I sensed trouble from the start.
I’m not sure why I did — the ball Neil Walker hit to begin the bottom of the Pirates’ eighth wasn’t going out and wasn’t parachuting in. It was ticketed for short of the warning track, a quick trot at worst for either the left fielder or the center fielder. But for whatever reason, I sensed trouble. Trouble with a mournful, mocking Chris Isaak croon, trouble like a sign reading DANGER HEARTBREAK DEAD AHEAD. Trouble like Luis Castillo scuttling crablike under the lights at Yankee Stadium, like Shawn Green’s old legs taking a creaky first step along the path of Scott Spiezio’s drive, like Juan Samuel hitching up Todd Hundley and Howard Johnson and Keith Miller for a stagecoach ride through Out of Position Canyon.
You know, trouble.
The ball alighted briefly in the space occupied by both the glove of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and the shoulder of Mike Baxter — the third left fielder of the night — then bounded away. So did Walker, who wound up at third, where the baleful glare of Jon Rauch was of no particular effect. After the inning, I joked that poor Baxter was going to search for the spot in the dugout equidistant between the Mets’ diminutive but scarily intense manager and their gigantic and scarily intense setup man, but I wasn’t exactly laughing. (For the record, SNY’s cameras caught Terry Collins between innings with his arm around a despondent Baxter, looking calm and downright fatherly.)
Of course by then a number of things had already gone wrong.
Like Johan Santana being given a four-run lead and then handing it back, with the first two runs coming via a flurry of doubles in the fourth and the last two coming all at once off the bat of Mike McKenry in the seventh. Not to get all Francesa on you, but you can’t blow a four-run lead against the Pirates. To be saner about it, the post-surgery Santana has been better than any of us could have hoped for, but he’s now mortal — as indomitable as ever above the neck, but inevitably eroded and stretched between the shoulder and the fingertips. This is not to complain or cast aspersions, but to be realistic about things.
After jumping on the glacial Erik Bedard (“Bedard” is apparently French for “Trachsel”), the Mets got handcuffed by a parade of Pittsburgh relievers, but were poised to take the lead in the top of the eighth, with Nieuwenhuis on third with one out. But Mike Nickeas K’d feebly, Baxter walked, and ice-cold Andres Torres grounded a ball up the middle, with Baxter forced at second by an eyelash. The Mets could really use Josh Thole back — he’s no slugger, but he’s become a patient hitter and rarely strikes out; with that needing more time, I agreed with Ron Darling that they might have tried to steal a run (or force the Pirates into more incompetent fielding) by sending Baxter. Instead, the run didn’t come home, and was soon to be mourned.
Of course, this is PNC Park, where all manner of things are mourned. Since the stadium opened — with an exhibition against the Mets, who somehow won — the Mets are 17-19 here, but it feels like a couple of zeroes are missing from that last number. The Mets media guide was no help: It omits 2007 in favor of an extra 2003, which normally I’d blame on the Mets except it’s entirely fitting for that to be screwed up too. Since being wowed by AT&T Park, PNC is the big-league stadium I most want to visit. But I think any Mets fan will understand that I’ve made up my mind to see it when the Pirates are playing one of the other 29 teams.