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

The Tiger or the Other Tiger?

It’s an ancient baseball conundrum.

No, not “are sacrifice bunts mostly dumb or mostly super-dumb?” And not “is something wrong if you’re giving that many ABs to Eric Campbell [1]?” I mean something even tougher to contemplate and more scarring to one’s inner fan: “would you rather lose meekly, or come back and then lose hideously?”

It was reunion weekend lots of places: the Mets welcomed the heroes of ’86 down from Orange and Blue Olympus [2] to alight at Citi Field, while a bit farther north I was attending my 25th college reunion. Emerging from dinner Saturday night, I looked at my phone and felt my stomach knot up: why had Noah Syndergaard [3] come out after 2.1 innings with no earned runs allowed? My immediate thought was an awful one — elbow ligament — meaning I was one of very few Mets fans who was relieved to learn of the farce that had taken place [4]. (The news that Chase Utley [5] had dropped five runs worth of homers on the Mets? That was less easy to turn into a positive.)

Sunday night, freshly unreunited, I was back on my couch, weary and dopey and ready for three hours of baseball that would explore whether the Mets could somehow dent the armor of Clayton Kershaw. [6]

The answer: no, not really. Curtis Granderson [7] doubled to lead off the game and was standing on third with one out, but Yoenis Cespedes [8] struck out and Neil Walker [9] did the same, and I wanted to fume about the Mets doing that way too much except, hey, it’s Clayton Kershaw. On the other side of the ledger, Bartolo Colon [10] was pretty good, but he wasn’t quite Kershaw. Kershaw got nicked by an Asdrubal Cabrera [11] fly ball just long enough and high enough to intersect the party deck and survive a perilous-looking umpire review, while Colon was touched up by despicable assassin Utley, vengeance-minded prodigal son Justin Turner [12] and always-dangerous Adrian Gonzalez [13] to leave the Mets in a 2-1 hole late.

The good news, if you squinted, was that Kershaw seemed to be tiring. His pitches were less sharp in the 7th, but overeager Met bats and a great sell job by A.J. Ellis [14] on a ball fouled into the dirt got him out of that frame. In the eighth he was still Kershaw, but a Kershaw near the end of the line on a hot night: Kevin Plawecki [15] singled, Campbell flied out after some lamentable attempted bunting, and pinch-hitter Michael Conforto [16] hit the ball solidly, though straight to the center fielder. Finally, after 114 pitches, that was enough. Dave Roberts [17] summoned the hulking Adam Liberatore [18], and Granderson hammered a 2-1 pitch to right-center.

You want too many emotions packed into too small a space? At first I thought Granderson had hit the ball over the fence. Then I thought Yasiel Puig [19] had snagged it with a nifty running grab. Neither was the case — the ball eluded Puig, sending Plawecki home and Granderson all the way to third. Liberatore, taking a page from the Annoying Middle-Reliever Handbook, blew Cabrera away on three pitches, but the damage was done, the game was tied, Kershaw hadn’t beaten us, and hey, who knew?

So of course Jeurys Familia [20] came in and was terrible yet again, completely unable to command his sinker. He somehow got Utley, shattering Chase’s implement of evil before it could be used against us. But he walked Corey Seager [21], then walked the not evil but definitely infuriating Turner, then surrendered a fatal single to Gonzalez.

I’m sure there will be lots of grumbling about Familia in non-save situations; until you show me a statistically rigorous examination of closers pitching in such outings, I’m going to shrug and say it’s One of Those Things. Relievers have runs of innings marred by bad luck/poor performance just like starters do, except relievers’ innings dribble out over a horrific week or two instead of taking up a couple of wasted evenings. That makes the whole ordeal feel longer and grimmer than it really is, and when it’s your closer who’s off the mark, victories careen into defeats and sympathy is harder to summon than it should be.

So yeah, anyway. We could have gone down meekly before the amazing machine that is Clayton Kershaw, muttered and shrugged and tried to move on. Instead we escaped Kershaw and promptly did ourselves in [22]. It was cruel, but then baseball so often is.