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First Things First Don’t Last

To start a game, you want to see your leadoff batter, Jeff McNeil [1], get on base. McNeil, we can all agree, is the greatest hitter extant. He was batting .352 as Friday night began, which is all the proof our Mets fan hearts require to declare supremacy on behalf of one of our own. Sure enough, Jeff gets on base via infield hit, and you know things are going your way.

To keep the game going, you want to see NL Rookie of the Month for April Pete Alonso [2] (it’s a real award), come up next and give May a powerful boost. Except Alonso was better earlier in April than he was later, and he strikes out with McNeil running, and McNeil is thrown out, and there are two outs, and what happened to our way?

To regain the game’s bearings, you want to see a veteran like Robinson Cano [3] battle the starting pitcher, working the count to three-and-two, then fouling off four-seam fastball after four-seam fastball until the pitcher, Brandon Woodruff, comes too far inside with his twelfth pitch to the third hitter of the evening and walks him. A dozen pitches seen and a base on balls…that’s some steamy baseball porn [4] right there. Cano, sitting on 2,499 hits, may not spin his odometer to 2,500, but he doesn’t have to sit down. You can sense a productive first inning in the offing despite that unpleasant little strike ’em out/throw ’em out double play.

To maintain the momentum of the game, you want Michael Conforto [5], not hot, to reach, which is what he does on an infield hit, sending Cano to second. Your dreams of the moment are on the verge of coming true.

To prove that this game is gonna be yours, you want Wilson Ramos [6] — a.k.a. the Torpid Torpedo — not to hit the ball on the ground. Don’t strike out, don’t pop out, don’t fly out, don’t make out at all, but at least leave a little mystery to the process. A ball on the ground off the bat of Wilson Ramos looms as another double play, never mind that there are already two out. They’ll just forward the second out of his GIDP into the next inning. Except the Buffalo’s stance pays off this time around as he laces the second fastball he sees from Woodruff into right field, chasing Robinson home and Michael to third. Wilson will settle in at first. A Buffalo can only roam so far.

This Friday night game at Miller Park is going well, don’t you think? The first hint of an onslaught might have been elbowed aside, but the Mets didn’t relent. Their three, four and five hitters each made something good happen and created a run for their efforts. Meanwhile, Woodruff has thrown 31 pitches, and as much as Craig Counsell enjoys lifting Brewer pitchers in favor of other Brewer pitchers, this was probably not in his game plan. The Mets are up, 1-0, they have two men on, and…

And the game never got any better from a Met perspective. Brandon Nimmo [7], who ignited the Mets in their first game at Milwaukee last May with four hits and a walk, grounded out. The 1-0 lead became a 1-1 tie three pitches into the bottom of the first when Lorenzo Cain took Steven Matz [8]’s sinker over the left-center field wall. Matz squirmed in and out of trouble into the sixth inning, pausing to remain ensconced in a mess in the fifth when Ryan Braun launched a two-run rocket, making the score 3-1 for the home team. Woodruff’s 34-pitch first seemed to fortify him for what qualifies for the long haul in Craig Counsell’s scheme of things. The starter lasted five, giving up nothing else of substance.

Then came Alex Claudio for an inning, Junior Guerra for an inning and Josh Hader for an end to whatever chance the Mets had. Hader, the Brewers’ best bullpen option, went two because sometimes you use your closer to get the closing going as soon as possible. The Mets’ offense, it turned out, closed out of town, the curtain coming down on it in the first inning. The second through ninth yielded four base hits and two walks. There were no runs. There was no change to Brewers 3 Mets 1.

The 16-16 Mets aren’t hitting, aren’t scoring and aren’t winning any more often than they are losing [9]. They’re pitching well, which is incredibly reassuring, for the Mets are simply not the Mets when they are not pitching, but now we’re in wasting one good outing after another territory — unless the starting pitcher homers to not just help his own cause but successfully account for all of it (which is fun as hell [10], but doesn’t exactly signal the drenching of a drought).

Among those not hitting for the Mets on the Friday night was Dominic Smith [11], but that’s because he was optioned to Syracuse despite being one of the more likely players to come off the bench and make something positive happen with a bat. Smith was victimized by the fine print in Adeiny Hechavarria [12]’s contract. Hechavarria, the experienced backup infielder we’d been lacking to date, had to come up or be let go. Judgment will be reserved regarding the importance of keeping Adeiny in the fold. Dismissing Dominic seems shortsighted. Hopefully his exile will last no longer than Nimmo’s inexplicable three-day demotion last April. That was another of those instances in which the Mets, faced with a roster squeeze, opted to cast off the most vulnerable young player whose presence they instinctively undervalue.

Hopefully, Smith is back soon. Also hopefully, the Mets’ offensive woes last less long than Nimmo’s this season (.211/.342/.347), which more than a month in, no longer qualifies as a small sample size. We miss Brandon’s smile. We miss our smile. We miss what the top of the first inning felt like.