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Long After the Thrill of Winnin’ is Gone

It may feel like we’ll see more losses like Wednesday afternoon’s [1] than Ruben Tejada will see pitches this year, but it won’t be nearly that bad, statistically speaking. We can’t lose more than 158 games and Ruben sees almost that many pitches in a given week.

Yet sometimes you can’t argue with how something feels.

Wrightlessness equaled hopelessness [2] for a second day in a row, which is too bad, considering what a blast we had zipping from 0-0 to 4-0. Now we’re 4-2, which works better as a pie chart than a trendline. The trend, pending the progress of the most important pinky in Flushing [3], is potentially fraught with peril.

It should all feel happier at the end of a day when the Mets officially turned 50 — outstanding call having Roger Craig on hand [4] to once again throw a first pitch — and a battle of National League East aces proceeded partly to plan. Johan Santana found most of his groove and Stephen Strasburg seems close to where he was when Bob Costas was throwing the Big Train under the bus [5] amid 2010’s initial onslaught of Strasburgmania. We still don’t know if Stephen is going to overtake Walter Johnson as the best pitcher to come out of Washington since Honest Abe Lincoln threw that gem against disunion from 1861 to 1865. We do know, after he won his first-ever start at Citi Field, the following:

• The way the Mets suddenly aren’t hitting, it wouldn’t take the second coming of Walter Johnson to shut them down. The second coming of Andrew Johnson would be tough to beat. Or the actual Andrew Johnson, and Lincoln’s less-than-beloved successor [6] has been dead at the present time since 1875.

• Strasburg was doing well enough that he didn’t need help from the executive branch, which in this case means Larry Vanover’s desire to coax balls into strikes to make Jason Bay look even worse than usual was misplaced, to put it diplomatically.

The ejected Terry Collins [7] probably put it less so, but whatever he said to get booted should be subject to presidential pardon. It’s Vanover who deserved ejection…and I mean with coils springing up from the ground and sending him skyward to his next assignment.

Which shouldn’t be in organized baseball.

No matter that the ump was a hump; the ace/off almost lived up to its billing. If it wasn’t Seaver vs. Carlton, we can owe that to prolonged precautionary periods that follow career-saving surgeries (and blame killjoy pitch counts). Santana struggled in spots, but Santana struggling doesn’t amount to much more than a few specks of dust on the Mona Lisa. A Johan the Mets don’t worry about stretching out hangs in there through the afternoon and keeps things excruciatingly close. And a Strasburg the Nats don’t worry about extending either continues to master the actual strike zone — lordy, what a breaking ball — or tires enough to be gotten to before Davey Johnson can rescue him.

As was, our ace was pulled in the sixth and their ace was gone by the seventh, 17 strikeouts between them. In the 1975 of the imagination, they both go nine or more. In the here and now, it’s another call to the bullpen, then another, then another, with walk after walk after walk of National batters. When your staff strikes out ten while walking ten, it’s startling how immaterial the strikeouts become.

On the plus side, one of our three hits was registered by Ike Davis, who is no longer oh-for-’12, and his flair for popups at or around railings and fences remains intact. Tejada, meanwhile, saw another 22 pitches, to go with the 20 from Tuesday night and the 23 from Monday. That’s 65 in a dozen plate appearances, which goes a ways toward explaining why young Ruben is slashing at a .333/.440/.524 clip. An eon or so ago, I was in a bar with my friend Joel Lugo when the band announced a break. “Hey,” Joel declared, “I’d pay to watch these guys drink!” That’s how I feel about watching Ruben Tejada work counts. Nothing is happening, yet everything is happening.

Alas, other than Ruben’s time spent in the box and Ike’s release from .000 purgatory, there was nothing to speak of offensively against Strasburg. Granted, he’s Strasburg, Vanover or no Vanover. There’s a difference between not touching Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg constructing an impenetrable force field around himself. Still, it was a mostly hollow lineup and bench sent to take on all Nat comers without David Wright. That’s a scary thought if the pinky isn’t a quick healer.

Ike’s flirtation with foul territory acrobatics notwithstanding, there was little to recommend Met defense Wednesday. Josh Thole was baffled all day. Daniel Murphy, despite one impressive flip, refuses to transform into a second baseman just because we wish he would. And Johan Santana simply couldn’t catch a break.

The first four games aren’t forgotten, but they are no longer the most recent games the Mets have played. On the happy side of life, the last two aren’t the next two, either. An off day (surprisingly welcome so soon) will give way to the road, where six games will tell the tale…of the next six games.

It’s a long season. That’s how it feels, anyway.