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Cespy-YES

OK, that was fun.

If Seth Lugo [1] and Robert Gsellman [2] represented Plan F and G, or some letter fairly far along in the stack, what letter was reserved for Rafael Montero [3]?

Montero hadn’t started a game since last April and had done nothing since then to make any member of the Mets brass think well of him. He spent last summer idled by a shoulder injury that the Mets thought was between his ears, a diagnosis they all but made public. He spent most of this year getting racked around in Las Vegas, leading to a banishment to Binghamton, where his pitching well seemed of no particular import. It was a long fall for a guy who not so long ago was regarded as an electric arm to be talked up along with the likes of Matt Harvey [4] and Zack Wheeler [5] — a fall that sure looked like it had reached terminal velocity in terms of Montero’s Met career.

Montero didn’t erase two wasted years Monday night — he threw too many pitches and walked too many guys for that — but he used all his pitches instead of stubbornly sticking to his fastball and looked like he wanted to be on the mound. In a kinder situation, the result might have been a win, but the Mets were facing Jose Fernandez [6], against whom they never accomplish anything, and they were doing so with their latest patchwork lineup: no Neil Walker [7], no Asdrubal Cabrera [8], Yoenis Cespedes [9] playing on one leg again, Jay Bruce [10] sitting, and almost no bench.

Under those circumstances, fighting Fernandez to a draw was no small accomplishment — Montero got help from some nifty defense from an out-of-position Kelly Johnson [11] — and the game was thrown into the bullpens with no score.

It wasn’t a tense pitcher’s duel exactly — there were too many walks for that, and in May this game would have been viewed as a slog worthy more of sighs than applause. But of course it’s not May — it’s nearly September, and both the Mets and Marlins are tattered and battered but still alive despite all that. Maybe it was still a slog, but the calendar dictated that it was a slog that mattered.

After all the pushing and shoving, Miami drew first blood with startling speed in the eighth: Ichiro Suzuki [12] willed his 42-year-old legs to bear him to second ahead of Alejandro De Aza [13]‘s throw, and Xavier Scruggs [14] pounded a ball past Cespedes to make it 1-0 for Team Loria.

But the Mets struck back in the bottom of the inning, with Jose Reyes [15] doubling, taking third on a De Aza sac fly and then breaking for the plate on a wild pitch by A.J. Ramos [16]. That’s a dangerous gamble given Citi Field’s brick walls, and indeed the ball came right back to J.T. Realmuto [17], who fired it at Ramos. The pitcher came skidding in on his knees, with the ball going over his head, but elation turned to horror when Ramos crashed into Reyes’s head and shoulder, sending both players sprawling and spinning in the dust. Fortunately Reyes seems to be all right, though God only knows since these are the 2016 Mets; for now it was a double sigh of relief as the game was tied and Jose was able to report for duty.

And then it was a question of who’d break first. Bruce hit a ball hard but it wound up in the first baseman’s glove; James Loney [18] led off the ninth with a long drive to left that sounded good but died; Reyes led off the tenth with a drive to right-center that left the bat with similar promise but yielded nothing. With two outs in the tenth, Cespedes dug in against Nick Wittgren [19].

Wittgren’s strategy was simple and sensible: keep the ball the hell away from the Mets’ most electric hitter. For two pitches it worked: Cespedes looked at a ball low and away, then took a called strike on the corner. Wittgren’s third pitch, though, drifted over the middle of the plate, and Cespedes did not miss it.

The ball was instantly and obviously gone — Wittgren regarded the mound in despair, Christian Yelich [20] looked like he’d been turned to stone in left, and Cespedes flipped his bat away happily as the Mets poured out of the dugout. Ballgame [21].

That’s one team run down, if still to be surpassed, in the crowded wild-card chase. Who knows what will happen as the calendar turns to September? There are still Nationals lurking out there, a rotation assembled by improv, a lineup put together based on doctors’ notes, and the possibility of more Ray Ramirez in-game sightings.

But “you never know” can suggest good things as well as bad. Maybe next year we’ll get Yoenis Cespedes Dubble Bubble Bucket Crown Day, which we’ll spend in the stands happily recalling how that home run — no one will have to specify which one — was the blow that led to everything else.

It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

Or maybe the Mets won’t be able to run down a playoff berth, but they’ll give it a gallant enough try that the season will be remembered with some fondness in addition to the frustration, as I’d argue 1987 and 2001 are recalled once the conversation around them deepens.

Or, hey, maybe this win was the high-water mark. If so, it was a moment to cherish: a ball flying this-a-way, a bat flipping that-a-way, and another day of life.