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Whatever Doesn’t Kill You

I took strange comfort in Daniel Murphy [1]’s first-inning grand slam off Zack Wheeler [2] Sunday night. Very strange, admittedly, but comfort nonetheless from looking at it this way:

What’s the worst Daniel Murphy can do to the Mets with a given swing?

He can hit a grand slam.

Well, he already did that. That’s a 4-0 hole courtesy of the guy who drills more of them at Citi Field [3] than Deepwater Horizon ever did in the Gulf of Mexico. My counterintuitive thinking was if that’s the worst Daniel Murphy can do, and the game isn’t immediately ruled over, maybe we’ll be not necessarily OK, but less dead than you’d suspect.

Even with Max Scherzer [4] on the mound. Even with half the Mets unavailable or physically unfit for service. Even with the bloom off April’s rose, the shine off expectations’ silver and the telecast on ESPN. If Daniel Murphy has done his worst in a month whose sense of demise defies exaggeration…in a ballpark where doing his worst is Murph’s standard operating procedure…how much worse could a Sunday night game that begins Nationals 4 Mets 0 become?

Surprisingly, no worse. Not tangibly better, mind you, as the Mets did go on to lose [5], 6-3, absorbing an eighth defeat in nine outings; getting swept by their ostensible archrivals; and falling 5½ lengths from first place, a position we could have sworn was their reasonably attainable goal this season.

Murphy hit a grand slam. Scherzer went eight and struck out nine. The Mets never led or fully contested the inevitable result. Nevertheless, it felt like it could have been worse.

After a stretch of 1-8 baseball, the Rheingold mug can be judged no more than 11.1% full, yet there was just enough to sip on and feel sated from within the context of relative doom. The pitch Zack Wheeler threw to Murphy was the last of 101 total to irreparably harm him. He settled down, gave the Mets seven innings and the Nats no more runs. His command was sharp, his pitch count was manageable and his return from two years gone continues encouragingly. Make no mistake: he gave up a four-run homer to the fifth batter of the game, and that will deflate your win probability pronto, but if we assume we’re not smothering the rest of 2017 in a hastily flung towel, Zack’s post-slam recovery is a very good sign.

The Mets demonstrated the difference between presumed dead and confirmed buried. Wheeler’s efforts were made competitively worthwhile when Michael Conforto [6] fired back immediately at Scherzer, leading off the bottom of the first with a homer and then notching two base hits at the stellar southpaw’s expense besides. It was right around this time last year when another star hurler, Madison Bumgarner [7], confounded Conforto and halted his post-rookie joyride. Michael began rowing his boat onto the rocks of a sophomore slump which ended only when 2016 did. It’s a year later. Bumgarner’s the one whose decidedly nonmetaphorical conveyance has taken a spill [8], while Conforto may be making himself an immovable object from the top of the Mets order, lefty-lefty matchups be damned perhaps (though, Scherzer is, you know, a righty).

This potential next step in Conforto’s steady transformation from bench caterpillar to lineup butterfly can be construed as another very good sign to emanate from yet another pretty bad night. As can Neil Walker [9] stroking a two-run homer to push the Mets within one of the Nats in the third (though Walker producing half as many runs as his predecessor seems sadly apropos). As can the preternaturally gimpy but relentlessly game Asdrubal Cabrera [10] withstanding a visit from the Grim Trainer [11] in the first. As can Jeurys Familia [12] tossing his first immaculate inning of the year, albeit an inning after Ryan Zimmerman [13] sullied Josh Smoker [14]’s ledger with a messy two-run blotch. As can WOR’s audio, via SiriusXM, syncing beautifully to ESPN’s video while my remote’s mute function maintained television silence. As can Yoenis Cespedes [15] standing upright in the on-deck circle with a bat in his hands. Yo emerged in deference to the extremely remote chance Jose Reyes [16] could extend a modest last-chance rally, which is to say there was one on with two out and the Mets down by three in the bottom of the ninth. Jose and his classic rock batting average — .104 on your dial — proved incapable of reprising any of the hits he used to be known for, but at least we had visual evidence that Cespedes lives and breathes and might even be ready to take another swing real soon.

As will the Mets. It’s the best they can do.