It happens sometimes: life, that amorphous bundle of stuff, refuses to conform itself to the rhythms of 7:10 and 1:10 and 4:10. I thought I had my July 4th parceled out so three hours were reserved for the Mets game, but I hadn’t been paying attention to which day was which.
I’ve got a mental list of about 50,000 favorite things about baseball. Near the top you’ll find how the game stays rewarding at many different levels of engagement. You can watch in “lean-forward” mode, scrutinizing every pitch and trying to think along with the pitcher and the catcher against the hitters, in hopes of cracking the code and predicting victory or defeat. Or you can watch in lazy “lean-back” mode, letting the game be a companion as you do errands, read magazines, or just loll on the couch. (You might even nod off and miss an inning or four.) They’re very different experiences, both far better than an afternoon or evening featuring no baseball.
Then there’s the phenomenon of the game that happens without you, which is an odd mix — at least for me — of philosophy and superstition.
When I had to check out of Independence Day’s Mets-Marlins tilt, it didn’t seem like much of a tragedy.
First, I’d watched the Mets and every other team take the field in ridiculous MLB-mandated clown suits. I’m all for supporting our troops — we’ve collectively failed, as we collectively fail at so many things these days, at ensuring returning veterans get educational and job opportunities for their service and support for dealing with physical and mental injuries suffered during that service. But it’s beyond me why supporting that worthy goal means baseball teams should look like your TV’s on the fritz. The Stars-N-Stripes uniforms looked objectively terrible, like some intern went on Photoshop, slid team colors vaguely in the direction of red and blue, flung a cut-rate cap into the mix and logged off.
A suggestion for MLB: quit half-assing the aesthetics. How about putting each team in a uniform inspired by a military unit from its state? Here’s the 10th Mountain Division , based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. Design a July 4th Mets uniform inspired by that insignia and those colors. Or do something else — if my two-minute idea is already better than what MLB does, I’m sure smarter people could come up with something really compelling. What we’re getting now is an unholy mess.
(Before we charge on into Matt Harvey , did anyone catch the Nats and Brewers playing at 11 a.m. ? The Brewers were caught batting out of order, which means Ryan Braun ‘s single became an out charged to Jonathan Lucroy , who’d been the scheduled batter, and credited to catcher Wilson Ramos , who’d had nothing to do with anything. Lucroy then came up the second time through the order and lined out on the first pitch he saw. Which meant that, yes, Jonathan Lucroy was 0 for 2 in the box score after seeing one pitch in real life. It’s an unfair game.)
Anyway, Harvey took the hill for the Mets, looked good in the first and then stuff started happening. As has happened in a number of his 2016 starts, Harvey’s pitches were missing that little bit of finish that would make sliders dip across the margins of the strike zone and make fastballs wiggle in it. A bunch of those pitches got hit. So too did some better pitches that the Marlins happened to place fair — something we thought was dandy when it befell Jon Lester  but were less amused by yesterday. And there were some things that could have gone Harvey’s way but didn’t: in the second, it looked like Mets would escape down just 1-0 after Chris Johnson  was tagged out trying to advance to second. But the umps ruled — correctly — that Johnson had made it there safely. Three more hits, two more runs and a bunch more pitches followed.
Harvey made his own bad luck in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Martin Prado  hit a one-hop grounder that Harvey fielded on the mound. A simple throw to Travis d’Arnaud , waiting with his foot on home plate, a relay to the sure-handed James Loney  at first, and the inning would be over with the Mets down a not-insurmountable 3-0. Harvey spiked the ball into the dirt wide of d’Arnaud, then gave up a two-run single to Christian Yelich . 6-0 Marlins, exit Harvey attended by a whole lot of boos.
By that point I was prepping for the dinner I’d failed to account for schedule-wise. I heard Josh Lewin burbling outside of the shower (he was on At Bat, not seated on my toilet — that would have been strange for both of us) and emerged to find nothing substantive had changed. D’Arnaud hit a homer, followed by Curtis Granderson  doing the same, but those seemed cosmetic and I headed out the door for dinner with my wife and her father-in-law having written this one off.
Between the appetizer and the main course, news gleaned from a surreptitious phone peek: it was 6-4.
More news a bit later from MLB In Lap: it was 6-4 but the Mets had runners on second and third with nobody out. That’s when the Mets have been least dangerous this year, but two things: a) you should read this nifty FanGraphs piece  I keep failing to find a place for; and b) it feels like the worm’s turned over the last several days, as that piece suggested it might.
And indeed, a glance lapward as dinner ended showed that somehow it was 6-6. Amazin’!
Here’s where the philosophy/superstition arrives. Despite being a generally rational human being in an age of science, I find it hard not to believe that the universe — or at least the baseball part of it — is governed by laws about karma and right practice. I’d gone AWOL on the Mets when it was 6-2 and in my absence they’d tied the game. Clearly, if I reappeared as a fan I would be punished for dereliction of duty.
We went home and turned on the set.
After d’Arnaud got aboard on an infield hit, I knew Terry Collins  would do two things, neither of which I approved of: a) he would give up a precious out by bunting; and b) he would not run for d’Arnaud because it was theoretically possible that Rene Rivera  would get injured in the 512th inning. And so it was: Juan Lagares  bunted d’Arnaud over, Granderson flied out, Neil Walker  did what his name suggests (walking, not kneiling) and up stepped Yoenis Cespedes .
And well, ker-blam, up the gap on Fernando Rodney , shorn of his goatee by the Marlins and shorn of his skyward arrow by the Mets, at least for a day. So much for superstition and decrying 19th century strategy.
Enter Jeurys Familia  and bring on some nail-biting. Perhaps feeling invulnerable after escaping my karmic comeuppance, I offered a semi-prediction with Johnson at the plate, one out and Familia’s pitch count in the 20s.
“This isn’t the guy who scares me in a situation like this,” I said. “Johnson’s a .248 hitter who’s already got three hits on the day. The guy who scares me is the .300 hitter who’s oh for five.”