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The Most Wilmer Flores Game Ever

I mean, what else could you call it? The Mets’ most lovable misfit toy [1], who’s 25 years old chronologically but about 700 in Mets-drama years, was repeatedly front and center in this one … in good ways and bad.

Wilmer Flores [2] collected three hits, all off the righties he’s not supposed to hit, the last of which came within a whisker of turning a deflating loss into a dramatically tied-and-now-to-be-determined affair. He also made two notable plays in the field. The first was an interesting Rorschach test, simultaneously a smart play and a lesson about Wilmer’s pretty serious limitations. The second was a less-interesting lesson about those limitations, and lost the game.

We’ll start with the first play: with the Mets clinging to a 3-2 lead, Fernando Salas [3] relieved Tommy Milone [4] with Giants on first and third and one out. Gorkys Hernandez [5] topped a ball to Flores at the third-base bag. Wilmer, instead of starting the round-the-horn double play to end the inning, threw home, shot-putting the ball into the dirt in front of Kevin Plawecki [6]. Plawecki corralled the short hop and tagged out Christian Arroyo [7]; Salas then fanned Michael Morse [8].

No harm done, but the play sparked a lively discussion on SNY and in the smarter precincts of the Citi Field stands: had Flores made the right play? After thinking about it a bit, I concluded that he had — but not for a reason to be celebrated. Yes, Hernandez is reasonably speedy, but Flores had time to turn the double play and instead gave the Giants another out.

So why was the fielder’s choice the right play? Because of Wilmer’s limitations. His footwork is slow and awkward, his throws are worrisomely inaccurate, and his instincts are nonexistent. Apparently knowing that, he took the one out he was sure he could get instead of the two that a more confident and sure-handed fielder would have treated as a given.

(Alternately: Wilmer didn’t even think about a double play and took the play right in front of him. Which would be basically the same lesson as above.)

Given ample opportunities to blow a reeling Giants team out of the game and sweep the series, the Mets spat the bit and took that same skinny 3-2 lead to the ninth. Enter Jeurys Familia [9], last seen the previous night with a five-run lead — circumstances during which one might not expect to see the closer, particularly with an afternoon game on deck.

That came up in Terry Collins [10]‘s Q&A after the game, with the pint-sized manager fountaining out at least a gallon of anger in response to a question he’d clearly anticipated and been stewing about. Basically, Terry said, he saw Tuesday night’s game as a must-win since he didn’t know what he’d get from Milone on Wednesday, and while Familia was working for a third-straight game, he’d only thrown 15 pitches in the first two.

Terry’s right on the second point: 15 pitches in two days shouldn’t preclude a third day’s work. On the other hand, even a bullpen made up of spastic pyromaniacs ought to be trusted to not give up five runs in one inning against a pancake-flat team. Terry elevated the Mets’ odds of taking Game 2 from “very good” to “very very good,” but at a cost for Game 3. That strikes me as tactically debatable at best.

Another mistake, in my view, was not subbing Rene Rivera [11] for Plawecki in the ninth. Familia working a third straight game and protecting a one-run lead in a day game after a night game ought to have been at least a flashing yellow light, and called for the Mets’ foremost pitching whisperer, praised before in these parts [12] for coaxing Familia through days when his engine’s sputtering.

For whatever reason, Familia wasn’t himself and we all braced for impact. With one out he walked Joe Panik [13] and then couldn’t put away Eduardo Nunez [14], who — credit where credit’s due — put together a dogged at-bat, spoiling pitch after pitch.

And then Nunez hit a ground ball to Flores.

The ball was hit hard, no doubt. But it was a step to his left. It was a game-ending double play.

Flores took an awkward step and bobbled the ball. The double play was gone, but he still had plenty of time to get an out at second base. He picked up the ball, rushed the throw and lost that out too. The next batter, Hunter Pence [15], singled in the tying run; two batters later, Arroyo slammed a ball up the gap for a three-run lead, and celebrated with the kind of youthful enthusiasm he hasn’t displayed since winning the Brooksville, Fla., soap-box derby two weeks ago.

If you want to argue Terry/Familia, this has to be part of it too: if Flores makes a play you expect a major-league infielder to make, the recap is that Familia walked a guy and battled Nunez before getting the double-play ball he needed. In which case grumbling about bullpen usage might suggest that you’re determined never to be happy.

(Oh yeah, there’s also this [16]. It’s from 2014, but it’ll always be true.)

This was the Mets, though, so we were far from done. (You could also say this was the 2017 Giants.) The Mets more than battled: they put two men on against Derek Law [17] and Wilmer — because it had to be Wilmer — slammed a ball to the fence in left-center.

Baseball is famously a game of inches, but this was ridiculous. Six inches higher and Wilmer’s drive would have scraped over the orange line for a game-tying home run. An inch or two to the right and it would have been ensnared by the glove of old friend Justin Ruggiano [18] for an amazing catch. It hit the fingers of Ruggiano’s glove and became airborne once more — and with a little bit of spin or a couple of inches of inadvertent glove assist it would have been a home run anyway.

But it was just a well-struck two-run double. A minute or so later, Plawecki hit a little nubber in front of the plate and the Mets had lost [19] the most Wilmer Flores game ever.