We’ve entered the phase of the season — roughly March 31 to September 28, give or take stray illusory weeks devoted to the reflexive heightening of fleeting false hope — where we’re less concerned about winning baseball games than simply getting them over so another season of not winning baseball games can commence (but just you wait for the year after!). Now that we’re in the reality lap…again…anything goes where the product the Mets put on the field is concerned. It’s May on the calendar but August for solution-groping. For example, why wait for the cusp of mathematical elimination to bring up the guy it is assumed can hit but nobody thinks can field to take on the most daunting defensive challenge on the diamond when we can do it now? Hell, why not? It’s not like anybody named Andrelton, Ozzie or Ordoñez was blocking his path.
When it feels like nobody is going anywhere, anything should go and does go, save for most of the runners who reach base. They go nowhere. They are a microcosm of their team year after year.
On Friday night at Citi Field, where a pair of capable lineups would have spun a dizzying 8-7 merry-go-round of action from 19 hits, 16 walks, 2 hit batsmen and 1 error, home plate remained mostly undisturbed. The Mets left 15 runners on base during 11 innings when they scored 2 runs. Those bases must be pretty nice places to kick back and just chill, for the Phillies were reluctant to leave first, second and third, too: 17 runners on in the same 11 innings, except they scored 3 runs.
The Philadelphia scoring sum proved slightly more effective than that of the True New Yorkers in the area of results, but nobody particularly outexecuted anybody else. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the four hours and thirty-nine minutes in which each club participated — it would be hard to say “played,” for there was little playful about this foggy, sloggy morass of inertia — the Phillies emerged as the victors, 3-2, appropriately forging a tie with the Mets for the worst record in their shared division.
Neither team appeared good enough to claim it is better than the other. Or anybody. Despite the presence on the field of a handful of worthy professionals, the agglomeration of Mets and Phillies we witnessed engage in a gripping staring contest for an average of 12 minutes and 41 seconds per half-inning claimed dual possession of fourth place in the National League East on merit.
Encouragingly, the Phillies, who not long ago loomed as the unreachable star of our sector, seem as unremarkable as us now. Their immediate prospects appear as slight as their payroll commitment is hefty: $180 million, or more than twice as much as the Mets are distributing. It is indisputable that we are getting more whimper for our buck. But it should be said that the $8 million they’re paying Marlon Byrd is getting earned. Byrd, who was replaced by Curtis Granderson ($15 million), is outperforming Curtis Granderson and most Mets. Last night he fought off a very good eleventh-inning pitch from Carlos Torres and turned it into the go-ahead double that signaled this endless game would, in fact, end.
That was contingent on the Mets not scoring a matching run in the bottom of the eleventh, a contingency that did not occur. It was already a fifteen-inning affair in form if not substance. These two teams had participated enough for one night. Or week.
The bright spot of the long night’s journey into loss— besides Jeurys Familia looking extremely sharp and Keith Hernandez (sighmoan) sounding hilariously disgusted — was Wilmer Flores manning shortstop and living to tell about it. Flores replaced Omar Quintanilla on the roster but his real leapfrog target was Ruben Tejada. If Wilmer could suit up, stand convincingly between David Wright and Daniel Murphy and pick up most of the balls hit within 18 inches of either side of him, he’d be hailed as the greatest positional upgrade since Lincoln took over for Buchanan.
After one game, Wilmer Flores seems a provisional improvement over whatever we were getting from the indifferently conceived science fair experiment known as Rumar Tejntanilla. He hit the ball hard. He recorded two hits. He didn’t range particularly well to his left or his right but he didn’t embarrass himself, which, after you listened to all the assurances that all Tejada had to be was “adequate,” could be interpreted as a triumph of the Metropolitan spirit.
The suiting up may have been the kid’s only problem, given the throw from Travis d’Arnaud that bounced up and pinged Wilmer in the ol’ Elio Chacons. As Flores writhed in pain, Keith earnestly invoked “that song from The Wizard of Oz,” presumably the one that starts “Ding-Dong!” (though “If I Only Had A Brain” might have sufficed as well).
Fortunately, Flores was not dead after absorbing that wicked one-hopper and he hung in there the rest of the game. Everybody hung in there the rest of the game. It was a game designed for hanging in there, at least when your favorite team was batting. Endurance replaced offense on both sides. After a while, it didn’t much matter who won. It mattered that it ended.