The saving grace of a season’s first loss, particularly if it follows the euphoria of a season’s first win , is its inevitability. It was gonna happen sooner or later. Get this unpleasant slice of reality over with since you know darn well you have to and move on. But don’t get it over with the way the Mets got it over with Saturday afternoon in the second game of long-delayed 2020. Cripes, not like that .
One strike from sticking the Braves in the National League East basement for at least one more evening — and ensuring themselves a delightful night alone in the freshly painted division penthouse — the Mets chaired the worst co-op meeting ever, inviting Atlanta to ascend right back to the pack and, in conjunction with other doings in other venues, effecting a five-way tie at the top. It’s too early to start thinking about the standings, of course.
OR IS IT?
Never mind that the second game of a sixty-game season resonates statistically differently from the second game of 162. Never mind that you most definitely do not want to assist the rival Braves in finding their footing just as they’re about to stumble from the gate but good. Mind a whole lot that Frigging Edwin Diaz , as his friends call him, gave up the home run that, with two out, nobody on, and a 2-1 lead, transformed a win into a tie and, before we knew it (though surely we knew it), a loss.
Diaz in the ninth inning and home runs go together like nausea and throwing up. True, the fastball he threw to Marcell Ozuna, which went o-ZOOM-a over the right-center field fence, wasn’t up. It was described by one and all as a good pitch, a fastball at the outer edge of the plate. Ozuna, however, had to consider it was a great pitch. He certainly did stupendous things with it, so whatever moral victory there was in seeing Diaz almost collect his second consecutive save will not count as a step forward in the Mets’ dawdle-averse playoff push.
At empty Citi Field, even the two-dimensional dogs were howling in disgust.
Funny game, this baseball. Like Diaz, Steven Matz  gives up one lousy solo home run, to Adam Duvall in the second, and it turned out notable mostly because it caromed smack off the face of a cardboard cutout of Willow, Jeff McNeil ’s adorable pooch in the right field stands. Matz had plenty of innings to make up for that little woof, and he did, pitching his deGrommian best and actually getting supported for it. The inning in which the Mets took the lead, the fifth, was a thing of National League beauty: a Michael Conforto  double; an Amed Rosario  Speedwagon triple; a hit-by-pitch for ball magnet Brandon Nimmo ; and a McNeil sac fly (take that, Duvall). Matz went six very solid, allowing just one other hit and one walk, outpitching Max Fried.
The Met relievers who succeeded Matz and preceded Diaz could have passed the old Rolaids fireman hat around proudly, if that sort of thing was deemed sanitary in 2020. Jeurys Familia  maintained the best shape of his life from February; Dellin Betances  emerged among us in fine fettle; and Justin Wilson  continued to be the lefty of our dreams (Drew Smith  also looked sharp in his first post-Tommy John appearance, though by then Citi’s barn door had swung wide open). Their efforts were enough to chase away my early sense that Duvall’s dinger off Willow McNeil’s likeness was a harbinger of doom à la Dion James — also a Brave — taking inadvertent aim at a sadly positioned mourning dove  with a pop fly at Shea in April 1987, a season that was never the same once Rafael Santana  had to collect a bird’s remains rather than a routine out. Doggone Duvall notwithstanding, the Mets had taken wing and were staying aloft. Our 2-1 lead was holding up and holding up some more, clear to two out in the ninth.
Then it collapsed like a house of Edwin Diaz cards. When the Mets couldn’t recover in the bottom of the ninth, that meant extras, which meant WTF? Oh right, it’s that new rule that makes a mockery of all the old rules. Simply explained, dude stands on second for the Braves, and he is driven in instantly. New York newcomer Hunter Strickland  (who should definitely rent rather than buy…and maybe rent by the week rather than the month) ushered in MLB’s insipid innovation presumably exactly as Rob Manfred desired, permitting three quick Brave runs in the top of the tenth. Atlanta didn’t even have to deploy vengeful Adeiny Hechavarria to deliver the crushing blow.
The Mets didn’t respond in kind. They, too, got to have an automatic runner on second, and he indeed scored, but nobody else did, which made the final 5-3 for not us. Hard to miss in the bottom of the tenth, amid a tease of a rally, was erstwhile pinch-runner Eduardo Nuñez  serving as designated hitter after Luis Rojas had him take Yoenis Cespedes ’s place on the basepaths in the eighth. The burst of speed seemed clever then. In the tenth, with the bases loaded and the situation Cespy-made, Yo’s bat was severely missed. Then again, the DH is an abomination, so maybe karma reaps what we sow.
This loss was just one loss. Unfortunately, it’s the most recent result we have; it was all but chalked up as a win; and whoa, there are only 58 games left in the season. Inevitability can really kill a mood, can’t it?