Eleven innings played. Twenty-seven home players used. Two-hundred fourteen home pitches thrown. Two-hundred sixty-three minutes consumed. Two arms raised skyward. One-hundred eighty emotional degrees traversed. And, in the final scene, the Three Amigos riding off into the sunrise, having rescued their team’s season yet again.
Their reward as midnight approached was that justice had been done.
Jose Reyes. Asdrubal Cabrera. Yoenis Cespedes. Their night. Their month. Their year. Our Amazin’ good fortune. Thursday they were aided and abetted here and there by a handful of their 24 accomplices, but when you got right down to it, it was they who lassoed a loss and giddy-upped it over and over until it galloped across home plate a glorious win.
The Mets reached base via hit, walk or error seventeen times. Bundled at the top of the order — a veritable penthouse suite crowning an otherwise ordinary off-ramp motel — they accounted for eleven of those appearances. They scored four and drove in seven of the nine Met runs, making almost all the difference in what became a 9-8 victory that obscured the frustration and heartbreak that defined the two previous evenings at Citi Field and made a person overlook everything that seemed to be going irredeemably wrong in those innings that they could not personally repair.
The Mets used 27 players? Who uses 27 players? No basket of deployables is that deep, yet Terry Collins kept dipping in until he became the first manager in the 55-year history of the franchise to deploy one Met for every out required in a normal nine-inning affair. Natch, this wasn’t a normal night, nor could it be confined to nine innings.
The opposing Philadelphia Phillies, another component of the schedule allegedly brought to you by Hostess Cupcakes, took a cue from the recently departed Atlanta Braves and refused to live down to their record or reputation. Their placement toward the rear of the National League East has apparently cultivated their ability to be a severe pain in the ass, demonstrated by their refusal to go quietly into this Met night. At various junctures, by various means, the Phillies took leads of 3-2, 6-4 and 8-6. If that’s what your division’s fourth-place team is capable of, then the club in second place must be something else.
They are. They’re the 2016 New York Mets, a Chumbawamba tribute band that gets knocked down but they get up again, you’re never gonna keep them down (as long as your name isn’t Ender Inciarte). These Mets led 2-0 on honorary amigo Curtis Granderson’s two-run homer in the second; tied it at three when Cespedes smartly singled the other way in the fifth; and took a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Yoenis cracked a double down the left field line. As long as Cespedes avoids hitting the ball merely an inch or two above the center field wall, he’ll be fine.
But Yoenis, contrary to stubborn rumor, can’t always lift the Mets all by himself. A one-run edge into the eighth is usually entrusted to Addison Reed for safe passage into the ninth. Reed’s been throwing a lot lately and has lifted the Mets plenty. On Thursday, however, he threw a pitch that became a three-run homer off the bat of Maikel Franco. It was stunning. Yet it was not decisive.
No, the decisive move of regulation Thursday night came in June when a decision was made to enlist the services of Jose Reyes. It wasn’t met with universal acclaim (really, it was closer to general disdain), but if more than lip service is to be paid to the concept of second chances, action had to pick up where words left off. Jose always could generate some action. He already had in this game, walking as prelude to scoring the go-ahead run on Cespedes’s double in the seventh. The ninth proved he was just getting started.
Brandon Nimmo opened the inning with a pinch-single off Phillie closer Jeanmar Gomez, the second night in a row Brandon entered late and delivered ASAP. Jay Bruce was called on to do something similar. Bruce, with three hits in his previous 39 at-bats, did not resoundingly answer the call in AB No. 40. In the category of surprises, his inability to come through in the clutch or even in the vicinity of the clutch ranked a close second to learning before the game that Steven Matz’s projected Friday night start was, in fact, a fantasy woven by Met magical thinking. We will not see Matz on Friday or probably at all the rest of this season. We didn’t really expect him to pitch, did we? Just as we didn’t really expect Bruce to do anything but strike out against Gomez, we just assumed we’d keep getting by with whoever else we have besides Matz.
We have 39 players on the active roster. Jacob deGrom is still one of them, but I assume that’s because we have 42 players on the disabled list. DeGrom, you’ll vaguely recall, was the projected starter on Sunday until the magical thinking made on his behalf dissolved into surgery required to repair an ulnar nerve. The Mets keep publicly stating pitchers who haven’t seen the mound since it was a molehill are suddenly feeling fine and ready to throw 50 or 75 competitive pitches in a pennant race. I applaud their optimism, but I seriously wish they’d keep it to themselves.
Willing bodies and reasonably able arms are in abundance in September. That’s how we come to have Gabriel Ynoa subbing for deGrom one start and Matz the next, how we came to have Seth Lugo attempting to withstand a Phillie barrage on Thursday. Seth was touched up on consecutive pitches to start the fifth, first by Unfrozen Caveman First Baseman Ryan Howard (his 128th or so versus the Mets in a career that dates back to The Clan of the Cave Bear), then by Cameron Rupp, who may or may not be the same person as Darin Ruf (I am being told he is not). Lugo only went five, which is fine as long as you have ample replacements.
Not a problem in September, particularly this September, when Collins is hosting an open house every night. After so many injuries and so much turnover, who can tell who belongs where anymore? The Thursday night lineup that was charged with maintaining a playoff position included T.J. Rivera batting cleanup, first baseman Eric Campbell hitting sixth, René Rivera catching, Alejandro De Aza in center and Lugo pitching. At this point, almost none of that looks remotely ridiculous. If you’d seen it in St. Lucie in March, you’d nod and ask if the Phillies are bringing any of their starters from Clearwater.
These guys and all the other guys are a part of this push, and pretty much all the other guys get to play, especially the pitchers. Lugo was succeeded by basically everybody who is described as a reliever. Some brought more relief than others. Reed couldn’t provide any for an uncomfortable change, but that will happen in a long season, just as if you play enough games and enough innings and enough guys, players you’d forgotten were there will get a big hit, as Nimmo did to start the ninth, and maybe players you’d prefer to forget, like Bruce, will eventually get one.
From this mass of humanity, it’s reassuring to have a proven commodity to lean on if you choose to indulge some magical thinking of your own. Reyes, who appeared on this roster from out of the blue and orange, has done a lot of spectacular things in his two terms as a Met, but only once to my recollection had he hit the big homer that we really needed to turn around the potentially bitter conclusion of a game. As it happened, it was a year ending in a 6 and it was against the Phillies: May 23, 2006, the eighth inning, the Mets trailing, 8-6, with a runner on. Then Jose drove a ball deep into the Flushing night off Ryan Franklin to knot the score at eight apiece. The Mets went on to top Philadelphia, 9-8, in extras.
Foreshadowing? Coincidence? Whatever. Jose the Elder reached back to that night of youthful exuberance and did to Gomez at Citi what he did to Franklin at Shea, lining a pitch out of the park and landing the Mets in a 6-6 tie. Wonders may pause for a decade, but they don’t necessarily cease. Meanwhile, this game that appeared lost was suddenly found.
Jeurys Familia, who in an ideal game is the last Met to pitch, became the eighth, in the tenth. He threw a scoreless inning that was matched by Severino Gonzalez, though an old amigo nearly scripted a wonderfully cheesy ending. Lucas Duda, buried deeper in the Met subconscious than Soup Cambpell by this point in the season, emerged as a pinch-hitter with two out. Terry started him on Sunday. He didn’t last the entire game and hadn’t been deployed since. But Thursday was the night of the bottomless basket. The manager reached for the Met slugger of record from 2014 and 2015, and wouldn’t you know it, Lucas almost turned back time. He hit a ball that hugged fair air for probably 329 feet and nine inches. As we learned from Mr. Inciarte on Wednesday, however, those last few inches can make all the difference. Duda’s attempt at a game-ending homer went barely foul.
Lucas had been sidelined by a bad back since May. I hesitate to imagine what his well-meaning work proximity associates might have done to it and him had he circled the bases. Not an issue. Lucas wound up striking out and Jeurys returned to the mound for the eleventh. Uncharacteristically he left before the inning was over, having yielded a go-ahead run on a ringing double, a productive grounder, an intentional walk and a dunker of a single. The Phillies led, 7-6, in a way that made you say “damn!” Then Jerry Blevins hit a guy and (after unconscionable strike-zone squeezing) Jim Henderson walked a guy to make it 8-6.
Nice hole you record-tying 26 Mets have dug for yourself there. It would be a shame if something didn’t happen to it.
After Nimmo whacked a pitch hard up the middle but to no avail, Michael Conforto became Met No. 27 in the box score and, more importantly, a baserunner via base on balls versus Edubray Ramos. Ramos was the Phillies’ ninth pitcher; it’s September for them, too. Reyes followed Conforto by singling safely above the glove of Jimmy Rollins clone Freddy Galvis (he of the frigging ringing double). The Mets had two on with one out and Asdrubal Cabrera prepared to bat.
This was the best possible scenario magical thinking could have conjured. Cabrera has been a hybrid of Bud Harrelson and Howard Johnson all year long, combining indispensable infield glue with uncommon shortstop power. Just the night before, Asdrubal had broken Jose’s single-season shortstop home run record of nineteen. When Reyes hit that many in 2006, it was a revelation (and cause for hundreds of groans to come that Jose was prone to homer-happiness). When Cabrera put his twentieth as a shortstop and twenty-first overall in the books on Wednesday, it was simply another example of what the man does. Of those Three Amigos who are linked at the top of the order and, by all reports, inside the clubhouse, Cabrera appears the most businesslike of the trio. The bottle-blondest, perhaps, but definitely the veteran who doesn’t attract attention for anything but his reliability. Reyes blazes around the bases. Cespedes drops jaws. Cabrera simply gets the job done.
The job at hand in the bottom of the eleventh with two on and one out was monumental. If Asdrubal could avoid grounding into a double play, it would rate as a net-positive. If he could as much as walk, it would be welcome, since it would set up Cespedes as the potential game-winning hitter for a third consecutive night, and you know what they say about third times and charms. If indispensable Asdrubal could manage to stay in one piece amid the myriad possible outcomes given the precarious condition of his continually balky knee, well, that would be keen, too.
Asdrubal transcended all ancillary aspects of the job when he connected authoritatively with the final pitch Ramos threw, the last of 409 delivered by nineteen pitchers in all. As soon as Cabrera swung, he knew it was gone. His bat was flipped, his arms were raised, his trot was jubilant. The camera stayed on him an instant before it cut to the ball Gary Cohen was describing in flight, so we could tell it was going to land easily beyond harm’s way a tick ahead of the rarely uttered double-OUTTA HERE! the home run so richly deserved. Ender Inciarte was in another city and no Phillie could climb, leap or pray high enough to do a darn thing about this one.
It was indeed outta here, outta here. The Mets were 9-8 winners. The Three Amigos were baseball heroes, even if their cinematic image is two-thirds suited to the era of silent films. Cespedes from Cuba speaks primarily with his bat and through an interpreter. Cabrera of Venezuela doesn’t usually find himself in front of a microphone. Reyes the prodigal/wayward Dominican son possesses the voice that’s most familiar to us. We understand his Metropolitan accent fluently. Postgame, when WOR’s Wayne Randazzo asked Jose about the bond he’s forged with these friends he’s made this improbable year, he didn’t withhold his affection one vocal bit. “They’re my brothers,” Jose declared. “One blood. They’re my brothers, I love them, we’re in this together.”
So are we all for the next nine games, hopefully more.