Steve Gelbs seems like a capable enough young broadcaster. We know him mostly from filling in for the singular Kevin Burkhardt on SNY, which, in the realm of roving reporting, is a little like starting Todd Pratt on Mike Piazza Poster Day. Pratt may perform ably — more than ably at his best — but let’s face it: everybody came to see Piazza.
By the way, did you see Kevin yesterday take a middle-innings shopping trip to the Seaside Market at Petco Park? Fill a plastic bottle with fresh-squeezed OJ? Haul a picnic basket of gluten-free goodies out onto the grass beyond the outfield fence? Bring a hot plate of gourmet beef to Gary and Keith? It takes a special talent to enhance a 1-0 pitchers’ duel with such diversions, yet Kevin somehow manages to tour the edges of enemy ballparks for our entertainment purposes without allowing it to detract from the game experience. He’s the only roving or sideline reporter I’ve ever watched make a ballgame better. We are indeed going to miss that multifaceted maestro when he’s gone for good to Fox.
But we were talking about Gelbs, whose task Sunday was less challenging than understudying for Burkhardt. He was hosting the postgame show with Bobby Ojeda. There’s not as much danger of being a distraction in the studio, just as there isn’t quite the opportunity to shine. Attempting to retain the interest of viewers who’ve just spent three-plus hours seeing how everything turned out so you can ell them all over again what they just saw is a more fundamentals-oriented assignment. You introduce highlights; you feed salient points (rather than meat) to your expert analyst; you segue between segments; and maybe you add an insight here or there. Gelbs, Syracuse Class of ’09, is honing his craft right in front of us and evincing a comfortable presence while doing so. The man does not lack for potential.
But historical perspective on Metsiana may not be a strong suit for Steve Gelbs just yet. Or perhaps he’s just too fresh and therefore too callow to truly know from which he speaks. Whatever the case, Steve said something Sunday that got my attention — in that way you don’t notice an umpire until he gets your attention. And when was the last time you noticed an umpire for getting your attention in a positive way?
Gelbs was giving the highlights of an admittedly unusual game. Burkhardt rolling a cart through an upscale in-stadium grocer was the least of it. There was Zack Wheeler pitching quite well, going at least six and giving up no more than one run — on a Yasmani Grandal round-tripper — for the fourth outing in a row. There was Odrisamer Despaigne outdoing Wheeler and maybe every Padre starting pitcher in whose brown, yellow, blue, orange, white and sand footsteps he followed to the mound Sunday. Despaigne (which is pronounced with a little help from one’s friends) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, threatening to put “7,264” in the Friar books the way Johan Santana made “8,020” so indelible for us a little more than two years ago. He’d hit two batters and walked three, even loading the bases in the seventh, but he was clean in the column we fetishized for more than 50 seasons.
Five starts into his major league career, Despaigne was six outs from turning the late Clay Kirby into a trending topic and presumably dimming the lights on the world’s only Mets-turned-Padres blog. Odrisamer struck out pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis to start the eighth. Then he struck out Curtis Granderson. He was four outs away from San Diego immortality…four outs from fame as least as large as Seaside Market’s.
Alas, the Padres will have to keep rolling their cart in search of the item they just can’t find. Daniel Murphy doubled and broke hearts at Petco the way everyone from Orlando Cepeda off Tom Seaver in 1968 to Kit Pellow off T#m Gl@v!ne in 2004 did at Shea. Unlike those eighth-inning no-hit bids gone double-y awry, however, this was a close ballgame. Murphy wasn’t just getting in the way of a milestone. He was getting the tying run into scoring position. And David Wright was getting him home on a single.
Despaigne was no longer the story and the Mets were no longer losing…though that appeared ready to change when Jeurys Familia gave up a triple to leadoff hitter to Will Venable to begin the bottom of the eighth. Who doesn’t score after a leadoff triple? Well, Murphy in that game the last week of 2008, but who else? Will Venable, it turned out. Familia recorded a strikeout, issued an intentional walk and induced a skintight 5-4-3 double play to squirm out of trouble.
The Mets cleverly avoided reaching base in the top of the ninth to preserve the 1-1 tie, setting up some dramatic highlights for Gelbs to narrate minutes later. Vic Black came in and walked the theoretically dangerous Carlos Quentin. Quentin was run for by Cameron Maybin, who caught the final out at Shea Stadium, speaking of residual pain from September 2008. Alexi Amarista then bunted to Black, who wanted no part of the ball and let it trickle between his legs Buckner-style.
Oh, all right, Vic probably didn’t choose to channel Billy Bucks, no matter how happy the thought of the original makes us. “I kicked my glove and I just missed it,” he said later. Instead of getting two outs or settling for one, he got none. Maybin was on second, Amarista was on first and Black nearly atoned. He drew a grounder to the right side from Chase Headley that yielded a less artful double play than the one from an inning earlier (you don’t really want to take your chances with a rundown there, though that’s what Murph instigated), but two outs were somehow achieved and Maybin remained anchored on third. Maybe Maybin would stay stuck there once Josh Edgin entered to tame the tongue-twisting Seth Smith.
Say it three times fast: Seth Smith; Seth Smith; Seth Smith. Not easy, huh? Also not easy: the bouncer Smith chopped to Edgin’s left, especially considering Edgin, a lefty, falls off to his right upon his follow-through. But it wasn’t impossible, either. It appeared more like a sigh-of-relief third out. Smith slugs .509, yet he was kept in the infield. Good job by Josh.
Except the infield grass surrounding the pitcher’s mound in the ninth inning may as well have been the Octagon, as the ultimate fight seeped out of the Mets. Edgin, by his own account, “stumbled”. He also fell. Nevertheless, he had a shot at nailing Smith, but he couldn’t pick up the ball fluidly and was late (and high) throwing to Duda as Maybin scored the winner. “I rolled over it and it was on the ground,” Edgin explained in defeat. “When I went down to snatch it, I missed it. If I would have got it the first time, I would have got him out.”
Tough breaks. You almost get no-hit but you escape ignominy. You’re held down all day but you struggle and attain parity. You nearly let the game get away once but you reel it back in. Then two of your developing stud relievers — guys who’ve helped make your recent run of good play possible — look far more amateurish fielding their position than that slick Padre ballgirl did fielding hers.
All of it was recounted dutifully by Steve Gelbs, and I probably wouldn’t remember any of what he had to say except for how he summed up what happened with Edgin:
“The most bizarre walkoff you’ll ever see.”
Steve…really? Most bizarre? Ever?
Steve…these are the Mets. This wasn’t the most bizarre walkoff we’d ever seen at Petco Park. In 2009 and 2010, we saw Frankie Rodriguez and Raul Valdes surrender game-ending grand slams in consecutive years there. We saw Scott Schoeneweis hit Paul McAnulty with the bases decisively loaded there in 2008. Just up the coast this past April we saw Familia do the same to Hank Conger of the Angels, thus undesirably concluding an eleventh-inning.
Three years ago, we saw D.J. Carrasco balk home the winning run in Atlanta.
Three times in this decade, we’ve seen the Mets lose on wild pitches…twice to the Marlins.
We saw something eerily similar to — but somehow worse than — yesterday’s fielding mishap when Aaron Heilman couldn’t handle an infield squib from future sage Bobby Abreu in Philadelphia in early 2006.
And, though you may have still been busy celebrating your graduation from Syracuse University at the time, on a Friday night in June of 2009, we saw money-sponge Luis Castillo keep one hand free while in pursuit of a bottom-of-the-ninth, two-out, first-and-second pop fly at Yankee Stadium, the Mets up by one until they were, in a blink, defeated by one.
So there’ve been some pretty substantial other “most bizarre” walkoffs to which the Mets have been party, and that’s taking into account only losses and relatively recent history. The Mets have won their share of “most bizarre” walkoffs, too. The fleeting Bill Buckner allusion several paragraphs ago should have been a tipoff where that’s concerned. Pratt’s, too, considering the source.
Like Seth Smith, I could go much deeper, but I think I’ve accomplished my mission here.
Steve and all you kids out there: beware the lure of the blanket statement. I realize hyperbole is the coin of the sportscasting realm, but knowing your subject matter as well as knowing your audience should take precedence prior to framing the very last thing we saw as something nobody’s ever seen before.
We’re Mets fans. We may not have seen it all, but when it comes to walkoffs like Sunday’s, we’ve certainly seen enough.