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Baseball Is Fun

Baseball’s beautiful and elevating and timeless and pastoral and all those good high-minded things, but it’s also a lot of fun — particularly when things go off the rails and the game is played roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, like it was in the ninth inning tonight. And when you win. That’s important too.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — there was a lot more to like about this game than the frenetic, I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw way it ended.

To start a little earlier:

It’s the second series of the year. That may not mean “instant fun” to you, but it does for me. Opening Day is great, and so are the wild overreactions we all have to whatever happens in that first series, when you’re so keyed up that it seems obvious Player A will hit .667 with 100 homers while Pitcher B will go 0-22 with an ERA near 81.00. But the second series is the one that really makes me happy. Teams have stopped doing something silly in Japan, the annoying empty day for April rainouts is behind us, and you have the pinch-me realization that there will be baseball to keep you company pretty much every day or night for the next half-year. So much to discover, so much to dream about, and my goodness it’s wonderful to contemplate that mostly blank schedule and its yet-to-be-written dramas and morality plays and tearjerkers and low comedies and farces and tragedies and triumphs.

I did not freak out about Mike Pelfrey. To my co-blogger’s mild (or perhaps merely suppressed) annoyance, I have a habit of making one Met a year into my personal scapegoat. With Luis Castillo and Alex Cora having vamoosed, Big Pelf has inherited this role, and in the early innings he showed every sign of earning those honors, nibbling and throwing high sliders and stalking around the mound and generally looking as if he didn’t have a plan out there — in other words, looking exactly like Mike Pelfrey looks every single start. After some venomous tweets I threw up my hands — he’s Mike Pelfrey and we’re stuck with him until the farm yields some fresh produce. But Pelf, as he sometimes does, confounded his detractors as well as his defenders, perhaps because that way he can annoy everybody [1]. He hung in there, somehow striking out eight despite Todd Tichenor’s smaller-than-a-breadbox strike zone, and kept the Mets in the game, exiting with a half-full/half-empty pitching line and a no-decision. Of course he did — Mike Pelfrey is the ultimate no-decision.

Ruben Tejada is awesome. He’s working counts with a jeweler’s eye, drawing walks, ramming doubles up the gap and generally looking much improved at the plate, a year after a season that was also much improved. His at-bat in the ninth against Henry Rodriguez was pretty impressive: I never played baseball at a competitive level (or was competitive at any level), but I’m betting it’s not easy to butcher-boy a fastball coming in at nearly 100 MPH. The pitch he finally did bunt was impressive too — Tejada initially pulled the bat back, sensed the pitch was a strike and coolly angled the bat to catch the ball and send it to the right of the mound. In the field, well, we already knew he was awesome — witness his stretch as high as he could reach without coming off the bag at second to sno-cone Ike Davis’s potentially errant throw. His one blemish was an ill-advised cross to third in front of a shortstop with the ball, but hey, let’s call it Ruben’s Amish stitch. (Besides, he got away with it.) I miss Jose — I will always miss Jose — but I really think Tejada is going to be an Edgardo Alfonzo-type player, the kind you know will do everything right and therefore the guy you want in the right spot when it really, really matters.

Josh Thole is learning. The bat looks better, he knocked down several errant pitches … and there was his quick visit out to see Ramon Ramirez, who’d missed with two pitches that might have been strikes on a Tichenor-less night. Ramirez looked agitated and the Nats smelled blood. I don’t know what Thole said, but Ramirez gathered himself and a few moments later the Mets were safely back in the dugout.

Is that the old David Wright? Wright struck out in the bottom of the fifth … for the first time in 2012. He got erased on a very good slider from Edwin Jackson, one close to the plate and not bouncing in the opposite batter’s box. He went down after climbing out of an 0-2 hole to force a 2-2 count. He looked, in other words, like the David Wright of Shea, for whom an 0-2 count meant only that the at-bat was beginning. Hitting .583, alas, is not sustainable. But perhaps calm, cerebral, controlled at-bats are.

Captain Kirk went where he had never gone before. Kirk Nieuwenhuis may not know it, but there’s now mo’ of the Mo Zone — enough mo’ for the kid’s first big-league home run. Who knows how long Nieuwenhuis will be around, but hopefully it’ll be long enough for his fluffy mullet to become the cult symbol it deserves to be. Maybe it can make one of the Mets’ Tuesday t-shirts. (Points also to my wife for noting that Fluffy Mullet would be an excellent band name.)

Murph for President! We all know he can hit. But man, that play to end the top of the ninth — that was a thing of beauty, Murph sprawled in the dirt, Tejada in perfect position, Ryan Zimmerman foiled.

Which brings us, finally, to that nutty bottom of the ninth.

Deep breath before we get it down for posterity.

Mike Baxter hit for Jon Rauch because Rauch is a relief pitcher with a strike zone the size of a minivan and Baxter walked and then Tejada bunted and Henry Rodriguez the pitcher who is not the cheating Expo of years ago alligator-armed the ball into the dirt at Danny Espinosa’s feet and the ball caromed by him and Espinosa turned just far enough to get Tejada’s knee or hand or something in the face as the ball squirted behind him and Baxter took off for third and Tejada took off for second and Espinosa crawled a step and then got up without his glove and chased after the ball and Baxter turned third and came like forty feet down the line and the camera caught R.A. Dickey high-stepping down the dugout and Terry Collins hanging on the railing with his eyes huge like a little kid and Thole actually got over the railing to celebrate at home plate but then Tim Teufel had second thoughts and sent Baxter back and Espinosa got the ball and tried to shake away the cobwebs and Thole scampered sheepishly back over the railing and Baxter fell on his face and everyone in the stands and at home in front of their TVs and looking up in bars went AUUGGHHHH!!!!!! and the gloveless Espinosa grabbed the ball and fired a seed to Zimmerman but it was too late and Baxter was safe and he got up and thought about strangling Teufel but didn’t do that either and everyone involved in the play or watching it needed oxygen and a moment to double-check what had happened.

And than Daniel Murphy came to the plate and rifled one through the infield and got piled on and emerged with both knees intact (like you weren’t thinking the same thing) and the Mets were 4-0 and everything, at least for one more day, was officially awesome [2].

* * *

Speaking of awesome, a reminder that Sharon Chapman is off and running [3] once more to support the Tug McGraw Foundation [4]‘s ongoing fight against brain cancer. Her next run to raise funds comes at the end of April, in Nashville’s Country Music 1/2 Marathon. When Sharon runs with Team McGraw, it’s always for a good cause in the name of a great Met. Find out more (and maybe contribute if you can) here [5].