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

Get It Right the Next Time (That’s the Main Thing)

Earl Weaver’s oft-cited quote that “this ain’t a football game, we do this every day” came in handy after Saturday night’s debacle [1] — up 6-0 in the 8th, only to lose 9-7 in the 9th — that indicated we should never do this again. The Earl of Baltimore’s observation is equal parts…

instructive — 161 baseball games every year are indeed scheduled to be followed by another;

reassuring — the sun implicitly comes out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar (MLB does not endorse gambling, but, judging by the sponsored segments on the pregame and postgame shows, is delighted to facilitate it);

and disturbing — do we really want to risk incurring another fall-from-ahead loss that leaves us growling, griping, groping and grimacing as if the team we chose and the fandom we applied to it was the biggest mistake of our lives?

The Mets disposed of the déjà vu threat of another Saturday night on Sunday afternoon as soon as they could. Instead of building a lead, they squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the top of the first and then ushered in, as if pointing a flashlight so the Pirates wouldn’t miss the plate, six runs in the bottom of the first. The first three scores were the culmination of Pittsburgh walking and hitting and New York not quite fielding. Taijuan Walker [2], author of enough solid starts to legitimately pick up Jacob deGrom’s mantle as Met All-Star representative, was having an indisputably tough outing. His timing in choosing Sunday to suddenly go from solid to squishy wasn’t great, considering deGrom and his tight right forearm had been placed on the IL before the game and the taste from the previous evening’s debacle was still fresh in the back of our throats. Still, a rough beginning wasn’t something we had never seen before.

Nope, that was on deck, figuratively speaking. We didn’t want it, we didn’t order it, we didn’t sign for it when it arrived. But it was left on our doorstep nonetheless. We would’ve liked to have returned it, but try getting customer service to answer on a Sunday.

Easily triggered [3] John Nogowski was on third with one out. Walker walked Gregory Polanco. Polanco stole second. Then Michael Perez walked to load the bases. Nine miles of bad road face the big righthander, Bob Murphy probably would have said. Was another grand slam beckoning? No, because we’d seen a grand slam before. We’d seen one less than fifteen hours earlier.

This is what we saw:

Kevin Newman tapped a Taijuan toss into the batter’s box dirt.

It barely trickled forward.

It was foul for a few feet.

Walker hustled over to grab it before it turned fair.

Except it turned fair before he grabbed it.

And he didn’t grab it.

The ball not only missed the pitcher’s grasp, but his swipe attempt had the effect of swatting it toward the third base stands, jai alai-style.

The ball was in play, though Walker didn’t seem aware of that inconvenient truth.

Nogowski understood, however, and rumbled home.

So did Polanco.

So did Perez.

Newman landed on second.

Third base coach Joey Cora was a veritable carnival barker, urging every runner to come on over and touch a real, live home plate!

The Mets and their starter were too busy huffing about the fair/foul distinction with umpire Jeremy Riggs to effectively chase down the ball and direct it toward the business of preventing opposition advancement, therefore making a three-run single out of a ball that didn’t travel thirty feet a twenty-first century reality.

Told ya it was something we hadn’t seen before.

Walker was livid. Luis Rojas was livider. The manager got himself booted, yet kept arguing as if channeling Weaver when he was bleeped rather than quoted. If Rojas wanted the umpires to confer and reverse the call on the ball, he didn’t receive quite the conclave he desired. If he thought he could shout fair into foul as if transforming water into wine, he wasn’t that powerful, either. But for anybody who thinks replay review has doused managerial fire, at least we now know different, for Luis Rojas went out in a certifiable blaze of indignant glory.

Which didn’t change the score, which had clicked to Pirates 6 Mets 0 with still only one out in the bottom of the first — not to mention Pirates 15 Mets 1 across the three most recent innings the two teams had played. Baseball doesn’t keep track that way, thank heaven for small favors.

Six-zip was bad enough. Walker didn’t improve the situation by walking ensuing batter JT Brubaker, who happened to be the Bucs’ pitcher. It was Tai’s fourth walk and the end of the line for our de facto ace. Nine batters faced. One batter retired. A big fat “6” posted. And one unbelievable blooper reel featuring 50% more embarrassment than the time David Cone jawed at the ump rather than turn away from first and throw a ball home (only two runs scored on that 1990 brain freeze for the ages).

Could it get any worse for these Mets?

Wrong question.

Could it get any better? That was the important question. Saturday night was horrific, but Saturday night was over. All those robotic quotes after being on the wrong side of thumpings that “we need to turn the page” and “we just have to flush it” are manfully uttered in service to what comes next, not what happened last. We already know what went wrong. Now go right. Walker’s stint was horrific, too, but Walker was likewise done. It was now up to Dave Jauss to steer the Mets’ bullpen cart on a new path. Jauss, managing in Rojas’s enforced absence, wasn’t really driving a bullpen cart, and the Pirates, despite honoring their 1971 world champs this weekend, don’t seem to furnish bullpen carts, but, honestly, anything to distract from the hole at hand would have been welcome.

First in to fill the hole, Drew Smith [4], perennial Next Moderately Big Thing among the Mets relief corps. Drew is the last of the promising righties the Mets collected when they were trade-deadline sellers several seasons ago. He’s always tantalized. He’s never blossomed. There was Tommy John surgery interrupting his development. He’s had his chances this year to make strides. He hadn’t meaningfully progressed.

Not until Sunday, that is. Smith drew the Mets from their first-inning quicksand via a lineout and flyout, and we had the closest thing we could get to a clean slate. More like an Etch-a-Sketch that we couldn’t shake fully clear, but it was only 6-0. Yes, 6-0 is hardly an “only” deficit, but eight innings remained and we had just seen some poor collection of saps give up a 6-0 lead only the night before.

What’s that? It was the Mets who blew the 6-0 lead only the night before? And we were supposed to take comfort in that after plunging behind 6-0 in the here and now?

We could do anything we liked. Like Earl said, this wasn’t a football game with a week to dwell on our missteps. We get a game approximately every day and no clock to choke off our chances at resuscitation. Just don’t give up any more runs or too many outs, and we’re not dead yet [5].

This passed for optimism on the day a) Lugo and Diaz were definitively not available (as if we were clamoring for an encore); b) nobody immediately replaced deGrom on the roster (we know Jake’s irreplaceable, but we didn’t think literally); and c) who wants your crummy optimism? We’d slept in the company of the Four Horsemen of the Metspocalypse — pessimism, skepticism, cynicism and fatalism. Did we really have to wake up and treat the new day as a new day, especially when the new day started as a taunting facsimile of the old day?

We didn’t have to do anything except continue to be disgusted. But it was a new day, the game was still on, and, for the record, the sun had come out tomorrow. We know how much it tends to rain when the Mets travel to Pittsburgh. Maybe it was a sign that Western Pennsylvania was finally something other than soggy.

Drew Smith kept the Pirates off the board in the bottom of the second. Dom Smith [6] put the Mets on the board in the top of the third, singling off Nogowski’s highly sensitive glove to bring home Brandon Nimmo from third. The Mets were down by five and Drew Smith kept them there by retiring the Buccos in order in the next half-inning, making it two-and-two-thirds scoreless for the Smith who chose Sunday to never be better.

So many Smiths on this team. But only one Travis Blankenhorn [7], your roster replacement for Francisco Lindor. Batting in the top of the fourth for Smith — Drew — with two on, Travis, who’d almost hit one out on Saturday night, removed all doubt and hit one more than out on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t just over the fence. It departed the entire PNC Park physical plant and flew into the Allegheny River. The breach of the initial barrier ensured a three-run homer, the first round-tripper of Blankenhorn’s career. Launching it so far that it departed dry land, well, that was just darn impressive.

Most impressive was the Mets now trailed by two. Not six, not five, but two. If the Mets came back to win this game, which even Joe Namath wouldn’t have guaranteed, we’d have an anecdote to reference for the many times in our future when things would appear hopeless. The Mets actually came back from six in Pittsburgh, and it was after the worst six imaginable had scored in the first, on the heels of a grand slam walkoff loss the night before, so maybe we don’t have to be completely pessimistic, skeptical, cynical and fatalistic. It would make for a heckuva story. But that wasn’t the story in the present of Sunday as of the middle of the fourth. The story was a two-run game. Other than in extraordinary circumstances — say the Red Sox up, 5-3, in the bottom of tenth and the Mets batting with two out and nobody on — the Mets overcoming a two-run deficit isn’t that big a deal. The Mets overcoming a two-run deficit is unremarkable. The Mets overcoming a two-run deficit is doable.

Doable was all we asked for when the page turned and whatever needed to be flushed was flushed.

To navigate the next phase of doability en route to reaching the cusp of actually doing it, Jauss handed the ball to Miguel Castro [8]. Castro had been depended on early this season and delivered commensurate to the faith invested in him. Then he pitched more and succeeded less. Tacky substances or the lack thereof may have played a role. I personally don’t trust Miguel Castro, but it’s nothing personal. I don’t trust any Met reliever. No Met reliever has yet to earn it. I get as far as “I should really trust this guy more, he’s been pretty to very good, except I remember that one particular time he came in and terrible things happened.” No reliever is perfect. Unreasonably, that’s my standard for trust.

Son of a gun, Castro was perfect on Sunday, retiring the side in order in the bottom of the fourth before being pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth. Miguel gave way to Aaron Loup [9], the closest thing we have to an always trustworthy reliever. The lefty is the one Met reliever I can’t remember letting us down in a meaningful spot since April. He might have done it in May or June, but his offenses don’t spring to mind and it would be chintzy of me to go look them up. In the bottom of the fifth, Loup committed no trust-averting offenses. The score remained Pirates 6 Mets 4.

In the top of the sixth, the score changed to Pirates 6 Mets 5, thanks again to Dom Smith, this time doubling to right with Jeff McNeil [10] on first. McNeil roared around third once he received word from Gary DiSarcina that the throw in from right field wasn’t being handled with aplomb in the infield. Jeff beat the late relay and, whoa, it was a one-run game with three innings to go. The Mets had reduced their mountain to a molehill.

Aaron gave up two Pirate hits and hit ex-Met Phillip Evans to begin the bottom of the sixth. That’s what is referred to in certain circles as a sticky wicket. But you know that stuff you see commercials for to resolve stickiness? It’s called Loup. Spray it on the toughest jams and it strikes batters right out! I know, it sounds like a scam, but it works. Loup struck out Adam Frazier, struck out Wilmer Difo and struck out Bryan Reynolds, thus leaving the bases loaded.

“Wow,” you might be wondering, “can I get a can of that Loup for my sticky wickets?” Sorry, they’re all sold out. But how about some Familia? What’s that? You’ve got plenty of that left over in your garage from 2016 and you can’t get rid of it? Oh, go ahead and try it. It might still have zip left in it.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Jeurys Familia [11] experienced a little difficulty (he is Jeurys Familia), but allowed no runs. Asked to pitch the eighth, it was a similar sequence of events. Jeurys bent. Jeurys didn’t break. The Mets’ bullpen, dating back to the first inning after Walker & Co. imploded, hadn’t given up a single run, while the Mets had packed on five.

Only problem on this sunny Sunday was it was kinda getting late and the Mets needed at least one more run to make this more than a lesson in never giving up. After Saturday, defeated yet admirable was neither optimal nor acceptable. We’d come too far to end shy of victory. We would need to tie the game en route to winning the game, and we would need to do it versus the Pirates’ closer, Richard Rodriguez.

(Except even if we’d lost, there’d be another game tomorrow and a whole new opportunity to right the ship. But who wanted to test that theory?)

We had the right man to lead off the top of the ninth. Dom Smith, who you’ll recall as instrumental in whittling deficits of 6-0 and 6-4, singled for his third hit of the day. Michael Conforto [12], who had to this point not appeared in any of our scoring recapitulation, muscled his way into the narrative, taking Rodriguez over the wall. It didn’t soar into the drink à la Blankenhorn, but what Michael’s home run lacked in distance it made up for in drama. A ninth-inning, go-ahead, two-run homer! After trailing, 6-0, the Mets were ahead, 7-6! “Oh my god,” I heard myself declare Sunday, just as I had declared “oh my god” Saturday after the score flipped from 7-5 to 9-7, except the intonation was 180 degrees different.

The Mets went to the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead to protect. No Edwin Diaz. No Seth Lugo. Instead, Trevor May [13]. You sure we can’t get Loup back out there? May is very likable and periodically trustworthy. Personality isn’t really the issue when three outs are needed to secure the most desperately needed win of the season. We need to trust ya, Trevor. Can we do that?

Turns out we could. We’re not used to the notion of truly trusting relievers, and we’ll never get used to the notion of truly trusting relievers, but our closer du jour was the arm of the hour, following in the inspiring footsteps of Smith, Castro, Loup and Familia and putting down the Pirates without a run. Inspired by Met relievers? On a day when 6-0 was erased and 9-7 was spit out, any and all reactions to Met triumph were valid. That included not just yay, we won, 7-6! [14] but “big deal, they blew it the night before, they were a clown show in the first inning, they lost four of seven to the crappy Pirates, they’re without Lindor, they’re without deGrom, they don’t have enough pitching, they don’t hit enough, they’re the worst first-place club I’ve ever seen.” All of those plaints hold up under examination. And they might all magnify themselves if the results that follow Sunday’s don’t follow in the footsteps of Sunday’s.

But Sunday’s result was very good. It was the kind of result that makes a fan quite happy that we do this every day.