First things first: There are no statement games for teams that will finish under .500. If that applies to you, you’re not that good. You are by definition either a team that’s hopeless or one that needs to be different next year, meaning that no statement made will apply to the new crop of players wearing the uniform four and a half months from now.
So it is with the Mets: They are playing out the string in the playing-outest, the-stringest sense of the word, with a lame-duck GM and a lame-duck manager and, they hope, a lame-duck fan outlook. We know the 2011 Mets need to be different, and have known this for some time. They know the 2011 Mets need to be different, and we’re stuck waiting to find out whether their definition of different will align with ours.
The blessing of baseball is that there’s no reason that such games can’t be fun while being admittedly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, seeing how teams like the 2010 Mets are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Fans of the Padres and Giants and Braves have lots to occupy themselves on this final Sunday; a substantial portion of the people who care about how the Nationals and the Mets are probably looking at this post right now. For which, on the one hand, thanks. But on another that we can all understand, rats.
So what mattered today? By my reckoning, two things.
The first was Lucas Duda’s eye-opening blast to right-center, an Adam Dunnesque, Ike Davistique blast that threatened the Shea Bridge. It was one of those balls that makes you stand up the moment it leaves the bat: Wayne Hagin was excited enough to narrate the play as it happened, and even if he’d been nodding off, the sound of the bat on the ball and the big reaction from the small crowd would have been enough to let you know something was happening. Duda started the season 1 for 34, a stretch of surpassing cruelty for any major-leaguer, and one of near-existential brutality for someone newly arrived in the big leagues. Watching Duda through his ordeal was painful — miserable. It was pathetic in the elder sense of the word — you felt deeply sorry for him and wanted it to end. But he took his lumps, and he endured, and now things are different. Now you half-expect Lucas Duda to drive a ball up the gap or over the wall.
Anyone who remembers Kevin Maas or Shane Spencer will know that you can’t pencil in Lucas Duda to be productive in 2011, or possibly ever. But anyone who can see another person in agony and feel for them and then see them persevere and succeed has to cheer for him. I don’t know if Lucas Duda will ever amount to anything; I do know that he if anyone ever asks him if he’s gone through hell and come out not just whole but perfectly fine, he can hold his head up and say, “Hell yeah I have.”
The other moment was David Wright’s. Wright was buzzed by Tyler Clippard, as he’s been buzzed by a huge number of pitchers since Matt Cain sent him to the disabled list during the living hell that was 2009. There is nothing at all wrong with this; pitchers make their living in part by exploiting whatever fear they find in hitters, and have done so for the 80-odd years since the dead-ball era. In fact, they’re a lot gentler now than they were then.
So Clippard buzzed Wright, sent him turning aside from the plate with eyes averted. Wright stepped back in. He was at 28 home runs and 100 RBIs, levels at which he has nothing to prove to anybody. He dug in. Clippard’s next pitch was a fastball that deserves no accompanying adjectives; Wright hit the shit out of it. It bounced off the second deck in left field. That was satisfying but not enormously surprising: David Wright can hit a ball a very long way. What was surprising was seeing Wright flip his bat away and walk toward first base, then settle into a Strawberry vs. Nipper trot. He came across home plate and received his congratulations not with a smile, but with a knit brow.
What does that mean for 2011? Who’s to say. I’d like to see David hit a final home run on Sunday, to walk out of 2010 with 30 on the year. But with one game remaining that’s basically roulette: He’ll get 20-odd pitches, maybe three or four to square up, and we’ll see. I do know that it was nice to see David Wright not being decent or stoic or can-do. He cared and he was pissed. That’s not the kind of thing that can be bottled and brought back out for 2011, but as a penultimate note for 2010, it was welcome.