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

So That One Was Fun

Before all the heroics [1] — which we will revel in a couple of paragraphs down, I promise you — the Mets and Nationals played a rather odd baseball game.

Max Scherzer [2] pitched six innings, the last of them on fumes, throwing 109 pitches and giving up no runs.

Jacob deGrom [3] pitched six innings, the last of them while fuming at home-plate ump Ryan Blakney, throwing 103 pitches and giving up a lone run, which came on a first-inning homer by Adam Eaton [4].

That’s two-thirds of the game passing with a 1-0 score, yet it didn’t feel like a duel of aces. Both Scherzer and deGrom kept struggling with their location, and their frustration was visible. The Mets couldn’t break through against Scherzer, but they did the next best thing, driving his pitch count ever higher in hopes of getting as many swats as possible at the Nats’ pinata of a bullpen. DeGrom looked like he was in danger of seeing another game crumble, the way it had in Miami, but managed to gather himself and a) keep the Nats at bay; and b) not throttle Blakney. I’m not sure which effort was more impressive.

(I know this is my 2019 soapbox, but here I go clambering on it again: The idea that players should get used to a given night’s bizarrely distorted strike zone is nonsense, and a generation from now fans will think all of us — players and fans alike — were insane to put up with it. Blakney called a terrible game and whether or not his incompetence was equitable shouldn’t matter.)

Anyway, for a while it looked like that skinny run would stand up. Heck, maybe that would be the turning point in the Nats’ season, with Eaton becoming their clubhouse leader and the seemingly permanent spokesman for Rocket Mortgage, and we’d all elbow each other and smile in 2033 to see a thicker, grayer Todd Frazier [5] jokingly bring up old grievances as a guest star in his latest ad. Why, when a young Nat delivered his first big hit, Nats announcers would holler that he’d paid off his mortgage, and reminisce about a long-ago series in Flushing when….

Except none of that happened. (Or at least it didn’t happen Wednesday night.)

What did happen instead didn’t seem particularly likely.

Joe Ross [6] and Matt Grace [7] took care of the seventh, and Kyle Barraclough [8] fanned J.D. Davis [9] to start the eighth. But then Adeiny Hechavarria [10] — who is exactly the kind of Proven Veteran™ every team should find for as many roster spots as possible — doubled. Up came Pete Alonso [11], our newly minted hero … who grounded to third. After Barraclough walked Frazier, Dave Martinez [12] opted for Sean Doolittle [13], his closer and only non-terrifying reliever, asking him to get four outs.

Doolittle wouldn’t get any.

He hit Carlos Gomez [14] to load the bases, then faced Juan Lagares [15], whose average had sunk below .200. Doolittle threw one fastball past Lagares, but his second one was low and inside, exactly where Lagares likes it, and he hammered it to left-center.

Tuesday night’s victory [16] turned on a pair of odd plays: an Alonso homer so high above Citi Field’s shrimpy foul pole that Chelsea needed to take a look (Greg and I both thought it was well foul, and were both pleased and baffled to be wrong) and Amed Rosario [17] beating Trea Turner [18]‘s throw from short by an eyelash, with a little help from Jeff McNeil [19]. Both times, the reaction was very Baseball in the Replay Era: jubilation, anxiety and doubt, then official jubilation.

Lagares’s hit was free of potential asterisks the moment he connected, a seething liner ticketed for the gap. Doolittle, disgusted, put his hands on his knees as three Mets came home and Lagares nearly broke his hands applauding himself at second base. Doolittle went back to work, intentionally walking Wilson Ramos [20] to face the newest Met (and final ambulatory position player), last-minute addition Rajai Davis [21].

We didn’t know it at the time, but Davis had arrived in the third inning after being informed he was not, in fact, going to war against the IronPigs and would instead be taking an Uber the 110 miles from Lehigh Valley, Penn., to Citi Field. He dug in against Doolittle, fell behind 0-2, then fought for his life. Doolittle, being Doolittle, threw him all fastballs. The ninth pitch was down the middle, and Davis hammered it into the left-field seats. Suddenly, somehow, the Mets had a five-run lead.

That’s not a bad Mets debut — one imagine it should help with having Accounts Payable reimburse Davis in a timely fashion for that Uber. (Does Jeff have to approve these things personally? No, stop, it was a good night and I don’t want to know.)

As for the Nats, well, I feel their fans’ pain. Bad teams are all awful in some way — goodness knows I’ve watched my share — but a team consistently undone by its own bullpen is the worst of all bad teams to suffer through. When you don’t have a lead you fume, but when you do have a lead you worry — because you know that Something Awful is lurking nearby, and the only question is if you’ll guess correctly about where the teeth and claws will come from. As the losses mount, you despise the retreads and grumble about the Jonahs and put desperate hope in every new spaghetti-at-the-wall chucker summoned from the minors, only to have those guys turn out to be part of the problem as well. The firewall between a bad bullpen and utter ruin is your closer, who tends to be marooned in the bullpen watching when things go to hell in the seventh or eighth. (That’s what happened to the Nats on Tuesday.) But there comes a night when the firewall tumbles down, the horror infects your closer too, and … well, I’ll let my old friend Pvt. William Hudson [22] describe how this turning point feels.

Well, that’s great. That’s just fuckin’ great, man! Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We’re in some real pretty shit now, man!┬áThat’s it, man! Game over, man, game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?

Been there, Nats fans. And to a certain extent, you have my sympathies.

But only to a certain extent.

Day game tomorrow, and if the Mets are within striking distance after five or six … well, as a fan of a 23-25 outfit I’m pretty lacking in hubris. But it might turn out OK.