It’s not our pennant race, but we were about to make a potentially legendary impact on it. That would’ve been fun.
In the bottom of the second, already behind by two, Chris Schwinden couldn’t have appeared much more in danger. Infield hijinks, bloop warfare and the temptation of hitting Rafael Furcal that was just too good to pass up left ol’ No. 63 (who will be portrayed in the Moneyball sequel by the guy who played the road manager in Rock Star) with a Mo’s Zone-sized jam. Allen Craig’s single rode Schwin to a 3-0 deficit and Chris’s next two batters, with the bases still loaded, were only Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.
It was almost too obvious a setup, but what are the Mets at the tail end of this lost season yet a predictable plot point? Pujols popped to Nick Evans at first for the second out, but Berkman lined a ball that had “gap” written all over it, just above Bud Selig’s signature. Only thing was it seemed to travel for an eternity, as if it hadn’t been given clearance to land.
Which was when Willie Harris reappeared. I don’t mean Willie Harris showed up in the picture from left field. I mean Willie Harris arrived from approximately 2008. The Willie Harris we’d been waiting for finally decided to don a Mets uniform, rob somebody else of a sure run-scoring extra-base hit and quite possibly ruin somebody else’s season. The Cardinals are at a juncture of the schedule and at a niche in the standings where every little thing matters. They can’t have some utility outfielder who does next to nothing when they’re not around swoop in from out of nowhere, dive into camera range and steal Lance Berkman’s three-run double.
But that’s what they got. Willie Harris of the Mets did his best Willie Harris of the Nats impression and foiled Berkman’s bid to put the game out of reach. He rescued Schwinden from an 0-6 canyon. He kept the bullpen gate locked (the value of which cannot be understated). In doing so, he also helped one of his former teams, the Braves, in that anything bad that happened to St. Louis was good for Atlanta, but spoilers can’t be choosers.
The Mets had a game to win.
The top of the third indicated they just might do that, inserting a dagger into the Cardinals’ Wild Card chances along the way…which might not be the point of a Mets win, but it sure makes a team on the precipice of its third consecutive losing season a little more interesting on the third Wednesday night in September.
Jaime Garcia, whose acquaintance we originally made on a very long afternoon and evening in the same stadium 17 months earlier, at first didn’t appear fazed by his 3-0 lead not being 6-0. He struck out the first two batters of the third, but then allowed Schwinden his first big league single (and had to be reminded to give up the ball so Chris could swear he really did get a hit that one month he played in the majors). Jose Reyes, who did nothing during daylight yet retook the N.L. batting lead when Ryan Braun went 0-for-4 at Wrigley, punched a funny-looking safety into left. Schwin sped (sort of) to third in one of those ill-advised decisions you berate yet look the other way on if it’s successful. By not stopping at second like a pitcher new to baserunning should, Chris not only planted himself in super scoring position, but he allowed Reyes to trail him into something similar.
Second and third with two out. Pagan rolled a grounder to short that thoroughly confused the detestable Furcal (once a Bobby Cox Brave, always a Bobby Cox Brave) and it just kept rolling through Rafael’s wide open legs. Schwinden and Reyes scored — there’s a phrase you didn’t think you’d be reading in 2011 — and the Mets, whom Harris had just kept from being down 6-0, were behind by only 3-2. After Wright took advantage of more Furcal befuddlement and beat out an infield hit, Josh Satin pinch-hit for Lucas Duda, who had to exit after exhibiting discomfiting unfamiliarity with the Busch Stadium right field fence.
I was concerned about Duda, yet happy to see Satin in the game because it’s been my dream for about a week to have all three September Met neophytes in one box score — and now we were two-thirds to making the following blog headline a reality:
Schwinden! Stinson! Satin!
It didn’t occur to me that two of the three would actually get a hit in the same inning…in the same crucial inning, no less. The top of third crucial? When Satin laced a double to left-center, scoring both Pagan and Wright, it couldn’t have been more crucial in a pennant race setting. The Mets now led 4-3 when all the world (me, anyway) expected them to be scuffling from at least six runs down.
0-6 to 4-3, thanks to Harris, thanks to Schwinden, thanks to Satin: one guy Cardinals fans likely don’t fear and two rookies the red-clad Redbird acolytes had probably never heard of. That’s a seven-run swing destined to go down in somebody’s September history — maybe a paragraph of Cardinal woe, maybe a couple of sentences of Brave escape, maybe even some obsessive Mets fan’s compulsive chronicling. Whoever was to write it, it represented a classic pennant race pivot. The Cardinals had all the momentum until some team that hasn’t seen the bright side of contention in years took it away from them.
There. There’s your storyline, Mets. Now go out and complete the narrative.
Well, you can’t leave work like that to the Mets, obviously. Schwinden pitched four more marvelous innings, but Garcia grew downright oppressive as well as efficient: 32 pitches yielded four scoreless innings. The Schwin ride ended, the Mets relievers came in, I nodded off, and the score by the ninth was Cardinals 6 Mets 4. Willie homered for the second time all season, thus forever disassociating himself from Club Hessman, but nobody was on base and nobody else would be on base. The Mets lost 6-5.
There was no turning of the screws on St. Louis. They had a great night, actually, picking up a full game on Atlanta. There was no follow-through on that seven-run swing. There wasn’t even a Josh Stinson sighting. The headline that says it all comes courtesy of the dependably propagandistic mets.com:
Loss shows Mets how far they have to go
They clinched a sub-.500 record, their sixth losing campaign of the past decade (covering the regimes of four different general managers, if you’re scoring at home). They fell further behind the Nationals and are just as close — 2½ games — to fifth place as they are to third. Jose couldn’t make hay from Braun’s bad day and sits in decimal-point purgatory with him. And Duda needs to be re-evaluated to make sure he didn’t suffer a concussion when his head met Busch’s wall.
How far do they have to go? Seven more of these.