When Saturday’s one-run loss to the Reds was over, it was easy to pinpoint the most obviously pivotal play. It happened at third base in the ninth inning, when Eric Young, who has somehow stolen 29 bases in a season when it feels like he’s played in maybe 29 games, was called safe by Alfonso Marquez but out by Sam Sung, that fellow who’s so omnipotent he doesn’t even have to show up at the ballpark to decide the fate of a given contest.
From behind the curtain and through the headset, the great and powerful Sung sang the end of EY’s trip around the bases because he watched a load of replays and the replays couldn’t have been a whole lot more conclusive. Young had the base stolen until his insistence on returning to a vertical position allowed none of his body contact with the bag. Cincinnati third baseman Kris Negron, on the other hand, kept one glove — with one ball secured snugly within — square on one of Eric’s legs.
In 2014, as long as somebody bothers to ask Sam Sung to take multiple ganders, that’s enough to get you caught stealing. When EY was ruled out upon further review, it pretty much nipped the critical Met rally midway through the bud. In those sweet seconds before Bryan Price unsportingly challenged Marquez’s call, it was all going so well. Curtis Granderson singled with one out, the Mets trailing, 2-1. Young pinch-ran. Young stole second. Dilson Herrera walked. All of this was taking place against the generally impenetrable Aroldis Chapman. You could, if you were so inclined, smell something cooking.
Here came the secret sauce: a double steal attempt, with Wilmer Flores at bat. The throw went to third, which meant Herrera was going to be on second no matter what. When EY was fleetingly judged safe — he had the throw from Brayan Peña easily beat — destiny was gathering in the Mets’ dugout. When the Samsung-sponsored replay mechanism issued its reversal, destiny dispersed and shared a cab back to the hotel with potential victory. Flores patiently worked Chapman for another walk to situate Mets on first and second with two out, but it wasn’t the same. Chapman then remembered he was Chapman and struck out Eric Campbell to dismiss all hope.
Young’s slide was properly feet-first. When he rose like a premature soufflé, it all looked very instinctive, as if sliding and standing were all one physical motion, whaddaya want from the guy? Still, EY, last year’s N.L. stolen base champ, is basically Herb Washington on this roster. He pinch-runs or sits. Too bad he didn’t just sit on the base. Negron was diligent in staying on the play, just as Price and his video corps were smart to keep watching and start asking. It might be remembered that way back in the second series of the season, Terry Collins inaugurated the Mets’ participation in the new world order against these very Reds and won a reversal on a play at second. Next thing you knew, Ike Davis hit a grand slam and video was our saving grace.
Saturday, from every angle possible, payback proved a bitch.
As noted, Eric Young coming off the third base bag is the play that sticks with you. But it’s not the only one that sticks with me. I have to rewind to the second inning of the Johnny Cueto–Dillon Gee duel. Like EY’s mishap, it happened at third base. Unlike EY’s mishap, it zipped by without contemporaneous comment…but I think it also cost the Mets the game.
The second was a promising inning. Travis d’Arnaud was on second from a leadoff double. He scored on Herrera’s one-out single. Then Flores doubled, sending Dilson to third. Gee was up next. Gee hasn’t hit whatsoever in 2014, but miracle of miracles, he lifted a professional fly ball to medium left. It was caught by Donald Lutz. The next thing I expected to see was Herrera tag up and sprint home.
I saw no such thing. Tim Teufel held him, waiting for Juan Lagares to drive him and perhaps Flores in with two outs. Except Lagares struck out; Cueto had, as 17-game winners will, limited the damage; and I thought to myself, “That’s gonna cost us.”
Seven innings later, it had cost us as much anything else, including Young’s inability to attach himself to third base, Gee’s aversion to pitching beautifully once he gets to the seventh (which was when he surrendered the tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey) and Cueto’s ongoing campaign to take silver in this year’s Cy Young race behind golden Clayton Kershaw. To the extent that one can be irked by another loss this late in another losing season, I found not sending Herrera quite irksome.
Maybe Teufel knows something I don’t about Lutz, I decided. I’m sure he has access to detailed scouting reports that tell him who can throw how well, even a September callup like Lutz. Maybe Lutz is Lagares when it comes to arms you don’t want to test.
All I could do was check the Internet. I Googled “Lutz” and “throwing” and “arm” and terms like those and couldn’t come up with any evidence that Donald Lutz has a cannon you just don’t run on. I considered Herrera and the little I’ve seen of him. Doesn’t seem as fast as EY. Seems faster than, say, Anthony Recker. He’s 20, stole 23 bases in the minors this season and has scored 101 runs total, encompassing his time with St. Lucie, Binghamton and New York.
What would have been the harm in finding out whether Dilson Herrera can beat a throw home from Donald Lutz is what I’m asking.
It’s tempting to turn this into Exhibit Q in the case against the Mets’ culture of chronic acceptance of the dismal status quo. That might be a stretch, but when you have a chance to score a second run off a pitcher who doesn’t make a habit of giving up many of them, why decline it? Why hesitate? Why play it stultifyingly safe? What is there to lose, except another game?
Before this game that would be lost anyway, Collins was asked about Herrera’s immediate future, specifically what will be done with the promising prospect should Daniel Murphy be back on the field soon. Might we see Dilson take a few reps at short over the final twenty games of season?
Oh hells to the no, the manager essentially told reporters. “You’re muddying the waters by running somebody else out there,” is what Terry actually said. “I’m not here to run a tryout camp. I’m here to win some games.”
I’ll provisionally give him the “muddying” point. We woke summer morning after summer morning to another Tejada sunrise wondering when Flores would get a legitimate shot at short. Now he’s gotten one and he’s beginning to make something of it. After lagging for weeks with the bat, he’s found a bit of a groove, going 11-for-28 in his last seven games while not embarrassing himself in the field. If you’re really appraising him for shortstop in 2015, maybe you don’t derail his nascent genuine progress.
Nevertheless, is there really that much to muddy when you’re wallowing eight below .500? And who’s the skipper kidding with “I’m here win to some games”? You were to here win games from March 31 forward and you wound up winning significantly fewer than half of them to date. It’s because winning has eluded your grasp that September has been given over to Wilmer Flores, Matt Den Dekker and Dilson Herrera.
Look at what’s left of a 67-75 campaign this way: It is a tryout camp and you are trying to win some games. If you had better options, these kids wouldn’t be getting a chance. Bobby Abreu would still be getting starts in left if he hadn’t run out of youth serum, Ruben Tejada would probably be penciled in for his very own Poster Day if he could’ve hit measurably better than Granderson and Herrera would have been promoted no higher than Vegas had Murphy not gotten hurt. Daniel’s dandy hit total notwithstanding, is Terry trying to claim he can’t win games if deprived of all that brand of fantastic experience? Where did all that fantastic experience catapult us exactly?
As of this moment, a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Phillies.
If Murphy’s healthy enough to play, you’re going to tell me the fate of the Metropolitan world will become unraveled if Herrera sees a series against the Rockies or Marlins or Astros from the vantage point of short? That Dilson Herrera moving to his right for 27 or so innings is going to be the difference between the team succeeding and the team failing?
The Mets are going to win some and lose some in familiar proportions from here to September 28 regardless of who is positioned where for five or eight or however many of the remaining twenty. You unspool the “tryout camp” line in a September like 1999 when Jorge Toca is forced to take a seat behind John Olerud because a playoff spot is on the line. A playoff spot most decidedly isn’t on the line this September. I thought we were clear on that.