Perhaps you’ve heard: Baseball is an unfair game.
I learned that as a kid, having read it somewhere in the collected works of noted philosopher Roderick Edwin Kanehl, known once upon the Polo Grounds as Hot Rod. Baseball, Prof. Kanehl explained, “is a lot like life. The line drives are caught, the squibbles go for base hits.”
Zack Wheeler was eight outs away from a no-hitter, instant elevation to Mets Valhalla and a pretty awesome mic drop in his presumably friendly rivalry with fellow phenom Matt Harvey. You’d think I’d know better after 44 years of Mets fandom, not to mention perusing The Teachings of Chairman Rod, but on my couch I was ready and very eager to see what No-Hitter No. 2 would feel like. And why not? Wheeler was so astonishingly dominant, and the Marlins are so bad, that the question had shifted from “can everything go right?” to “will anything go wrong?”
This wasn’t fan overconfidence, either. Man, was Wheeler ever a treat to watch — there’s his leaping motion, the way he drags his foot down the mound like he’s chasing the baseball towards the batter, and that darting slider, and most of all that diving, running fastball. You can see hitters gather themselves with a touch of resignation when Wheeler starts pouring those in — he has so much natural movement that he can just put the ball on the plate and watch it do its work. He’s already very impressive, and you can see him getting steadily better since his recall. It won’t be a perfectly smooth ascent — it never is — but if you’re not salivating at the thought of Wheeler a year from now, have an ENT check your glands. Because barring the usual pitcher you-never-knows, he’s going to be really good.
Hell, he’s already really good.
But then Ed Lucas singled — you had to figure it would be the 31-year-old rookie, because it always is — and that was that. It was nice to have it be a disappointment and not another invitation to ponder the universe’s grudge against Mets pitchers — thank you, Johan — but then a minute later Donovan Solano had singled and Jake Marisnick (who the hell are these guys?) had singled and not only was there no no-hitter, but the game was tied. Wheeler, to his considerable credit, got himself together and coaxed a double-play grounder out of Jeff Mathis, but five minutes had turned the game from the stuff of dreams to your run-of-the-mill Mets mess.
Never mind our great pitching — why the hell can’t any of these guys hit?
Wheeler departed and the Mets got down to Metsing. Marlon Byrd — the savior nobody saw coming — tripled, but a leadoff triple for the Mets is like a two-out single for anybody else. Marlon stayed rooted to his base while Ike Davis struck out and John Buck grounded out and Omar Quintanilla struck out, leaving Chad Qualls literally tumbling off the mound in excitement, and a familiar spot of discomfort in my stomach tried to blossom into a baseball ulcer. Because if you wanted another extra-inning affair against the Marlins in Lorialand, well, that made one of us.
So of course the Mets won tidily in 10 — just enough free baseball to settle things. Bobby Parnell didn’t look like himself, with poor location and a fastball missing some zip, but he got bailed out on nifty plays by Daniel Murphy and Wright. You know how it feels when you watch your closer walk off a loser on a flurry of bloops and a swinging bunt? (Not that that’s ever happened at Soilmaster.) Well, this was the opposite — gloves flung out like cestas, coming up with balls and turning them into outs.
Like Hot Rod said, it’s an unfair game.