The fan’s instinct is to choose the following:
• Pursuing the extra base over playing it safe.
• Letting the starter pitch as long as he can.
• Extra innings in the event of a tie score in the bottom of the ninth on the road.
• Staying awake postgame in order to watch AMC’s Breaking Bad Season Four marathon to its 5 AM conclusion.
My instincts were all wrong as late Friday night became early Saturday morning. I can live with falling asleep through “End Times” and missing “Face Off” altogether because having seen them when they first aired, I know how they ended. Maybe I could have said the same thing about the Mets-Diamondbacks game in question, but baseball doesn’t work that way, no matter how cynical our team can make us.
I’ve been surprisingly free of cynicism of late where these Mets are concerned, a symptom of their recurring resilience and my satisfaction at having attended the entire loss-free Rockies series. The Mets have been drifting into that previously abandoned territory where I don’t necessarily expect them to lose every non-Harvey start. That’s a helluva leap for anybody who’s stayed awake through all their recent somnambulant Augusts.
So now that I’m watching the Mets again through the comparatively unjaded eyes of the fan I was before the events of September 30, 2007, jammed a half-decade’s worth of cynicism into my system, of course I’m all “yeah, Marlon — go!” as Byrd rounds third. But instead of the second Marvelous Marlon inside-the-park home run in franchise history, we got an out at home. Byrd’s hand may have reached the plate before Wil Nieves’s tag reached the rest of Byrd’s body, but MLB’s failure to deploy robot umpires will always be an impediment to accuracy and thus there was no run there.
That was in the second, when it was nothing-nothing. The Diamondbacks’ nothing was crafted by Jeremy Hefner, whose personal journey in my esteem has ridden from “Hefner?” to “HEFNER!” to pure performance-driven ambivalence. For four innings, I delighted in the zeroes Hef posted while wondering when the Diamondback dam would inevitably burst. Too many rockets were being launched from too many bats to not tear the roof off this Chase Field sucker. Finally, in the fifth, with two out, Patrick Corbin doubled. Patrick Corbin made the All-Star team this year…as a pitcher. Something was about to go terribly wrong, no matter how I wished it away. Yup, two more doubles followed. The Mets trailed, 2-1.
But that was OK, because when you bring childlike enthusiasm to a game, you believe in the clutchitude of Justin Turner, who I’m pretty sure I saw sitting among the day campers at Citi Field Thursday afternoon. They let the redheaded kid suit up and start at short Friday night, and in the sixth, the camper all the other campers seem to embrace drove in his second run of the night. The Mets had two on with one out and were prepared to shove Corbin into the grandest of canyon. But then Wilmer Flores lined out (that’s what he gets for staying up past his bedtime) and John Buck struck out. John Buck’s been hitting .215 for approximately nine months and nine days. Perhaps he’s been distracted by his endless wait for the arrival of a blessed event — I speak, of course, of John Buck’s next RBI.
Like the elusive big Met hit in the top of the sixth, the much-hyped baby Buck has yet to be delivered. Sources say the Mets are delaying the child’s birth in deference to the kid’s Super 2 status.
Buck not getting on base in that situation was doubly damaging because Terry Collins didn’t get the chance to pinch-hit for Hefner, which meant Hefner would return to the mound, stuffless. Still, I wanted to trust this painfully obvious wrong decision. Matt Harvey threw a complete game on Wednesday. Dillon Gee worked effectively into the eighth inning. Starting pitchers should theoretically gut it out if they can’t mow ’em down. My instinct applauded Hefner’s return.
The rest of me dreaded it, because Hefner attempting to whack the Diamondbacks resembled neither Harvey nor Gee scaling the Rockies. Sure enough, a single, a double and another double ensued. That two Diamondbacks scored was discouraging. That one of them was Cody Ross was disgusting.
At 4-2, Hefner was done by instinct and actuality. Here came the Met bullpen and its surprising competence. Feliciano, Aardsma, Germen and Rice produced three runless innings. The top of the seventh encompassed a late surge of promise when, with two out, Juan Lagares doubled deep to right, but then Juan got the Byrd fever and tried to turn it into a triple. Again, I was all “C’mon Juan!” overlooking the greeting party of Eric Chavez and a baseball awaiting him at third. But in the top of the eighth, traditional Met foil Heath Bell got crumpled but good as two runs scored on consecutive groundouts. The only thing that saved Bell’s bacon was there were two out when Buck batted to end the inning.
In the ninth of a 4-4 tie, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez were invoking those long nights and days the Mets and Diamondbacks unfurled at the dawn of July when every game was the wrong game to tell your driver, “I’ll only be a minute, just keep the meter running.” And once locally sourced pinch-hitter Ike Davis struck out to conclude the top of the frame — only Ike seemed surprised at the result — our last, best hope was to create more innings. Bring on a tenth, an eleventh, a fifteenth! Set the DVR for AMC! We’ve got SNY on ’til sunrise!
But then Paul Goldschmidt homered off Scott Atchison and the game was over.
At least Cody Ross wasn’t the one who knocked.