Fate took Johan Santana away, and we wondered if the season would be lost. It hasn’t been.
Then Fate came for Ike Davis, and we feared the same. But the Mets kept plugging along.
Then David Wright heard the knock at the door. The Mets kept rolling.
Now Jose Reyes is detained by Bad Luck, we hope only briefly. And the Mets are 4-0 in his absence.
The best thing is they aren’t doing it with late rallies, ferocious comebacks or other magical happenings in the night. Don’t get me wrong, those things are wonderful. It’s just that that particular well tends to run dry awfully fast. The Mets are winning in ways that aren’t as exciting but are a lot more repeatable. They’re turning in smart at-bats, collecting two-out hits, running the bases well, hitting cutoff men, and staying composed on the mound. They’re running like a not particularly fancy but reliable and well-maintained machine, one that turns out workmanlike win after workmanlike win late at night for us to appreciate in the morning.
Consider the eventful sixth inning. Carlos Beltran doubled, then used Daniel Murphy’s flyout to left to pick the pocket of Eugenio Velez, who’s living proof that baseball teams will never stop trying to turn guys with raw speed and no instincts into things they’ll never be. Beltran read Velez’s painfully bad relay throw perfectly, taking third. The scoring chance looked lost when Jason Bay (who, in fairness, hit in some bad luck) grounded to second, but Hiroki Kuroda bounced one in the dirt that nearly knocked A.J. Ellis’s helmet off, allowing Beltran to scamper home with the go-ahead run. After Lucas Duda and Josh Thole singled, Ruben Tejada turned it yet another superb at-bat, doubling up the gap to score Duda and Thole and make it 4-1 Mets.
The Mets would need it, too: In the bottom of the sixth, Jonathon Niese committed the sin of walking the leadoff batter, a transgression compounded by the fact that it was Rafael Furcal, grown impossibly old and thick but still detectably the loathsome assassin who plied his trade for so long as a Brave. Niese then allowed a bloop hit to Jamey Carroll, now officially a pain in the ass. Up came Andre Ethier, who singled to make it 4-2 and bring up big bad Matt Kemp. So Niese — whose curve was excellent all night — got exactly the ground ball he needed, a double play that … was missed by first-base ump Greg Gibson.
(Speaking of horrible umpiring, did you hear Ron Washington go off on Angel Hernandez, who’s not only the worst ump in the history of baseball but also the worst potential arbiter of any competition ever? Washington’s post-ejection comments on his run-in with Michael
FTucker’s bestie? “Angel is bad. That’s all there is to it.” I move immediately that Ron Washington be given the additional job of umpiring czar, and suggest his first act be to maroon Angel on an atoll, where he can be pointed out to passing boatloads of children as an example of what happens to people who are simultaneously terrible at their jobs and assholes about it.)
Anyway, back in the present Greg Gibson pulled an Angel and instead of a runner at third and two out it was first and third with one out, and I thought Niese was going to jump out of the stadium in indignation. He got Juan Uribe to fly out (bringing in an undeserved run) and retired James Loney as the extra-special fourth out and stalked off the mound hurling imprecations not quite at Gibson but near enough that I was worried about him in the seventh. So what did Niese do then? He took the mound still visibly steaming, but turned in a 1-2-3 inning, followed by superb work by Bobby Parnell and Frankie Rodriguez. The last inning was accompanied by a steady drone of “Let’s go Mets!” from giddy visitors in deplorably empty Dodger Stadium, and the Mets had won. The series is already theirs; tomorrow they’ll go for the sweep and see if they can make poor Don Mattingly age even more visibly before our eyes. Mattingly started out Monday night looking weary but stoic; by the end of this evening he was bent and withered and constantly muttering to himself, like he’d spent several years living in a culvert.
Meanwhile, how about some praise for Terry Collins? I was one of many who wondered if the Mets’ new manager was too intense, particularly after watching him run bowling nights in St. Lucie like a climber preparing to summit Everest. And maybe that will be the final judgment — every team eventually tires of a manager’s style and goes deaf to his entreaties. But for now, Collins and his coaches have the Mets playing sound, clockwork baseball, and seeming to get better with each body blow to the roster. It’s still early, and the Mets face a lot of obstacles, from injuries to financial questions to the fact that the Braves are playing even better. Some combination of those three will probably prove fatal to their postseason chances. But they’re in it, and playing a lot better than we might have imagined despite being undermanned. Hats off to Collins for that.