Baseball games, like most series of events we sort into stories, can usually be made to fit into a narrative arc when things are finished. We were close but it was obvious all night we weren’t going to get any breaks. Man, you knew those leadoff walks were going to bite us in the hinder eventually. A game this sloppy you don’t deserve to win. And so forth.
But games like tonight’s resist formulas. What started as a weird but not particularly memorable little affair took an abrupt exit to Crazy Town, with the Mets somehow proving most impressive when it looked like they were about to expire. It was as fun as it was delightful, but most of all it was unexpected.
First, the weird part — and I’m not just talking about the horrible spring-training uniforms both teams were wearing. (I don’t mind the Mets’ blue tops now and again, but we’re seeing far too much of them. The Braves’ red shirts and tomahawk hats, on the other hand, should be burned.) Mike Minor, unassuming but deadly in the fashion of too many Braves hurlers over the years, allowed a total of three hits, walked nobody, and retired 18 Mets in a row. One of those hits was a little parachute that Ruben Tejada wisely wafted over to Jordan Schafer in a capricious wind, but the other two were home runs by John Buck and Lucas Duda. Minor did almost nothing wrong — Duda’s home run would probably have been caught on the warning track on a calmer night — but still wound up three runs in arrears.
Meanwhile, Shaun Marcum was scuffling and scratching, which seems like his MO. It isn’t fair to lump Marcum in with your typical junkballers — his change-up and slider are both plus pitches and his curve’s not bad — but he’s still dependent on deception and location, because his pedestrian fastball can’t overpower anybody. He’s also still working his arm into shape, having been waylaid by a near-Biblical plague of ailments so far this year. Marcum was given a 3-0 lead, but I had a bad feeling about it from the start. Marcum was gone after 4 1/3, and one B. J. Upton sacrifice fly later so was the lead.
You, me and everybody else kind of figured the Mets would lose at some point after that, with the coroner’s report reading DEATH BY BULLPEN. And the Mets certainly tried to do themselves in. First Scott Atchison brewed up a run allowed out of two walks, a wild pitch and a grounder that was a hair too slow to be a double play. Then, not to be outdone, Brandon Lyon pulled a Miami by falling behind with one pitch, this one a homer by hulking Atlanta cult hero Evan Gattis, whose backstory seems borrowed from mid-career Jen Capriati. (Poor Anthony Recker had nothing to do with it, though it’s possible that he was cheering wrong or something on the bench.)
But the Mets somehow kept messing up everybody’s storyline. No sooner had Atchison gotten into trouble than Marlon Byrd — whom I may or may not have been hoping would be released earlier in the day — got the Mets even with a homer off the normally reliable Eric O’Flaherty. And no sooner had Lyon gotten into trouble than David Wright delayed the Mets’ execution with a certifiably majestic 464-footer off the normally utterly reliable Craig Kimbrel.
Ah, but surely that just meant the Mets would blow it in more excruciating fashion, making you remember Wright’s drive fondly while wondering if it had really been worth it. If you thought that, you’re forgiven — but you were also wrong. The Braves started the bottom of the ninth with a leadoff double off Lyon, followed by a sacrifice to third and Lyon’s departure. But Bobby Parnell got Schafer to fly to center, with the Braves rather foolishly passing up a chance to win the game on a sac fly, walked Andrelton Simmons, and then got Justin Upton to ground out.
Rather nicely done, and it got me thinking about Parnell and the concept of Proven Veterans (TM). As you might guess, I’m generally leery of veterans and their intangibles — a two-year deal to Alex Cora will do that to you. But Parnell has discussed how Jason Isringhausen helped him by teaching him the knuckle-curve, which he substituted for his slider and its worrisome tendency to flatten out, and one imagines that sitting at Izzy’s knee was valuable in calming Parnell’s late-inning nerves as well. I’ll never have to put this statement to the test, but I have a feeling the pre-Izzy Parnell would have walked off as the Braves celebrated, whereas the new improved model has been reliable unless betrayed by his defense. I’m suspicious of what you can’t measure in baseball, as it opens the door for endless Just So Stories about Heart and Grit and Playing the Game Right, but lessons like Izzy’s certainly seem to have some value, however unquantifiable.
After Parnell, it was Terry Collins’ turn. Terry’s been guilty of overmanaging recently, for which I blame him not a bit — if you were handed this unassuming roster you’d probably futz with the lineup and outfield and bail out of pitching matchups in the middle of at-bats too. In the 10th he got his LaRussa on, leaving Parnell at the plate with two out and Jordany Valdespin on first — at least until Valdespin stole second, at which point Terry popped out of the dugout to hand the bat and Parnell’s 0-1 count to Mike Baxter. The Whitestone Kid got hit in the foot, after which Ruben Tejada drove in Valdespin and Daniel Murphy then drove in Baxter, leading to hosannas in Brooklyn Heights. The idea, as Gary and Keith guessed and Collins later confirmed, was that Parnell would keep pitching if Valdespin were caught stealing but stand aside if he got into scoring position. I’m not confident that will work the next time Collins tries it or the next 99 times after that, but for one night it was marvelous.
Marvelous except that the bottom of the 10th arrived with Jeurys Familia pitching and Valdespin at second, where I trust him about as much as a bastard child of Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller. (Which is to say more than I trust him at shortstop.) So of course Familia was spotless, Valdespin merely a spectator and the Mets won with minimal bother.
Honestly, after all that it would have been weirder if something had gone the way any of us expected.