Monday’s was the kind of Mets game Don Draper would have snuck out of sober so he could get back to the office and knock out those 25 Burger Chef tags for Peggy.
It didn’t start out that way, which of course is the most generous clue that it was going to end that way. Maybe that trajectory wouldn’t seem so predictable if the venue had been Don’s beloved Shea Stadium or the Marlins’ previous home that went by many names (but we knew what it was) or even Hiram Bithorn Stadium, the cameo site of the Mets’ second of now eight walkoff losses to Florida/Miami in this decade. Monday’s game, though, took place inside the Loriatorium, the lime green vice where Met hopes go to first get squeezed and then get crushed.
What does Gonzalez Germen have in common with Frank Francisco, Manny Acosta, Collin McHugh, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Lyon, other than all of them would have been better bets than Daisuke Matsuzaka in the eighth? Each man is a member of the Marlins Park Clean Plate Club, for each has thrown a pitch that resulted in every Marlin descending clean onto home plate in groan-inducing celebration of a sudden-death Met loss. As the pieces were settling into place for this latest coming-out party — Christian Yelich shooting one up the middle to lead off the least suspenseful bottom of the ninth in human history — Terry Collins emerged to make the pitching change that would usher Germen into this ever-expanding fraternity of futility. The SNY cameras captured him nodding to umpire Bill Miller as he trotted toward the mound. I really hoped the nod was his affirmative answer to the question, “Are you just going to forfeit right now and thus spare the True New Yorkers back home the sight of another of those irritating Marlin conglomerations after somebody inevitably drives Yelich in?”
Not to be pessimistic, mind you. That was the thing. I wasn’t pessimistic for the first seven innings. I started out buoyed by Daniel Murphy’s first home run of the not so new year and elevated my mood further when Curtis Granderson (now batting .185, just .007 behind Ruben Tejada) chipped in with his third dinger of 2014. I shifted into deceptive calm as the evening went along, as if I really believed Jon Niese’s no-frills mastery of the Marlins would inoculate us against the darkness that lurks in the hearts of Fish when the Met bullpen gate eventually opens.
Niese was nice. The Mets led 3-0 for seven full innings. Combined with Dillon Gee’s performance Sunday, I got to thinking how the growing pains of Wheeler and Mejia and the physical inertia of Colon have something of a built-in antidote. On the pregame show, I heard Gary Apple refer to Gee and Niese as “veterans,” and it struck me, yeah, they really are. Not Colon-style veterans of ancient battles and all-you-can-eat buffets, but guys who’ve been around the block enough to know what they’re doing yet not so often that they’re no longer a dependable bet to do it most every time out. Gee’s 28. Niese is 27. The Mets have cultivated pitchers who’ve reached their primes in solid working order.
I imagined Niese’s seven frames of five-hit, one-walk ball was the stuff of a two-game winning streak in the making. I wasn’t even troubled by the Mets having collected only one run between the top of the second and the top of the eighth, because I wasn’t watching this game with my official Marlins Park glasses. Once I put them on in the bottom of the eighth, however, I could see what was coming from a lime green mile away.
Look! It’s Daisuke Matsuzaka!
Look! Dice-K walked the first guy he faced!
Look! Dice-K walked the next guy he faced!
Look! Giancarlo Stanton is up!
You might have seen a three-run homer coming next, but that would have been too quick and too mundane. Stanton got his hit, of course, but it drove in just one run. To spice things up, a ball would have to be struck more or less right at Omar Quintanilla, but not exactly at Omar Quintanilla. There’d be an error on Quintanilla, another run, then another hit and yet another run. The 3-0 lead had methodically melted into a 3-3 tie.
Kyle Farnsworth came in and didn’t implode, leaving matters tied. The Mets came up in the top of the ninth and went down inside of three batters, though not without a dash of flair. Travis d’Arnaud took strike three on a full count as prelude to Lucas Duda getting caught stealing. Duda, running at Colon speed, was out by a lime green mile.
The rest was another Loriatorium Last Act, predictable in destination even if you couldn’t quite map the journey in advance.
Rice gives up a sharp single to Yelich. Rice departs. Germen enters. Ed Lucas lays down the bunt that moves the Christian gentleman to second. The bat is out of Stanton’s hands as Collins orders him intentionally walked. The bat lands in the hands of Casey McGehee, who makes optimal use of the superfluous letters in his last name. McGehee was the Marlin who hung the ‘E’ on Quintanilla in the eighth. Now, in the ninth, he banks an ‘H’ off Germen’s leg and into right field. (To be fair, it was ticketed for center if Gonzalez hadn’t put a limb in its path.) Yelich comes around to score and the Marlins hug and frolic and shower and change into collared shirts and receive VIP treatment at Marlins Park’s glamorous Clevelander night club where they dance the night away in triumph.
The Mets are denied entrance and remain stuck behind the velvet rope as of this writing.