Some Met — I can’t remember whom and it’s resisting my Googling skills, so let’s just say it was Ron Swoboda — once noted that fans have it tougher than the players, because the players can do something, while the fans have to sit there and watch. Is it so? I’ve seen the photo of Ralph Branca supine on the stairs, watched Freddie Patek and Wade Boggs cry on TV, and sighed at Andy Van Slyke sitting in stunned amazement in Fulton-County Stadium’s center field. Those guys looked pretty devastated. But it’s true — they at least got to run around, to dig into the box, size up the pitcher and take their hacks. We’re stuck trying to outguess the cosmos.
My partner warned you about this, but for several hours there last night it looked like we had the cosmos figured out. The Mets and Jenrry Mejia had just unleashed a tanker truck of whoop-ass on the Nationals, who looked like they wanted to do anything except play baseball. Now we and they would sit around for a couple of hours before sending Matt Harvey out against the rather pedestrian Ross Ohlendorf. It looked like a sweep. And it was hard not to get carried away from there, what with the Nats shell-shocked and the Phillies in freefall and the Braves playing tallest midget and the memory that 40 years ago a highly imperfect Mets team got off the deck as summer ebbed and blasted past a similarly weak National League East, with only the Oakland A’s and their own manager keeping them from another World Series title.
Yeah, that’s what happens when you get giddy: Matt Harvey’s on the mound tonight, ergo we should be printing playoff tickets.
Still, for the majority of the actual game it looked like the universe would be cooperative too. Harvey didn’t have his best stuff, with his thunderbolts a bit wayward and the secondary pitches iffy. But it was good enough to keep the Nats essentially helpless, and meanwhile the Mets had scratched Ohlendorf — he of the old-timey windup that looks like a Ken Burns outtake — for a run, which seemed like it might be enough.
But then Justin Turner screwed up everything by making a spectacular play.
No really. That’s what happened.
In the fifth the Nats had men on first and second and one out when Wilton Ramos hit a troublesome bouncer up the middle. Turner raced over and flipped it with his glove into Daniel Murphy’s bare hand at second. Before you could even oooh, Murph spun and flung the ball a good 10 feet to Josh Satin’s left, actually managing to hit Ramos in his stately advance on first. While Mets scrambled for the ball and equilibrium, the loathsome Jayson Werth scampered home from second, and we had to sort out that yes, a great play had turned awful in a split-second.
I mean, my God. Ramos moves with the approximate velocity of India burrowing under Asia — Murph probably could have pushed the ball over to first with his nose while smacking his feet together and making seal noises. So what the hell happened? “I just got caught up in [Turner's] great play,” Murph admitted later. “He fed it to me and I had all day, and I just got caught up in his play and I threw it in the crapper. It cost us the ballgame.”
That’s what I figured had happened — in the aftermath of Werth coming home, the cameras cut to Murph standing near second with his hands on top of his head in deep distress, a sort of baseball Guernica that I was imitating on my couch. He got caught up in the moment, did something heroic when dull and steady would have done the trick, and yes, it cost us the ballgame.
That wasn’t apparent for a while, though. Because surely Ohlendorf would crack … nope, he didn’t, despite gasping in exhaustion as he flung balls up to home plate with the Nationals trying not to look at what they were doing to their teammate. But then the Mets ambushed Rafael Soriano in the ninth and had Andrew Brown at third with one out and a 1-0 count on Ike Davis, and surely Ike would get something done, setting up another round of hopeful discussions about his being fixed and (most importantly) saving the blameless Harvey from another no-decision.
Not the end of the world, because Juan Lagares was coming to the plate and we’ve learned to trust Lagares, loving his supercharged first step on balls in the gap, his rifle arm, silky glove and emerging skills as a hitter.
Lagares fouled out.
Which was bad, but here came Murph, and since we all know baseball is a game of redempt —
Murph flied out.
And then, all of a sudden, I knew we were licked. To steal a line from that noted baseball prognosticator Boromir, one does not simply walk into extra innings at Nationals Park. Sooner or later, something very bad will happen.
This time it was sooner — regulation, even. Ryan Zimmerman can’t throw, but he can still hit, as LaTroy Hawkins and we found out almost instantly.
And then it was time for Murph mea culpas, and for us to remember something that we shouldn’t have forgotten in the first place: For all their good play of late, the Mets are still eight games under .500. Frankly, Murph’s boner was a reminder why. As miscues go it was forgiveable, even weirdly endearing — our second baseman lost a game because he saw his teammate do something SportsCenter-worthy and got too excited. It’s the kind of mistake one of us might have made, if we’d struck a Joe Hardy bargain and found ourselves out in the middle of the diamond with everything going on all at once.
Instead, it happened to one of our players. Which makes it very Mets, I suppose. Which kind of makes me feel better, but mostly doesn’t.