It's been a while since we treated Brian Schneider like an All-Star. But can you blame us?
Schneider arrived from Washington as either the first or second incredulous “Who?” we offered after hearing the Mets had exiled Lastings Milledge (along with his mouth, rap career and casual schedule) to the Nats for the former Expo and Ryan Church, then chiefly known for his misadventures in religious studies. Installed as the Mets catcher by default, Schneider immediately began bumping his helmet into metaphorical boom mikes: He allowed an alarming number of passed balls and runners scoring in his vicinity and was hurt sufficiently often that we got to shiver in the wan light of the Robinson Cancel-Raul Casanova-Gustavo Molina era. Schneider's final line for 2008 — .257 AVG, 9 HR 38 RBI in 110 games played — all but stands up in its seat and yells “average catcher.” The only thing he does that's demonstrably better than average is throw out runners, and even there a historical-minded fan is mostly left wondering why today's catchers nab so few. When Schneider got hurt again this year, none of us seemed particularly interested in giving him another take. For fans who aren't particularly stat-minded, the anger that greeted Ramon Castro's departure had less to do with whether or not Omir Santos is incredibly lucky — rather, it was that Castro was going instead of Schneider.
Nothing that happened tonight really changes that — Brian Schneider is still a thoroughly average catcher with a doofy Toyota ad that's been shown enough to burn out untold ganglia in what passes for my brain. But he hit a baseball exceptionally hard at exactly the right time, driving a 2-1 Andy Sonnanstine fastball 415 feet or so into right-center. That was the key blow for a Met win over the Tampa Bay Rays, about whom I care about even less than I do the Baltimore Orioles. If not for a cameo by former Met nemesis Pat Burrell, whose new uniform and facial hair make him seem vaguely like Tom Hanks in the latter stages of “Castaway,” who could work up much antipathy about this one? I suppose you could yell at Dan Wheeler for not being useful as a Met five years ago, or hiss at the Rays for foiling Rick Reed's attempt at closing the Clubhouse of Curses in a previous millennium when they were the Devil Rays. I'm not exactly feeling the hate either way.
(Actually, I have reason to be irked at the Rays: Last January in Vegas, I put $20 on the Rays — then a 150-to-1 shot — to win the 2008 World Series. Fucking Phillies.)
No, most of tonight's displeasure seemed to be directed at the very real possibility that another Met lead (built on the thoroughly unlikely one-two punch of Schneider's power and Fernando Nieve's pitching) would unravel: Since being handed J.J. Putz's old gig, Bobby Parnell has spit the bit rather determinedly; Sean Green looked emphatic (in his IT-guy-who-just-pwned-somebody-in-Halo-way) in getting himself out of trouble, but then the trouble was of his own making; Pedro Feliciano needed to make an acrobatic play to retire Carl Crawford; and Frankie Rodriguez didn't look quite right just yet, greeted in the ninth with a long flyout from Dioner Navarro.
But we won, as we somehow have more often than not in this thoroughly weird season. Reyes and Delgado and Maine and Perez and Putz are hurt, the bullpen is iffy, the defense is suspect, and the Mets regularly do something so dunderheaded that you're left staring at the TV or the field with your mouth hanging open. And yet somehow we stay above water and the Phillies continue to stagger, and though our internal standings show us about 12 back and sinking fast, the real-world standings insist that we're just two games out. It doesn't seem possible, and probably it isn't over the long-term. But you never know. Maybe we're living through the best lousy year ever.
Our thanks to everybody who came out to Two Boots for Metstock. For the uninitiated, Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.