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It Wasn’t Over Till It Was Over

The constantly vigilant, uncommonly retentive (not to mention preternaturally anxious) baseball fan’s mind comes fully equipped with hyperlinks. He sees something and it reminds him of something he’s seen before. It may or may not be worth the trouble of clicking on, but he know it’s there.

For example, Wednesday night the Mets were ahead of the Marlins, 7-0. It was as glorious a setup as one could desire. Matt Harvey [1] had been cruising. Juan Uribe [2] had belted a three-run homer in the fifth. Yoenis Cespedes [3], Lucas Duda [4] and Michael Conforto [5] had combined to plate four in the third. The Nationals were cooperating by falling behind the Diamondbacks in D.C. You couldn’t have asked for a more ideal evening.

Terry Collins removed Harvey after seven. In another era, you wouldn’t take out your ace (or co-ace) after he’d given up two hits and walked nobody, especially after he’d thrown only 88 pitches. In that other era, nobody would know how many pitches had been thrown. But that era doesn’t exist today. Nobody’s concerned about burnishing individual credentials like complete games or shutouts. Everybody wants to limit wear and tear on a valuable surgically repaired right elbow. The Mets hope to need that elbow and the arm it’s attached to beyond the confines of the regular season.

Fine. Harvey’s out with a seven-run lead and two innings to go. It didn’t even feel controversial. Yet one of the hyperlinks in my mind clicked back on a game from ten years ago this month involving a situation at least passingly similar.

On August 20, 2005, at Shea Stadium, the Mets led the Nationals, 8-0. Neither team was in first place, but both were scrambling for a Wild Card. It was the Mets’ night, to be sure. Ramon Castro [6], Jose Reyes [7] and David Wright [8] had all homered with runners on base, chasing Liván Hernandez [9]. The beneficiary of all this offensive largesse was the usually run-starved Pedro Martinez [10]. He had taken a no-hitter deep into his last start, only to have the Mets score practically nothing for him and saddle him with a 2-1 loss. Even then, the primacy of the won-lost record was being severely questioned, but still, it was going to be satisfying to see Pedro get a win he deserved against the Nats and raise his record to 13-5.

Willie Randolph [11] took Pedro out after six innings and 78 pitches. Martinez was feeling a bit of stiffness in his back, though that supposedly wasn’t the problem. Just a desire to “save some bullets,” according to the manager, who added, “We’re also going to try and be cautious with Pedro when we can. I understand we’re in a pennant race and every game’s important, but I just felt real comfortable at that point.”

Yes, at that point, quite comfortable. At points to come, less so. Danny Graves [12], Dae-Sung Koo [13] and Aaron Heilman [14] each pitched a third of an inning in the seventh. Willie getting his relievers some work? Not exactly. Among them, they gave up six runs. The Mets’ lead was down to 8-6. Heilman got through the eighth all right, handing the two-run edge to closer Braden Looper [15] in the ninth. Looper recorded two quick outs before future Met Ryan Church [16] singled, former Met Preston Wilson [17] singled and future Met Brian Schneider [18] doubled them both home.

It was 8-8. Or as Pedro termed it in his inimitable way, “It seemed like it was going to be an easy day at the office for the whole team. Seems like it was only easy for me.”

Ten years after the Mets blew that eight-run lead [19] but not the game [20] in which it had been mounted (Roberto Hernandez [21] pitched a scoreless tenth and Chris Woodward [22] drove in Gerald Williams [23] with a walkoff single), another easy day at the office ensued unremarkably. In the top of the ninth at Marlins Park, Duda lifted a sacrifice fly and increased the Mets’ advantage to 8-0. All they needed to do was not give up eight or more runs in the time it took them to compile three outs and a series sweep and sixth consecutive victory would be theirs.

The only other thing that needed to happen was for nobody to assume it was a done deal…which is where I found myself bristling at beloved SNY analyst Ron Darling [24].

Oh, Darling. You were an All-Star 30 years ago; a World Champion 29 years ago. You know more about how the game is played than I ever will. So how is it you could breach protocol as you did in the bottom of the ninth inning when you said something to the effect of “If the Mets win…” and interrupted yourself to ask Gary Cohen, “Why do we have to say ‘if’?”

AAUUGGHH!!

That was me screaming superstitiously [25] from my couch. My hyperlinks were all clicking at once to every time I or anybody prematurely declared a win was in the bag when the bag had yet to be sealed. Darling, with 136 more wins than I have in the big leagues, seemed to forget that when you’re sizing up a baseball game that has yet to encompass a final score you can’t…you can’t…you just can’t do that. You can’t do that if you’re some schlub muttering to yourself on a couch somewhere on Long Island and you can’t do that if you’re speaking into a microphone somewhere in Miami.

You just can’t. The baseball gods are always listening, and the baseball gods don’t care for that stuff.

Ronnie seemed to catch himself and tried to walk his presumptuousness back, but it was too late. The win wasn’t in the bag and the cat was out of it. Here came the stupid Marlins. Here came an unexpected flurry of Met relievers. Eric O’Flaherty quickly wore out his welcome by allowing hits to four of five batters to open the ninth. It was only 8-2 when Collins hooked him. No biggie, right? We’d learned our latest LOOGY maybe should be limited to one batter, like he was in the eighth.

Hansel Robles [26] entered, but didn’t get out alive: an out, a walk and a three-run double. That made the proceedings 8-5. It wasn’t an easy day at the office for Hansel Robles.

But all right, 8-5 was still a cushioned margin. It was a charmed score, in fact. The Mets won their last World Series by taking an 8-5 decision from the Boston Red Sox. (Ron Darling stuck the Mets in a 3-0 hole in that game, but never mind that right now.) Robles was removed in favor of the closer, Jeurys Familia [27]. Familia has stopped being automatic, but maybe he’s also stopped being perilous. He came through against Washington last weekend, which was a more recent example of his capabilities than that awful Thursday afternoon in the rain against San Diego [28] when he turned a 7-5 lead into an 8-7 loss between tarpings.

Besides, that was in the Before Time. Before Cespedes. Before Citi Field became the beating heart of baseball. Before first place. Jeurys Familia would settle this nonsense ASAP and the slight difficulties in nailing down this win would be forgotten. It would be a win. That would be the important thing.

There was another single, which came attached to another RBI, making it Mets 8 Marlins 6, tying run coming to the plate. Then a little defensive indifference followed by another infield single. This brought the winning run to the plate with two out and two on.

Cue internal monologue:

Holy crap, it’s last week against the Padres again. It’s ten years ago against the Nationals again. It’s…no, no, no! It’s the present day. It’s not a game that will get away. It’s still a lead. It was an eight-run lead for a reason. It was an eight-run lead so in case the Mets somehow gave up as many as seven runs, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t look good, it wouldn’t feel good, it was a bad idea to suggest “when,” rather than “if,” but we’re still up. Jeurys Familia is still Jeurys Familia. I still have faith in him. I still have faith in us.

Infield grounder to Duda.
Lucas steps on the bag.
Ballgame.

First-place Mets win again [29].
Second-place Nationals eventually lose again.
First-place Mets ahead by two.

That’s the important thing.

Nevertheless, consider the ninth an celestial warning issued to the proverbial “both dugouts,” specifically whichever dugout the Mets happen to occupy in a given game
.
Never give up if you’re losing by a lot.
Never let up if you’re winning by a lot.

And for crissake, Ronnie, if.
Not when.
If.