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We Briefly Hang in a Buffalo Stance

In a sixty-game season whose primary appeal may be the encompassing of elements largely unprecedented, you pretty much have to be in it for those things you’ve never seen before. They may not add up to an orthodox major league campaign, let alone big-picture success, but they sure do get your attention.

Take a 1-unassisted at third base. Take it, frame it and hang it over the fireplace. Nobody seems to believe they’d ever seen one before Saturday night. Now we have. It was a beauty, for sure, executed by Seth Lugo [1] out of sheer desperation. With runners on first and second in the home — which is to say Toronto in Buffalo — fourth, Vlad Guerrero, Jr., chops a ball to the left side. Lugo fields it. His momentum carries him toward third. His third baseman, J.D. Davis, has broken away from the bag, so all Lugo can do is race the baserunner from second, Travis Shaw, to third. The only way Seth can win the race is by sliding into the bag, which he does. He scurries, he slides and he gets the out. It was truly gorgeous, not to mention Amazin’.

It also goes down as one of those stirring defensive plays — Keith Hernandez stretching into foul territory like Gumby [2] and creating a 3-1 forceout of Jose Cruz at first with Bobby Ojeda covering; Endy Chavez elevating to rob Scott Rolen over the left field wall and then firing to double Jim Edmonds off first in a certain NLCS game; Yoenis Cespedes setting off a throw as if from a cannon [3] in center to nail and shock Sean Rodriguez at third — that occurs in service to a loss that can’t help but take the edge of the inherent enjoyment of the moment that took your breath away several innings before. Appreciation for its beauty may be hard to garner the next morning, but gosh, “what a play,” you’d have to say, no matter that everything else didn’t quite work out as a Mets fan might wish.

No, everything else did not work out Saturday night [4] at Sahlen Field, speaking of largely unprecedented elements. The Mets absorbed their first-ever regular-season defeat in Buffalo a night after posting their first-ever regular-season victory in Buffalo amid their first-ever regular-season series in Buffalo. Pending the prevalence of viruses and the judgment of Canadian officials, we probably won’t be able to say, “the Mets are playing in Buffalo” ever again, so we might as well acknowledge the top-tier strangeness therein.

It’s been mentioned ad bisonem since the Toronto Blue Jays were motivated to temporarily make a home away from home out of the home of their Triple-A affiliate that New York State is currently if briefly home to three big league baseball clubs for the first time since 1957. Prior to the departure of the Giants and Dodgers, the “State” part of New York was implied. The last time Buffalo was big league in the baseball sense, the team was the Blues and the league was the Federal. The National League’s Buffalo Bisons stampeded from the scene following the 1885 season. Met notables from Ed Kranepool to Matt Harvey completed their finishing-school activities in Buffalo, but by then, the affiliation was decidedly minor. Buffalo tried to add an MLB franchise to its lineup of NFL Bills, NHL Sabres and (for a pre-Clippers spell) NBA Braves, but the effort never sufficiently impressed those who make expansion decisions. Roy Hobbs and the New York Knights played in Buffalo, but that was in the movies.

In 2020, with the Global Pandemic refusing to budge from leading every league in disruptiveness, it’s the Blue Jays hosting Eastern Division visitors from both leagues in not quite Ontario. On TV, it’s a good-looking park. Fresh, open-air, a pleasant antidote to the confining confines of the Rogers Centre. The fan experience is about the same as it is at Citi Field or any established venue. It’s empty as hell up there and the fans are noticeably flat, if cheeky in their presence. Gov. Cuomo claims a front-row perch in corrugated form. So does Geddy Lee.

The Met offense that scored 18 runs Friday night essentially also took a seat and sat by watching on Saturday night. Talk about flat. Nope, ya can’t save for tomorrow what you score today. For all the innovations shepherded into ad hoc existence by Rob Manfred, he has not allowed for the retroactive rejiggering of run stocks. Thus, two runs would have to do on Saturday for the Mets, and they didn’t do, as the Blue Jays scratched out three. Lugo looked good pitching as well as fielding, and the Met bullpen wasn’t particularly culpable, but the Mets didn’t make the most of their occasional opportunities versus former patsy Robbie Ray and his relief successors.

Perhaps I’m burying the twin ledes here: that Wilson Ramos [5] didn’t come through at a crucial juncture and that Amed Rosario [6] shut the books closed without allowing Howie Rose the chance to put a win in them. Perhaps you’d like to bury the instigators of those game-determining actions. I woke up Sunday morning so stoked by how well Seth Lugo executed his 1-unassisted and how novel the Sahlen setting was that I had nudged the worst of the Saturday night feebleness to a lesser level of my consciousness. I’m assuming neither Ramos nor Rosario has been unconditionally released since last night, nor have they been left by the side of the road out on the 190 beyond the center field fence, yet their respective misdeeds can’t be drenched in hot sauce like so many wings.

Yeah, I, too, was fuming that Ramos swung at a two-oh pitch after six consecutive balls had been issued by Toruffalo closer Rafael Dolis to start the ninth and proceeded to ground into the continent’s most unnecessary double play. And, yeah, Amed Rosario, having been given the gift of first base via a mishandled strike three on what the presumed final out of the ballgame didn’t have to return the favor by getting picked off for the definitive final out of the ballgame…though it was only defined as definitive once replay review took a look. Replay review did a lot of looking Saturday night. The crew in Chelsea was called on six separate times to intensely examine on-field yeas or nays from Sahlen. The last of their requested interventions, the one that ultimately ended Rosario’s otherwise splendid night (3-for-3 plus the heads-up dash to first base on strike three), reversed an umpire’s ruling that said Amed didn’t get picked off.

Was a game-losing pickoff another first for the Mets annals? I’m not sure, but I can’t remember another. I know the Mets once won a game when Frankie Rodriguez turned and flung to Ruben Tejada to pick Roger Bernadina off second. I know a World Series game was once ended on a pickoff play at first, but that forehead-slapper (Koji Uehara removing Kolten Wong in 2013) didn’t involve the Mets. Let’s say this particular result was unprecedented. Let’s hope we never see it duplicated.

Let’s figure out Rosario’s future when this demi-season is over. His bat has been heating up even as his utility has diminished. Amed is a suddenly outdated model of shortstop in the wake of the introduction of the all-new Andrés Giménez. Through little fault of his own, Rosario’s become a perfectly functional Ty Wigginton-type rendered obsolete, or at least superfluous, once a next-gen David Wright-caliber prospect rolls off the line fully loaded and ready to roar. Rosey maintains the talent that tantalized us, yet he’s been a young player coming along in fits and starts for four seasons. In real life, he’s still young. In baseball terms, he seems to be getting on a little. From the moment of his debut in 2017 through the end of 2019, Amed Rosario was the latest-born of all Mets ever, joining his family’s roster on November 20, 1995. Since this season commenced, we’ve had Mets born in 1996 (Ariel Jurado), 1997 (Ali Sanchez) and 1998 (precocious Giménez). Time flies when you’re on your way to getting picked off in Buffalo.

Speaking of Buffalo, before we memory-hole every good thing Wilson Ramos has ever done, up to and including an agile block of a pitch in the dirt Saturday night that probably nobody remembers in the wake of that ill-advised ninth-inning swing, congratulations to No. 40 once again on leading the Mets to that 18-1 win Friday night. Wilson homered, had three hits, reached base four times and drove in four runs. He would have totaled five RBIs, except in the ninth inning, with the 17-run lead appearing reasonably secure, Ramos’s deep fly to left with Jeff McNeil on third was not converted into a sacrifice fly. This was probably quaint baseball etiquette being exercised on the Mets’ part, but I’d like to think third base coach Gary DiSarcina was thinking, “It’s 18-1, and we’ve never won 18-1 before. We’ve won 19-1 before. Everybody knows that ‘did they win?’ story. Let’s do something new. I’m gonna hold the Squirrel right where he is.”

Whether or not Met lore was on our third base coach’s mind when he didn’t send McNeil, the effect was historymaking. By romping “only” 18-1, the Mets notched a Unicorn Score [7], a final tally by which the Mets have won ONCE and only ONCE. Like 19-1 in 1964, the Wrigley Field afternoon that gave us the cynic of legend calling a newspaper office and taking nothing for granted regarding the outcome [8]. Like 24-4 in 2018 at Citizens Bank, the last time the Mets spawned a mythically singular triumphant digital creature. Each of the previous twenty-three Unicorn Scores in Mets history that has thus far gone uncloned [9] was registered in a ballpark of that ilk: a place with an implied sense of MLB permanence. This one, at Sahlen Field, happened where the Mets will likely never play again after this series. And it included the first Met save credited for the questionably strenuous preservation of a lead of as many as 17 runs. Such a perfectly regulation save was assigned Friday to the ledger of the newest Met (No. 1,110), Erasmo Ramirez [10].

Erasmo indeed came on in relief, indeed went the final three and indeed didn’t surrender the inflated advantage he was assigned to protect. That’s a save in any season, even if nobody ever conceived of a Met reliever saving that large a lead. Way to go, Erasmo — if you’re gonna make history, you might as well make it count like nothing that’s ever been counted before.

If you’re gonna make a playoff run, you’d better make it real. With fourteen games to go, the Mets aren’t doing that. The 2020 Mets’ alleged playoff run is more chimera than unicorn, their would-be journey to the tourney less a winding road than a cul de sac. Win one or two, lose two or three, go round and round until there’s no point in calling what you’re doing getting anywhere. The Mets haven’t been getting anywhere and they’re running out of time to get anywhere. Hence, we might as well enjoy what skewed view there is before the sun sets beyond the eastern shore of Lake Erie.

Games in Buffalo. Extraordinarily safe saves. A pitcher forcing a runner at third using his feet and his wits. It’s baseball for now. It will do until it doesn’t.