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A Loss Again (Naturally)

The Mets have won seven of their past eight…is a sentence that doesn’t make a Mets fan feel any better when it is understood that the eighth game in that string was the loss. It is as easily understood that seven-game winning streaks don’t automatically grow to eight and nine and so on just because you prefer they do, but geez, it was so close.

Not close when you glance at the final score from Friday night, which says Pirates 8 Mets 4. But close when you watched the Mets grab a 2-0 lead in the first inning on balls hit hard and placed well off Trevor Williams. They left a couple of guys on, but that was OK, because Steven Matz [1], who shut out these same Pirates at Citi Field on Steven’s last night in town [2], cruised through the bottom of the first. The Mets looked ready to pounce some more in the second, but didn’t. Also OK, because Matz and his track record of not allowing the Buccos anything but ohs remained in effect.

Come the third, the Mets continued to display their renaissance awesomeness, increasing their lead to 3-0. Even their outs were rockets. Two more LOB — five through three — but, c’mon. The 2019 Mets of early August are a juggernaut. The Pirates are patsies for Matzie. Pittsburgh was even doing us the favor of throwing the same pitcher at us started last Saturday when Steven stifled them. Get the bag so we can put this thing in it!

Say, here’s something you may not have noticed when SNY went to commercial, but trust me, it’s not just something I made up this morning to make a point. Whereas other ballparks bring out a singer to perform “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch on Sundays, PNC Park has an interesting tradition. Come the middle of fourth inning on Friday night, Gilbert O’Sullivan appears to offer a piece of his 1972 smash, “Alone Again (Naturally) [3]”:

But as if to knock me down
Reality came around
And without so much as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces

Frankly, I don’t get the appeal, but like John Denver and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” in Baltimore, the locals love it. I assume they do, because Gilbert’s message was as true as the rest of his song about suicide is maudlin. Reality did come around. Matz’s time as master of the Pirates’ domain was up. The ’Burghers hit and hit and hit some more. That was after a leadoff walk. You know what Gilbert O’Sullivan said about bases on balls — they make you throw your 3-0 lead off a nearby tower. In Steven’s case, he didn’t even need to visit the 64-story U.S. Steel Tower at 600 Grant St. The mound at PNC sufficed for his disposal of the Mets’ advantage. Before the fourth inning was over, Matz’s evening as well as his shutout streak were done.

Mets 3 Pirates 0 had cruelly become Pirates 5 Mets 3, as the hard hitting and such on our part also inconveniently ceased. A week before, “cruelly” would have been dramatically overstating the case (though in 1972 “dramatically overstating the case” earned O’Sullivan six weeks at No. 1 [4]). But that was late July, when the Mets had won one of their last one and the Wild Card derby was barely within six whiffs of sniffing distance. These Mets of early August, the seven-in-a-row wunderkinder who are shaking up the postseason race from coast to coast (at least in our minds), we take seriously. When we take our Mets seriously, we take every game seriously. We take 3-0 leads seriously and seriously expect them to be increased and defended until they are secured.

Of course we’re pretty rusty at this, having been on pennant-chase hiatus these past couple of summers, so our emotions are going to be a little raw. It’s as if we’re listening to “Alone Again (Naturally)” closely for the first time and experiencing it a little too intensely. In the seventh, feeling marginally less sour, I made that rookie mistake I’ve made in many Augusts: I got my hopes up. The Mets were bearing down again. It was still 5-3. With two out, Michael Conforto singled. Then Pete Alonso singled. Robinson Cano [5] stepped in against Richard Rodriguez and battled. Maybe Cano has battled as a Met before. Usually when I see Cano, I mostly think, “geez, another four years of this?” This time, though, I was pulling for Cano without implications. I needed Robbie to put the bat on the ball and keep this all-important inning going.

This, I remembered, is what a pennant race feels like. It may not have been a pennant race yet; more like Pennantmania, an incredible simulation [6]. Whatever it was, the 2019 Mets winning or losing was suddenly a matter of utmost concern…not just because the Mets winning or losing is a fleeting indicator of self-worth, but because we have momentum to maintain and ground to pick up and what’s the score in Philadelphia, Arizona, Chicago and Colorado, anyway?

Cano did put his bat on the ball. In doing so, he set free a quail that didn’t have long to live. The quail died in a good cause, ticking off the glove of shortstop Kevin Newman in shallow centerfield. It was ruled an error, which assumes a lot of dexterity where Newman’s back-to-the-plate quail-catching abilities are concerned. However it was ruled, Robbie’s dying quail sent Conforto home and Alonso to third. It was 5-4, and the playoff-chasing Mets were off and running to their eighth straight win.

Then reality came around again. Naturally. Wilson Ramos [7] hit a sharp ground ball into the hole between short and third. But Newman, shaking off the guilt attached to letting down Pittsburgh’s official scorer, dove, grabbed it, rose to his feet and fired to first. If you’ve watched Ramos rumble toward first base, you know Newman could have stepped into the next county for a manicure before throwing Wilson out.

So went the rally. So went the Mets’ chances to be unstoppable once Tyler Bashlor [8] entered the proceedings. I guess Mickey Callaway wasn’t intent on winning that eighth game in a row. The Mets won nine in a row under Mickey Callaway at the outset of his managerial tenure and see where it got them. Bashlor has good stuff, I’m pretty sure, but it’s rarely been deployed in the service of getting outs in non-playoff chasing circumstances. It doesn’t accomplish much in potentially headier times, either. Tyler commenced his outing by giving up a long fly ball that PNC Park held; followed it up with two singles; and climaxed his appearance by releasing a gopher into the atmosphere.

First it made contact with the bat of Starling Marte.

Then it was never seen again.

Much like the Mets’ chances in this 8-4 loss [9]. If Phil Regan really wanted to live up to his nickname The Vulture, our wise, veteran pitching coach would have simply swooped in and carried the reliever off in his talons at the first sign of trouble…which was Bashlor departing the bullpen. Alas, with the trade deadline door slammed shut behind us, and so many live, young arms shuttling ’twixt and ’tween ’Cuse and Queens, that’s probably not a solution to our relief corps issues. One of these guys with good stuff needs to assert his talents in a useful manner. Callaway apparently believes Bashlor can be that guy. I’d like to believe it, too, for ’tis the season for believin’. Nevertheless, when SNY runs that commercial asking where the best place is to wear the Hawaiian shirt the Mets will soon be giving away, “over my head while Tyler Bashlor is pitching” is my instinctive response.

Night One as a sub-.500 wing/prayer contender didn’t go very well. Night Two is tonight. Like the Mets, we’re just getting the hang of these kinds of nights. We’re definitely gonna need more of them.