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

Born To Be Alive

To paraphrase a distinguished United States senator from her exchange with an overmatched opponent [1] in a recent presidential debate, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of rooting for the New York Mets just to talk about what they really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.

The Mets are three games behind the Cubs and Brewers for the final Wild Card spot in the National League with ten games to play. Implicit in that equation is a difficult journey made tougher by how necessarily short the road ahead is. Ten games! The Mets were three games out of the playoffs with plenty more than ten games left!

But we didn’t get through 152 games of a 162-game season still alive only to rue that we’re not more alive. Alive is alive. Let’s have a plan for that. Let’s plan to stay alive.

Wednesday afternoon in Denver made that the plan, as the brink of nearly definitive extinction yet again proved overly distasteful to these Mets who can’t seem to process how dead they’re supposed to be. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is incapable of fathoming how these Mets still aren’t dead [2]. The lot of us has written them off in coal-black ink nearly as often as Pete Alonso [3] has launched tape-measure home runs. Yet Alonso keeps launching tape-measure home runs, the Mets keep discovering ways to win, and definitive death posthumously eludes the heretofore pronounced-deceased objects of our disturbed affection approximately twice a week.

Against the Rockies in the Mets’ series finale, Noah Syndergaard [4] perhaps put too much faith in the powers of a personal catcher. Despite the residual simpatico Noah feels for Wilson Ramos [5] behind the plate. Those previous starts loomed as dead-letter days in the history of the 2019 Mets, each of them among the myriad losses that buried us for good (with probably a couple more death blows in between).

This Syndergaard start — 5.2 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 SB — was similarly grabbing the shovel from the garage and commencing to dig. When Noah exited in the sixth, the Mets trailed, 4-2, a margin that shouldn’t have felt like it required a hike up nearby Lookout Mountain, yet the Mets had numerous Golden opportunities to score taken away from them by impenetrable Rockie defense. The Blake Street Bombers of popular thin-air imagination had been transformed into a bunch of lowdown LoDo thieves, stealing bases from our battery and runs from our batters. Jeff Hoffman and his amazing, colossal earned run average completely outdoing the allegedly mighty Thor over five-and-a-third wasn’t helping matters.

My mind wandered in frustration to September 1990, particularly a pair of doubleheaders in which the Mets, with the National League East lead sitting and waiting to be taken by them, sat and watched it go in the other direction.

September 5, at Pittsburgh:
Bucs 1 Mets 0;
Bucs 3 Mets 1.

September 20, at Shea:
Expos 6 Mets 4;
Expos 2 Mets 0.

The respective pitching matchups:
Frank Viola vs. Zane Smith;
Bobby Ojeda vs. Neil Heaton;
Viola vs. Brian Barnes;
Sid Fernandez vs. Chris Nahbholz.

Plus we had Darryl Strawberry.

You’d have to like our chances to win between one and four of the aforementioned games. We won none of them. Losing the pair to the Pirates was painful because that’s who we were dueling for first place, but bowing to Montreal was worse, because it was later and — though the visitors to Flushing were by no means easy pickin’s — we were “s’posed” to beat the ’Spos. We had Sweet Music and El Sid. They had Br!@n B@rnes and Chr!s N@bh#lz, if you catch my profane drift. On Wednesday, the Rockies had Jeff Hoffman, who entered the matinee with a 7.03 ERA and enough F’s in his name to make my point about the Mets not breaking through against him without me resorting to typographical tricks. Down 4-2 going to the eighth and seemingly going nowhere, I could have sworn it was effing September of 1990 all over again.

Then we got to the eighth and back to September of 2019, with one run scratched out so tenuously you wondered whether it worth the trouble of trudging to the medicine cabinet to find the tube of cortisone you were pretty sure was still in there from your last bout with hives. Alonso, who briefly raised hope and unfurled tape measures in the sixth with his 49th homer of the season (distance: somewhere on the outskirts of Boulder), led off with a single. Robinson Cano [6] grounded to the pitcher, advancing Pete to second. Todd Frazier [7] walked. A passed ball pushed Pete and Todd up a base apiece. Michael Conforto [8] grounded out. The Polar Bear rumbled home to make it 4-3. The Mets were still…what’s that chronic condition of theirs again?

Oh yes, alive. The Mets were alive. And they stayed alive via the reassuring right arm of Six-Out Seth Lugo [9], who retired the Rockies in order in the eighth, following on the fine work of presumed missing person Brad Brach [10] in the seventh and the post-Noah escape job engineered by Jeurys Familia [11] in the sixth. The bullpen was keeping us in this game. How about that?

How about this? Wilson Ramos led off the ninth pinch-hitting for Rivera. There was a pretty juicy opportunity to pinch-hit for Rivera in the sixth, the inning when Alonso homered solo to cut the Rockies’ lead to 3-2 and the Mets proceeded to load the bases with two out. Mickey Callaway either showed extreme confidence in his veteran backup backstop or didn’t want to inflict upon Syndergaard the slightest discomfort by changing catchers on him midstream. Whatever the reasoning, Rivera — who doesn’t play very often and was decidedly in this game solely for his defense — hit for himself (in September, with ample alternatives on the bench). René grounded out to leave the Mets behind by a run.

That’s where the Mets were again, to start the ninth. It was later, but what they say about late’s advantages over never applied to the game just as it applies to this unfinished symphony of a season. Wilson worked out a walk versus Rockies reliever Jairo Diaz. Callaway, suddenly cognizant of his reserve depth, pinch-ran Juan Lagares [12] for the Buffalo. J.D. Davis [13], the so-called Sun Bear himself, emerged from the double-switch that had catapulted him into the game in the eighth and singled. Polar or Solar, you gotta keep an eye on these ursine types.

You know who plays well with bears and other creatures of nature? Brandon Nimmo [14], a product of neighboring Wyoming. Wyoming is so close to Colorado that Alonso’s home run Tuesday night landed there Wednesday morning. Nimmo is so comfortable in Colorado that he singled home Lagares with little fuss to tie the game at four. And let’s not forget the Bears’ furry friend the Squirrel. Jeff McNeil nibbled at nine pitches before scurrying to first on a walk of his own, thereby placing Brandon on second and J.D. on third.

Say, the bases were loaded. That led the Mets into a brick wall in the sixth, but this was the ninth, nobody was out and maybe it was the presence of the Solar Bear, but somehow things seemed to have brightened immensely since the innings when I was stuck stewing over losing two frigging games to a team that no longer exists twenty-nine years ago. Alonso was up next, facing Joe Harvey. (A pitcher named Diaz, a pitcher named Harvey…were the Rockies trying to troll us, or what?) The narrative-driven fan would have thought this was an ideal moment for the Polar Bear’s 50th home run, a notion most grand, but the reality-based fan just thought, “get a run home somehow.”

And Pete did. He walked on four pitches, bringing Davis home from third to forge a 5-4 lead. The Mets’ aliveness was as tangible as it had been since Saturday night. All Cano had to do next was not hit into a triple play, and we could continue not being dead. Robbie came through…sort of, bounding a ball up the middle that tried very hard to be something better than a double play. Alas, it was exactly that, but that was way better than a triple play, for even as Cano’s grounder bounced off one Rockie to another to effect one out, and that second Rockie threw the ball high above first, but not Rocky Mountain High enough to facilitate avoidance of a DP (nice hustle, Cano), Nimmo whooshed across the plate with the Mets’ sixth run.

Robinson may have inadvertently performed a public service by not beating out the double play, because had Mickey eyeballed a multitude of Metsies on the basepaths, he probably would have pinch-hit for Lugo. And honestly, what kind of idiot would do that with three outs to secure in the bottom of the ninth? Mickey, nobody’s fool too often in the course of a must-have game, let Seth bat for himself. It didn’t weigh too heavily on the course of events what our irreplaceable reliever might do in his first plate appearance of 2019, but it certainly crossed my mind that one fine evening in 2017, Seth Lugo hit a home run [15].

Seth Lugo did not hit a home run at Coors Field on Wednesday afternoon, but he did line a very useful single into center field, scoring McNeil from first to increase the Mets’ lead to 7-4 and sprinkling the daily recommended amount of magic over this entire enterprise to make it feel as if destiny was not about to depart Denver without the Mets aboard its bus.

C’mon, we need a little narrative in our life. We also needed three outs to have life. We had Seth Lugo and a three-run lead, so confidence wasn’t the problem it usually is. Six-Out Seth surrendered a single, but otherwise emerged unscathed from all his hitting and pitching. The only thing SOS couldn’t do for us was ensure that the Brewers would lose to the Padres and the Reds would best the Cubs come nighttime. If those events came to pass, then instead of being delusional about a Mets club four behind one or two competitors with ten to play, we could be slightly less delusional because — look out, mountains! — we’re climbing to three behind two teams with ten to play.

The Padres beat the Brewers. The Cubs lost to the Reds. We’re three out with ten to play. It’s good to be alive [16].