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Yikes, Ike

Somehow, I imagined that seeing my favorite team play a doubleheader that included two big-league debuts and began with David Wright poised to claim the club record for RBIs would be more fun.

After 10 days far from home, the idea of my own couch and the Mets on my own TV was pretty close to heaven. But the seven-odd hours of baseball presented on a clammy afternoon and evening were far more fit for that other place. I watched in annoyance, then aggravation, and finally in glum resignation. Joshua eyed the proceedings for a while before finding better uses of his time. Emily went off to Citi in time to catch the tail end of Game 1 and returned in the last innings of Game 2, chilled and dispirited. By then the Mets faithful were so few that my wife’s exit from the stadium ticked the percentage of enemy fans in attendance notably higher. And why not? It was certainly Candlestick weather.

But miserable as I was and miserable as Joshua was and miserable as Emily was and miserable as all those faithful, outnumbered Mets rooters were, it’s a safe bet that none of us ended the evening feeling as miserable as Ike Davis did.

We all still like Ike, of course, and have faith that this too shall pass. But until it does, yikes. Ike got caught looking by Tim Lincecum to lead off the second, then again with two men on to end the third. Lincecum — the elastic-armed Freak whose motion and backstory I adore [1] — didn’t look quite himself, as he hasn’t all season, but against Ike he was more than good enough. His strategy in the third was worthy of a baseball time capsule, as he pushed Ike into a corner with fastballs, tried to get him to chase pitches out of the zone, disrupted his timing with change-ups and then erased him on an evil curveball — a third shoe dropping, if you will.

In the bottom of the fifth, Ike got another chance with the bases loaded and one out and Lincecum clearly tired. A long hit there might have made things interesting, or at least gotten our long, lanky first baseman to relax a bit. And Ike did smack a ball hard up the middle — but, alas, said middle was occupied by the glove of Emmanuel Burris, who flipped it into Brandon Crawford’s bare hand high above second, from which it traveled to Brandon Belt’s glove at first, well ahead of Ike’s arrival.

Ike got a last chance in the seventh, against Jeremy Affeldt, this time with two out and the bases loaded again. He grounded out, less dramatically this time.

But wait, here’s one from the Insult to Injury Department: He was charged — unjustly, we should add — with an error in the third when a two-out grounder off the bat of Pablo Sandoval shot upwards over his glove. With the inning extended, Buster Posey walked and Nathan Schierholtz ripped a home run over the right-field fence. Oof.

That’s eight LOB — two-thirds of the Mets’ total in a horrible game [2] — and a key error. And how was your day at the office, honey?

Ike, mercifully, was excused for the nightcap — only to be pressed into service as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth against Clay Hensley. Once again the bases were loaded, a setup either for sweet redemption or torment worthy of the denouement of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Ike battled Hensley and Dana Demuth’s random strike zone, fighting back to 3-2 and then … getting caught looking.

Make it 11 LOB.

(The rest of Game 2? Dillon Gee was terrible, Sandoval hit one to Setauket and Jason Bay dropped a ball. Let’s just move on [3].)

As a ballplayer, Ike Davis has something of a split personality. In the field he generally looks serene and collected, ably corralling errant David Wright heaves with minimal fuss. At plate, though, his most pleasant expression could be described as vaguely irritated — and he’s awfully quick to bark at umpires, particularly for a guy who just turned 25. Still, the seething, temper-prone Ike would be better than what we’re getting these days: Ike’s timing is shot, his mechanics are a mess, and you can see the hopelessness of it all etched on his face. He looks like a guy stumbling across an unfamiliar room in the dark, or locked in a foreign country’s DMV with an exploded ballpoint in his pocket.

Every player has been there, and feels a deep sympathy for those trapped in that terrible dark country. But at the same time, there’s nothing to be done for the lost and slumping but to wait for them return from exile, bewildered by what’s befallen them and tortured by the inability to explain it, let alone do anything to ensure it never happens again.

Come home soon, Ike.

* * *

As a postscript, welcoming not one but two new Mets to The Holy Books wasn’t as much fun as it should have been, either. Batting just ahead of Ike in Game 2, Jordany Valdespin popped up the first big-league pitch of his career, going from on-deck circle to Baseball Encyclopedia to dugout in what has to be near-record time. Relatively unregarded Jeremy Hefner did far better, cleaning up Miguel Batista’s mess in Game 1 to keep an embarrassment from becoming a farce.

The melancholy part, for me, came from Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez discussing Sean Ratliff [4]. In 2010, Ratliff — a fourth-round pick out of Stanford — hit 20 homers and 80 RBI between St. Lucie and Binghamton. Near the end of 2011’s spring training, he was in the on-deck circle when he was struck in the right eye by a foul ball off the bat of his friend and fellow Mets farmhand Zach Lutz. The ball broke six bones in his face and partially detached his retina. Four surgeries followed, but Ratliff was able to resume his career this year with St. Lucie, raising hopes that his rise to the majors might have been merely delayed.

It wasn’t to be — Ratliff had problems with his depth perception and his night vision. He was forced to retire.

An unhappy percentage of baseball is luck, or the lack of it.

That screaming liner disappears into a fielder’s glove. That little roller goes through an infielder’s legs.

A team avoids trips to the DL, gets help from the minors and sees a summer’s worth of curving drives kick up chalk. A team sees its starting lineup decimated, discovers its kids aren’t ready and watches ball after ball land foul.

A ball just misses you in the on-deck circle. Or it doesn’t.

Jeremy Hefner hung in there, made it to the big leagues, and opened eyes by saving the bullpen on a raw and chilly day in an otherwise dismal game. Maybe that will be enough to give him a long and useful career — or maybe he’ll soon confused with Josh Stinson. A good spring training turned Jordany Valdespin from organizational problem child to potential sparkplug, and earned him the chance to wear the number once donned by Mookie Wilson and Lance Johnson. Sean Ratliff might have been a star, or an intriguing Lucas Duda type, or at least, say, Val Pascucci. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now we’re the only ones who’ll remember him, and maybe not even us.

It’s thoughts like that which make baseball as haunted as it is glorious.