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

Until That Happened

Friday was, thoroughly unexpectedly, one of the better days [1] in recent Mets history. The Mets beat the Yankees twice in one day, coming from behind both times, and Steve Cohen was left as the last man standing in the competition to purchase of the team, despite repeated Wilpon hissy fits thrown in an effort to create another endgame where none could be created. Cohen isn’t across the finish line yet, as there are owners to convince, and his CV has a few things that make you wince, but it’s possible the dead hand of the Wilpons will be lifted from this team by next season, whatever form that season may take, and I’m willing to do more than a little wincing to get to that day.

But after every great party comes a hungover morning where you have to get back to the workaday world, and so Saturday came and the Mets went back out to play the Yankees again. This time we got a nine-inning game, with no confusion about who was the home team, which would have been mildly refreshing except COVIDball and its inherent wackiness had worked out pretty well for the Mets the day before. Saturday’s game unfolded under leaden skies, with the feel of a hot stormy summer day minus the rain, and Robert Gsellman [2] heading to the mound to square off against J.A. Happ [3].

Gsellman gave up a first-inning homer to Luke Voit [4] but then settled in nicely before tiring in the fourth. It looked like the roof would cave in, but the Mets saved themselves thanks to glovework from J.D. Davis [5] and Wilson Ramos [6], which is what exactly no scouts would have predicted. With a runner on third and one out, Clint Frazier [7] smacked a grounder that Davis came in on, firing to Ramos to nail Mike Tauchman [8] at the plate. The next batter, Brett Gardner [9], hit a long drive to center that almost went out but came back to Billy Hamilton [10], who threw the ball in to Amed Rosario [11], who threw home to get Frazier by the slimmest of margins and keep the score 1-0.

Gsellman was pretty good but Happ was better, mixing his pitches, dotting the outer margins of the strike zone and keeping Met hitters befuddled — a performance to be admired, except for the fact that the performer was the wrong guy and wearing the wrong livery. As Happ rolled along, seemingly invincible, the Mets countered with a kitchen sink of relievers. Steven Matz [12] looked sharp — a welcome change from pretty much all of 2020 — but only contributed a single inning, departing with shoulder discomfort and forcing the Mets to improvise. Jared Hughes [13] used his sinker effectively for a lone frame and passed the baton to Brad Brach [14], who didn’t have it. He got two outs but also walked three, with a wild pitch thrown in for good measure, and was excused further duty in favor of Jeurys Familia [15], called upon with the bases loaded and D. J. LeMahieu, the best hitter in a suddenly diminished Yankee lineup, at the plate.

Their battle was a mini-classic in its own right. Familia immediately ran a 3-0 count, which definitely had the stomach acid churning, but an optimist might have noted he was just missing the edges of the plate. He got a OK-do-that-again strike on a fastball, threw a perfect sinker to get to strike two, got a foul on the next pitch, and then threw LeMahieu a slider. It was up a bit, but the difference in speed was enough to spoil a dangerous hitter’s timing. LeMahieu tapped it to Davis.

This, I thought to myself, is quietly a heckuva ballgame.

It deserved a packed house, of course, with 40-odd thousand living and dying on every pitch. Instead, it was played in warehouse-like conditions, with tarps covering the superpriced Yankee Stadium box seats usually occupied by smirking hedge-fund bros, oil-state potentates ducking extradition treaties, flinty-eyed cluster-bomb manufacturers and whatever other varieties of Yankee fans exist in the world. Citi Field’s cardboard cutouts and energetically fake crowd noise are a bit cheesy, granted, but I’ll take it over the void that surrounded this game. It felt like the teams were playing in a mausoleum.

Happ got Robinson Cano [16] to ground out leading off the eighth and then departed with 90 pitches thrown, which felt like a gift — the more so when Ramos banged Adam Ottavino [17]‘s third pitch off the left-field foul pole. We were all even, and I started wondering how this would end. Would the Mets hurriedly sign Steve Bieser [18] to be their designated runner in scoring position for the top of the 10th, bunting him to third and waiting for him to cause chaos? Would the Yankees sign Luis Castillo [19] and make him our second baseman through some dastardly COVID loophole that had gone undetected? What ghost of Subway Series past would materialize to put its spectral stamp on this one?

The answer was none of the above. Dellin Betances [20] came in against his old team in the ninth and had nothing. He was unarmed — not just a guy who’d brought a knife to a gunfight but a guy who’d brought a knife to a gunfight and discovered that — whoops! — the knife was actually one of those switchblade novelty combs. With runners on first and third and one out, Betances’s second pitch to Erik Kratz [21] was of the Hit the Bull variety, sailing over Ramos’s head and allowing Frazier to scamper home unmolested.

A walkoff wild pitch, hooray. So much — at least for a day — for reaching the relatively mundane promised land of .500. (Which really is a promised land given the National League standings right now, but that’s a post for another time.) So much for continuing this unlikely party on enemy turf. The record came off the needle and that was that. I shut the game off immediately, neither wanting nor needing Keith or Todd Zeile [22] to tell me that unfortunate things were unfortunate.

Still, it really was a heckuva game — taut and tense, well-pitched and unpredictable. Well, if I may borrow a line from my long-ago review of Our American Cousin, at least until that [23] happened.