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The Lengths They Go To

“It doesn’t work that way,” I had to explain to my sister over dinner out when she inferred I must really be enjoying how long these baseball games my baseball team has been playing, including the one I was listening to while she was talking.

“You probably wish they’d last eight hours!” she said, as innocent of nuance now as she was the 1979 afternoon she clicked a photo of the Shea grounds crew because she assumed they were the players.

No, I replied. I do not wish for eight-hour baseball games. I don’t care for four-hour baseball games. Nobody does. One nineteen- or twenty-inning test of wills per generation is a novelty to be treasured, but clunking and plodding again and again is no way to go through a season.

I was listening to my baseball team’s latest long game during dinner out because the Mets don’t know how to vanquish an opponent quickly anymore. Let’s get together on Saturday, I had previously suggested. Game’s at 3, let’s make it 7.

Folly. Sheer folly. The game got itself tied just before 7. The game kept itself tied through the drinks, the ordering, the appetizer, the salads, the main course. It got itself untied a little before the check arrived. The desired last out was recorded in the parking lot.

I heard just about all of it despite the game infringing on a familial get-together because a Familia couldn’t keep the Phillies from scoring in the ninth. Jeurys’s teammates stopped producing runs long before, however. Can’t blame a lone reliever for a lone tally when the offense that should’ve made his appearance academic didn’t put the result out of reach when given ample opportunity. You can blame Familia if you must, but it seems misplaced. The Mets remain viable in games that last fourteen innings and more than five hours because their bullpen hangs tough. They are enmeshed in these affairs in the first place, I believe, because their hitters hang their pitchers out to dry.

The same could be said on the Phillie side, I suppose, but they’re the Phillies. We don’t care if the scrapple grows cold in King of Prussia. Let them eat funnel cake. I made dinner plans here on Long Island, where we assume a scheduled 3:05 first pitch should get you to your 7:15 seating, win or lose, with Seth Everett’s signoff a distant memory and maybe Pete McCarthy taking calls.

But why would we assume that? Why would we assume what used to be considered the stuff of Sudolian legend [1] emerge with the infrequency of the figurative blue moon? Recent sample sizes indicate it materializes every night and day in Metsopotamia. If they’re not playing forever in fourteen, they’re neverending in nine [2]. It’s not crisp. It’s not dazzling. If it weren’t baseball, it wouldn’t be tolerable.

It is baseball, but it’s overestimating its welcome. It’s mistaken to assume we want to devote close to a quarter of our day every day to it. What’s more, it’s rude to interrupt my dinner. I’m not concerned about being rude ignoring my family during dinner, mind you. What’s family if not the people to whom you can be rude without repercussion? Then again, who are the Mets if not the entity that keeps you preoccupied at all hours without apology?

Friday night, despite the 14-inning loss, I was charmed that the Mets would marathon their way past midnight. They were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the longest Met day ever. It was appropriate that a half-century removed from those 32 innings that first made Shea Stadium famous on May 31, 1964 [3] — primarily the 23-inning madcap nightcap that has fended off all challenges to continue to reign as the longest game by time in National League history (7:23; it may still be going on) — May 31, 2014, commenced with the Mets and Phillies still plowing through from May 30. It wasn’t an artistic success [4], nor was it delightful where the standings were concerned, but it was sweet that the Mets, somewhere in their bones, paid homage to the Sunday when Willie Mays [5] was shoehorned into a shortstop, Orlando Cepeda [6] banged into a triple play, the home team overcame a five-run deficit…and the Mets still lost.

Saturday afternoon, I was drained of the capacity to be charmed. I could’ve gone for a nice, brief three-and-a-half hours of endless regulation baseball activity. Better yet, I could’ve gone for Jacob deGrom [7] mowing down the Phillies so completely that the Mets’ failure to pile run upon run wouldn’t haunt them. Despite employing two hitting coaches plus an assistant hitting coach these past few weeks, the Mets haven’t managed to score more than five runs in a single game since May 13. Saturday it was Abreu, Duda and Tejada (!) doing the damage and then, basically, nobody.

A 4-0 lead looked cushy. A 4-3 lead looked tenuous. A 4-4 tie looked inevitable. Buddy Carlyle [8] looked not at all familiar. In a series featuring not just broiling Bobby Abreu [9], veteran of the last game ever played [10] by Andre Dawson [11], but the pitching stylings of A.J. Burnett [12] — who in 1998 was traded by the Mets for Al Leiter [13], who played on the same team as Tommy John [14] in 1987, who played on the same team as Early Wynn [15] in 1963, who played on the same team as Ossie Bluege [16] in 1939, who played on the same team as Walter Johnson [17] in 1922 — Buddy Carlyle fit the theme of longevity quite nicely. Like Abreu’s and Burnett’s, Carlyle’s first major league experience came in the previous century, in a game won on a sacrifice fly pinch-hit off the bat of Dave Magadan [18], a name you’ll likely recognize from his role in helping the 1986 Mets clinch their division [19].

The 1986 Mets reigned 28 years ago, or approximately the day this current Met-Phillie series got underway, so, yeah, Carlyle’s been around. To be fair, though, ol’ Buddy wasn’t expecting to see us, either [20]. Yet when the big club plays hour after hour and inning after inning — and there’s neither a Galen Cisco [21] nor a Gaylord Perry [22] on hand to suck up enough of both — journeyman minor leaguers are rechristened major leaguer stoppers overnight. Thus it was for erstwhile Las Vegan Carlyle, who gave the Mets three unexpected shutout innings, allowing them to outlast four perfect frames from Jeff Manship [23], whose only mistake was tweaking a quad while running to first in the thirteenth.

Forlorn fourteen from the wee hours of Saturday morning transformed into fortunate fourteen on Saturday night when Antonio Bastardo [24] wasn’t flawless and David Wright [25] personally broke his team’s RBI boycott. Carlos Torres [26] held on in the bottom of the inning, and the Mets made their five-run maximum work for them, winning 5-4 in 5:32 [27] on the heels of losing 6-5 in 5:20 50 years after falling to San Francisco, 8-6, in 7:23 in the second half of a twinbill that lasted a record 9:52 altogether [28].

The May 31, 1964, doubleheader’s first game, a rather routine 5-3 loss to the Giants, required a mere 2:29. Nine innings used to get played that fast, a pace, dear sister, I find far preferable to how they do things these days.

Speaking of baseball gone by is exactly what Sam Maxwell and I were doing on the Bedford & Sullivan podcast between Met-Phillie endurance contests. Listen in [29] if you need something to do amid the next eight pitching changes.