- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

A Pair of Losses

On Friday, in rapid succession, the Mets lost an interesting player and an interesting ballgame.

The player, of course, was Asdrubal Cabrera [1], now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. More on him in a bit.

The ballgame, hmm. It wasn’t exactly a showcase for baseball, as at times neither team looked like it had any idea what it was doing out there. But it was kind of fun nonetheless, with Mets fans offered plenty of chances to size up new players and Pirates fans given plenty of chances to figure out if their team is great, terrible or somewhere in between.

Honestly, this was a game the Mets should have been out of early. Jason Vargas [2]‘s line looks OK but was anything but: he was horrible, as he’s frankly been all year. He gave up a home run to David Freese [3] in the second to bring the Pirates within a run, then loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth and hung a curve to Jordy Mercer. It was a meatball, all but arriving with a polite note to be turned into a souvenir, but Mercer missed it, lining out to Michael Conforto [4] in left. Vargas — who at least is self-aware — knew it, too; SNY cameras caught him rolling his eyes as he walked off the mound, simultaneously appalled at what he’d done and amused that the baseball gods had given him a reprieve.

The stay of execution was temporary. Mickey Callaway [5] let Vargas lead off the fifth with 73 pitches thrown, few of them sharp. In the bottom of the fifth, Vargas got Ivan Nova [6], but lost Jordan Luplow [7] on an eight-pitch walk and departed for Seth Lugo [8], who arrived bearing a curveball he couldn’t command, a flat slider and probably a feeling of foreboding. Lugo didn’t get the call on close pitches to Elias Diaz [9] with two outs, started Freese out 0-2, but then couldn’t get him to fish. Lugo went to the fastball, left it in the middle of the plate, and the Pirates led 4-3.

The Mets responded by loading the bases with nobody out, prompting me to sardonically ask Emily how many runs she thought they’d get: zero or one? The answer was one, and it was a near-thing, as Conforto scampered home on a horrific throw from Luplow that was so bad it almost turned into a Pachinko-style out at the plate. Then it was Reliever Roulette, which the Mets lost, though they did at least start using the young hurlers they’d called up and then decided to let gather dust and cobwebs in the bullpen. Last I checked, that wasn’t the optimal way to keep pitchers sharp, but what do I know.

Even the failure was interesting, though: in the fatal bottom of the ninth, Tim Peterson [10] somehow managed to allow four baserunners on six pitches, which you have to admit is efficiency of a sort. One of those baserunners was an intentional walk, which would have made that combination of pitches and outcomes impossible not so long ago; in the era of the abracadabra walk it was still fairly unlikely. The last pitch, inevitably, was to Freese, who drove it over the head of an already-clubhouse-bound Jose Bautista [11], and that was that.

The Mets played a man short because Cabrera was dispatched to Philadelphia late in the afternoon in exchange for a huge, raw Double-A starter named Franklyn Kilome [12]. Immediate reactions to the deal were far kinder than the response to the Jeurys Familia [13] trade, in which the general consensus was that the Mets had traded a faded but still useful closer for roster fillers, slot money and (cough cough) cash back in the Wilpons’ pockets. Kilome has a beastly fastball he sometimes leaves up to get whacked, a plus curveball and control problems, which is a long-winded way of saying he’s a young pitcher in Double-A. Still, not a bad return on two months of a free agent to be.

As for that free agent to be, Asdrubal Cabrera [1] will now play alongside Odubel Herrera [14], a combination that’s always entertained me and should have Phillies’ A/V guys preparing their parodies of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” We are left to miss him except for our nine games remaining with Philadelphia, ample time for Cabrera to beat our heads in.

Which I have no doubt he’ll do. Cabrera had superb baseball instincts and a frankly ridiculous amount of grit, playing through far more injuries and nagging hurts than we ever knew about and still handling both second and third capably. He kicked up a fuss about being moved off short, it’s true, but if any of us had the misfortune to be Mets employees I have a feeling we’d all be kicking up far more fusses than he did.

If a Mets game was coming down to a key at-bat, Cabrera was the guy I hoped to see at the plate. When he faltered or failed in those situations, he turned into the position-player equivalent of Al Leiter [15]: any rancor you wanted to direct at him quickly disappeared because Cabrera was already angrier with himself than you could possibly be. Sometimes this made me laugh; sometimes this made me laugh while being mildly worried about him. Seriously, cartoon characters with steam whistling out of their ears and noses were slightly less over the top about their rage than Cabrera with a good boil on.

But enough about failures. I wanted Cabrera at the plate because there was a good chance he’d succeed — as he did in crafting one of the Mets’ indelible Citi Field moments, the September walk-off homer against his future employers that keyed the team’s unlikely march to a 2016 play-in game.

Greg had the recap of that night, which you can read here [16]. I wound up watching it over beers (so many beers) at Foley’s, with an old friend in town and a guy at the next table who was making his first trip to Citi Field the next night and had a million questions about the park, the fans, the atmosphere, and everything else.

The Mets blew a 4-3 lead in the eighth, with Addison Reed [17] surrendering a three-run homer to Maikel Franco [18], but tied it in the ninth on a two-run shot by Jose Reyes [19]. They then gave up two more runs in the 11th, but kept grinding along, putting two men on against Edubray Ramos [20]. With one out, Cabrera connected. He knew it was gone before anyone else on the planet did, flinging his bat away and thrusting both arms skyward. Cut to Foley’s, and one overserved blogger flinging his own arms skyward in happy disbelief. Future Citi Field attendees were hugged, impromptu dances were exhibited, exclamations of amazement were made, beer may possibly have been spilled, and who knows what else.

Cabrera’s reaction and Gary Cohen’s double OUTTA HERE! will be replayed forever in Met Land [21], and justifiably so, but my favorite part of that highlight comes a moment later. It’s the sight of all the other Mets scurrying from the dugout to home plate, hurrying to get there and form the welcoming committee — but Cabrera, at least for the moment, is going the other way, his pace a moderate trot. A long night’s labors are behind him and a celebration awaits. But these next few seconds are Cabrera’s alone, and he’s going to use them to quietly savor a job well done.