“This is the bad time.”
—Henry Hill, GoodFellas
If I may use the present tense while it’s still technically valid, Miguel Batista doesn’t so much throw pitches for the New York Mets as he contemplates them. Not that any Mets fan necessarily wants Miguel Batista to throw his next pitch unless it’s his last, but my goodness that man is Zen between ball one and ball two, never mind the spiritual journey he takes between ball two and ball three.
I’m sure he’s read Leaves of Grass, but I could swear I saw him staring at blades of grass.
Oh, and then came ball four, twenty or thirty minutes after ball three.
The theme of this series thus far (all seven hours and three minutes of it) seems to be it was slow, but at least it was painful. That would pretty well sum up the 81 pitches Batista contemplated in the first, second and third innings, almost none of them effective, eight of them directly producing baserunners, four of them turning into runs, none of them making a case for the present tense to remain a valid tense for Miguel Batista and the New York Mets.
“Tick. Tick. Tick. That’s the sound of your life running out.”
—Jordan Chase to his victims, Dexter, Season Five
Is there any reason think the Mets’ season isn’t on the brink of plunging into its traditional final-third abyss? In All The President’s Men, Deep Throat advised, “Follow the money.” At Citi Field, you could simply follow the bouncing pitchers Saturday and discern how tenuous this .500 team’s competitive standing has become.
One press release and five public address announcements said all you needed to know.
1) The New York Mets today announced the team placed lefthanded pitcher Johan Santana on the 15-Day Disabled List with a right ankle sprain.
2) …and batting ninth and pitching, Number Forty-Seven, Miguel Batista.
3) Now pitching and batting ninth for the Mets, Number Fifty-Three, Jeremy Hefner.
4) …and pitching and batting fifth for the Mets, Number Sixty-Six, Josh Edgin.
5) Now pitching and batting fifth for the Mets, Number Forty, Tim Byrdak.
6) …and pitching and batting seventh, Number Forty-Three, R.A. Dickey.
That’s four pitching changes, each more desperate than the one before it, thanks to the Hail Mary nature of starting Batista. And that bland pronouncement about Friday night’s starter? That seemed to cast a pall on everybody who toes a rubber for a living.
Santana was placed on the DL before the game for Johankle reasons because there’s apparently nothing medically wrong with his shoulder and the Mets couldn’t claim the vapors, the blues or a bad case of lovin’ you as an acceptable reason to shelve him. Maybe the two-week old mishap is throwing his motion out of whack. Something sure is. For the record, Johan says he could keep pitching through his morass. But maybe that’s just the vapors talking.
With Johan cleared from the roster to make room for Hefner, the rest of the available staff responded as if they couldn’t wait to get a league-approved blow themselves. Not a single Mets pitcher retired the first three batters he faced upon entering Saturday’s game. The only Met who threw a one-two-three inning against Los Angeles was Batista, in the second, which was after he allowed a run in the first and before he permitted three in the third, all with two out.
The Dodgers batted seventeen times before the Mets could get to the bottom of their own order. By the time they got there, they wouldn’t let Batista bat. It was the second consecutive game in which the Mets’ starting pitcher never made it to the plate.
Hefner gave up a run in the fourth with two out and a run in the fifth with two out, leaving the Mets behind, 6-2. They endured the indignity of Chris Capuano for seven innings and trailed him, 6-3, upon his exit. The ballpark was more subdued than angry. Batista was long gone and Jason Bay had snuck an RBI single through a friendly hole many frames before and then had the good sense to be double-switched out of the game at some point because it’s not like Jason Bay is indispensable to the cause of a team trying to forge a comeback. So with Batista out and Bay out, there was nobody left worth getting riled up toward.
Subdued, with an undercurrent of mournful. That was Citi Field after seven innings, even with Edgardo Alfonzo bobbleheads tucked safely under seats.
Then two Met runs in the eighth, which was exciting. And Dickey in the ninth, which was downright thrilling. It’s always thrilling to see a starting pitcher thrust into any role that’s out of the ordinary. It says somebody seems serious about winning a game in a way not starting Daniel Murphy (four hits Friday night, immense pinch-triple Saturday afternoon) or Jordany Valdespin (the Human Thunderbolt Friday night, pinch-bunt instigator Saturday afternoon) doesn’t.
It was beautiful the way “The Imperial March” blared and R.A. materialized fully formed on the mound to start the ninth. Like Batista in the first, Hefner in the fourth and Edgin in the sixth, Dickey retired the first two batters he faced. But when Dickey did it, mourning became electric. Citi Field was juiced. Just the sight of our savior coming down from the mountain to keep us within 6-5 brightened our late afternoon. He got Kemp. He got Ethier. And if he’d gotten a call from James Hoye, he might have gotten out of the ninth unscathed, sending a charge through his teammates and inspiring them to short out Kenley Jansen for at least one necessary run in the bottom of the inning…maybe two!
But Dickey didn’t get a call — the way the Mets can’t ever get what they want lately — and Loney singled and Uribe homered and it was 8-5.
You couldn’t blame the knuckleball starter turned desperation reliever for not rescuing 24 men stranded up a creek and a season on the brink. But it would have been beautiful if he had.
“The Mets got two runners on in the ninth, but couldn’t get over the hump, and went down to their 12th straight defeat. That was to be a Met pattern for their early years. They would get themselves into a seemingly hopeless position, only to rise up off the mat to stage a desperate rally, which invariably fell just short. In their 120 losses, the Mets brought the tying run to the plate in the last inning 56 times. Thirty-nine of their losses were by a single run. ‘He concedes defeat almost daily,’ Robert Teague wrote of the Met fan, ‘but only after the very last Met has been retired.’”
—William Ryczek, The Amazin’ Mets, 1962-1969
Scenes from a Polo Grounds homestand, from just about this time of year, 50 years ago:
• On July 7, 1962, trailing the Cardinals, 3-2, Marv Throneberry tripled with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Gene Woodling grounded out to end the game with the potential tying run on third.
• On July 12, trailing the Dodgers, 3-0, Sammy Taylor walked with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Cliff Cook was then hit by a pitch. Jim Hickman, representing the potential tying run, grounded out to end the game.
• On July 13, the Mets came to bat in the bottom of the eighth, tied at three with the Dodgers. Woodling led off with a triple against Don Drysdale. Hickman went into run. Chris Cannizzaro struck out. Felix Mantilla tapped to Drysdale, who got Hickman at the plate. Throneberry struck out. Al Jackson gave up a leadoff home run in the top of the ninth to Ron Fairly. The Mets went down in order in the bottom of the inning to lose, 5-4.
• On July 15, the Mets went to the bottom of the eighth down seven runs to the Giants. They scored six and had runners on first and second with two out. Juan Marichal came into relieve. He flied out Rod Kanehl to end the inning. The Mets would lose, 9-8.
• On July 16, the Giants increased their lead from 2-1 to 3-1 on a two-out wild pitch in the top of the ninth from Bob L. Miller. In the bottom of the inning, Charlie Neal and Elio Chacon each walked. Choo Choo Coleman popped out and Hickman struck out. Richie Ashburn singled home Neal and sent Chacon to third as the potential tying run. Kanehl flied out to end the game, the Mets losing, 3-2.
• On July 19, Throneberry broke a 5-5 tie against the Pirates with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth. With Marv on first and Chacon on third, Jay Hook struck out and Ashburn popped out. Hook started the visitors’ ninth by walking Bill Mazeroski, advancing him to second on a wild pitch and seeing him go to third and then home on two flyball outs. It was tied at six. In the bottom of the ninth, Hickman singled with one out but was caught stealing second. The game went to the tenth, where Hook — still pitching — surrendered a leadoff home run to Bob Skinner. In the bottom of the tenth, after Kanehl flied out and Neal fouled out to the catcher, Chacon doubled and Throneberry was intentionally walked. With the tying and winning runs on base, Joe Christopher flied to center. The Mets lost, 7-6.
On July 21, 2012, the Mets trailed, 8-5, in the bottom of the ninth against Dodger closer Kenley Jansen. After Lucas Duda fouled out and Ruben Tejada flied out, Andres Torres and David Wright walked. Scott Hairston then struck out to end the game.
This followed the 7-6 loss of July 20, when the potential winning run, Torres, popped up with two out…two days after July 18, when the Mets trailed the Nationals, 4-1, in the ninth, before Wright homered to lead off, Ike Davis and Duda each struck out, Bay homered and Valdespin struck out to end the game in a Met loss, 4-3…and that happened on the heels of July 17, which was when Valdespin’s three-run pinch homer converted a 2-0 deficit in the top of the ninth into a 3-2 lead, before a Nationals run tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, which was before Josh Thole put the Mets in front, 4-3, in the top of the tenth, which was before the Nationals scored two to win it, 5-4, the last of the runs coming on a wild pitch Thole couldn’t block.
All of which is to say chronically battling back and falling short doesn’t work any better now than it did a half-century ago.