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Tinted Shades of 1986

As soon as Sunday’s game ended horribly, I thought of a similar four-game weekend road series. The Mets won the first game then, too; everything that had been going great felt even more wonderful. Then they lost the next three in varying shades of excruciating. The dates were July 17-20 in 1986, which should tell you that it all worked out in the end.

In the moment, however, the losses were awful. A Friday night shutout, the first we’d experienced all year. A dramatic Saturday night ninth-inning game-tying rally negated by a two-out walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth. A Sunday afternoon finale that marched grimly into Sunday night, decided on an irritatingly bad call at the plate in the bottom of the fifteenth, giving the home team, the Houston Astros, three wins in a row at the expense of our previously beyond-reproach Mets.

It’s not a perfect parallel, mostly because between the Saturday and Sunday games thirty-one years ago, four Mets were arrested and spent the night in jail, a.k.a. the Cooter’s incident (with off-duty Houston cops making as bad a call as the one Greg Bonin made to end that series). Also, the Mets were miles in first place more than halfway through the season, so if any enterprise could sustain three vexing losses, it was the 1986 Mets.

Nevertheless, they vexed, perhaps at the same level the three losses the Mets experienced in Miami this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Honest to god, I came away thinking this time around, as conventional wisdom held way back when, “This could be a playoff preview.”

The Marlins looked good enough to echo those Astros, who, of course, we met that October. Houston was still in a race with San Francisco in July 1986, yet you knew in your bones that matchup was coming. I know no such thing about anything in April of 2017. I tend to overestimate the Marlins going into every year and am delighted by my eventually being proven inaccurate, for like everybody else here, I detest the Marlins. But those frolicking Fish looked and played like the essence of indefatigable all weekend, rising from the sixteen-inning canvas Thursday and punching back successfully all weekend.

The Mets, on the other hand, looked like they’d been TKO’d by having to put in overtime on the first night of the series. The manager pretty much repeated the “we’re tired” line every chance he got. Give him points for honesty, I suppose, though you wonder why he couldn’t book a teamwide reservation at the same rejuvenating spa the Marlins — who played the same sixteen innings on Thursday — must have availed themselves of to return to fighting trim. Maybe it was the aftereffects of travel or the lack of an off day or the average age of the starting lineup being old enough to remember the Astrodome. Maybe it was Terry Collins projecting. He doesn’t make excuses. He offers earnest, impassioned explanations. Sometimes you wish he simply said, “Tough game, we’ll go get ’em tomorrow.”

I’m confident they will. Still, it would have been nice to have gotten ’em yesterday and the two days before, even accounting for the silly rule about not winning them all [1]. Sunday’s game seemed maddeningly just out of reach all day, despite the work of yet another Met starting pitcher who appeared plenty fresh. Matt Harvey [2] is an early candidate to win Comeback Player of the Year for the second time in three years. He may have a Bret Saberhagen [3] odd-year thing going (which we’ll take for now and worry about the inverse next year). For six innings, he was very sharp and very unsupported. The Mets avoided scoring for him. Didn’t even threaten, lest they mistakenly help the Dark Knight see daylight. Harvey used to run up against Jose Fernandez [4] in Miami in these types of encounters, and if he came out on the short end, you had to file it under those being the breaks, ace versus ace unfolding as it will.

Matt’s mound opponent Sunday was Dan Straily [5]. Not an ace, but who asks for credentials when you’re no-hitting an opponent for innings on end? Straily Dan rolled along, taking his no-hitter into the sixth, or as long as Don Mattingly [6] would allow him. Relievers entered and the hitlessness continued clear to two out in the eighth. The Mets broke up that nonsense with consecutive singles, but the zero they had in the all-important run column held. They trailed by an insurmountable 2-0 heading into the ninth.

Then the surmounting at last commenced. Travis d’Arnaud [7] singled with one out. With two out, sneaky fast Wilmer Flores [8] singled and then hustled to take advantage of a Stanton flub in right and the Mets had second and third. Asdrubal Cabrera [9] pinch-hit and drove them both in. The Mets tied a game they’d barely been in. More Amazin’: a Miguel Rojas [10] double to deep left with Marcell Ozuna [11] on first in the bottom of the ninth did not end the game. Yoenis Cespedes [12] — let’s call him Yoarmis — brilliantly barehanded the ball off the wall and fired it to Cabrera, who had stayed in the game to play short. Cabrera lasered the ball to d’Arnaud, and Travis, for the second time Sunday, expertly (and legally) blocked the plate to successfully tag an onrushing runner. Three innings earlier it was Cespedes to Jose Reyes [13] to d’Arnaud to nail Justin Bour [14], who victimized himself with one of those slides where the entire body bounces as if the dirt surrounding home is a trampoline.

Momentum doesn’t turn any faster than a 7-6-2 putout…unless it’s rookie J.T. Riddle [15] turning on Addison Reed [16]’s two-out delivery and sending it over the Marlins Park wall to end the game an eye blink later. The Marlins won in jubilant 4-2 fashion [17], the second game in a row there was much walkoff celebrating by the wrong team, the third game in a row when the ninth was the cruelest frame.

Noah Syndergaard [18] was solid on Friday. Jacob deGrom [19] was spectacular on Saturday. Matt Harvey was somewhere in between on Sunday. The Mets lost every one of those games anyway. The eight-man bullpen featured nobody who could record a definitive out. The lineup took most innings off in order to reflect. Catnaps were grabbed in plain sight. The sizzling winning streak the Mets extended upon hitting town has been replaced by a nagging losing streak that requires reversing Tuesday night at Citi Field against the Phillies. I’m willing to chalk the whole thing up to a case of long season/good club/bad weekend.

But what a bad weekend. Thank God It Isn’t Friday, Saturday or Sunday anymore.