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This Call to the Bullpen

Justice Potter Stewart, who slipped his colleague Harry Blackmun the 1973 equivalent of a Breaking News text alert while the United States Supreme Court and National League Championship Series were simultaneously in session — “V.P. Agnew just resigned!! Mets 2 Reds 0” — is probably best remembered for his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, a First Amendment case dealing with what was or wasn’t obscene material. The associate justice couldn’t offer a comprehensive definition, except to hold that the Constitution protects obscenity as free speech, unless it’s “hard-core pornography”.

Stewart’s guideline for what fell under that lurid heading was, depending on how you take your Bill of Rights, either good old common sense or so full of holes that it could constitute Swiss cheese. “I know it when I see it,” Stewart reasoned. Had the shrug emoji been invented, one gets the feeling he would have buttoned his thought with that single keystroke and then swiped back to MLB.com.

Potter Stewart sat on the high court for 23 years but was a hard-core Reds fan forever. Whatever he thought of Spiro Agnew, you can be sure he wasn’t thrilled by the other development that got his attention on October 10, 1973, the one that wound up Mets 7 Reds 2 with New York winning the pennant at the expense of his beloved Cincinnati. When he had a chance to catch up on the details, he must have been all SMH regarding the veritable turning point of decisive Game Five, wherein Reds third baseman Dan Driessen [1] stepped on third for a force play that didn’t exist. Wayne Garrett [2] doubled to lead off the fifth of what was by then a 2-2 contest. Felix Millan [3] attempted to sacrifice him over. His bunt was fielded by Jack Billingham [4], who wheeled and fired to Driessen, then a rookie. Dan made a rookie mistake in not tagging Garrett. Wayne was safe. Felix was safe. Nobody was out. Soon enough, the Mets went in front, then way in front, then on their way to the World Series. It’s a reasonable standard to assume Stewart muttered a few constitutionally protected obscenities to himself over that turn of events.

It’s just as likely that Stewart, like any baseball fan, took outsize pleasure in what we shall, with the court’s indulgence, refer to as baseball porn. What is baseball porn? It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it and you feel it deeply.

Baseball porn is the batter who, instead of slamming down his bat and turning to the dugout, runs at full speed on a pop fly and lands on second when the fielder who catches that ball ninety-nine times out of a hundred misses it completely. It’s the lefty batter who, after being foiled so often by an overshift on the right side, bunts in the deserted direction of third base and is rewarded with a single. It’s the center fielder who grabs a ball off the wall with his back to the infield and displays the presence of mind to toss said ball to the nearby left or right fielder because his teammate is in much better position than he is to make a throw to keep the runner from taking third. It’s the runner who tags up from first on a deep fly to right; the runner on second who crosses to third on any kind of out; the hitter who answers a pitch up and in with a line drive through the box; the starter whose ongoing gem crashes the hundred-pitch limit and continues his outstanding work uninterrupted; the closer who comes on to get the key out before the ninth inning; and, when necessary, the manager who removes his closer during the ninth inning because roles and egos are not nearly as important as getting the final outs of a particularly crucial game.

By that last-listed standard, Terry Collins did some obscenely good managing on Friday night. His call to the bullpen, in which Josh Edgin [5] was summoned to replace Jeurys Familia [6] with the bases loaded, one out, the Mets leading the Nationals by two and Bryce Harper [7] strolling to the plate, was certifiably steamy stuff. The skipper was not sticking to the book. Familia let three consecutive Nationals reach base before registering one out. If Jeurys didn’t carry the title of closer, there would have been no reason to leave him in to face one of the world’s most dangerous hitters. Terry opted to apply a common-sense standard to a situation that encompasses no definitive indisputable resolution.

Managerial strategy can serve as very fleeting baseball porn because the execution has to be as pleasing as the idea. If Edgin — rarely confused for a sure thing, but, like Harper, a lefty — doesn’t untangle Familia’s mess and preserve all the good the Mets had produced earlier (deGrom’s 12 Ks in 7 IP, d’Arnaud’s two Washington Monumental blasts and the five runs they delivered, Reyes’s slashing and speeding reincarnation of himself as Jose-Jose-Jose from 2006), then Collins’s move would have led to no more than a steaming pile of stuff. And you would have known it when you saw it.

The game was now on Collins’s head and Edgin’s arm. So was the opportunity to halt a horrible losing streak, reverse a Cespe-less malaise and, despite April not yet yielding to May, rescue the season. The last-place Mets were already 0-3 against the first-place Nats. You want to win your division, you better win some big games. None come bigger earlier than a game that’s 7-5 in the ninth, sacks full of opponents, your main reliever (and his setup man, for that matter) having let you down and your fate residing within the ability of one of your fringe southpaws. It was no wonder Gary Cohen set the scene by channeling Bob Murphy. “Fasten your seatbelts,” Gary suggested before breaking for commercial.

We braced for Bryce. Edgin threw ball one. Harper of the .400-plus batting average and .500-plus on-base percentage then fouled one off. The next pitch to the former and possibly future MVP was miraculously bounced back toward the mound. Josh grabbed it, flung it accurately to d’Arnaud for the force and then stood by while Travis relayed it to new first baseman T.J. Rivera [8] to create a 1-2-3 game- and skid-ending double play. If a team not at bat can be said to have forged a walkoff win, this was it. The Mets didn’t break a tie and they didn’t storm from behind. They stayed from ahead [9]. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.

And when you’ve done it the way these Mets did, you know how good it feels.