Trevor Rosenthal’s been a pitcher for nine professional seasons. (I’d throw in college and high school, but turns out he’s a converted shortstop.) I’m not sure how many times that means he’s practiced covering first, but let’s just say it’s a lot. After all PFP — that’s pitcher’s fielding practice — is part of the grind in pregame workouts and spring training.
It’s much-loathed, but that’s the point — the deadening repetition is designed to excise the decision-making part of the brain from the equation. The ball is hit to the right side and the pitcher breaks for first, ready to either take the throw at the bag or back up the play. You do it until it becomes muscle memory.
But even muscle memory can stumble. That’s what happened to Rosenthal today, at the worst possible time imaginable — if you’re a Cardinal or a Cardinals fan, that is. If you’re not, well, hope you enjoyed an unexpected and thoroughly delightful present.
But let’s back up a bit, to the stuff that happened before all that.
I wrote last night  about being adrift in the agate type of a lost season, but that’s not to say nothing in these remaining games will matter. The next great Mets story will build on lessons learned by young players during overlooked games on hot summer afternoons like this one — players such as Seth Lugo.
Lugo has a chance to become the Bartolo Colon of curveballs someday — not because his curve is terrific (though it is) but because he uses it the way Colon uses his fastball. By adjusting the spin and the break Lugo can make his curve serve as a range of pitches, even before adding location as a variable. That was the plan today, and he and Rene Rivera executed it beautifully — Lugo didn’t allow a hit until the fifth or a run until the sixth, when Tommy Pham drove home Matt Carpenter to tie things at 1-1.
Things got untied when Erik Goeddel served up a homer to Pham in relief, then tied again when Wilmer Flores hit a Brett Cecil curveball not up to Lugo’s standards for a pinch-hit homer. And that set the stage for the ninth, and Jose Reyes slapping a ball over the first-base bag with the winning run on third and two out.
Carpenter, properly playing back, made a nice snag and his momentum carried him across the foul line. He stopped himself, whirled to look back and wound up pacing first-base ump back Alfonso Marquez into fair territory — one step, then two, and then it was time to throw to Rosenthal and send the game to extra innings.
But Rosenthal wasn’t there. He’d been caught spectating, just long enough so he had no chance at Reyes. After his second step Carpenter brought his hand up, a product of his own muscle memory. But there was no one to throw to, and nothing Carpenter could do except watch the game go down the drain  and then make his way — with his emotional temperature now matching that of the stadium — into the clubhouse.
Fundies, Keith would have squawked if it hadn’t been one of his days off. (And he probably would have added a whole lot after that, for all you kids out there and on general principles.) In Keith’s absence, though, old pal Tim McCarver’s commentary for the Cards will provide an apt summation — as well as a reminder that it’s not the Cardinals’ year either.
“Oh boy,” McCarver mutters as Reyes skids across the bag and the game is lost. That seems to be it, but a moment later, overcome, he yelps that “he didn’t COVER!” He stews for a few moments, then cries out that “you gotta get over there!” Another pause to contemplate the wretchedness of modern-day life and then Tim turns mournfully reflective: “a hesitation by Rosenthal and there goes the game.”
And then, finally, a last muttered syllable: “Man.”
Heads-up: Greg’s talking Piazza in two locations and two media for your listening pleasure! Tonight at 6 pm, tune in to The 7 Line’s show, Orange and Blue Thing . Then Monday night brings Varsity Letters, also featuring our pal Jay Jaffe, Ron Kaplan and Mark Feinsand. Details here .