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Animals Strike Curious Poses

Perhaps it’s not a fortuitous weekend for the Mets to be playing the Tigers from my perspective given the condition of my eldest cat Hozzie. In a nutshell, the tabby who prefers to keep his own counsel when not expressing a desire to be fed and fed some more wasn’t doing great before the Mets arrived in Detroit and he got worse on Friday night, sort of like Met hitters against Justin Verlander [1]. Sufficiently alarmed, Stephanie and I gathered our boy and shuttled him to an emergency vet. Bottom line: our indefatigable fourteen-year-old feline is still with us — destined to outlast Alex Rodriguez [2]’s playing career, we trust [3] — but almost wasn’t. The Original Hosmer [4]’s condition continues to bear watching.

So, I suppose, does that of the often unwatchable Mets. They are two games above .500, which suggests chronic mediocrity, but only two games out of the second Wild Card, which means we can’t wholly dismiss their viability as a playoff contender. Nevertheless, extended exposure to games like Saturday night’s at Comerica Park [5] would convince you to ask a kindly professional to please do the humane thing and send them on their way.

Then again, sending a Met on his way sealed last night’s doom as Tim Teufel [6] waved Jay Bruce [7] toward a home plate his foot never touched, ending a 6-5 defeat that would have fit snugly inside almost any unfulfilling Met season. I’ve seen this loss in years when a handful of reversed outcomes would have led to October appointments. I’ve seen this loss in years when the inability to execute led to the dismissal of managers, coaches and higher-ups. I’ve seen this loss in books that attempt to explain how nobody here could play this game [8].

This was the Ty Kelly [9] of losses. You could plug it anywhere and it would look like it belonged.

Remember when Jay Bruce making a last out was a harbinger of celebration? The same man who fanned against Jeurys Familia [10] in Cincinnati last September 26 rumbled toward tying the game this August 6, even though he’s more than a touch torpid on the basepaths. Rumble he did, nonetheless, surprising the viewer who was thinking Travis d’Arnaud [11]’s single to right wasn’t that deep and that Bruce, who had been on second with two out, wasn’t that fast. J.D. Martinez [12] threw, Jarrod Saltalamacchia [13] planted and Bruce slid into tagged oblivion.

Unlike 1962 to fairly recently, you can pitch an official fit about how the catcher blocks or doesn’t block the plate if you maintain a video replay challenge (or if you flutter your eyelashes at an umpire; I’m not clear on all the rule’s nuances). Terry Collins, who grew up a Tigers fan in Michigan — so maybe at least his inner child enjoyed himself last night — still had a challenge at his disposal in the ninth inning. He could have sent two officials to their headsets, or a pay phone, or whatever contraption was handy to get the potential good word. Saltalamacchia’s block looked legal to me, but that never stopped the occupants of the bunker in Chelsea before. Terry could have thrown a Hail Salty and seen what modern technology gave him for his troubles. Like Casey Stengel [14] in legend, however, he stayed asleep on the bench.

Bruce being too slow and/or not having enough access to the dish did not lose the Mets the game by its own self. It was just the final straw in a box full of them. Jay from Cincinnati was one of the reasons the Mets had been in the game, having launched a fourth-inning leadoff homer to tie the score at one, thus unleashing weekend fill-in Gary Apple’s signature home run call of “I am about to speak louder to signify something of consequence has occurred.” Apple is a studio host by trade, so it’s tough to blame him for his Detroit play-by-play coming up a few lengths shy of what might have been delivered by the late Ernie Harwell [15]…or, for that matter, Comerica Park’s Ernie Harwell statue.

Bruce solo-homered in the fourth. Curtis Granderson [16] solo-homered in the fifth. Logan Verrett [17] imploded in between, his grasp on adequacy no longer sufficient to keep his team completive when he pitches. When Verrett bailed in the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers led by three with two on. Jon Niese [18] entered and decided the concept of inheritance was somehow anathema to the core tenets of fairness and equality, which is to say he allowed singles to Tyler Collins [19] and Miguel Cabrera [20], allowing both inherited runners to score.

So the Tigers led, 6-1, yet the Mets scratched and clawed (a skill set Hozzie possesses in spades) in their fashion. Grandy had made it 6-2. As the fifth continued, Kelly got himself an infield single, found himself on second after Matt Boyd [21] walked Neil Walker [22], took third on Bruce’s succeeding fielder’s choice grounder, and came home when Wilmer Flores [23] served a soft single into right. It was station-to-station baseball with stops in between, but son of a gun, the Mets built a run and trailed by only three, with two on for d’Arnaud.

D’Arnaud struck out, but still. The Mets, despite playing like the August 2016 Mets, were kind of in this game. I had a hunch they would be, mainly because Apple had previously announced the Tigers had “blown the game open,” which seemed premature, if understandable, since they featured Miguel Cabrera while we had Ty Kelly in left and René Rivera [24] at designated hitter. The DH is a revolting position on principle, but if they’re gonna let ya have one, you maybe shouldn’t use your defensive-specialist backup catcher there.

Met lineups of late have reminded me of most every pack of baseball cards I’ve ever opened: a random assortment of vaguely familiar players from teams I don’t care about and, if I’m lucky, maybe one or two guys I immediately recognize as Mets. Saturday’s lineup veered to the surreal. Rivera as DH? Loney on the bench? Conforto and Nimmo sitting (lefty, schmefty), with Kelly in the outfield? One game in 162 and all that, but it was weird. Yet usually when a lineup makes little sense to the naked eye, you’re forced to look more closely. Rivera walked his first time up. Kelly, who runs his ass off so hard that first base coach Tom Goodwin [25] is forced to collect it whether Ty is safe or out, was on base three times. The Mets were doing just enough to avert being blown away.

Despite Kelly’s walk, Walker’s single and a Tiger error in the first all going to waste. Despite leaving Rivera to rot on base in the second. Despite Matt Boyd imitating vintage Matt Harvey [26] (remember him?) in the third. Despite Logan’s implosion in the fourth. Despite Niese visibly formulating a quote in his head regarding the difficulty of coming in with runners on in what’s essentially an unfamiliar role to him and he’s not used to the wind currents at Comerica and he had the same problem with the air conditioning in his hotel room as Keith Hernandez [27] had in his, so he couldn’t get the proper amount of sleep…despite all that, the Mets were down by a conceivably surmountable three runs smack in the middle of the fifth.

Long man Niese kept the bases empty in the bottom of that inning, his first full inning of proprietary work. Boyd departed in favor of Alex Wilson [28] to start the sixth. Third baseman Kelly Johnson [29] singled. Michael Conforto [30], pinch-hitting for Rivera (some cool DH strategy here), also singled. Alas, shortstop Matt Reynolds [31] grounded into the Metropolitan Special, a.k.a. a 6-4-3 double play, and Granderson grounded out, too.

Jonathon retired the first two batters in the home sixth before allowing a double to Ian Kinsler [32] and a walk to Tyler Collins, bringing up Cabrera, at which point I was Googling “bookies” and “sure things,” yet to my shock and surprise, Miggy’s deep fly to right flew into Bruce’s glove. Niese had survived the Tiger attack. We, à la Hozzie, were somehow still alive.

Detroit brought out another Wilson, Justin Wilson [33], for the seventh. Now the fun started, as our ad agency declared it would in 1983. Kelly singles. Walker singles. Bruce grounds into what appears to be a 3-6-3 double play, already in progress, except Cabrera the first baseman conks Neil in the head as he approaches second and the ball bounces away. With fingers crossed that nobody was concussed, Walker makes it to third and Kelly hustles home. It’s 6-4. The Mets go for another double play when Flores grounds to third, yet somehow that ball clanks off a Tiger glove and Walker scores. The Mets have hit into two surefire double plays, registered two runs and have been debited no outs. It’s 6-5. The Mets are making this happen!

But wait. They’re the Mets. They know there’s a double play in there somewhere and ask the waiter if they can make a substitution on the Metropolitan Special. They are assured it’s all right. In that case, d’Arnaud says, I’ll have that, but please make mine a 4-6-3. It is so arranged; two out. Then Johnson grounds to second just in case. Third out. Met batters basically produced two hits and three DPs, yet had cut their deficit to one run. You were tempted to love this game a little.

The Temptations, though, don’t necessarily hold sway in Detroit these days. Hansel Robles [34] nonethless tamed his share of Tigers in the bottom of the seventh. The Tigers called on yet another reliever for the eighth, Shane Greene [35]. With one out, Loney pinch-hit for Reynolds and singled. Granderson then lined to Cabrera, who didn’t proceed to throw at anybody’s helmet. Instead, he put together an unassisted double play, something completely off the menu, but the Comerica kitchen can be very accommodating.

Three double plays in three consecutive innings, yet the Mets were still in it. Robles stayed on the mound for the bottom of the eighth and he soothed the savage beasts in order. Finally, the ninth, and the Ghost of K-Rod Past. Francisco Rodriguez [36] extinguished Kelly, then Walker, but then Bruce confounded a shift to single through the vacated shortstop hole. Alejandro De Aza [37], exactly the kind of hitter who would homer off Rodriguez when Frankie was a Met, also singled. That set up the resolution that lurked in the shadows all night, even after the three DPs, even after the 1-for-11 with RISP as d’Arnaud stepped in to hit with two on and two out. The Mets could tie this game off their old closer, maybe win it. It’s what a team going somewhere does.

Do these Mets look like they’re going anywhere?

I’m going to Hoboken’s Little City Books Monday night at 7 PM [38] to discuss my book, Amazin’ Again [39], and remember the good times of 2015. Here’s hoping your pets are doing well enough so that you can join me.