Al Michaels: And it all comes down to just one man.
Bob Costas: Unfortunately, that one man is Squeak Scolari.
Public Address Announcer: Now shooting, No. 23, Squeak “Little Bitch” Scolari.
The above dialogue from the funniest and most misunderstood sports movie ever, BASEketball, came to mind Sunday afternoon as the bottom of the eleventh was about to begin. Gary Cohen set the scene by unintentionally channeling Bob Costas. Paraphrasing here:
It's 7-6, Mets, and look who's coming on to try to save it — Aaron Sele!
He may as well have called him Squeak.
We'll skip the other names Mets fans must have been formulating for their relievers so as to maintain the thin veneer of being a family blog, but Cohen's intonation was, essentially, you're not going to believe this, but Willie Randolph thinks he's going to escape this impending disaster with a washed-up starter turned discredited long reliever, someone he's used all of three times in September, someone he avoided calling on in a dire situation three nights earlier despite his having warmed up that very inning and someone who pitches almost exclusively when the Mets are far ahead or, as is more often the case, far behind.
If Gary didn't say that, that's clearly what he (and we) had in mind. Entering Sunday, Aaron Sele had made 32 appearances as a Met and the Mets were 9-23 when he pitched. So you don't think it was all a coincidence, Aaron Sele held a 5.29 ERA for 2007 from the beginning of the season to September 17 — six games earlier, which was the last time Randolph saw fit to use him. It's been a year plainly worthy of Kenny “Squeak” Scolari, BASEketball's resident luckless nebbish.
Except that after running through six relievers in five innings, Willie was down to his whaddayagonnado? corps, and Sele was the best of that lot. For the first time, in the 155th game of the season, Aaron Sele did what he had to do. Let the scorebook show…
One pitch to Hanley Ramirez: 6-3.
Two pitches to Dan Uggla: 8 (though not without a little Endy effort).
Either not knowing a good thing when he had it goin' on or deciding not to press his luck, Willie went to his ninth pitcher of the day, lefty Scott Schoeneweis, to go after a lefty batter, Jeremy Hermida. Schoeneweis, whose situational Squeakness has been largely ignored in the wake of Guillermo Mota's total Squeakness, needed but two pitches to induce a grounder to first.
The save was Schoeneweis'. The holiest of holds was Sele's. The sigh of relief from one end of Metsopotamia to another was audible.
Three wins in a row for the worst first-place team we've ever rooted for, the worst first-place team to maintain its lofty position for 131 days and counting, the worst first-place team to pick up ground on the scariest second-place team any fan base has ever felt breathe hotly down its collective neck from no closer than 1-1/2…now 2-1/2 back.
Baseball is cyclical in so many ways, as a freaky omen of sorts reminded me. Late Saturday night I listened to the Rockies beat the Padres on XM. When it was over, I was turning the dial back to Home Plate, their baseball news channel, planning to shut off the satellite radio altogether. Except I heard Gary Cohen's voice. It was one of their MLB Classics, from October 1, 2000, the final game of that season. It was a thirteen-inning affair between the Mets and the Expos, though other than the length and the Mets winning on an errant throw, there was nothing particularly classic about what was otherwise a tuneup for the coming playoffs. Nevertheless, I was at that game (with Jason and Emily), so I took a special interest in listening to it seven years later.
When I picked up the rebroadcast, the Mets were going down in the sixth to a middle reliever named Guillermo Mota. And when Gary and Bob (a chill in itself hearing him) were running down the out-of-town scoreboard, the probables for the important Seattle-Anaheim game not yet started were Aaron Sele for the Mariners and Scott Schoeneweis for the Angels.
The record compels me to report first-year manager Mike Sciosica opted for righty Mark Petkovsek instead of Schoeneweis (and lost), but still…hearing those three names on a Mets broadcast from a whole other era, none of them of more than the most passing interest at the time…it rated a “wow!” in the wee hours of Sunday morning for sure.
Keeping with the baseball-is-cyclical theme, is it possible the cycle of losing that was going to break us has passed with us having lost only one game off our ragingly adequate lead in a week's time? It doesn't feel like a three-game winning streak, but once more, truthiness doesn't matter here. The legitimate truth is the Mets found a way to win on Friday and Saturday and, at last, Sunday — despite no help from the relatively dependable Feliciano, Heilman (who jiggled his right shoulder after every pitch like something's terribly wrong with him) and Wagner (spasm-free but rusty) but because of loads of help from the generally dismissed and/or despised Sosa, Mota, Smith, Sele and Schoeneweis.
We ain't too proud to beg. We begged the Nationals to not roll over against the Phillies, and they didn't…even though we are hours from begging them to lay down like dogs at Shea for three straight nights. And we ain't too proud to accept a St. Bernard's keg of bourbon, first aid and outs from the Treacherous Three no matter how many times we've cursed out mutts like Mota, Schoeneweis and Sele. It's late September. Everybody who can contribute meaningfully is welcomed back into the family with open arms.
It's not much of a formula for winning to have John Maine strike out nine, leave at the first sign of stress in the sixth and then shuttle arms in and out like Ollie North dealing with the Iranians and the Contras, but if it works, it works. It's not ideal to have Carlos Beltran smack a knee into a wall in the midst of his second game-saving catch in three days, but you gotta hope he rubs some dirt on it and is rarin' to go sooner than later. It's not inspiring to hear the undisputed Hit Streak King tell Kevin Burkhardt that playing every day has him gassed and looking for Red Bull, but Moises, baby, you had the shank of summer to not play. All hands on deck.
Here's a worry I'm ready to release into the atmosphere because it seems valid despite no current trend in its favor: we're gonna stop hitting any minute now because it's exactly what the Mets do. They've been able to afford to indulge in deadly round after round of bullpen roulette because the offense has clicked to record-breaking proportions. The Mets have scored at least seven for six straight days. They've never done that before. Who here thinks they'll keep that up? There was a similar stint in August (also when we were playing mostly second-division clubs) that we lit up the runs column. Then we stopped. You know the relief pitching will tighten up the second Alou's streak stops, the moment Paulie remembers his hand hurts, the very night neither of the key Carloses can any longer swing, when even David isn't of all that much Value. And then we'll be off on another thrilling baseball adventure.
Just a horrible hunch. Hope I'm wrong. I find it better to articulate my darkest fears and then root like hell that I look silly in retrospect than keep it all bottled up. Better for me to feel silly than Sele to be Squeak…so to speak.