Short of doing something that will get you arrested, you can’t affect the outcome of a baseball game. Your hooting and hollering does nothing. Neither does praying, cajoling or threatening. Baseball takes no notice of your swaggering overconfidence and ignores your pretend humility. It does not care that you care. It does not care that you don’t care. Your rally cap causes no butterfly effect. Neither do religious symbols, rituals or deciding to hide behind the couch. You are not playing, and therefore nothing you do matters.
And yet games like Thursday make a hash of all such rational thought. After such a victory, there are no baseball atheists in Mets hats.
Why do you watch dozens of dreary, lead-footed garbage-time affairs to the bitter end, even if your team enters the ninth down four runs with nothing discernible to play for? Because every now and then the karmic wheels you’ve kept so carefully spinning align, and your faith is rewarded. And then for the next 24 hours you get to walk the earth with a silly grin and a spring in your step — you’re one of the anointed, a believer, the orange and blue mark of favor shining on your brow. The next hundred games will likely bring failed rallies or no uprising whatsoever, but that 100th? It makes it all worth it.
In the early going against St. Louis, to say the Mets weren’t showing much would have been a kindness. Chris Capuano was down 2-0 before he recorded an out, and the Mets seemed determined to see as few pitches from Jake Westbrook as possible. They’d already done so much to help the Cardinals in the last week that I wondered sourly if they making sure they’d have enough time to skim Albert Pujols’s pool before catching their flight.
With the game having started late, I missed the middle innings picking up Joshua from school, then settled in with him for dinner at the Waterfront Ale House. We took a booth under one of the TVs, a booth I know from experience gives you an up-close view of the game provided you’re willing to crane your neck at an unnatural angle. While the kid slaughtered pixeled villains on the iPhone, I aimed my chin at the screen and watched the Mets continue to sleep-walk in announcer silence. I’ve sat in this booth during better games, I thought idly to myself, and was faintly annoyed that this wasn’t going to be one of them.
But, well, there’s a reason you play ’em.
Down 6-2 in the ninth, with the Cardinals fans baying at the chance to move within a game of the Braves, Willie Harris (who’d had a two-run homer cruelly but correctly ruled foul by the umps upon video review) worked out a seemingly cosmetic walk. Nick Evans then promptly hit a sure double-play ball to old nemesis Rafael Furcal. Furcal took a step to flip it to Ryan Theriot, but lost the handle and wound up with the ball slithering uselessly up and down his forearm. By the time he corralled it and tromped on second, Harris was safe. After Josh Thole flied out, disappointing his local rooting section, Jason Pridie walked and then Justin Turner fought his way through a terrific, Dunstonesque at-bat, spoiling pitch after pitch from Jason Motte before finally letting the ninth offering go by for a bases-loaded walk. It was 6-3, with Jose Reyes given another chance in his batting race with Ryan Braun — and oh yeah, the tying run was at first. A lot had to go right, Reyes was hitting from his weaker side, but we were at least in Ya Never Know territory.
Tony La Russa excused Motte from further duty and handed the ball over to Marc Rzepczynski, who sawed off Reyes — but Reyes had just enough oomph behind his broken lumber to push the ball over Theriot’s head, making the score 6-4 with Ruben Tejada coming up against Fernando Salas. A couple of months ago I would have hoped that the overmatched Tejada struck out instead of giving the Cards a double-play grounder, but not any more: I was glad to see him coming to the plate, remembering that he’d turned in another fundamentally sound, smart game. Salas got two quick strikes, but Tejada coolly worked it to 3-2 and then laced a ball to deep left.
I have no doubt that in plenty of parallel universes Shane Robinson’s desperate dive towards the left-field corner ended with Tejada’s drive nestled in his glove as he skidded along the warning track, granting Robinson a place in Redbird lore and ensuring him at least a decade of free beers in a large swath of the Midwest. But in this universe the ball tipped off his glove, sending various Mets racing pell-mell for various bases and tying the game. Ruben Tejada is going to be a star, I tell you.
Not that stardom is a cure-all, or forever. The Cardinals then walked Angel Pagan to reload the bases for David Wright, a strategy that in 2008 would have qualified La Russa for psychiatric care. Now, though, it made perfect sense, and Wright turned in the kind of at-bat that explains why we worry so thoroughly about him. He didn’t hit a grand slam or a long double or a bloop single or even lift a fly ball to the outfield. He struck out, closing his eyes in familiar agony and trudging back to the dugout.
But enter Harris, again, and he delivered, again — a clean, two-run single for the lead. SNY’s cameras found La Russa in the dugout, stalking and stewing, and I reminded myself sternly that I was with my child and in public, and therefore not allowed to howl profane suggestions at La Russa. Instead I settled for pointing and cackling.
We headed for home, iPhone held between us, the uncertain adventures of Bobby Parnell narrated by Howie Rose, whose voice rose and fell with our steps. For once, those adventures were not the stuff of particular drama: Parnell fanned Nick Punto, got Dennis Descalso to fly out and then faced the hated Yadier Molina, who could only wound us, not kill us. Molina tried, as he always does: He lifted a little parachute to right that Pridie dove underneath and caught with his glove held high for a thoroughly satisfying win and an equally satisfying gut shot for La Russa.
Remember this one the next time the Mets hit the ninth down four and do nothing whatsoever. And remember it the time after that, and the time after that, and so on. Karma demands such patience, and the next times the wheels align, you’ll be glad you showed it.