It’s a big world with lots of people of it. Even our little part of it — in which people in the New York area cheer for a baseball team — is pretty big.
No, I wasn’t specific about the baseball team. For one night, I’m going to expand our circle to include Yankees fans. Only for a night. And it’s for a reason.
See, the numbers are big enough that somebody out there in the scruffy Met Marches or the iron-walled Empire of the Yank had a friend of a friend or a guest or an exchange student or a pitiful hitchhiker or somebody in tow for one reason or another, and decided that this was the night that this new arrival would be initiated into the cult of baseball. That’s happened to me a few times — this ancient post captures one of my favorite such memories — and it’s a more intense version of having someone plop down on the couch next to you to see an episode of one of your favorite shows, one you adore but they’ve never seen. You pray it’ll be one of the high points of the series and not the Christmas special or God forbid a clip show. (This probably doesn’t happen in the age of Netflix and TiVo and DVDs, but stay with me.) Baseball’s like that, but even more so. You hope the newcomer gets a 10-9 epic or at least a 2-1 nailbiter, instead of some 4-1 mess that doesn’t seem to even engage the participants, because you’ve certainly seen your share of those.
Given the numbers, someone out there wound up watching either tonight’s Mets-Cardinals game or tonight’s Yankees-Red Sox game as their first-ever glimpse of baseball. I wonder what they thought. Did they think it was woolly and goofy but fun? Or write it off as a garbage bag of surrealism?
The game in Boston took a hard right into goofballdom when John Farrell sent the umpires out in the second inning to check on Yanks hurler Michael Pineda, who was either a) molting; b) had just crawled away from a collapsed oil rig; or c) had a rather large smear of pine tar on his neck. After a period of deduction that wasn’t exactly CSI: Boston, the umps concluded the answer was c) and ejected Pineda, who will now be suspended for 10 games. I’m pre-weary of the both the wide-eyed handwringing and cynical sports-radio trollery about cheating and unwritten rules and but why are there unwritten rules, so I’ll leave it at this: Pineda was caught and will be suspended not because he’s a cheater, but because he’s dumber than a rock.
I mean, two weeks ago Pineda pitched against the same team and it was blindingly obvious that he had a large smear of pine tar on his hand, which led to a lot of not-so-subtle huffing that he be less obvious next time, which is the kind of omerta violation baseball despises. So after receiving this stern collective warning, Pineda’s answer was … to do the same thing but make it much more obvious. It boggles the mind to imagine what would have happened if the Red Sox had done nothing this time, too — I’m picturing a mid-May Pineda start in which he lobbed balls homeward while sprawled naked in a Cialis-style bathtub overflowing with dark brown gunk.
Such was the majesty of baseball at Fenway Park tonight.
If you were at Citi Field tonight, well, first of all my sympathies. It was Shackletonian, with an insane wind blowing hither and yon, turning pop flies into circus acts and even snatching off Michael Wacha‘s cap. It was also bizarre even without the weather — one of those games that’s so instantly and obviously weird that you don’t so much watch it as you witness it, hoping to make sense of it later.
Over the first three innings Wacha faced 12 Mets. One of them (Curtis Granderson, somehow) singled. Two of them (Travis d’Arnaud and Jonathon Niese, somehow) walked. The other nine struck out. It was simultaneously boring and fascinating, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. The mind skittered around like blowing wrappers: Would Wacha strike out 27? Would the Mets manage a pop-up? Would the stolen hat be the greatest damage Wacha suffered?
Meanwhile, Niese was pitching well, but fell behind 1-0 when Ruben Tejada did something dopey that I never quite figured out and don’t care to revisit. That seemed likely to be fatal — Remember that game on that crazy windy night that the damn Mets lost 1-0 because Tejada made that stupid play and that Wacha kid struck everybody out? — but Wacha was the hare and Niese was the tortoise. Between the conditions and the pitches expended, Wacha was running out of gas. Daniel Murphy singled to start the fourth and was retired on a fielder’s choice — WOO, NOT A STRIKEOUT!!!11!!1!!!1! — but then Wacha imploded. He walked Lucas Duda, gave up a single to d’Arnaud, walked Tejada to even the game at 1-1, caught Niese looking at a close pitch, then walked Kirk Nieuwenhuis to give the Mets the lead. An inning later he was gone, like a snake-oil salesman whose brightly painted wagon had vanished in the night.
The game was still to be played, though. Duda hit a bomb of a home run, and the ninth was handed over to Kyle Farnworth, protecting a two-run lead.
Farnsworth, you might recall, saved Monday’s game and then was caught by the TV cameras shaking his arm. Asked about it, he said “I’m old,” which was cute but not reassuring. Yes, pitchers shake their arms when old. They also shake their arms when something inside them has tightened in an ominous way and hurts. Earlier today Terry Collins made noises about Daisuke Matsuzaka being able to close, which might have been Terry’s usual Sgt. York act but might also have been him signaling that Closer No. 4 is already a hot topic in Metland.
Farnsworth did zero to dispel these concerns by throwing nonstop sliders, then mixing in a couple of sub-90s fastballs. With one out Jon Jay (clad in a red balaclava like a G.I. Joe villain) singled, then moved to second on the inevitable Matt Carpenter base hit. That brought Daniel Descalso to the plate, and he lashed a ball over Nieuwenhuis’s head and off the wall, sending masked Cardinals scurrying around the bases.
In came Jay, and here came Carpenter, with d’Arnaud receiving the ball to the third-base side of home, with the runner already by him. He spun like a top, arm extended for the tag. You see this play all the time, and it never works — it ends with the catcher lying disconsolately on his belly while the runner dusts himself off and trots away to be congratulated.
Except Nieuwenhuis had corralled the ball barehanded and fired it to Tejada.
And Tejada had spun, staggered and thrown a strike above Duda’s head to the waiting d’Arnaud.
And d’Arnaud had caught it at ground level while already in motion, smacked Carpenter in the shoulder, and held on.
Instead of a tie game and God knows what horrors (IT COULD STILL BE GOING ON), it was 3-2 Mets. And an out later, Farnsworth found a fastball of sorts, Granderson ran down a terrifying windblown fly ball from Matt Holliday, and the Mets had won.
It wasn’t majestic — majesty was in short supply for New York baseball teams tonight — but it was pretty marvelous.