- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Magic City

Your baseball instincts weren’t hopelessly off and you weren’t necessarily wrong. Well, for one night, yes, but don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time for what you were sure was going to happen to happen. It usually does — 24 separate occasions over the past 19 seasons are evidence that you weren’t concocting worst-case scenarios from thin, humid air.

In 2002, 2005 and 2011, the Mets visited the Marlins and didn’t lose a game in the bottom of the final inning played. In every season besides those three between 1996 and 2014, they did. How did it keep happening? By singles, doubles, homers, sac flies, a base on balls, even a couple of wild pitches. Your muscle memory shouldn’t be blamed for assuming that the first game the Mets played in Miami in 2015 would be the scene of a similar walkoff crime.

The game was just waiting to be lost. Or won, I suppose. But who in his Met mind is conditioned to think like that in South Florida?

Consider at the circumstances. For seven-and-a-half innings, there couldn’t have been less scoring. There couldn’t have been less anything, actually. Dillon Gee [1] and Jarred Cosart [2] swapped zeroes like kids frantically trading cards at recess, wary that the bell will ring them back to class before their transaction can conclude. Got it…got it…need it…no, got it…got it…c’mon, what else ya got?…got it…got it…

Both pitchers got everything they needed and didn’t much wait around to find out if they needed anything else. Neither hurler had a no-hitter going, but it was a perfect game if you’d made reservations for a not so late supper. Gee, in particular, found his groove and threatened to never leave it. No jams, few baserunners, hardly any pitches at all. Eight pitches in the first. Eight pitches in the second. A relatively mammoth eighteen in the third, but then six in the fourth, ten in the fifth, all of five in the sixth, only seven in the seventh.

A beautiful pace from a beautiful pitcher. Dillon Gee (ERA of 5.60 as he entered the fray) has the least impressive stuff in the New York Mets rotation, unless you count the stuff he’s made of, in which case, he’s every man’s equal. Sometimes he struggles. Monday night he did not. For seven innings, he was a clockwork orange and blue, a Metropolitan metronome who took the ball, threw the ball, got the batter, usually on the ground. Dillon stayed electric through two outs in the eighth.

Then he was unplugged just enough to remind you that when Dillon Gee works this deep into a game, something tends to go wrong. Granted, that’s mostly a symptom of Freddie Freeman [3] in Atlanta two Junes ago, but we have long if selective memories. Thus, when Gee didn’t immediately nail down the third out of the eighth — Justin Bour [4] dropped a single into a Lagares-free zone in center and Dee Gordon [5] followed with a hit to left — the desire was to allow Dillon one more batter. The internal voice, however, was clearing its throat and grabbing a megaphone.

“GET HIM OUT OF THERE! GET HIM OUT OF THERE NOW! SOMETHING’S ABOUT TO GO TERRIBLY WRONG!”

Gee stayed in. Martin Prado [6] lined the third consecutive single of the inning into the outfield. Pinch-runner Reid Brignac [7] raced home with the first Marlin run, which was a genuine problem, because it was also the first run of any kind Monday. By official pitch count, Gee was the more conservation-minded of the starters, underpitching Cosart 70 to 93, but Cosart had gotten through his eight scoreless. Gee had to give way, with two out and two on in the eighth, to Carlos Torres [8], who fortunately proved himself the new market efficiency. He threw one pitch to Giancarlo Stanton [9] and secured one out, thereby preventing three runs from the one swing we assumed would produce them.

If we don’t expect the Mets to lose in the bottom of the ninth or later at Miami, we expect to lose between the first and eighth to Stanton. That didn’t happen here. But would anything happen in the top of the ninth? We still needed a run, y’know. Recent data in the form of all those zeroes presented grim precedent.

Cosart was done. Steve Cishek [10] was on. Cishek must be good in that he’s remained the Marlins’ closer since they opened Marlins Park. That dates back to 2012, which isn’t all that long ago, but in the transient world of the Loriatorium, it’s practically a lifetime. The most solace to be taken by his appearing on the mound to start the ninth was at least he wasn’t the guy who’d stymied the Mets for eight.

Juan Lagares [11] led off and lofted a double to deep center where Juan Lagares would have tracked it down, but happily that was a competitive impossibility. Marcell Ozuna [12]’s not being Juan Lagares proved key here, lending credence to the sense that the only man who could’ve caught the ball that was in play was the man who put it in play. And that man wound up on second with a double.

The Mets were in motion. The 2015 Mets, that is, the fellas who maybe aren’t a sure thing to blow a blowable game to the Marlins in Miami, where, as noted earlier, games get blown practically every Met year.

This year is a different year, though, huh? It’s a year when after Lagares doubles, Lucas Duda [13] walks. It’s a year when after Michael Cuddyer [14] doesn’t come through, Daniel Murphy [15] does.

Murphy launched a one-one pitch to right that carried and carried and carried some more and you thought to yourself as it carried, “You know, I do believe that thing’s gonna keep going, and when it crosses the airspace directly atop the outfield fence and remains on the fly…yes, I do believe that’s a three-run homer Daniel Murphy just struck.”

Your belief was highly accurate. Murph had crushed a three-run bomb. It was 3-1, Mets, despite it having one pitch earlier been 1-0, Marlins. You wouldn’t call it unfathomable, given the Mets’ position in first place and all, but after expecting something to inevitably go wrong because it was the Marlins and because it was Murph (.174/.247/.333, even including the home run), you were delighted to build a new set of expectations.

Like the Mets can come behind in 2015. Like the Mets can swat away an unpleasant annoyance like the Marlins in 2015. Like a little stumble that ruins a weekend in 2015 won’t necessarily augur ill tidings for the week ahead.

It was the Mets’ 20th game of the season. There are no must-wins 20 games in. But this was one definitely worth having. And the Mets were about to have it. It would require the services of Jeurys Familia [16] and an enormous assist from the recently heroic Daniel Murphy — deep in the shifted hole, throwing as he spun like a December dreidel, retiring Michael Morse [17] for the penultimate out — but they got it [18] in the bottom of the ninth. They won, 3-1, and they did it in two minutes less than two hours. They had their first “WHOA!” win of 2015, not just a stingily pitched, tightly defended effort, but one you didn’t have to be a practiced fatalist to be pretty sure they were about to lose. Hell, you basically knew they were going to lose, but then…WHOA!

The fates can change in a New York minute, though sometimes you might require 118 to be fully certain.

***

My joy over the exploits of Gee and Murphy (plus the Nets’ sudden Lazarus act [19] versus the Hawks) stands in compartmentalized contrast to having to say a definitive good night to the New York Islanders of Uniondale, permanently installed four miles up the road from me as my home team until the Washington Capitals altered Nassau County geography for good. The Caps changed the Isles’ address in an excruciating seventh game [20] that evoked the sting of October 19, 2006, except without the saving grace of a redemptive illusion that it’ll be better next year. It may be on the ice, but it doesn’t figure to be anywhere near the same when the Islanders are working out of another rink in another jurisdiction. They’ll be reasonably close by and they’ll still be the ones I root for when I’m moved to involve myself in non-baseball activities, yet I’ll miss them, if mostly on local principle. I’m no hockey maven, but their revival truly brightened the winter in these parts. If the last band of Islanders from Long Island did not ultimately live up to the accomplishments of the perennial Cup winners of my younger days, I think they somehow meant more to me on their way to the exit.