Our pal Shannon Shark at Mets Police has an interesting theory that the Mets aren’t an organically occurring baseball team as much as they’re a serialized television drama that I’ve been writing since 1962, which is flattering of him to suggest, but I must reject the notion because I maintain the last few installments of Season 51 have been a little too hacky to be believed.
I’d like to think if I were indeed writing The Mets, I’d come up with something more original than another string of horrifying post-All Star break episodes in which the Mets go down the tubes faster than you can say “nine losses in ten games.” Anybody who’s ever worked with me would know I’d insist we can’t do another story arc like that — we just did a variation of the second-half swoon in Season 50.
And Season 49.
And Season 48.
Yet there are Metsian tics and tendencies that do get repeated over time. Like the casting of Miguel Batista as this year’s Tim Redding. Or Matt Harvey being given essentially the same role Bill Pulsipher won the audition for in Season 34 (only to be mostly written out of the narrative by Season 35). Or the reimagining of kitschy false-hope losses from 1962 as plucky not-quite wins in 2012.
This is to say nothing of a development deal for a sequel to Kevin Mitchell, circa 1986: the character is conceived as a fearless and brash rookie who plays almost everywhere and hits everywhere he plays yet scares the bejeesus out of the establishment; they whisper he’s not a “solid citizen” and has “problems with authority figures,” so he mostly languishes on the bench. The dramatic tension revolves around whether the character will be spun off to a new team where he’ll become the star of his own series, tentatively titled ’Spin Off.
Anyway, the Mets, who are real and not a figment of my fevered imagination (I think I’d have written them at least eight more championships by now), lost again on Sunday in classic fashion. They used extra innings, a ton of hits and hardly any runs. How is that classic? The only other time, according to Baseball Reference, that the Mets produced at least 16 hits but no more than 3 runs was in their longest game ever, the 25-inning affair they lost to the Cardinals, 4-3, on September 11, 1974. That night and morning, the Mets went 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position and stranded 1 baserunner for every inning played.
The Mets revived that storyline Sunday, when they produced 16 hits, scored 3 runs and lost again, this time 8-3, which both belies the closeness of the game for the first four hours and represents perfectly how far the Mets ever seemed from prevailing. The RISP totals were a little less brutal than they were 38 years ago — 4-for-19 — but the rate of LOB exceeded one per inning, with 14 Mets reaching base but never coming home. And though the Mets required 13 fewer innings in which to be utterly defeated in 2012, the time of game was a mere 2:21 shorter than 25 innings took in 1974.
Honestly, the Mets didn’t need a dozen innings or nearly five hours to do what they did against the Dodgers. They didn’t need the slick relieving of Ramon Ramirez nor the occasionally accurate umpiring of Mike DiMuro, either. They just needed the bottom of the fifth to illustrate what kind of day it had already been and what kind of day it was going to turn out to be. As an audience member (because, remember, I don’t write this stuff, I just watch it), the whole thing was telegraphed to me in a five-batter sequence.
Batter One, Ruben Tejada: The kid who never takes a bad at-bat mounts an outstanding at-bat. With his team down, 2-1, Ruben swings through two pitches and then goes to work, alternating a foul and a ball before fouling off three pitches in a row. Then he takes ball two. A pair of fouls ensue until ball three. That is so Ruben! But on Nate Eovaldi’s twelfth pitch, Tejada strikes out. That’s not supposed to happen.
Batter Two, Jordany Valdespin: Of course now that Ruben softened him up, Eovaldi will be easy pickin’s for the rest of the patient Mets. Except the next Met up is the notoriously impatient Jordany Valdespin…and why should ’Spin be patient, since he’s obviously a young man in a hurry, his squishy citizenry/allergy to authority be damned. First pitch, Jordany does what Ruben couldn’t do in twelve — he reaches base on a perfectly executed bunt. When was the last time you saw a Met do that?
Batter Three, David Wright: This most solid of Met citizens and hitters had been in a mini-slump, but no more. David lines Eovaldi’s second pitch up the middle for a base hit. Jordany, because he’s Jordany, races to third. It’s first and third, one out, Ike Davis, tenuously not sucking so much lately, is due up, so Don Mattingly lifts Eovaldi before he can be a winning pitcher and brings in lefty Scott Elbert.
Batter Four, Ike Davis: With a golden RBI opportunity before him, Davis goes back to sucking. What appears to be a hard slider away ties him in knots for strike three. Keith Hernandez lets out an audible moan of disgust. As he should.
Batter Five, Daniel Murphy: After a sensational four-hit Friday night, Terry Collins sat Murphy Saturday because Terry Collins bet on the Dodgers, and like Pete Rose, he should be banned from baseball at once because there are signs in every clubhouse reminding uniformed personnel gambling on games is verboten. That’s just one theory. Another is Collins was playing the percentages, and that robotic reliance on lefty-righty matchups paid off when lefty Murph’s understudy, righty Ronny Cedeño, homered off lefty Chris Capuano to turn a 6-2 deficit into a 6-3 deficit. Cedeño also doubled against Capuano, so Terry must have known something the numbers weren’t telling him, since prior to Saturday Ronny was a robust 3-for-23 against Chris while Daniel was a tellingly pathetic 0-for-3. Later in Saturday’s game, Murphy pinch-hit a triple. Sunday, the regular second baseman was back in the lineup and would go 4-for-5 off Dodger pitching, finishing off a weekend during which he went 9-for-11. So…knowing all that, is it possible that the scalding Daniel Murphy would come up and not get the hit to bring Valdespin home from third, tie the score at two and change the complexion of the game and maybe shift the momentum of the Mets’ season? It was indeed possible to the point of being what actually happened. Daniel lifted the fly ball to left that Ike needed, except when Daniel did it there were two out. And once the ball was caught, there were three.
To quickly review the above sequence, Tejada did exactly the kind of thing he is lauded for, but it didn’t pay off; Valdespin and Wright did exactly the kinds of things they are lauded for, and it paid off provisionally; Ike, who had to do just a little something, did absolutely nothing; Murph, who’d been doing everything and would continue to do everything, wasn’t able to do it at that particular moment.
Two hits, no runs, two LOB. Mets still trailing, 2-1.
I’m not sure where I’d seen that kind of half-inning before, but boy it felt so perfectly Mets. Then again, every inning feels that way when you find yourself saying, at whatever speed you prefer, “nine losses in ten games.”