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Little Things

The Mets won. That, as always, is the big thing.

On Monday night they won by clubbing balls into the stratosphere, delivering a 14-run beatdown that turned a 7-2 deficit into a 16-7 rout [1].

Tuesday night was different. The Mets got off to a fast start, with a Yoenis Cespedes [2] homer making the score 2-0 before most of the seats were warmed. But the Phillies came back to take the lead on Noah Syndergaard [3]‘s youthful mistakes, and there was a different feeling in the air — this was a game that was going to come down to bullpens and a critical at-bat or two.

Unfortunately, a lot of what will be written about this game will concern Hansel Robles [4]‘ quick pitch to an ill-prepared Darin Ruf [5], which was followed by Jeff Francoeur [6] screaming and yelling and Larry Bowa [7] having a Someone Taser That Scary Man-level fit, though that’s pretty much Bowa’s default way of interacting with the world.

Let’s get this out of the way, shall we?

I try to stay away from weighing in on unwritten rules of the game, because a) I stopped playing baseball competitively before puberty, so what the fuck do I know and b) such discussions are inevitably pointless and boring.

What I do when a dreaded unwritten rule pops up is try to put my emotions and loyalties aside and look at how normally level-headed baseball people reacted in the moment.

Francoeur may have trouble with the concept that four balls means a trip to first base, but he never struck me as a hothead. Home-plate ump Dan Bellino didn’t allow the pitch to Ruf despite being in position. And d’Arnaud himself seemed to be telling Robles to wait. (Indeed, he confirmed as much [8] after the game.)

If “make sure the batter’s looking up” is one of those unwritten rules of baseball, it seems like a sensible one to me — and, far more importantly, it seemed that way to the actual baseball people involved. (As for Terry Collins [9]‘s note about the legality of the pitch, that was for public consumption; I’ll bet you $100 he said something else in private. Which is as it should be.)

Bowa’s freakout — during which even an amateur lip-reader could discern “fuckin’ bat flip” — turned out not to be a reference to d’Arnaud after his bases-loaded walk, but to Daniel Murphy [10], whose bat flip on Monday night was … well, let’s say memorable. Hell, I was surprised Murph didn’t tote a boombox around the bases blasting the theme from “The Natural.” Not to sound like Tim McCarver [11], but in 1965 or 1975 or 1985, the next Met would have been on his back, and he would have blamed Murph, not the pitcher.

I’m glad that batters are less likely to be hit in the head for the crime of doing what they’re supposed to — I still get angry thinking about Piazza and Clemens in Yankee Stadium all those years ago. Nor do I particularly mind celebrations — this game’s fun, dammit. But there’s a difference between trying to hit a guy in the head (which not even Bowa suggested Murph had coming) and showing a bit of anger when being curb-stomped.

What happened to the Phillies Monday night was a truly humiliating ass-kicking — 14 unanswered runs. By the end, Mets batters were diving across the plate, swinging from their heels, and sending a record number of balls up gaps and into seats.

The Phillies’ response? Nothing. No batters sat down, no inside pitches, nothing. They stood there glumly like they were waiting for an unpleasant commute to end.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I thought it was very strange. I can only imagine what Bowa thought. After Tuesday night’s game, Phils manager Pete Mackanin [12] said — I suspect both wryly and wearily — that he guessed Bowa “just got mad at everybody.”

Yep. Starting with his own ballclub.

More important to me by far was the aftermath of the jawing and the milling about. And that was Robles — a young pitcher still learning his craft, with a penchant for blowups — erasing Ruf with a beautiful breaking pitch on the outside corner at the knees.

Or Tyler Clippard [13] in the eighth, battling Domonic Brown [14] with fastballs and then fanning him with a change-up. Hopefully Syndergaard was taking notes — our young Norse god has a bad habit of abandoning his breaking pitches early and throwing nothing but fastballs, which he’s repeatedly seen doesn’t work. The 2-0 pitch Syndergaard threw to Freddy Galvis [15] in the third? It was a 97 MPH fastball, which is impressive. Galvis also knew it was coming, and so turned it into a souvenir. This keeps happening to Syndergaard, he keeps acknowledging it, and then five days later he’s throwing nothing but fastballs. It’s a bit confounding.

Anyway, Clippard got the out he desperately needed and then gave way to Jeurys Familia [16], who looked better than he has since the first half, with both the sinker and the slider essentially unhittable.

But let’s go back to the little thing that turned the game [17]. No, not Michael Cuddyer [18]‘s two-run single in the top of the sixth, though that was wonderful. (Imagine this lineup if Cuddyer gets going too!) It came a few pitches before, while d’Arnaud was facing Jeanmar Gomez [19].

With two strikes, d’Arnaud ticked a sinker back into Carlos Ruiz [20]‘s glove. It stuck there for a moment and plopped to the ground. Chooch smacked his fist into his mitt, angry that his failure to hold the ball had turned a third strike into another chance for d’Arnaud. Given that chance, d’Arnaud worked the count full and then walked, tying the game and bringing Cuddyer to the plate.

Three pitches later, Gomez threw a sinker that didn’t sink and the Mets had the lead for good. It was a little thing, but not every game is a home-run derby. Most of them turn on a little thing.

Update: The Robles thing doesn’t seem to be an unwritten rule, but an unenforced one [21]. Hat tip to Craig Calcaterra for digging up the relevant portions of the rulebook. Hansel, stop doing that. Now on to more important things, I hope.