If the Mets have led you to claw fingernail marks in your own palms this year — stigmata I think we all bear — then this was baseball as sweetest absolution. Stagnation, frustration, expectation, exultation and exhalation were the night's procession, as some bullpen tightrope-walking was followed by a barn-burner of an 8th inning and then a relatively sweat-free 9th. This is the way —
Hey, have you been to my Web site lately?
Wait a minute, I think the shortstop of a third-place team wants to sell us an SUV! What was that, Mr. Jeter? No, I haven't taken your Ford challenge, whatever that is. Look, I don't mean to be rude, but you're interrupting. Could you come back at the end?
The day didn't begin auspiciously, not with the news that Billy Wagner has increased swelling in his pitching elbow, leaving our closing arguments to the tender mercies of Heilman Sanchez Feliciano Smith Schoeneweis Stokes and Ayala LLP, a bunch of Lionel Hutzes of late when it comes to laying down bullpen law. Nor did things look good when the Mets grabbed a 2-0 lead only to do their usual hare-and-the-tortoise imitation, falling into a doze against Jo-Jo Reyes and allowing Chipper and this year's squad of Bravos Anonymous to perform recon and ambush Oliver Perez. (Ollie was due for a tepid performance, so gets only a mild scolding — but it was scary to rediscover how naturally eye-rolling, muttering and hair-pulling accompany a Perez start.)
But things started to turn with Ayala's Shea debut. The newest Met was handed a tough —
Have you been to my Web site lately?
For Pete's sake! Yes, I've heard of the Ford Edge. I'm aware that you have one, Derek, or at least that your TV pitchman self does. We're discussing a pennant race here, so do me a favor and get back in your vehicle. Now look at your side mirror. Does it say BLUE JAYS IN MIRROR MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR? It does? Then why don't you worry about that challenge and leave us in peace?
Ayala was handed a tough assignment: first and third and one out with the Braves up 3-2. It was reassuring to see Dan Warthen out at the mound after he retired Omar Infante, I assume to tell Ayala not to be macho for his new teammates and to pitch around Brian McCann in favor of Jeff Francoeur if he'd rather. That was good — but it was better to see Ayala coolly erase McCann and the threat. As for Heilman, he's probably always going to look like a kicked hound out there on the mound, and we're just going to have to get as used to it as we can. But just when it looked like the roof was going to cave in, he got Gregor Blanco to foul out to Wright and give us a chance at a second inning against Jeff Bennett and the Costco-sized bag of sunflower seeds he carries in his cheek.
As for Nick Evans, he probably isn't ready….
Have you been to my –
I know, I know, you've definitely got an edge. Everybody says so — taxi drivers, sassy meter maids, construction workers, vague baseball types wearing blank hats. And yes, I get that you've got an Edge, not an edge, and I can get one too. Sometime between the first viewing and the millionth, that little narrative twist lost its effectiveness. Enough!
Nick Evans needs more seasoning, but it's impressive how well he works counts — even when the home-plate ump is calling the black and then some, as Charlie Reliford was in the 8th. Evans walked, Wright walked as Bennett buried slider after slider in the dirt, Beltran dribbled a little excuse-me single up the line and it was Carlos Delgado up with the bases loaded and one out. Bases loaded, as we all know, has not been kind to us this summer. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but I believe the Mets were 3 for 43,412 in that situation, and 1 for their last 37,297. Not good odds —
Have you been –
All right, now I'm getting pissed. Look, Jetes. No one thinks you have any relevance to Met baseball except hacky columnists and ad-sales drones. So why don't you just take it somewhere else?
Not good odds, but there you had it: Carlos Delgado against Will Ohman, one pretty important late-summer game in the balance, the victorious Phillies no doubt gathered in their clubhouse to watch. Delgado got decent wood on a foul down the left-field line, which of course means absolutely nothing, and here came the second pitch from Ohman and OH MAN! OFF THE WALL! EAT IT, BOBBY COX! CHANGE THE CHANNEL, PAT THE BAT! WOOO!
Actually I was terrified. The ball took a crazy, Augustinian bounce right off the pad to Blanco, who came flying out of nowhere to snare it with his bare hand and fire home, assailing me with visions of Endy Chavez becoming Richie Zisk. All would come to nothing, and this awful game would rise to the surface of Gary Cohen's play-by-play and this blog's postgame lamentations on many dark days in the future, leaving us to brood over the play that had short-circuited a pennant drive.
But no — Blanco had done everything he could, but he was a long way from home and Endy was starting from third, not first. He was safe, David Wright had come home right behind him, and Delgado was standing on second at the center of the happy Shea Stadium roars. And then the worm finally turned for Damion Easley and it was 6-3, and then the Round Mound of Pound smacked one down the left-field line and it was 7-3, and not even a superhuman play by Yunel Escobar could undo this one.
Have you –
SHUT UP! I DON'T CARE! JUST GO THE FUCK AWAY!
I don't know who the hell's going to close. I don't know if our assemblage of random corner outfielders can keep doing it with mirrors. I don't know if we can hold off the Phillies. But games like this make you believe that maybe, just maybe, things might turn out all right. That maybe, just maybe, this team has come through doubt and dismay with both renewed confidence and a certain killer instinct. Or, if you prefer, that they've now definitely got an edge. Baby.