The nearly 150-year-old “national pastime,” as baseball continues to bill itself despite indications of declining popularity relative to other sporting endeavors, still has some surprises lurking in its venerable bones, none more unpredictable than those the New York Mets unveiled to a largely disapproving audience at PNC Park Wednesday night.
The cast of the New York Mets has weathered attrition and defections (some more spiritually damaging  and some less permanent  than others) since their glorious Broadway run of last fall. Talent is evident in certain key roles, while others are filled by game but frankly overmatched journeymen performers. Recent stagings have brought into question the staying power of the entire enterprise, but June 2016 is hardly the first month and year when the Mets have been written off as a fabulous invalid taking its overdue final bow.
Sparkling scenery and classic costuming augured well for a sumptuous production. If nothing else, ticketholders could look past any impending Met shortcomings and admire the Pittsburgh-designed set. A bridge…a river…a skyline. PNC Park was, as always, dressed to the nines. Its on-field inhabitants, unfortunately, did not always live up to the atmosphere.
Noah Syndergaard , as the Mets’ starting pitcher, swung and missed at the hype that materialized ahead of his appearance on the banks of the Allegheny. It’s not that Mr. Syndergaard was fully ineffective in the lead role. To the contrary, the longer Mr. Syndergaard (or “Thor,” as the press agents prefer he be identified) stayed in the spotlight, the more comfortable he appeared. It was the time he required to reach his comfort zone that seemed to doom the Mets’ aspirations for the evening.
Mr. Syndergaaard’s antagonist, newcomer Jameson Taillon , may have also suffered from a case of overwrought advance notices. Mr. Taillon certainly showed promise, but has yet to express the verve and panache necessary to sustain an above-the-marquee presence so necessary in this star-driven box office era.
In a sense, Mets at Pirates was an understudy’s gala, with the unlikely character of the rookie third baseman, played by little-known Ty Kelly , rescuing the first act with a display of power clearly at odds with the script’s prevailing narrative arc. There was no hint that Mr. Kelly — whose name was familiar only to those whose Playbills were properly supplemented with squares of white paper alerting the audience to his existence — had such a forceful outburst in him, but proponents of baseball will always default to their pastime’s capacity to jar as explanation for such illogical turns of event.
Despite crowd-pleasing moments in the mold of Mr. Kelly’s brief showstopper, Mets at Pirates was plagued by potentially climactic scenes that fizzled prematurely. The worst offender stepped to the fore late in the third act in the “Runners on Base” number. Michael Conforto , a featured player of whom much is expected (but from whom little has recently been delivered), struck a blow for scintillating drama with his own version of what Mr. Kelly had brought forth earlier. The waters of the Allegheny had surely been roiled and the Mets were poised to make the most of it.
Or so the most basic tenets of scriptwriting would have it. Following Mr. Conforto’s curtain call-worthy swing for the fences, his castmates proceeded to stand on each visible base. An anxious orchestra section, forged into common cause with the patrons in the upper balcony, braced for decisive action. Yet literally nothing happened. The Mets slipped off the stage and into darkness, leaving all puzzled as to the purpose of the cumbersome buildup.
Another disappointment came in the form of the prodigal son character, convincingly if ineffectually portrayed by Neil Walker . Mr. Walker, a Pittsburgh native, was the focus of the spotlight for much of the evening, yet proved unequal to the attention. Perhaps a stage packed with less pressure (ironically, he has excelled in New York) will revive his suddenly flagging abilities.
Ultimately, the Mets will be the Mets, another of those shibboleths Metropolitan apologists rely upon to rationalize convoluted plots that are sorted almost neatly at the last possible juncture. Wednesday night it fell to Wilmer Flores , best remembered for his emotion-riddled summer stock performance in 2015, to create a path home. No “Tears of Joy” this time from Mr. Flores, another of those Mets who has unfortunately made his 2016 encore something more resembling a chore than a delight. Director Terry Collins nevertheless cobbled together a pedestrian resolution, that of an almost mundane pinch-hit bloop single. It may not have been an artistic triumph, but at least the bases didn’t go unloaded again.
After Mr. Flores fulfilled his obligation to Mr. Collins’s less than fresh vision, the final theatrical flourish belonged to the closer (a part reprised, per usual, by Jeurys Familia ). The Met director doesn’t believe in simple endings, but after perhaps a bit too much kerfuffle on the part of the opposing Pirates, he and his cast did produce a happy one.
It may not have been what Pittsburgh wanted, but Mets aficionados couldn’t help but grudgingly offer its applause for a result that would inevitably read as bright and bouncy in the next morning’s box score .