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A Nice Was, a Nicer Might Have Been

The best thing to do — the sane thing, the kind thing, the self-preserving thing — would be to focus solely on what happened in Sunday night’s Mets-Giants game.

It was taut, tight and well-played, but ultimately a tale of two pitchers: Jeff Samardzija [1] and Noah Syndergaard [2]. Samardzija rode his plus-plus fastball, a resurrected curve and a splitter to keep the Mets hitless into the seventh; Syndergaard rode his plus-plus-plus fastball, ungodly slider and a change-up that mortals would call a fastball to keep the Giants scoreless for as long as he needed to. It was a nifty showcase of pitching on both sides, one of those games you knew early was going to come down to someone’s mistake.

The mistake was Samardzija’s: he gave Yoenis Cespedes [3] something to hit.

Samardzija had flirted with this particular disaster before: in the first he left a curveball in the middle of the plate to Cespedes, who all but rubbed his hands together with glee … and got the bat slightly under the optimum contact point, resulting in a harmless fly ball. (Hey, it happens.)

But come the seventh, Samardzija wasn’t so lucky. The much-lamented Curtis Granderson [4] rifled a low fastball over the head of Gregor Blanco [5], whose choice of routes possibly prevented Samardzija’s no-hit bid from continuing. A batter later, Cespedes made that academic, blasting a splitter into the left-field stands for a 2-0 Met lead that would hold up.

For Syndergaard, it’s been an odd, sometimes worrisome summer: despite his arsenal looking as intimidating as ever, he’s has struggled to put hitters away and been bedeviled by runners on base. Maybe his struggles have been a product of the bone spur in his elbow; maybe they indicate Noah needs to foil hitters by making another adjustment to his pitching patterns; most likely it’s a little of both.

Assuming continued health, though (we’ll pause here to rap madly on all available wood), Syndergaard certainly has the brains and drive to learn and learn quickly, as he did at the end of a similarly iffy summer in his rookie season. And credit Rene Rivera [6] for making the running game a non-issue: Rivera cut down both Giants who tried to run on Noah, and was his usual wise self behind the plate. In the eighth, Syndergaard walked Brandon Belt [7] with one out; Rivera immediately made his way to the mound, there to check on his pitcher’s fuel level, talk pitch selection and make sure focus didn’t wander. Six pitches later, Brandon Crawford [8] and his execrable hairdo had grounded into a double play.

(For those who didn’t keep track of the postgame, Terry Collins [9] planned to let Syndergaard start the ninth; it was Noah who said he was done. So cancel the day’s controversy, and points to Syndergaard for not letting bravado risk both a fine outing and a Mets win. Though if you must aim at dart at Terry, having Syndergaard bunt in the eighth should give you an easy target — and I’d say so even if Noah hadn’t bunted into a double play.)

A neat, tidy Mets win [10] — we ought to leave it at that and enjoy it for what it was. But, well, we’re Mets fans. And so there’s this: Cespedes hurt his quadriceps on July 8. There’s never a perfect time to put a player of Cespedes’ caliber on the DL, but the All-Star break is pretty darn close.

Rather than DL Cespedes, the Mets let him keep trying to play. The result: He went nine for 44 with one home run and wound up on the DL anyway, nearly a month after the original injury. The Mets turned two weeks without Cespedes into six seven, and mismanaging that injury quite possibly killed their season.

(That’s bad; what’s worse is that as with whispering campaigns about departed players, this is a Met malady that’s bedeviled the team since long before Collins or Sandy Alderson: recall Jerry Manuel [11]‘s quip about “they’re calling it a cramp … surgery on Thursday.” I’ll let you review the cast of characters, their tenures and form your own suspicions about where the problem might lie.)

If the Mets make a 2001-style sprint at a wild-card berth, try just to enjoy it. Try not to think about what might have been if they’d had an additional month of Yoenis Cespedes doing what Yoenis Cespedes can do.

Oh, and good luck with that.