Tim McCarver called it a classic. The Baseball Tonight crawl called it a classic. Yet don’t mistake long for excellent. That was not a classic. It was certifiably long, the final result was immensely preferable to the alternative, and there were certainly aspects of it to like and even treasure, but that 20-inning Mets win we just witnessed was no classic.
It was something, though. It was futile for the longest time and then it was astoundingly absurd. I suppose, too, that it was survival of somewhere between the fittest and the dimmest, though I’m not sure that either unit was fit for battle by the end. I do know they were both kind of dim.
How do the Cardinals attempt to sacrifice a baseball game that counts? And how do the Mets almost not let them?
Gosh, this feels like wet blanket patrol. I mean let’s have some whooping and hollering to celebrate the only game the Mets have ever won past the 19th inning. Let’s hear it for all kinds of folks, starting with the starting pitcher Johan Santana (9 K’s in 7 shutout innings…duh, of course they were shutout innings) and flowing through every reliever except the really well-compensated one. You gotta give it up to Mike Pelfrey for coming out of the bullpen as well having the nerve to rock the world’s worst rally cap (inside out, Big Pelf, not sideways — don’t let Mex see the video). You gotta give it up to Alex Cora, almost never a first baseman but making a dynamite foul ball dive as a first baseman. Luis Castillo either executed the best tag or the best fake tag in the history of 19th innings. Jeff Francoeur and Jose Reyes could not have been more productive as 0-for-7 hitters.
And yet I feel dirty from the final three innings. I feel dirty because Tony LaRussa, know-it-all Artie Ziff to our squad of befuddled Ralph Wiggums, stopped using pitchers and started using fielders. Well, to be technically correct about it, he used a pitcher in left, but a shortstop and then a center fielder to pitch. That’s what you do when you’re losing 13-2 or it’s the last day of the season and you promised Jose Oquendo he could play all nine positions. But no, Tony LaRussa was serious as death. He sent out Felipe Lopez to pitch the 18th and Joe Mather to pitch the 19th and, when one materialized, the 20th.
It didn’t work, it wasn’t going to work, but it almost worked. And that’s why I feel dirty, because WHAT THE HELL WERE THE METS DOING SWINGING AT ANYTHING FELIPE LOPEZ AND JOE MATHER THREW AT THEM? They turned the farcical into the nearly tragicomic. It wasn’t surreal because nobody could have dreamed up the scenario of Lopez, the grand slam hitter from Friday, pitching to Raul Valdes, the grand slam pitcher from Friday. Valdes gets on and then gets thrown out trying to stretch an infield single that was thrown away into a double. I’m sitting on the couch yelling at Valdes for getting caught. It doesn’t even occur to me that this is Raul Valdes who probably hasn’t touched first base since he was six, and the whole irony of Lopez as the guy who slammed Valdes the night before is lost on me.
This isn’t supposed to happen quite this way. Marathon games are supposed to be wild, but they’re not supposed to be this…let’s say bogus. Forty-third inning? OK, pitch infielders when you have nobody left. Score is 28-28? Pitch the batboy. But it was nothing-nothing and LaRussa had pitchers left. He had Kyle Lohse (unless he pulled an Ankiel and changed his line of work when I wasn’t looking). He had Brad Penny. Are the Mets so not worth his time that he was just throwing whoever had a minimum of one arm out there?
And like I said, it nearly worked. The Mets couldn’t score off Felipe Bleeping Lopez and were lucky to scratch out a run with a sac fly in the 19th off Joe Bleeping Mather. Then, finally, the real deal, Frankie Rodriguez, fresh from warming up every inning since the 10th, probably, in to put the damn thing to bed. But this game was too cranky to be put down that easily. Ryan Ludwick tried his best to help the Mets by attempting to steal with nobody out while Pujols was batting (he also tried — and succeeded at — getting thrown out at home in the 16th), but Rodriguez couldn’t stand a hint of prosperity, and next thing ya know, Pujols (walked so often earlier that I could swear he had morphed into Barry Bonds) does what Pujols does, and he’s on second, and then, thanks to Lohse (natch), he’s on third. And then Yadier Molina drives him home.
Of course he does. Yadier Molina’s waiting in the weeds for us since October 19, 2006. “GET THE FUCK OFF THE COVER OF MY BOOK,” I told him, but at last look, he’s still there (and available in paperback with an all new epilogue, FYI).
Does any of this sound like a classic? Does it sound like a classic that we got to the 20th inning and Joe Mather was still pitching (I loved how Stephanie, who has very selective retention of baseball detail, recognized him immediately as Joe Mather from the inning before, as if Joe Mather was now literally a household name). Once again, the Mets couldn’t just stand around with their bats on their shoulders and dare Joe Bleeping Mather to throw strikes. They got it in their heads that the Cardinals had just reactivated Bruce Sutter from the Hall of Fame. Whatever; they manufactured one more run, turned their fate over to Mike Pelfrey and made a winning pitcher of Frankie Rodriguez — the only Met who gave up anything all day and night.
Omar Minaya can rest easy. The Mets have taken one of three.
Listen, I’m thrilled we get to update the Metsian annals where incredibly long regular-season games are concerned. Move over, Ed Sudol, C.B. Bucknor is now a marathon man behind home plate just like you were three unbelievable times. Move over, Ron Darling, Pelfrey is now the most recent starter to close when nobody else possibly could have. All the ghosts of Hank Webb and Les Rohr and Galen Cisco can go back to sleep. You pitchers who lost the 25th, 24th and 23rd inning affairs can doff your caps to K-Rod, somehow. He won what you guys couldn’t. Tom Gorman, someday you can bump into Messrs. Lopez and Mather and ask how they didn’t manage to give up a home run to Rick Camp. The 20-inning Mets-Cardinals game of April 17, 2010 will now be deservedly woven into the kind of legend and myth the Mets used to weave for hours on end every few years.
It will be legend. It will be myth. But it wasn’t a classic.