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Two Small Moments

As cool weather and tiny crowds herald the quiet of the offseason, rooting for the Mets threatens to become fun again, a story of kids trying to learn lessons and win jobs and make you eager for 2011. (Granted, playing the Pirates is an excellent recipe for feeling better about things.)

From tonight’s game, two moments that will stick with me long after the rest of this game [1] has been forgotten.

The first was Angel Pagan going into a slide at the edge of the grass in right-center, his butt skidding across the grass as he flung one arm one way to steady himself and the other arm (the one with the glove) the other way, where it intersected the ball struck a moment before by John Bowker. Pagan caught the ball short of the 415 sign, rolled over on the warning track, sprang up (somehow in the right direction), fired to Ruben Tejada to start the double play, fell down again, then looked up wide-eyed and waved one hand in slightly woozy triumph. The Pirates’ relievers (soon to be employed for no particular reason by the unnecessarily thorough John Russell) gaped in amazement. Mike Pelfrey said wow. I did both.

It’s been a pleasure to watch Pagan go from prodigal son [2] to slightly daffy semi-prospect to all-around star, but I can’t remember a moment for him quite like that one. That was a catch to rival Tommie Agee skidding on his belly at Shea, a grab that would adorn a gate if it had happened during the postseason. As it is, you should see it on replays for years. I’ve watched it about 12 times now and it still makes me laugh and shake my head in appreciation. Ain’t baseball wonderful?

The other moment belonged to Lucas Duda, the hulking rookie whose first big-league go-round has been beyond cruel, as in 1-for-33 beyond cruel. Duda got a hit in his third big-league game, in Chicago on Sept. 3, but hadn’t scratched anything in 23 at-bats since. That’s nearly two weeks without a hit, a solid 45 aggregate minutes or so of standing at the plate and watching pitches and swinging at them and getting nowhere while tens of thousands of people watch and wonder — as you must have once or twice — if you’re fated to ever get a hit.

Duda’s misery had become so pitiable that when he came up in the fourth I was thinking that something ought to be done. I’m all for the kids’ learning lessons [3], but one hit in the first 2 1/2 weeks of play is all stick and no carrot, and it seemed like a good idea for Duda to develop a mysterious minor ailment and be shut down for the year out of caution. A moment after I thought that, Duda ripped a Charlie Morton fastball down the right-field line for a double, scoring fellow Youts of America Ike Davis and Josh Thole. Standing on second, Duda looked carefully expressionless, but that was OK — I was smiling for both of us.

In his next at-bat, of course, Lucas Duda doubled again. Ain’t baseball wonderful?