To understand that headline, go back a day and read my partner’s rather awesome post about Monday night’s instant Mets Classic.
Monday night’s game — forever to be recalled fondly, except in the Papelbon household, as the Jordany Valdespin Game — was a tense, taut affair, about as beautiful as a baseball game can be. Confronted by the formidable Roy Halladay, the Mets were patient and hung in there, with Jon Niese surviving, the Mets bullpen somehow traversing Hell in a gasoline suit, Shane Victorino being actually called out instead of rewarded for grabbing for every edge within reach, Josh Thole being cruelly felled but recording the out and then, marvelous to see, Ike Davis working a walk and Mike Nickeas lashing a double and then Jordany Valdespin golfing a Papelbon splitter deep into the right-field stands. Somewhere in Toledo, you liked to think, Omir Santos looked up at SportsCenter and smiled.
Tuesday night’s game was not taut, beautiful or a classic. It was Lampshade on the Head baseball. It was Coach Is So Mad He Won’t Take Us to the Tastee-Freez baseball. Its highlights called for shelving the Ken Burns instrumentals and cueing up Yakety Sax. It was messy and goofy and a whole lot of fun.
And yet, weirdly, it was like a funhouse mirror of Monday night’s game — a satirical take, maybe, or an unauthorized parody.
First off, there was the pitching matchup. Once again a Phillies starter was dominant while a Mets starter scrapped and scrambled to avoid total ruin. Except Doc Halladay is a classic pitcher out of a century’s worth of storybooks, with a gunfighter squint and evil arsenal, while Joe Blanton is built like a fireplug and has the electrical-socket hair and ill-advised chin fuzz usually sported by the guy who drops chlorine in the pool. Jon Niese is an up-and-coming power pitcher, even if he hasn’t quite arrived yet; Miguel Batista is ancient, unassuming-looking and a few bad starts from drawing his pension.
Yet the early going was much the same: Blanton was untouchable, while Batista practically spun like a top while Phillies rifled hits all around him. It looked ugly — at one point I was reduced to writing sarcastic poetry about Batista and Chris Schwinden on Twitter — but as Niese had, somehow Batista kept things from cratering utterly. He found his rhythm and kept the Mets … well, not close, but within four.
Valdespin was a factor too — but as befits a parody, he was playing a different and rather less heroic role. On Tuesday afternoon, Adam Rubin showed up to play skunk at the Mets’ impromptu garden party, noting that Jordany had racked up a rather amazing 75 errors in 146 minor-league games at shortstop (that’s a .922 fielding percentage, which is grounds for unemployment), doesn’t steal successfully enough to make his running game worth it; and borders on incapable of drawing a walk. I thought that was borderline mean, but then Jordany went out to shortstop and put on a frightful exhibition. He air-mailed Ike for a two-base error, turned a pickoff into a waste of time by dropping a throw, and was terrifying to watch even on routine plays. Jordany Valdespin plays shortstop the way 15-year-olds smoke outside 7-Elevens, his wild gesticulations and unnecessary motion unable to obscure that he has no idea what he’s doing. (Though hey, he did draw a walk.)
Tuesday also saw the Mets’ bullpen hold the line in unlikely ways before a rather routine, the-writers-ran-out-of-plot-twists ninth. Manny Acosta was wonderful, working out of a second-and-third, one-out jam before exiting in favor of Ramon Ramirez, whose plan was to throw wild pitches and have Phillies hit bullets near David Wright and Daniel Murphy. That’s not generally a blueprint for Mets success, but Wright and Murphy made terrific plays, and Ramirez struck out Pete Orr in a big spot before giving way to Tim Byrdak, who got Ty Wigginton to fly to Andres Torres and not concuss anyone between home and his own dugout. (Though after the third out was recorded, Torres and Murphy nearly collided anyway. It was, I tweeted, the most 2012 Mets half-inning I could imagine.)
As for the heroic blast that brought about a Mets victory, it was more of a lunatic farce. In the seventh, with two out and Valdespin on first, Torres singled and then Kirk Nieuwenhuis — whom Blanton had eaten alive in his previous at-bat — rifled a single to right to cut the Phillies’ lead to 4-2. Up came Wright with the tying run on first; in came Chad Qualls. David delivered a sharp single to right, and then all hell broke lose. Hunter Pence — whose long legs and high socks make him look like a maroon grasshopper — fired the ball back in. John Mayberry Jr. didn’t cut it off and it went to Carlos Ruiz, who caught Wright halfway between first and second. But Jimmy Rollins and Orr screwed up the rundown, letting Wright scramble around between them while Keith Hernandez began to moan in agitation. Orr got worried about Nieuwenhuis over there off third and fired the ball past Placido Polanco, allowing Kirk to score. Meanwhile, Pence had somehow traveled a good 300 feet during the play, dashing from right field to cover second after Rollins and Orr left it unguarded, then winding up at third next to Wright, both of them presumably surprised to have wound up so far from their starting points.
It was the kind of play you’re used to seeing end with Mets fielders unable to look at each other, Shane Victorino strutting around with his bug-eyed grin and Phillies fans braying in the stands. Except this time it was Phillies kicking at the dirt and their fans were either booing, leaving or both. As for Pence, perhaps he should have ended his Family Circus dotted line on the mound: Antonio Bastardo replaced Qualls and promptly gave up a single to Lucas Duda, which proved fatal.
The Mets look loose and lively, grinding out patient at-bats and getting breaks, while over there in the other dugout the Phillies have that haunted gaze of a bunch that’s taken a few anvils to the head and is wondering what the hell can go wrong next. That doesn’t say anything significant about either team, so let’s not get overconfident. The Mets and Phils will meet 13 more times, beginning with tomorrow night’s Gee vs. Lee encounter. That pitching staff is awesome. And previous dismal years have seen us singing the praises of scrappy Mets clubs in May, only to wind up grousing and muttering in July.
But still. Four Citizens Bank wins against one defeat? A thrilling classic followed by a merry farce? If the plan is to exorcise this particular chamber of Met horrors, it’s off to a pretty good start.