The Mets used to go down to defeat pretty easily. At best, they practiced a form of passive-aggressive behavior that dared otherwise reluctant opponents to remain on the field long enough to incidentally vanquish them. It often manifested in 15- or 20-inning episodes of offensive ineptitude, but you didn’t leave those losses feeling that if not for this, that or the other thing, they might have won. You knew in your bones they were going straight to L.
Your relatively new and slightly improved Mets have learned to inject doubt into their outcomes. Tuesday night on the side of Chicago where they hadn’t ventured in eleven years, you honestly couldn’t tell whether the Mets were going to win or lose until they actually lost. I wouldn’t call it a moral victory, but it made for a more suspenseful, entertaining setback than the kind we grew used to in the days of Cowgill, Ankiel, Laffey and whoever else is suddenly long gone.
Come to think of it, the predictably vagabond aren’t the only ones whose deletion from the blue and orange tableau have coincided with the club’s recent quasi-winning ways. We’re temporarily deprived of presumed staples Tejada, Duda, Davis, Niese and Turner, yet we’re having as close to a blast as we’ve had in ages. No offense Ruben, Lucas, Ike, Jonathon and Justin. We’re fairly certain we’ll need you in the long term and that the journeyman types with whom we’ve grown modestly infatuated lately are going to wear out their welcomes as their key stat lines plummet intolerably, but…um…hey, get well, you familiar fellows! I’m sure it’s not your fault that I’ve come to associate each of you with the morass of dull and constant losing and I don’t miss any of you at the moment.
In the meantime, the Mets of Eric Young, Josh Satin, Andrew Brown, David Aardsma and Carlos Torres, to name five contributors who weren’t much or at all on the radar when June commenced, are getting it done or nearly getting it done or deluding me into believing they’re nearly getting it done. How can you not love the once-lethargic Mets of 2013 morphing into the Go-Go Sox of 1959? OK, the Mets struck out as much against Chris Sale as Nellie Fox did against the entire American League the year the Pale Hose won the pennant, but when we occasionally got guys on, they wreaked a little havoc and somehow scored four runs.
The fourth run, after Sale mercifully departed, was the doozy of the bunch. David Wright — who has fit snugly with every group of Mets dating back to the one that included Shane Spencer, Richard Hidalgo and current White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing — was on second after singling and stealing, the Mets needing one to tie in the ninth. Marlon Byrd (who earlier made a catch Ron Darling correctly compared to Ron Swoboda’s) didn’t drive David in. Nor did Satin, who had brought Wright home in the first. The last chance the Mets had was Daniel Murphy, pinch-hitting as you imagine he might if he ever lands on a serious contender. Murph seemed poised, in my mind anyway, to deliver big off the bench.
Well, he didn’t. He delivered high, though: a mighty pop fly a shade southeast of the mound. Sox closer Addison Reed…and how the hell is there an “Addison” in Chicago not pitching for the Cubs?…pointed toward the sky, confirming for his infielders that, yes, a ball was up there somewhere. It wasn’t much in the way of guidance, but how much was necessary? Somebody simply had to call it, catch and put it in the wrong set of books.
That somebody was an amalgam of third baseman Conor Gillaspie and second baseman Gordon Beckham, which is to say Gillaspie called it and Beckham tried to catch it but instead transformed from a middle infielder into a free safety, tackling Gillaspie around the ankles and allowing the ball to touch U.S. Cellular grass. Wright ran his All-Star legs off and crossed the plate. Son of a gun, it was a tie game.
Then it was a loss in the bottom of the ninth for the third time on this trip, when LaTroy Hawkins did what one generally expects LaTroy Hawkins to do, which sounds rather pessimistic but really means that when he exceeds expectations it’s quite the joy. Alas, there was less joy in Soxville than there could have been Tuesday had Sale not fanned 13 would-be hitters over eight innings. The Mets were walked off upon again and rookie sensation Zack Wheeler strangely resembled some 23-year-old pitcher making his second career start (the nerve of him).
But Young speedily manufactured a run in the first and Brown homered in the fifth and Torres and Josh Edgin effectively held the fort and Jordany Valdespin and a repositioned Young each made nice plays at second while Murph rested and Wheeler probably has at least one more career start to prove himself worthy of immediate official t-shirt distribution. The Mets continue to be highly watchable and somewhat plausible. When your team is 30-43, faint praise beats no praise at all.
As long as we’re trying on our old optimism to see if it still fits, come join me at Manhattan’s conveniently located Bergino Baseball Clubhouse (E. 11th St. between Broadway and University Place, just south of a multitude of Union Square subway stops) for a discussion of The Happiest Recap at 7 o’clock tonight and stick around to watch Shaun Marcum earn his first win in a New York Mets uniform. OK, I can’t guarantee that result, but I’ll go out on a limb and declare that if you drop by, you’ll have a good time in good company.