- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Continuing Education of Lucas Duda

OK, first of all: Ouch.

We had the bastards … ¬†or so it seemed.

Going into the game, I was nervous about Chris Young’s fly-ball tendencies given where fly balls hit by the Yankees tend to land, as last night’s Cano/A-Rod/Andruw barrage demonstrated. I didn’t have to be: Young was great, stifling the Yankees through six innings before moving to the seventh. In that frame Young started by walking Mark Teixeira on a close pitch, but then went back to work, getting Nick Swisher to lift a fly ball to right … only Lucas Duda broke back instead of in, and the ball dropped and got past him for what the official scorer nonsensically ruled a double. With Frank Francisco unavailable because his left oblique stiffened up on him (uh-oh), Terry Collins opted to stay with Young against Raul Ibanez instead of calling on Tim Byrdak. Young then made the only pitch of the night he wanted back, one Ibanez hit on a line just over the wall in what’s been rechristened Swisherville.

Bang, just like that it was 3-3. An out later, Jon Rauch had pinch-hitter Eric Chavez in an 0-2 hole and threw a shoulder-high fastball Chavez was meant to chase. It wasn’t a bad pitch at all, and Chavez chased it — somehow depositing it just inside the left-field foul pole for the lead. The Mets then were stymied in the final three innings. First, with Jordany Valdespin on third and one out in the seventh, Boone Logan erased Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy (sporting a horrific pool-guy mustache) on a flurry of evil breaking pitches. In the eighth, David Robertson’s eventful inning took place entirely at home plate: He struck out Scott Hairston, walked Omar Quintanilla and Josh Thole, then struck out Justin Turner and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. In the ninth, David Wright singled with one out, but Duda looked overeager and struck out against Rafael Soriano, and then Murph got under a pitch just enough to bring it down in Swisher’s glove on the warning track instead of in the hands of a jubilant Mets fan or a bitter Yankee drone.

Ballgame [1], cue trying not to throw stuff across the room and mar a beautiful New York night with screamed obscenities.

Poor Duda is wearing the goat horns, and not undeservedly so. And after watching his latest misadventures in the outfield, I’m determined that the Mets need to … leave him right where he is.

Tim Marchman wrote a terrific article [2] this morning in The Wall Street Journal, one of the best appraisals of the 2012 Mets I’ve read. In wondering whether the Mets are the National League’s worst good team or its best bad one, Marchman has this to say: “Third baseman Daniel Murphy is playing second and first baseman Lucas Duda is playing right, and this is admirable, not a good idea and better than any alternative, all at once.”

All true. Both Murph and Lucas look better on defense nearly three full months into the season, which is not at all the same thing as saying they look good out there, because they don’t. But there are no real alternatives. Murphy is blocked at third by Wright, as we hope he will continue to be, blocked at first by Ike Davis (ditto) and it would be unfair to send him back out to left without a long spell in winter ball at the very least. The Mets’ only real option is to be patient with Murph at second, and hope he can grow into a Dan Uggla type. (Though if Murph doesn’t start driving the ball with more authority, he’s going to be a supersub.)

The Mets are in the same trap with Duda — he’s blocked at first, even without considering that Ike probably has a lot to do with Wright’s marked improvement across the diamond at third. The Mets would arguably be better off with Duda in left and Hairston in right, but Jason Bay’s contract means he’ll continue to play left when he’s able for the next season and a half, and it’s unfair to jerk Duda between two positions he’s not particularly adept at.

Unless Sandy Alderson has some trade in mind that will reshuffle the deck, the Mets are stuck with the fact that Duda’s medium-term future, at least, is in right. To make the best of that medium-term future, he has to stay there and learn and improve as best he can. And we have to accept that sometimes those lessons will be measured in plays not made and games lost.

Anyway, the Mets will play something we haven’t seen in a while: a rubber game. And it promises to be a fascinating one, with R.A. Dickey and his recently magical knuckler against CC Sabathia, his missing periods and his live fastball.

But then this series has been quietly fascinating. Game 1 [3] turned on a misplay by one right fielder on a ball hit just over the fence. Game 2 turned on a misplay by the other right fielder, setting the stage for a ball hit just over that same fence in approximately the same spot. The Mets jumped out to a Game 2 lead on a home run off a pretty good pitch that curled around the left-field pole. The Yankees took a Game 2 lead for good on a home run off a pretty good pitch that landed in more or less the same place.

Stranger than fiction, but then baseball often is.