Josh Thole loomed as Mr. Metaphor Saturday night, falling down rounding first and getting his eager ass tagged out on a throw-behind from Emilio Bonifacio to Gaby Sanchez in the seventh, then picking himself up, dusting himself off and lining the go-ahead single in the ninth. Turned out, however, Thole’s destiny was to serve as Mr. Microcosm, for he set the example the rest of his teammates followed immediately after his personal mistake and redemption.
Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.
To have begun the season 0-2 would have been Just Two Games, and you’d uncomfortably shrug that off if the second loss was a reasonable (or unreasonable) facsimile of Friday night’s pfftfest. It appeared the air had gone out of the Mets early in their second game, with Jon Niese not quite out of his late 2010 rut. Was it going to be yet another night of eating Soilmaster dirt in beautiful Miami Gardens? An unappetizing prospect, but that’s what the revisable mantra is for:
Just One Game. Just Two Games. Just…
Just enough of that, thank you very much. Niese straightened and stiffened and turned stellar after that rough first inning, keeping the Mets’ deficit at two-nil until David Wright (a homer) and Ike Davis (an RBI double, with Carlos Beltran grinding it out from first to home) erased it altogether. Then came Thole, trying to push his pitcher into the win column when he rounded first on his sharp single down the line.
And there went Thole when Bonifacio got to the ball quicker than our well-meaning catcher could scramble back to the bag. Gads, that looked foreboding for the 2011 Mets.
Correction: It looked foreboding for the 2010 Mets. That kind of play, in which a baserunner stumbles, falls and is put out on his very own safety, tended to kill the 2010 (and 2009) Mets. Habit drew out of you a heavy sigh when you saw that. The Mets may not have been dead when Sanchez tagged out Thole, but their vital signs weren’t exactly splendid.
So more tests were conducted, and it turns out the Mets weren’t close to dead. They picked themselves up when, after Bobby Parnell showed he was all fire and no gasoline, Ike walked to lead off the ninth. Terry Collins — not afraid to overmanage — inserted Chin-lung Hu to pinch-run (what a critical mass of ooooooh when the camera picked up first base coach Mookie Wilson whispering in Hu’s ear). Duda (or Duuuuuuda) sort of sacrificed Hu to second. Brad Emaus willed him to third. Then Thole, Mr. Metaphor, singles to left, Hu trots home, the Mets lead 3-2, and we’re three outs from the first win of the season.
Then it started all over again. Two ghosts from the last two years got us tangled up in their imperfect spirits. Frankie Rodriguez, last seen familiarizing himself with the Queens County justice system, looked absolutely unhittable for one batter. Logan Morrison, such a feelgood story from Friday night when he homered and literally saluted his late dad (whom he lost over the winter), struck out helplessly. From a partisan viewpoint, that felt very good. But then 2010 oozed onto the screen. K-Rod found a way to allow a baserunner, via John Buck single. Time to practice anger management. Scott Cousins struck out. Not as convincingly as Morrison, but a strikeout’s a strikeout.
Two out, one on, the odds are in our favor, despite the combined specters of Frankie and Whatever It’s Called Stadium bringing out the worst in one’s memory from 2010. Now it was less about anger management than supervising one’s dread. Stop expecting the worst. It’s a new year. Rodriguez had a fantastic spring. The Marlins made 23 great catches in the outfield but they’re losing anyway. We can do this.
Bonifacio (or “fucking Bonifacio” as he’s known here) lines one to the right side. It’s not an easy play, but a fine first baseman like Ike gets to the ball and…oh, wait, Davis was pinch-run for and the first baseman is Daniel Murphy. Murphy’s comma was inscribed in the top of the ninth when he pinch-hit for Parnell. It was his first appearance in a Mets game since the end of 2009. It was nice to see him. It was less so, however, to reacquaint with him as a first baseman, where on his best days two years ago Murphy was severely adequate.
Murphy dives to no avail. Rodriguez is supposed to be K-Rod, not 3-1-Rod, but Ike likely dives to some avail and the game would very possibly be over. But Daniel’s not Davis and it’s not. The ball heads for right. Pinch-runner Brett Hayes roars to third. Now there are two on with the two out, and one of those who is on is ninety feet from home plate and anger and dread and any other miserable feeling you’d care to catalogue are plainly in evidence.
The next hitter is Greg Dobbs. The name was familiar from September 16, 2007, when the Mets nursed a 4½-game lead over the Phillies. The lead had been seven games three days earlier, then 6½, then 5½ and now the Mets are tied with the Phillies at Shea, 5-5 on a Sunday afternoon when Oliver Perez doesn’t have it. Top of the sixth and Guillermo Mota walks Pat Burrell. Ryan Howard reaches on a Luis Castillo error. Mota walks Aaron Rowand. Mota leaves and Jorge Sosa enters in a double-switch. Sosa walks Jayson Werth to give the Phillies a 6-5 lead. Charlie Manuel sends Dobbs up to pinch-hit for Wes Helms. And Dobbs launches one of those grand slams that is still going, both in terms of distance and impact.
It’s four seasons later, and here’s Dobbs again. No Perez, Mota, Castillo nor Sosa on the premises, but Frankie Rodriguez is enough. Dobbs lines one up the middle. Hayes scores. It’s 3-3. Rodriguez’s fantastic spring never happened. His conquest of his anger issues turns immaterial for those of us who are too shallow to care about what makes him tick. We’re the ones who are angry. The Mets always blow these games in the ninth inning at Joe Pro Player Land Shark Dolphins Sun Life Robbie Stadium. It’s 3-3. Bonifacio is on third. Dobbs is on first. How many more seconds before it’s at least 4-3 and the game is over?
Rodriguez walks Chris Coghlan to load the bases. Well, of course he does. Now Omar Infante is the batter and the script is obvious. Omar Infante is going to…
Yes! Yes! That’s all he does! Infante pops to Hu (in for Emaus) and we go to the tenth. Rumors of our demise are just that.
A week before Greg Dobbs chimed in as one of many 2007 Phillies to Ruin Everything — on September 9, to be precise — the Mets A/V Squad put together one of the most intriguing videos I ever saw run on DiamondVision. It featured a montage of all that went wrong at Citizens Bank Park at the very end of August when we were swept four games. When was the last time you saw any organization admit to its fans that things had very recently gone awry for their favorite team? Of course there was a happy ending to that video. The Mets go to Atlanta, then Cincinnati and win five of six. First they lost, then they won. See? Problem solved! That well-produced morality play sticks with me because of the lyrics to which those upbeat clips were set:
Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.
The stretch drive into a ditch in 2007 guaranteed we’d never see that video again, but that was a long time ago now. This moment here is 2011, and in the top of the tenth, the 2011 Mets en masse pulled their own Josh Thole. Sure they stumbled, sure they fell, sure they looked like chumps. But it wasn’t over for them. Not by a long shot was it over.
With Hank Webb’s son Ryan pitching for the Marlins, Jose Reyes singles to lead off. Angel Pagan bunts Jose to second and himself to first (Greg Dobbs — not as clutch a third baseman as he is pinch-hitter). David lofts a fly ball to right that is tailing foul. All-purpose nemesis Emilio Bonifacio has been shifted to center, so it’s Cousins who’s trying to track it down. Does he ease up so he doesn’t create a sacrifice situation that sends Reyes to third with one out? Or does he just not have a good read on it and isn’t able to catch the darn thing that falls foul for strike two? I thought the latter, but apparently it was the former. Cousins’s athleticism was sound. His judgment, however, was rendered horrible when Wright, given new life, lashes a ball to center, scoring Reyes, sending Pagan to second. Mets lead again, 4-3. And then they lead more when, with two out, Willie Harris, facing Mike Dunn, doubles home Angel and David.
It’s 6-3 going to the bottom of the tenth and it would be cruel for the Mets to not finally net the Marlins in their misbegotten Fish tank. Rodriguez is out — Hairston pinch-hit for him once Harris landed on second (oh boy! more managing!) — so it’s up to Blaine Boyer…or Beardie as I’ve taken to calling him. Beardie kind of scruffs things up. Amid a pair of outs, there’s a Gaby Sanchez double and a Brett Hayes single, and it’s 6-4, and Cousins can potentially pick himself up with the bat after letting Wright’s ball fall not far from his glove. For the briefest of instances, I was sure he had, as he smoked Boyer’s last pitch up the middle. There’s going to be two on, and Mike Stanton is lurking somewhere and oh god, what now?
What now was Reyes being wonderfully positioned to stab Cousins’s hot grounder and race to second where he forced Hayes for the third out. And just like that, the Mets stopped being a lost cause in this new season.
They picked themselves up. They dusted themselves off. They’ve started all over again. A record of 1-1 never looked so perfect.