Usually when the Mets visit the Padres, even if it’s a good game — even if it’s a day game — it feels like it’s taking place at three in the morning. The Padres are the official team of the wee, small hours, no matter what the little and big hands say. Tuesday night’s game flew by at a brisk 2:31 yet it still dragged interminably.
That, though, had as much to do with the Mets losing 6-1  as it did San Diego’s insistence on being in San Diego. The wrong end of a 6-1 score leaves you with about as lame a loss as a team that’s out of it in the second half of August can muster, particularly when it’s against another team that’s out of it in the second half of August.
6-1 is not close enough to offer you glimpses of false hope or rout enough to allow you to write it off as just one of those things. You — our team — may have thrown yourself into every minute of that 2:31, but the numbers suggest you asked somebody to punch in for you.
6-1 means you’re stuck in second place in a two-team race for nine innings, just as you’re stuck being in some other place than one that’s vital to a playoff race once the game is over. You’re not going to win, you are going to lose, it’s not going to substantially matter either way.
But you still wish your team could have put up a better fight.
Faced with the intrinsically discouraging 6-1 portion of the schedule from here until the final series of the season (which is when we’ll suddenly realize how much we’re going to miss our team when it’s gone, thus every out will seem precious), we look for signs that somebody’s doing the right thing in terms of playing time. We want to glean that there is meaning to be had and experience to be gained. We want to believe the kid who didn’t get a long enough look from April until now is going to be allowed to use these barren weeks to plant a seed for the future. We want to believe our manager will wisely deploy his limited resources and cultivate a harvest for next year.
We want to win some games in the interim while we’re at it, but in the abstract we say that’s not our bottom line. We want a future to take root, even though we’ve been warned diligently all our lives not to read too much into what transpires in the Septembers of our years.
Should Terry Collins do whatever it takes to win any given game among the final forty? Hells yes. There is an indelible result to every baseball game at this level and it’s important enough for Tim Kurkjian to want to paste in a notebook (whether he physically does so or not anymore ). These aren’t simulated games and this isn’t the Florida Instructional or Arizona Fall league. When somebody decides to refund me my ticket price or a portion of my cable bill, then the Mets have my blessing, paraphrasing Apu from The Simpsons in his Nye Mets  phase, to take a relaxed attitude toward winning.
But that’s not the same as endorsing fealty to whatever hasn’t worked or isn’t working, and it’s certainly not a blanket endorsement of reflexively playing veterans over rookies…or rookies over veterans. Unless you’re committed to a Logan’s Run lineup in 2012, one assumes almost everybody on your active roster is vying for a place on the next Mets team. Thus, if one theoretical night out of forty Terry wants to see what Scott Hairston can do at second base, I won’t squawk; Scott Hairston is all of 31 years old, and if you could figure out a way to make him a touch more valuable in 2012 — like by keeping him the fudge out of right field — it might be worth considering bringing him back.
Or if the Mets are facing a lefty pitcher Ronny Paulino absolutely scalds (like Chris Capuano, against whom he’s 6-for-17…d’oh!), I can live with veteran Paulino getting a start in September even though I’d like to see Josh Thole learn to hang in there against lefties. You don’t have to display mindless adherence to The Percentages — absolutely give Thole some of those southpaw assignments — but by the same token you’d be a little derelict in your duties to not take advantage of your clearest opportunity to win.
Of course if you’re helming a team that’s well out of it by now, you don’t know what your clearest opportunities to win are, so by all means experiment. Throw Mike Pelfrey in relief as you did last night. That was a small joy to behold, and not just because it meant our exposure to Big Pelf would by definition be brief. Let’s get an idea about flexibility versus roles. Each of our five starters has tossed a bit of relief this season and pending late word that Pelf slipped on his ice in the clubhouse, no starter has suffered for relieving.
Whether it’s situational or out of curiosity, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with an inning here or there out of the bullpen for a starter. It used to take place routinely in baseball’s dark ages, before Tony La Russa enlightened us all and invented niches. And if you can figure out, without wrecking him prematurely, a way to let Pedro Beato start between now and September 28, go for it. Terry’s already talking about him trying it in winter ball. Do it in summer ball if you’re confident you can stretch him for five innings. Or truncate him for a ninth inning, even a third of a ninth inning — say the last third.
Save opportunities should be as up for grabs as anything — though if Jason Isringhausen has some fantastic, not necessarily ancient matchup history in his favor against a particular batter due up (the Braves’ Alex Gonzalez vs. Izzy: 1-for-11), let’s not blindly insist we must leave it to Beato or Parnell or whoever isn’t Isringhausen. We still want to get the wins that are within our grasp and we should use the tools that turn grasps into grips. But just your garden-variety save? All we are saying is give Pelf a chance…though Pedro or Bobby or Not Igarashi would probably be a better bet in that spot.
Mix and match. Use your judgment. Win as much as you can while not being afraid of the opposite fate. Anything should go, considering everything that’s come before hasn’t gotten us terribly far.
And keep the 6-1 losses to a minimum as best you can. Thanks.