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Baseball Is Cruel, Ridiculous and Also Sometimes Fun

Our blog pal Shannon Shark of MetsPolice [1] has a running gag in which he imagines the Mets aren’t a ballclub but a TV show, with Greg as its fiendishly inventive show runner.

Confronted with games such as Monday afternoon’s, I wonder if Shannon might be on to something.

Last week, you’ll recall, Terry Collins [2] caught hell from a fair-sized chunk of Mets nation (including this writer) for removing Robert Gsellman [3] after 84 pitches, a decision he made a night after burning his least unreliable relievers despite a big lead. Spoiler alert [4]: the shallow end of the bullpen failed Gsellman and Terry and the Mets lost.

Fast-forward to the sixth inning of Monday’s game. The Mets had a 3-2 lead, which with our bullpen is basically like being down two, and had loaded the bases with two out. Gsellman had thrown 89 pitches, showing off an effective sinker that generated ground balls and allowing just one run on three hits.

Due up to bat? Gsellman, of course.

I mean, you tell me what to do there. A base hit could give the Mets a 5-2 lead, which with our bullpen is basically like being tied. Gsellman’s not where you’d typically turn for a base hit. Yet he’d thrown only five more pitches than in the outing when his removal became a federal case. One more inning from Gsellman would mean one fewer inning from the bullpen. It would mean better-rested guys on Tuesday with unknown quantity Tyler Pill [5] taking the hill. And so on.

It’s the kind of dilemma a mean-spirited show runner might throw at a manager and an increasingly high-strung fan base. (As well as yet another obvious reason the designated hitter is bullshit, but that’s a different post.)

That was the cruel part. Terry chose to let Gsellman bat, which led to the ridiculous part.

Facing reliever Rob Scahill [6], Gsellman worked the count to 2-2 and stared at a 94 MPH fastball on the inside corner. It was a good pitch, and strike three … except for the part where C. B. Bucknor called it a ball. Manny Pina [7]‘s shoulders slumped slightly behind the plate. Scahill paused in front of the mound, restrained himself from hopping up and down in disbelief, and returned to his post. Gsellman took one step backwards, out of the batter’s box, and stood there looking faintly embarrassed.

The next pitch really was a ball. Gsellman walked and it was 4-2 Mets.

Gsellman cruised through the seventh and gave way to newly beloved Met Paul Sewald [8], who turned in a spotless eighth. Enter Addison Reed [9], a steely and reliable setup man turned nerve-rackingly shaky closer. Reed gave up singles to the first two guys, and oh lord it was happening again.

Even the most dispassionate fan will catch himself or herself squirming in agony on the couch and fuming that So-and-So needs to try harder. It’s dumb, but forgivable in low doses — from the comfort of the sofa it looks like it shouldn’t be that hard for a world-class athlete to throw a ball over the plate, hit the ball to the right side, or lift a pitch to the outfield. Just try harder, we urge athletes who’ve outworked thousands of competitors to attain their current position. Just focus, we implore guys whose workplace includes thousands of screaming onlookers and a guaranteed public dissection of failure.

In good times and bad, Reed looks vaguely perturbed on the mound — he always reminds me of the deputy in a Western who’s tried reason but now finds himself reluctantly sauntering out into the dusty street to settle things with sixguns. I know it isn’t true, and thinking otherwise is just dopey guy-on-the-couch projection, but Reed looked like he’d had enough of this self-inflicted shit. He nodded at Rene Rivera [10] and went to work on Pina. Suddenly the fastball looked like it had a bit more bite, a little more wiggle. Reed fanned Pina on three fastballs cutting over the edges of the plate, struck out Jonathan Villar [11] on the last of four fastballs, then threw a pair of sliders to Orlando Arcia [12], the second of which arced softly into Michael Conforto [13]‘s glove.

And just like that, justice prevailed again [14] in Metstown. That, unexpectedly, was the fun part.