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

Sometimes It’s Simple

Baseball is a game played nine to a side, with wheeling motion and shifting fielding assignments and set plays and so much else. But each play starts not with nine people doing multiple things, but with one person doing one thing: The pitcher takes the ball and throws it in the direction of home plate.

When the pitcher does that ineffectively, it leads to a whole lot of stuff happening. When he does it effectively, things are much simpler.

Clayton Kershaw [1]‘s really good at throwing a baseball in the direction of home plate.

Last Friday, in Game 1 of the NLDS, Kershaw was merely pretty good [2] at that; Tuesday night, in Game 4, he was a whole lot better. The difference, as noted by David Wright [3], was that on Friday Kershaw didn’t have very good command of his curveball. The Mets could basically ignore that pitch and did so, driving up Kershaw’s pitch count, trying to force him to throw fastballs in hitters’ counts, and hunting mistakes. On Tuesday Kershaw had the fastball, curve and slider all working, which neutralized the plan that had worked four days earlier. The Mets did their best but it wasn’t nearly enough [4].

Everything else about Tuesday night’s game was a footnote. Steven Matz [5] was pretty good for a guy who hadn’t thrown a pitch in anger in nearly three weeks, but wound up undone by one unfortunate inning. In the third, Matz hung a curve to Kershaw for a one-out hit, got the second out on a fielder’s choice, surrendered a single to Howie Kendrick [6], was nicked for a run on a bloop that Adrian Gonzalez [7] sent into no-man’s land, and then elevated a change-up in the strike zone that former friend Justin Turner [8] whacked down the left-field line, where Yoenis Cespedes [9] played it like a man trying to pick up a spitting cat. Two bad pitches; three runs, no other damage. Those kind of innings happen to everybody; when they happen to you against Clayton Kershaw you’re probably going to lose.

The Mets tried to break through against Kershaw in the seventh, turning Citi Field into a cauldron of noise — including both of your bloggers, sitting side by side in the Promenade thanks to kindly reader Larry Arnold [10], where we were screaming and twirling orange rally towels for all we were worth.

Whatever happens come Thursday, October has provided gratifying proof that Citi Field can indeed get its roar on [11] if the faithful are given something to roar about. Kudos, also, to the Mets for tidying up aspects of their operation that have too often been shabby. On both Monday and Tuesday security lines moved quickly, the maroon jackets were professional and cordial, and the Mets did an admirable job showcasing their own history, with flashbacks to previous postseasons, listings of Opening Day lineups through the ages (with accompanying yearbook covers), and Rusty Staub [12], John Franco [13], Edgardo Alfonzo [14], Ed Charles [15] and Ron Swoboda [16] as visiting dignitaries.

On Tuesday night Swoboda and his wife appeared on the Kiss Cam with a note congratulating them on their 50th anniversary, which was good attention to detail; better was seeing Charles and Swoboda introduced to the strains of “Heart,” the Damn Yankees chestnut sung … let’s say enthusiastically [17] by the Miracle Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show in October 1969. That was so deft a historically minded touch that I asked Greg if he’d been freelancing for the Mets and was keeping mum about it. (For the record, he denied it.)

But back to the seventh. Kershaw fumbled a Cespedes bleeder for a leadoff single, followed by Travis d’Arnaud [18] fouling out and Lucas Duda [19] hitting the first pitch on the screws — but lining it to the center fielder. Wilmer Flores [20] worked a 2-0 count and scorched a ball towards third, where it spun Turner around. Plenty of times such hot shots eat up a third baseman, leaving the ball bounding into the outfield and sending runners flying around the bases. This wasn’t one of those times; Turner smothered the ball, took a moment to reorient himself and threw Wilmer out.

In the eighth, Curtis Granderson [21] worked a two-out walk against Chris Hatcher [22], followed by Wright walking against Kenley Jansen [23], followed by Daniel Murphy [24] working the count to 3-2. That sent the volume in the park zooming again, and the ball Murph hit looked good off the bat. But it was all angle and no anger; when it came down in Yasiel Puig [25]‘s glove it was like someone had unplugged Citi Field’s speakers. We slumped in our seats and waited and trudged off to a ferociously overcrowded 7 train.

And now we’ll wait until Thursday. The Mets have a game to play, with Jacob deGrom [26] taking on Zack Greinke [27]. If they lose, a heartening and exhilarating season will come to an end sooner than we would have wished; if they win, more baseball awaits us and them.

That’s simple too.