As I was heading down to tuck the kid into bed, Jose Altuve hit a little squibber in front of the plate, a play that ended with me looking back from the stairs to see Josh Thole and R.A. Dickey standing in annoyed proximity and Altuve far away on first.
Another day without a no-hitter, I thought reflexively, allowing myself the tiniest of sighs.
But no — I returned to discover it had been an error. The no-hit bid was still alive, and between Dickey’s knuckler and the Astros fielding a lineup of junior auxiliaries, why not dare to dream? And to my surprise, Twitter was full of Mets fans on no-hit patrol very, very early. Greg — no stranger to superstition — was noting innings pitched without hits allowed. The blogerati and digitally minded fans were tweeting and retweeting no-hit possibilities. Even Adam Rubin was marking milestones that were too early to be milestones.
You’ve all gone insane, I thought to myself — and then happily plunged in.
The Mets have been no-hit-free for 50 seasons, so it’s not like any of us can claim our carefully held superstitions have been the least bit effective — whatever we do to keep no-hit bids alive ought to be collected and passed around to other teams’ fans as what never to do when your pitcher has a zero in the relevant column.
For a while, it looked like this collective decision to spit in the eye of the baseball gods might actually work. Perhaps our merry thumbing of noses at karma would carry Dickey past the perils of bleeders and bloopers and things that go plunk into right, and wouldn’t that be something? He was 15 batters away, which in my experience is when Mets fans start to fantasize, and then he was within 12, which is when the rest of the world becomes at least minorly curious. On the Houston side, journeyman Bud Norris was making the most of a diving slider and the somewhat elastic edges of Gary Cederstrom’s strike zone, but that was cause for no particular alarm: The Mets were playing well, showing resilience, and who would be so uncouth as to stand between R.A. Dickey and history?
And then, pfft. With the speed of a plunging elevator, the game became a tragedy and then a goofy farce.
The tragedy was personified by Jordan Schafer, who opened the sixth by serving a soft single into left, untouchable. After a sacrifice, Jed Lowrie plopped one between an uncertain Kirk Nieuwenhuis and a scrambling Ruben Tejada for a single that shouldn’t have landed. Travis Buck spun Daniel Murphy around with a hard grounder that Murphy got one out on, but the run came home. And then Dickey threw his only bad pitch of the night, one Matt Downs slammed into the Crawford boxes for a sudden, shocking 3-0 Astros lead.
The Mets fought back, helped by some addlebrained Houston play. With two on and one out, Downs scrambled in front of his second baseman to give the Mets a gift runner and run. Lucas Duda, ill with the flu and looking sleepy and unhappy, somehow worked a walk. Houston manager Brad Mills remained glued to the dugout bench, convinced Norris could persevere. He couldn’t — Nieuwenhuis smacked a single into right to tie the score.
With Norris finally out of the game a little too late, Mills went into managing overdrive, using six relievers to face the next six batters. (Hey, when you average things out, he stuck with each pitcher for a reasonable amount of time.) Terry Collins, meanwhile, got an impressive seventh inning out of Manny Acosta, then a less-than-impressive inning out of Manny Acosta, which is about what one expects from that particular reliever. It was 4-3 Houston, magic seeping out of the night. The goateed, felonious Brett Myers arrived where he wasn’t wanted, and smothered the Mets on two groundouts and a fly ball. Having gone in rapid succession from half-convinced R.A. Dickey would throw a no-hitter to bummed to amused by the horrible baseball on display, I started at the TV in mild disbelief, out of things to feel. Game over; good guys lose.
I was honestly surprised they’d lost. Aside from that mess at Coors Field (what’s an 11-run inning between friends?), the Mets have been playing well of late. I was bummed but not particularly worried when Todd Helton buried one in the stands to erase a 4-0 lead, and so I was bummed but not particularly worried when Dickey’s masterpiece fell off the wall. It’s fun when your ballclub’s playing that way, when missteps and reversals seem like plot devices instead of fatal flaws. Of course, one game’s surprise can turn into two games’ disquiet and three games’ despair, but that’s life as a fan. Here’s hoping this one’s a bump — and that we’re all on Twitter tomorrow, gleefully noting that hey, Jon Niese only has 24 batters to get. Ya gotta believe, right?