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Let’s Make Up

How many ways, exactly, can one game be a make-up date?

The obvious: the Mets and Yankees reported for duty in the Bronx to complete the July half of this year’s Subway Series, which had been erased by rain. Despite an extremely wet morning in New York and a brief in-game squall, the second try proceeded uninterrupted, under humid but relatively cool conditions.

ESPN was also in make-up mode, sending Keith Olbermann out to do play by play alongside Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Perez [1]. My first reaction wasn’t exactly positive, as Olbermann’s initial comparisons of the two franchises came across as smug and shallow. Which was odd: while there are plenty of people who think Olbermann’s smug (note from management: this is not the forum for your takes on his politics), even his detractors would admit his knowledge of baseball is deep enough to require an armored submersible. But another inning or two seemed to steady Olbermann’s nerves, Kurkjian found a groove playing sounding board for him, and I got used to an unconventional booth handling a game in an unconventional fashion.

And once I did … I kinda liked it. Not in an “I’d like to hear this every day” way, but as an occasional change of pace — it was more in the vein of a sudden yen for Sicilian pizza instead of the traditional. The biggest thing was that the booth essentially dispensed with play by play, instead using the game as raw material for a freewheeling baseball conversation. It was different, but it made me realize that a steady drumbeat of play by play isn’t all that necessary.

A lot’s changed since that became the model. The game’s right there in front of us, as always, but increasingly it’s in HD and on sets the size of a prize calf. Meanwhile, the score bug is constantly updating the situation — ESPN’s foie-gras goose version even kept us informed about the teams’ places in the standings and divisional affiliations. (Why, exactly? It’s not like I’m going to come back from the john to discover the Mets have been placed in the AL Central.)

With all that, I don’t need to be informed that a given pitch was a strike, let alone that the guy scooting around first and then heading back to it just hit a single. I’m not advocating a switch to this format — certainly not over the privilege of getting to hear Gary Cohen — but it worked a lot better than I would have guessed.

The Mets were in make-up mode too, smacking apology homers out of Yankee Stadium all night long as if to show Jacob deGrom [2] that they are, in fact, a major-league baseball team capable of scoring runs when he starts. (For the record, I bet every homer except Jose Bautista [3]‘s would have gone out of Citi Field.) Oh, they feinted at wrecking things with their usual bad habits: Jeff McNeil [4] extended an inning by sailing the back end of a double play over Wilmer Flores [5]‘s head after a hard but clean slide by Brett Gardner [6]; Flores got away with an extemporaneous glove flip to deGrom; and Seth Lugo [7]‘s appearance was more exacerbation than relief. But every time the Yankees tried to draw within biting range the Mets answered with the least Metsian retort of all: more runs [8].

And, as always, deGrom was the star attraction. He turned in his 21st straight start allowing three runs or less, which is getting into 1985 Dwight Gooden [9] territory, and that’s sanctified ground. And while he didn’t look quite himself in the early going, he sure did by the end — in the late innings the Yankees were frankly helpless, perpetually off-balance while trying to contend with high fastballs, sharply spun curves and a slider that veered away from bats as if deGrom had pulled off some similar-magnetic-polarity trick. The last batter he faced was Austin Romine [10], and what deGrom did to him ought to be illegal: despite being north of 100 pitches, he froze Romine with a high fastball, just missed hitting the inside corner at the knee with another one, got him to foul off a change-up on the hands, and then threw a slider that swerved away and dirtward. Romine had no chance; no one would have.

Olbermann and Kurkjian had fun bantering about Cy Young candidates and wins; while they did, deGrom was out there as Exhibit A, making his case in impressive and emphatic fashion. And I didn’t need a steady stream of narration to assess the evidence.