Once in a while, particularly in a season that’s wandered dutifully into its gone-to-hell portion, the Mets will play a game that, like a piece of black, volcanic glass in Andy Dufresne’s favorite Maine hayfield, has no earthly business on their ledger. It will be tense, it will be tight, it will be gripping…even if ultimately it will be lost.
And you almost knew, as a Mets fan, that the Mets would lose Tuesday night in Cincinnati. You knew it for certain by the middle of the ninth if you couldn’t figure it out earlier. Some games are just like that: more fun than you imagine for a while, then teasingly cruel in their suspense, then just plain mean as they reach their pedestrian, predictable conclusion.
If the Mets could have pushed this thing into extra innings, lightning could have been reset in order to strike. You never know what will happen when you take a scoreless game beyond nine. On April 17, 2010, Pedro Feliciano threw a ground ball double play that preserved a nothing-nothing game through nine and next thing you knew (or, more accurately, next several-dozen things you knew), the Mets were 2-1 winners in 20.
But the key was getting out of the ninth. The Mets and Reds had farcically charged that far with no runs apiece. If it was a pitchers’ duel, it was conducted with banana cream pies at ten paces. Gentlemen, turn around and…SPLAT! Chris Young wasn’t sharp but persevered. Mat Latos wasn’t sharp but persevered. Or did the batters they faced aid the appearance of perseverance? Neither Young nor Latos nor their many successors could have been mound magician enough to have escaped more kinds of jams had they been accidentally locked inside the Welch’s plant past closing.
Leadoff hitters keep reaching? Catcher’s interference called? Runners confidently taking off from first? Pitchers cracking bases-loaded line drives? Pinch-hitters whacking balls to the wall? Doubles abounding? Wild pitches? Control problems? Deep flies? Sinking liners? Perfectly executed sacrifice bunts?
They were all there, yet they didn’t add up to bupkes. No Met could drive in any other Met for nine innings. No Red could drive in any other Red for eight innings, and their were loads of Red chances to do so. At first it seemed Young would snap like an 83-inch twig. Then he shape-shifted into a bendy straw. Then the journey from bending to breaking was imminent. Then he was replaced by Ramon Ramirez, who rescued him, which seemed novel. Then Ramirez was replaced by Bobby Parnell, who dug a customary hole but also tunneled out of it; more novelty. Then Jon Rauch came along and took no mess whatsoever.
While it was true the Mets did nothing of substance to Latos, Sean Marshall and Jose Arredondo despite six hits, four walks, Young’s sizzling liner that landed in Brandon Phillips’s glove, the Scott Hairston rope that reached the left field corner too fast for it to be good for more than one base and the catcher’s interference charged to Ryan Hannigan (shortly after Jordany Valdespin drove Latos to snorting distraction by repeatedly asking for and receiving time), it was truer that the Reds did the exact same amount of damage to Young, Ramirez, Parnell and Rauch despite five singles, four doubles, six walks and the sense of doom that will logically impend when you’re playing a first-place ballclub in their ballpark and your notoriously flammable bullpen is all that separates you from extinction.
Which, of course, is what came to in the bottom of the ninth. It came to Manny Acosta (Frank Francisco — no bargain but technically the best we got — was presumably being saved for the nineteenth and twentieth) walking Phillips and giving up a single to Ryan Ludwick to assure trouble, and Josh Edgin, Terry Collins’s not so new toy, ending it with a mighty assist from Jay Bruce.
The intrigue of 0-0 was over. The 14 Reds left on across eight innings were immaterial. Three Cincinnatians survived to cross the plate on one Bruce swing. The ten men the Mets got as far as first, second or third proved lethal in their failure to gain admission home. The team in first place did what it felt like they were going to do in the middle of the ninth. They won.
The other team…our team…also did what you inevitably discerned they would do. But they made it interesting without being unforgivably aggravating for a while.
So that was different.