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Counting Down

The Twins, I read in passing elsewhere, have reduced their magic number to six.

The Mets have no magic number, just a day-at-a-time march through the rest of a shrinking schedule.

Which is OK.

Actually, it’s not OK. It’s more like its not-OK-ness doesn’t matter for the rest of September and the sliver of October that’s left to us. There will be time enough for recriminations and I-told-you-sos and fan-written plans and dire warnings and idle threats. Now there’s just a little bit of baseball left — and reminding ourselves that even baseball that doesn’t matter is better than its absence.

So Dillon Gee pitched well but proved mortal [1]. It doesn’t particularly matter: Gee gave up a ton of home runs in the minors and you never trust September. Yet he looks like he knows what he’s doing out there, and that can make a guy with unimpressive stuff useful in the back end of a rotation. And it’s baseball. Pretty soon Dillon Gee will be sitting home like the rest of us.

So Lucas Duda keeps hitting. The monster’s out of the cage, delightfully free of the weight of the world and turning on balls and hitting them hard. Again, doesn’t particularly matter — Duda has a long way to go to escape the interstate, and looks lumbering and uncertain in left field. But it’s baseball. Pretty soon I’m going to miss Lucas Duda, feasts and famines and all.

Carlos Beltran made a splendid stumbling catch in short center. Didn’t save a game, let alone a season, but it was nice to see his old instincts and a touch more mobility. Given all the bad feeling of late, Carlos Beltran might be wearing another uniform come April, and looking dignified and faintly annoyed to be surrounded by New York reporters trying to get him to say the wrong thing, which will also be known as what he thinks of the Mets’ treatment of him. Still, it’s baseball. For now, he plays it for us, and I will miss him when he’s gone whether that refers to the offseason or the rest of his career.

Luis Hernandez broke a bone in his foot fouling a ball off. On the next Tim Hudson pitch he saw, he swung in a rather curious fashion, cringing and almost lifting his wounded front foot off the ground. The ball, somehow, left the park; the hitter, somehow, got around the bases. It was Kirk Gibson, except what Kirk Gibson did mattered. Still, it was an impressive display, and Hernandez earned well-deserved cheers as he limped to the dugout and likely to inactivity and some other team. I won’t particularly miss Luis Hernandez, as he was the kind of Quadruple-A player the Mets give too many at-bats to. Still, it’s baseball. I’ll miss seeing things like that, and marveling at them.

Tomorrow, given the way this series has gone, Billy Wagner will face the Mets for the final time. Bobby Cox will argue balls and strikes in a Mets game for the final time, and possibly be thrown out of a game against us for the final time. Chipper Jones won’t get on the field, but will make what could be his final visit to a Mets stadium in a baseball uniform. If all goes well for the Braves, I’ll see those three men on TV in October. If it doesn’t, I’ll never watch them on TV again. I’ll miss Billy, for his cussedness and sometimes ill-advised honesty and the way he willed a career for himself [2] despite long odds and cruel luck. And I’ll miss Bobby too, for giving me all those years in which I hated him as an opponent and little by little came to respect him. (The same for Chipper, if his time has come.)

That’s baseball too: making enemies, and respecting them, and applauding them when they finally step aside.