Over the years I’ve had the honor — and the anxiety — of introducing a few people to their first baseball game. While I’m sincere in my belief that baseball is the highest art form yet to spring from the human mind, not all baseball games are created equal. For someone’s first three hours of baseball, what you most want is a barnburner — ideally, a 6-5 affair with several lead changes, a few highwire acts, a great play or two, a managerial rhubarb, an odd play that has to be explained and a certain amount of bad blood and/or bitter history.
What you don’t want is a 4-1 or 3-0 yawnfest where you can’t decide if the starters are doing well in an underwhelming way or the hitters spent too much time out on the town and are playing like they’re underwater. For all its pleasures, baseball offers a fair number of games like that — if a season is an epic Russian novel, those are the parts where you skip over a lot of very long names and wait for something else to happen.
If you’re not going to get a barnburner, though, the next best thing would be a taut, well-played little affair — a game exactly like tonight’s.
- It had great pitching from Chris Capuano and Shaun Marcum, not to mention a trio of beleaguered Mets relievers.
- Speaking of Capuano, how about that very fine stand-and-deliver moment against Ryan Braun with Rickie Weeks on second in the bottom of the fifth? Braun looked like he expected Capuano to pitch carefully to him, spotting corners, but Capuano came right after him, dismantling him on five pitches.
- It had superb defense from Jose Reyes, Ruben Tejada and most especially Carlos Gomez, whose Spider-Man catch denied Carlos Beltran what was either going to be a home run or a run-scoring double.
- It had a little history between Capuano’s return to Miller Park (he was warmly received) and former Met Go-Go greyhounding it out there in center field, to the dismay of his old mates.
- It had Prince Fielder hitting one to the moon and Jose off to the races.
- It had missed opportunities to mourn, and that added to the tension. Jose inexplicably came home standing and was tagged out, followed in short order by Gomez’s catch off Beltran. Yell at Jose to slide and kick Beltran’s line drive a foot higher and it would have been 5-1 Mets with the possibility of more to come.
Still, all ended very nicely. The Replace-Mets have won three straight and crept back to two games below .500, and if they keep playing like this pretty soon we’ll get excited and make fools of ourselves. But even if you’re not inclined to spin unlikely scenarios (let’s see — Wright and Ike return and are healthy, Bay regresses to the mean with a vengeance, Johan rides to the rescue, David Einhorn says how happy he is that his first appearance as new minority owner coincides with Jose Reyes’s extension, and Brandon Nimmo rises through the system to….), little gems like tonight’s are to be savored even in troubled seasons.
And somewhere out there, some foreign exchange student or visiting academic or overseas tourist in a bar was seeing baseball for the first time.
I bet she liked it.