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I Love Baseball, I Hate Baseball

For a minute, let’s turn off the car in the closed garage, unknot the noose and descend the ladder, and drop the plugged-in hair dryer on the floor beside the tub instead of between our knees in the water. We’re going to try to gain some distance, and assess a certain recently concluded debacle [1] from an outsider’s perspective.

OK. You with me?

That really was a heck of a baseball game.

No, really — it was. It was two pretty intriguing games in one, in fact.

The first one was tense and tight and grinding, a staredown between Jon Niese and Ross Detwiler in jungle heat. Niese was in line for the loss because Tyler Moore (who’s been tired of your jokes for many years now) snuck a liner just over the right-field fence, with Scott Hairston poised for a carom that would never arrive. Detwiler was in line for the win chiefly because Hairston kept coming out of his shoes trying to hit pitches that weren’t strikes and Jason Bay was remarkably feeble — even by post-Omarpalooza standards — in his first night back in the lineup. And OK, because Mark Carlson badly blew a fairly obvious call. But then baseball’s umpires seem to do that on a daily basis now.

The second game within a game was something else — wild and unlikely and entertaining before it turned hideous, as I think most of us sensed it was going to. Down 2-0 against the Nationals’ closer, the usually reliable Tyler Clippard, Jordany Valdespin whacked a pinch-hit three-run homer, lifting the Mets from goats to potential heroes in an ear-popping ascension. Say what you will about Valdespin — and when cloaked in anonymity various Mets seem to say a lot — but he has a way of showing up in big spots. (Which is undoubtedly a reflection of a very small sample size, but let’s not be unfun.) The only problem with the uprising against Clippard was the Mets’ horrific bullpen and its shoddy defense would have to collaborate to protect a one-run lead.

Predictably, they couldn’t. Bobby Parnell threw fastballs over the fat part of the plate and the lead was gone. On to extra innings.

Unperturbed, the Mets grabbed the lead again, with Josh Thole guiding a double up the gap. Oh, how resilient of them! The only problem with the uprising against Mike Gonzalez was the Mets’ horrific bullpen and its shoddy defense would have to collaborate to protect a one-run lead.

Predictably, they couldn’t. Tim Byrdak surrendered a one-out triple to Bryce Harper (no little dunker in front of a sliding Vinny Rottino this time) for a tie game, the Mets walked the bases full, Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice to give New York a puncher’s chance at escaping to an 11th inning … and Pedro Beato uncorked a wild pitch to lose.

Well, of course he did.

This was the flipside of six weeks ago [2]: Then Valdespin led a late comeback and the defense (mostly Jordany himself, playing shortstop for probably the last time ever) did horrible, horrible things that made you half-wish the hitters had just expired quietly. Tonight, the defense was blameless, but the bullpen was spectacularly awful, which led to the same result. It was Death by Unga Bunga, to quote the terrible old joke understood by any baseball fan who’s seen an unexpected late rally morph into a demoralizing disaster.

I don’t know what to say. This feels exactly like the last three years [3], with the Mets rounding the halfway point looking tough and gritty and resilient and all those other things we reflexively say about teams that win more often than they lose, then quickly going into a death spiral that makes all those good feelings distant memories by the time October mercifully arrives and it’s time to watch other teams play in the playoffs.

I guess one thing to say is that it’s pretty hard to disagree with Sandy Alderson that the bullpen is what most needs fixing. But what kind of fix is possible when everything is broken? Soon after this one ended, I tweeted that I’d be in favor of releasing the whole lot of them, which should have sounded crazier than it did. Terry Collins told the assembled reporters that he was sticking with Parnell and Byrdak because “they’re the ones who got us here,” but where exactly is here? It’s two ticks over .500. Here isn’t a place any of us want to be.

Answers? Ya got me. Jon Rauch has been better on Twitter than he’s been on the mound. Frank Francisco gave us typical closer nightmares. Ramon Ramirez was the only reliever who was blameless tonight, and he’s been mostly awful. We all wanted Josh Edgin, we got him, and now he’s got an ERA over 10. We wanted Beato back, and he managed to lose tonight’s game in horrifying, Kenny Rogersesque fashion. Miguel Batista didn’t have a chance to be awful because the Mets are deluding themselves that he won’t be awful as a starter on Saturday. The Bisons’ bullpen is mostly made up of guys who failed up here earlier and got shipped out. The closer, Fernando Cabrera, hasn’t gotten a call-up, but before you start beating the drums for him, here are his ERAs from the last five years he pitched in the majors: 5.19, 7.21, 5.40, 8.44, 20.25. Ay Cabrera!

I know — let’s bring back¬†Manny Acosta! What’s crazy is that no longer seems so crazy.

The best of the relievers have been frustratingly uneven, and as a group they’ve been horrible — so horrible that the best answer might be remembering that statistics suggest this group is unlikely to be more horrible than they’ve already been.

No, that doesn’t sound like much of a rallying cry to me either.

Maybe Sandy should do what the judge in “The Untouchables” did, when he swapped juries with the courtroom next door. He could put together a megatrade with, say, the Phillies — our terrible bullpen for theirs. Two fan bases get rid of bad relievers they can no longer stand, followed by a lesson in not trusting new bad relievers.

Since that’s unlikely to happen, we’re back to¬†perspective: It really was a great game. Full of twists and turns and drama. The kind of game you hope will be a newcomer’s introduction to baseball, because it will go a long way to making him or her a fan.

Of the Nationals.