Rules I can’t believe baseball maintains:
1) The bit about transferring the ball from the glove to the hand after the ball is effectively caught.
2) Allowing Matt Harvey to face mere mortals.
Both items worked to our advantage Sunday, so sure, we’ll take ’em. There’s really nothing illegal or immoral about pitching Harvey every fifth day, though I imagine anybody who has to bat against him feels differently. Cue Mets fan playing world’s tiniest violin.
Harvey was great, if that’s not redundant. As long as the Mets got him a run — and sudden showers held off through five — he was going to win his seventh game of the year with ease. A tally was manufactured early, spurred by Eric Young, Jr., who’s in that honeymoon phase of making you forget why he was available for Collin McHugh in the first place, and once Harvey was up, 1-0, the Phillies were down for the count. The Citizens Bank Park grounds crew’s diabolical plan to pull the tarp on the field just long enough to force Terry Collins’s hand toward ace-removal came too late. The 20-minute rain delay might have provided Harvey with an early seat, but by then he’d gone six, struck out six, allowed two hits, walked but one, shut down his victims thoroughly and knocked in a run as long as he was batting.
The Mets were up, 6-0, when Harvey exited, en route to the 8-0 victory that raised Matt’s mark to 7-1. David Wright, now your league’s leading candidate by votes as well as merit to start at third base in the All-Star exhibition showcase, burnished his credentials with a couple more extra-base hits, while Marlon Byrd, who I thought might need a breather, showed staying active keeps you vital when you’re pushing 35. There were plenty of contributions from plenty of Mets, because everybody on your team looks like the supermodel girlfriend of the best pitcher in the world when everything is going mysteriously well.
Meanwhile, at least one member of the other team looked not so good doing nothing in particular, which one supposes is where his afternoon went awry.
The Foxwoods Resort & Casino Turning Point of the Game was quite clearly when Collins penciled “Harvey” onto his lineup card, but within the confines of the action, everything veered definitively for the best when Juan Lagares led off the visitors’ fifth with a fly ball to deep center, tracked down and secured in routine fashion by the Phillies’ Ben Revere. But wait — was it really secured? We guess not, because what transpired next transcended the mundane. Revere got to the ball, all right, but instead of simply reaching into his glove with his bare hand and throwing it back to the infield (the ball, not his hand), he intentionally dropped the ball out of his glove and toward that bare hand’s palm.
Well, what a crime against good taste that turned into. What didn’t appear anything more than supremely ordinary sprung a Mets-friendly leak as the ball never reached his right palm. It dropped to the grass, and Lagares — who really is beautiful when he’s hustling — never stopped running. Juan landed on third with a three-run error that I have to admit I joined Charlie Manuel in thinking was nothing at all. The catch had been made. There was no existing baserunner to chase back to a base. The play seemed over. Lagares seemed out.
But I’m not a member of an incredibly erratic umpiring crew, so what do I know? Revere was accused, tried, convicted and hanged by Gary Cohen and Ron Darling for masquerading in broad daylight as a “stylemaster,” which sounds like one of those contraptions for which SNY airs commercials at off hours, right after they hawk the Pocket Hose. I didn’t think Revere was guilty of anything except a momentary fumble far less gruesome than, say, a second baseman not using TWO HANDS! to catch what should be the final pop fly of a ninth inning. The kid probably had gotten in the habit of sliding the ball from his glove to his hand that way and it finally bit him. As egregious styling at the expense of sportsmanship (never mind fundamentals) goes, it wasn’t exactly Jeffrey Leonard circling the bases with one flap down.
Y’know what, though? Not my problem.
Lagares was doubled home by Harvey; Harvey was doubled home by Young; Young was doubled home by Wright; it’s quite possible Agbayani doubled home Ventura who doubled home Piazza who doubled home Alfonzo who doubled home Perez in the midst of that sequence. It was a twice-as-nice flashback to better Mets days, as has been this whole week. From the burst of Nieuwenheis last Sunday through the awareness of Lagares this Sunday, the Mets have won six of nine. Even the two walkoff losses felt more like admirable efforts than ugly implosions.
There was a week a little like this thirty years ago at practically this moment in time. Thanks to a surfeit of rainouts, the Mets played a ten-game homestand in seven days — six against the Cards, including a pair of twinbills, and four against the Phillies, winding up with a scheduled doubleheader (if you can believe such a thing used to exist). The Mets had just traded for Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry was finally getting comfortable at the plate, Jesse Orosco was establishing himself as a closer, Rusty Staub was tying a pinch-hitting record, Tom Seaver was going the distance…it all felt like it was coming together just like we dreamed. The Mets took four of six from the defending world champion Cardinals and one of four from the eventual National League champion Phillies. But 5-5 for a team that began that week 23-38 was a legitimately encouraging development. Those 1983 Mets would backslide again, then begin to coalesce and you probably know what came to be in 1984. That’s the template and the hope for what’s ahead right now.
Then again, this 6-3 week in 2013 also reminds me of a 7-3 stretch in late May of 1981. A rookie came up then, too: Greg A. Harris (the “A” was for ambidextrous). And a trade was made for a big name: Ellis Valentine. The 7-3 turnaround on the heels of a horrible 8-24 start would be negated by a 2-7 slump and then completely obliterated by a midsummer strike. Not every oasis in a losing season leads to anything, but they sure are delightful places to stop off and get refreshed, no matter what they portend for the immediate or distant future.
It’s been a fun week to be a Mets fan. I’ll be happy if we can say that again at this time next week.
You can make your Mets week that much more fun by joining me Wednesday night, 7 PM, at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse for a discussion of The Happiest Recap, followed by the Mets and White Sox, live from the South Side of Chicago. Details here.