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What Comes After

On Sunday night Edwin Diaz [1] — he of the electric arsenal and its sometimes self-electrocuting results — stood on the mound and stared in at Bryce Harper [2], probably the league’s MVP and a longtime thorn in the Mets’ side who seemed about the dimensions of a redwood just then. Two outs in the ninth, 3-2 Mets lead, tying run on first.

Diaz threw a fastball, one that caught a lot of plate, Harper connected, and imagine if this game had actually mattered.

If you’re a Phillies fan, it did — they were just a game behind the Braves, and like the Mets, Atlanta has found first place in the National League East to be a crown that sits uneasy. But for us Mets fans, not so much. There was the spring’s injury-plagued failure to achieve escape velocity, early summer’s scuffles and stumbles, August’s plummet and now September’s irrelevancy. When I went to Rome two Fridays ago, the Mets had at least a puncher’s chance of clawing their way back into the division race or chasing down the second wild-card spot; by the time I returned on Saturday, carrying extra pounds and memories of having seen a lot of astonishing art, the Cardinals and Phillies had turned the calendar to 2022.

What was left was a sort of afterimage of contention, marked by the weekend’s games winding up on Fox and ESPN. Saturday’s was a dud [3], but Sunday night’s game belonging to a national crew was doubly too bad, because it deserved Gary Cohen and Co. instead of ESPN’s broadcast. That was chiefly a showcase for Alex Rodriguez [4] continuing to road-test his eyes/iPad aphorism (it’s not working, A-Rod) and vaguely grouse about players not being robots. As Mets fans, we at least deserved our hometown chroniclers, who would have had a lot to say about Rich Hill [5]‘s canny though abbreviated start; the moment of Harperesque daring/Mets passivity that let the Phils steal their first run; the Mets’ inability to solve Kyle Gibson [6]‘s curveball until Dom Smith [7] caught one and smacked it into the corner to the tie the game; Aaron Loup [8] staring down first Harper and then J.T. Realmuto [9], with the latter confrontation having not exactly been the plan; Jeff McNeil [10]‘s homer that put the Mets ahead and made us mourn what could have been; Harper’s temporarily game-saving catch on a little duck snort by Kevin Pillar [11]; and finally Diaz’s uncertain navigation of the ninth’s typically troubled waters.

That’s a lengthy chronicle, because it was a damn good game — tidy except when it wasn’t, and marked by riveting confrontations and an appropriately tense endgame. It was all there in the moment that followed Harper connecting: Bryce’s eyes following the ball on an arc to left, first with hope and then with dull dismay; Diaz pointing skyward, but not exactly with the instant confidence accorded a lazy pop-up (or a game-ending homer surrendered by Hansel Robles [12], but that’s a post for a previous season); and finally McNeil cradling the ball a step from the warning track for the final out [13].

There’s still some beauty in those afterimages — a last couple of weeks of baseball to squeeze in before playoffs that will go on us without us and then winter’s staring out the window and urging the calendar along. I want to see 13 RBIs for Pete Alonso [14], a cameo for Noah Syndergaard [15] (and maybe Jose Martinez [16], because why the hell not), and some more positive signs from Michael Conforto [17] and McNeil and other MIA Mets. Maybe I’ll get those things and maybe I won’t — baseball parcels out its rewards as it sees fit, and it’s singularly uninterested in your wishlist or anyone else’s. Whatever happens, even the dregs of a lost season offers some moments to enjoy. Here’s to two more weeks, and whatever those moments prove to be.