SNY’s cameras really shouldn’t have lingered on Braves’ bench coach Terry Pendleton, acting as manager, after Brian Snitker was ejected for arguing the result of a replay review Thursday night. Snitker is obviously too interim to fully understand the intricacies and ramifications of replay review rules (and when we’re straight on them, we’ll be sure to impart our wisdom unto him). When Pendleton fills the screen, it doesn’t take long to travel in the mind’s eye from 2016 to 1987 and frame him in his playing days, as a Cardinal, within a September night when the course of a pennant race changed perhaps irreversibly.
That’s a 29-year swing in the standings right there, going from worrying about the second-place Mets of now to shuddering over what became of the second-place Mets of then, but baseball is a time machine that way, whether you desire to connect to its services or not; it comes with the package. I saw Pendleton and I was transported to the infamous home run he hit off Roger McDowell and the shoe I threw at a nearby wall once that game went final.
Not long after the present-day portrait of Terry Pendleton at Turner Field dissolved, Adonis Garcia was batting with one out in the bottom of the eighth, the Mets leading, 3-2, Freddie Freeman on first. Freeman landed there after lining a Jerry Blevins pitch to right as the inning’s leadoff batter. You don’t think of Blevins starting eighth innings with one-run leads, which gave me pause, considering the Addison Reed–Jeurys Familia combination has been functioning without serious glitching in sealing off the final two frames, but it wasn’t ludicrous. Blevins is, in the parlance once applied to Gene Walter (speaking of 1987), death on lefthanded hitting. Freeman, though, is death on Met pitching of all stripe.
Blevins struck out his next lefty, Nick Markakis, so half harm, half foul, I suppose. The next batter was Garcia, a righty of slight track record, which motivated Terry Collins to scurry like a puppy dog to the mound to remove Blevins and insert Reed. Reed’s rap is he’s not as reliable when entering in an inning already in progress as he is when the canvas is his to paint. Last year, after joining the Mets at the edge of September, he inherited seven runs and allowed five to score. He’s improved in this area when asked to take over for a fallen bullpen comrade. Heading into his encounter with Garcia, he’d inherited eleven and stranded all but one.
Garcia, though, I perceived as daunting. It was not seeing Adonis Garcia at the plate that bothered me, but Wilson Betemit. I looked at Garcia and Betemit crossed my mind. Betemit, a utility type who played for seven teams — more with Atlanta than anybody — in parts of eleven major league seasons (none since 2013), was beefier than Garcia but a comparable power threat. According to Baseball-Reference, Betemit hit a home run once every 27.9 at-bats, Garcia, to date, once every 26.6. His numbers were unremarkable, but, according to my selective memory, Betemit homered off Mets pitching every chance he got.
It turns out Betemit hit only six home runs versus the Mets: two as a Brave, including his very first in the majors; two as a Dodger; one as a Yankee; and one as an Oriole. It’s the one as a Yankee that stays with me, struck June 29, 2008, the final Subway Series game at Shea Stadium. It was a truly lovely Sunday afternoon for eight innings, devolving, as those things would in the ninth, into a marshaling of survival instincts when Derek Jeter produced a leadoff single against Billy Wagner. The Mets hung on to their 3-1 lead, despite Jeter scampering to second on a wild pitch and Alex Rodriguez flying to Endy Chavez at the track. Betemit happened to strike out looking to end the game, but that’s not why I thought of him while he batted against Reed.
Betemit infiltrated my mind because in the seventh inning of that 2008 affair, with no runners on and Oliver Perez in shutout mode (Ollie was actually quite solid in the situations when you absolutely could not stand the idea of losing to certain clubs), Betemit launched a missile that, without resorting to more than a modicum of exaggeration, probably reached the World’s Fair Marina. It was seriously belted. Even though the home run had limited impact on the outcome of the game — none, really, as the Mets were winning when he hit and went on to win — it lurked in the recesses of my subconscious for eight years. It came out to play last night.
I thought of Wilson Betemit hitting a home run, I literally muttered to myself that I sure hoped Adonis Garcia didn’t do to us what Wilson Betemit did to us, and, within a matter of seconds, Garcia did exactly that.
Except worse, because the Mets had been up by three when Betemit let loose with his solo blast, while Garcia was up with a man on and his team down by only one. It wasn’t the same type of home run. It wasn’t pulled so dramatically and it didn’t clear the wall with acres to spare, but it counted the same. The Mets went from leading, 3-2, to trailing, 4-3.
Too Betemitesque for comfort. Too Pendletonian, too, except in 2016, it’s June, whereas in 1987, it was September, and the Cardinals were in first place and the Braves, despite displaying excessive amounts competence of late, are in last. Still, it stung enough that when the inning was complete and I had to dash upstairs from the living room for a moment, I looked at the steps ahead of me and flashed back to that Barney Stein photograph of Ralph Branca sprawled face-down on a similar staircase in the visitors’ clubhouse at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951. Branca wasn’t in a good baseball mood and, 65 years later, neither was I.
I came back downstairs, but the Mets didn’t come back in the ninth. Just one game, as we say when there are 91 of them remaining on the schedule and only four separating us from the top of the division, but what a shame. There were several things to like before Reed got that fastball up in Betemit’s zone of delight. There was Matt Harvey being effective if not dominant (if neither when it came to A.J. Pierzynski) over six innings; Harvey even picked a runner off first for the first time since his maiden start of 2013. There was Alejandro De Aza making a very nice grab in center to rob Jace Peterson in the third after having doubled in his first run since Harry M. Stevens decided sticking a sausage in a bun was a capital idea. There was Michael Conforto not disabling himself when he ran into the padded left field side wall making a catch to end the fourth. There were even two close calls that went our way, no matter the damage it did to Mr. Snitker’s decorum.
In the seventh, Conforto threw out Emilio Bonifacio at the plate from fairly deep left, which was a surprise, given Conforto’s accurate but average arm, and a shock, given that Travis d’Arnaud had to catch the ball, hold the ball and legally block the plate while not reinjuring his perpetually vulnerable body. Td’A did it all, and it was a revelation…even though I was sure Bonifacio had gotten a toe in ahead of the tag. Replay review “confirmed” the call, Snitker’s ire be damned. In the eighth, which could have gotten worse after Garcia went yard, Travis fired a bullet to second to cut down Erick Aybar stealing, which nobody challenged or suggested challenging, but the umpires asked the home office in Chelsea to weigh in on. It, too, stood.
Never mind the Mets getting two calls (if, ultimately, for naught). Conforto has had little go swimmingly since an April when the game was as easy as floating on an inflatable raft with a frozen cocktail in hand. Sophomore turbulence has turned tough, but Michael’s still on the field, still learning, still succeeding intermittently. D’Arnaud’s been absent from behind the dish for too long this season, but what a shot in the arm it’s been to see his arm having recovered its zing in the small sample size we’ve observed since his return from the DL.
Earlier Thursday, I filled out my All-Star ballot — hardly the most consequential vote in the world yesterday — and abided by my rule of not selecting any Mets who in no way deserve election, while definitely voting for any Mets for whom a remote case can be made. Also, I have a whole bunch of teams in both leagues whose players are automatically by association on my no-fly list, so it’s a pretty narrow needle I’m threading while voting. I wound up punching the electronic hole for three Mets: Cespedes (the only one on track for election), Walker and Cabrera. I considered Conforto, based on his first month, but decided I didn’t want to send him the wrong message and make him complacent (don’t worry, kid, I’ll take care of you over the next fifteen summers). I looked longingly at d’Arnaud and recalled telling somebody in spring that this season would be the one when Travis, 27, makes his All-Star debut, backing up Buster Posey.
That’s not gonna happen. No year has happened in full for d’Arnaud yet, who’s at the outer perimeter of being considered a young player (except in life) without ever having participated uninterrupted in a big league season. You get used to certain guys not being around that you forget what they mean to a team. Due respect to Rene Rivera and the since-demoted Kevin Plawecki, but it’s a sharp drop from d’Arnaud to the alternatives, provided Travis a) plays and b) takes a deep breath to facilitate his development. I very much want to believe he has an All-Star date in his future, if not the immediate one. Those two plays — tagging out Bonifacio, throwing out Aybar — gave me faith.
Which is a good thing to hold on to after Adonis Garcia ruins everything.
No Mets game Saturday afternoon, so come spend an hour and change with me at the Queens Library in Briarwood, where I’ll be discussing Amazin’ Again and sharing some related baseball/book thoughts starting at 3 o’clock. Details here. Hope to see you there.