Drive in two, give up one. Statistically, Carlos Delgado was a verifiable asset. He was Delgado +1. That's not a wedding invitation; that's a hockey notation. He comes up in the ninth, the Mets needing an assist, and he puts a big hit on Mike Gonzalez; at least it looks big in the boxscore. More well placed than line drive, but the score goes from a stubborn 2-1 to an almost comfortable 4-1. With the Mets' goal in sight, the rest of the game looks like one big empty net.
Yet there is no wasted motion on a baseball field just as there were no wasted numbers Tuesday night in Atlanta. Nothing that happened didn't come bundled with some sort of consequence, potential or otherwise. Luis Castillo, in on three double plays — including one he started by nabbing a Chipper Jones bases-loaded liner in the third — made what would appear to be an inconsequential muff in the eighth. He stayed back on a one-out Jones grounder and the ball charged right by him. But when J.J. Putz didn't allow anybody else to reach base, no harm done, right?
David Wright wasted no motion driving in Carlos Beltran from second in the top of the third, one of two runs Liván Hernandez, Bobby Parnell and Putz would make stand tall for a very long time. Thanks to Jeff Francoeur's most intimidating limb, he did not deliver Beltran from third in the ninth (Carlos B. seems to live on base these days), but since Carlos D. got the hit a moment earlier, no harm done, right?
Ultimately, no harm to the Mets, but of course harm lurks hard when you don't do something beneficial on a ballfield. By Castillo extending the eighth and by Wright not bringing home at least one Carlos in the ninth, it gave the Braves two bonus threads of hope, no matter how slender each appeared:
1) They would need three runs to tie, not more; three runs is a considerable hill to climb against Francisco Rodriguez, but it's less considerable than four.
2) Having received that one gift baserunner in the eighth, the Braves were one batter closer to bringing Chipper Jones back to the plate in the ninth, almost invariably an atrocity waiting to happen (no kidding, check what Mets Walkoffs uncovered on the subject). True, he would be the seventh batter in the inning, but for the Mets, any chance Chipper comes up is a chance best not taken.
You know what happened next. Two Braves batters come up, two Braves batters go down, meaning it would take a calamity to put this game in doubt. Then again, we're playing in the Calamitorium, so an innocent single by Kelly Johnson looms suspiciously. A walk to Clint Sammons and his lifetime .177 average creates a sudden need to clear the throat. We've been winning all night. Liván was a veritable spa treatment: a soothing balm in a world filled with troubling Ollies and the like. Heartthrob Ramon Castro made us forget how much we used to love and depend upon on Omir Santos. Ken Kawakami was the pitching equivalent of patio furniture in fall, staying outside far too long and losing its luster in the process. If this game were a boxing match, we'd have been way ahead on points. But this baseball game was a baseball game and it was one swing from being tied.
Omar Infante had a puncher's chance with two on and two out, but K-Rod took care of that. A simple pop-up to first and…
DOWN GOES CARLOS!
DOWN GOES CARLOS!
Well, Carlos stayed on his feet, but the ball stayed in play when Delgado didn't so much drop it as fail to complete catching it. That silly Kelly Johnson kept running and scored. Sammons went to second. Then he followed Johnson home when Yunel Escobar singled, chasing Infante to third.
Frankie Rodriguez would now be facing his seventh batter of the inning:
in Turner Field…
with the tying run ninety feet away…
and the winning run on first.
This wouldn't be happening if Wright had driven Francoeur a little deeper to right in the top of the ninth. Or if Castillo had picked Jones' ball cleanly in the bottom of the eighth. Or if a dozen Mets hadn't remained on base as if infected by an allergy to home plate. This wouldn't be a one-run game had the Mets not wasted so much motion.
Then again, they did start the inning with a three-run lead, thanks to a surplus of efficient motion. The surplus was shrinking, but that's what surpluses are for: to keep you in the black, if just barely.
So? So Jones hits a deep fly to right, Ryan Church catches it, the game is over, the Mets win. In the end, it's Mets +1.
Exactly the edge they required.
You'll come out ahead when you read Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.