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If It Works I Guess It Was Smart

Watching baseball is a fine way to spend an afternoon, but not quite as fine as watching the Mets finish taking three of four [1] from the Braves with another fine pitching performance and relief that makes you exhale instead of rolling into a ball and the only sighting of Freddie Freeman [2] one that involved Steve Gelbs and some earnest questions near the aromatherapy room.

Yeah, I’ll take that way of spending an afternoon any chance I can get.

For the second day in a row, the Mets welcomed back a prodigal pitching son with an uncertain elbow — and for the second day in a row our anxiety turned into relief and then glee as he looked better than good. This time the returnee was Seth Lugo [3], the Jason Isringhausen [4] lookalike (seriously, it’s uncanny) who came out of nowhere last year to help lift the Mets to an unlikely wild-card play-in game. Lugo, partially torn UCL and all, rode his uncanny breaking ball, found the stride on his fastball after a couple of innings and held the Braves at bay much as Steven Matz [5] did on Saturday.

For the second day in a row, the Mets’ defense wasn’t a killer with the game on the line. In the fifth, Matt Adams [6] strode to the plate with the bases loaded, one out and the Mets up 2-1. (Actually Adams walked to the plate the same way he does most every at-bat, but “strode to the plate” is what you’re supposed to say at such a juncture, so there you have it. Matt Adams strode to the plate like a colossus and may or may not have said “Grrr.”)

Lugo got ahead 1-and-2 and threw a fastball at the knees and moving off the plate, which has been the conventional strategy in such situations for nearly a century for good reason. If Adams offered at it he was likely to chop it to the shortstop; if he took it, Lugo would have sped up his bat and got him looking outside as preparation for a breaking pitch on the inside corner.

The strategy worked … sort of.

Adams slapped it to short, but it was a hard one-hopper to the right of Asdrubal Cabrera [7], whose range has decayed precipitously this year the way everyone insisted it would last year. Today Cabrera had just enough range and corralled the ball on the infield dirt, with his momentum spinning him clockwise to face the outfield and then second. He reached into his glove, failed to get the handle on the ball, reached again, got it and shot-putted it to Neil Walker [8], who came across the bag, twisted and hurled a not-entirely-on-balance relay to first to Wilmer Flores [9], stretching about as far as Wilmer Flores can stretch.

It was just a hair too late, and the game was … oh wait, this is 2017 and first-base umpiring has become a collective shrug. (Actually this one was very close, but the point stands.) Relays were consulted, Mets and Braves peered at giant screens, baseball employees in Chelsea huddled, umpires stood around, the Freeze limbered up somewhere behind the outfield fence, and eventually Adams was called out.

It was a very close play whose very closeness ebbed and flowed through tiny factors: Cabrera’s direction of spin, Adams’s speed, Cabrera’s fingertips searching for seams, Wilmer’s stretching. Very close and just tipped enough to the Mets’ side of the ledger to be good news.

For the third day in a row, the Mets were locked in a close game late. This time the cavalry didn’t arrive: this time, Yoenis Cespedes [10] batted with the bases loaded but popped the ball straight up.

That at-bat was also the Weird Terry Collins [11] Decision of the Day, a streak we’ll settle for describing as prolonged. Cespedes was lurking on the Mets’ bench in the top of the ninth, but after Rene Rivera [12] failed to get a bunt down, Collins let Jose Reyes [13] bat — the same Jose who celebrated his 34th birthday by raising his OBP to a rollicking .261 and short-circuiting an inning by trying to steal third with a lefty up. Reyes golfed a little pop that Dansby Swanson [14] grabbed over a sliding Ender Inciarte [15]. Collins sent Curtis Granderson [16] up to hit for Jerry Blevins [17], then decided that the arrival of lefty Ian Krol [18] was the time to hit Cespedes for Michael Conforto [19], who’d had two hits off a lefty that same day and is a far better defender than Granderson, his replacement in left field. Of the three available pinch-hitting slots for Cespedes, Collins chose the one that made the least sense.

Anyway, the Mets had to do things the hard way, except Addison Reed [20] made it look easy. He got Tyler Flowers [21] on a routine fly ball, struck out young Johan Camargo and then faced Swanson, newly inaugurated as the latest in an excruciatingly long line of Braves tormenters.

Faced Swanson and struck him out.

All in all, not a bad long weekend in Atlanta.