Even fans of juggernauts endure a fair number of four-run deficits in the eighth, as games that haven’t felt particularly close trudge to a merciful conclusion. Being a baseball fan means putting up with God knows how many such affairs — lousy, irritating games that you stick with because bad baseball is ever so slightly better than the absence of baseball, after which you forget them as quickly as possible.
Most of last night’s game followed this dreary template: Jonathon Niese was wild and thoroughly unimpressive, beginning his night by serving up a meatball to Adam Dunn and ending it by watching Manny Acosta further drive up his ERA. The Met hitters, for their part, were specializing in hitting into double plays. Occasionally they looked frustrated or peeved; most of the time they looked as listless as the sparse, chilly crowd muttering amid the sea of forest-green seats.
If you were at the game and stayed, I applaud you. If you were at the game and left, I don’t blame you. I heard the whole thing, but I’m not patting myself on the back too heartily: I spent most of the second half sitting at my desk writing, ever so often registering via Howie and Wayne that the Mets had done something else that would have annoyed me thoroughly had I still been in front of the TV, a level of commitment the Mets clearly didn’t deserve.
But then there were interested voices behind me. It was late, but Scott Olsen was out of the game, and the Mets were showing fitful signs of life.
Now, I feel it’s my duty to make something very clear for any newly minted Mets fans who’s happened by these parts.
Most of the time, teams that fall behind 3-0 and then deepen that hole to 6-1 don’t come back.
Most of the time, ekeing your way back to 6-2 is as close as you come to a moral victory. Which isn’t very close.
Most of the time, deciding to change the channel or turn off the TV isn’t punished.
Wishing for it to be otherwise is the sign of a good heart, and believing it will be otherwise reflects admirable loyalty. But most of the time, these praiseworthy traits yield no reward — unless you count watching hours and hours and hours of dull, dispiriting baseball as a reward. (In the middle of the winter you’ll think it would totally count. This only proves that the middle of the winter is no time for perspective.)
But every once in a while, something different happens. One hit turns into another, there are walks and errors and goofiness and the world turned upside down.
Every once in a while Jason Bay singles and David Wright doubles and Ike Davis is safe on an error and there’s an out but no big deal because Rod Barajas doubles and you laugh at Josh Willingham’s imitation of a left fielder and realize you’re within one somehow and turn on the lousy little TV by the treadmill but then think there’s luck in the radio and scurry back to your desk to not screw up that luck and then Alex Cora bunts but it’s a single so Cora is brilliant and the TV is about five seconds behind the radio so you have time to hear that something good has happened and rush to the TV and then Chris Carter is up for his Mets debut and now it’s like you have springs in your behind because you’re so eager to rush to the TV for another highlight and the Animal equals five weeks of the jettisoned Frank Catalanotto with one swing and holy cow we’re up by one and there’s a pitching change and Jose Reyes is walked and Jason Bay walks for an insurance run and there’s another out and then Ike Davis HITS A FUCKING GRAND SLAM rats hits a really deep foul ball and then flies out but oh my goodness it’s Mets 8, Nationals 6.
And then, if you’re really lucky, Ike will end a 1-2-3 ninth inning with his third Spider-Man catch over the dugout rail, capping just about the best night a rookie can have while going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position, and Frankie Rodriguez will laugh and the Mets will high-five and you’ll imagine that you all might actually be able to walk on water right now. (Just in case, don’t try it.)
When that every once in a while comes around, it’s pretty fun. You’ll flip around for the highlights and listen to the entire postgame show and the normally insipid callers and periodically giggle and high-five imaginary people.
And then the memory of that game will keep you watching for the next 160 to 180 hours of baseball in which every once in a while doesn’t happen.