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Mets Fail to Lose at Last

Nothing like a little desperation and a helpful handful of Fredi Gonzalez to right your ship [1], or at least make your plane ride home from Atlanta a damn sight more pleasant than anything about your life has been in more than a week.

Was it desperate to move Josh Thole into the two-hole? It certainly wasn’t unprecedented. Josh batted there once in September 2009 and again in September 2010. I’d expect he’ll bat there more than once the rest of April 2011 now that he’s proven the (temporary) perfect fit behind Jose Reyes. Thole was a prime difference maker in turning the ongoing Mets losing streak into a thing of the past. Got the big hit in the first, sending Jose home to make it 1-0; made the outstanding slide a couple of batters later to make it 2-0; and went on to chase Jose around the bases in the fifth to up the lead to 3-1. The kid looked as found up there in the order as Angel Pagan has seemed definitively lost.

Move your pieces around when your pieces aren’t doing jack. Terry Collins found a piece that worked in a new slice of the puzzle. Yet it all still felt a little perilous as recent Bison Dillon Gee — ripe enough to be recalled to take Chris Young’s place — held the Braves mostly in check into the sixth inning. Gee and Thole operated in greater sync than any Met pitcher and catcher have to date this young season, though let’s face it: every battery gets a charge when given a jump by the likes of Fredi Gonzalez.

It takes nothing away from the Mets’ quest to stop losing to note Gonzalez was determined to keep the Braves from winning, just as he often got in the way of his erstwhile Marlins’ success [2]. Tommy Hanson bunting with two strikes and the bases loaded and one out in the second? Brian McCann stealing after Jason Heyward homered in the eighth? Alex Gonzalez — the same Alex Gonzalez (I know there are several) who homered twice in the first game Saturday, who hit 23 home runs last year, who once ended a World Series game with a home run — sacrificing after Chipper Jones walked on four pitches to lead off the ninth?

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Fredi Gonzalez. Whether you ordered every one of those boondoggles or your players felt free to implement them themselves, they all backfired gorgeously and they all saved the Mets from an eighth consecutive episode of ignominy. Wow, are you a terrible manager. You always have been and I am mystified that the rest of the world thought the Marlins were committing skippercide when they let you go last June. Edwin Rodriguez laughs at you.

As for Collins, he wasn’t taking anything for granted. On another day, with less on the line, we would have seen the usual suspects (and they sure as hell have been suspect) wheeled out of the pen to blow up Gee’s finely crafted lead. Instead, Terry went to two starters for relief, Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey, each on their throw day, each to maintain order. Capuano’s sole matchup (facilitated by Gonzalez after Capuano entered the game to ostensibly face Freddie Freeman), versus pinch-Chipper, loomed as favorable for the Mets, with Capuano having limited Jones to 1-for-7 in previous at-bats. I know — a Met pitcher who Larry doesn’t automatically destroy; go figure. Terry did, and now it’s 1-for-8. Dickey and his knuckleball, meanwhile, steered clear of Mount Kilimanjaro [3] for one inning (alert Bobby O [4]!) and kept the Mets ahead for actual relievers Izzy and Frankie, each of whom made securing the Mets’ first win in eight days interesting but not impossible.

The Mets weren’t lucky to win this one, even though Tommy Hanson shut them down with numbing ease when not trying to handle Thole. The Mets weren’t lucky to win this one, even though it took Gonzalez’s thorough mangling of strategy to prevent at least two more Brave runs from materializing. The Mets weren’t lucky to win this one, even though Izzy’s first pitch landed in the outfield seats and Frankie’s first four pitches weren’t close to being strikes.

The Mets were good. Or good enough. They’re still, on the whole, pretty bad (they did strike out 14 times Sunday and 31 times in the series), but for one game, they weren’t suffocatingly atrocious [5]. For one game, they prevailed in a low-scoring affair. For one game, they held their own in categories like pitching, running and thinking. Professionals can do that. It was quite pleasant to be reminded the Mets are still capable of performing as such.