You could have colored me the whitest shade of pale orange and blue when I saw Frankie “Release K-Rod Now” Rodriguez return to the mound in the bottom of the tenth inning to attempt to do with a one-run lead what he couldn’t do with a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“I wanted to go back out and try to finish it,” the pitcher credited with the decision for the team that wound up with the most runs on the scoreboard — to call Rodriguez the winner Sunday seems a bit much — told reporters.
Commendable on the part of one who felt responsible for this series’ brush with death. And more than a touch insane that his desire to make things right was allowed to manifest in a continuation of his participation in this game. That could describe the Cult of The Closer, too, but what cult doesn’t veer toward craziness?
“If he’s our guy,” Jerry Manuel explained after it all somehow worked out in the end, “we have to give him the ball. We have to give him every opportunity.”
You do? Since when? Was General Custer granted a Next Stand at Little Bighorn? Do we really have to take what failed five minutes earlier and give it another go with the confidence if we just do the exact same thing it will work to plan?
I’m familiar with the concept of a win that feels like a loss because “closer” is just one letter removed from “loser”. This wasn’t quite that, I don’t think. Too many things went right on Sunday to get irretrievably hung up on the one inning in ten that was nearly disastrous. But make no mistake that the ninth inning was about as asinine as it gets and that the tenth loomed as too hot to be playing with firemen.
After emerging from the ninth- and tenth-inning hall of mirrors as the (ahem) Winning Pitcher in Sunday’s quasidebacle, Frankie remains unreleased if untrusted. But he is here and we are going to need him. I admit I’m as capable of being brainwashed as any Good Baseball Man about closers. I was half-expecting Bobby Parnell to pick up the gauntlet to start the tenth, yet I was half-nervous about putting a veritable must-win on his relatively untested shoulders. Parnell’s pitched great since coming back from Buffalo, which alone gets me nervous because I worry he will fall victim to Manuel’s New Toy fascination, a syndrome that revealed itself in, shall we say, stark relief last year when Jerry overused the one and same Bobby Parnell.
So no, I wasn’t thrilled that we had to give General Disaster another stand in the tenth, but I get it. I get the not giving up and not giving in. I get the preservation of precious psyches. I get that you have to manage to both the situation and the season, though one could argue if you don’t get out of the situation — holding that tenth-inning lead after blowing that ninth-inning lead — you may not have much of a season worth strategizing, no matter that the schedule indicates the season remains slightly more than 43% unplayed.
Carp away at K-Rod at will, but this doesn’t feel like a loss. It feels like a very, very lucky win. And you can bet your ass we’ll take it.
We’ll take it no matter how much Phil Cuzzi had to do with wrapping a bow around it — after his inconsistent strike zone, insipid self-control and inane deference to third base umpire Mike Estabrook on revoking the fourth or fifth out of the ninth nearly titled things in the other direction. Forgive me, I couldn’t keep track of how many times the Giants should have been deemed done in that inning, though my ability to maintain a sense of what was actually going on isn’t nearly as important as Cuzzi’s.
The Giant elephant in the room isn’t so much K-Rod pissing away a lead or Manuel giving him another shot to load up and do it again or weird regulation of strikes that weren’t called, fair balls that weren’t foul or emotions that couldn’t be held in check. Neither is it Johan’s eight ultimately rigid innings; David first homering off Jonathan Sanchez and later refusing to be felled by Pat Burrell’s line drive (Pat Burrell can feel free to leave this mortal coil anytime he likes); nor Jason Bay and Ike Davis doing outstanding impressions of Darryl Hamilton and Jay Payton in the same ballpark in the same inning at the dawn of another decade. It wasn’t even the intriguing nugget which had, in its own way, as much to say about how this day wound down as did Rodriguez and Cuzzi.
As the ninth unraveled all around us, Jeff Francouer’s arm elicited the kind of respect in right that nobody else’s likely would have, part-time right fielder Angel Pagan’s included (though Pagan played a beautiful center in the ninth, handling two bouncing singles that conceivably could have been doubles, particularly Edgar Renteria’s), and it was a phantom boxscore play on the part of Francoeur that kept Travis Ishikawa from advancing all the way from first after his two-run single.
When Andres Torres’s double into the right field corner — the shallowest right field corner this side of Fenway — was played flawlessly by Francoeur, Ishikawa had to be held at third. Giants third base coach Tim Flannery had no choice. Frenchy may be inadequate to many tasks in a given lineup, but his ability to throw from right is a core competency that cannot be taken away from him, and in the ninth inning on Sunday, we were fortunate to make use of it.
It was because Francoeur generally makes great throws that Torres’s double didn’t score Ishikawa. And it was because of that little reality that the biggest falsehood in this game exploded immediately thereafter.
Freddy Sanchez’s one-out grounder to third should have scored Ishikawa. It did score Ishikawa in the eyes of everybody but the eyes that count, Cuzzi’s. Wright made a lousy throw. Blanco made a valiant if heartbreakingly late tag. Ishikawa was safe if you factor in his foot touching the plate before Blanco’s mitt touched him. Ishi (they call him that, apparently) didn’t do himself any favors by looking over his left shoulder as he ran the ninety feet from third to home — if he wants to be a San Francisco tourist, he should take the boat to Alcatraz — but he, unlike Rodriguez, did what he was supposed to. And he was called out for it.
Blown save for Frankie. Blown game for Cuzzi. A win for the Mets. Remember this the next ten-dozen times we get screwed and you reflexively whine, as I assure you I will, that nothing ever goes our way. Amid as messy a Met ending as any of us would ever imagine, something did.
I can also say it went well for me, Al Franken.
It’s a matter of self-aggrandizing public record that the Mets have not lost in the last thirteen games I’ve gone to watch them at Citi Field. Yet for a month there’s been an insidious flip side to my streaking ways. Only now that it’s no longer applicable am I comfortable revealing it
Jason and I adhere to a loose, primarily ad hoc schedule of who’s going to do the postgame recaps in a given series. There’s no magic or pattern to it — it’s mostly about availability and convenience. And for more than a month it’s been about incredible personal frustration because, until Sunday, save for the games I’ve attended (and goodness knows I’m grateful for those), the Mets have lost EVERY FUCKING GAME it’s been my responsibility to recap. That means I watch TV, the Mets lose and I trudge morosely upstairs to write about it.
The last time I watched TV, the Mets won and I skipped giddily upstairs to write about it was after the game of June 16 when it was Pleasantly Warm in Cleveland. That was a very long time ago. Until Sunday, I’d been stuck, by nothing more than luck of the draw, with nine miserable couch-as-couch-can losses in a row to recap. It was like getting to lose twice in any given night. (Jason’s recap record of games he didn’t go to in the same span, in case you’re wondering, is 8-5…luck of the draw, I assume, though I might have gone on a long blogging vacation if only one of us was mysteriously bringing the Mets wins and it wasn’t me.)
As someone who tends to detect and dissect trends to within an inch of their lives, I began quietly beseeching the baseball deities to stop this madness during the Puerto Rico trip. That’s when it became A Thing in my mind. That’s when I began to wonder why all the Mets did was lose when I stayed home and wrote. Those gods came close to coming through on my behalf on July 3 when a standout starting pitching performance staked the Mets to a two-run lead heading into the ninth on the road, and all they needed was three simple outs to salt it away. It didn’t have to be Ideal, it just had to be a save.
Alas, Frankie Rodriguez couldn’t do it, which gave me seven consecutive losses and one case of total apoplexy. Then he entered today’s road ninth nursing a hard-earned two-run lead and very nearly raised those totals on my watch to ten and two, respectively. But he didn’t, so hallelujah. Here’s to barely adequate relief pitching, comically abysmal umpiring and hopefully basking in a gentle glow from the dry heat of Arizona.
Still, I find it hard to believe I’m the one between me and Jason who doesn’t hate Frankie Rodriguez. Maybe it’s because I understand anew, after those nine TV losses that became my nine unhappy recaps, that you always want to stay out there and keep pitching until you can say, hey, we won.