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Mad Libs and Exits

The beginning of a baseball season is light and consequence-free — with six months of games ahead, you can relax a bit, allowing yourself to simply enjoy having baseball as a companion again. Starting in June, things begin to get serious — you’re conscious of the standings, of opportunities taken and missed and lost. This reaches a fever pitch in September. But then, if things go poorly? You wind up back to lighter-than-air games.

They feel different, of course — they’re consequence-free because you’re out of it* and just playing out the string. But sometimes there’s a strange relief to that. The needle has not been threaded. The dominoes have not all toppled in the precise configuration you needed. It’s disappointing, but it’s happened, and why would you stalk away from baseball in a snit with so little of it left? So you watch.

I watched — though an asterisk (or an asterich, as it turns out Keith Hernandez [1] pronounces it, to the bafflement of Gary and Ron and everyone watching) wouldn’t be unfair, since I forgot the game started at 6, arrived in the third inning, and then Emily and I talked with our kid on the phone during two tense innings near the end. But that’s OK — consequence-free, remember?

Such September games also bring an awareness that you’re seeing some players for the last time — statistics harden into their final form as starting pitchers complete their yearly duties and position players exit the stage for a variety of reasons. Before the game the Mets put Michael Conforto [2] on the IL, ending his wonderful breakout season. Then they gave the ball for the final time to rookie David Peterson [3], who looked as good as he has all year, stifling the Nationals to earn his sixth win and finish with an ERA below 3.50. Peterson is going to lead the club in wins; he arrived as an unknown quantity and departs as someone the Mets can write into their 2021 starting rotation in pen. After a year of erasures and crossouts and expletives written in the margins, that’s a welcome development.

It was also a Mad Lib game. What’s a Mad Lib game? It’s a game where the key moments are produced by guys who weren’t in the original plan — for instance, when Guillermo Heredia [4] spanks a sharp single to right off Patrick Corbin [5] and Robinson Chirinos [6] follows him with a grinding at-bat that finally yields a sinker that doesn’t sink and a two-run homer. Heredia and Chirinos! Just like we imagined it in, um, July!

There were some good moments from better-known entities, too — such as Justin Wilson [7] facing the deadly Juan Soto [8] as the tying run in the bottom of the eighth and coaxing a foul pop that Todd Frazier [9]‘s vaguely animate corpse managed to corral, then dueling the deplorable Kurt Suzuki [10] through a 12-pitch at-bat that ended in a harmless grounder and a fielder’s choice. An inning later Edwin Diaz [11] — who’s not back to trustworthy but is a lot closer than we would have imagined not so long ago — bent but didn’t break and the Mets had won [12].

The Mets had won. It doesn’t matter, except that there was a Mets game to be watched when soon that won’t be the case. And that certainly does matter.

* “But wait the Mets are not done because X and Y and Z and carry the 1 and flip this exponent!” Sure, Jan.