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Well That Was Interesting

Wednesday night’s Mets game was an exercise in shifting narratives: That contest with the Braves [1] looked like it was going to be a Taut But Ultimately Depressing Loss, morphed thanks to Steven Matz [2] and J.D. Davis [3] into an Inspiring Minimalist Comeback Win, morphed again thanks to Seth Lugo [4] and Mickey Callaway [5] into a This One’s on You Skip loss, then wound up as a That Futile Rally That Just Made Things More Depressing loss.

One thing you can say about the 2019 Mets is that they’re rarely dull. Dysfunctional, self-sabotaging, ill-assembled, star-crossed and tragic? They’ve been those things far too often. Inspiring, fun and compelling in spite of themselves? They’ve checked all those boxes too.

On Thursday night the Mets came roaring out of the gate against Julio Teheran [6], with Pete Alonso [7] smashing a ball into the pool far beyond center field. It was one of those Alonso home runs that reminded you just how strong he is: Alonso didn’t connect with a ball in his happy zone or put a classic slugger’s swing on it, the one that ends with the satisfied look skyward and dropping of a no-longer-needed bat. (A Todd Frazier [8] special, in other words.) Rather, Alonso reached across the plate for the pitch and hit it near the end of the bat, only to have the ball go 430-odd feet anyway.

The Mets scored in the first three innings to chase Teheran and then kept going. Alonso wound up with five hits and six RBI; Amed Rosario [9] collected five hits and scored four runs; Wilson Ramos [10] collected four hits; Juan Lagares [11] had three; in fact, everyone in the starting lineup had a hit.

If we’re sticking with narrative taxonomies, it looked like either a Where Was That Yesterday Laugher or a Save Some of Those for Tomorrow Laugher. Or, if you’re a Braves fan, it looked like one of the more annoying varieties of losses: We Coulda Swept But Decided to Be Flat and Bad.

We’ll be back to that thought, but first it should be noted that Rosario’s continuing development as a player is one of the more inspiring stories of the season. Rosario may never become a truly superb shortstop, lacking both the range and the instincts, but over the last six weeks or so he’s become much more reliable defensively, and shown he can more than outhit his defense.

The secret, as is so often the case with young players, is he no longer reliably cooperates with pitchers by getting himself out. That was apparent in his very first AB: Ahead in the count 1-2, Teheran threw Rosario a slider that dived off the plate, then a fastball up and away. Two years ago, Rosario probably swings at the slider and misses it; last year, he probably gets enticed by the fastball and swings under it. On Thursday he ignored both, fouled off the next two pitches, got a fastball in the middle of the plate and nearly hit it out of the park. Yes, he still has ABs where he gets too excited, expands the strike zone and does the pitcher’s work for him. But not nearly as often as was the case not so long ago.

Back to the game, and our shifting narratives. With the Mets up 7-0 and then 9-1, I confess I stopped paying close attention, except to note that for once Ronald Acuna Jr. [12] and Ozzie Albies [13] were having balls just elude their gloves, when normally they corral anything and everything in the same ZIP code. That was something to savor, considering those two will be torturing us for the better part of a decade.

As if on cue, Acuna then made a nifty above-the-fence catch to rob Davis, with the added gag of sitting in apparent dismay on the warning track before revealing that he did in fact have the ball. For the historically minded, it was the opposite of Todd Pratt [14] hitting it over the fence. If you were there 20 years ago (as Greg and I were), Pratt’s drive didn’t trigger instant celebration, but was preceded by a heart-stopping moment of uncertainty — a Schrodinger’s Playoff Game — during which none of us had any idea if Steve Finley [15] had caught the ball or not. Looking at the replay [16], I swear you can see Finley realizing that he’s the only person* in Shea Stadium who knows the truth, and when he lets go of this secret his team’s season will really and truly be over.

Anyway, it was a great bit of theater from Acuna, but his team was still down 9-1. Except Mickey Callaway assigned Drew Gagnon [17] mop-up duties, and it didn’t go well. Gagnon has added a glove flutter to better hide his change-up; on Thursday he needed to hide the pitch from his repertoire. Gagnon’s job was to get six outs before giving up seven runs; he got five and gave up five, surrendering homers to Freddie Freeman [18] (twice), Acuna and Donaldson. (In all, the Braves hit six homers — if you want to find another game where the Mets gave up six dingers and won, well, it ended with Matt Franco [19] beating Mariano Rivera [20].)

The Braves were somehow only down two, the laugher had morphed hideously into a Team in Rearview Mirror Is Closer Than it Appears mess, and it was threatening to explode into a full-bore You’ll Be Brooding About This One at 3:32 AM 15 Years From Now loss. Because here came Edwin Diaz [21], needing to record one out before giving up two runs.

I put Diaz’s chances at no better than 50-50, which might have been kind, and he promptly walked Brian McCann [22] on four pitches. Up stepped Ender Inciarte [23], famous for his starring role in a They Ripped Out Our Heart and Showed It to Us Still Beating Before We Gasped and Keeled Over Dead loss a couple of years back. Diaz’s first pitch was a ball, and then he somehow found his slider, or at least a reasonable approximation of it, and three pitches later the Mets had won [24] and could escape to Kansas City with disaster averted, having prevailed in … hmm, well, what to call it?

Perhaps an And You Were Worried victory sums it up. Or how about dubbing it a Remember That They All Count win? Or maybe we should honor Bob Murphy (always a good idea) and christen it a They Win the Damn Thing game?

Whatever the case, the never-boring Mets salvaged the finale, and are now off to Kansas City to play the Royals, against whom they explored some of the narrative taxonomy’s most depressing niches not so long ago. But I’m not going to go there. Instead, I’m going to think about Pete’s 39th, and Amed’s continuing evolution, and that Lagares is off the interstate, and remind myself that they won despite all the rest.

* Not so! See the comments for a cool memory of this moment from a slightly but critically different POV.