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Cigarless

What to do with a 1-0 loss [1]? Throw stuff? Suck it up? Shrug? There are no wrong answers. It is the baseball epitome of close but no cigar.

I’m not sure of the appeal of cigars, but one run sure sounded good on Wednesday. One Met run, that is. There was one National run, and it sounded, if you’ll excuse the expression, devastating. Wilson Ramos [2] hit a solo home run off Fernando Salas [3] in the seventh inning in Washington and it felt like we had just gotten our ash kicked beyond the point of surgical repair. All that was required of the Mets in their subsequent two innings of batting was a single run to change the tenor of the late afternoon, but some days a molehill is a mountain.

One-nothing doesn’t imply insurmountability in the long term. In 1986, the Mets lost each of their postseason Game Ones by that score and it didn’t stop them from taking both best-of-sevens. For that matter, their last regular-season setback was of the 1-0 variety, Ron Darling [4] not quite beating Montreal’s Bob Sebra [5]. (It dropped the Mets’ mark to 103-54; if you couldn’t shrug that one off, baseball might not have been the game for you.) On the final day of the 1973 schedule, the Sunday when it was conceivable five teams could finish tied for first, the Mets dropped the opener of their doubleheader at Wrigley Field, 1-0. Jon Matlack [6] pitched great, nicked for one lousy run in the eighth inning while otherwise striking out nine and going the distance. Alas, the Mets couldn’t push one lousy run across against Rick Reuschel [7] and Bob Locker [8], and there went as crucial a late-September game as you could imagine.

In the nightcap, the Mets won, 9-2, and the next day, Makeup Monday, if you will, they eliminated everybody who was still standing to clinch the division title. The only impact from the previous day’s 1-0 defeat was that it survived in allegory form to be retold reassuringly during a somewhat similar September more than four decades into the future.

Thanks to Baseball Reference’s Play Index tool [9], we know the Mets have lost 118 regular-season games by a score of 1-0. Comparatively, they’ve won 131 games in the same fashion, the most recent of them June 25 in Atlanta [10]. For a team better known historically for its pitching than hitting, it makes sense we’d be more successful than not in this particular subgenre of results. You’d like to think if you give a Seaver, a Gooden, a Gsellman one run that they could make it stand up.

OK, maybe not Robert Gsellman [11], but then again, the rookie held the Mets aloft for five-and-two-thirds innings, aided by a pair of strike-’em-out/throw-’em-out double plays (René Rivera [12] with the gun twice) plus one conventional 4-6-3 twin-killing. The Mets gave Robert nothing. Or Tanner Roark [13], Blake Treinen [14] and Mark Melancon [15] gave the Mets nothing. You can look at it from both sides, though you rarely do when you can’t believe your team couldn’t score one freaking run in nine innings. To some degree, however, you enter cap-tipping territory when you partake of the wrong end of a 1-0 game.

Or helmet-throwing. Again, there are no wrong answers.

For a franchise that has existed in its current guise only twelve seasons, the Nationals have demonstrated an unhappy talent for winning 1-0 games from the Mets. Wednesday’s was their fifth, as many as their Expo forebears notched across 36 campaigns. The one-nothing whitewashing that stands out as most aggravating is the first, which was tossed at Shea Stadium on May 15, 2008, while Gary, Keith and Ron broadcast from the Upper Deck and I stifled my screams on Field Level [16]. Mike Pelfrey [17], who hadn’t pitched too many games of his life to that point, was pitching the game of his life. Big Pelf went seven-and-two-thirds, blemished not at all until Wilson Ramos prototype Jesus Flores [18] doubled, Willie Harris [19] (aaauuuggghhh!!!) bunted and Felipe Lopez [20] sank a sac fly from one-run range in the eighth. The Mets made Jason Bergmann [21] and his extraneous ‘n’ look like Jon Matlack for seven innings, striking out nine times, and then did so little against Luis Ayala [22] in the eighth that they apparently jotted a note to themselves to “Go get Luis Ayala for the stretch drive should we be in one this year and find ourselves incredibly desperate for relief pitching.”

Come the ninth, the Mets were coming on as if they planned to assert themselves once and for all in what had been the wheels-spinning aftermath of the 2007 devastation. Carlos Beltran [23] singled. Ryan Church [24] didn’t, so Beltran stole second while Carlos Delgado [25] batted and took third on Flores’s errant throw. Now this was more like it: one Carlos on third with one out, the other at the plate prepared to cut overgrown tattoo parlor pole Jon Rauch [26] down to size.

Delgado lined to first. One out. Beltran was caught off third. Nationals first baseman Aaron Boone [27] (aaauuuggghhh!!!) threw to Ryan Zimmerman [28]. Two out. Added to what Church didn’t do a batter earlier, three out.

Now that was a one-nothing loss to throw things at because the ending was so, well, aaauuuggghhh!!! (Four months later, Pelfrey and the Mets would lose 1-0 to the Nats again, in Washington. Score a couple of runs in each of those games, and there are playoffs at Shea before it is torn down, I just now realized…aaauuu…ah, whaddaya gonna do?) The game in which Mr. Roark was no Mets fan’s fantasy took a different trajectory. Its missed opportunity arose as early as possible, in the top of the first. Jose Reyes [29] singled. Asdrubal Cabrera [30] singled. Yoenis Cespedes [31] popped out, but Ramos whiffed on a passed ball and Curtis Granderson [32] recovered from a one-and-two count to walk and load the bases.

Jay Bruce [33] was up for the next three pitches and back on the bench seconds after the third pitch. Two out. The offensive hero of Tuesday night [34], T.J. Rivera [35], fouled out to Bryce Harper [36] on a ball Harper had to dive, slide and not slam into the right field sidewall in order to hold onto. Three out.

Everything about that inning told me we were probably screwed, starting with the setup of Reyes and Cabrera getting on base. Seriously. It was one of those “this should be great, but it won’t be” sensations I’m sometimes overcome by. A younger version of myself would have salivated over having exactly the guy up who I want up in that situation. Of course I want Cespedes up with two on and nobody out.

I AM GOING TO HAVE AN INTERLUDE NOW.

On August 14, 1985, the Mets trailed the Phillies, 2-0, going to the bottom of the ninth at Shea. They had been as hot as they’d been at any time since 1969, winning 30 of 37, including their previous nine. I was 22 and almost always believed the Mets would, never mind could, come back. It was that kind of season and I was that kind of fan.

Howard Johnson [37] led off and drew a walk from Kevin Gross [38], who was going for the shutout (good lord, I miss starters pitching in the ninth). Davey Johnson [39] enlisted Rusty Staub [40] to pinch-hit for Rafael Santana [41] (good lord, I also miss having a pinch-hitter deluxe batting in the ninth). Rusty walked. Rick Aguilera [42] pinch-ran for Rusty because the only thing you’d ask Staub to do in the last year of his star-spangled career, if you could help it, was pinch-hit. Clint Hurdle [43] was going to pinch-hit for Roger McDowell [44], who had replaced Darling in the eighth and given up the second Phillie run in the ninth to Gross (see — some pitchers could pitch and hit late in games). Righty Gross was pulled in favor of lefty Don Carman [45]. Lefty Hurdle was pulled in favor of righty Ron Gardenhire [46]. So much chess!

Gardenhire, who was a fine manager but mostly let me down as a player, bunted. Carman, whose name is the one I hear when I listen in my mind to Harry Kalas doing Phillies games, threw the ball past first baseman Mike Schmidt [47] (not a misprint; Schmitty played some first). The error placed Gardy on second, Aggie on third and HoJo across the plate. These Mets who we knew on a nickname basis were within one. Veteran Tom Paciorek [48], obtained to be sort of a righthanded Rusty, pinch-hit for rookie Lenny Dykstra [49]. More righty-lefty stuff. Paciorek was intentionally passed to load the bases. There was nobody out. The Mets, according to 22-year-old me, could not lose.

Wally Backman [50], who maybe deserved more respect as a manager [51] but was definitely deservedly revered as a player, faced a tough assignment in Carman. The Mets had recently given up on Kelvin Chapman [52], who had been getting the starts at second against lefties, the ones in which Wally clearly didn’t excel (a situation that led to the acquisition of Tim Teufel [53] in the ensuing offseason). Wally was a switch-hitter, but not to great effect. For 1985, he is listed as having batted .324 as a lefty, .122 as a righty. With no better option at hand, southpaw Carman got righty-swinging Wally to ground to third baseman Rick Schu [54], who threw home to Ozzie Virgil [55], who, instead of calling his aunt [56], forced Aguilera.

That was OK, though. Keith Hernandez [57] was up next. Keith Hernandez, for all you kids out there, was everything in the summer of 1985. During the 30-7 stretch alluded to above, Keith had slashed .382/.449/.583 and had grilled forty of those “ribeye steaks” he so favors. Bases still loaded, only one out, the Mets trailing by Twiggyesque run. Of course I salivated over having exactly the guy up who I wanted up in that situation. Of course I wanted Hernandez up.

The Mets could not lose, yet they did. After “seven pitches and four minutes,” as the Times put it, Keith grounded to second baseman Juan Samuel [58]. Samuel flipped to shortstop Tom Foley [59] for one out, and Foley relayed to Schmidt for the second out. The game was over. The Mets lost by one run. It was frustrating, but not devastating, since it was the middle of August and the Mets remained in first place. “You’ve carried us for a month, Mex, can’t do it every night,” is how Hernandez remembered his teammates patting him on the back afterwards in his 1985 diary If At First…

That 2-1 loss didn’t sting nearly as badly in the moment as, say, the 1-0 loss at Shea to Washington in 2008 (or, to be honest, that 1-0 loss in Montreal after everything was clinched in 1986, which somehow still annoys me), yet it’s stayed with me for 31 years because it taught me that even though you have up exactly the guy who you can’t imagine not carrying you, sometimes the guy can only lift so much. If Keith Hernandez at the peak of his clutchness couldn’t deliver on demand, how could I expect anybody else to do so every single time?

I AM DONE WITH MY INTERLUDE NOW.

Cespedes didn’t come through against Roark. Neither did the formerly Red white elephant in the room, Bruce, who needs a pat on his back, a rub on his shoulders, a kick in his decidedly unsmoldering ash, something. I prescribe a little faith and a ton of encouragement. I’m predicting my prescription will be ignored. Somehow I don’t think giving up and heaping abuse is the answer where a struggling human being we wish to succeed is concerned. The ol’ “he can’t be this bad” song from the Bay days is playing in my head. That was an extended mix went on for three years. We need a change of tune for two weeks. Jay’s due. Let’s hope. Or let’s see De Aza. Or Conforto. Or Nimmo. Or Tom Paciorek, who wasn’t much of an answer in 1985, but did more down the stretch than Bruce has thus far in 2016.

The one guy who’s worrying me more than Jay Bruce is Wilmer Flores [60], because he’s not playing at all (an option that sounds pretty good where Bruce has been concerned). Wilmer’s not having been pinch-run for in Atlanta not only potentially cost the Mets a critical run, it has definitely cost them a Wilmer. We were told his neck was bothering him after his collision with A.J. Obnoxious. It turns out his wrist [61] is a bigger deal. He wasn’t available to swing a bat in the Nationals series. That’s an absence you begin to notice, no matter how many times SNY replays T.J. Rivera’s homer. Injuries are what have us in a three-way tug-of-pacificity at present. If we were a little healthier, yesterday’s 1-0 loss would have damaged our charge at first place, not a Wild Card. But we’ve got who we’ve got and we’ve got to go from there.

To bring this thing semi-circle, I’m brought back once more to 2008, to the part where we survived the 1-0 losses to Washington and were hanging in there in the last week of the season. The top of our order was sublime: Reyes, Beltran, Wright, Delgado twice, with Beltran fifth otherwise and an innocent rookie who’d never hurt us named Daniel Murphy [62] batting second. Then the bottom dropped out. Those were the days and nights marked by Ramon Martinez [63] at second, Robinson Cancel [64] catching, whoever wherever else. Sometimes it worked. Often enough it didn’t. Despite a midseason surge (40-19) that elevated crazy ’08 above the wreckage of despicable ’07, the division and the Wild Card both got away. Even with extra bodies in September, we always seemed short of players.

Currently, the top half of the Met order is imposing: Revived Reyes, Capable Cabrera, Scary Cespedes, Evergreen Granderson. It goes a long way toward explaining the 17-7 record in effect since August 20. After them, though, I feel the earth disappear under my feet. It’s a mosh pit of moving parts five through eight. The bench strength is stretched to fill the starting lineup. The second wave of projected starters need to be plugged into a wall outlet. Losing Flores for any length of time much past the four games he’s already missed isn’t a torpedo, but all these voids become contiguous, latching onto one another and forming a season-swallowing sinkhole. In the second half of 2008, Tatis, Easley, Maine, Wagner…before you knew it, yeesh.

We don’t know “yeesh” yet and we don’t have to. Because we are by necessity at least a little bit a Cardinal and Giant blog these days, it is my pleasure to repeat what you already know, that each Met competitor lost Wednesday, so it’s still SFG and NYM in the playoffs that don’t start today, with the STL Redbirds flying a touch below radar. Half-games are wild in the Wild Card race. A St. Louis win tonight at San Francisco ties all three teams with a 77-69 record and sixteen left to play. If you’re a chaos theory fan, the kind who reserved your salivation in 1973 for everybody finishing 80-82, that’s your preferred temporary outcome. If you’re a Mets fan, I’m not sure. A pox on both their houses is instinctively appealing, but I think I just want somebody to get swept and go away. Three to make two hasn’t worked in the NBA since 1981, and it won’t work on October 5.

That’s a ways off. Let’s concentrate on scoring more runs than the last-place Twins this weekend. The Twins used to be the Washington Senators. The Washington Nationals used to be the Expos. Anybody can beat anybody. Take no games for granted.

Why am I telling you this? Somebody tell the Mets.