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A Run for Each Degree

OK, not quite … but it sure felt that way.

I would love to get an up-close look at Target Field, which I’ve seen praised as a wonderful park and the anti-Citi for its generous portions of Twinsiana. And one day I will. But tonight I was happy to be 1,200 miles away huddled on a nice warm couch in weather that merely resembled Scotland’s instead of Hoth’s.

From the sight of Terry Collins standing like a plastic figure in a snow globe to the umpires bundled in balaclavas to the hardy (or crazy) Minnesota fans hanging around with their team down 11 [1] on a horrid night, it was an evening for someone who abhors the cold to simultaneously savor and deplore. Sure, there’s a brain-damaged grandeur to football players peering through blizzards and the wreath of their own breath to look for another guy to crash into, but baseball’s designed for long pauses and stretching out under summer skies. Opening Day can be cold because it’s winter’s rearguard action, and October can be cold because you’re playing for a title. But playing in snow flurries in Minnesota in April is just ridiculous. (And judging by the weather forecasts, it may be the second-nicest day the Mets get on this trip.)

Given the conditions, nearly everybody involved in tonight’s mess deserves a pass — the baseball had to be like a cue ball out there, and it looked like it as Vance Worley face-planted into a historically bad line (7 ER in 1 IP leaves a heckuva mark) and Jon Niese kept trying to fall off the tightrope. Ruben Tejada threw one ball away and wound up spinning like a top over another, while the Twins couldn’t catch anything. (Except possibly their death of cold.) Just ugly all around.

But ugly can be fun, particularly when the good guys put up five in the first, five more in the second and then slowly pull away. And when there are little redemptive mini-dramas along the way. My favorite was the Murphy-Tejada double play in the third, one of the prettiest I’ve seen in years. You can review it here [2], but it really needs to be seen in slow motion to be appreciated — I missed the first batter of the next inning because I was watching it again and again on TiVo’s super-slow mode. Tejada catches the ball facing center field, dragging a toe of one foot behind him to locate the bag, then spins to throw to first, and in doing so drags a toe of the other foot to record the out, with the pirouette bearing him smoothly out of Ryan Doumit’s line of fire, save for a final gentle leg lift to let Doumit’s thigh pass beneath him. Disrupt Ruben’s timing by a fraction of a second or move him half an inch out of alignment and the whole thing would fall apart into a missed bag, a nasty collision or both, but none of that happened and what we got instead was seemingly effortless, tossed-off grace. And baseball crafts these little jewel boxes in each and every game, handing them out to fans who are paying attention.

I notice those tiny margins of error more and more as I grow older and get more games under my belt. John Buck blasted his nightly home run, this one a grand slam that escaped even the mysterious gravity of Target Field. Buck has now hit more home runs in 2013 than last year’s catching corps did all year, which is celebration of the now and indictment of the then all in one. But what was easy to lose in the merry Buckhanalia was what a near thing his latest blast had been. Pedro Hernandez’s eighth pitch to Buck was the fatal one, but the accessory to murder was the sixth pitch, a 2-2 offering that Buck fouled into Joe Mauer’s glove, where it nestled for a split-second before plopping to the dirt. Foul ball, and two pitches later a 6-2 Mets lead that we all knew was shakier than it looked had become a 10-2 countdown to the inevitable.┬áThose missed chances and near things? They’re as much part of baseball as the beautiful moments where everything meshes perfectly, like it was always meant to be.