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The Manchurian Marlin?

The Mets once had a player who was referred to, without irony, as Mr. Marlin. His name was Jeff Conine [1]. We knew him as a nice if ineffectual guy at the end of his career. He couldn’t help stem the tide that washed the 2007 Mets out to sea, but even Mr. Marlin can do only so much when the enormous waves come crashing to the shore.

The Mets once had a player who set all kinds of Marlins career marks despite your intuition suggesting it’s unlikely anybody bothers to save old Marlin box scores. You know who’s played in more games, come to bat more, scored more runs, recorded more hits, singled more, tripled more, walked more, reached base more and stolen more bases than any other Marlin? None other than Luis Castillo, whom Mets fans will remember mostly for swiping defeat from the jaws of victory [2] in 2009.

The Mets built playoff powerhouses with Marlins the Marlins no longer had use for — Dennis Cook, Al Leiter and Florida flash Mike Piazza in one veritable swoop, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca in another. For that matter, the Wild Card that was won a year ago (seems more like a century) was facilitated by the presence of 2012 Marlins alumnus Jose Reyes. It’s not like the Mets haven’t had good fortune picking through Miami’s recyclables. Yet with the rare Marlin whom you might instinctively identify as a Marlin, whatever good emanated from his Met tenure tends to get overwhelmed in memory by deleterious circumstances. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th homer as a Met shortly before ’09 chemically dissolved in acid. Moises Alou extended a hitting streak to 30 while the Mets were in the process of blowing a division lead of seven games with seventeen to play. Cliff Floyd earned beloved status at Shea in 2005, but struck out against Adam Wainwright to help end 2006. Livàn Hernandez came to us too late, Preston Wilson left us too soon (albeit in a good cause).

No Marlin-tinged Met, however, has seemed more attached to his Marlininity than AJ Ramos [3]. Even Mr. Marlin Conine and Mr. Marlin Record Holder Castillo had moved on from the Marlins before alighting on the Mets. AJ Ramos was a Marlin his entire career prior to joining the Mets. Nobody is a Marlin his entire career for very long. Giancarlo Stanton is the lavishly compensated exception to the rule, and even he and his 55 homers are the never-ending subject of trade rumors. Their franchise is built to expunge its own. Ramos came to the major leagues in September of 2012 and remained a Marlin until July of 2017. That’s a lifetime Marlin, relatively speaking. Ramos apparently developed a real affinity for his one and only pre-Met ballclub, which you can understand in theory, except that it was the Marlins, and who maintains an emotional attachment to the frigging Marlins?

Our ad hoc closer, that’s who.

Prior to very recently, AJ had done a decent if stress-inducing job pitching late innings and protecting rare leads since coming over. We didn’t have Jeurys Familia. We no longer had Addison Reed. Ramos would do in the short term and perhaps contribute in the longer term. But every time I heard him wax nostalgic for his old team and his old teammates, I was thinking there’s no way it will work out well when he faces them.

I should’ve gone with that sense. Instead, in an uncommonly good Met mood Tuesday night — after Reyes, Travis d’Arnaud and Seth Lugo had all excelled — I generated a generous thought in AJ’s direction. It was the top of the ninth, the Mets led by three, Asdrubal Cabrera sent a fly ball to deep right. I would have liked it to have gone out to extend the Mets’ advantage to 6-1, but when it was caught at the track, I thought, ah, that’s OK, at least now Ramos can get a save that will be particularly meaningful to him.

Kiss of death. Sorry about that. More Ramos’s blown save en route to a ten-inning loss than mine, but I’ve been futilely rooting for the Mets to beat the Marlins in South Florida long enough [4] to know better than to believe the result was anywhere proximate to the proverbial bag, let alone securely inside it. How would AJ know that he was bound to throw 32 pitches, put six separate Marlins on base and allow the three tying runs to cross the plate without escaping the ninth? He’d watched his share of Marlins games in which Mets’ leads evaporated on the spot, but he watched it from the other side of the field. Maybe he was doing what he assumed he was supposed to do. When you’re in Marlins Park, aren’t you supposed to doom the Mets as painfully as you can [5]? It probably got confusing for him amid all the pastels and empty seats. He looked down at his newly Metsian self, saw a reserved gray road uniform and no longer knew what to believe.

Paul Sewald (0-6) pulled what remained of the Mets chances out of the fire in the ninth and then, predictably, burned them to a crisp in the tenth, giving up the game-losing [6] home run to J.T. Realmuto. Not long ago that would have provided AJ Ramos with the cue to gather at home plate alongside his fellow Marlins and heartily congratulate the Fish of the hour. Now he had to keep straight who he was with, who he was against and what he was supposed to do. No high-fives for J.T. No hugs for Giancarlo. No good times in the company of Dee and Christian and Marcell and Ichiro. No communing with the spirit of Luis Castillo in the only place on the North American continent where that’s considered a desirable endeavor.

The fellow’s surely befuddled. Have mercy on his Marlin soul.