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Die Hard

What if the Mets survive, but none of us do?

This is heart-attack stuff [1], brutal baseball in brutal weather, a Nor'Easter of cruelty and joy and panic and hope buffeting you and threatening to blow you down altogether. How many moments did that game offer to pierce the heart, whether with ecstacy or misery? It started with the look in Pedro Martinez's eyes as the first inning once again frayed and unraveled, a look I hadn't seen before — a grim awareness that the end of the road is in sight. There was Pedro gamely hanging in there despite all that against Micah Hoffpauir and the Iowa Cubs, then acknowledging the fans who were acknowledging him, who were remembering all he once was, all he would be still if only the fragile body could obey the steely mind, and all he did to bring this franchise back to respectability. And then there was Ricardo Rincon restoring the fans' usual state of mind by instantly and irrevocably giving up a monster shot to Hoffpauir. Nice moment? Not for your September 2008 Mets.

By the way — Micah Hoffpauir? Between the name and the chin beard, it's like an extra from Witness walked away from the barn-raising to try his hand at this English sport Harrison Ford kept rattling on about. Oh, and with Hoffpauir and Pie and Fontenot and Fukudome and McGehee and Theriot, these Cubs must give copy editors and public-address announcers alike night sweats.

(The Pirates just gave up a walk-off grand slam. Fuck.)

If our Mets live hard, though, they also die hard. You'd think the combination of a no-outs, man on third in the ninth debacle and instant arson a night later might have killed them — for a while there tonight, I certainly feared it had killed me. (And try not to remember that if Wright had hit a sac fly, we'd be tied for first right now.) But they fought back yet again, and man, that bottom of the eighth was one of those frames that keeps you watching game after hopeless game on summer afternoons when you've got things to do and when they're in extra innings on the West Coast and it's 2:30 a.m. and when you're in the park and it's 48 degrees and they're out of cocoa.

Because you never know.

Because sometimes, as the rain comes down remorselessly and the wind bends and bows everything in sight, Beltran gets a two-out hit and Church gets another two-out hit and Ramon Martinez, who a few weeks ago occupied the Mariana Trench on the second-base depth chart, gets a two-out hit and then Robinson Cancel, who's pretty much the Ramon Martinez of backup catchers, gets a two-out hit only Ryan Church is clearly going to be out at home by a country mile but he takes a desperate detour around Koyie Hill (there's another name to reduce the sports desk to tears) and misses the plate and there's a terrifying, apparently endless moment during which Church is neither safe nor out and then he stretches his hand out onto the plate just before Hill gets there and THE SCORE IS TIED!

Yes, sometimes that happens.

And then sometimes the bullpen doesn't blow it, even though Pedro Feliciano tries and Joe Smith has to face lefty after lefty. And sometimes Jose Reyes harnesses his wild energy for a marvelously determined, disciplined at-bat, and even though Daniel Murphy botches a bunting assignment or a hit-and-run or whatever that was (because something sure got botched) and David Wright is squeezing his bat to splinters again when he needs to let the game come to him, Carlos Beltran will be there. And Carlos Beltran will wait for his pitch and hit a ball on the screws and we'll see that Micah Hoffpauir's seemingly bottomless bag of tricks does not presently include stupendous defense.

Let us pause for a moment, by the way, and bottle this game to break out when people next speak ill of Beltran. He's playing with a bad left knee and aching ribs from that battering against the outfield wall Monday night. He's missed exactly one game all year. He's over 100 RBI for the third-straight year. (Tip of the cap to Jack Curry for a nice profile [2] in the Times the other day.) Beltran's amazing physical gifts, superb instincts and placid demeanor can trick you into thinking he's not going all out, particularly when you compare him with heart-on-the-sleeve grinders like Wright or Murphy. But that's an illusion, one we should be wise enough to see through. Beltran is our Roberto Clemente — a player who was criticized for his temperament and incessant aches and pains and never truly appreciated the way he should have been. We know we're lucky to have him after a game like tonight's; we should remember it when he glides over to make a catch in left-center that we think is easy only because he made it look that way.

And so. We have survived. Survived to confront, yet again, who we are. It's daunting, no question. We've got no bullpen, we don't know who the hell will start Saturday, we don't know if we'll even get to play Friday. Or Saturday. Or even Sunday. Our enemies include Marlins, Phillies, Brewers, wind, rain, 2007 and ourselves. But what the hell. We've come this far, haven't we?