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Careful What You Wish For

I spent yesterday fuming that there was no baseball, and I was not to be comforted by sensible talk that these days teams build insurance for Opening Day into the schedule. Insurance, feh: After 180-odd off-days, it seemed cruel to the point of criminality to instantly hit us with another one. And then this morning New York City was turned into a mutant snow globe, with flakes the size of hanging sliders swirling outside the windows of my office building, and even though I knew that April snowstorms almost never stick, I still fought down panic: There had to be a game tonight. There had to be.

And so there was. Goody.

Once upon a time tonight, there was some marvelous baseball played by men wearing orange and blue and white and black and two-toned helmets with Ford Taurusian swoops and little fish gills. In fact, as Brian Bannister hit the pinch-yourself “12 men to go” point, I found myself wondering at the strange storyline unfolding: After nearly half a century of giving up a hit each and every night, it would be just like the Mets to finally enter the no-hit column thanks to a kid pitcher’s major-league debut. Then, compounding my insanity, I decided that no, it would be just like the Mets to finally enter the no-hit column with a combined no-no, leaving us grumbling that the jinx wasn’t really broken, that all Nolan Ryan had to do was rename his Clubhouse of Curses [1]. Combined no-hitters are lamely spectacular and spectacularly lame — they’re like having the bus to the Promised Land break down in a mildly more upscale suburb than yours, where you take up residence in a slightly bigger house and find out that gosh, the property taxes here sure are high.

Having managed to look a gift horse in the mouth before the nag was even delivered, let alone unwrapped, I of course watched the usual answer emerge to that question forever to be asked by the Met faithful: “Why is tonight exactly like all other nights?” Bannister gave up a hit. Then he gave up a home run. Then he sat in the dugout as Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman acquitted themselves ably, giving way to Billy Wagner. Who promptly gave up an enormous home run to Ryan Zimmerman, then yielded to Jorge Julio, who convinced no one that he is not, in fact, merely Armando Benitez in a half-assed disguise. By the time it was mercifully over [2], Floyd and Jana Bannister hadn’t been on TV in a good hour or so.

Perspective. It’s one game at a time of year when you’re still happy just to have a game to watch. With conditions what they were, every pitcher who toed the rubber deserved a mulligan — Bannister, Wagner, Julio, Patterson, Rauch, Cordero and Rodriguez all saw their command evaporate at various times in the cold. That was Ryan Zimmerman’s first home run and the first time he’s beaten us, but he’s going to be the kind of player who’ll hit a lot more of them, and beat us a fair number of times over the next decade or two.

And once upon a time, some very good things happened in this game. Bannister showed he’s got a truckload of guts — I’m eager to see what he can do when he can actually feel the ball. Jose Reyes had not one but two terrific at-bats that Rickey Henderson must have appreciated. Anderson Hernandez made up for whatever lumber deficiencies he may have with a catch that looked like a stuntman should have been involved. And Carlos Delgado launched a home run that I feared might knock SNY off the air again.

Good things. But by the time this one was over, they sure seemed like they happened an awfully long time ago.