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The Big Hang With ‘Em

Hang with ’em.

It was one of the first bits of baseball advice I gave Joshua to pass along to the little figures on the TV who can’t hear us. Blasted a ball up the gap that the right fielder barely speared at a dead run? Hang with ’em. Laser beam perfectly intersected by the apex of the shortstop’s leap? Hang with ’em. Shot right up the middle that vanished into the pitcher’s mitt like a magic trick, leaving the batter out before he even drops his lumber? Hang with ’em.

Things will even out. Good execution, poor results. The worm will turn.

One reason baseball is so full of cliches is that it’s maddeningly fickle — an unfair game, as Rod Kanehl [1] sagely noted once upon a time. Poor preparation and awareness may be rewarded; Herculean efforts and perfect approaches may be punished. There is no defense against this perversity except a dogged belief that the baseball universe bends towards … well, not justice exactly, but a cosmic evening out. Cliches are comfort, the only part of the sport that can be made predictable and orderly.

Tonight’s game, in a half-reconfigured Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out, was actually kind of fun — well, in theory. Jacob deGrom [2] is experiencing growing pains, trying to navigate poor location with his fastball and an apparent lack of confidence in his offspeed pitches. The Cubs leapt on him early, with Kris Bryant [3] hitting his first hometown homer on the first night the left-field bleachers had been reoccupied. Bryant’s Wrigley Field homers will soon become a blur of bad news for visiting teams, but this one was special even without the theater — I was standing in the kitchen and my head jerked up at the sound of bat hitting ball. It was a sound Buck O’Neil would have appreciated, the sound of the hardest thing to do in sports done perfectly. With the crowd still buzzing about Bryant’s heroics, the rapidly maturing Anthony Rizzo [4] then demolished another baseball, sending this one into the yet-to-be-reoccupied right-field bleachers.

DeGrom looked like he’d soon be watching the rest from a dugout slouch, but he managed to hang around and Terry Collins [5] seemed determined to make the game a learning experience for him. DeGrom nearly crumbled in the fourth, but erased Rizzo on a two-out, bases-loaded grounder. Meanwhile, the Mets had stopped fishing so avidly for Lester’s slider and curve and started seeking aid from Andy Fletcher’s strike zone, which was both undersized and given to butterfly-like wanderings. Lucas Duda [6] and Wilmer Flores [7] went back to back themselves in the sixth, and somehow the Mets were within one with Dilson Herrera [8] on second, Ruben Tejada [9] called on to pinch-hit, and Lester fighting a losing battle against the urge to rush home plate and body-slam Fletcher. Tejada was called out on a pitch that looked low, which seemed like an injustice until you thought about all the other pitches Mets hadn’t been called out on that looked perfectly fine.

Still, the Mets were down by a skinny run with a better bullpen than the Cubs and nine outs to play with. Which seemed doable. Too bad the Big Hang With ‘Em was soon to begin.

In the eighth, Michael Cuddyer [10] led off with a single and Duda absolutely vaporized a ball down the right-field line. It was headed into the corner, or possibly through the brick wall and into a nearby bar, or possibly it would carve a smoking tunnel through the Earth and emerge somewhere in Michigan. Unless, of course, it crashed straight into Rizzo’s glove, allowing him to double up Cuddyer.

Ugh. Hang with ’em, Lucas.

Were we done? Not hardly. Curtis Granderson [11] worked a walk to start the ninth, bringing up Herrera — who smoked a ball to the left of second base. Despite being the apple of our off-season eye, Starlin Castro [12] hasn’t exactly been the anti-Flores at short so far, and this ball was past him. Somehow Castro corralled it to force Granderson at second.

Ugh. Hang with ’em, Dilson.

Johnny Monell [13] was our last chance, and he smacked a hard grounder — right, inevitably, at Addison Russell [14]. Russell surrounded it, started the double play, and we were done [15].

During my postgame sulking, I saw this [16] from MetsProspectHub [17]: The Mets are 5th in line-drive percentage at 22.6% and 21st in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) at .281. As MPH put it, “they haven’t just been unlucky. They’ve been STUPIDLY unlucky.”

Or as I’d put it, hang with ’em.