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Another Storyline So Ridiculous It Must Be True

When it happened I was sad. Michael Cuddyer [1] had been having such a good game.

You know Michael Cuddyer. The Mets’ free-agent acquisition of the offseason, who became an instant Rorschach test for the fanbase. On the one hand, he cost money and was a former batting champ, which indicated a certain seriousness of purpose by ownership. On the other, he was old, had a history of injuries, and cost draft picks, which perhaps indicated a poor decision by the front office.

Cuddyer arrived not accompanied by much else in terms of new personnel, had a great spring training, and then looked like he’d used up all his hits in Port St. Lucie. We got to know him as a veteran with a silver buzz cut borrowed from the old mentor cop in a hundred police movies and a willingness to smile gamely from beneath a fedora. All of that was good, but not much else was: He was forced into near-daily service and didn’t look like he could hold up to the rigors of it. The hits weren’t there. He hurt his knee and spent weeks lingering on the pre-DL, that most Metsian of limbos. Somewhere in there he picked up a nickname that was cruel but undeniably clever: Michael Cadaver.

But when the Mets imported real players to replace the Quad-A slop they’d been inflicting on fans, something pretty neat happened. Cuddyer had time to heal up, and was put back into the lineup as the complementary player he should have been from the start. He kept on doing the small, admirable things he’d been doing, but he also started to hit.

On Sunday Cuddyer singled in the second off Wade Miley [2] and scored the game’s first run. In the fourth he singled again and kept the inning alive with a hard (but clean) takeout slide at second. In the sixth he walked, then got a great read on Juan Uribe [3]‘s double and scored right behind Daniel Murphy [4]. When forgotten man Anthony Recker [5] singled in Uribe, the Mets led 4-2, Noah Syndergaard [6] was once more in line for the win, and everything looked wonderful.

At that point Cuddyer’s story wasn’t the day’s only good one. Syndergaard had thrown one of his best games in weeks, mixing up his pitches from the beginning instead of after getting in trouble and commanding both sides of the plate. (Though OK, Joe West’s plus-sized strike zone helped a bit.) The Mets, unfortunately, kept hitting in lousy luck — I lost track of how many balls they lined right at Boston fielders. The first run, appropriately, came off the bat of Syndergaard himself, a modest little arc of a single over Xander Bogaerts [7]‘ head that followed hard-hit balls for naught from Ruben Tejada [8] and Recker.

With the BABIP gods intent on denying Syndergaard a reasonable lead, he scuffled along with a 1-0 advantage, only to try and challenge David Ortiz [9] on a 3-1 pitch with two out and one on in the sixth. The fastball Syndergaard threw was sizzling and low, but it had too much plate and Big Papi’s on his way to 500 homers for a reason. He turned it into a mortar shell off the facing of the Pepsi Porch for a 2-1 Boston lead. No matter: The Mets promptly grabbed the lead back. Syndergaard, clearly tired and losing his location, departed in the 7th on the right side of a 4-3 advantage.

Which is when Cuddyer’s sweet story turned sour. With two out, Hansel Robles [10] got Mookie Betts [11] to hit a pop fly to left. Unfortunately, Cuddyer was playing all the way over in left center and got what he’d later call “a little bit of a late read” on it. “Late read,” in this case, meant the ball seemed to be nearing the top of its arc with Cuddyer still cemented in place way too far away. It plopped in for a bizarre triple that tied the game and made me sad — sad for Cuddyer, for Syndergaard, for the Mets and for myself.

But perhaps you’ve heard baseball is a game of redemption. In the eighth, with two outs and Murphy on first, Boston turned to a reliever with the unlikely name of Heath Hembree [12]. (Seriously, who names a child this?) Up came Cuddyer — and there went Murphy, the Mets’ not-so-invisible ninja and avatar of chaos [13], stealing second. This time we witnessed a manifestation of Good Murph — he got a big jump, the pitch was head-high, and the bag was stolen easily.

Two pitches later, Hembree threw a flat fastball right down the middle that Cuddyer smacked into left field. Murph came hurtling around third, pounding his chest, and all was right with the world.

Well, not quite right — the Mets had to survive Tyler Clippard [14] throwing two hanging change-ups to Ortiz in the eighth (not recommended but it worked) and a misplay by Tejada to start the ninth off on a bad note. But Jeurys Familia [15] bore down and faced Betts with the game in the balance. He showed Betts the slider, the splitter and then erased him with a high 1-2 fastball that hit 100 MPH.

Just your routine ridiculously great baseball story [16]. The Mets specialize in those of late, don’t they? Here’s to a couple of months more of them.