Help! I’m being held prisoner inside a Mets-Marlins series!
—Fortune cookie opened at Marlins Park this week, according to totally reputable urban legend
The Marlins were one of the two worst baseball teams playing at their eponymous park Wednesday afternoon. The Mets were the other one. Neither could be seriously described as the best of the pair. Yet one would emerge with a victory, if not exactly victorious.
Who would it be? The last-place Marlins, who positioned themselves expertly to take advantage of the Mets being the Mets for two absurd ninths and one mind-addled fifteenth? Or the next-to-last-place Mets, who have lately been all about the anvil, the head and being left in the dust?
Of such rivalries are legends averted.
At least thousands of schoolchildren seemed to be having a good time, judging by their intermittent screams. That was likely kids being kids when they’re let out of class for CBS4 Weather Day, or maybe simply the realization that their local baseball team had an excellent chance of sweeping a series.
Nah, probably just kids being kids. Hard to imagine there’s a generation of budding Marlins fans coming of age in Miami.
On the off chance the children were into the game and not just the noise, they had to like what their indigenous Fish were doing to Dillon Gee. They say if you’re going to get to a really good pitcher, you have to get to him early. The Marlins scored three in the first, so perhaps that rule applies to Dillon Gee as well.
Dillon was gotten to, and knowing the Mets’ adherence to the theory of passive resistance, 3-0 appeared a prelude to a matinee of misery. But when one of the worst teams on the field is vying with one of the other worst teams on the field, experience tells us no issue even approaches resolution until the ninth inning. Besides, the immortal Wade LeBlanc still needed to be heard from. The immortal Wade LeBlanc was Gee’s opposite number Wednesday, except he chose this afternoon to elevate his game. Wade started five previous outings this year and carried an 0-4 record into action, but it was a deceptive 0-4.
It should’ve been 0-5.
Against a starter with a 6.20 ERA and no interior statistic that indicated some hidden talent for pitching, did the Mets conk LeBlanc? Bonk LeBlanc? Get behind the wheel of their rental and determinedly honk at LeBlanc? Not during the first three innings they didn’t. The Mets’ best chance at a rally arose in the third when Daniel Murphy stroked a two-out single to bring up David Wright. It receded when Murphy promptly got himself picked off first.
Not a promising CBS4 Weather Day for the tourist trade.
It would be misleading and cheap to point out that when Wright homered to put the Mets on the board to start the fourth that his clout would’ve cut LeBlanc’s edge from 3-0 to 3-2 instead of 3-1 had Murphy not taken his Carnival Cruise to second — you most certainly can’t know the same pitch and the same swing would’ve occurred in the third as it did in the fourth — but there was Wright with a solo home run and there was Murph greeting him in the dugout. Plus 3-1 became 4-1 in the fourth when Gee couldn’t convert what little good fortune he’d been handed into momentum. In other words, don’t do that again, Danny boy.
It could’ve been worse than 4-1, really. Nick Green doubled with one out. LeBlanc helped his own cause (a National League angel earns its wings every time that phrase is invoked) by singling to center. Third base coach Joe Espada imminently subverted LeBlanc’s cause by sending Green. The conventional wisdom suggests, sure, why not, go ahead and test the arm of an unproven center fielder in that situation, but perhaps Jeffrey Loria didn’t trade the Marlins’ scouting reports and perhaps somebody in a professional situation should’ve known fresh-faced center fielder Juan Lagares can throw — or maybe Espada has seen so much of Juan Pierre he doesn’t believe any outfielder can throw. Anyway, Espada sent Green and Lagares threw him out comfortably.
LeBlanc, however, took second and Gee gave up another hit, this time to the peripatetic Pierre (like Savoir-Faire, Juan Pierre is everywhere!), and this time LeBlanc — sliding more aggressively than Green despite being a pitcher — found his way home to restore his lead to 4-1. He was slow to rise and the slide looked self-defeating for a moment, but he dispatched the Mets without much fuss in the fifth, so it could be said, for the first time in 2013, that yeah, I guess Wade LeBlanc is OK.
Well, it wasn’t like holding a lead had helped the Mets in this series. There were still four innings to come from behind and not fall from ahead. Could they do it? There wasn’t a Magic 8 Ball in the world that would give you better than REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN odds.
Into the uncertain wilderness of a six-game losing streak rode Wright, who doubled to open the sixth; Marlon Byrd, who singled him home; Ike Davis, who joined Byrd on the basepaths; and, from whatever cozy compartment Terry Collins stashes him, pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin, batting for Lagares once LeBlanc left and A.J. Ramos entered.
With all apologies to little Anthony from the Italian North End of Boston and his neighborhood’s fondness for strictly scheduled servings of Prince Spaghetti, the Mets hadn’t won in exactly a week, not since Valdespin belted that game-ending grand slam against the Dodgers. Thus, we now know Wednesday is Jordany Heroics Day. No. 1 on your roster and No. 1 in some of our hearts smacked a three-run pinch-jobbie over the right field wall, exuded mightily to the implicit consternation of I Don’t Care Who and gave Gee an almost stunning 5-4 lead. Y’know what the Magic 8 Ball had to say about that?
BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW
Fair enough. A team that hasn’t won for seven days can’t be assumed out of the woods just because its lone sparkplug fired them up, just as it can’t be assumed Valdespin will be allowed to play consistently in an outfield where nobody has demonstrated airtight everyday capabilities. Gary Cohen referred to the Mets’ outfield as “a work in progress,” which would should win the Pulitzer Prize for Euphemism. Collins indicated later that it would be a shame to give Jordany every chance to gain traction as a regular because, darn it, he’s just so valuable coming off the bench.
I think scrawny crooner Alfalfa said something similar about himself on The Little Rascals when he wanted to avoid being put into a frighteningly rough football game.
After Valdespin completed his game-disrespecting sprint around the bases, Gee batted for himself with two out and struck out. He was then replaced on the mound by Scott Atchison despite being left in to hit because Terry obviously had to preserve his reserves for another potential fifteen-inning slog. That had to be why there was no pinch-hitter for a pitcher the manager planned to remove ASAP. The Mets’ one-run lead was slender, the South Florida geography was foreboding and Anthony Recker had to be long-tossing should he be called on to pitch (we already know he shouldn’t be called on to catch).
Scott Atchison, who gets ample play despite being Mr. Gray, kept the Fish at bay in the home sixth. In the seventh, Murphy sort of compensated for getting picked off earlier by singling. Then Wright singled. Then John Buck drove them both in to break Jeff Kent’s club record for RBIs in April if you’re willing to reclassify May 1 as April 31 and eager to wipe Jeff Kent’s name from the Mets record book. Alas, Buck would have to settle for putting the Mets up, 7-4; getting a jump start on a new month; and leading the entire league in runs batted in, that last note something no Magic 8 Ball would have advised you was any kind of possibility on April 1.
A 7-4 score appears commanding, but nobody who’d endured the first two games of this series knew there was anything commanding about these teams, so how could you possibly take 7-4 seriously. Sure enough, Atchison put two on with one out in the seventh and…
…and then the Mets outfield continued its “progress”. The culprit this time was Lucas Duda, to whom a Justin Ruggiano single took a tricky bounce (or just a bounce), and past whom it traveled to allow the two runners to make it home while Ruggiano wound up on third. This development changed the game to a far more Mets-Marlins appropriate score of 7-6.
CANNOT PREDICT NOW
Duda hasn’t dramatically cost the Mets much on defense in 2013 but one play is all it takes to remind you just how Duda he can be out there. He takes so many balls at bat yet they have a tendency to avoid him in the field. Lucas is an enigma wrapped inside a mountain. His slugging can be positively Denalian, yet he stands approximately one-sixth into the season with eight runs batted in off of five home runs. His on-basing produces a most impressive percentage, yet sometimes you just want to climb up a ladder, look him in the eye and tell him a walk’s not quite as good as a hit here. It’s been suggested quite rationally that Duda might make an ideal leadoff man in a revised Mets batting order. It’s not a terrible idea, except any lineup Collins makes out would still suffer from one fatal flaw: too many Mets in it.
Following Duda’s miscue and all the hell it seemed to represent, Wright niftily handled Marcell Ozuna’s tricky roller to third. David’s Gold Glovework, combined with Ruggiano’s indecisive baserunning, held the threat in check long enough for a) Ozuna to be nabbed at first and b) Atchison to stiffen — no, not from arthritis — and escape the inning without incident. While just doing what he normally does, David saved the Mets on defense, while collecting three hits and scoring three runs. As inept as the Mets can be collectively, their captain is never anything less than extraordinarily competent. Wednesday he was exceptional.
That’s what the money’s for, but still, it’s something worth appreciating now and then.
The Mets couldn’t get anything off the left arm of Brad Hand in the top of the eighth, so now it would be up to LaTroy Hawkins to keep Dillon Gee and his five innings of nine-hit ball in line for the win (a statistical oddity for which Jeremy Hefner would have been permitted to slap both Gee and any living descendant of Henry Chadwick). Naturally, more trouble stirred. Hawkins allowed a one-out double to Green, who moved to third on a grounder by the very slow Austin Kearns. The lead then shifted to the care of Scott Rice, the lefty charged with retiring — sacre bleu! — Juan Pierre.
Which, son of a gun, he actually did. Wow, could the losing streak truly be nearing extinction?
CONCENTRATE AND ASK AGAIN
The Mets avoided increasing their lead in the top of the ninth. Collins avoided avoiding Parnell in the bottom of the ninth, a nice change of pace from the night before when the skipper opted to rest his closer in a stone closing situation. Parnell was the opposite of thrilled with the decision, which I was glad to hear because he ought’ve been steamed. Hurrah for channeling his inner Joanie Sommers: Bobby get angry!/Bobby get mad!/Give Terry the biggest lecture/He ever had! Two innings or not the night before, how many leads is the guy entrusted to protect Met leads gonna be given to protect in the course of this sodden season anyway?
OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD
That’s for later. For Wednesday, Parnell looked quite good. He got three easy outs and the Mets got a 7-6 antidote to what had been ailing them for a week that felt like a month. Bobby with the save, Dillon with the win — which felt utterly unearned, but put it on the bookkeeping that things are filed that way — and for god’s sake, put the triumph as a whole somewhere where the authorities won’t confiscate it. No kidding, I was beginning to believe there was a prohibition on us winning, making this one of those victories that could ultimately be determined only by careful punctuation. Given all that had transpired over the first two games, I decided repeatedly, “no way this ends well,” yet it finished with me exclaiming, “No way! This ends well!”
The Mets didn’t blow a third consecutive ninth-inning lead to a team allegedly worse than them and it was a cause for midweek, midday, Valdespinetian celebration. Does it take only the slightest good Mets news to make a Mets fan happy when a Mets fan has been virtually starved for any good Mets news?
IT IS DECIDEDLY SO