My deepest apologies to anybody who wanted and expected to turn in no later than midnight Saturday after a calmly resolved 6-3 Mets win over the Angels, one saved without incident by Jose Valverde. Don’t blame Valverde for the three-batter sequence that commenced with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, the one that ensured a much longer night awaited. Jose was probably on his way to a very simple save and you were on your way to a welcoming bed. The only thing that could have gotten in the way was my thinking this thing was over.
Oh no. No. Never think that. Never mind never say that and never Tweet anything suggesting it.
You’d think I’d have relearned this eternal lesson on Opening Day when I dared to stand with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets ahead, 5-4, and Bobby Parnell the pitcher in whom I’d invested qualified episodic confidence. I stood, I grabbed my stuff and I dared to think not just “this will be over in a minute,” but began to sort through my reactions to other presumed reactions to the impending victory, such as, “Gads, am I going to have to hear about how great Bobby Parnell, who obviously isn’t throwing as hard as he did year, is after just one save?”
Very soon I was relieved of that burden. There was no save and there’s been no more Parnell. He was shortly thereafter provisionally replaced by the veteran Valverde for those few/far-between situations calling for a Met closer. Provisional, however, was beginning to feel permanent — or as permanent as a closer of 36 years and diminishing reputation could feel — when Jose emerged unscored upon in his first five outings as a Met. And on Saturday, in the otherwise unmapped Anaheim section of Los Angeles, given how the Mets had already overcome a two-run deficit and the vengeful specter of Collin Cowgill, it didn’t seem out of line to think Valverde would gently tuck in a three-run lead, especially once he got ahead of David Freese one-and-two and needed only one more strike to wish us and the Angels sweet dreams.
I apologize for thinking it was as simple as a third strike and resulting third out right there. I neglected to take into account the doom factor I had unleashed. You won’t find “doom factor” on the back of your baseball cards or among your more advanced statistics. No metric properly reflects that when I begin to think a Met closer is certain to escape a danger-fraught scenario with ease, that same Met closer inevitably implodes. It happened to Bobby Parnell on Opening Day. It’s been happening with alarming regularity since at least Skip Lockwood in the mid-1970s.
Somehow I missed the alarms.
It happened to Jose Valverde Saturday night at Angel Stadium, where David Freese singled instead of making an out and ending the game. True, all Valverde had to do after not retiring Freese was take care of Erick Aybar, but already I sensed karma was issuing me a bill for daring to contemplate not only how Valverde off the scrap heap seemed a better bet to save games in 2014 than post-neck, pre-elbow Parnell, but for having been perversely glad the Mets didn’t extend their advantage beyond three runs in the top of the ninth. This way, I cleverly reasoned, Valverde will focus. Give a closer of his caliber a three-run lead, and he concentrates. Give him too many runs with which to work, his mind will perilously wander.
Yeah, that was an insipid insight. The Mets should have scored more than two when — bases loaded, one out — they had the chance to pad their newly wrought three-run lead. But that seemed almost greedy. They had overcome a 3-1 deficit in the seventh, thanks to all kinds of small encouragements, most notably Jon Niese’s grinding endurance and Anthony Recker’s glamorous aura. They had leapt from 4-3 to 6-3 on an Omar Quintanilla two-RBI single, for goodness sake. Omar Quintanilla played 66 games between July 3 and the end of the season in 2013 and knocked in all of nine runs; on only one of those occasions did he drive in as many as two on one swing.
We got Omar Quintanilla to do something he’s utterly incapable of and then didn’t build upon it. Of course karma’s going to add that to our tab. Of course when we go to the bottom of the ninth up, 6-3, instead of, say, 8-3, Valverde recording the first two outs is going to guarantee nothing. Of course getting ahead of Freese didn’t mean Freese wasn’t going to line a single up the middle to give the Angels life. Of course Aybar, who had two hits the night before and was surely a Brave in a previous life, was going to walk.
And of course ex-Phillie, ex-Yankee and only active major league non-pitcher actuarially entitled to call Bartolo Colon “kid” Raul Ibañez socked the three-run homer that tied the score at six and sent the game into a tenth and eventually thirteenth inning, a frame that didn’t conclude until after two o’clock Eastern time Sunday morning. That Anthony Recker used the overtime period to grow even handsomer and belt what revealed itself to be the winning home run — and that John Lannan at last earned the spot he’d been soaking up on the roster by pitching flawlessly in the twelfth and thirteenth — is gratifying yet immaterial where my irresponsibility is concerned. The Mets could have won in nine had I not thought this thing was in the bag.
This thing is never in the bag until the zipper is pulled completely shut, the clasps are securely fastened and the Met closer of record has actually closed the deal. After all these decades and all these Met closers, you’d think I’d have figured that out by now.