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

Take Two for the Team

Here’s your “watch baseball all your life and see something you’ve never seen before” moment from Saturday night: the Mets won a game by recording exactly three hits while being hit by pitches twice.

Ouch. Ouch. And yay! Necessarily in that order.

The Mets’ victory over the Dodgers at Citi Field (itself a rarity, if not really unprecedented) was a product of more than simply opportunistic offense. Let us not look past pitching. Implied in New York’s three-hit total is that Los Angeles pitched as it usually does. Hyun-Jin Ryu, lately having fallen from Cy Young certainty, made his bid for serious BBWAA reconsideration by squelching the Mets for seven innings. He gave up just two of the three Met hits, and each amounted to window dressing for a home team that did nothing resembling scoring against Bob Squelch over there. Why were the Mets dressing windows? Because it’s not like they had anything else to do in the bottoms of innings while Ryu was on the mound and in command.

Ah, but pitching is also a skill synonymous with your better Mets teams, which this Mets team has decided to be. The decision is always a sensible one when they unleash Jacob deGrom [1] on opposing batters. Jake was Jake, also going seven innings, giving up all of four hits, no walks and no runs across 101 pitches, the last few taking enough out of him to ensure there’d be a no-decision on his ledger. Jacob is a Cy Young contender, too. If he wins it, he should accept it on behalf of the chronically indecisive. Our ace has started 30 times in 2019 and has had nothing statistically to do with the result on 13 of those occasions…nothing except keeping the Mets in most every game he gets his hands on.

Seth Lugo [2] picked up where Jacob deGrom left off, and was somehow even better. Seth struck out Russell Martin, Edwin Rios (pinch-hitting for Ryu, phew) and Joc Pederson in order. Six-Out Seth, who should enter to ABBA’s “SOS [3],” both for nickname acronym purposes and the way he’s saved our season, was halfway to his optimal utilization. Without SOS, the Mets would have met their Waterloo long ago.

In the bottom of the eighth, SOS would be due up sixth. Mickey Callaway had double-switched him into the game via J.D. Davis’s slot in the lineup. He could have taken out Wilson Ramos, who was due up ninth — the Mets are carrying three catchers, which should be the major league mandatory minimum all season in my mind — but the Mets apparently have to call a three-day offsite conclave to discuss their use of Wilson Ramos. Callaway stuck with Ramos’s bat behind the plate and figured he’d double-switched without incident by taking out J.D. Anytime Mickey Callaway doesn’t accidentally bring down the entire house of cards with his Sharpie, he’s already attained a moral victory.

No more Ryu was a boost to the Metsopotamian psyche; enough with the squelching! True, Dave Roberts would have plenty of relievers to trot in and out of the action to create matchup upon matchup, but it’s September, so who doesn’t? His first pen man, lefty Adam Kolarek, struck out Robinson Cano. His second pen man, righty Joe Kelly, hit Todd Frazier [4] on the left hand. Ouch, yes, but also a baserunner. Todd would take his bruise and stand on first base without complaint. No Met had successfully departed the batter’s box since the third.

Kelly next faced Juan Lagares [5], who launched two home runs, including a grand slam, just two days earlier. Lefty Michael Conforto was on the bench as a potential pinch-hitter, but Juan was hot, so why not? Indeed, Lagares battled Kelly for eight pitches, taking the reliever to three-and-two, but ultimately struck out on a pitch low enough to have been taken. That made it two outs and Frazier’s owwie looming as pain for no more than pain’s sake.

That was enough Kelly for one September night. Julio Urias was Roberts’s next choice. Urias is only 23, but goes back a ways. He was the starting pitcher the last time the Dodgers had lost at Citi Field, on May 27, 2016. That was David Wright’s final no-big-deal game as a Met and the night before Noah Syndergaard threw ostentatiously if righteously behind Chase Utley, eventually contributing to the common baseball vernacular Tom Hallion’s heretofore obscure phrase “ass in the jackpot [6]”. Yes, it had been a while since the Mets beat L.A. in NYC. To facilitate the end of this nettlesome nine-game stretch of Flushing humiliation, we would require Brandon Nimmo [7], who was the other half of the aforementioned double-switch and thus batting in the nine-hole, to do something useful against Urias.

In case you’d forgotten Nimmo’s core competencies during Brandon’s lengthy absence this season, they rank as follows:

1) He smiles like nobody’s business.
2) He gets hit by pitches like no Met since Ron Hunt.

Brandon somehow contained his glee when Urias plunked him on the right elbow pad. Had Nimmo grinned too much, he might have given away his secret identity as Ron Hunt’s grandson and somebody might have suggested he hadn’t exactly attempted to avoid the pitch that put him on first. Umpires will put your ass in the jackpot if you make your owwie too obvious.

But now Nimmo was on first, with Frazier…make that pinch-runner Sam Haggerty [8] on second. This was what folks call a rally. For seven-plus innings, the Mets had no idea what one looked like.

Amed Rosario [9] took stock of the situation and opted to join Haggerty and Nimmo amid the basepaths via a less painful yet still passive course, walking on five pitches. Urias remained in the game to face a third consecutive batter, which may be a record for a reliever in September. Lugo was due up. Lugo once homered, you know, but no, letting Seth hit wasn’t the play here, no matter that the security blanket we each cling to like Linus Van Pelt was going to be gone from the game and we could all be left insecurely sucking our thumbs if the next pinch-hitter didn’t take advantage of this unusual bases-loaded soirée the Mets had arranged from their pair of HBPs and lone BB.

Callaway sent up Rajai Davis [10]. Still no Conforto, eh? Lefty vs. lefty was less obvious than the spot when Michael could have replaced Juan, yet he’s still Conforto. But Rajai, 38, is both a righty and a “veteran hitter,” according to Keith Hernandez, who reveres anybody who can be characterized as a veteran anything. The Mets honor a military Veteran of the Game every night at Citi Field, presenting somebody who served the nation with an American flag that had flown over the ballpark. Could this veteran honor Callaway’s confidence by connecting for a hit for the first time since August 20, or simply reaching base for the first time since August 28? Saturday’s date was September 14. It had been a while. The last outcome we needed heading to the ninth would be going from SOS to SOL [11].

Find someone who looks at you the way Davis looked at Urias’s one-and-two changeup…and then maybe get away from that person, because Davis smacked that pitch hard. Rajai meant no harm, however, except to the Dodgers. The veteran hitter produced a three-run pinch-double, clearing those bases of Mets and generating a 3-0 lead for Justin Wilson [12] to protect in the ninth. In the realm of what used to be surprising now seeming perfectly normal, Justin Wilson as de facto closer when Seth Lugo is no longer available and Edwin Diaz is stands as far less surprising than Rajai Davis coming through with perhaps the biggest Met hit of the year. Really, though, nothing the Mets do is surprising anymore, up to and including Wilson saving a decision for Lugo sans sweat to keep us within three games of the Cubs, thus legitimately proximate to the Wild Card jackpot.

When I heard Rajai interviewed postgame by Ed Coleman, the eighth inning’s protagonist described the Dodgers’ hurlers as the sort of quality pitchers the Mets will see when they are in the playoffs. “When,” not if. Eddie and I were each taken by Davis not making his plans for the next month conditional. Veteran Rajai seems to believe a different kind of flag will fly over Citi Field soon enough. Hey, Callaway has confidence in Davis and Davis has confidence in his teammates, not to mention himself. His later comments that he’d appreciate a greater opportunity to play — despite Mickey using every marble he has to calculate how to fit Conforto, Nimmo, Lagares, J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil inside his outfield inside a pennant chase — reminded me of another many-miled pinch-hitter the Mets featured when they were going well.

After Lee Mazzilli returned for 1987 following his crowd-pleasing 1986 encore, I read (or at least recall reading) that it was his preference to make himself a Met starter again. Who wouldn’t prefer to start for a team favored to repeat as champs? Mind you, Lee was 32 and clearly cast as a bench guy. Yet he looked at a starting outfield consisting of high-profile acquisition Kevin McReynolds in left, perennial All-Star Darryl Strawberry in right and the indefatigable folk-hero Mookstra platoon in center and concluded he was good enough to be a part of all that on a defending world champion. It may have been unrealistic, but it exuded confidence by the barrel, which isn’t a bad thing to exude. Mazzilli, incidentally, received only fifteen starts in 1987, yet rolled with his assigned role, batting .309 as a pinch-hitter. That was also a pretty good thing.

The best element of Saturday, besides the combined three-hitter from deGrom, Lugo and Wilson and Davis’s clutch double, was that pairing of hit-by-pitches (assuming the swelling on Frazier’s hand went down). By Baseball-Reference’s reckoning, this win [13] was the Mets’ 54th ever in which they collected no more than three hits, their 39th with exactly three. Usually when you’re limited to three hits, you lose. Threading such a stingy needle en route to triumph is tough unless you’re walked a whole lot or homering a little or benefiting from an opponent’s sloppy fielding. Saturday night the Mets were walked once, didn’t homer at all and received no misfielding largesse. But they did take two for the team at precisely the right time, which helped set up their all-important third hit, the one that one that wasn’t window dressing.

Though it sure was pretty.