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Whose Game Was This Anyway?

I had hoped Tyler Pill might be Grover Powell. Grover Powell’s first major league start, for the Mets in 1963 [1], was a complete game shutout, which didn’t happen for Mets rookies every day in 1963, nor, come to think of it, today. Before long, Tyler Pill 2017, who reacted well to the lights in Flushing for 5⅓ innings, appeared more to my eyes as a proximate ringer for Rick Anderson 1986. Do you remember Rick Anderson’s major league debut [2]? Came up to the team you’d think least likely in need of a spot start and spot-started his heart out — 7 IP, 0 ER — before his bullpen blew both his and the team’s win.

There’d be no W next to Pill’s name mainly because Asdrubal Cabrera uncharacteristically chose Tuesday night to ever so briefly be the reluctant reincarnation of Luis Castillo. Luis Castillo recorded 337 base hits as a New York Met in three-and-a-third seasons, including 147 in 2009, a year when he hit .302 and played in 142 games, 141 of which you’ve all but forgotten about because on June 12 of that year…yeah, you know [3].

The circumstances that surrounded Cabrera on a foggy, misty night at home in front of curious onlookers versus Milwaukee were far different from those that bedeviled Castillo eight Junes ago in the hostile cauldron of the Subway Series one borough north, but the bottom line result, a dropped pop fly that allowed two runs to score, was close enough for massive discomfort. When Luis Castillo became Luis Castillo, he was done in not only by an inexplicable E-4 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets clinging to a one-run lead, but the Van McCoy-like hustle of Mark Teixeira, for once Alex Rodriguez popped his seemingly harmless ball into the Bronx air, Teixeira commenced to gallop from first base, never breaking his gait. Thus, when brother Luis’s fortunes turned black as the night, Teixeira was able to trot across the finish line…I mean home plate, giving the Yankees a win, the Mets a loss and Castillo a reputation that, judging by the instantaneous social media reaction that accompanied Cabrera’s gaffe at shortstop, remains solid as the rocks each of them pulled.

Ah, but one difference: Domingo Santana, who was on first for the Brewers as Jett Bandy launched a pie-easy pop somewhere above Asdrubal’s head, stopped, stood and soaked in the proceedings like the spectator he had become. Perhaps he forgot there were two out. Perhaps he doesn’t have the same bloodlines as Teixeira, who likely would have cottoned to the muddy track. Though the Brewers on second and third scored on Cabrera’s drop to knot the score at four, Santana cantered only 180 feet from first, which is all that saved Asdrubal from total and enduring Castilloan infamy.

The Mets went from a relatively relaxed win to a burdensome tie. Their hitters — including Cabrera (whose three hits ceased to be his Tuesday calling card), Lucas Duda (who had hammered a homer in the sixth because suddenly he constantly makes noise) and Neil Walker (who reached a thousand career hits in the dinkiest, dunkiest fashion possible, but they’re all line drives in the next afternoon’s blog post) — stopped hitting. Their pitchers, however, did all right. Fernando Salas could have done better, but give the guy a break, he was still dizzy from having singled for the first time in his life. Jerry Blevins should have squirmed from trouble after Salas got the Mets into it, but Blevins presumably pitches in his sleep, so let him rest. Josh Edgin got through the eighth, Addison Reed the ninth.

Extras beckoned. Who were ya gonna call? Well, Josh Smoker hadn’t pitched in six days, which reads like a misprint because since when do Mets relievers go six days without pitching, but he was tanned, rested and ready. In the gloom of the shadows and fog that enveloped Citi Field, I wouldn’t swear he was tanned — it seemed like a good night for Joe Torre to send up Joel Youngblood and for the whole thing to be declared a tie [4] — but Josh was definitely the other two things. He Smoked his way through a jam in the tenth, got the Brewers in order in the eleventh and pitched a scoreless twelfth. Hey, I thought, maybe we have another Shaun Marcum on our hands, someone who can absorb messy extra-extra-inning spills [5] (but without issuing delusional media criticism [6]).

By the bottom of the twelfth, the youthful Pill was showered, dressed and, by the looks of him, catching up on his social studies homework. Cabrera was still on the hook and hearing short-memoried boos, though who could blame the dozens who remained to serve in the Greek chorus? Crappy nights without resolution, accented by awful umpiring (with Manny Gonzalez tackling the evergreen role of Angel Hernandez), remind you how much baseball is played because it has to be played, not because it ought to be played. Perhaps Rob Manfred should look into a rule change that would reduce the schedule from 162 games to only the good ones.

Ah, but what makes a good one? Your team winning surely helps your point of view. What looked bad in the tenth as the Mets couldn’t touch Brewers closer Evil Knebel, and the eleventh when they were similarly distant from repurposed Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta, began to display attractive qualities in the twelfth. Pinch-hitter T.J. Rivera, who is almost as from the Bronx as Neil Walker is from Pittsburgh, singled to lead off. Michael Conforto, who will not be written into the All-Star starting lineup but don’t let that discourage you from writing him in, walked. Jose Reyes, whose Reyesnaissance has stalled again, inadvertently moved Rivera to third, which is where we wanted him to be. And Jay Bruce, who I sensed would win it on one swing two innings earlier [7], made me look like a prophet delayed [8] with another swing, this for a line drive into center scoring Rivera.

The final was 5-4 in 12 [9], which immediately made me think of Game Four of the 1988 NLCS, except then the Mets were the ones stuck on 4 and Mike Scioscia’s name still resonates so loud that it drowns out the worst of Luis Castillo. This time around, the Mets had the 5, the win and a new precedent for fans to be reminded of the next time a game goes on and on but not hopelessly off the rails.


Writing — sports and every other kind — is a diminished craft this week following the passing of Frank Deford [10], a talent for whom the word “great” is understatement.

I met Frank Deford once. It had to have been, in the world of Frank Deford, the Jose Santiago of encounters [11]. It was no doubt inconsequential to him. It made me feel very good in the moment in took place. Mr. Deford came to a meeting of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society on 231st Avenue in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. There was no need for him to do this. True, he had written a book about the Giants, and I know from my comparatively scant experience as an author that you don’t say no to an invitation to talk about your book, but he was Frank Deford, the book was no longer new and he surely didn’t need to make every scene to which he was invited.

But he came. Our group leader, Bill Kent, probably didn’t grasp just how big a get Frank Deford was. He was Frank Deford, the writer from Sports Illustrated from when that meant everything [12], many-times honored for his sportswriting, the revered voice of NPR, founder of The National…Frank Deford! And he came, to the church in the Bronx where Bill arranged for us to every few months have meetings and pizza and Giants talk and the occasional guest speaker. Bill seemed to go through life [13] not realizing all he was accomplishing to add to the happiness of those he touched.

Frank Deford talked Giants, specifically the early 20th century version that formed the basis of an evocative SI article [14] that grew into his book [15]. He didn’t act like a big get, just a guy who found a baseball subject that fascinated him and that he wanted to share. He shared without air. He shared even while Bill interrupted to ask if anybody wanted another slice (because Bill would do that). Later, Mr. Deford stood in the back amid the emptying pizza boxes and chatted with anybody who cared to chat. I had brought my copy of The Old Ball Game, which I figured could be only embellished by the author’s autograph. While asking him for it, I figured I could tell him how much I loved The National, the daily sports paper that should be presently in its twenty-eighth year of publication [16], except it went out of business in 1991, less than eighteen months after Mr. Deford founded it.

As he signed his book for me, I offered a vaguely coherent pleasantry, dropped a name (the wrong name, I’m pretty sure) of a friend of a friend who was involved in his old paper and drew from Mr. Deford a warm acknowledgement that yes, The National was indeed a pretty good thing. With that, I thanked him for his talk and his time, and he was as nice as could be in return. Soon he was gone. I don’t think he had any pizza.