You know why you should pay attention to your Metsies 162 times a year, even between 12:35 and 3:26 in the afternoon of the 158th time they play in a lost year like 2013? Because if you do, you might find yourself immersed in the unlikeliest of debates, such as the one my friend and I had via email sometime after 3:30.
HIM: Terry shouldn’t have taken out Dice-K so soon.
ME: I thought it was the right move.
We went back and forth on the merits of leaving in Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had pitched a splendid seven and two-thirds innings but had allowed a hit to open the eighth, versus removing him for Pedro Feliciano with two lefties, Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, due up. Whether I was right in light of Feliciano stranding Derrick Robinson on second or my friend was right because Matsuzaka theoretically earned the chance to get out of the inning suddenly struck me as irrelevant.
Can you believe, I asked, that after all we’ve seen from this team that our big issue today is that we aren’t sure whether Terry Collins left Daisuke Matsuzaka in a game long enough?
Dice-K’s come a long way, baby, and the Mets…well, they won a Matsuzaka start, 1-0, in less than three hours; they took a series against a playoff team; and they finished up a road trip 5-1, bringing them to 9-4 in their last thirteen outings overall. The numbers mean only what you can make them mean by now, but still.
Pay attention and you see things. You see a catcher whose name existed on the farthest periphery of your Mets consciousness four weeks ago throw out an instantly legendary basestealing sensation with a ready-made Hall of Fame moniker. Juan Centeno? Gunning down Billy Hamilton? Who had been 13-for-13 in his core competency since coming up to Cincinnati in early September? Who had swiped a typographically correct 333 bases in his last three minor league campaigns? With Dice-K of the notoriously leisurely pace on the mound?
Yeah that thing happened in the fifth, and it was important in the context of a game in which only one run was scored and it wasn’t scored by Hamilton or any Red. It scored only because Wilfredo Tovar — a high-profile personality compared to Juan Centeno — was kind enough to get hit by Mat Latos, move along to second on a Matsuzaka bunt, take third when Latos threw a pitch that eluded the grasp of Devin Mesoraco (speaking of names that loiter in the back of your baseball awareness) and dash home when Eric Young broke his bat to produce the tricklingest of grounders that snuck into right through a drawn-in Red infield? The Mets went up, 1-0, in the third without anything that could be remotely mistaken for a component of an offensive attack and Matsuzaka, Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins made it stick.
That thing happened, too. I wasn’t expecting it but it was worth paying attention for when it materialized. Call it the magic of the final weekday afternoon game of the year. Call it the Reds in a slump at the worst possible juncture for them; they’re all but eliminated from winning their division and they’ve fallen dangerously behind in their quest to host the Wild Card game. Call it Dice-K in renaissance mode, making each of us who doubted him, scoffed at him and napped to him very slowly eat our words.
Y’know what? They’re delicious.
73-85 with four to go isn’t so tasty, but it could be worse. This entire Met season has been an exercise in replacement-level baseball, maybe not in the strictest statistical sense of the phrase but in that the Mets have continually replaced guys who’ve replaced guys who’ve replaced guys and they somehow don’t own one of the ten worst records in the sport. Should that ranking hold and the crossroads of free agency and draft position grow muddy in the offseason, so be it. That’s for fretting over from November to February. All we have left to deal with in the near term is late September and the small satisfactions to be derived from winning a little more than we had been in mid-September.
In the last week of the season, when one of your allotted 162 games arrives inside your attention span on a Wednesday afternoon and delivers you a most pleasant victory, you take it, you grab it and you try to hold onto it a little tighter than if it showed up much earlier. You do it because you know damn well you won’t get another opportunity like this for a very long while.