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The Haunting

The Mets were on YouTube Wednesday. I have no idea how that went, which is probably for the best, since that was a game crying out for some combination of Gary, Keith and Ron to provide perspective and perhaps solace, following the absurd bullshit [1] of Tuesday night. The two factoids that will haunt me: The Mets had taken leads of six runs or more to the ninth inning 806 times in their history and been 806-0, and FanGraphs gave them a 99.3 percent chance of winning going to the ninth.

Yeah, both of those are gonna leave a mark.

I can’t complain about YouTube muscling out our regulars because I was finishing up moving my kid into his dorm room and then driving back to New York from north of Boston. I was done with dad duties a little after noon, so Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo were my company for most of the trip back to New York — and yes, sometimes a nine-inning game taking its sweet time actually can be a good thing.

Howie and Wayne’s broadcast was a haunted affair — I don’t think there was a half-inning that got assessed on its own merits, as most every baserunner and out came with a reference to Tuesday’s horror show. Which was entirely appropriate: An 806-1 shot coming disastrously home plays havoc with a pennant race, blows apart the foundations of fan expectations, and has to weigh heavily on a baseball team, whether or not it’s fighting for its postseason life.

Fanwise, I found myself in a place that was both strange and yet utterly logical. I listened to the first half of the game grimly and warily, deriving no joy from Zack Wheeler [2] repeatedly dodging bullets, from Juan Lagares [3]‘ surprise homer to tie the game, or from Robinson Cano [4]‘s homer to give the Mets a two-run lead. Surely I was being maneuvered into position for another sock to the jaw, meaning it was vital for me to see it coming and be ready to yank my chin back. These were the Mets and they were going to betray me, and if I wasn’t braced for impact, that was on me. When it happened, I’d want to end the rental car’s journey at the bottom of Long Island Sound, but doing that would be both undignified and pathetic. Here lies Jason Fry, who was somehow surprised by a loss a day after his terrible baseball team blew a six-run lead in the ninth. I know, right? I mean, it’s sad and all, but he didn’t see that one coming?

As has so often been the case in this strange, maddening but rarely boring Mets season, it was Pete Alonso [5] who made me cheer up a little and start listening to the game like it was just a goddamn game. Alonso’s fifth-inning homer was a line drive right down the left-field line, a trajectory initially baffling to Howie and Wayne, and forgivably so because what precedent is there for Pete Alonso? That was No. 45 for the Polar Bear, it gave the Mets a 4-1 lead, and it gave me permission to think that maybe, just maybe, this might not end horribly.

So of course the Mets ran up their lead to six runs (dun dun dun DUNNNNN) and put in one of their two dumpster-fire relievers. Edwin Diaz [6] has gotten the majority of the scathing headlines, but Jeurys Familia [7]‘s year has been equally terrible. Seriously, has any team gone into a season with two guys who were effective closers the previous season — not three or four years ago, an eternity in closer time, but the previous fucking season — only to watch both of them turn into Rich Rodriguez [8]? Anyway, Familia was horrible, giving back half the Mets’ lead and almost causing me to rage out and abandon my car in Waterbury to spend the rest of my days under a bridge screaming at passers-by. (“Why does that angry man keep saying we’re all Armandos and out to get him?”) Luis Avilan [9] cleaned up Familia’s mess, and then it was time for the Mets to figure out some way (any way) to get nine outs.

Seth Lugo [10] got six of them, the consequences of which we won’t know until Friday, and then Justin Wilson [11] was called upon for the final three, which of course had to be Juan Soto [12], Ryan Zimmerman [13] and Kurt Suzuki [14], the AKA The Three Nationals of Recent Apocalypse. Wilson walked Suzuki (after making him belly-flop in the dirt, to my childish satisfaction) but retired Victor Robles [15] and the Mets had won [16].

They won as I was nearing the Whitestone Bridge, leaving me groping for perspective. On the one hand, the Mets went 4-2 against the Phils and Nats, a scenario any of us would probably have taken a week ago. On the other, their two losses both came at the hands of their most radioactive relievers, a problem that isn’t getting solved until winter, and they’re running out of time to overtake the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Phillies and Cubs. The Cubs and Brewers will now play four games, and the Mets should probably root for the Brewers to sweep while they keep pace with them, and meanwhile hope that … you get the idea.

Tuesday’s debacle wasn’t Elimination Day, which is about math, but it was Execution Day [17], which is about belief. Before Tuesday, in my heart of hearts I insisted the Mets would somehow win through even though that was a secret hope I reserved for myself and wouldn’t admit publicly; now I don’t see a way they can do that.

Still, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Mets had been blown out a day after the horrors of that ninth inning, and I think I would have been more sad for them than angry at them. And that didn’t happen. Maybe it’s a baseball cliche, but they really are a resilient bunch. I’ve counted them out a number of times, and damned if they don’t keep getting up.

* * *

One nice storyline about the 2019 Mets did come to a sad end: Wilson Ramos [18]‘s hitting streak ended at 26 games. But the Buffalo came within a whisper of extending it: In the ninth, Ramos fell behind 1-2 against Sean Doolittle [19], fouled off four balls and whacked the ninth pitch of the at-bat up the middle, only to watch Howie Kendrick [20] flop on his belly to corral it and throw Ramos out by half a step.

It was a noble end for a pretty amazing accomplishment. Twenty-six games with a safety is quite something even if you’re a lithe shortstop who burns up the bases; Ramos goes around them like a man tasked with delivering a refrigerator to a fourth-floor walkup. That didn’t stop him; neither did having to keep the streak alive in four games where he didn’t start. Ramos has some deficiencies behind the plate — I wonder if Rene Rivera might help both Familia and Diaz — but after years of catchers as offensive black holes, his presence in the lineup has been a pleasure.

And while I’ll find a way to like most anybody who’s a reliable hitter (OK, maybe not you, Jeff Kent [21]), Ramos goes about his business with a hint of ironic detachment, a glint in the eye and an angle at the corner of the mouth that’s more smirk than smile. You don’t get to be a 32-year-old catcher without having seen some shit, and Ramos carries himself like a man who knows baseball is glorious and wonderful but also cruel and unfair and so takes what comes, because that’s the only way a wise man can play this game and not have it drive him crazy.