Frank Francisco walks the first batter of the ninth and allows a shift-confounding single immediately thereafter. There’s two on, none out, a one-run lead and every reason to believe that the eight runners the Mets had gotten into scoring position but neglected to score were lining up for a big, juicy bite of cosmic retribution. With a, say, 9-5 lead, Francisco could futz around for a couple of batters, yet lurking grand slam specter notwithstanding, we could feel reasonably confident in his ability to push (if not slam) the door shut on the deadly international conspiracy known as the Toronto Blue Jays.
But it wasn’t 9-5. It was 6-5. And I wouldn’t have given you a plug Canadian nickel for the chances of it not being 7-6 or something like it in a matter of metric minutes. The Jays sure like to swing and our closer sure likes to melt. This was not a recipe for a clean getaway day.
Yet here we are, in the cool of the evening, sipping on a refreshing 6-5 win whose peril was real but danger never grew any graver than first and second, nobody out. Francisco defied the rising, thundering snarls of the Rogers Centre throng (the way we’ll sound when Frank revisits Citi Field in another uniform someday…or next time we see he’s still with the Mets) and, à la Andy Dufresne after his crawl through a river of edited-for-television spit, came out clean.
Francisco fell behind Edwin Encarnacion one-and-oh, yet managed to strike him out.
Francisco fell behind J.P. Arencipia two-and-oh, yet managed to strike him out.
Francisco fell behind Eric Thames — now there’s a name that seemed worth reserving for recriminatory reference purposes during future ninth-inning unravelings (“goddammit, this is turning into another fucking Eric Thames at the fucking SkyDome atrocity!”) — two-and-one, yet managed to strike him out.
When Frank got Thames, I had to count to make sure he’d really recorded three outs. He’s out of the inning? We won the game? Really? No way it could have been…not so much “that easy,” because it wasn’t easy, yet I just assumed it would take bases-loaded agony and some David Eckstein type coming up and fouling off 23 or 24 pitches to get even close to a third out.
But mostly I expected Eric Thames to homer.
No, that’s not completely true. I expected Jose Bautista to homer, but Frank held him to that measly single. Maybe we won the game right there. It’s hard to fathom we didn’t put the durned thing away much earlier while Mike Baxter was enjoying his child’s-size cycle — Whopper not included — and David Wright was leaving Met legends in the artificial turf cut-out dust, passing Jose Reyes for second in Met hits and Mike Piazza for first in Met interleague RBIs, and Dillon Gee was showing irrefutable evidence that Texans Do It Better Without Beards (Dear 7 Line: there’s your next shirt). By the light and lively way the Mets were playing, I kind of assumed we were unassailably good for Sunday.
But then we kept forgetting to tack on runs. And Gee ran out of gas. And Parnell was location-optional. And the home team kept swinging. And David dared to strike out with the bases loaded in the eighth. And Darren Oliver, who used to be a Met, and Francisco Cordero, who I’m sure I used to think was Frank Francisco, shut us down in the ninth. And here came the actual Frank Francisco. And Marlins Park came to Toronto. It was going to be last Sunday all over again, except worse, because a series sweep was in the offing.
Until it wasn’t. Which is no small thing when there’s a plane to catch and PNC Park to provide its own time-tested aggravational pull.
The Mets look great, but nearly blow an incredibly winnable game. The Mets look shaky, yet a 41-game season would have them in a one-game Wild Card play-in versus Miami to determine who’d be in the actual one-game Wild Card playoff. We can argue that this second Wild Card spot is a cheap gimmick that rewards teams barely floating above .500, but the Mets are one of those teams and a quarter of the real season in, they are on track to be rewarded. Can’t say their contending status is a phenomenon that will keep up, and I sure as hell wouldn’t bet on it on injury-riddled, experience-lacking principle, but I’m also not ready to bet against these Mets, Frank Francisco and all.
Give me and them another week and I’ll let you know if I’m quite so generous in my weighing of admirable character over assembled talent.