After the Wagnerian (as in Richard, not Billy) storms that rolled through here overnight and this morning, I thought we'd be lucky just to get a game in. I didn't count on one so thoroughly entertaining.
You want home runs? Done. Wright. Beltran. Howard. Ibanez. Rollins. Church. Utley. And a shot by Tatis (of course) that would have been out if the Great Wall of Flushing weren't quite so lofty. (Tatis seems to get victimized inordinately by Citi Field, and he's learned — he hauled ass out of the batter's box to ensure he could get to second.) Church's drive went in the apple housing, which doesn't count extra but feels like it should. I wonder whose job it is to retrieve those. It'd be kind of cool if they just left them there.
Drama? 3-0 Mets turned into 4-3 Phils in a potentially deflating hurry, thanks to Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez exploring distant Citi Field nooks and crannies. But Tatis immediately dragged the Mets right back into it with his laser-beam double, followed by various misadventures put right by Santana and Alex Cora.
Santana? We got a look at his greatness (maybe we should just call him JHN) from a rather different angle. After a bravura show against the first six hitters he was very hittable — but if he didn't exactly pitch flawlessly, he did everything else that way. I know this is pretty far from quantifiable, but it's like his will has its own gravitational pull — he is not going to lose, and by God you are going to do your part, whether it's zeroing in on a 2-1 pitch or hitting the cutoff man or handing him a towel or offering particularly timely Yays and Attaboys on your couch in Brooklyn. The one thing Johan hasn't done since becoming a Met is hit — he arrived as a lifetime .258 hitter but hasn't ever looked particularly good with the bat for us. So of course tonight he goes into an 0-2 hole trying to bunt, then tries the butcher boy and yanks a double down the right-field line. Going in (hard) to second base his eyes were fixed plateward — had Church scored? (Yes.) Could Santos score from first? (No.) And then he short-circuited a Phillie rally with a calf-height stab of a Shane Victorino tracer up the middle, turning first-and-third and one out into the bottom of the seventh. Johan with all his pitching weapons is an awe-inspiring spectacle, but somehow Johan barreling through on sheer competitiveness is even more impressive.
Supporting Cast? They did their part, from Pedro Feliciano's efficient throttling of the Phillies to Church's resurgence to Gary Sheffield doing a pretty fair job in the field and on the basepaths on one and a half 40-year-old legs to Cora's gutsy play at short on nine fingers. They better — see Santana above.
Sideshows? Lance Barksdale botched a call pretty thoroughly at home — Tatis was clearly safe, with the ball rattling around up Carlos Ruiz's wrist as Fernando slid underneath him, but Barksdale was out of position and couldn't see that. The Times reported Johan's double was against Jerry Manuel's orders, which is interesting. Johan squawked about coming out of the game, which was also interesting. Who plays, Church or Fernando Martinez? Whither Daniel Murphy? All interesting.
Bad Feeling? Jimmy Rollins shushed the crowd after his bolt into the left-field stands brought the Phillies all the way back. From the variety and exuberance of his postgame pointing (against Greg Dobbs — take that, motherfucker), Frankie Rodriguez's God is indeed a mighty God. SNY caught Shane Victorino staring at Frankie with a distinct lack of brotherly feeling. Good. A little summer hatred is the stuff of baseball history.
Yet for all the potential ill will, the lasting image for me of this game might be Rollins taking out Cora at second base on Matt Stairs's little bouncer with one out in the ninth, dropping Cora on his bad thumb and wrecking his throw to first to give his team another out. A pitiless play, but one that violated neither written nor unwritten rules. Rollins didn't appear to offer any kind of apology and Cora didn't appear to expect one.
Which is as it should be: Pennant race ahead, between one flawed World Champion and one battered nemesis. It's off to a pretty fair start.
Be nice to yourself by picking up 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.