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The Afterlife in Atlanta

Part of getting old is things go from novel to familiar — which is both a little unsettling and oddly comforting. Unsettling because you forget at first; comforting because it sure cuts down on the processing time once you remember.

It’s been a while since the Mets had nothing to play for at the end of September. That was a welcome development: a World Series one year, a wild-card game the next. A welcome and unprecedented development, but let’s not dwell on that. Or on the fact that they pooched up the World Series and the wild-card game was a heartbreaker. Heck, that part’s just baseball.

On Sunday I watched the Mets play a taut, exciting game. (And yes, they won on a Sunday, running their record on the day of arrest to a gaudy 8-17.) The game didn’t mean anything — no game has for weeks or will again for months — but I followed it relatively closely and enjoyed it, and found myself idly thinking all sorts of baseball-related things that didn’t involve hemlock or snarking on the Mets. How much Dom Smith has learned. If Phillip — sorry, Phil — Evans might have a position next year. The relative merits of the Indians, Astros and Twins bandwagons.

New for 2017, but really not new at all in the larger scheme of things. It’s a regular stop on the emotional tour for teams playing out the string. I’d just forgotten is all. Once I was reminded, it all came back.

The game itself deserves a little closer attention, which is a rare thing to say these days. Really, it was an ideal baseball game — a tight, tense affair where it looked like a small early lapse would be the difference, but that ended with the good guys pulling away so there wasn’t too much tension at the end. We got our happy ending a little early, and that was fine.

Julio Teheran [1] was good — very good, in fact — except for the first inning, in which he couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Mets two runs. (More, perhaps, if C.B. Bucknor’s interpretation of the strike zone hadn’t been from the Surrealist school.) After that Teheran found himself and the Braves found him, backing him up with terrific defense by Ender Inciarte [2] and Ozzie Albies [3]. (As well as a play in which Teheran saved his own life on a scoring liner ticketed for his head by Juan Lagares [4], 2017’s designated sacrifice to the BABIP gods.)

On the Mets side, was this the best start of Robert Gsellman [5]‘s young career? Clearly it was a good one: he had a good sinker and used it aggressively, mixing it with his slider and an effective change to get ground balls by the bushel. The best? You could argue otherwise in terms of numbers — Gsellman’s had more really good starts that you might have guessed. But the seventh inning supplied some admittedly non-quantifiable evidence for the court to consider.

Gsellman entered with a 2-0 lead and his pitch count in the mid-80s — probably last-inning territory unless things progressed quickly. And it looked like they might: Gsellman coaxed a flyout from Nick Markakis [6] on four pitches, went 3-2 on Johan Comargo, then got Comargo to hit the ball up the middle on the ground.

Amed Rosario [7] booted it.

Gsellman went back to work. Dansby Swanson [8] swung and missed twice and hit a grounder to Rosario — a double-play ball, but one that he had to come in for.

It went under his glove.

Gsellman, tank close to empty, had now given his team four outs in the inning yet somehow still had two to get.

Terry Collins [9] might have taken him out, but decided not to. As for Gsellman? Well, a guy who earlier this summer got in trouble for telling his general manager he didn’t care had just been handed an ironclad alibi for failure. What would he do with it?

For openers he got Jace Peterson [10] to hit a ground ball — not to Rosario this time, mercifully. Jose Reyes [11] wisely took the out at first, but a run scored and Kurt Suzuki [12] came to the plate with the tying run in scoring position.

Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of good games by young pitchers have come unraveled at points like this, with said young pitchers trying to look stoic afterwards and their managers studiously ignoring left-him-in-too-long chatter.

Gsellman’s first pitch to Suzuki — his 100th of the afternoon — was a 90 mph sinker at the knee, with movement. Strike one.

His second was a sinker inside, on Suzuki’s hands. Suzuki fouled it off. 0-2 count.

The third pitch was a bait pitch — 93, up and away. Suzuki ignored it and it was 1-2.

Fourth pitch was a slider that Suzuki poked down the right-field line, in foul territory. It came down where neither Nori Aoki [13] nor Dom Smith had a chance to catch it — seemingly harmless, but another small thing that’s loomed large in narratives like this one. Still 1-2.

The fifth pitch — the 104th on the day — was another sinker at the knees. Suzuki popped it up into foul territory, and it came down in Smith’s glove.

Gsellman, given an opportunity to fold and have people still feel sorry for him, went back to what had worked, ignoring fatigue and whatever hex had been put on his shortstop. That’s a learning experience for a young pitcher — and a nice afternoon [14] for a no-longer-quite-so-young fan.