I’m pretty sure the Mets won their game Friday night. Score says they did. My memory says they did. Eric Young, Jr., tossing his helmet into the air before stomping on home plate amid a sea of orange-trimmed blue jerseys says they did.
So why doesn’t it feel more festive? Probably because, in descending order of significance, David Wright left with a hamstring injury; nine simple innings became eleven stressful frames; and why the hell are we decent Metsopotamian types rooting against the most innocuous franchise in baseball, the Kansas City Royals?
I don’t want to root against the Royals. I don’t necessarily need to root for the Royals in any given context, but what have the Royals ever done to me except fleece the Mets out of Amos Otis when I was six? Through their 45-year history, the Royals have existed in a Mets-free vacuum, save for two prior Interleague engagements completed long ago. They’ve either been not very good, pretty darn bad or achingly close to great. The ache was from when they were at their best, between 1976 and 1980, and I cheered my adolescent heart out for them during four Octobers when the Mets were nowhere in sight. In the first three, they couldn’t quite put away the Yankees. In the fourth, they did a magnificent job taking care of the ALCS but fell to the fetid Phillies in the World Series.
The Royals were the ultimate Not the Yankees/Not the Phillies enterprise in their time. Had they come along as such at the dawn of this decade, we’d all have painted our faces a simpatico shade of powder blue. And even when their time was running out, they did right by us, posting their only world championship by sticking it to our bitter enemies of the mid-1980s, the White Rat Redbirds. And then, as if they still felt bad about Otis for Foy, they sent us David Cone and asked only Ed Hearn in exchange.
I ask you, why do I have to gear up to be down on the Royals for some stray weekend now? The Royals are making a legitimate bid to become the Pirates of the American League (assuming the Pirates are secure in their newfound position as the Pirates of the National League), winning nine in a row before arriving in Flushing for their first series in our borough since 2002, which in turn was one year before their most recent winning season…which was a year before the only detour the Mets ever took to Kansas City.
So we’re talking about a team that from 2005 through 2012 wasn’t any good at all and not remotely on our radar. All these seasons since they were a little threatening or of any fleeting concern, we have to be all, “Ooh, the Royals…gotta beat those lousy SOBs.”
Just wasn’t feeling it Friday night. Wanted the Mets to prevail. Didn’t have any interest in seeing the Royals be their victims. They served their purpose as the guys in the non-Mets uniforms on the same field as the Mets in that they scored fewer runs than the Mets — as if that’s mathematically possible — but c’mon. The Royals? The Royals are not a rival and they barely qualify as an opponent. They’re more like kindred spirits who happen to share three boxes on the same pocket schedule.
The Royals will be here through Sunday. Bobby Parnell will not be in evidence during the same period. Stiff neck, they say, which would be a great setup for a joke about all the home runs he’s given up, but Bobby Parnell’s been quite reliable, so the joke was on the rest of the Mets bullpen having to play musical chairs and discover their comfort zones within new roles. They needed to do this for just two innings, as Dillon Gee was superb for seven before being left in to put a runner on to start the eighth. At 2-0, it became it became try-your-luck time in the pen.
The only problem reliever to pitch Friday was David Aardsma, which was a shame, since he was the one who had been promoted to Parnell’s spot. Aardsma’s been terrific since becoming a Met, so you knew…I mean you just knew he wouldn’t transition seamlessly to the promotion. It doesn’t matter that he’s closed games before elsewhere. It doesn’t matter that a batter is a batter is a batter. You could feel him overamped to get this game over with when he came on in the ninth, which was a surefire sign the game would continue beyond the ninth, meaning more pitchers from the pen — a Pedro Feliciano sighting! a Carlos Torres (a.k.a. Saturday’s supposed starter) sighting! — and more innings for everybody.
But less Wright. Oh boy, was there less Wright when David aggravated the same hamstring that was apparently giving him trouble in Miami a few nights ago. Then it was labeled a “cramp” for which Terry Collins suspiciously didn’t sit him after seeing. It reminded me of Art Howe looking at a 21-year-old Jose Reyes writhing in agony at Olympic Stadium and not thinking it was worth resting him because the kid hadta learn to play with pain.
Art Howe didn’t manage the Mets after that season.
Wright, of course, was giving it his all, just as he has for ten seasons. He was beating out a bad throw at first to start the tenth and couldn’t race to second because he could barely hobble to first. David left. He won’t be back for a while. And the Mets — whose only runs to that point had come on Wright’s two-run, Piazza-tying, 220th career homer in the first — didn’t score the winning run he originally represented, same as they didn’t score the leadoff runner (generated by the bat of an “Ike” somebody or other) in the ninth.
The Royals appeared poised to extend their winning streak to ten, if only because they had extended the game into a fifth hour and because their version of being on a roll has been demonstrably more impressive than the Mets’ version of being on a roll. The Mets got incredibly hot in June and July and almost made it to six games under .500 last week. The Royals got incredibly hot and thrust themselves above .500 and into their league’s playoff picture. Their league is the American League. Why we’re getting tangled up with an American League playoff contender in August is beyond me.
Anyway, for all that was aggravating or anomalous or just plain ominous about this game, the Mets won it. Eric Young hit his first Mets home run and the scoreboard titled definitively in our favor.
Nothing wrong with that part.