Following too many losses I’ve tried to be philosophical: Watching your team lose a baseball game isn’t so bad — in fact, it’s the second-best thing you can do with three hours.
Which is sometimes true, but breaks down when it comes to doubleheaders. There are a lot of things that are more fun than watching your team lose a baseball game, take a brief break, and then promptly lose another one.
Game 1’s starter was Chris Schwinden, who by his own admission never expected to make AA ball. To be horribly unfair, if you saw Schwinden you’d probably say the same thing — he looks not only thoroughly ordinary but, well, lumpy. (I know that’s shallow. Besides the fact that I’m pretty lumpy myself these days, Heath Bell looks more like a guy in search of a La-Z-Boy than a star closer, and Babe Ruth needs no introduction.) Schwinden’s unprepossessing in action, too: He looks like your basic chucker, a guy who sort of slings the ball and relies on the eight guys behind him to keep bad things from happening.
In belated fairness to Schwinden, the eight guys behind him proved particularly unreliable in the early innings of Game 1: If Angel Pagan wasn’t misplaying a ball and air-mailing the cutoff man, Ronny Paulino was dropping the throw at home, which couldn’t have helped a young pitcher’s nerves. Schwinden might have been forgiven if he wondered if his fielders had also cheated the odds by escaping the Eastern League. To his credit he settled down after that, pitching capably enough in what’s been billed as his only start of the year, and maybe his only Mets start ever. Meanwhile, Jason Bay hit a grand slam, bringing most of the Citi Field crowd to its feet to make about as much noise as 250 or so people can make. Seriously, it was like a continuation of the Marlins’ series, with green shirts dotting acres of green seats.
Having played the early innings like drunks in a fistfight, the Mets and Braves then spent the rest of the twinbill playing more like teams irritated at losing an off-day. Chipper Jones throttled several Mets pitchers, as is his wont, and Nick Evans hit into bad luck in both games, sending a long drive to Jason Heyward that possibly would have been out of 2012 Citi Field, and then getting robbed by Jack Wilson in the nightcap.
Game 1 ended with the Mets failing to capitalize on a leadoff single by Jose Reyes: Ruben Tejada went too far for strike three after failing to bunt and watching Jose stick tight to first, Justin Turner was retired on a bullet of a liner to Michael Bourn in center, and Lucas Duda was caught looking on a perfect pitch to end things. The executioner was Braves super-rookie Craig Kimbrel, who leans in for the sign with shoulders lowered, eyes peering plateward and pitching arm dangling ominously, a display that reminds me of a vulture sitting on a root sticking out of a cliff face. Kimbrel was much admired in the SNY booth for his intimidating demeanor, which the vulture thing tells you I bought into pretty thoroughly myself. But we have to remember this stuff is storytelling, not scouting. Kimbrel is a lights-out closer, so he looks like an intimidating bird of prey. If he were a mop-up guy with an ERA north of six, we’d snicker that he looks like he can’t see the signs and is going to fall off the mound. It’s phrenology, basically.
Game 2’s highlight, besides the fact that it ended, was the Mets debut of hulking Quad-A slugger Valentino Pascucci, likely the last new entry in The Holy Books for 2011, and the 917th
915th Met. While I still think it’s bullshit for the Mets to reissue Carlos Beltran’s No. 15 so soon, I was glad to see Pascucci’s long and rather strange baseball journey bring him back to the Show at last.
He was last sighted at Shea, in the Montreal Expos’ final game. Pascucci went 3 for 4 that day, collecting a long single off Heath Bell in his final at-bat. Then he was off to Japan (where he played under Bobby Valentine as a Chiba Lotte Marine, alongside Benny Agbayani and Matt Franco, not to mention Satoru Komiyama and Matt Watson), Albuquerque, New Orleans, Lehigh Valley, Portland, Albuquerque again, the Camden Riversharks, Buffalo, and finally the Mets. How many times must he have decided “fuck this fucking game?” (Obligatory Crash Davis reference? Check.) But he didn’t, and tonight there he was, in the blue and orange and black drop shadow and phony parchment of a Mets uniform. I was happy for him, and for another little piece of Mets history.
And then I thought to myself that he looked like a slightly smaller version of Fezzik from The Princess Bride.
To which Andre the Giant Met responded by promptly lining a single. Which perhaps wasn’t as useful as bashing Chipper against a rock this afternoon would have been, but that wouldn’t have been sportsmanlike. Besides, Mets fans and minor-league pilgrims have something in common: We take what we can get.
Addendum: Here’s wishing the Mets’ Jay Horwitz and Shannon Forde speedy recoveries from broken ankles. One of the pleasures of the Mets’ outreach to bloggers has been getting to know Shannon, Jay and the rest of the Mets’ media-relations folks. Get well soon, you two.