Top of the 2nd. In Atlanta. We've scored two to get the evening off on the right foot, then been rocked back on our heels by a four-spot. Braves 4, Mets 2, all momentum gone, eight innings of struggles and pain to come. We wouldn't score. Then they'd add one here, two there, make it 6-2 or 7-2, we'd make a little countercharge late, get it to, say, 7-4 with one on and one out, fail to score, then the roof would cave in. Lots of chopping and whoa-oh-ohh-awohing, another Turner Field loss.
I'd seen this game before. We'd all seen this game before. Afterwards Bobby Valentine would speak, well, bravely and try not to let the fury and hurt show on his face. He'd fail. Or Art Howe would say that we'd battled and say some more things that would instantly depart from our minds as too ethereal and pointless to keep even in short-term memory, kind of like Art Howe himself. We'd drop the second game, possibly in excruciating fashion, possibly in merely humiliating fashion. Then, if it mattered, we'd lose the third. And if it didn't matter we'd win the third, and pump our fists afterwards but it would feel like we could barely raise our arms to do so. Because we'd know we hadn't accomplished anything but getting dragged two steps closer to the hangman.
That's the blueprint. Or rather, it was the blueprint.
The new blueprint is that Pedro Martinez bears down after a worrisome start and ices Atlanta for six more innings of variously crafty, efficient and occasionally dominating baseball. The new blueprint is Carlos Beltran coolly bringing us even with a two-out hit in the second, making it 4-4 once again, Jose Valentin getting things done when they needed to be done, and David Wright rocking the pastels for a little insurance. The new blueprint is not letting some Atlanta pitcher with poor location and bad body language gather himself and find a groove — it's getting him out of his windup and out of the game. The new blueprint is glittering relief from guys doing their jobs one sterling inning at a time.
The old blueprint is Jay Payton and Armando Benitez and Braden Looper and everyone else who came up short at some Turner Field horror show. But that blueprint is as gone as they are. The new Braves, these 2006 Braves, are 13 back and just lost Chipper Jones again. They gave us their best shot and we came right back and put them on the floor for keeps. Tomorrow Marcus Giles and Andruw Jones and the others will be full of more talk about how they're not chasing the wild card, they're chasing us. Whatever. Look in the paper, fellas — you've got to chase the Marlins first.
Mets play tomorrow afternoon. Another audition for El Duque. He might have a role in October. Willie might rest a regular, seeing how it's hot as hell. Gonna need those guys in October. We have to take the long view these days. Still, important not to look past that day's game. So who are we playing? Hmm, let me check. All I remember is it's some third-place, sub-.500 team.