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It’s a Cruel Game

Admit it: When Cristian Guzman came to the plate to start the bottom of the ninth, you thought, “Oh crap, here we go again.”

When Guzman then wound up on first, you thought, “You have got to be kidding me.”

When Ryan Zimmerman singled, making it a save opportunity, you weren’t the least bit surprised to see Jerry Manuel obediently pop out of the dugout to manage to the dictates of a stupid rule that invented another stat that doesn’t measure what happens on the field in a way that’s accurate or interesting. Actually Jerry looked hesitant and unhappy, but perhaps that’s because he knew the ghost of Jerome Holtzman was forcing him to bring in Frankie Rodriguez.

After innumerable K-R0d-related disasters, I know how he must have felt.

Baseball is a cruel game, and not just because (to reference the great 20th-century philosopher Rod Kanehl) the squibbles go for hits and the liners are outs. It’s cruel for the uncanny way in which one game’s situation is revisited the next day, or upended, or given a twist, so that a single at-bat seems like the culmination of something much larger. What were the chances that the Nats would creep back into view and Guzman would lead off the ninth? You might think they’d be 1 in 9, but if you’ve watched baseball for very long you knew that was pretty much a lock.

All credit to K-Rod for manning up that Saturday was “the [bowdlerized bad word] worst performance I’ve ever had in my entire life. … I think I should be ashamed of myself. I’m so embarrassed. I just want to apologize to the fans that were watching that.” That was appreciated — and all too rare in a major-league clubhouse. He could have, say, thought we needed a lecture in perspective and parsed the difference between “devastated” and “disappointed.” But as Greg noted, I’d gladly trade a Frankie who was a chiseling weasel in the clubhouse for one who was more of a stand-up guy between the lines, who fielded his position instead of indulging in histrionics, didn’t habitually allow runners by the bushelful, or have a penchant for walkoff grand slams. (Saturday was almost Frankie’s third in less than a year. If I had Elias on speed dial I’d inquire if that would have been a record.)

Yes, Frankie finished the game today — language not accidental, as I immediately and irrevocably renounce giving a shit whether someone gets a save or not, since the save rule is simultaneously fucking stupid and encourages witless, agent-driven managing. Yes, he looked better, getting Adam Dunn to ground out and erasing Josh Willingham on a nice pitch at the knees on the outside corner. But first off, could he conceivably have looked worse? And without a full-length dive and great feed from Ike Davis, Roger Bernadina singles in Ryan Zimmermann, Dunn moves to third, Adam Kennedy is the tying run and who the hell knows.

I have never trusted Frankie; I dread the idea of seeing him out there in September or October with our season on the line. To say nothing of the fact that we will be in all likelihood stuck with him through 2012, that final year a massive, $17.5 million rotting albatross of an easily obtainable option. The muscles you’ve developed accepting Luis Castillo as an unfortunate fixture on the roster will come in handy in two years, when an even older, rounder, less-effective K-Rod is blowing games in a role he no longer deserves but can’t be removed from because a) he makes too much money and b) is a veteran.

I’m sorry, I know we won [1] and I’m ranting like we didn’t. But Jesus Christ do I loathe K-Rod.

Maybe it’s also that Saturday was a wonderful game that turned horrible [2], while Sunday was just kind of horrible.

Seriously, Saturday was a wonderful day until that happened. I was all set to write a follow-up post asking if there was any way to quantify smart play (a honest question, not an effort to bait the stats crowd) after watching Alex Cora work counts and take bases and torment Stephen Strasburg. Cora led the way — the Mets had smart at-bat after smart at-bat, relentlessly driving the rookie’s pitch count up, up, up and working him into situations where they knew what was coming. And meanwhile there was R.A. Dickey, the butterfly still drifting along on the wind currents after the F-15 had pancaked into the earth.

And then it all turned to shit, and never mind.

Sunday, on the other hand, started off with a barrage of Mets hits, but then came a barrage of Nationals hits, with both teams piling up whiffs. It was endless and alternately boring and irritating, like watching two crappy football teams shove each other’s defenses all over the field, or a Michael Bay spectacle on grass: tons of action, a deplorable lack of anything resembling elegance.

But it wound up in our column, the Expat/Ex-Expos road trip from hell is mercifully extinct, and the Braves’ loss allowed us to creep back to within two games of a decidedly unexpected NL East lead. It might not have been pretty. It might have come with more bad omens. But it’s a win to start the second half. And so I will shut up and wait for tomorrow.