There’s an old joke about an inveterate optimist and a pile of horse manure, the punch line of which is, “There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere.” And indeed, you’d think that after the last 18 innings of steaming, redolent folderol in Atlanta, the least the Mets would be able to pull out of the heap is one shiny win.
But no. Nothing shiny, nothing winning, nothing doing. Nothing much good from two games filled with gobs of movement, but little in the way of positive action.
You’d think 12 runs and 24 hits delivered across two games, much of it manufactured in classic resilient Met fashion, would have resulted in some semblance of triumph for your gritty, gutty visitors from the north. Turner Field, as it tends to do more often than not, has had other ideas. A 7-5 Mets loss Friday. An 8-7 loss Saturday . In neither case did the Mets look good, yet in both cases the Mets seemed perched on the precipice of looking fine. A couple of hits that never came Friday spelled the big difference between holding a lead and trying to make up a deficit against Craig Kimbrel. But the hits, as noted, never came.
Saturday, there were hits, there was a lead late and for all the umpire-instigated nonsense swirling about them, there was every reason to believe the Mets were going to emerge from their mess clean for day. But here came the Met bullpen again, this time more deadly than the last. When Messrs. Byrdak, Beato and Parnell were through in the bottom of the eighth, a lead became another deficit and Atlanta’s talented Mr. Kimbrel was on the scene once more, even more invincible than usual.
And there goes the old ballgame again. Two in a row in Atlanta, three in a row overall if you can remember back to last Sunday  when the Mets decided to get an early start on their break.
What a mess.
The phrase, “R.A. Dickey didn’t have it,” is becoming unpleasantly common to inject into these recountings, but R.A. Dickey didn’t have it. Nor did Jordany Valdespin, though Dale Scott said he did. Dale Scott was the umpire who ruled there was a catch on a trap in the bottom of the fifth with one out. Valdespin acted the part of the successful left fielder, held a ball Jason Heyward hit aloft and followed through with what seemed to be some kind of slow-moving 7-4-3 DP on Martin Prado. But replay — the same mechanism that proved C.B. Bucknor had earlier blown a safe call on Valdespin at first — showed Scott was dead wrong and (unfortunately for us) the two umpires who weren’t that idiot Bucknor convinced Scott that the catch was a trap.
From there, the double play Dickey thought had gotten him out of the fifth was revoked. Thus, he had to stick around and continue pitching the fifth, and two batters later, Freddie Freeman unloaded a double to score Prado and Heyward and give the Braves a 5-3 lead. Worst part was the Braves redeemed an opportunity they deserved to have. Terry Collins had argued it to the point of ejection, but he was wrong  (though not wrong to argue — it’s what managers are supposed to do). Fox was no immediate help in explaining why he was wrong, but why expect anything remotely insightful from baseball’s broadcast network of record? They’ve only held the MLB rights for 17 seasons.
I suppose Fox is proof of the adage that fans don’t tune in for the broadcast but for the game, and that Fox is double proof that fans don’t tune out the game because of the broadcast, but geez, they’re awful. How is it there are nearly 312 million people in this great country of ours, and the best Fox can come up with for a game of the week are the disengaged Chris Myers and the clueless Eric Karros?
Anyway, Dickey wasn’t good, Myers and Karros were abominable, the Mets were one slice shy of a loaf every time you turned around, yet there they were, lifting our sights the way they are capable of elevating them, pushing three runs across in the sixth and another in the eighth after the reversal-of-fortune call, so you can’t say (no matter how those numbskulls in the booth framed it) the Mets were doomed by the trap. They instead set their own trap later when Geren/Collins trusted the bullpen to hold a two-run lead with two innings to go.
Couldn’t be done. First Byrdak issued a walk to Brian McCann, who’s no Ned in the third reader but exactly the kind of batter (lefthanded) hilarious Hulk is supposed to retire. Out goes Tim, in comes Pedro, and he gave up one horribly long single to Dan Uggla (how was he not a Brave all those years?) before striking out the kid Pastornicky. Another hitting-pitching change had Bobby Parnell striking out Juan Francisco, but then…well, it was like the Braves knew what was coming. They probably did know what was coming, as it was unimpressive fastball after unimpressive fastball that Michael Bourn, then Prado and then Heyward whacked effectively enough to produce one, make it two, no make it three runs.
Bingo. 8-7, Atlanta. Just enough cushion for Kimbrel’s unhittable arsenal to be deployed. Ike, Murph and the hobbled Duda all flailed and all fanned. Ballgame.
What kills about these two games, besides that each was there for the taking and Saturday’s screamed to be swooped up and secured, was that you’re not losing to a club of worldbeaters over there in the other dugout. The Braves looked maybe one iota better, net, across the two days, yet they get to enjoy all the fruits of victory — which matters not only because they were the opponent, but they’re a little ahead of us in this playoff race we weren’t expecting to be in. They’re now a little more ahead of us than they were before Friday and we’re a little less in the race, but we’re still there. Of course we are. Most of the National League is. Even Eric Karros could analyze the situation accurately: You have to win these head-to-head games. And since almost everybody is still kind of contending, you can’t afford to lose any games you play in pairs.
A few good signs exist from these disasters. Josh Edgin, Chipper initiation  notwithstanding, seems hyperuseful. Andres Torres’s bat has woken up, or at least hasn’t given into the snooze alarm. Ruben Tejada got even better over the break. Valdespin, once he’s informed that he’s already gotten off the island, might learn to take a pitch and turn his certain something into something relentlessly positive. Ike has just about stopped sucking.
But familiar bullpen blues, failure to pile on and all-around growing pains aside, Young was terrible, Dickey wasn’t passable and Gee isn’t here. Johan’s ankle (a.k.a. The Johankle) needs to prove it isn’t a detriment Sunday and Niese isn’t entitled to be inconsistent in Washington. Beyond that, it’s either Old Timer Day next Saturday with Miguel Batista or the likely unready aces of tomorrow today . If this were a flat-out lousy season, I’d be salivating to see Harvey or, as long as they’re dropping breadcrumbs about him, Wheeler (who threw a Double-A shutout Saturday night). This is still a good season. I don’t know that I want one of our top prospects being set down on our mound amid Fire Time, as Collins calls these defining days of July. Come to think of it, has anybody seen Terry manage a legitimate playoff hunt in this century? Will there be a legitimate playoff hunt by August 1?
You can’t let two bad results pull the thread on what has been an encouraging tapestry. But spend seven-plus hours with this team over these bad and worse games and try to have faith the sun’ll come out tomorrow.
It will, probably, but I wouldn’t rush to bet my bottom dollar.