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Possibility Has Its Night in the Sun

Dee Gordon [1] was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the fifth inning Friday night. Then he stole second. One out later, he dashed to third on a ground ball in front of him. Dee Gordon did three very Dee Gordon things to the Mets as Dee Gordon will.

So Gordon was on third, two were out and Giancarlo Stanton [2] was up against Fernando Salas [3], who had just replaced Josh Smoker [4]. Stanton didn’t even have to do his trademark Stanton thing. The Marlins were up by four runs. A home run would bury the Mets — on the off chance that they weren’t already buried — but a hit of any kind would serve Miami’s cause handsomely. A double, let’s say. In the fourth, Stanton doubled off starter Rafael Montero [5] to nudge open floodgates that were about to be blown off at their hinges. The Marlins were on their way to a six-run inning and a 7-1 lead. Montero was on his way to the component of the clubhouse most familiar to him, the showers. Showers would have been welcome to pour down over Citi Field at that point. All that rain all day, all these Marlin runs all night. Yet the skies were bone dry and the Mets’ luck appeared just as arid.

True, Curtis Granderson [6] had taken a notch out of the Met deficit in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run homer, but too many miles of bad road awaited. Stanton was a flash flood warning unto himself. Whatever Salas gave up in the way of a hit was going to close the Mets’ narrowing road to victory.

Salas would give something up, right? He was the eighth-inning man when the season started, yet has crept down the depth chart with alarming alacrity in recent weeks. He was on in the fifth, basically the second mopup man in another bucket brigade. Stanton stood in. Chops were perceptibly licked.

What happened next? Not what you’d expect if you were expecting the Met worst. Salas threw one pitch and Stanton popped it to third, where Wilmer Flores [7] reeled it in, no muss, no fuss, nowhere for Gordon to go except back to the Marlin dugout to grab his glove. Fernando Salas kept Dee Gordon from doing that vital fourth Dee Gordon thing. He didn’t let him score.

The Mets still trailed by four, but the burial plot didn’t grow deeper. It was a small victory that found a companion an inning later. Hansel Robles [8] was pitching. He let Marcell Ozuna [9] get as far as third base. Two Fish made it on with two out. Ichiro Suzuki [10], who has more hits on more continents than anybody who’s ever lived, was pinch-hitting. Another Marlins sticking it to the Mets scenario was unfolding…except Robles folded it into his back pocket. He popped Ichiro to second. Ozuna didn’t score.

Marlins had ceased. Would wonders?

Come the bottom of the seventh, wonders definitively carried the day. The Cespeless Mets were full of offense, soldering together six consecutive hits versus Brad Ziegler [11]. Flores singled; Jose Reyes [12] doubled; René Rivera [13] singled in Flores; Asdrubal Cabrera [14] pinch-singled in Reyes; Michael Conforto [15] singled to load the bases; T.J. Rivera [16] — who had gone deep in the first for the Mets’ early, lonely run — whacked a double to left to bring home plodding Rene and stiff-legged Asdrubal. T.J. landed at second, Michael at third. If you were scoring at home like the Mets were scoring at Citi, you knew a grim Cinco de Mayo had transformed into Fiesta de Las Carreras. The Mets put cuatro runs on the board to knot the noche at siete apiece.

Translation: Mets 7 Marlins 7. Kyle Barraclough [17] replace Brad Ziegler. You could have asked Don Mattingly [18] what took him so long, but with the pace of play already glacial (“Sweet Time” Montero crammed ninety pitches into three-and-two-thirds innings), that would have been rude. On the other hand, the next two Mets batters were a little too polite to Barraclough. Jay Bruce [19] struck out swinging. Neil Walker [20] did the same. Grandy, however, offered the reliever whose name should be continued on a second jersey nothing in the way of help. He took three unintentional balls before Mattingly flashed four fingers to load the bases.

Flores was up again. His hit keynoted the seventh. His walk would accent it. Wilmer took four pitches, every one of them allergic to the strike zone. The Mets, previously down by six runs, suddenly led by one. Cue Addison Reed [21] and Jeurys Familia [22], each well-rested after Thursday night’s washout and each theoretically primed to protect a hard-earned edge. The Marlins can disrupt the best of theories, but this one proved sound. Reed overcame a two-out single in the eighth and Familia threw seven pitches in the ninth to corral an ideal save [23].

The 13-15 Mets improbably prevailed 8-7 in this festival of runs, pushing themselves into sole possession of a motley second place in the National League East and raising their cumulative record since April 1, 2011, to 494-506. That Friday night some six years and a month ago [24] was Terry Collins’s first game as Met manager. This Friday night was Terry’s one-thousandth. He didn’t pull into port a winner on his maiden voyage, which also happened to involve the Marlins, but his milestone outing wound up suitably shiny.

I wouldn’t necessarily call No. 1,000 a microcosm of the Collins administration, but it certainly had its familiar elements. A starter of last resort. An early implosion. A leaned-on bullpen. An opponent imposing for its peskiness. A lineup improvised from whatever parts were healthy. An aversion to being covered in dirt. A slight flinch indicating a pulse and a heartbeat. A comeback that wasn’t predestined yet never felt inconceivable. A win that could have been a loss but wasn’t [25].

Terry puts in Salas and Salas stems the tide. Terry replaces Salas with Robles and Robles stands firm. Terry rests Cabrera for the most part but brings him off the bench and Cabrera extends the rally. Flores starts at third for a change, scores the innocent fourth run and drives in the essential eighth run. T.J. moves up to the two-hole and knocks in three. Jose and Curtis are given chances to succeed and eventually stop failing. Addison and Jeurys grope until they get a grip on their roles again. Terry was not directly responsible for every good thing that happened in his thousandth Mets game (he’s two weeks from having managed the most in franchise history), but let’s not pretend he’s a fully innocent bystander to the success of recent innings not to mention seasons. Conversely, he’s lost more than he’s won over the years and not every move pans out — but let’s not pretend every setback is his dumb doing.

The part I like is the not giving up. Some games you don’t detect it. Some games the Mets are dead and stay dead. Post-Montero, I assumed this was one of them. I was shocked Gordon didn’t score in the fifth. I was shocked it was still only 7-3. Yet I didn’t see any payoff percolating. I figured we’d lose anyway. I figured wrong, which is the best wrong figuring a fan can do.

There’s a difference between staying dead and playing dead. Terry’s Mets rarely play dead and they don’t easily roll over. They almost always look as alive as they are capable of doing — and Collins kvetches enough to get their attention when they don’t [26]. Long ago, on a June afternoon during his first campaign [27], I watched the Mets fall behind, 7-0, then confidently and determinedly march back into contention. Not for a title, but for a day. It wasn’t overly dramatic, but it was impressive. The Mets won that game, too, 9-8. It was likely the first game of the Terry Collins era on which I didn’t reflexively give up despite long odds. Winning didn’t feel probable, but it definitely felt possible.

Joe Namath guaranteed a victory. Mark Messier guaranteed a victory. The only guarantee to emanate from a Terry Collins-guided Mets team has been implicit, but it’s implied consistently. They promise the possibility of victory, of truly trying to deliver a win for as long as such a result is accessible to them. Friday night they lived up to their generally unspoken pledge. It’s all you can ask out of your team when its losing by six in the fourth and four in the fifth. That it was ahead by one after nine is testament to what diligently pursued possibility can yield.

Hell, I would have been happy just to have kept Dee Gordon from scoring.