The Church mostly giveth. The Church, as it turns out, occasionally taketh away.
Ryan Church is this team's OVP, its Only Valuable Player. OK, Wright, too, but David is mostly good this season, not stupendous. Nobody's stupendous on the Mets, not David Wright, not Johan Santana, not nobody. But Ryan Church has been as close as it gets.
Yet he's imperfect. Ain't we all, but he can be glaringly if well-meaningly so, no more than on Tuesday night when his imperfections outweighed his wonderfulness just enough to nudge matters in the wrong direction. Church's goodness was embodied by his first-inning home run and can generally be found in his refusal not so much to lose but to let the game get the best of him. At heart, he's one of those cartoon kittens who runs and runs, unaware that some bigger cat is sticking his paw out, thus halting the kitten's forward progress even as his feet keep moving. That's the indefatigable part of Ryan Church with which we've all become smitten. Church strikes me as someone who's figured out New York, who's figured out that the last thing you can look like here is you're not trying. Ryan Church is always trying.
But sometimes he tries a little too hard. Never mind, for now, the fly ball he didn't catch and didn't know was trickling away still in play while Blake DeWitt's total bases counter clicked uncomfortably from 5 to 6. Go back several hours from the bottom of the fifth to the top of the second, the frame when the Mets were positioned to get their laugher on.
Pagan made it to first when Kuroda couldn't handle his bunt. Schneider…well, it doesn't take a genius to recognize Brian Schneider is all-hit, no field (no jukebox has ever contained as many singles as Brian Schneider's bat). Luis Castillo momentarily freed himself from Jace Purgatory — the dark and humid place where players my partner decides he doesn't like are condemned to linger for years — with a rare base hit that scored Angel. Figgy bunted and was Paganically gifted by Kuroda, loading the bases for Reyes who delivered Schneider with a hit single of his own.
What a setup! Nobody out, everybody on, our hottest hitter up, our best player behind him. A three-run lead about to…
…stay at three.
Churchy (as I've been calling him through the TV) so wanted to make New York happy — or perhaps keep New York off his back — that he couldn't resist lunging at ball three. Perhaps he was thinking Kuroda would throw away yet a third ball hit practically right to him, but no. The easiest 1-2-3 double play you'll ever see ensued. Wright, enduring a night at the plate as bad as the night in the field he was enjoying was good, struck out. The tide had inexorably turned. As in that inning when Jair Jurrjens was walking Mets like crazy yet was never knocked out, the other team was about to survive what little fight the Mets had in them.
We've noticed mostly the good in Ryan Church because he's been mostly good. But he is prone to overanxiousness at the worst times. There was a game early in the season (against Atlanta I want to say, though 2008 is rapidly devolving into a blur of missed opportunities) when Ryan couldn't help himself and swung at an offering that was dirtbound. A Met rally went to its premature reward.
Hard to get on Church for stuff like that, even as it lurks beneath the surface of a .314 batting average and an .887 OPS. He has been the human rally by his own self for more than a month. He has been the offense on too many nights. And he doesn't let walls get in the way of his instincts even if his sense of where he and the ball were simultaneously didn't work out in Dodger Stadium. Only a collapse-scarred curmudgeon would note that if we are going to give a few underperforming Mets the benefit of the doubt that they won't be .219 or .216 hitters the whole summer long, it's quite possible that Ryan Church won't be all-world all year.
But while he is, he makes watching the Mets…what's that thing that provides a sensation that isn't painful or disturbing?…a joy.