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Philadelphia Freedom

The forces of good were temporarily foiled Thursday night in St. Louis by Yadier Molina [1] and dunderheaded officiating. Like havoc wreaked by rain on the late-September schedule, hardy perennials are hard to avoid.

The Cardinals and Reds were locked in a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth. The Cards had Matt Carpenter [2] on first with two out. Molina, who is a hero in his native Hades, lashed a double to deep left, where it took a hop over the wall, bounced off an advertising sign set several feet behind and above the fence, and then caromed back onto the field, meaning Carpenter had to stop at third…in a just world that abides by the concept of ground rules. Instead, Bill Miller’s umpiring crew responded to an onlooker’s apparent suggestion of “hey, look over here!” and they all missed what was fairly visible to the television-viewing audience. Reds left fielder Adam Duvall [3] dutifully played the ball and threw it in to the infield; it wasn’t up to him to decide he was enabling a ground-rule double to go uncalled. Carpenter kept running because nobody told him not to. He slid across the plate and was called safe. The Cardinals jumped up and down, showered each other with liquids and picked up a half-game in the Wild Card standings [4], freezing the idle Mets’ magical numeral at 2.

During my sole summer of watching professional wrestling, I was regularly flummoxed by referees who somehow missed illegal moves and foreign objects that inevitably affected the outcomes of matches. I was twelve then, yet could plainly delineate one blown call after another. I gave up on wrestling. I stuck with baseball. Baseball continued blowing calls, but not every night and, eventually, not very often for keeps once video replay review was implemented. It’s a cumbersome process, but it usually makes up for the proliferation of human error that has come to define major league umpiring in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

It didn’t work this time, either. As the Cardinals celebrated, Bryan Price was ultimately declared to have fatally dawdled. Every game in September takes approximately three eternities and forty forevers, but because Price wasn’t up the dugout steps and waving his arms like a madman in an instant, Miller assumed the Reds weren’t concerned with the final score. It turned out the Reds’ manager was gathering his wits and evidence before demanding justice in a noisy pool hall. By the precise second he emerged to flag down an umpire — any umpire — all the umpires had vamoosed.

Because baseball is such a stickler for keeping a snappy pace, Price was supposed to have signaled his intent to challenge within ten seconds, or challenged within thirty seconds, or, because the call on the field ended the game, make his displeasure known simultaneous to the manifestation of the event that displeased him. He didn’t do that, by Miller’s reckoning. Miller, as crew chief, could have instigated his own review since it was the ninth inning, but he was too busy a) glancing at Price not staring forcefully enough at him; and b) skedaddling from sight in the company of his colleagues, most notably Scott Barry, the third base umpire who blew the ground-rule call in the first place.

If this were the 1925 World Series, when Sam Rice [5] of the Washington Senators may have or may have not caught a ball [6] while diving into a friendly crowd, the mystery would be the stuff of enduring legend. In the playoff chase of 2016, we have solutions to clear up confusion. We have the thing with the headsets and the angles and the definitive call. They would have used it in 1925 had it been available. They found a way not to do in 2016. Ah, progress.

Had the correct call been made, and Carpenter been halted at third, perhaps Stephen Piscotty [7], the next Cardinal due up, would have driven in the winning run. Or Piscotty would have been walked, leaving it up to Kolten Wong [8]. Wong might have ended the game, or the Reds might have wriggled out of the jam and into extra innings. Hypotheticals can’t be rewound and reviewed. What stands (unless somebody files a protest and the protest is upheld, which all seems pretty unimaginable at this point) is the Cardinals were credited with a win they didn’t win, and therefore stand two games behind the Mets and one game behind the Giants, who also unfortunately, if legitimately, won on Thursday night [9].

Bottom line where our Met myopia is concerned: the same combination of Met wins and Cardinal losses adding to two that we looked forward to as play began Thursday night remains our math here on Friday. We win and they lose and we’ve got a Wild Card. Who we play and where we play would remain up in the air (the groundless ground-rule double episode has mostly been addressed as a detriment only to the Giants, as if the Mets are leisurely lounging about their penthouse apartment complacently awaiting a telegram containing their October itinerary), but making the postseason would be accomplished and, oh by the way, what an accomplishment…once it’s accomplished…if it’s accomplished.

It must be accomplished before conditional language is altered.

Scoreboard watching behooves us, but the scoreboard of primary interest is the one at Citizens Bank Park. If the Mets keep winning in Philadelphia, we are free of worry where wild scenarios are concerned. Win twice and we’re in on our own. We also clinch home field regardless of impending opponent, thanks to the Cardinals’ resulting inability to catch us — we’d have 87 wins, they can attain no more than 86 — and the head-to-head edge we hold over the Giants. A little help from our new friends the Pirates (in St. Louis) and Dodgers (at San Francisco) will be much appreciated, but the Mets can handle this themselves, weather permitting.

It might very well rain. It rained hard enough in Detroit on Thursday afternoon to postpone — not exactly cancel [10] — a critical Tigers-Indians matchup. It rained hard enough in Pittsburgh on Thursday night to suspend — and officially tie [11] — a relatively superfluous Pirates-Cubs game. You rarely see postponements of contests with playoff implications at this stage of the season (Cleveland would return to Detroit on Monday if the American League Wild Card hangs in the balance) and you basically never see ties anymore (it takes a last scheduled meeting, ceaseless precipitation and no playoff implications to not pick up a suspended game). The last sanctioned tie in MLB came eleven years ago. The Mets haven’t played one to inconclusion since the ass end of 1981 [12]. Rain can do crazy things that lax umpires can only daydream of while not following the flights of balls that bounce over walls and back onto fields of play.

Rain, for example, tends to move from west to east. If you’re following the bouncing cloud, you can track its path from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and draw your own conclusion. The Mets and Phillies will almost certainly play as much baseball as they are scheduled to this weekend, but they may have to wait out steady showers and puzzle out vexing pitching decisions to do so. It’s not the ideal setup in advance of potential playoff rotation alignment, but that’s a problem we should be overjoyed to contemplate. Not every team playing this time of year is burdened by such concerns. The Phillies aren’t. The heretofore defending world champion Kansas City Royals (despite their implacably relentless nature) no longer are [13]. And somebody else whose identity escapes me also qualifies in this realm. Local team, other league…

Oh yes, now I remember.

I know there are more pressing matters on our rainy radar, but a moment of Sheadenfreude should always be taken to observe Elimination Day when it rolls around. Call me a sentimentalist, but a grand old tradition marking an indisputably cheerful annual event shouldn’t be allowed to pass without a word of thanksgiving. In these modern times, Elimination Day may not be as relevant as it once was, but let us never forget those autumns when it never came, and therefore count the one additional blessing with which we were bestowed when the Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday night and officially eliminated from postseason contention the New York Yankees [14].

Consider it counted. Now on to counting bigger and even better things.