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I Blame Ninjas

The game the Mets just lost [1] is the kind of game I’ve come to associate with the post-humidor Coors Field: a quiet succumbing, like getting hugged by a python that squeezes a tiny bit more each time you exhale, so that little by little everything goes black. The game starts too late, ends too late, and features the Mets doing a whole lot of nothing before giving up a flukey hit or making a fatal mistake. At least when the Rockies played arena baseball you could huffily declare the whole thing a farce.

Chris Capuano was good, entertaining to watch not just for his masterful mixing of speeds and locations but also for his obvious annoyance at mistakes and misfortune. Capuano is a heart-on-the-sleeve pitcher who must drive umpires crazy, though those who have strike zones like Mike Winters’ rather elastic trapezoidal creation deserve a certain amount of provocation. Capuano, alas, was about all that was praiseworthy: The few Met hits were little chip shots, with the hardest-hit ball of the night — Jason Bay’s long fly to center that backed Dexter Fowler almost to the fence — clearly headed for the wrong part of the yard.

Even as we get nice stories about some 2011 Mets — the resurgence of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy playing and learning at second, Ike Davis’s so-far superb sophomore season — we have to overlook some worrisome steps backwards. Josh Thole, for one, looks utterly lost at the plate: Keith Hernandez sounded like he was about to run down to the field and throttle him, channeling an urge felt by most every fan. With Jhoulys Chacin having lost the plate and desperately needing strike one with the bases loaded and two out in the fourth, Thole let a get-me-over fastball go right down the heart of the plate, eventually grounding out. Two innings later, with two on and two out, he compounded the error, ignoring a halfhearted slider on 3-1 and then working the walk, bringing up Capuano to strike out feebly. Thole looks like he can’t figure out which way is up right now, which is neither unexpected nor something he should be pilloried for, but is horribly painful to watch nonetheless.

And as 2011 goes on, I’m more and more worried about David Wright. I know he’s still a hugely valuable player, but remember when we were amazed at how a player so young could be saddled with an 0-2 count and feel like he had the pitcher right where he wanted him? Wright was constantly battling back to 3-2 and getting hits or at least pushing the pitcher’s tank closer to E, and it was wonderful to watch — a precocious young hitter who backed pitchers into a corner and forced them to meet him on his terms. Wright isn’t that player anymore — he racks up gobs and gobs of strikeouts, can’t seem to climb out of pitchers’ counts, and seems desperate at the plate a frightening amount of the time.

On the subject of smaller but still nettlesome problems, can someone send Willie Harris to the Boyer-Emaus Remedial Academy for Underachieving Youth already? Harris finally got a hit on a sheepish check swing past Troy Tulowitzki, then tried to steal second, in whose general vicinity he was spotted after Jonathan Herrera caught Chris Iannetta’s throw, read and annotated a chapter of Moby Dick, shaved and loosened back up with a round of vigorous calisthenics. I’d suggest hiring ninjas for the Harris operation, but honestly these days all it takes to eliminate him is a pitcher with modest ability.

Speaking of ninjas, the 2011 Mets are showing a knack for being done in by initially undetectable injuries. Jason Bay feels something pull on the second-to-the-last day of spring training and is marooned in St. Lucie for weeks. Angel Pagan feels something in his side, is pinch-hit for, winds up in Florida and now won’t be doing much of anything until God knows when. Worst of all, Chris Young — who’s looked very capable when actually pitching — can’t get loose in the bullpen and goes for a just-in-case MRI. Boom, anterior capsule tear, and there (in all likelihood) goes both Young’s season and his Mets career. No cringeworthy collisions, no teammates and trainers carrying grimacing guys off fields — just Mets exiting with some apparently minor ailment that proves major.

But then again, it’s a theme that fit tonight: Your 2011 New York Mets, Quietly Succumbing.