Missing a ballgame because you’re in Cooperstown is a pretty acceptable excuse — this weekend, for the second year in a row, my wife’s family gathered there and prowled the Hall of Fame. (Foreshadowing: Last year I was in the plaque gallery, headphones in ears, when Kirk Nieuwenhuis collected his first big-league hit.)
The 2013 Mets aren’t likely to contribute much to Cooperstown, though Matt Harvey Lego-style figurines were in evidence in the sublime and dangerous gift shop. But I kept track of the Mets nonetheless. I heard Thursday’s comeback effort against the Cardinals come to naught in the car on the way up, checked in briefly after dinner Friday as the Mets stumbled through a disaster, and heard most of Saturday’s horror show poolside. Nice surroundings, but I still gotthree straight games that were by turns frustrating and horrifying — your basic 2013 Mets fare, in other words.
Sunday’s game against the Cubs coincided with the drive back to the city, and Emily and I tuned in somewhat reluctantly, switching to yawing, warbling, sighing AM radio after At Bat fell victim to insufficient cell service. (If you’ve never been, Cooperstown is wonderful but far from … well, it’s far from everything.) This was baseball like it used to be, with a fan’s finely tuned ears able to pick the baseball signal out of the atmospheric noise, assembling the narrative of the game from some combination of the pace, the announcers’ tone and pitch, and multiple other clues assembled over years of listening to play by play.
With two on and two out in the fifth, David Wright snared Alfonso Soriano’s hot shot, leapt to his feet, and the horror began. Wright fired the ball over Daniel Murphy’s head at first, it caromed off the dugout railing, Murph fired it past John Buck, it caromed off the wall behind home plate, Omar Quintanilla fired it past Buck again, to be retrieved by Murph while everyone stood around unable to look at each other. (Even weirder: When you look at the replay, there’s a second ball sitting on the chalk of the batter’s box, apparently after it fell out of Lance Barrett’s bag. If some Met had picked up that ball and heaved it somewhere unwise, they might still be trying to sort things out.)
Disgusted, I almost declared Met Amnesty and switched the game off right then and there. And I wouldn’t have been the least bit embarrassed. This is as bad a Mets team as I’ve seen in a decade: unable offensively, inept in the field and often unplugged mentally. For the listener, they provide long lacunae of boredom shattered by occasional fusillades of anger. Baseball is supposed to be fun, or at least engaging, and the 2013 Mets are generally neither.
But we were still two hours or so from home, and we’re Mets fans. So we stuck grimly with the game, as the Mets swung and missed and popped balls up and offered not the slightest inkling that they’d succeed in moving runners over, let alone doing something as less-than-earthshaking as salvaging one game in three from the Chicago Cubs, that well-known baseball juggernaut.
Marlon Byrd’s blast into the second deck to lead off the ninth against closer-in-exile Carlos Marmol did little to cool my anger. “There’s some lipstick for this pig,” I muttered to Emily, and went back to pondering recap narratives: a) Swiftian essay proposing that contraction was inadequate for these Mets and the franchise should instead be expunged from the record books; b) a single line of profanity; c) just reusing last month’s jokey exchange of tweets.
I didn’t brighten when Lucas Duda walked, though that was the perfect spot for our theoretical power-hitter to content himself with 90 feet worth of offense. But when John Buck got a hit, as he largely hasn’t since Tax Day, I began to think the Mets might at least provide some extra baseball for the car ride, even though I was pretty certain that extra baseball would just lead to disaster and make me wish they’d expired in regulation. Quintanilla bunted, which seemed like the right call for once, and up came the star-crossed Nieuwenhuis, his average below .100 and his strikeout totals astronomical.
God, I muttered, at least send up Lagares.
But no, it was Nieuwenhuis. So be it.
“Save your career,” I said out loud in the car, with equal parts belligerence and hope. “This is the first day of the rest of your baseball life.”
OK, maybe it was more like 90% belligerence and 10% hope.
Of course Nieuwenhuis whacked Marmol’s first pitch off the facing of the Pepsi Porch.
It wasn’t exactly Howie Rose’s greatest call ever — he was yelling about way back, then that the game would be over — but events did unfold awfully fast, and the import was clear even if the narrative was cloudy. The Mets, somehow had won. The first two hours and forty-five minutes of Sunday baseball, accounting for 97% of the game, had been stupefyingly awful, but the last five minutes had redeemed everything.
I’ve said several times that you should do something else with your summer, and it’s still good advice. But even the worst teams are going to win 60 or so games a year. And a few of those games are going to be thrillers. Do something with your summer, yes. But every so often, you might miss something.