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Other People’s Problems

Yep, this was all too typical of recent Mets games: in the seventh, the second baseman had a runner dead to rights at third, and hit the third baseman’s glove, only to see the ball bound away and skitter up the third-base line to bring the enemy go-ahead run home.

It wasn’t over — they fought back and had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second with nobody out in the ninth and the heart of the order coming up, but then, all too predictably …

What? Hang on a minute, will you? I’m typing here.

Really? Are you sure about that?

You’re sure you’re sure? All right, let me check.

Huh.

Those unfortunate things happened as described, but they happened to the Cubs, not the Mets. The second baseman with the ball who was eyeing a runner short of third was Javier Baez [1], not Neil Walker [2]. The glove that ball went bouncing off of belonged to Kris Bryant [3], not Wilmer Flores [4]. The runner on third in the ninth, just 90 feet from a tie game with two chances to get there, was Travis Wood [5], not Alejandro De Aza [6] or Matt Reynolds [7]. The pitcher in trouble really was ours — it was Jeurys Familia [8], who walked Miguel Montero [9] and gave up a double to Ben Zobrist [10]. At that moment he looked, unsurprisingly, rusty; he seemed, unsurprisingly, doomed.

But hold on again, I’m a little rusty myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

It didn’t start off well, not with Zobrist singling and Bryant golfing a home run into the left-field bleachers. (By the way, will we fans of a certain age ever stop remarking whether a ball cleared the now-secondary Great Wall of Flushing? It did.) The Mets were down 2-0 with 27 outs still to get, and Steven Matz [11] looked miserable out there — the same Matz who’s pitching with a bone spur that’s caused him to jettison his slider and may lead to surgery. Matz, it’s said, is in no jeopardy of damaging his elbow and so must learn to pitch with pain; given Matz’s biography, I don’t blame him in the slightest for being anxious about a barking elbow.

Matz settled down and settled in, but was ambushed again by Baez leading off the sixth and trudged into the dugout two batters later. (He also was nearly decapitated by John Lackey [12] and offered an angrily inquiring shrug to his counterpart before realizing that a) Lackey hadn’t thrown a strike in the last two minutes; and b) the pitch at his head had been a slider.) The Cubs were up 3-0, Lackey was squinting and glowering through a serviceable start, the Mets weren’t hitting a lick and it sure looked like you could fill in the rest of the blanks of this one.

With one out in the sixth, Lackey threw Yoenis Cespedes [13] a 2-0 fastball and what happened next was pretty goddamn glorious. Last October, Cespedes hit one of the more jaw-dropping home runs I’ve ever seen, the missile launch off Alex Wood [14] in Game 3 of the NLDS that he accompanied with an epic bat flip [15]. That contact made a crack that was loud even in a raucous packed house, and the ball was almost instantly transported from home plate to the second deck.

That October blast, though, was nothing compared to what Cespedes did to Lackey’s offering. It was gone — that was instantly and jubilantly obvious, but it kept rising and wound up three or four rows into the third deck, officially measured at 466 feet away. That’s not just way over the Great Wall of Flushing but into a precinct never before reached in Citi Field during competition; the only blasts I can remember being more impressed by were both hit by Mo Vaughn [16]: one was a 505-footer [17] that dimpled the old Shea scoreboard halfway up the Budweiser wrapping; the other [18] came less than a week later and scared the hell out of a Yankee Stadium vendor in the upper deck, coming within a few degrees of leaving the park entirely.

What Cespedes did was impressive; still, to quote Gimli in another battle, it only counted as one. The blast seemed fated to be a footnote, one that would make you smile and then immediately scowl. Remember when Cespedes hit that third-deck blast during the month when everyone got hurt and the Mets lost 12 straight to the Nats and Cubs and the goddamn Marlins?

But in the seventh the Mets started doing un-Metsian things. Travis d’Arnaud [19] singled off Lackey with one out. The embattled De Aza worked a walk against Joel Peralta [20]. That brought up Brandon Nimmo [21], and SNY’s cameras caught Walker offering the newest Met hitter a hasty scouting report.

Peralta went to work on Nimmo, trying to bait him into lunging at a splitter. It seemed like a good bet to work; Crash Davis [22] wasn’t kidding when he warned a busload of Durham Bulls that they throw ungodly breaking stuff [23] in the Show. But Nimmo, for all the questions about him that are yet to be answered, has shown that he’s got a good eye and a calm demeanor at the plate. He fouled off a trio of tough pitches and refused to bite at two more, then got a fastball that he was able to line past Baez to cut the Cub lead to 3-2 and send De Aza to third, with Nimmo alertly grabbing second on the throw. Peralta got ahead of Walker 0-2, but Walker managed to rap a little grounder to second, one De Aza got a terrific jump on. That set up Baez’s ill-fated heave to Bryant and, astonishingly, a 4-3 Met lead.

It looked like that lead would be erased and then reversed when Familia ran into trouble in the ninth, but the prospect of a hanging seemed to concentrate his mind. Mercifully, he showed no inclination to try quick-pitching any of the Cubs, choosing instead to bury sinkers on the inside corner at the knee. It was like a metronome: Familia threw that pitch over and over to Bryant until he struck him out, then (after an intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo [24]) ate up Willson Contreras [25] with the same relentless approach. He then went to work on Baez, coaxing an 0-2 pop-up from him to seal it [26].

And so yes, we actually did win despite the Cubs and ourselves. Maybe it was only a respite for a day, but I needed to be reminded that baseball’s karmic engines are not, in fact, only calibrated to do terrible things to the Mets. First-place ballclubs with gaudy run differentials and genius managers can throw balls away and gag with gimme runs out there too. Or, if you’ll dare to see it another way, battered clubs enduring horrific luck can still get up off the mat and persuade you not to give up quite yet.