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And Then That Happened

It’s an inadvertent law of roster construction that every team have one reliever whose niche — the one assigned to him by the baseball deities, as opposed to envisioned for him by management — is to be the guy in the aluminum suit who stands on the roof during lightning storms.

You know him. He’s Rich Rodriguez or Mike Maddux, Barry Manuel or Felix Heredia, Manny Acosta or Ramon Ramirez. He can be a young, promising reliever who’s so far failed to thrive, a veteran who’s tumbled off a cliff no one thought to mark, or (occasionally) one of those Plan D guys who keeps stubbornly hanging around other teams’ Triple-A squads before your team inexplicably takes a flier on him. (Oh, he’s most definitely Neil Ramirez.)

Good teams are often good despite being unable to shake an aluminum-suit guy, whom you only see in games that sane fans turned off half an hour ago. Bad teams have aluminum suits to spare.

The Mets, it must be said at this point, have Hansel Robles.

Robles wasn’t always the sadsack yelling into his phone that IT’S GETTING DANGEROUS UP HERE BOSS. He was reasonably competent in 2015 and 2016, with a certain pissiness that most of the time we weren’t opposed to. This year, though, has been an unmitigated disaster, one that’s sent him tumbling down the trustworthiness ranks until the mere sight of him leaves you braced for impact.

Robles has already achieved immortality in the 2017 anti-highlight reel for pointing jauntily skyward on a ball hit by St. Louis’s Tommy Pham as if he’d induced a pop fly, which was correct if balls landing in the Azores [1] can be counted as pop flies. But on Thursday afternoon he amazed even himself.

Before then, the Mets and Rockies had played a reasonably entertaining game that avoided the Coors Field script, with the Rockies taking a narrow lead, the Mets fighting back to tie and the Rockies immediately reclaiming that narrow lead. Watching the Mets lunge for this perpetually just-out-of-reach carrot, I had a bad feeling that things would end with a box propped on a forked stick, cartoon-style.

But things are only post-ordained in baseball. We all say “WE KNEW IT!” once the story is concluded, but we don’t — we just sift memory accordingly. Until that point, we had Rafael Montero to wonder about, once again pitching just well enough to make you think the Mets totally shouldn’t give up on him despite his long history of seeing give-up-onable, which isn’t a word but no one reading this is confused about what I mean. You had Amed Rosario continuing to look like what he is, which is a promising but very young rookie — in Column A we’ll place a stand-up triple and a nifty relay throw, and in Column B we’ll place some overly aggressive, over-and-out at-bats. You had Yoenis Cespedes connecting for a classically Cespedian lightning bolt of a home run, but also coming up conspicuously empty in big at-bats and looking a bit lackadaisical in the outfield, a failing that must also be called Cespedian.

And then you had Robles.

When he arrived to handle the bottom of the 8th in a 4-4 game, I offered him a snarky Twitter greeting [2] and then watched with the grimly blank expression one generally brings to a performance by an elementary-school orchestra. So of course Robles turned in an eight-pitch inning.

Wow! Didn’t I feel bad!

Well, not really. Among the (minor) perils of prophecy is being correct but early. Robles started the ninth by hitting Jonathan Lucroy on a 1-2 pitch, was handed an out on a sacrifice, walked Charlie Blackmon intentionally (for which brief duty Blackmon reported, amusingly, without a bat), walked D.J. LeMahieu unintentionally, and stared in at Nolan Arenado.

(Oh, and somewhere in there Robles appeared to tweak his groin, though it turned out after the game he’d merely done something awkward and had male parts wind up in their own way. The proprietors apologize for the kind of clunky foreshadowing an editor with greater authority might have seen to.)

Arenado beat Robles in much the same situation on Tuesday, and if you expected a different outcome two days later I’d like to know how you maintain a sunny outlook on life. This time Robles couldn’t find the plate at all — balls were sailing all over the place, leaving you worried about not just the final score of the game but also Arenado’s safety.

(We’ll step out of time again to report that after the game Robles said his fingers had gone numb during the Lucroy at-bat. That’s no laughing matter — it can be a precursor to surgery — but I’ll confess my reservoirs of instinctive sympathy are pretty much tapped. First of all, even without baseball’s macho omerta, isn’t that the kind of thing you should tell the trainer while he’s standing two feet from you inquiring about your health? Beyond that, I admit the 2017 Mets one-more-damn-thinged me into submission sometime in early June.)

The final pitch was extraordinary even by Mets standards — it sailed over Arenado, Travis d’Arnaud, Jim Reynolds and everybody except Dinger. (Which wouldn’t have been the worst way to lose a game.) The ballgame was as over as a ballgame gets [3], that had happened, and Hansel Robles had contributed a new one to the aluminum-suit-guy annals.