I confess that I turned on the TV this afternoon more from duty than devotion. There were things to do, the memory of Saturday night's game was freshly dispiriting, and to my surprise I was curious to see what the transformed Jets were all about. Watching Pat Misch trying to escape the perils of the second inning didn't seem like the best way to ensure a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
But duty called, and so I watched, at first flipping over to the Jets-Titans every minute or so. (The fact that both teams were out of uniform confused me; the sight of referees in orange made me briefly terrified that our expensive big-screen TV was broken.) But by the second inning I was spending more time in Miami than the Meadowlands, and by the fourth I had basically forgotten about that other sport entirely.
What happened? A few things. First of all, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling were having an infectiously good time. Cohen is fearless yet fair about exploring subjects that interest him even if they may not paint the home team in the best light: In recent nights he's led discussions of whether the 2009 Mets had quit, if Jerry Manuel has been negligent in not playing Nick Evans, who might be at fault for the Mets' avalanche of baserunning mistakes, and the unwritten codes of brushbacks and hit batsmen. Darling, for his part, is battle-hardened and sadly wise, particularly about all that can go wrong for simple human reasons in a baseball season.
Second was remembering that come another week, the baseball ranks will shrink to non-Mets and ex-Mets and soon after that to nobody at all. Watching the Mets has certainly felt like torture for much of the season, but as the year withers to nothing I'm forced to admit that watching the Mets lose is slightly better than nothing. What really brought this home was watching the middle infielders retreating onto the Dolphins logo as they lined up pop flies. I grew up in the heyday of shared, multipurpose stadiums, and as a kid it always made me sad to see offensive and defensive lines colliding on the dirt of the not-yet-grassed-in basepaths in November.
And then, of course, there was Pat Misch pitching gallantly on a day when it had seemed unlikely that he'd pitch at all. He was lucky early, and then he found himself and was good, and his teammates were actually good too — particularly Jeff Francoeur, who for all his statistical shortcomings plays baseball with the kind of verve and abandon you wish could be bottled and given to a good 20 or so of his teammates. Misch's staredown of the hated Hanley Ramirez to start off the eighth was riveting, and the ninth inning was the first time in an unhappy number of weeks that I found myself leaning forward with every pitch and hollering encouragement at the TV. Misch looked like the mound had steepened on him for those final outs, but he found his way through and I let out a whoop of happiness that sure didn't feel like 22 games under .500. (Though I would like to request that complete-game shutouts be more than an annual affair.)
Let's not get carried away. Misch scattered eight hits and never cracked 90, and the scouting report about pitchers who need to change speeds and hit their spots to win rather tactfully omits that most of the time such pitchers can't do that. (There are Greg Madduxes and Jamie Moyers and Rick Reeds in the world, but not very many of them.) Still, Misch is 28 and left-handed, and sometimes the light doesn't go on for left-handers until their late 20s. Stranger things have happened, at least.
Of course on days like today all glasses seem slightly full. I found myself thinking that Wilson Valdez or Anderson Hernandez could be valuable reserve players next year, that Cory Sullivan could become the new Matt Franco, that Daniel Murphy's final statistics won't really look that bad, and that I can't remember a stupid thing Angel Pagan's done for a while.
And look it from the Marlins' perspective. Fighting for their postseason lives, they took the field against a picked-from-a-hat lineup of Plan C Mets and a journeyman who got eviscerated in his last start, and they came up empty — today eliminated them from NL East contention, and their tragic number in the wild-card race is now 2. We didn't get the sweep I wanted, but we did take two out of three from Hanley & Co.
So now to Washington and then home and then nothing. There's a week left; here's to enjoying what it is rather than regretting what it might have been.
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