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Last Man Not Standing

Well now. The Mets, baseball’s worst second-place, currently-qualified-for-postseason-play team, won a game that was alternately exasperating, entertaining, frightening, amusing, and mostly befuddling.

If you missed it, Steven Matz [1] cruised through four innings, facing the minimum and watching as the Mets put up an eight-spot against punching bag Aaron Blair [2]. At which point everything — no really, everything — went wrong. The Braves, that irritating pack of feral Tiny Ashes [3], went after the Mets’ Big Ash with forks, brooms, hot stoves, soap buckets, discarded nails and everything else they could find: the butcher’s bill was double, double (lost in the lights), double, single, fielder’s choice for an out, three-run homer, single, infield single (out reversed on review), single. That was it for Matz, who slunk off the mound and sought refuge beneath a towel in the dugout.

Enter Hansel Robles [4], alias the Mets’ latest Plan B. Once again Robles proved a superb rescuer, coolly retiring Jeff Francoeur [5] and Nick Markakis [6] to bring the nightmarish fifth inning to a close. It was 8-6 Mets somehow, though it felt like it was 80-6 Braves; eventually Robles would wind up with the right-guy-in-right-place-at-right-time official scorer’s win. It was thoroughly deserved — as it was when he followed Bartolo Colon [7] to the hill.

But that was a few perils later. The ninth was theater-of-the-absurd stuff: Jeurys Familia [8] allowed a leadoff single to Tyler Flowers [9] and hit Erick Aybar [10], then faced Chase d’Arnaud [11] with disaster not just lurking but leaping up and down. Which was when the Braves reminded us that we do not, in fact, have a monopoly on buzzard’s luck: d’Arnaud lined a bunt in the direction of Wilmer Flores [12]‘s feet which Wilmer fell on top of, trapping it beneath his body. He scrambled to his feet, pursued by Familia and Travis d’Arnaud [13], AKA the batter’s brother, who hollered for him to stomp on third to force Flowers and throw to second to force Aybar.

Familia then struck out Jace Peterson, except the ball squirted past the Met-affiliated d’Arnaud, who scampered after it and made a desperate heave towards the infield side of first, a ball seemingly destined to be corralled along the right-field foul line by Curtis Granderson [14] as the Brave-affiliated d’Arnaud took third and Peterson took second. Except James Loney [15] somehow speared it, scooting his feet backwards like a wide receiver on the edge of the sidelines to stay on the base as he fell and sprawled in the dirt. The umpires huddled, but Loney knew his feet had done their duty and the Mets lined up for unofficial handshakes.

And whew [16].

Well, whew except for whatever happened to Matz. In the top of the fifth, with a laugher seemingly in progress, SNY’s cameras caught Matz sitting in the dugout palpitating his left elbow and/or forearm; when he came back out, his velocity had dipped and his location had disappeared. On the postgame, Nelson Figueroa [17] insisted the only real oddity was that Matz had unwisely tended to his pitching arm where Mets Twitter could see it, instead of in the tunnel or the trainer’s room. Maybe, but Matz has acknowledged his elbow has been tight, he’s junked his slider because it hurts to throw it, and something sure as heck looked wrong just after all that massaging. Terry Collins [18] said as far as he knows there’s nothing wrong with Matz’s elbow, but recent events have said plenty about Terry’s attitude towards revealing pitchers’ ailments. I’m skeptical, to say the least.

Speaking of skeptical, we’ll see if the Mets have a new old teammate back in their employ come Saturday. By now it’s baseball’s worst-kept secret that the Mets intend to sign Jose Reyes [19] for a pittance, with the Rockies paying the rest of Jeffrey Loria’s gargantuan megadeal.

If I close my eyes, I can see the Jose Reyes [19] I loved to watch play baseball and hated to see decamp for Loria’s gauche Miami clip joint. I can see his churning legs and lashing bat, his bouncing Predator dreads, and his dragging one hand to grasp third base as he plowed into it, a move that always reminded me of a fighter jet’s hook grabbing the cable of an aircraft carrier.

But those scenes were quite a while ago. When I open my eyes, unfortunately, I can see other things. I can see Jose Reyes displaying minimal baseball interest or competence for the Rockies last year. His legs were slow, his mind was elsewhere and it was painful to see him so dour and diminished.

And I can remember the events of the offseason. On Halloween, police in Hawaii responded to a 911 call [20] from a Four Seasons security guard. Reyes’s wife received medical attention for injuries to her face, neck and left leg, injuries that were reportedly the result of Reyes grabbing her by the throat and shoving her into a sliding glass door.

The case was dropped in March, but only because Reyes’s wife — like all too many domestic-violence victims — refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Major League Baseball suspended Reyes anyway, sidelining him for 51 games and costing him more than $7 million in salary. (That money, of course, was also taken away from Reyes’s wife; I’ll give MLB credit for good intentions while noting that the shared financial consequences make an already wrenching choice even rougher.)

When Reyes donned a Rockies uniform for extended spring training in May, he acknowledged [21] that “I made a mistake. … I’m going to try to be a better guy, a better man, better husband.” As part of his suspension, he agreed to donate $100,000 to organizations focusing on preventing and treating survivors of domestic violence and to undergo counseling. He never played for the Rockies again, was released and now apparently will return to us.

So where does this leave us? I’m not going to tell you what I’m about to write is what I’ll believe until the end of time or even as long as Monday. I’m struggling with this, and one thing we’ve lost in the Twitter age is being willing to say that we need to think about something more, or that we just don’t know.

It’s true that we all make mistakes. But most of those mistakes don’t involve hands around women’s throats and slamming them into things. That’s a hell of a blunder — and one that’s been minimized for far too long in pro sports and society as a whole. A donation to charity, counseling and an apology strikes me as the first step to maybe, not the last word before the matter is dropped.

If I were in charge, Reyes wouldn’t return at all. Since I’m not and it seems that he will be back, I hope the Mets have a frank conversation with him about what has to happen if he’s to wear blue and orange again. I hope he’s forthright about what happened and what he’s learned, and I hope both team and player make a real, sustained effort — involving money and time — to ensure Reyes’s mistake helps younger players and fans understand the toll of domestic violence and how to make damn sure they never become victimizers themselves.

I have happy Met memories of second chances — of Rusty Staub [22] as elder statesman of the mid-80s clubs, of Lee Mazzilli [23] as the final piece of the World Series team, of Jason Isringhausen [24] as wise veteran reliever. But those were baseball second chances, involving nothing more serious than the wearing of other uniforms and the outcome of other games. What happened in Hawaii last Halloween was the farthest thing from a game. If we’re going to make progress, it has to be treated accordingly. If it’s a subject for a day before we get back to baseball, we’ll have failed before we started, and ensured that we’ll keep failing.

(If you missed it, here are my blog partner’s thoughts [25] on the matter.)