In the annals of New York Mets Squad Goals, none has loomed as more aspirational than Best Ten-Game Start in Franchise History, provided the Mets have tied their best nine-game start in franchise history, and the tenth game is the next to be played.
The parameters were in place Tuesday night in Miami. The 8-1 Mets were taking on not only the Marlins, but their lack of precedent. The Marlins were the more formidable opponent. They’re anonymous, but they are physically capable of pitching and hitting and such. Plus they wear Marlins uniforms, inevitably a Fish in our ointment. The lack of Met precedent was incidental. Nobody specifically arranged for the Mets to be 8-1 after nine games in 2018 any more than anybody aimed for 8-1 in 1985 or 2006. Well, maybe the 7-1 Mets of ’85 and ’06 and ’18 when each squad was determined to never lose again.
Our ten-game season’s final task was at hand, however it materialized. The Mets did almost nothing but win out of the gate and it sure would have been nice had they maintained their habit. That’s what I told myself I’d say had they dropped to 8-2, dropping to 8-2 about as champagne a problem as a ballclub could have ten games in. Because I’m a reasonable human being, not to mention a Mets fan in his fiftieth season of rooting for a decidedly imperfect entity, I prepared for the loss that would have prevented history. It snuck up on me in 1985. It stepped right up to greet me  in 2006. This time I’d get to it before it and its accomplices, the Marlins, got to me.
For a few innings, I allowed myself the impression that the road to 9-1 was going to be paved with ample offense and deGrominant pitching. We were up handily from the outset, ahead 3-0 in the fifth. I really liked that third run. Amed Rosario doubled and Michael Conforto singled him home; cross your fingers, there’s your promotional video for the next ten years. Jacob deGrom was mostly cruising. The team milestone to which nobody gives any thought except when the bulk of the team’s first nine games are deliriously satisfying seemed within easy reach.
Reality slapped our hand in the bottom of the fifth. All those little things that go wrong, the ones that Jagger and Richards had in mind as they catalogued how one can’t always get what one wants, began to fritz out. A foul grounder in the vicinity of Todd Frazier  was ruled fair. It was an unreviewable play. Like Tommy getting it in Goodfellas, we had to sit still and take it. One night in 2012, when pretty much all plays were unreviewable, our Metsies were trying to do something they never had done before and a pretty fair-looking ball was ruled foul and saved our bacon. Six years later, I decided that if I had to trade a dubious third base line call that facilitated the First No-Hitter for another that cost us the Best Ten-Game Start, I could deal with that.
When the heretofore unknown Marlin who got lucky on that foul gone fair, Yadiel Rivera, scored a couple of batters later on a grounder that ticked off the same third baseman’s glove, I figured, well, there ya go. There’s a reason we’ve never been 9-1. It’s never meant to be. We’ll just have to be the best darn 8-2 club we can be. That sense was reinforced on a run-scoring sac fly that didn’t have to be a run-scoring sac fly — Conforto caught a ball he should have let Lagares take, because Lagares has an arm Conforto simply doesn’t have — and set in bold type when Justin Bour Bourishly socked a two-run homer to give Miami a 4-3 lead.
The whole thing had been too good a set-up. A comfortable lead. Our most reliable pitcher. A team record a few innings from our grasp. Ah, as I’ve rationalized so often for five decades, whaddayagonnado?
Ya gonna come back. That’s what the 2018 Mets do. Other Mets wouldn’t, but they’re not here, man. The Met who got the Mets even in the sixth was the Met who was briefly befuddled in the fifth. Frazier (or “Todd” as I heard myself calling him encouragingly) doubled to lead off the inning. Then he scooted from second to third on a fly to left, which needs to show up in the box score, because there’s nothing intuitive about such a play. A better-situated fly, from Lagares to center, whisked Frazier home with the tying run.
My projection for Frazier prior to March 29 was he’d probably homer just enough to keep us off his back while his average wallowed in the low .200s, a number that we’d be increasingly unable to ignore by May. Frazier hasn’t hit a home run yet and is batting .212, yet he is likely as valuable to the Met cause as any position player not named Asdrubal. Todd’s made virtually every one of his hits count enormously, and he’s the universally acknowledged Minister of Team Culture. The latter won’t matter so much when the Mets aren’t streaking. Right now, they’re a blur of salt, pepper and resilience that brews up quicker than instant coffee.
The Marlins took their lead fairly dramatically, yet didn’t even have time to savor a cup of Taster’s Choice. Smokin’ Todd Frazier had punched right back. Maybe 9-1 was their destiny. Or maybe not. Sure, deGrom recovered his mojo in the sixth, but three Mets struck out swinging in the seventh, and Jacob Rhame’s first appearance since saving the series in Washington flew full Bour to hell. Justin the Recognizable Marlin went deep again, another two-run shot that pushed the Fish ahead, 6-4, and delayed Hall of Rhame ceremonies indefinitely.
Typical Mets-Marlins game at the Loriatorium getting out of hand late. But wait! There is no more Loria (as if he was the magic ingredient) and “typical Mets” has been redefined. Witness the eighth inning. Wilmer Flores homered to lead off. I had barely processed my disappointment that we were now set up to lose by one when Asdrubal Cabrera, who had homered from the right side in the fourth, homered from the left side in the eighth. It was a bomb on the kind of three-oh pitch Asdrubal has spent practically his entire career laying off. The Mets could have used a baserunner there. They could have used a run more. Cabrera meant to get them one and got them one.
I love this guy when he’s not asking to be traded.
So we’re in a 6-6 game in the eighth, with a 9-1 start still on the table. Having used Rhame and the otherwise forgotten Paul Sewald in the seventh, Mickey Callaway reached into his bulging bag of bullpen (briefly supplemented by Corey Oswalt) and pulled out Hansel Robles. That’s as mixed a bag as you could lug to any major league mound. We all know what we’re in for when we see Hansel, which is to say we have no idea what we’re in for, but it will be a fretful few minutes finding out. Robles reminds me of a town not far from where I grew up on Long Island: Point…LOOK OUT! 
Hansel can’t help what he does with his right index finger after he releases the ball. I’m more concerned about his fielders having a chance to react. There was a moment of self-fulfilling prophecy in the eighth when, with one out, Bryan Holaday, a Marlin whose name I’m typing like I know who he is, got hold of a Robles delivery and sent it to very deep left. I thought it was gone. Gary Cohen thought it was gone. The camera, I swear, thought it was gone. But it wasn’t. It was only a double. “That was a near-death experience,” I proclaimed as I mopped my brow. Is “near-death experience” an exaggeration for a go-ahead run not being secured by the opposition on April 10? Maybe I’m taking this team and this season far more seriously than I’d planned.
Limited in his tour of the bases, Holaday pulled into second. That was as far as he’d be going. Robles didn’t intentionally put anybody else on and handed the 6-6 tie to the Met offense to start the ninth. A tie can be a lovely gift if the recipient knows what to do with it.
The Mets did. Rosario reached base on an error (errors make nice gifts, too). Conforto got on via walk (we can always use another one of those). Then Yoenis Cespedes , whose dedication has fortunately been more infectious than his illness, was up. Cespedes has been mired in both a slump and the flu. It didn’t stop him from driving home the winning run on Sunday night and it hasn’t kept him from staying in the lineup. In another season, under another manager, Yoenis essentially refusing to sit despite being sick would be framed as insubordination in a clubhouse out of control, especially if Yo was spotted wearing his hat backwards. But the chemistry conjured between Cespedes and Callaway — salted, peppered, parsleyed, saged, rosemaryed and thymed — is good for what ails us.
Cespedes took a break from clearing his nasal passages and repeatedly swinging through strike three to double sharply down the third base line off Brad Ziegler. Yoenis has only two hits since last week. Yoenis also has two game-grabbing hits since last week. I’ve never enjoyed a Met slump more.
No fair/foul confusion here. Rosario was home so fast that he took time to applaud his teammate before touching the plate. Conforto needed to put on a little more speed, but he, too, crossed it without encountering a fuss. Cespedes, who sometimes can’t be bothered to step toward first on a dropped third strike, hustled into third base on the futile throw that didn’t nab the insurance run he had just paid the premium on. The Mets were up by two.
Jeurys Familia  entered for the bottom of the ninth. With five ostensibly successful outings to get his season going, no Met closer had ever saved so many games so soon. Yet Familia, who didn’t used to be one of those needles-and-pins closers, is one of those closers a lot lately. So many needles and pins surge through our extremities when he pitches he could open a notions shop on the side. Nothing’s bitten him badly, but oh how his ninth innings have nipped at our nerves. We can’t legitimately expect closers to amass nothing but one-two-three saves, but we do. And when they don’t do what we expect, we can only resort to our Franco-Benitez mantra :
Pins and needles
Needles and pins
It’s a Mets fan pulling for a closer we never completely trust
The stress was lighter with a two-run advantage, but still, one out in, Bour and his bat are in the box, the count has bloated to three-and-two, there’s a pitch taken at the outside corner and…strike three! Jeurys got the call. Not a gift, a legitimate strike, but this is Marlins Park in the bottom of the ninth inning. We know what tends to happen.
We are, however, getting the hang of other possibilities. Like the third Marlin of the inning, Brian Anderson, grounding to Rosario, who throws it to Flores at first and, whoa, whaddayagonnado has morphed into whaddayaknow! We know not what could happen but what did happen: the New York Mets won for the seventh time in a row  and, more historically, the ninth time in ten games to start their season for the first time since there have been Mets. The first time there were Mets, in 1962, it took the Mets ten games just to win one. We’ve gone from 1-9 to 9-1, worst Met start to best Met start, in a mere 56 years.
The 2018 Mets are grand champions of the ten-game season. In lieu of a trophy, they’ll play an eleventh game next. I think I like that better.