Baseball isn’t really a team game.
We talk of it as if it is one, but with a couple of exceptions (relay throws, hit-and-runs) it’s really a game of individual acts. The pitcher makes his pitch or doesn’t, the batter hits it or doesn’t, a fielder catches it or doesn’t. These individual acts get strung together into the illusion of a group effort — and we imbue this stringing together with qualities that are either impossible to quantify or don’t exist. Our team is hot, is firing on all cylinders, is coming together, and so forth.
This is one of the key lessons of the sabermetic era, exposing a lot of psychobabble and broadcaster bushwah for what it is. I’ve come slowly to appreciate advanced stats: They help me better understand the game I love, which is reason enough to engage with them. Beyond that, they’re excellent for figuring out which players are lucky and which ones are good, as well as which ones are being sabotaged by performance of those around them. And they’re crucial for figuring out how to construct a roster, something the Mets may decide to get better at one of these years.
But for all the usefulness of advanced stats, games and stretches of games and seasons still have storylines. We insist that they must, and so we create them, searching for meaning and constructing it out of whole cloth if need be. So it is with the 2010 Mets. There isn’t any reason I can think of that the 2010 Mets should be a great come-from-behind team — I’m sure it’s a statistical quirk of this very small sampling of games. But as a fan — which is to say an amateur storyteller — that’s what they’ve become. They’ll hang around until the late innings and then jump on you. Dangerous comeback team, these Mets.
And that’s great.
Come-from-behind teams are enormous fun to root for. Cheering for one makes tie games more sweet anticipation than nagging worry, and early deficits become just part of the dramatic arc. You don’t get too down, because you’ve seen again and again that the bad guys will be laid low, patience will be rewarded, and justice will prevail. The certainty that all of this is selective memory makes it no less fun to watch or listen to.
And it’s even more fun when it’s the Braves. The Braves — once the Globetrotters to our Generals — haven’t really been an outsized factor in our baseball lives since Beltran’s march to the sea, but you can root against laundry as easily as you can root for it. And goodness knows you can still root against Bobby Cox.
Cox didn’t come out of the dugout today, probably because if he had the temptation to throttle someone else wearing his uniform would have been too great. He’s retiring at the end of the season, though for most of this afternoon his charges looked like they were trying to get him to storm away from his desk and throw his ID at the harpy from HR before the cake and the speeches. (What do you want to bet Yunel Escobar is locking himself out of his hotel room in a towel right about now?) The Braves have played two days of stupid, with Chipper Jones not a factor and not playing tomorrow, Brian McCann not particularly damaging so far, Met killer in training Jair Jurrjens mastered today and Jason Heyward not yet embarked on what I’m sure will be years of ripping out our hearts.
Meanwhile, for us it was a (relative) lark: Jon Niese was wild and typically Metsian in his inefficiency, but held the Braves down when he needed to, keeping us down just a run for our (is it too early to call it typical?) late-inning charge. Good eye by Ike, long drive by Frenchy, Jose causing trouble on the bases (he’s got to keep Henry Blanco in the SB rearview mirror, after all), a Jason Bay sighting, and a welcome lack of drama from K-Rod, and we were officially a .500 club.
Mediocre never felt so good.