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

A New Hero Battles Old Villains

On paper — which, admittedly, is always a risky way to start a baseball thought — the National League East should have four solid teams with postseason possibilities. The problem for the Mets, Nats, Phillies and Braves, which is also a silver lining for other N.L. contenders, is each of those four teams will spend 35 percent of its schedule exchanging blows with the other three.

Which leads to two thoughts:

  1. The path to the wild card is a lot clearer for good teams in a less-balanced division, such as the West.
  2. Racking up as many wins as possible against the Marlins is going to be really important this year.

There’s nothing the Mets can do about the first point; the second point probably made you blanch, seeing how the Mets are 18-43,122 against the Marlins all-time and somehow have an even worse record when it comes to games in Soilmaster Stadium and New Soilmaster Stadium, AKA the House That Grift Built.

If you’ve been with us a while, my feelings about the Marlins are really [1], really [2] well-known [3] — this is the most horrific franchise in baseball, a cruel multigenerational experiment to see if toxic doses of cynicism and greed can actually reduce a fanbase to zero attendees. In a better world, the Marlins would be contracted, all of their records expunged, their gear collected and burned in South Florida healing ceremonies, and a new team created from scratch very, very far away from the psychic Chicxulub left by Huizenga and Loria.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a better world. Which means we have to play this shambling collective excrescence 19 times a year. I love baseball, but I hate each and every one of those games.

My first thought on seeing the 2019 Marlins was that the changes they’d made had somehow made things worse. This is incredible, considering the Marlins’ colors and stadium architecture channel a can’t-admit-she’s-too-old-for-the-clubs South Beach divorcee on an ether binge and someone much more pathetic and tacky, Jeffrey Loria. But it’s true. The Marlins’ old uniforms looked like someone had barfed up a warehouse of neon and a sampler pack of fonts; the new uniforms look like what you get when a third-tier videogame company won’t pay the licensing fee to MLB and has the less-talented intern come up with fake logos. Before its overhaul New Soilmaster featured a shade of green that alarms liver doctors and a Brobdingnagian Pachinko machine; the new iteration has a lot of dark blue and would fit perfectly in downtown Iowa City. The Marlins are still tacky and hideous and deserving of extinction; now they’re still all of those things but also boring.

Now look what’s happened — I’ve tired myself out being indignant and I still have to talk about the game. Deep breaths.

It was kind of a strange game, but then most of them are at New Soilmaster. Steven Matz [4] pitched pretty well, aside from a first-inning homer on a bad pitch and foolishly taking the mound with J.D. Davis [5] playing third. Davis has shown a lively bat in the early going, but his work at third base is actively dangerous to his own cause. He turned a double play into nothing with a lollipop throw, dropped a throw for an easy putout at the base, and failed to convert any of several admittedly tough hops into outs. Compounding the error was that while this time Mickey Callaway [6] had the brains to let Jeff McNeil [7] play, he put him in left field, where he’s shaky at best. I kept having flashbacks to Daniel Murphy [8] and Johan Santana [9], and I know I was far from alone.

But the Mets couldn’t quite do themselves in. They tied the game on a laser-beam homer from Juan Lagares [10], and then hung around waiting for an opening. New Soilmaster being New Soilmaster, I wondered if they’d get it: I’ve seen enough South Florida debacles that I was grimly sure the game would end with a grounder not quite corralled by a drawn-in infield in the bottom of the 10th … or, God forbid, the 15th.

But Dominic Smith [11] led off the ninth with a single through the shift. Callaway had Lagares bunt, ignoring the base-out matrix’s mathematical and historical proof that this was a bad idea. Lagares failed to do that, but did manage to get a finger crunched by a Drew Steckenrider [12] fastball, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. That’s actually one of the only situations where a bunt does make tactical sense, so naturally Mickey had Brandon Nimmo [13] swing away, which he did three times without meaningful contact with a baseball. Enter Amed Rosario [14], who’s made great strides in not helping pitchers out in big at-bats. Rosario worked the count to 2-1 and sliced a single over the infield, scoring a trimmed-down and thus newly speedy Dom and giving the Met the lead.

Then¬†Pete Alonso [15]¬†turned Steckenrider’s low fastball into a missile. Oh, it was wonderful — a sizzler to center, its trajectory a viciously efficient line drive [16] rather than a majestic arc, instantly and obviously gone. Alonso high-stepped around the bases with his big aw-shucks grin, was greeted rapturously in the dugout and the Mets were up by four. And they stayed that way, as Edwin Diaz [17] loaded the bases with nobody out, shook his head like he was annoyed with himself and then coolly fanned three straight Marlins.

It’s just one game, with too many more against this hideous team and too many of those in this hideous place. But it was a win [18], muscled out despite lousy defense and the usual night’s portion of questionable managing. A win out of a set of 19 games that could prove critical to our season.