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How Fragile We Are

During yet another scintillating replay review Friday night, we learned Keith Hernandez [1] spent part of his All-Star break [2] pulling weeds. Not by himself, mind you. He was assisting Maggie, “the gal that oversees my property,” in getting the job done, which, as Gary Cohen pointed out, was “lovely” of him. It’s lovely, too, to know that Keith can contract for certain services which he used to have to badger friends and acquaintances [3] to complete.

You know that if Keith is moving these days, he doesn’t have to convince some fella he just met at the gym to give him a hand the way he did when he’d been retired from baseball for just a couple of years. And if Maggie didn’t know a guy to put him in touch with, Keith certainly has the Franchise Four [4] juice to stride into the Mets clubhouse and enlist someone there to help him.

You think a big, strapping, young buck like Noah Syndergaard [5] is going to turn down Mr. Hernandez? Listed at 6’ 6” and 240, Thor would find Keith’s furniture a breeze to transport. Two dressers, a box spring attached to a headboard, a twelve-piece sectional, the convertible sofa that tends to open up, even the three-inch thick marble coffee table obtained in Italy…22-year-old Noah could handle all of that up and down the stairs of any three-story brownstone Keith throws at him.

I could definitely see Syndergaard carrying all kinds of weighty objects — but you can’t expect him to carry a feather-light attack all by his lonesome.

These regular Friday night engagements Noah has had with opposing batters haven’t put a noticeable strain on our promising pitcher’s physical capacity, but I worry about him throwing his psyche out of whack. Of late, the Mets have provided him with two runs against the Reds, two against the Dodgers, a gargantuan four against Arizona. Those were veritable bounties considering that in each of those outings, Noah allowed only one run apiece. It’s a skinflint’s formula for winning, but it worked across three consecutive starts.

It can only work for so long. Sometimes you have to have help. Sometimes you need Maggie to make a call.

Almost nobody in the Mets clubhouse came to the aid of Mr. Syndergaard on this Friday night in St. Louis. While he was all but singlehandedly keeping the mighty Cardinals at bay, the Met hitters remained lost in their collective weeds. Curtis Granderson [6] provided a leadoff home run versus Lance Lynn [7]. Then everybody called it a day before the sun went down.

Noah could deal with the paucity of support for only so long. The first five innings, he put up zeroes. In the sixth, the Cardinals got a little lucky. Kolten Wong [8] dropped a ball between Wilmer Flores [9] and Juan Lagares [10]. Flores rushed back, Lagares forward. I thought getting in Juan’s way was counterproductive, but Wilmer was trying his defensive best and Juan, probably aching more than we know, has never been defensively worse (because we’ve never seen him defensively bad at all). Next thing you now, Wong is stealing his way to second. Ruben Tejada [11] can’t corral Kevin Plawecki [12]’s throw and Flores is not properly backing him up, thus Wong lands on third. Matt Holliday [13]’s sharp grounder to first could have been thrown home by Lucas Duda [14] — Wong wasn’t exactly making a direct beeline to the plate — but Lucas opted to step on the bag instead.

One run. It shouldn’t have presented a definitive impediment to success, but one run scored off a Mets starter is as daunting to move as a three-inch thick coffee table shipped over from Italy. The Cardinals got no more than a little lucky, but the Mets can’t afford to abet anybody’s good fortune. It was 1-1, and Syndergaard hadn’t really done anything wrong.

Then he did. He dared to give up a home run to Jhonny Peralta [15]. Just like that, he was in a 2-1 hole. What were the odds his teammates would rally to pull him out?

Long to non-existent. Noah left after seven, still trailing, 2-1. The increasingly obscure back end of the Mets bullpen gave up another run in the eighth to make it 3-1. In the ninth, the Mets were poised to disappear altogether, but because they’re the Mets, for better and worse, they wouldn’t and couldn’t go quietly. They shouldn’t. They should get runners on base. Which they did in their own lucky fashion. With one out against not quite right Trevor Rosenthal [16], Duda outmuscled the shift for a single and Plawecki received a Wongish gift that turned into his own base hit. We had first and second. Maybe something was happening.

Bob Geren [17], ostensibly pushing the buttons because baseball’s amphetamine ban apparently doesn’t extend to bantam rooster managers who don’t care for a given ball/strike call, went all out. He pinch-ran the modestly paced Eric Campbell [18] for molasses-slow Plawecki. Kirk Nieuwenhuis [19], who seems to have reverted to pumpkin status (.135), fought a seven-pitch good fight against Rosenthal, but fanned for the third time on the night. Two out.

Then opportunity: a wild pitch eluded the loathsome Yadier Molina [20]. Runners on second and third. The Mets had to take advantage. If this were, as I wished to imagine it, a preview of the 2015 NLDS, you have to grab whatever the Cardinals give you. You have to make your own luck. And, somehow, the Mets sort of did in their limited capacity to generate scoring threats. Ruben artfully placed a tepid ground ball beyond the grasp of Rosenthal. It died in the middle infield. Duda scored. Campbell moved up to third. It was 3-2.

This was the perfect spot for the Mets to bring that professional bat off the bench, the one Sandy Alderson secured over the All-Star break, the one a team that packs this much pitching needs if it is going to truly approach the second half of the season as a contender.

Instead, Geren sent up John Mayberry [21] (.188). His other options were Johnny Monell [22] (.195) and Danny Muno [23] (.120). He might as well have asked Keith for Maggie’s number.

Everything has to go practically perfectly for the offensively fragile Mets to make up a two-run deficit in one inning. They were handed three, maybe four breaks by the Cardinals. If Rosenthal wasn’t going to favor them with a balk, they needed to make one good thing happen by themselves. They needed somebody to connect for a base hit with a man on third. They needed somebody capable of doing that in the first place.

Instead, they went with Mayberry, who hung in with the All-Star closer for nine pitches. On the ninth pitch, he struck out to lower his average to .186 and leave the Mets one run to the rear. Syndergaard took the loss [24]. He carried the Mets through seven. You’d think somebody could’ve picked him up for once.