- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Out on Blunder Island

It may temporarily bear the Marlins’ name, but Hiram Bithorn Stadium reeks of Expos, Expos and more Expos. It’s 2003 and 2004 all over again all of a sudden and we suck in ways we haven’t sucked in years, last year included. I think I may have even seen Eric Valent at the bat rack preparing to pinch-hit for Tyler Yates.

Tropical paradise or not, I can’t wait for somebody to get the Mets off this godforsaken island.

You can bang your drums, you can walk on stilts, you can sell Piña Coladas in the stands and you can leave all the tickets you like for friends and family of Angel Pagan…yet except for it containing life and people, the last two nights have been unlamented Olympic Stadium revisited. It was harshly lit, it was badly carpeted and it screwed with my perceptions of whether we could possibly win or were destined to lose [1].

At first, it was an Art Howe-style battle to not lulled into a state of relaxed confidence. Relaxed confidence is for playing the Orioles, not the Marlins/Expos. Still, Angel was back and producing dividends in front of everybody he’s ever known. David was having his way with soft-tossing lefty Nate Robertson. Well, this will make up for Monday night [2].

Then I began to have creeping doubts as I might have had under the full yellow moon of Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia. Why does David keep getting thrown out on the basepaths? I know we’re winning, but we seem to be squandering some additional opportunities.

Then I invested faith in Hisanori Takahashi in the same manner citizens of San Juan might deposit their earnings at Banco Popular. In the bottom of the third, I noticed Tak had retired eight consecutive Fish and had the pitcher coming up. Wouldn’t it be something if the first no-hitter in Mets history took place at a neutral site? It could be taking place on Mars for all I care. Could tonight be it? Takahashi’s in total command…

And with that, Nate Robertson snuck a ground ball just a wee bit past Jose Reyes, so there went that lunatic fantasy, but two out, the pitcher on, we’re up 3-0, it’s all good.

About four seconds later, the bases are loaded and Hanley Ramirez remembers there’s a way he can jog to first and not look bad doing it. Marlins 4-3…and the inning’s still not over yet. Is an inning that includes Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla ever over? (This is what we in the writing business call foreshadowing.)

When’s Jerry gonna pull Hisanori? Apparently never, and it seems almost brilliant given that we’re down to a paltry ELEVEN PITCHERS on the staff. It was rewarding for the human spirit to see Takahashi recover and get through the fourth and fifth scoreless. It was as if he had a shutout going if you ignored the six runs the Marlins hung on him in the third. Tak almost made it through the sixth, too. Dessens took care of his last jam with one pitch while I was still flipping around thinking SNY was in commercial.

Because the Marlins are the Marlins, I always foresee doom. I honestly picked them to win the East in March on the premise that they must be good against teams that aren’t us. On the other fin, I tend to forget that the Marlins are the Marlins in the sense that they are a sloppy unit that often lets leads get away. So resumed the battle to figure out what would happen next in the top of the seventh.

Arrgh! A Tatis popup! IT FALLS IN! HE’S ON SECOND!


Old devil confidence was back because this really isn’t 2003 or 2004. It’s 2010, the year when we believe in our Mets again. You just know Tejada might or will do something…and he does! It’s just a grounder to third that the Marlins can’t turn into a double play yet that makes it 6-4. We’re back in it!

As Agent Harris said in the series finale of The Sopranos, we’re gonna win this thing [3]. We have Ike coming up to pinch-hit…oh, he struck out. But that’s OK, because Jose is up and…he struck out, too.

How can somebody with as preppy a name as Taylor Tankersley be that tough?

I was sagging by the bottom of the seventh, but Bobby Parnell lifted my spirits as much as he likely did his own. Wright gets on with one out in the eighth and I’m thinking something could happen here as long as Jason Bay doesn’t hit into an inning-ending…but naturally he does. Couldn’t have saved one of those opposite-field home runs from Monday for tonight when it could have mattered, eh big guy? You are going to go on that hot streak eventually, aren’t ya? Aren’t ya?

There had been some mumbo-jumbo about Jerry giving Frankie some work in the eighth, but I assumed that was no longer in order once we were in a game situation. We’re on the road — whether it was San Juan, Miami or Montreal — and we might need a save guy. Yet while I was flipping around to avoid more commercials, Frankie slipped in, threw eleven pitches, ten of them strikes, two of them for strikeouts, and we were still down two. I guess keeping the game close is as important as closing it, but it’s been so long since a closer was used quite that way I’d forgotten it was legal.

Ninth inning and I have conflicting hunches:

• Hunch 1: My hopes are going to be raised.

• Hunch 2: My hopes are going to be dashed.

Both hunches proved correct but in a far weirder way than I’ve experienced lately.

Barajas lashes a single to left that’s a double on almost any other set of Met wheels than his own. Carter, batting for Frankie (so much for getting another inning out of him), sends one screaming into the right field corner. Marlin phenom Mike Stanton is obviously going to screw us over by making one of those catches that will ratchet up his legend instantly and I’ll be as sick of hearing about “special” he is by tomorrow as I already am of hearing how “proud” Edwin Rodriguez is of managing in his homeland. (Does the universal announcer habit of referring to Latin players and managers as “proud” strike anybody else as condescending?) Except Stanton plays this difficult liner from Carter the way he played that easy fly from Francoeur — he doesn’t catch it. Meanwhile, the only Met who can’t possibly score on it is the one chugging from first to second and then plodding from second to third.

Should have Manuel pinch-run for Barajas as long as he had three catchers? Probably not, given that there were more machinations to come and Rod wasn’t the tying run, but it was painful watching the Barajas Moving Company haul that piano around the horn on its back. I haven’t thought anything like this since the Met heydays of Mo Vaughn and Jason Phillips, but I did hear myself saying, “I could run faster than this guy.” And I could…on my best day…once…and probably only if catching a train was involved…and that train would have to come equipped with an oxygen tank.

Finally a pinch-runner, Cora, is deployed, except it’s for Carter. Well, he’s not fast either. I thought we were such an athletic club and suddenly everybody’s slow. The runner on third is slow. The pinch-runner on second is slow. We’re still losing by two. There’s nobody out, but nobody being out didn’t help Takahashi in the third did it? Leo Nuñez is teetering on the brink as Marlin relievers tend to do, but he’s about to rely on a pitcher’s best friend — no, not a double play, but Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy lunges at Pitch One, which, lucky for us, becomes a fielder’s choice grounder to second that serves the dual purpose of scoring Barajas and moving Cora to third. Nevertheless, it felt less than optimal. Optimal might have involved taking a pitch in hopes of driving a ball, but let us not look gift horses in their kissers when the tying run winds up 90 feet away and due up next is…?

Say, who is up next? What an odd batting order this has been in the ninth. Why, it’s young Josh Thole, pinch-hitting for young Ruben Tejada. This is presumably some sort of percentages move as Tejada has two hits plus that handy fielder’s choice already and Thole is largely untested at the major league level in 2010, but Jerry’s rolling dice left and right and the game isn’t over yet. Perhaps they’ve already hauled Barajas to bed and will be sticking Josh behind the plate should we get that far.

And we do get that far! Josh takes advantage of a drawn-in infield and singles home Cora to tie it at six. Just to recap, these are the Mets who got it done in the ninth:

Rod Barajas
Chris Carter
Alex Cora
Jeff Francoeur
Josh Thole

This is a hot new Met combination, one of those Bambi’s Bombers/Hondo’s Commandoes moments a team requires in the course of a season of overcoming dim expectations. Natch, neither George Bamberger nor Frank Howard led the Mets anywhere beyond expectations (1982: last place; 1983: last place), but those teams’ few swell episodes generally involved some eighth-inning rally led by benchwarmers every third Sunday. We were getting that here, and now we’d get more, because, unlike the benighted squads of nearly thirty years ago, we’re a good team, right?

Here comes Ike again, batting in the ninth position, and he lifts a high fly ball that has a chance…

…to be caught. Two out, Thole glued to first. Then Reyes, like fear, strikes out.

We go to the bottom of the ninth in a 6-6 tie, bereft of Frankie Rodriguez, but the hell with assigned roles. If Frankie can pitch the eighth, why can’t Pedro Feliciano pitch the ninth? Does it really matter when Pedro pitches? Surely he’s snuck a ninth inning in along the way. Pedro pitches so much we should stop counting how many appearances he makes in Met games and start counting how many appearances the Mets make in Feliciano games.

This appearance, his 44th of the season and his eighth that involved a ninth inning, started swimmingly, befitting a game that was taking place on an island against a team named for a type of fish. Like Frankie, Pedro struck out his first two, including the heinous Hanley. Now all he had to do was take care of Jorge Cantu and we could win in extras.

Of course all British Petroleum has to do is sop up a little oil and its executives can get their lives back. Easier said than done. Cantu can and does double to deep center, and then Uggla isn’t walked to bring up Cody Ross.

As if facing Cody Ross with the game on the line is such an enticing option.

Uggla gets enough zip on his grounder up the middle to squirt it past a non-diving Reyes. On grass the ball is slower and Reyes dives. On turf Jose probably doesn’t have much of a chance to begin with, but I wonder if he was gun-shy. I flashed back to a game on the Big O carpet in the summer of 2004, that last Expo summer, when Jose was having hammy problems and Art Howe the genius decided taking precautions with one of the organization’s crown jewels was for sissy boys. “Let him rub some dirt on it” or words to that effect was Art’s prescription for maintaining the health of the future of the franchise. Howe was going to be fired by season’s end anyway. I would have abandoned him at customs without I.D. for that alone.

Uggla’s ball eludes Reyes. Jesus Feliciano, in for a not completely well Pagan by the ninth, rushes it, picks it up and fires it to the plate. Cantu rounds third not looking a whole lot faster than Barajas, but he doesn’t have to be particularly speedy. Feliciano gives it one of those throws that leaves a player’s body on the ground, which is admirable but is usually futile. It wasn’t one Feliciano’s fault that for the first time in 2010 the other Feliciano gave up a ninth-inning run. It’s not either Feliciano’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault.

It’s that Expo residue combined with those loathsome Marlins. It’s this odd predilection somebody has for scheduling the Mets into places like San Juan, Tokyo and Monterrey where by the time they figure out what’s going on around them, there’s at least one loss on their permanent record. The Mets are such good neighbors, traveling hither and yon for the betterment of baseball, but sometimes I wish they’d build a fence around themselves. This was the second of seven consecutive games the Mets are playing in none of the 50 states. Overlooking that three are in a United States commonwealth and four more are in a District called Columbia, I am tempted to ask, “Why do the Mets hate America?”

Puerto Rico, I hear, is beautiful this time of year. No kidding. My friend Jeff just spent a week on vacation there with his family and came home happy. Yet I can’t connect his delighted dispatches with what I see on television. I see not just Met losses but that layer of latter-day Expo film that makes this accursed facility appear as depressing on television as it has allegedly been festive in person. Now that the Nationals have a park and fans and an ace, they no longer hold any connection to the Expos in my mind. The Marlins are their true heirs. Same miserable owner [4]. Same acres of empty seats. And now the same bizarre notion that people in Puerto Rico have any interest in adopting them as their own. The Expos had the excuse of being forced into nomadhood by Major League Baseball. The Marlins are just plain unlikable wherever they wash up. Incredibly talented in spots, but genuinely unlikable.

I’ve stated time [5] and again [6] since MLB conspired with Jeffrey Loria to render the onetime pride of Quebec into the Montreal Extincts that I’ve missed the Expos. That’s still true. I continue to believe a baseball-loving province got the affection squeezed out of it by ugly business machinations. Once a year I wear my tri-color Expos cap to a Mets game because I feel bad there are Expos fans who have no game to which they can wear their Expos caps. But in real time, I hated the Montreal Expos no less than I hate every opponent while they are our opponent. Returning to San Juan has reminded me all opponents present and past are hateful bastards, and this series has been like playing two teams at once: a team of rotten Fish and a team of irksome ghosts. And thus far we haven’t figured out how to effectively counter being double-teamed.