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Deep Breaths

Wednesday night’s win over the Marlins was full of encouraging signs for the Mets, and left me feeling something I’ve rarely felt in a tight race’s last few days: a sense of calm.

Seth Lugo [1] looked shaky early, struggling to command his pitches and reminding us that for all his meritorious service, he’s written an out-of-nowhere story that makes Jacob deGrom [2]‘s ascent look like a sure thing. Lugo didn’t pitch well in any role in Las Vegas (though, to be fair, that’s about the last place you want to depend on a curveball) and various metrics, most notably his FIP and home run rate, suggest an unwelcome regression to the mean [3] lies ahead.

But you know what? Come April, Lugo can regress all the way back to the Pacific Coast League — what’s important is he didn’t do it Wednesday night. He got rocked by a Martin Prado [4] homer in the bottom of the first for a 2-0 deficit, but fanned Jeff Mathis [5] with two men on to limit the damage. The Mets responded immediately, with T.J. Rivera [6] doubling and James Loney [7] hitting a high arcing drive that came down just above Giancarlo Stanton [8]‘s station craning his neck at the right-field fence.

Lugo was in trouble again in the third, facing Stanton with one out and runners on first and second. He got squeezed on a 1-2 curve, though the ball broke so sharply it seemed to fool Rene Rivera [9] as well as home-plate ump Bill Welke. Unlucky, but then Lugo got lucky on 2-2, running a fastball just outside enough to sap Stanton’s power. He popped it up; Lugo went to a 3-1 count on hulking Met nemesis Justin Bour [10], but got him to ground to second for a fairly gigantic whew.

The Marlins seemed spent after that, for which no person with an ounce of compassion could blame them. Meanwhile, the Mets were getting in gear. Jose Reyes [11] doubled Lugo in to take the lead in the fourth and then Jay Bruce [12] — yes, that Jay Bruce — drove a ball over the wall for insurance. Lugo, Hansel Robles [13], Fernando Salas [14], Addison Reed [15] and Jeurys Familia [16] kept Miami at bay, and the Mets had won [17].

The Mets had won, and a little while later the Reds beat the Cardinals by a skinny run, surviving a leadoff triple in the ninth. And a little while after that the Rockies survived a scary ninth of their own to beat the Giants. Those aren’t the ingredients for a 163rd game quite yet, but the recipe’s become pretty simple: if the Mets win two in Philadelphia they’re guaranteed at least one night of extra baseball. (Yes, a three-way tie is still possible, but I’m not going to worry about it because my head would explode.)

I doubt I’ll be calm when I’m checking the out-of-town scores Thursday night, or while doing anything this weekend. But Wednesday night I was — I even lapsed into couchbound inattention for an inning or two, as if this were a pleasant evening in May. The difference: I was letting myself daydream about Lucas Duda [18] looking revived and Curtis Granderson [19] whacking balls from line to line and Bruce having escaped the back of the milk carton and T.J. Rivera continuing to get his Murph on and hey, if we get past next Wednesday maybe we could make some noise….

Normally I’d yank myself back to the beginning of that chain of hypotheticals, but this time, I let my mind keep wandering happily for a bit. I’ve lived through seasons in which magic numbers shrank to a certain point but no further, becoming tragic digits. I know that still might be. But, to steal a note [20] from Mike Vaccaro, since their resurrection began on Aug. 20 the Mets have made up 8 games on St. Louis, 9 1/2 on San Francisco and 10 on the Pirates. And all that while pitchers and position players vanished from active duty at a rate normally seen in epidemics. Those are already pretty magic numbers, regardless of the outcome.

So I’ll sit back and enjoy it until the lights come up and it’s time to go, whether that’s after Game 162, 163 or — because you never know — Game 182. It’s part of being a fan to fret and sigh and see grim portents everywhere, but we have to also allow ourselves to imagine things going right.