The endgame of tonight’s completely thrilling, slightly silly, altogether amazin’ Mets win was the perfect culmination of a sloppy, wacky, thoroughly entertaining affair, one that saw Mike Pelfrey fail just enough not to succeed and the Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez succeed just enough not to fail. The early frames brought that rather uncertain contest, as well as the latest chapters in the lavishly illustrated storybook TALL TALES OF IKE DAVIS, BASEBALL HERO. (Didja know Ike lives in an apartment in Yorkville with a blue and orange ox? It’s true — I heard Ike hangs his laundry on the beast’s horns. Big apartment.)
Every time I feel my affection for Ike threaten to topple over into the stuff of besotted fan bromance, it’s like Mike Vail and Daniel Murphy pop up on each shoulder, tut-tutting about small sample sizes. But goodness is there a lot to like. I’m all for tape-measure home runs, but what impresses me even more is how few rookie jitters Davis seems to have. He works the count like — well, like Daniel Murphy. (See? There it is happening again.) And at first base he’s not just smooth, but smart — witness the game a while back in which he unhurriedly arranged his long legs and considerable wingspan in foul territory to give the catcher a better angle on a dropped third strike. A reliable first baseman has a calming effect on a team, and the Mets have been without that sense of calm on the other end of throws from the infield since John Olerud.
That ninth inning was anything but calm, though — it was an overstuffed parade of weird, goofy, unfortunate and thrilling plays. Consider the following, all of which might have stood out as the lone thing to remember from your average run-of-the-mill May game:
* Against John Bowker with one out in the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez’s 1-2 curve is pretty obviously a strike. K-Rod is twirling somewhere between the mound and first when Hunter Wendelstedt gives a little shoulder fake but otherwise remains still, forcing Francisco to reel himself back onto the mound mid-pirouette. Instead of trudging back to the dugout as the home fans began to rise and cheer, Bowker is even in the count against an upset closer.
* Two foul balls later, either Gary or Keith or Ron (I don’t remember which one, because I was crabbing about K-Rod needing strike four) notes that Rod Barajas is calling for an inside fastball but has been shaken off by Frankie, who wants to throw the change-up. That’s not a good idea, I think to myself on the couch. WHAM! Bowker swings at a high change and the ball stitches a line across the sky, vanishes from Citi Field, and comes sizzling back to earth in the middle of the Iron Triangle, where it strikes an eminent-domain lawyer who is using a dented Honda Civic door to fend off three chop-shop owners armed with welding torches, after which it is devoured by a feral dog. OK, not quite, but Bowker does hit it a really long fucking way. Tie game. Pelfrey’s work wasted. Boooooo.
* With two out, Aaron Rowand on second and Mark DeRosa at the plate, DeRosa fouls a ball off with Rowand running to make the count 3-2. Except he doesn’t: Paul Schrieber has called a balk on K-Rod. One you don’t see every day in an inning with no lack of them.
* DeRosa then hits a little worm-killer up the middle, a Luis Sojo special that seems like a cinch to bring home Rowand and leave me writing a really angry post about Francisco Rodriguez. Except Luis Castillo flops onto the outfield grass, slightly on the shortstop side, and just corrals it with the tip of his glove, leaving Rowand skidding like a cartoon character on the downhill side of third base and scampering back to it. Still tied, but Pablo Sandoval tramping to the plate, and K-Rod doesn’t throw high fastballs. Uh-oh.
* So of course the Kung Fu Panda hits a pop-up that’s clearly ticketed for the first-base seats. No, make that the dugout roof. No, make that the dugout. No, make that Ike Davis’s mitt where it sits at the end of Ike’s just-long-enough arm, followed by Ike toppling over the dugout railing like a construction crane, his body pivoting around Good Samaritan Alex Cora, his feet winding up more or less firmly planted on the dugout floor, and holding up a mitt with white showing in it. “And he sticks the landing!” crows Gary Cohen. (Ike then picks his teeth with a sequoia. At least that’s how I heard it.)
As if that weren’t enough, we got a bottom of the ninth.
* Jeff Francoeur cues an ugly little excuse-me hit to the left side of the field, and is clearly safe, except Angel Hernandez — grinning evilly before stuffing a wad of dollar bills into his back pocket to keep his autographed Michael Tucker photo company – calls Francoeur out. Gary is apoplectic, and apparently about to begin reciting all the times Angel Hernandez has screwed the Mets. Except the replay shows that Francoeur was actually out. Even amid this inning’s wonders, Angel Hernandez getting an important call right when it involves the Mets might be the most amazing thing of all.
* Ike Davis takes one step north, creating Long Island Sound, and plucks a peak from the Adirondacks. He shapes it into a granite bat and smacks his third home run of the night. Oh wait, he just walks. Very calmly, though.
* Rod Barajas — who has a home run himself tonight, as well as a smashed finger that causes him to obviously grimace whenever he does anything — gets a 1-0 hanging slider from Sergio Romo. This afternoon Mark Simon — part of the very, very good crew covering the Mets for ESPN New York — noted that the Mets hadn’t had a walkoff home run since David Wright made the Padres very sad in August 2008, meaning they’d never had one at Citi Field. I thought of this as Barajas came to the plate. I really did.
Anyway, Barajas squares up Romo’s hanging slider and hits it into the air, as Barajas is wont to do. The ball seems like it will follow the longest parabola a ball hit to left field in Citi Field can follow without being a home run. DeRosa is going to press his entire body against the fence, lift his glove as high as he possibly can, wait for a moment, and have the ball whistle into the very top of his mitt. He will hurl the ball back to the infield and let his shoulders slump in amazed relief. Ike will calmly return to first and frown. Barajas will shake his head and be consoled in the dugout. Those of us in the stands or on couches will boo and/or roll around in dismay, while those of us near keyboards or smartphones will furiously begin pecking out typo-ridden diatribes about dismantling the Great Wall of Flushing. It’s going to be very disappointing.
But no, it’s just over the fence, sending fans leaping and yelling and waving their arms and Barajas floating around the bases for the receiving line and happy helmet pounding at home plate. Mets win, and all’s right in the world. Just another tall tale of Ike and Rod. Except it’s all true. So I heard.