If I’d told you back in March that September 28’s game would come down to whether somebody named John Axford could survive ninth-inning confrontations with Ike Davis, Nick Evans, Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada, you probably would have deduced that September 28’s game wouldn’t mean very much. And you would have been right, for this was Brewers-Mets, for a complete absence of marbles: one hitherto anonymous porn-stached young closer against a quartet of guys who were Plan Bs for the Mets at the beginning of 2010. (Though OK, Evans would love to be a Plan B in an organization that until a couple of weeks ago had forgotten he existed. You need Greek letters to express how far down the ladder of plans poor Nick had fallen.)
But the great thing about baseball is that it can still be a lot of fun even when it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The Mets and Brewers let the string play out speedily between their fingers, trading mammoth shots from Corey Hart and David Wright. One of my favorite replays in Mets history is watching Gary Carter’s eyes pop when he sees a fat pitch from Al Nipper one October night at Fenway Park — he looks, to quote Joe Garagiola’s rather odd remark, “like somebody stuck a quarter in his nose.” I flashed back to that when Wright turned saucer-eyed at the sight of a Randy Wolf meatball approaching, a meatball he promptly blasted down the left-field line to touch down a satisfying distance past the Great Wall of Flushing. (If you’re scoring at home, for God’s sake stop — but yes, those were his 97th and 98th RBIs of the year.) Hart has few discernable facial expressions beneath his ridiculous facial hair — he looks like a D&D character drawn by a junior-high kid — but he would have been forgiven an ear-to-ear grin after Mike Pelfrey offered him a fat fastball that he smashed over the center-field fence with such violence that it bounced the length of the batter’s eye.
Still, it’s possible neither ball was struck as hard as the one Ike Davis hit leading off the ninth. But Citi Field being Citi Field, that one just clanked off a fence 416 feet away for a double. Evans struck out chasing an eyebrow-high fastball and slunk back to the dugout in misery; Thole dropped a grotesque little mistake hit into the outfield that left him grinning in embarrassment; and then Tejada dispensed with all but the required drama by rocketing Axford’s first (and last) pitch up the left-field alley to win the game. Hooray Mets!
Did this immortal contest raise questions that will haunt us for months? No, not a one — at best we got momentarily diverting issues. What inspired Keith and Ron to try out being homers for a half-inning (Keith’s squeal of “Go fair!” on a little foul squibber was the funniest), and why was Gary so grimly determined to drag them, like guilty schoolboys, back to more serious commentary? Why couldn’t Jerry Manuel let Pelfrey try to escape his own eighth-inning mess, given the utter nothingness of what was at stake? Is Tejada’s recent string of excellent at-bats is evidence he’s turned a developmental corner, or just garbage time in action?
No matter, really. We got two out-of-it teams bashing away at each other as the last wisps of summer dissolved. It meant absolutely nothing, and it sure was fun to watch.