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The Night They Drove Chris Flexen Down

With the possible exception of Angel Hernandez, moral failings are undetectable after the fourteenth inning. They don’t call it “free baseball” only because conductors don’t come around to collect a step-up fare (though I can’t imagine Rob Manfred hasn’t contemplated implementing such a revenue-generating opportunity and labeling it a loyalty reward).

You’re free if you’re in marathon territory. You’re free of implications. You’re free of judgment. You’re free to be. Baseball games are plotted to be decided in nine, with allowances made that a tenth is entirely possible, and if ten innings can’t settle the matter, an eleventh looms. As you drift into a dozenth inning, you’re less attached to the formalities that dictated human behavior back in the hazily recalled era known to historians as regulation. Thirteen…fourteen…that’s crazy enough, but you can still see those first nine in your rearview mirror if you squint hard.

Get to a fifteenth inning, you’re in another state. You’re on your honor to try your best with the understanding that circumstances aren’t close to best. You can’t be overly faulted for your shortcomings as a baseball person or person in general

Unless you’re Angel Hernandez, for you are no good any hour of the day or night.

If you wish to blame Satan’s home plate umpire of record for the Mets losing to the Brewers in eighteen innings [1] Saturday night in Wisconsin/Sunday morning for us folks back east, feel free, for you, too, are unbound by decorum. “The ump is crooked and inept and against us” isn’t necessarily an airtight argument for the prosecution; it speaks more to persecution. But we’ve known Hernandez for decades. We know he will find a way to screw with us and ours. He doesn’t need an extra inning. Any old frame will do.

Chris Flexen [2] got squeezed some. He kind of asked for it (as if that old devil Angel requires a signed permission slip). He nibbled in the eighteenth inning when a more direct approach to the plate — like you and your fork would employ at the first diner you pull into after a long Saturday night out — might have served his purposes better. Then again, he’s Chris Flexen. A lot more innings than originally scheduled have to fly by before you grudgingly call his number.

With or without official assistance, Flexen loaded the bases on walks in the bottom of the eighteenth after the Mets had furnished him with a lead in the top of the eighteenth. Ryan Braun, who’d already notched five hits, was the man up with three teammates on. It’s not a scenario that advertises ostentatiously for a nineteenth.

No nineteenth inning materialized. Braun delivered a sixth hit and two RBIs to create a 4-3 victory for Milwaukee in Milwaukee. The box score says it’s Flexen’s fault, as he’s the only Met saddled with an additional “L” for his name. Our eyes suggest it’s Hernandez’s misdeed, which is a default reflex as deeply ingrained in us as shouting “Let’s Go Mets” or cursing…well, Angel Hernandez. But let’s not, à la Angel, lose sight of things here.

It was the eighteenth inning. Eighteenth innings are foreign territory to all of us. This goes for Mets, Brewers, umpires, fans, broadcasters, anybody who comes in contact with overly extended play. Sure, we can whip out our stories of having visited there on a handful of occasions in our younger years (“did I ever tell you about that time Shaun Marcum and I backpacked through the Marlins lineup [3]?”) and are able to phonetically dust off a few phrases we’ve retained in ancient Sudolese [4], but none of us is truly comfortable there. We’re all just trying to persevere in this strange place until our ride to tomorrow — or later today — arrives.

So let’s not hold too much of what the Mets didn’t do well toward the end of their deluxe Miller Park package tour against them. Let’s celebrate Zack Wheeler [5]’s seven strong innings (or six strong innings surrounding his lone limp one). Let’s celebrate Wilson Ramos rampaging from first to home on Amed Rosario’s second-inning triple; scoring from first on a triple doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment until you consider he who had to thuddingly negotiate those 270 feet. Let’s celebrate the recently dormant power source known as Pete Alonso, who decided going down meekly was no way to continue a weekend in Milwaukee. Alonso’s leadoff homer in the ninth was a bolt of beauty. It was almost worth the staying up long thereafter that it mandated.

Of course break out the Champagne of Beers on behalf of every Met reliever who wasn’t Chris Flexen. Let’s have a roll call to recognize Daniel Zamora, Seth Lugo, Edwin Diaz, Drew Gagnon, Ryan O’Rourke and Robert Gsellman, who kept the Brew Crew off the board from the eighth through the sixteenth. An especially hearty handshake is due Seth and Rob for their three scoreless innings apiece. If you’re feeling charitable, tip a cap to Flexen and his characteristic 11.12 ERA for the scoreless seventeenth that preceded the execrable eighteenth.

And hey, how about that Jeff McNeil [6], not really a left fielder, making a dazzling catch in left in support of Edwin Diaz (in a tie-game, non-save situation) when Braun bid for what would have been yet another hit, probably a leadoff double, in the twelfth? The hit that never was could have prevented future Braun belts because there’s a decent chance it would have set up a winning run six innings sooner than actually occurred. Now maybe you’d have preferred an earlier final out, but in the twelfth, things are still a little normal. You’re still looking to prevail over the Brewers, not just defeat sleep.

McNeil is lodged in left for his bat, and he brought it to bear, collecting three hits, including the single in the eighteenth inning that put the Mets ahead, 3-2, when Jeff drove home Adeiny Hechavarria [7]. Adeiny Hechavarria? The journeyman glove guy whose only Met distinction to date was inadvertently elbowing Dominic Smith off the roster? Turns out he was called up to be our extra-inning secret weapon, sneaking a single through the infield, stealing second and racing home when McNeil connected. As introductions go, that’s a display of good manners worthy of any inning.

If you’re still wiping the loss out of your understandably grumpy eyes, don’t blame the Mets for losing in the eighteenth. Blame them for not hitting during most of the first nine and the several that followed. Blame the starting shortstop who’s showing no sign of being a glove guy; Rosario’s sloppy defense might not have directly led to any Brewer runs, but Amed is not embodying strength up the middle. Blame the enduring Miller Park hex [8] that keeps the Mets from ever (since 2009, anyway) winning the penultimate game of a series in which the Brewers host them. Blame the array of management types, uniformed and otherwise, for whatever you deem as their complicity in assembling and steering an alleged powerhouse team to its current discouraging pit stop of 16-17. Under .500 is no place for a purported contender to rest for the night. Then again, an eighteenth inning is no place to draw conclusions regarding that same team’s intestinal fortitude.

Unless they won. Then we’d say it was destiny.