For nine straight summers, Emily and I have spent a week in the same beach house on Long Beach Island. Last night, sitting in a familiar spot and waiting for Kelly Shoppach to ambush Steve Cishek, I remarked to Emily that by now we’ve seen a lot of baseball here.
A lot of that baseball has involved the Marlins, with results both good and bad.
Back in 2005, I sat on this couch listening to the surf and watched Jerry Manuel summon Shingo Takatsu to bring the funk against Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded. The funk led to a three-run double that cleared the bases and turned the Mets’ 4-2 lead into a 5-4 loss. When we’d gone to LBI that year, the Mets were potential wild-card winners; by the time we returned they’d been exposed and on their way to being done — that was the same week Braden Looper blew a save twice in one game, a disaster that still makes me faintly ill to recall. (The link, BTW, goes to a really old Faith & Fear post, from the days in which Greg and I still wrote primarily to each other, largely because we barely believed anyone would want to read over our shoulders.)
Baseball against the Marlins on LBI hasn’t been all bad, though: Back in 2008, Carlos Beltran stepped to the plate against the Marlins with the bases loaded, two out in the ninth and the Mets down 2-1. Down to his last strike, Beltran connected against Kevin Gregg for one of those drives that’s obviously and marvelously and joyously gone the second bat and ball intersect. The Mets would win 5-4 after a scary save by closer-of-last-resort Luis Ayala. When we returned from that trip, the Mets seemed poised to shake off the disaster of 2007; we couldn’t know yet that they would not.
This year’s Mets said farewell to any realistic wild-card hopes a while back, but there are still games to play. For a good chunk of July and August that seemed like a chore; recently, the team has righted itself and started playing reasonably crisp, entertaining baseball once again. They’ve now won seven of eight, which has some diehards asking why they couldn’t be this year’s St. Louis Cardinals. I suppose that’s possible, but I’m content just to be looking forward to their games again. I want to see R.A. Dickey win 20, I’d love to see the Mets finish third ahead of the Phillies, and I’d be over the moon if they could finish .500. (17-11 would do it — difficult but possible.)
Like the Mets, Jason Bay long ago slipped out of contention and was written off as a failure. I doubt even the most optimistic Mets fan imagines that he can win an appeal of this judgment: Bay is in the third year of a four-year, $66 million deal and hitting .160 with 18 RBI. He has already lost his job as a starter, and the expectation is the Mets will cut him loose sometime next spring, sending him the way of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. Sandy Alderson denies that’s the plan, but of course he does — what do you expect him to say?
Minaya-era free-agent busts are nothing new for the Mets — so far the bulk of Alderson’s work has been to clear them away. But unlike Castillo and Perez, Bay has remained well-regarded among the writers and in his own clubhouse despite his struggles. It’s fair to ask whether language barriers have played a role in that perception, but it’s hard to find a Met or person connected with the Mets who has a bad word for Bay, whether offered on the record or from within a cloak of “one Met said.”
The fans haven’t followed suit — one of the more shameful moments at Citi Field came earlier this year, when Bay concussed himself against the outfield fence and was booed off the field. Some of that booing was no doubt reflexive, an expression of frustration at the team being so luckless and snakebit, and it was much easier to see that Bay had risked real injury if you were watching HD at home than if you were seeing the play from the stands. Still, it was embarrassing: No Mets fan who’s been paying attention can claim Bay hasn’t tried his hardest, however poor the results have been, and there was a time when the bulk of Mets fans were smart enough to tell the difference between a good effort in vain and a poor one.
I don’t mean Bay’s been a martyr — $16.5 million a year is enough to soothe a lot of hurts. But these three years can’t have been easy for him. Bay arrived after a solid tenure as a power hitter and adequate left fielder in Boston, and while there were questions about how his skills would age even back then, most fans and scribes thought his contract seemed like a reasonable bet. (This was never true of his Omarpalooza option years, which blessedly won’t be an issue.) Bay went from disappointing to dismal, following poor days at the plate with an inability to stay on the field and a frightening lack of confidence — at his nadir earlier this year, he looked about as lost as I’ve ever seen a baseball player look.
Today, then, came as a relief — the Mets and Bay snatching victory from the jaws of defeat instead of enduring the reverse. In the first, Ronny Cedeno let off with a double and Justin Turner followed with a double of his own, thanks to a Giancarlo Stanton misplay. A bit of luck, but still — consecutive doubles and no runs was the kind of apparently impossible thing the Mets have specialized in since the All-Star break. David Wright grounded out to drive in a run, but Scott Hairston popped out and it looked like Mark Buehrle would wiggle free with minimal damage.
Buehrle walked Ike Davis and hit Kelly Shoppach, bringing up Bay and anticipatory sighs on a lot more couches than mine — sighs that turned to happy exclamations as Bay drove a 1-0 pitch over the fence in right-center for a grand slam. The Mets wouldn’t score again, but they wouldn’t need to: Chris Young and a succession of relievers kept the Marlins at, well, bay and the sweep was safe.
Bay would chip in another single and just miss making a great catch diving for a foul ball down the left-field line. The ball went into his glove, which bent under his body, sending the ball squirting free. This time Bay got to his feet uninjured, and none of the many visiting Mets fans booed.
The day won’t be enough to change our review of Bay’s time in New York — that time passed a long time ago — but it was a welcome reminder of the player he used to be, and the player he would still be if only effort were the only ingredient in getting results.