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Yet Another Brave New World

A few weeks ago I came across an article previewing brand spanking new SunTrust Park. It said that Braves fans were certain to enjoy some fantastic feature or another, which caused me to chuckle internally, because nobody really has an inkling of what a ballpark is going to turn into until experience replaces expectation. After the Mets gave beat writers a tour of as yet unopened Citi Field in 2009, one of them — somebody who would not be sitting in a ticketed seat nor wandering around over the course of nine or more innings — suggested there was a great spot where Mets fans would gather to drink beer and watch planes take off from LaGuardia. Perhaps that has happened in the ensuing nine seasons, but I’ve never once heard of anybody making it a part of their gamegoing routine. (Apologies to baseball-loving aviation enthusiasts if I’m inadvertently devaluing your passion.)

Ballparks are like ballgames and the seasons that encompass them in that respect. You can chart all your probabilities, but you just don’t know what’s coming until it arrives, and even then you don’t know where it’s leading. The Mets’ 2017 was effectively down the tubes as of last Thursday [1] when Noah Syndergaard [2] was scratched from his scheduled start, Yoenis Cespedes [3] required assistance leaving the basepaths and a sixth consecutive defeat was inflicted on our heretofore presumed airworthy enterprise. Then the Mets traveled to Washington and captured a couple of exciting contests that surely could have gone the other way but didn’t. Plus the reports on Yoenis’s hamstring didn’t indicate his demise was imminent and Noah was pronounced fit to start on Sunday with a sweep in sight. Maybe the season wasn’t over.

Or surely it was, because Syndergaard didn’t make it out of the second without grabbing a crucial portion of his imposing anatomy. Another sudden exit, another wave of doom. Next thing you know, Anthony Rendon [4] is raining down on every reliever in sight and Kevin Plawecki [5] is one of those relievers. It was one of those days when losing 23-5 to your ostensible archrivals wasn’t nearly the worst thing that could happen to your team [6].

Monday the Mets played anyway. Without Cespedes. Without Syndergaard, whose MRI results became the week’s most anticipated release this side of the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. Without Plawecki available in the bullpen after throwing two innings the day before. With each of us having spent 24 hours as unaccredited experts in sports psychology, sports medicine, sports management and the future. With Julio Teheran [7] prepping his own grisly guided tour of things to do in Cobb County when you’re dead.

What chances would have you assigned to a prospective Mets victory going into a setting like that?

Me, I’d have gone 50-50, my default odds before every game. Because you might win or you might lose, but you never, ever know. You didn’t know that Josh Edgin [8] would ride a ninth-inning steed to Jeurys Familia [9]’s rescue on Friday [10]. You didn’t know that Zack Wheeler [11] would get out of so many jams on Saturday [12] that he’d merit an endorsement deal from Smucker’s. You didn’t know Plawecki would pitch on Sunday (the ninth time a Mets position player has done so) or that Sean Gilmartin [13] would double (the thirty-first time a Met reliever has done that). You didn’t know how relevant recollections of the infamous 26-7 loss at Veterans Stadium from 1985 were going to become or that Rendon would be evoking apt comparisons to Sunny Jim Bottomley [14] and Hard-Hittin’ Mark Whiten [15].

You probably could have guessed something like what happened to Syndergaard would happen to Syndergaard, but you wouldn’t have necessarily taken lat tear over biceps tendinitis in the magnetic resonance imaging pool. Sandy Alderson swears what the MRI found [16] on Monday wasn’t what had been bugging Noah a few days earlier (for which the pitcher forewent an MRI and the club pitched him anyway). However one chose to decipher the results, Thor was disabled for an undetermined period and the Mets could be judged good as dead.

Except for beating the Braves Monday night. And having 137 more one-game seasons ahead of them. At some point Syndergaard may be back as good as new or better than ever or not quite what he was or how many days until Pitchers & Catchers 2018? We don’t know how soon we’ll be giving up on the current campaign, but May Day wasn’t the date to send up an irrevocable distress signal, not when the Mets extracted five homerless runs from the previously miserly Teheran in the fourth en route to a 7-5 Met gala [17]. The Mets had won games by that exact score sixty-one times between 1962 and 2016 and have now done so twice in a span of four days.

See? You never know. You only think you do.

You knew the surfeit of veteran outfielders would bar deserving Michael Conforto [18] from his opportunity, but he was playing yet again Monday, as he does every day. He’s topping the order on a daily basis and he’s quite good at it. Michael knocked in three runs from his perch, including a home run the very first time any Met ever batted at SunTrust Park. Sadly, Ender Inciarte [19] would return the favor to begin the bottom of the first, but since we won, we can enjoy knowing we saw something else that didn’t lend itself to prediction or precedent. Elias says the dual leadoff dingers marked the first Mets game in which each leadoff man went deep immediately…and the first such Braves game in 67 years.

You knew as recently as a little more than a week ago that erstwhile top-of-the-order hitter Jose Reyes [20] was absolutely done as a professional baseball player, but he homered, drove in two and extended his hitting streak to seven. Jose’s batting all of .178, but the Interstate’s a pretty good ride considering how much of April Reyes spent stuck on state roads.

You knew Curtis Granderson [21] as an old man trapped in the depths of uselessness, but not only did Grandy draw an essential walk in the definitive fourth, he made a diving catch with two on and two out in the sixth to protect a one-run lead. Curtis is an excellent baseball player even when he’s not playing anything close to excellent.

You knew a bullpen that surrendered fourteen runs before Plawecki’s desperation contribution on Sunday loomed as a leaky proposition on Monday, but after adequate Robert Gsellman [22]’s ledger was filled (5+ IP, 5 ER, the last two scoring on outs recorded by relievers), the rested core of the relief corps — Edgin, Hansel Robles [23], Jerry Blevins [24], Addison Reed [25] and Familia — tightened the Mets’ ship. Blevins was especially crisp, sandwiching swinging strikeouts of lefty nemeses Inciarte and Freddie Freeman [26] around a flyout of righty Brandon Phillips [27]. Familia was awarded the save for preserving a two-run lead in the ninth, but Blevins rightly earned the clubhouse crown for keeping the score 6-5 in the seventh.

It was just one game, but so are all of them. Whether it goes down as an anomaly or a part of an emerging trend (the Mets have won three of four and crawled out of last place) is unknown at the moment. Whether amenity-laden SunTrust Park will always play as it did last night, with balls jumping and the outfield expansive, is also part of the remains-to-be-scenery. Its predecessor facility seemed like a friendly spot [28] to drop our bags upon the Mets’ first visit in 1997. The Mets took three of four at Turner Field and you couldn’t have known what horrors awaited them at 755 Hank Aaron [29] Drive SE.

Weathervane rooting — “yay we’re winning!”; “boo we’re losing!” — proves only that you watched the very last thing that occurred and responded accordingly, but maybe it’s not the worst way to process baseball. Maybe the lack of Syndergaard, which will truly come into focus Friday night when his place if not role in the rotation is assumed by the umpteenth coming of Rafael Montero [30], does doom us in the near and long term. Maybe the Mets’ training staff shouldn’t be trusted with anything stronger than a box of Band-Aids and a tube of Neosporin (and even then, call your congressional representatives and demand they preserve your and your team’s access to health insurance). Maybe we can obsess on the musculoskeletal systems of strapping young men and make accurate diagnoses regarding their ability to heal without ever having examined them or a medical text.

Whatever the prevailing conditions, the Mets won last night and maybe they’ll win again tonight. Yay.