Baseball is a lot like life. The line drives are caught, the squibbles go for base hits. It’s an unfair game.
That’s the best-known saying of one of Western thought’s foremost philosophers, the esteemed R. Edwin Kanehl. For those 21 words contain a multitude. You can use them as a lens for examining the lives of kings and commoners, the affairs of states and faiths and the slowly turning wheels of histories and economies. You’ll invariably find perspective in them and sometimes comfort — though occasionally you’ll have to settle for grudging acceptance.
They’re even useful for appraising baseball.
Take Monday night’s baffling, befuddling and ultimately entertaining Mets win over their neighbors from Philadelphia. From the Mets’ perspective, a whole lot of squibbles went for hits and a bunch of enemy line drives were caught. Unfair? Hell no. It was lovely — so long as we remember that the next time we’re the ones left fuming and fluttering agitated hands over the sheer injustice of it all.
Settle in — this is going to take a while, as things so often do playing in this park.
Jacob deGrom found that his pitches were sailing and had to call audibles from the get-go. When the first inning ended, the Phillies were up 2-0. One of those runs deserved an asterisk, as Curtis Granderson broke the wrong way in center (outfield defense again) but deGrom walked off looking perplexed and wary, as if surprised things had turned out as well as they had.
He’d have been forgiven a stinker after that — forget it, Jake, it’s Citizens Bank — but fortunately deGrom has a knack for improvisation. Shorn of his arsenal, stuck with a subpar defense and acutely aware of his bandbox surroundings, he still scuffled and scrambled and figured stuff out.
The Mets halved the deficit on Jay Bruce‘s home run — more on him in a bit — and then tied it via another unlikely sequence. In the seventh, Bruce broke from first with none out and a full count on Granderson, who smacked an innocuous grounder to Cesar Hernandez‘s right at second. If Bruce hadn’t broken it would have been a double play, but Hernandez stumbled into the ball on the backhand, then turned and made an awkward throw across his body. The ball eluded young Brock Stassi at first, sending Bruce to third. The Mets had somehow converted nothing into something, with Neil Walker asked to cash in.
Which wasn’t necessarily ideal. Walker’s been terrible so far in 2017, eaten up by breaking pitches. And, indeed, Jerad Eickhoff got to 0-2 on a pair of curveballs, prompting Cameron Rupp to call for a high fastball to change Walker’s eye level and speed up his bat as preparation for another breaking ball. Good idea, except Eickhoff threw the fastball shoulder-high instead of eye-high, allowing Walker to lift it into the outfield for a sacrifice fly and a tie game.
Blevins threw one pitch — or rather he Duda’ed it, shot-putting it between Travis d’Arnaud and the on-deck circle. Disaster, except d’Arnaud somehow snagged it and hurled it to second, behind Hernandez. Well, that was the idea anyway — instead d’Arnaud tried to throw it into center field. Disaster, except Asdrubal Cabrera somehow gloved that and threw to first, behind Howie Kendrick. Kendrick regarded Lucas Duda glumly until he was tagged out, then trudged away wondering what exactly had just happened. I couldn’t exactly blame him — I was trying to catch up myself.
Cabrera was then present for a bit of a contretemps. Edubray Ramos greeted him with a fastball behind the head, prompting some intramural barking and hard looks followed by the oh yeah moment of realization: Ramos was the luckless Phillie on the mound when Cabrera connected last September to deliver 2016’s best win and unleash an epic bat flip. He hadn’t forgotten, though Cabrera (entertainingly) professed not to have connected Ramos with That Guy From Last Fall.
I get why Cabrera was peeved — hitters generally accept a retaliatory ball in the ribs or butt but fuss about one near the head. But I also get why Ramos felt it was his duty to make his displeasure known. The happy prejudices of fandom blind us in such situations, so it’s instructive to do a mental uniform exchange and be honest about your likely reaction. For Cabrera, sub Maikel Franco; now make Hansel Robles the witness of a bat turned airliner instead of Ramos. In that mirror world, I suspect I would have winced at the altitude of Robles’s pitch but also probably tweeted something like “that’s right, we remember.” Cabrera’s bat flip was fine — this game’s supposed to be fun, dammit — but so was having Ramos retort in their next meeting.
On the other hand, the eighth inning of a tied game isn’t the best time for pointed messages. A perhaps-flustered Ramos walked Cabrera, meaning he was on base when Joely Rodriguez left a curve ball up to Bruce. He hammered it into the stands for a 4-2 Met lead. Yep, Jay Bruce. The same guy who arrived in a baffling trade that blew up the second-base plan, proved untradeable over the winter and is now the oddest-shaped Jenga piece in the Mets’ teetering tower of a logjammed outfield.
There’s a lot to criticize about that process, and one hot week doesn’t invalidate that — but Bruce is a decent fellow and a Met, so my nightly hope is that he makes my moaning and complaining look foolish. At least for a night he did exactly that; may he continue to do so.
But of course the drama wasn’t done — it never is here. Blevins got into trouble in the eighth, allowing a pair of one-out baserunners and ushering in Robles, who’s been even less reliable than usual so far this year. “I have a bad feeling about this,” I muttered on Twitter, and found no shortage of fellow travelers in my timeline. Robles took the ball and we all held our breaths.
So of course Robles immediately coaxed a double play from Rupp. Rarely has the sight of a massive leadfooted catcher making 90 feet look like 900 been such a welcome sight.
We still weren’t done. It was quickly apparent that Addison Reed had reported for ninth-inning duty unarmed — his control was off and his pitches lacked bite. Stassi — still hitless in his big-league career — extracted seven pitches from Reed before hitting the eighth over the fence, which I had to admit was pretty cool … provided the Mets won, of course. With one out Daniel Nava singled (uh-oh all over again), but Hernandez flew out and Reed struck out Kendrick on pitches that might have been slightly above and below the canonical bounds of the strike zone.
(Howie Kendrick’s favorite night playing baseball? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it wasn’t this one.)
So, to review: deGrom had nothing and improvised madly, Smoker was ineffective, Blevins got a W largely because of throwing one pitch that missed the catcher by several feet, Robles surprised us all by doing something right, and Reed had nothing but walked away with the save. And your scoring was built on a misplay, a flubbed pitch location, a bit of ill-advised pique and two homers from the guy who was recently available in exchange for any reasonable fringe prospect.
I wouldn’t recommend that as a blueprint for success, in baseball or anything else. But you know what? It worked just fine. Sometimes squibbles are your best friends.