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

Flip It and Reverse It

This, too [1], was the game we’d been waiting for, the game we’d been subconsciously groping for, the game embedded in our DNA. This was the game that signaled perhaps prosperity is neither illusory nor fleeting. This was the game that allowed us to quit looking over our shoulders to see if the worst was gaining on us.

This was the game in which deficits were limited after a harrowing start, in which there was enough talent on the field to make a hypothetical stand definite, in which a comeback moved inexorably from possible to probable to having actually happened, in which the Mets not only roared from behind but remained secure while ahead.

This was the game we imagined when we began letting baseball overtake our imaginations. There was a game at some critical point in our development as fans that told us a scenario like this could and thus would unfold when we needed it. It might have occurred in a pennant race or a postseason series or some seemingly random Saturday night exactly three-and-a-half decades before [2], but deep down — though we’ve trained ourselves to hide it well — we know how to believe. “To be a Mets fan is to exist in tension between hope and the muscle memory of much disappointment, Mets fan and Times columnist Michael Powell wrote in Saturday’s paper [3]. On Sunday, we catapulted in the direction of hope.

There was a solid enough lineup to take on a less than stellar starter on the other side. There was a home team bullpen to apply sealant when our first Sunday pitcher leaked runs. There was a shortstop for whom tomorrow was the ideal antidote to the day before. The second baseman, a pretty competent fellow at his position normally, looked pretty slick besides.

There was Dillon Gee [4] definitively permitting almost every Brave batter’s run-generating intention to come to fruition for a brief, painful interlude. Almost every Atlantan scalded the Mets’ fifth-and-a-half starter, a designation that seemed appropriate, considering Gee has not seemed fully himself since returning from the disabled list. He’s neither a starter nor a reliever, yet he’s not exactly a swingman. Gee is a free-floating anxiety for the organization to continually project onto the starting rotation. His utility seems like a better idea than it is reality. Dillon was a stalwart in his day. His day wasn’t long ago, but it might as well have taken place in another Met epoch.

Gee buried the Mets twice, at 5-1 and then 8-3. He was gone before the fourth was done. The excavating grace was provided by his opposite number, Mike Foltynewicz [5], previously seen at Citi Field surrendering Lucas Duda [6]’s 30th home run on Closing Day 2014. I see the name “Foltynewicz” and I think Paul Foytack [7] and Dave Lemanczyk [8] were mashed up by some clever Baseball Reference DJ. I saw the pitcher Foltynewicz and I didn’t think of Shelby Miller [9] or Alex Wood [10], the two capable Atlanta arms from the previous pair of games. We might not be able to easily spell Foltynewicz, I decided, but maybe we can come back on him a little.

We came back on him (and his successors) a lot. We came back with extreme force. It made for a delightfully bracing gust in a ballpark and season during which the Mets can go for days without plugging in the power. Darrell Ceciliani [11] homered in the bottom of the fourth to make it 8-4. It could have been taken as a tease or it could have been interpreted as a surmountable score. One out later, the surmounting continued apace when Dilson Herrera [12] went deep. Being down 8-5 isn’t easy, but it’s not crazy, not when you’re facing Foytack-Lemanczyk.

By the fifth, it was no longer a Braves kind of day. After Alex Torres [13] finished the fourth for Gee, Terry Collins turned to Sean Gilmartin [14], the 25th man on the roster most days. Most days when I try to remember who’s available, I count to 24, wonder who I’m missing and then…“oh right, Gilmartin. When did he last pitch?” Gilmartin warms up more than he pitches. He’d warmed up so much in the past week that Collins couldn’t use him Saturday when he really could have used another pitcher.

He used Gilmartin Sunday and the tide kept turning. Mr. Rule 5 Lefty was fresh and untouched by Brave bats. The same crew that raked Gee was shown to its seats by Sean. Nobody reached in the fifth. Only a walk was issued in the sixth. In between, Travis d’Arnaud [15] belted the two-run shot off Brandon Cunniff [16] that made the score 8-7. It was a one-run game now. Atlanta was ahead, but their edge felt less tangible than the Mets’ divisional lead has over Washington.

Yet the Mets are still in first place, even with Max Scherzer [17] dropping complete game, sixteen-strikeout, one-hitters [18] at will. That’s because in the bottom of the sixth Juan Lagares [19] (who looked distressingly human on two plays in center) walloped the necessary blow in the bottom of the sixth, a three-run job that added an extra ‘L’ to Luis Avilan [20]’s name. The Mets now led, 10-8, barely two innings after they trailed, 8-3. Seven unanswered tallies lit the Citi scoreboard, all of them on the wings of young men’s home runs, the most desirable flights the LaGuardia area has to offer.

It could have still become one of those games, one in which the next Met reliever undoes all that good work and you’re left peering down the tunnel and praying Mike Piazza [21] is swinging in the cages, preparing for when Terry Mulholland [22] enters, but nothing that dramatic was needed. The Mets crafted their little miracle like it was no big deal in the middle of the game. In the innings that followed, Bobby Parnell [23] resumed his reacclimation, Herrera reminded us what a true second baseman is capable of (robbing horrifying Freddie Freeman [24] with a sparkling dive and glove flip to end the eighth), Wilmer Flores [25] redeemed his Saturday misadventure by fielding perfectly adequately, Danny Muno [26] graciously kept Anthony Recker [27] company on their business trip to Nevada [28] and Jeurys Familia [29] shortened the game considerably. Once the Mets nosed ahead, my thoughts turned to the closer: Just get it to the ninth and we’ll be all right. Jeurys came on with two out in the eighth, setting up Herrera’s magic act, but the effect was the same.

I don’t know what was more remarkable: the Mets coming back from five down or being confident the Mets closer wasn’t necessarily going to screw it up. The Mets got to 10 runs and the Braves were kept at 8 and the psychic damage inflicted by Saturday’s debacle was, if not erased, then at least negated. Instead of losing one you were sure they were about to win, they won one you could have reasonably assumed they were destined to lose. If hitters can keep homering and the closer can keep closing and somebody settles in at third, we might actually convince ourselves a team that was good enough to win in unlikely fashion [30] on Sunday is good enough to win any day.

It was just one game. But, oh my, what a game!