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

What’s Their Line?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of John Daly, host of CBS’s What’s My Line? [1], introducing his broadcast of Sunday night, May 31, 1964, with the honest admission that he’d been backstage watching the most “marvelous” — or in one retelling “fantastic” — baseball game between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants just before coming on the air that evening. Why, it had been going on for hours and was still going on well past regulation, here at 10:30 PM on the East Coast. Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen fretted that John must stop expressing his fascination at once, for if he extolled its virtues any further, he would risk chasing Metropolitan Area viewers from their show on Channel 2 to that very game on Channel 9!

Which there was plenty of time to do, given that the game in question — the second half of a doubleheader that commenced a little after one o’clock that afternoon — would march on toward 11:30 and total 23 innings before it was all over. Legend has it that countless dials clicked seven notches up the VHF spectrum to see what exactly at Shea Stadium had Daly so riled up, and there went the rating for that night’s What’s My Line?

In our splintered media universe of more than a half-century later, one wonders if anybody anywhere who wasn’t already watching our Metsies go similarly long last night opted to set aside whatever popular culture he or she was consuming in order to sample a taste of extra, extra innings 2015 Mets-style. If so enticed, did they find it marvelous? Was it fantastic?

If you were new to baseball and tuned in to decipher the fuss inherent in an endless 1-1 game, I can’t imagine it necessarily sold you on the virtues of the National Pastime. And if you are a hardened fan of several decades, chances are you were tempted to weep — or maybe just sigh a lot — for the farce your beloved game had become. Still, no matter why you found yourself watching the Mets and Cardinals from Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon deep into Sunday evening, I can’t imagine you could pull yourself away.

That is the appeal of the marathon game, no matter how poorly it is executed (and no matter how much you believe its participants should be executed, or at least designated for assignment). It keeps going. Even if you maintain a severe rooting interest, you are torn between wanting the definitive run scored by your team and desiring no such thing because then it will be over. You may have things to do, places to go, people to see, but never mind all of those concerns. You are ensconced in what is becoming one of the longest baseball games you will ever experience.

Deep down, you don’t want it to end.

The Mets and Cards were cooperating with your wishes. They weren’t going anywhere for the bulk of six hours and neither were you. Certainly Mets batters weren’t going any further than third base, for that was the signature of this particular marathon dance between ancient rivals. This one wasn’t about spectacular fielding or dazzling strategy or mano-a-mano slugging. It was only sort of about clutch pitching; the pitching was effective as far as it went, but it was difficult to ascertain whether the pitching was smothering the hitting or the hitting was absolutely useless.

There were plenty of hits, actually: sixteen from the Mets, thirteen from the Cardinals. We learned Saturday night that hits don’t necessarily lead to runs. The Mets accumulated a dozen hits in the game before this one but scored only twice. The Mets are expert practitioners in the art of making copious amounts of noise without creating a discernible sound. Except for the sound of silence. If you attached a microphone to home plate in hopes of hearing the bottom of a spike cross it, you wouldn’t hear a peep.

We know how the Mets can be. What was the Cardinals’ excuse? Aren’t the Cardinals the best team in baseball, with the best fans in baseball, with the best opposition research [2] in baseball? Shouldn’t have they hacked into the Mets’ mainframe for at least one run during the first dozen innings when the Mets were depositing and abandoning everybody from Wilmer Flores [3] (stranded after a one-out double in the second) to Kirk Nieuwehnhuis (stranded after a one-out double in the twelfth)?

Credit Jon Niese [4], he who regularly pitches without support or particular joie de vivre, for the first seven-and-two-thirds of scoreless ball. It was a grim task, but there is no one more suited for sucking the action out of a baseball game played under unyielding clouds. Niese was grimly great for as long as Terry Collins would allow him to be. It wasn’t until the eighth, when he hit Randall Grichuk (and who among us hasn’t wanted to do that to the latest word in Met-killing?) that he was removed to make way for his fellow veteran, Bobby Parnell [5]. Like Niese, Parnell has been a stoic Met since Shea Stadium stood. Unlike Niese, Parnell hasn’t shaved since Citi Field was built.

No situation was too hairy for Parnell. He struck out the dangerous Jhonny Peralta [6] — all Cardinals are dangerous — and it was off to the torpid races from there. The Mets had a chance to go ahead in the ninth, if you interpret a baserunner as synonymous with a chance. Eric Campbell [7] walked with one out. He was still on first with two out when he decided stealing was the better part of valor. Kevin Siegrist [8] picked him off and was in the dugout enjoying a cool beverage before Soup was tagged out at second.

And on they went. The Met relief corps — Parnell in the ninth; Jenrry Mejia [9] for the next two, Hansel Robles [10] during the inning after that — kept the Cardinals at bay. The Cardinals seemed determined to disavow their Runnin’ Redbirds reputation and jogged as slowly as possible on most of their own batted balls. Everybody had an excuse. Yadier Molina [11] was tired from squatting. Matt Holliday [12] was recovering from injury. Carlos Villanueva [13] was a pitcher. Even the Best Fans In Baseball booed impatiently when Villanueva didn’t take advantage of a potential infield flub in the twelfth…and much of the crowd that remained by then was sticking around for the sharing of postgame Christian Day [14] testimony.

Thou shalt not pass on scoring opportunities was the key commandment of a game schlepping into the thirteenth. The Mets, at last, heard The Word, because they jumped on the energy-conserving Villanueva pronto. Curtis Granderson [15], an interloper into the festivities (having been initially sat in deference to Cy Young [16]…check that Tim Cooney [17] starting for the Cardinals), lashed a leadoff single that Curtis deemed worth stretching into something more. He sped up and was safe at second. While Keith Hernandez [18] was in the booth audibly moaning for “a whiskey — please,” Granderson helped himself and made his own double.

Kevin Plawecki [19] was up next and found the first significant hole of the day, not counting the 24 holes in all those doughnuts on the scoreboard. Kevin’s grounder darted between Kolten Wong [20] at second and Mark Reynolds [21] at first. Granderson, who had earlier attempted to inject life into listlessness with an unlikely stolen base, kept running as the rest of St. Louis sleepwalked. He scored an actual run. The Mets had an actual lead.

The Mets liked the sensation so much, they tried to extend it. Ruben Tejada [22] singled Plawecki to third. A sacrifice fly would make it 2-0, so on the off chance that the next Met pitcher gave up a leadoff home run, the Mets would still be out in front. Campbell tried his best to make a worthwhile out, but his fly ball to right was too short to send Kevin home. Juan Lagares [23], in one of his ten at-bats, made one of his eight outs, also not long enough to aid the greater cause. Daniel Murphy [24] was intentionally walked, bringing up Robles’s spot. Collins looked down his bench, shrugged and called for Johnny Monell [25].

Monell popped up. The Mets didn’t tack on an insurance run. Disappointing, but not unexpected. Prior to Plawecki’s hit, the Mets were 0-for-Ever with runners in scoring position or, really, any position. Still, a 1-0 lead was better than a perpetual 0-0 tie, and besides, Jeurys Familia [26], the All-Star in everything but being named one, was coming into pitch. Familia had saved the last four wins the Mets had compiled. He couldn’t have been any better rested, not having worked in a week. All he had to do was…

Oh, you know what he did. He gave up a leadoff home run to Wong in the bottom of the thirteenth. He had to. A thirteen-inning, 1-0 win would have been relatively simple. On the other hand, a thirteen-inning, 2-1 loss would have been brutally painful. Familia played his role perfectly. He put two more runners on before striking out Tommy Pham [27] to guarantee a fourteenth inning.

There are exceptions to every rule, but extra-inning games don’t start running toward marathon status until they reach fourteen. Keith could sigh and moan and ache for the sanctity of the game he held dear every eight seconds, but until we knew we had a fourteenth inning — by which the time the LOB had been declared the official state bird of Flushing — we couldn’t be sure we were experiencing something we’d be referencing way down the road. Like the 23-inning game from 1964. Or the 25-inning game from 1974. Or the 19-inning game from 1985 that ended with fireworks at four in the morning. Or the 20-inning game at this very ballpark in 2010 [28], one that also nibbled the edges of sanity with its offensive ineptitude, except Fox did that one, so we couldn’t sit inside Keith Hernandez’s head and watch it ooze out of his ears.

SNY was blessedly on the air Sunday and Keith’s disdain was running wild in the streets of downtown St. Louis. Thank heaven for small favors.

Now that Collins and Mike Matheny [29] were legitimately low on personnel, a technically dull game was promising to get incredibly interesting. Matheny would eventually turn to starter Carlos Martinez [30]. Terry went with perpetual mystery guest Sean Gilmartin [31], a pitcher whose identity would surely stump Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf. Gilmartin, in case you’ve forgotten, is the pitcher who keeps pitching for the Mets because he was obtained in the Rule 5 draft. Rule 5 specifies that you must keep Sean Gilmartin on your roster all year long. Rule 6 delineates that you keep forgetting who Sean Gilmartin is.

Gilmartin pitches very well for someone who barely exists. He took care of the Cards with ease in the fourteenth and fifteenth and worked out of a bit of a jam in the sixteenth. Martinez, who came on in the fifteenth, had the easier job. He had to face the Mets, the pennant contenders who’d left eighteen runners on base thus far on top of the eleven from the night before [32], all while scoring a grand total of three runs in 23 innings.

That’s a lot of zeroes to get to a 1-1 tie, but it takes a lot of nothing to go a long way when you’re running a Metsian marathon. Martinez was no less successful than his seven pitching predecessors. A double play erased a hint of an uprising in the fifteenth; a single to Gilmartin (!) and a walk to Lucas Duda [33] (a.k.a. Lucas Nada or Lucas Do Nothing; I haven’t decided) led to three meek outs in the sixteenth; the theatrical loading of the bases in the seventeenth, featuring an intentional walk to Murphy to set up an unintentional walk to pinch-hitter Jacob deGrom [34] (!!) merely served to adorn Lucas’s two-out strikeout.

Carlos Torres [35], whom I tend to refer to as Carlos Tsuris so as to distinguish him from his non-biological brother Alex Tsuris, shook off his distinguishing family trait [36] and didn’t bring the Mets trouble when he replaced Gilmartin in the seventeenth. C. Tsuris struck out his first two batters, surrendered a base hit, but then benefited from Plawecki’s gunning down of Peralta in an attempted steal of second. Molina may be the bee’s knees of catchers over the last decade, but Yadier was outshone in this particular marathon by young Kevin. Perhaps had Aaron Heilman [37] pitched, it would have been a different story.

At last, a different chapter unfolded from all those that had preceded it. The eighteenth inning brought a sustained Met offensive onslaught. Flores singled. Granderson singled. Plawecki bunted and confounded Martinez. The bases were loaded again, with absolutely nobody out. The sport would be legally compelled to fold operations if the Mets couldn’t push one lousy run across.

Two were forthcoming, one via Tejada sacrifice fly, one via Campbell suicide squeeze. The latter couldn’t stand as an isolated moment of triumph, however, as good ol’ Soup got himself thrown out at first upon further review mostly because he slowed down en route to glance over his shoulder at the play at the plate. Terrible baseball instincts, but perfectly understandable from a human standpoint. If you cling to a spot on the sub-.200 Met bench of 2015, maybe you should eschew the best advice [38] of Satchel Paige [39] and look back; something ought to be gaining on you.

With a third run in and a franchise record-tying 25th runner left on base (yes, the Mets had done this before), all that could go wrong instead went uneventfully right. Carlos Torres — in for Carlos Tsuris — set down what was left of the Cardinals in order and the Mets had themselves a 3-1 win [40] that took eighteen innings, ran five hours and fifty-five minutes and, with the notable exception of Keith Hernandez’s will to live [41], rendered no casualties. The Christian Day pilgrims, like the nocturnal fireworks enthusiasts of Atlanta, indeed stayed inside the park to hear special guest testifier Kurt Warner share his “incredible story,” which certainly had a new coda to it after that long an afternoon and early evening.

The entire package [42] was billed in advance by the Cardinals sales office as “a wonderful day of faith and baseball”. Considering Sunday’s particulars and how it all worked out from our perspective — frustration, followed by aggravation, followed by deliverance, followed by a flight to take on an alleged powerhouse first-place club still only two games ahead of ours in the standings — we can’t say there wasn’t truth in that advertising.