The mood at Citi Field turned properly solemn as the reading of the will began:
“I, Jonathon Joseph Niese, being of sound mind — except when I begin to lose it at least once per game when the slightest little thing goes wrong — and body — except for my annual stint on the disabled list — do hereby bequeath baserunners to the relief pitcher who follows me into the ballgame. I do further hereby slam my glove into the dugout wall and fume that I can’t believe Terry took me out. Everything was going so well for so long. Oh, and I also hereby suck up my anger and pledge to give the blandest of answers in the afterlife or the postgame, whichever comes first.”
Niese departed this mounded coil in the top of the seventh Saturday night and his problems were now the problems of one Victor Laurence Black, who could have donned an armband matching his last name, given the deadly mission that had befallen him. Black inherited three baserunners from his starting pitcher, the maximum amount allowed by law. It was just his luck that those three Chicago Cubs, when added to the figure represented by the forthcoming batter, Chris Coghlan, totaled a number commensurate with the amount of runs by which the Cubs trailed the Mets.
It had been 7-1 when the inning commenced. It had been 3-1 a half-inning earlier. The Mets merrily extended their lead in the sixth. Well, maybe not so merrily, as it involved their captain taking one for the team somewhere in the shoulder blade, an area in which David Wright had ached enough this season. But David’s nonfatal pain led to communal pleasure as four runs scored, two of them when Arismendy Alcantra learned his arm’s too short to box with Juan Lagares. Alcantra let Lagares’s slightly tailing fly tick off his not quite extended glove and the Cubgates had opened.
A laugher was in progress. Six runs ahead, nine outs to go, Niese — having overcome shaky first-inning defense (some of it his own) — cruising along. Who would have guessed the proceedings were about to verge on mournful?
There’s a leadoff homer from Justin Ruggiano. No biggie. Then Alcantra singles. So what? Wellington Castillo singles. Uh, still not a thing, but maybe somebody’s warming up? Chris Valaika singles and the bases are loaded. Do I hear Boyz II Men clearing their pipes on “End Of The Road?”
Everybody’s on, nobody’s out, Ryan Sweeney’s up and he hits the ball…real hard. At Niese. Who shields better than he fields. The ball bounces off Jonathon as Arismendy scores. Now it’s 7-3, the threat is grave and the group slated to play after the game is practicing their dirges.
In comes Black. The word is he doesn’t allow inherited runners to score — not on his watch. But, oh what an unwanted bounty of inherited runners! Suspicious scions blessed with great fortunes have hired lobbyists to protect less.
But Vic Black will not be heard demanding a repeal of the estate tax. He simply goes to work, inheritance be damned.
Coghlan lines out to deep enough left so that Castillo can almost surely make it, 7-4. But Castillo on third — and his coach, Gary Jones — observe a moment of silence and honor the memory of a lost scoring chance. Wellington doesn’t test Matt den Dekker (who, in turn, wasn’t throwing home) and it’s still 7-3.
Javier Baez pops up behind first base. Before there is any chance Lucas Duda won’t catch it, umpire Will Little rules it an infield fly. Baez’s chance to spread morbidity at Citi dies before his ball is buried in Duda’s glove.
Anthony Rizzo, second in the league in home runs with 27, is up next, determined to make Black pay for his gaudy inheritance. But Anthony’s determination is no match for Vic’s Amazin’ grace. The batter pops to the shortstop, Wilmer Flores (who has been playing like an actual shortstop all night), and the third out is secured.
Three runners inherited, three runners stranded, zero damage inflicted despite Jon Niese bequeathing all that mess to Vic Black. Two more bullpen innings from two other Met relievers serve as celebratory rather than mournful. The Mets beat the Cubs, 7-3. Niese’s six innings earn him the win — the seventh of his intermittently stormy season, the fiftieth of his quietly consistent career. Black’s three batters earn him no more than a statistical obscurity known as a hold. What’s a hold, anyway?
It must be short for “hold on for dear life.” Because that’s what Vic Black did last night. And we lived to tell about it.