- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

These Are Not Game-Winning Plays

Even Marv Throneberry touched third.

As legend and record [1] have it, Marvelous Marv hit a triple against the Cubs in 1962 but was called out for missing first. When Casey Stengel came out to argue, coach Cookie Lavagetto stopped him. Don't bother, Case, Cookie told him. He didn't touch second either.

But he touched third. Everybody touches third. “It's just hard to miss third base,” Jerry Manuel confirmed [2]. But Ryan Church took the hard way home, pulling off the highly unusual feat of sliding in safely at the plate while technically never making it there.

The Mets didn't make it [3] last night. They didn't make it to third base or to a third run or a twelfth inning. They didn't make those mythical “game-winning plays” Steve Phillips pounded into the ground Sunday night [4] except this was Monday night turned Tuesday morning and there were plays to be made and all of them were game-losers.

They were all made by the Mets. The Mets of 2009.

“That's unbelievable,” Manuel said about Church missing third on Angel Pagan's drive to center field wall. What else could he say? He didn't pull a Casey and attempt to argue the point. Everybody but the rampaging Ryanosceros knew third went untouched. The man's got two bases to hit with a foot before home plate and he missed one of them. The camera picked up Manuel in the Mets dugout. His face was turning into one of those comic balloons filled with no words, just disgruntlement.

There'd be more of that.

The bottom of the eleventh in what remained a tie game almost obscured Church's instant-classic baserunning blunder. Stokes issues a leadoff walk. Humdrum mistake. Then a long fly ball to left-center. Or center-left. It's very playable, though, and for a change we have two legitimate outfielders who can handle it. Pagan can track it down. Or maybe Beltran. Or Pagan. Or Beltran. Or…

No, nobody tracked it down. No, of course not. Not that kind of eleventh inning. “I called that ball like six times,” Beltran said later. “When the centerfielder calls the ball, everyone has to get out of the way.” Isn't that also what they say after “lead, follow or…”? I sure hope Phillips and Joe Morgan were asleep by the eleventh inning. Even though it is the centerfielder's ball, I won't blame Pagan because a) he just got here; b) he had four hits; c) he slid home earlier in a way no Met seems to slide home — correctly; and d) he had been robbed of the go-ahead RBI by his own rightfielder five minutes before.

Meanwhile, it's second and third, nobody out. Manuel convenes everybody but the secretary-general of the U.N. on the mound. We're going to walk the next Dodger and play five infielders and if you count Stokes, Castro and the umps, the Dodger Stadium diamond has more people on it than most countries have diplomatic delegations.

And it nearly worked, too. Stokes gets Rafael Furcal, still on loan to L.A. from the Braves, to pop to the one spot in the outfield that won't allow Mark Loretta to score from third. Then Brian induces a hard grounder to first, perfectly constructed for a 3-2 forceout at home and maybe even a bang-bang DP and we go on and play eleven more innings, Pelfrey is double-switched in at shortstop, Santos pitches the 21st for the win, Reyes the 22nd for the save.

Except the first baseman is a leftfielder whose literal lack of a glove has been a running storyline for days and he's not terribly accustomed to his surroundings. Jeremy Reed makes like it's stoopball except without a stoop. He throws the Spaldeen as hard as he can, well out of Ramon Castro's range, Loretta scores, the night and the morning are over, the misery lingers.

Whoa. What a tragicomic event.

It never ceases to amaze that a roughly $138 million outfit [5] like the Mets can so quickly deteriorate into undermanned and overmatched. Delgado's out [6], sure. And Reyes' day-to-day status is creeping up on a week. Then we lose Alex Cora, who's been a wonderful, heady veteran, but, you know, he's Alex Cora. I found it revealing that afterwards, when Manuel was asked about being at a disadvantage given the players he's lost lately, he went first to Cora and his intelligence, then Delgado and didn't mention Jose at all. When all is clicking, as it clicked for three days in San Francisco, everything is Ray Stevens beautiful. But when the streak is over, it's over, and — don't look Ethel! — you're suddenly fielding Reed at first, Martinez at short, Pagan in left and handing the ball to Tim Redding.

Wow. That was quick. But let's not get caught up in labels. Pagan, as noted, was sublime Monday night/Tuesday morning. Redding, in whom I'm not a believer [7], wove a fairy tale start for six innings. Luis Castillo, who by default and performance has morphed into a stalwart and an asset, saved the night in the ninth when he corralled Sean Green's ill-advised fling to first. Aaron Heilman was always making ill-advised flings to first. And to think Sean Green didn't want Aaron Heilman's number [8].

What was also frightening was learning the five errors committed by the Mets were their most since…September 16, 2007. That was the Greg Dobbs Game [9] for you collapsologists out there. The Mets' six errors twenty months ago no doubt contributed to that pivotal loss to the Phillies, but I mostly remember Dobbs' grand slam off Jorge Sosa. I bring that up not to relive good times but because when you hear five errors are the Mets' “most since,” you expect the “since” to be followed by “1963” or thereabouts. Green's wheel and throw to nobody…the Beltran/Pagan/two-men-on hallelujah twist [10]…Reed's desperation heave that didn't have to be so hasty…those were heavy-duty, expansion-team errors. They should have counted as two miscues apiece. And that's not counting Church's inexpert finesse of third.

Yet the Mets, who for all their injury and ineptitude are still sort of in first, could have won this game. They had ample opportunity, particularly Fernando Tatis who unfortunately never met a Monday baserunner he couldn't strand. It's probably not to their credit that they seemed so outclassed by the unspectacular Dodgers, and it's not really to their credit that they couldn't cash in their chances (or touch a most touchable bag when they had to), but all could have been lost a lot sooner than almost two in the morning. Yet they persevered and made it, uh, interesting.

Doesn't make for much of a moral victory either, does it?

All the bases are covered and touched in Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon [11], Barnes & Noble [12] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [13].