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Forest and the Trees

When the 2016 Mets trudged home to Citi Field earlier this week, it sure looked like they’d ceded the divisional race on June 29, dragged down by injuries, bad luck, lack of clutchness and Daniel Murphy [1], to name but a few maladies.

Later today, somehow, they’ll trust a four-game sweep of the big bad Chicago Cubs to Noah Syndergaard [2].

Baseball is designed to break your heart, as Bart Giamatti warned us all those years ago. But it’s also designed to make you look stupid, whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. This isn’t a bug but a feature: if you tell a half-year story in three-hour chapters, you’re certain to get lost in the plot’s twists and turns.

Still, good luck keeping perspective. We’re storytelling monkeys, an adaptation that helped us find patterns when leopards were picking off our ancestors who picked fruit at dusk but now mostly causes us to believe in conspiracies and fail to calculate odds. And look, it’s a lot more fun to listen to the story that’s unfolding now than it is to clap your hands over your ears and insist the real tale’s still unknowable. Try intoning that “the odds are against this meaning anything in October” right after the conclusion of a Braveheart-style comeback in early May. If you don’t get beer thrown on you, you’ll find yourself with no one to talk to on the 7 train. And with reason.

The same thing is true, in miniature, of individual games. Last night, as Bartolo Colon [3] drifted serenely on and off the pitcher’s mound and Jake Arrieta [4] stalked around in a huff, I found myself thinking that while watching a game we’re forever assembling, disassembling and reassembling it in our heads based on what seems fated to happen. (To be fair, this may be a side effect of recapping.)

Sometimes these stories-in-progress are pretty easy calls: if the Mets give up 10 in the first, you’ve probably got an embarrassing farce that will grind on interminably. If they score 10 in the first, substitute “merry” for “embarrassing” and “amble along amusingly” for “grind on interminably.”

But a lot of the time you don’t know — and so you keep trying scenarios on for size and running the risk of making a fool of yourself.

Here’s last night’s likely story, revised as events shifted or threatened to:

1) Romp, with Fireworks: So declared after Neil Walker [5] followed Brandon Nimmo [6]‘s opening walk with a high drive that clanged off the facing of the top deck of Citi Field’s Sponsored Soft-Drink Demarcated Region. This narrative picked up speed after Yoenis Cespedes [7] followed with a double and the Mets kept ratcheting Arrieta’s pitch count higher.

2) Grim Reminder That One Does Not Waste Runs: Swam into view after Cespedes — who’d arrived at second before Arrieta recorded an out — failed to score. Making Arrieta throw 35 pitches in the first was good; failing to convert a gimme third run was not. It was only 2-0, and those were the Cubs out there.

3) ‘I Told You’ Shrug of Despair: Proposed story filed in the top of the fourth, when the Cubs began things with a Kris Bryant [8] single and an Anthony Rizzo [9] shot over Cespedes’s head that let the excess of Cub fans in the stands find their voice. Now it was 2-2 and anything — Gutty Mets Win, Evil Cubs Take Revenge, Death March to Inning Twenty — seemed possible.

4) We’re Unlucky Except When We’re Lucky: In the bottom of the fourth Asdrubal Cabrera [10] singled, Alejandro De Aza [11] forgot to screw up and Travis d’Arnaud [12] stepped up with two out and two on. He hit a sad little pop fly, one that sounded like it might have broken his bat and drifted over the infield. Javier Baez [13] almost made a barehanded, back-to-the-infield, over-the-shoulder catch, but that’s hard to do. The perfectly placed ball fell in, and because there were two out both runners scored. 4-2 Mets, somehow.

5) Offensive Ineptitude > Occasional Luck: Bottom of the Mets’ fifth, Nimmo single, Walker single, three straight outs. It would be dumb to have Cespedes bunt, of course, but still. What the hell, stupid Mets? If we lose this game 5-4 that inning is really gonna hurt.

6) What the Hell, Stupid Mets? (Reprise): Juan Lagares [14] came back just to hit into a double play with runners on the corners and one out? Ridiculous!

7) Middle Relief Is Our Soft Underbelly: Enter Erik Goeddel [15], exit baseball struck by Ben Zobrist [16]. 4-3 Mets, enter Jerry Blevins [17] … who walks Jason Heyward [18]. Enter Addison Reed [19], and oh man this is the same Addison Reed who sometimes looks great and sometimes throws an eye-high bait pitch down the middle at 92, and that’s Bryant at the plate and OH GOD NOW A WILD PITCH SENT HEYWARD TO SECOND AUGGHH I DON’T WANT TO LOOK.

8) Addison Reed Is a Goddamn Gunslinger, I Tell Ya: Oh, he struck Bryant out and did that thing where he sticks his hat back on his head and moseys (mosies?) off the hill into the dugout like a boss. You and me, we’re temporarily cool, Addison Reed.

9) That Was Fun, But Now I Need to Author a Screed About Bullpen Management: Rizzo’s leading off the Cub eighth in a one-run game. Shouldn’t Jeurys Familia [20] be in here instead of facing the bottom of the order in the ninth? Terry Collins [21] is so stupid. Wait, except relievers take comfort from clearly delineated roles and that’s not Terry’s fault and honestly the guy in the other dugout’s the innovator. Baseball is so stupid.

10) Have You Already Forgotten That Addison Reed Is a Goddamn Gunslinger?: Struck out the side. I’m the one who’s so stupid.

11) Jeurys Familia Is God, Maaaan: No sweat, Mets win [22]. A crisp, exciting game in which the Mets wore down Arrieta and then hung on, and Bartolo’s Zen and Loney started that nifty double play blah blah blah blah.

12) Get Out the Brooms, We Can Sweep the Cubs This Is Awesome!!!!: Well yeah. Unless we don’t and it isn’t. In which case a new narrative awaits.