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Skewed Ideals

Little is more ideal than a midweek afternoon game, a pitchers’ duel unfolding in the sun and the whole affair playing out quickly enough to not bog anybody down in the worst of a rush hour commute. Of course baseball’s ideals take a pounding when left in the hands of the New York Mets, formerly considered a contending baseball team, then a competitive baseball team, then just a baseball team. The first two descriptions are currently inoperative. The last one is up for debate.

The Mets did host a ballgame on a lovely midweek afternoon Wednesday, one I was fortunate enough to attend at the invitation of my friend Sharon. It wasn’t particularly sunny overhead, but considering the Mets, that’s appropriate; shades of gray suit the orange and blue mood best of late. It was also a little shy of warm for the first week in June. Given how cold the Mets have been, that, too, felt right. Might as well mix it up a bit for Weather Education Day [1], that dubious curriculum addendum dreamed up to annually populate Citi Field’s Promenade with kids who I can’t imagine complain about taking part in what amounts to state-sponsored hooky.

Weather Education Day? Kids, if it’s not raining, they play ball. Taking part in any ruse that offers a valid excuse to get you out of school and into a ballpark surely encompasses a lesson worth learning.

I don’t know if an inquisitive child raised a hand to ask why an American League team was visiting a National League team more than four months ahead of the World Series. Twenty-two seasons into Interleague play, I don’t have a good or at least moral answer. Wednesday’s starting pitchers, Zack Wheeler [2] and Dylan Bundy, did however carry on in the best tradition of Jerry Koosman and Dave McNally, the starters from the second game the first time the Mets and Orioles faced off in a series that counted. In that Game Two, a scant forty-nine years ago, the Mets prevailed, 2-1. Kooz went eight-and-two-thirds, giving up two hits. Ron Taylor finished up for Jerry, retiring Brooks Robinson on a grounder to Ed Charles. The victory erased the allegedly indomitable Birds’ advantage from the opener and set the stage for three midweek afternoon games in Flushing that I assume are covered thoroughly in Regents [3]-level history classes to this day.

Except for the uniforms, there isn’t much to evoke a World Series matchup when the Mets and Orioles meet in the present. Yet despite their respective franchises’ current fortunes and the decided lack of drama surrounding their performances, Wheeler and Bundy pitched to dueling standards. It didn’t feel like a pitchers’ duel because these Mets are these Mets, and these Orioles are technically not even that, but the statistics fit the parameters. Wheeler gave up three hits and no runs over seven innings. Bundy did exactly the same. It no doubt helped to be facing the lineup each of them was facing.

Eventually, the Orioles eked out a run off Jeurys Familia and the Mets eked out nothing off either of two Baltimore relievers. A questionably conceived bunt devolved into a double play in the eighth. A deep fly ball died at the track in the ninth. Then so did the Mets. Our beloved Amazins totaled one run in the two-game set. Sadly for Zack, the run came the night before he pitched, when it wasn’t enough to support the similarly admirable efforts of Jason Vargas, Seth Lugo and erstwhile optical illusion Anthony Swarzak [4] (spotted for an instant in March and then practically never again). Thus, a 1-0 loss [5], a series sweep out of step with the example set in 1969 and a six-game losing streak to serve as prelude to another wholly unnecessary Interleague engagement this weekend.

If you’re scoring at home, the Mets desperately want to know how you do it. In their last six games/losses at Citi Field, the Mets have crossed the plate seven times. In their last four games, they’ve done it twice. Their starting pitchers have been outstanding — Wheeler has never looked sharper than he did on Wednesday — but little notice gets paid to the branches of the tree that don’t fall on your head.

One ideal that has emerged unscathed in this latest iteration of Met offensive ineptitude is how quickly they’re completing their daily defeats. Wednesday afternoon’s required a mere 2:27, only seven minutes longer than it took Koosman and Taylor to outduel McNally in the age when men were men who didn’t fiddle with batting gloves and stepped into the box without Jay-Z blaring an intention to reintroduce himself [6] on their behalf. Tuesday night they needed 2:33, on Sunday only 2:30. Recent results may be hard to take, but the postgame commutes are suddenly a breeze.