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A Tie That Felt Like a Win

Maybe I was just in a good mood.

Emily and I were supposed to be back Monday night — Portland, Me., is an easy 45 minutes or so away by plane. But Monday night’s rainout also scratched our plane, shifting us to a 5:30 am departure Tuesday. Ugh … and then they cancelled that one too, telling us we wouldn’t be able to return until 5:30 am the next day.

Screw it, we told the airline, give us our money back and we’ll drive. Because that had been enough air-travel shenanigans, and because we had tickets for Tuesday night. And, as noted by a Cardinals-rooting friend of mine who was in town, those tickets were good for Game 1 as well.

So back we came in our little rented Hyundai Accent (suggested marketing pitch: “Undeniably a car!”), arriving just in time for me to hurry off to Citi Field on the subway while Emily caught up with work. The ballpark was nearly empty for the start of Game 1, so I found my friend Will and we settled in for Noah Syndergaard [1] and Carlos Martinez [2].

Syndergaard and Martinez made for a pretty interesting contest: a matchup of young flamethrowers (23 and 24 years old, respectively) trying to get a 10th win.

Both were ambushed by two-run homers: Jedd Gyorko [3] got Syndergaard in the third, while Rene Rivera [4] launched one off Martinez in the fourth. So the game, as many of the good ones do, came down to a smaller difference … a failure of execution, a loss of composure, a modest mistake.

It sure looked like the fatal shortfall would be Martinez’s — he was clearly rattled by Rivera’s homer, and spent a good chunk of the fourth stalking around the mound like a spooked horse, attended to stoically by Yadier Molina [5]. Molina will always be a Mets villain, of course, but that doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate him — every time I thought someone needed to give Martinez a talking-to I’d see that Molina already heading for the mound, summoning the infielders for a chat. Martinez walked Syndergaard and then walked Curtis Granderson [6], but managed to gather himself — or perhaps was snapped back into focus by Molina — and retire Yoenis Cespedes [7] to escape harm.

Meanwhile, the Mets had already made what turned out to be the decisive mistake. But was it Syndergaard’s, or Tim Teufel [8]‘s?

In the second, Syndergaard was tripped up by infield singles from Jeremy Hazelbaker [9] and Tommy Pham [10], the second one spanked off his calf. With the bases loaded and one out, Martinez then tapped a ball to the left of the mound, which Syndergaard picked up with his bare hand while scuttling toward the third-base line. The play looked awkward and I had just enough time to think uh-oh before Noah alligator-armed the ball home, short-hopping Rivera and letting Molina score.

As for Teufel, Jose Reyes [11] was on first with two outs when Cespedes cracked a ball off the wall in right-center. Reyes turned third and Teufel held him … to the dismay of the ballpark. Asked about the red light after the game, Terry Collins [12] revealed his opinion by muttering that he wasn’t going to comment on coaching stuff.

But the matinee had one final play of import. In the ninth, with Granderson on first and nobody out, Cespedes connected to dead center off Cards closer Seung Hwan Oh — whose nickname in Korean ball, by the way, was the rather awesome “Final Boss.” The ball Cespedes swung at made a good sound off the bat, one that brought Will and me to our feet. He was filled with horror; I was ready to leap skyward with glee.

But.

But but but.

Purty! [13]

Purty!

The wind was blowing in, and center field had not been friendly to the Mets: earlier in the game, Michael Conforto [14] and Wilmer Flores [15] had connected solidly but for naught. Out there in center, Pham wasn’t turned around or feeling for the wall. He was looking up. The ball came down in his glove and he fired it to second, where Granderson was trying to sneak into scoring position.

Out! They were both out! Now Will was elated and I was slump-shouldered in disbelief. Eight seconds had changed the entire game; a moment later, James Loney [16] was retired and the Mets had lost [17].

Still, it had been fun — an interesting little game starring two gifted pitchers, with a couple of fine defensive plays and a coach’s decision to chew over. And now the heat was fading out of what promised to be a beautiful night, and we still had another one to play.

I moved over to find Emily and her dad and the three of us watched Bartolo Colon [18] go to work. Where Syndergaard had labored in the heat despite his ferocious arsenal of pitches, Colon did what Colon does, throwing almost exclusively sinkers and four-seamers and almost exclusively for strikes. The slowest ones were 85, the hardest ones were 89, but Bartolo hit corners and added or subtracted a touch of sink or spin, sending Cardinal after Cardinal away empty-handed.

Bartolo at his best is like a really subtle magic trick: two variations on one pitch, all strikes. It shouldn’t work but it does. He limited the Cardinals to a solo shot (freaking Gyorko again) and departed early so he could pitch again on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Mets were plodding along in a dull but productive fashion, tying the game with a third-inning double for Asdrubal Cabrera [19] (his first hit with a runner in scoring position since the LBJ administration, if I’m recalling it correctly), then taking the lead on a run-scoring double play, then adding insurance on a Cabrera sac fly.

That was more than enough [20] for Addison Reed [21] — the done-with-mirrors relief version of Colon — and Jeurys Familia [22]. The Mets had a split for their day’s work, and between Colon’s quiet mastery and the beautiful night that felt like victory.