A grand slam? The Marlins thought they were gonna beat the Mets with a grand slam? Hey, Marlins, I got a team I wanna introduce you to: the Phillies. The Phillies thought they were gonna beat the Mets with a grand slam. Hey, Phillies, tell the Marlins how that worked out.
Yeah, I thought so.
The Phillies tried to beat the Mets on Wednesday night with a grand slam like they thought one big swing is the baseball equivalent of an incontrovertibly lethal weapon. What happened? The Mets left Philadelphia on a winning streak. We’d ask Maikel Franco for further comment, but he, like his teammates, were last seen eating the Mets’ dust.
Do the Marlins get scouting reports? Watch tape? Listen in on the grapevine? Don’t they know that grand slams don’t kill, don’t wound and don’t stop the New York Mets?
Apparently not, because in the very first inning Thursday night in Miami, the Marlins went straight into the Phillie playbook — load the bases, hit a home run, put four runs on the board. What, that again? Yawn. Marcell Ozuna took Robert Gsellman pretty deep, but not deep enough.
We acknowledge that Ozuna or later, the Fish are gonna get ya, especially in their own often haunted aquarium, usually later than Ozuna got Gsellman’s early-evening goat. But a grass roots grand slam was not the bait these Mets were gonna swallow whole before calling it a night.
The night, you understand, wasn’t going anywhere until we said it was.
Our boys trailed, 4-0, after one. Then they tied it in the second. We’ll see your grand slam with a catcher tripling in three runs — who said these Mets can’t triple? — and the catcher being driven in from third shortly thereafter. The catcher was Travis d’Arnaud, generating approximately as much offense in one trip around the bases as he did during last year’s trip around the sun.
By the third, the Mets were homering rather than tripling, one from Yoenis Cespedes, one from Wilmer Flores. In the fifth, Yo did it again. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Citizens Bank Marlins Park. Cespy and Flo “settled” for socking solo blasts, so it was only 7-4. More runs would have made more sense on paper, but clearly the Mets had already calculated how ineffectual grand slams have become in the current climate.
Gsellman, on the other hand, was growing in efficacy. His first inning was rough, but his second, third and fourth were spotless and scoreless. Three more outs would position him for the win, that curio that continues to linger from Henry Chadwick’s well-meaning 19th-century bookkeeping.
Gsellman, co-founder of the Metropolitan Bacon-Saving Consortium (established in conjunction with Seth Lugo, August 2016), pitched like he didn’t care about wins or losses. Dismissing ancient metrics with a flair nearly as postmodern as his coif, Bobby G put a few batters on. A couple scored. He left. Josh Edgin came in.
Soon enough, we could cheer a great delivery to the plate. True, it was from Jay Bruce in right gunning down Justin Bour after the Marlins had strung together four runs to take an 8-7 lead, but what an arm on that guy!
Edgin gave way to Rafael Montero, yet the Mets didn’t panic. No, they patiently waited for Cespedes to set things right. Sure enough, in the seventh, Yo struck out but took first anyway, because Yo’s on one of his torrid streaks during which outs land him on base. Did I say first? Yo not only struck out, but then proceeded to second via wild pitch. It was like he was going to score on nothing more than a single.
It was, in fact, remarkably like that when Bruce (who’d earlier confounded one of those awful shifts with a beautiful bunt) singled to left and Cespedes motored around third before rumbling across the plate. Among those patiently waiting to greet the triumphant baserunner was Neil Walker, a genuine student and fan of the game. He knows Yo is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, and when you’re fortunate enough to have the vantage point Neil was afforded as on-deck batter, you stand and you watch and you appreciate the athletic miracle that is Yoenis. You surely don’t make any crazy motions telling your teammate to get down and slide. Neil didn’t motion, Yo didn’t slide and Angel Hernandez of all people called Cespedes safe with the Mets’ eighth and tying run.
So, yeah, it was like Yoenis could score, but somebody with a replay button somewhere got confused and called him out, taking away that run. Imagine the nerve of a person overruling Angel Hernandez.
The Mets didn’t score in the seventh. That’s what they make eighth innings for. Travis, a certifiably high-functioning offensive machine in odd years, singled with two out, and Michael Conforto, a.k.a. Le Grand Ingenue, leapt from the bench and pinch-doubled home the best-hitting catcher the Mets have had since the 2015 rendition of Travis d’Arnaud. For the second time in two innings, the score changed to 8-8. For the first time in two innings, the score stuck.
Consistency would reign for a fashion. Mets relievers stopped giving up runs and Mets batters chose not to add any. Jacob deGrom pinch-hit. René Rivera played some first. Juan Lagares rematerialized. The score stuck at 8-8. The Marlins, having ridden their one-trick grand slam pony to no avail, couldn’t take advantage. Montero, Blevins, Salas, Reed…oh, we’re not done…Josh Smoker for three innings, human rosin bag Hansel Robles (you can find him on the mound every night) in the fifteenth…what’s the matter, Marlins, cat got your grand slam?
Finally, in the sixteenth, Td’A decided he had somewhere better to be and stroked a home run to put the Mets up, 9-8. Robles walked Christian Yelich to start the bottom of the seventh extra inning, but then took care of Stanton, Bour and old news Ozuna to preserve the first-place Mets’ fifth victory in a row, their second straight in which an opponent’s grand slam served little purpose other than decorative.
The entire exercise lasted five hours and thirty-eight minutes, surely enough time for the Marlins to brush up on their history. Maybe they didn’t know about Franco’s futile gesture from the night before. Maybe they didn’t know that on twenty occasions prior to 2017 the Mets have laughed in the face of grand slams — HA! — and gone on to win ballgames.
It had happened most recently in September of 2015, the afternoon the Mets brushed off Wilson Ramos’s four-by-four-bagger en route to executing the Nationals altogether. It happened in May of 2014 at whichever Yankee Stadium was around then. Gnattish Brett Gardner drove in four with one swing, but we had whichever Chris Young was around then and prevailed, 9-7.
Twice in 2012, grand slams were no more than showy window dressing, once off the bat of Todd Helton, once flying from the lumber of lumbering Ryan Howard, who pulled the same bit in 2008…also without it helping his team win. A Mets Classic staple, the Beltran walkoff versus Isringhausen and the Cardinals, was set up in part by an Albert Pujols grand slam that did not prevent that sterling August 2006 contest from ascending to heavy-rotation SNY status.
You know the guy who stands adjacent to first base and pats Met baserunners on the rear? Tom Goodwin? His grand slam at Coors Field for the Rockies in April of 2000 didn’t stop the Mets from getting Rockie-mountin’ high. Two years before Goodwin, there was Ryan Jackson of the Marlins slamming in a losing cause versus the Mets, and if you don’t remember Ryan Jackson of the Marlins, you probably vaguely recall a Larry Jones from the Braves. Of course he Chipped in a grand slam at Turner Field against the Mets in 1997. And of course the Mets won anyway.
When we’re talking grand slams that don’t fatally pierce Met armor, we’re talking:
• former Mets like Mike Vail (for the Cubs in 1979 as part of a five-run onslaught in the bottom of the eleventh that couldn’t quite answer the Mets’ barrage of six in the top of the eleventh, the scoringest eleventh inning there ever was);
• former Met farmhands like Jody Davis (for the Cubs in 1987, a footnote amid the Mets’ franchise-best one-game run total of twenty-three);
• former/future Mets like Hubie Brooks (for the Expos in 1989 while Gary Carter, for whom he’d been traded five years earlier, was driving in five);
• future Mets Spring Training invitees like Terry Puhl (for the Astros in 1982, the otherwise polite Canadian-born outfielder slammed closer Neil Allen to tie things up at nine, but Allen, batting for himself in the twelfth, stole the lead back on behalf of Bambi’s Bandits thanks to a Houston error and George Bamberger’s steadfast belief that closers should just keep closing);
• and future Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell. Stargell hit sixty home runs against the Mets during his Cooperstown-bound career. Nobody — not Howard, not Jones, not anybody — has hit more. One of Stargell’s shots was a grand slam off Jon Matlack, launched August 5, 1976. Matlack simply shrugged and went about defeating Pops and the Pirates in Pittsburgh, 7-4.
The remainder of the relevant ranks don’t share the rarefied air of a Stargell, a Pujols or a grown man who prefers to be called Chipper, but they could be sharp thorns in the sides of Mets pitchers: Melvin Nieves of the Padres in 1995; his San Diego teammate Brian Johnson in 1994 (Johnson’s lifetime OPS versus the Mets over more than a hundred plate appearances was nearly a thousand); Phillie backstop Darren Daulton in 1992; Giant infielder Ernest Riles in 1990; Pirate first baseman Jason Thompson in 1983 (in the first game of the cherished Banner Day doubleheader the Mets swept when Mookie Wilson scored from second on a groundout in the twelfth inning of the nightcap, the second twelfth inning that Shea Sunday); and the first batter who probably mistakenly believed a grand slam at the Mets’ expense would lead to a win, Vic Davalillo of the 1969 Cardinals at Busch Stadium. More than two months before Steve Carlton’s nineteen strikeouts went for Swobodan naught in the same ballpark, Davalillo pinch-hit against Ron Taylor after Jerry Koosman loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth. Vic vaporized Ron for a plenty potent pinch-hit — the Mets had been up, 4-0, but were now knotted, 4-4. Yet it wasn’t that potent. Six innings later, the Mets scored twice and went on to win, 6-4.
It took more than an opponent’s grand slam to slow the 1969 Mets, just as it’s taken more than opponent grand slams on consecutive nights — the second of them an extraordinarily long night — to impede the 2017 Mets. Good tries, Maikel and Marcell. Just not good enough.