I wanted the Mets to win because I’m a Mets fan. That part’s pretty obvious. They’re my company for the good-weather part of the year, an unscripted nightly show. When that show ends well I’m happy. When it doesn’t, I’m not.
I wanted the Mets to win because I like R.A. Dickey. I like the way he turns expectations about what great athletes are like upside down. I like that he is interesting and I like even more that he is not afraid to be interesting, in a sport whose traditions and preparation and media routines actively encourage conformity and blandness.
I wanted the Mets to win because we say too often that some well-paid ballplayer’s performance was courageous. Not that Dickey was storming Utah Beach, but he was in a lot of pain, basically unable to run, and — if we can pull the camera back a bit — facing what happens after a storybook season gives way to a more realistic and less fun sequel. Dickey was running out of big-league dreams last spring, then saw the tumblers of opportunity line up to give him a spot start with the Mets. He did well enough to get another one, then another, and wound up having a wonderful year, one in which all his talent and hard work and attention to his very difficult craft suddenly flowered. For that he got a well-deserved contract and the chance to stop worrying about a short-term run of bad luck leading to a permanent demotion to civilian life. This year, things have not been so easy. He has battled ineffectiveness, bad luck and now injury and pain — and done so as thoughtfully and calmly as he dealt with success and good luck and becoming a fan favorite.
I wanted him to win because of all of that, and for a while it looked like he would.
But close games without much offense exist on a weird see-saw. R.A. Dickey was going to be the story, not needing to run and field because he was striking everybody out with a knuckler that was a thing of beauty. But there was another story waiting in the wings, like an understudy nobody wanted to see: that of the Mets’ offensive futility, in which a run scratched out of an accidental bunt was all that kept Dickey from crashing down.
The eighth seemed innocent enough. Ronny Cedeno singled, but Nick Evans retired Dusty Brown on a gazelle-like grab of a popped-up bunt, with Dickey face-planting in the grass perilously close to him, and then Matt Diaz fanned and was so infuriated that he began breaking things in the dugout. Two outs, one to go and the question while the Mets hit would be whether K-Rod would come out to defend the 1-0 lead or if it would be Dickey’s all the way. (Is K-Rod getting loose? Is he getting loose quickly or slowly? Did the cameras spot R.A. getting handshakes and attaboys?)
Then Jose Tabata got grazed in the elbow by a wandering knuckler.
Up stepped Josh Harrison, the ball from his first big-league hit still awaiting him in the dugout.
“The rookies are always the ones who get you,” I warned Emily, who was not pleased with this defeatism.
Sure enough, Harrison singled to tie the game.
Dickey walked Andrew McCutchen (who’d fanned the previous three times) and up came Neil Walker — who rammed a knuckleball that did very little up the middle for a 3-1 lead and a slow walk to the dugout for Dickey, his fine work undone in a matter of minutes.
Offensive Futility 1, Valiant Knuckleballing 0. Or, as they said in the old days, Get Me Rewrite.
2011 has been a very strange year, marked by streaks of competence and slogs of futility. We’ve dealt with owners being ill-advisedly talkative and the gravity of a massive lawsuit and the possibility of new ownership and the dread of trades and free-agent exits, and now — horrible and familiar — we’re stuck watching as injury after injury after injury has reduced a potentially good but uncertain club to a mediocre one and then continued to chew away at that mediocrity.
You eventually go numb in years like this, with the losses blurring together and hurting less until the offseason allows the reservoir of hope and self-delusion to refill. But as you slide into surrender, individual games can still sting, leave you staring at darkened ceilings frowning and muttering.
Games like tonight’s.