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Full of Cake, Want Icing

A while back I declared that we’d already won [1], and anything else that came our way would be lagniappe — games stolen from wintertime. That wasn’t an attempted reverse jinx (though I’m far from above such things) — I meant it. The postseason’s a crapshoot but gets all the attention; the regular season’s the prize, but the narrative turns it into a participant trophy unless the finale is a parade. It’s a shame, and we should resist the pressure to think that way.

But that’s not to say that this month of glorified exhibition games isn’t electric, exciting, joyous and terrifying. It’s all of the above, and Friday night I realized that nine empty years have left me sorely out of practice. I was pretty calm during the day, watching the Blue Jays and Rangers try to defeat each other and the Strike Zone of Mystery and then seeing a slice of Astros-Royals. But by midway through the Cards-Cubs tilt I had tunnel vision and was reduced to fidgeting and checking the time. And by first pitch I was a disaster, sitting rigid on the couch and reminding myself to breathe.

The game wasn’t exactly one to encourage relaxation, either. It was fascinating and riveting, a duel between two pitchers throwing a baseball about as well as it can be done. There were only two questions:

  1. Which ace pitcher would make a mistake?
  2. Which ace pitcher would get tired first?

The answer, in both cases, was Kershaw. The mistake came in the fourth, facing Daniel Murphy [2] — the same Daniel Murphy I’d just been grousing on Twitter shouldn’t have been starting. That’s another marvelous thing about baseball — sometimes you’re over the moon to be wrong. Murph crushed a 2-0 fastball to the back of the right-field bullpen, one of those bolts he delivers now and again. Seriously — the ball wound up with DANIEL imprinted on it, like a 105 MPH iron-on. I am not kidding [3]. Having connected, Murph cocked his bat like a sword, then discarded it and floated around the bases having given the Mets a 1-0 lead. (Oh, and this is adorable [4].)

It looked like that was all the Mets would get, though, because Kershaw was spectacular, carving up hitter after hitter with evil sliders and curves that looked hittable at the 59-foot point but then dived through the bottom of the strike zone. Or, on occasion, veered around it to check in at the point at the back of the plate — witness the backdoor slider that erased David Wright [5] in the top of the third, followed by an impossible curve that bagged Yoenis Cespedes [6]. (The pitch that got Wright was a strike, though you’d never know it by TBS’s tire fire of a strike-zone widget, which seemed calibrated to the back of the plate rather than the front.)

Anyway, Kershaw was spectacular, but Jacob deGrom [7] — he of the shaggy hair and sheepish grin — was a little bit better. DeGrom got there via a harder road, relying on high-90s heat at the beginning and then finding consistency with his slider and change-up late, but he wound up in a better place: 121 pitches, seven scoreless innings and 13 strikeouts, the last claiming old nemesis Chase Utley [8]. The list of Mets to fan 10 or more in a postseason game is a short one: Dwight Gooden [9] (in ’88) and Tom Seaver [10] (twice in ’73), and now deGrom. And only Tom Terrific joined him in fanning 13. You don’t have to be as historically minded as this blog to know that’s pretty good company.

DeGrom’s final inning came after the Mets had broken through against Kershaw and Pedro Baez [11]. The Mets were hunting fastballs early in counts, but the rest of their plan was to wear Kershaw down on a bizarrely hot night. Witness Wright’s terrific first-inning AB, a 13-pitch walk, and the group effort in the seventh. Lucas Duda [12], Ruben Tejada [13] and Curtis Granderson [14] all walked, sending Don Mattingly [15] out to get his ace and bringing Baez in to face Wright with two out.

It’s been gratifying — to say the least — to see Wright return and contribute, but that seventh-inning at-bat was even more heartening than the first-pitch home run in Philly. The David Wright of his first years in Shea reminded me of Edgardo Alfonzo [16] with his knack for taking a pitcher’s count and grinding his way to a neutral count or an advantage, then getting his pitch and hitting it hard. The David Wright of Citi Field looked different, too often expanding the strike zone and doing the enemy’s work for him. The Wright we saw in Game 1? That was Shea David. Facing Baez for the first time, armed only with a Michael Cuddyer [17] scouting report, Wright worked his way to 3-2 and then rifled a fastball over the infield, making a terrifyingly slim 1-0 Met lead into a merely nerve-wracking 3-0 Met lead. Tyler Clippard [18] hit a bump in the eighth, as he has too often of late, but Jeurys Familia [19] collected four outs and the good guys had won [20].

We’ve survived Clayton Kershaw [21]. Now here comes Zack Greinke [22], who’s as frightening as Kerhsaw, if not more so. But Noah Syndergaard [23]‘s pretty capable too — and he’ll only be followed by Matt Harvey [24] and Steven Matz [25].

Saturday night will be terrifying, of course — but after nearly a decade of spending October as a spectator in search of temporary loyalty, it’s a good kind of terrifying. And I’m looking forward to whatever these games bring, joyous outcome or not. We’ve had our cake, but I’ll take all the icing I can get.