EVERY FIRST PITCH YOU SEE!
Strangely enough, despite the irritation that's been reawakened by picking the nits apart, this wasn't so bad. We did win the series. We took two of three at Yankee Stadium. My head's still held high even though I continue to be regrettably sufferable. Hopefully we're done for a good long while being bit players in the Yankee psychodrama. Let the rest of the American League clang the Collapse-O-Meter from now on. We've got our own concerns.
Before I consider those, I'd like to come out once and for all in favor of Interleague play. These six games every year are larger than life. Doesn't matter what the score is or how each participant is accounting for itself. It's always compelling (no wonder each team seems hot and bothered by it). Time stands still two weekends per season and while the price can be high, the reward, such as this past Friday and Saturday, can be that much greater. Throw in the Angels and A's and Mariners if you have to. Throw in the Rockies-Royals games — I'm not going to care who they're playing anyway — and it's still worth it.
This is one of those memory hole situations. When NY@NY comes around next year, regardless of the standing of the Mets or the Yankees, the naysayers will re-emerge to announce that this has been played, this has been done, “nobody cares”. Then there will be an incandescent three-game series that will change people's minds for five minutes. When the second chapter comes along a week or a month later, it will be “six games is too many” time all over again. And then you'll get a weekend like the one we just had, storyline layered on storyline, moment clicking into moment, the sum total piled up into something that makes baseball worth watching that much more. If you did away with IL, it's possible you could get just as good a game between the Mets and another National League opponent in its stead, but geez, live a little. I hate the way Sunday night came out, but I had to step outside myself for a moment in the middle of the ninth and think “wow, can ya believe the way this feels?” It felt that way, one way or another, at some point of every Subway Series since the dawn of Interleague. Not a bad way to feel.
Now for the rest of the story…
The Braves swept the Orioles. The Marlins swept the Devil Rays. The Nationals took two of three from the Blue Jays. Against four of the teams we're chasing we picked up no ground. The Phillies were swept after we beat them two out of three and we're a game-and-a-half behind them. If there's a reason to really rue losing to the Yankees, this is it. We could've kept pace and/or picked up significant ground by winning last night and couldn't. Is it so much to ask a .500ish team to be a slightly better .500ish team? To be a .507 team? To turn a 1-5 trip into a 6-6 journey of redemption?
Seventeen of the next twenty games are against our esteemed division rivals. Looper, don't walk the first guy. Beltran, don't swing at the first pitch. Wright, guard the line in the ninth. Randolph and braintrust, be prescient and make all the right moves before we mere fans see them coming. And all the rest of you, don't hurt yourselves stretching in the on-deck circle just as you're getting hot.
The season's been more fun than the record would indicate. Fix that, fellas. And I don't mean make it less fun.