No, no, no — that's not the Mets @ Pirates game I know. The Mets @ Pirates game I know ends with the Jolly Roger flying high and the Pirate Parrot squawking proud. It ends with missed Metropolitan opportunities galore and relievers whose heads are tucked somewhere south of the NEW YORK on their funereal black jerseys.
How did we not get that Friday night? How did the Mets hold on? How did the Mets win?
How did the Mets not lose?
That was one exceedingly losable Mets @ Pirates game. It had all the elements. It had the out-of-the-box scoring in the top of the first; it had the nagging sense we should have pushed more than two across the plate; it had the eerie calm of a no-name, no-stuff starter quietly mowing us down inning after inning; it had an atrocious call go against us on a stolen base attempt; it had a lead that began to look too lonely for too long; it had a pitcher pulled just in time in favor of a bullpen in whom trust is never to be placed.
It really did. It really proceeded as a Mets @ Pirates game in every sense of the word. The Mets' two bang-bang-bang runs at the start represented a suspiciously light total. Jason Davis didn't seem particularly overpowering — or powering — but gosh if he didn't shut the door from the first through the seventh after he allowed those two runs. Nary a rally flickered and Reyes really was robbed on an out call at second by an umpire who, it must be respectfully opined, is sightless, crooked or both. Pelfrey was at his non-Marlin best, good for seven scoreless. No way he should have been taken out, but Manuel said he wanted to keep his innings down because as a third-year pro in his first full big-league season Pelf's “in uncharted waters”.
How many of y'all assumed some Pirate would deposit some eighth-inning pitch in the uncharted waters of the Allegheny once it was delivered by a Met pitcher not named Mike Pelfrey? You can put your hands down now. Granted, Jack Wilson didn't quite splash down, but the punchless shortstop punched Duaner Sanchez's fourth pitch into the left field stands and our lead was cut in half and it was Mets @ Pirates per usual.
But then it wasn't. First, there was recovery as Sanchez retired the ageless (or perhaps just old) Chris Gomez. Then it was Feliciano time and Other Pedro got Nate McLouth, didn't get Freddy Sanchez but eventually got whichever LaRoche he says he is to make the third out.
The other distinguishing characteristic of this Mets @ Pirates affair was stupendous Mets defense. We saw it impressively in the sixth when Pelf handled a tricky Ryan Doumit tapper and ignited a 1-6-3 double play. We saw it startlingly in the seventh when Carlos Beltran gunned down, nailed and threw out one of the LaRoches at the plate (it was such textbook execution on Carlos' and Schneider's part that it deserves all the clichés it can carry).
But the bottom of the ninth…now that's the Mets @ Pirates inning that made Pittsburgh National Corp. famous. We've seen bottoms of ninths in PNC Park open up and swallow the Mets whole. We've seen them take the shape of sea monsters that rise up from each of the Three Rivers and shred the Mets alive. We've seen some bad stuff there.
How many of ya'll assumed we'd see more of that in Friday night's ninth? Shoot, I did. Hangdog Heilman takes the mound and I'm groaning and cringing, not just for the usual Aaron's pitching reasons. I'm groaning and cringing because it's Pittsburgh and the game's on the line and it doesn't have to be Heilman trying to protect a one-run lead but, of course, it is. You know something's coming, you just have no idea if it will show up in an ambulance or a hearse.
First there's a LaRoche. You know what they say about LaRoches: they're the only ones who will survive a nuclear holocaust. Sure enough, LaRoche grounds one to first that grazes Delgado's glove. Well, you think, that was gettable but it wasn't gotten and now Hangdog Heilman's burying this game in the backyard and…HEY! ARGENIS REYES SCOOPED IT UP IN THE HOLE…but LaRoche will be safe because Delgado's all out of position and…HEY! HEILMAN'S HUSTLING OVER THERE…but there's no way he's going to beat the runner and…HEY! HEILMAN BEAT LAROCHE TO THE BAG! HE'S OUT!
He was! He was! Like I said, stupendous Mets defense. It can really change the game you think you know.
After the highness of Argenis, the angst of Aaron subsided some if not altogether. Heilman struck out Brandon Moss but walked Jason Michaels because what would a bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead be without a Pirate baserunner? It wouldn't be PNC with the Mets in town. But my goodness, Jack Wilson, he of his first home run of 2008 in the eighth, didn't win the game for the Buccos. He didn't tie it and he didn't extend it. He popped to Jose and ended it. Ended it as a Mets win. Ended it so although ancient Jamie Moyer outpitched equally antique Greg Maddux on the other side of the continent, the Mets could wake up Saturday to a first-place lead and an icy cold Iron City.
That's not the Mets @ Pirates game I know, but I was sure glad to make its acquaintance.