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Black Box Offense

When the Mets struck for two tying runs in the eighth inning and then the winning run in the ninth Saturday night, I thought of the ghoulish if sort of logical [1] question that gets asked after aviation disasters and applied it to our at least temporarily aloft carrier of choice:

Why don’t they make the Mets’ offense out of the same material they make the black boxes that manage to survive wreckage and preserve flight data recordings?

To put it in a baseball-specific context, if the Mets can generate runs as desperately needed in the eighth and ninth, why can’t they just do that in the other innings and spare us the suspense, the angst and the general sense that we’re going down yet again? It probably has something to do with human beings competing with other human beings and some buzzkill “regression to the mean” pedantry. After all, if the Mets could just score at will, why couldn’t the Diamondbacks?

Because that would be no fun to theorize over, not from our standpoint. The fun was mostly packed into the final two frames Saturday, first on the two-run, eighth-inning homer swing Devin Mesoraco [2] put on an Archie Bradley four-seam fastball to cut through the fog that hung over Citi Field all night, then on a succession of clutch connections made by the top of the order in the bottom of the ninth. Bradley had given way to Andrew Chafin, and Chafin gave way to standin’, cheerin’ and rejoicin’ as Brandon Nimmo [3] doubled to right; Asdrubal Cabrera [4] bunted for a base hit that placed Nimmo on third, and Wilmer Flores [5] put enough wood on enough horsehide to send Brandon home via sacrifice fly.

It wasn’t quite Justify slogging through the mud at the Preakness, but our race was won, 5-4. Toss in the two-run homer from Michael Conforto [6] in the fourth and the five post-Matz innings of shutout ball the bullpen threw, and you had a result that resisted gravity for a change [7]. The Mets took a one-game winning streak and extended it for the first time since they won nine in a row in essentially another era. Getting on this minimal roll means we can sublimate our daily catalogue of Metsian gripes, including East Setauket Steve’s inability to reach the fifth; the battery of umpires who refused to see erstwhile Royals pest Jarrod Dyson should’ve been called out stealing in the fourth; the Mets producing no runs from a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth; and the front office having cobbled together, for these DL-intensive times, the shortest and least useful of allegedly major league benches.

Instead, we can celebrate the most obvious factors that contributed to victory. A walkoff is never not fun, and nobody’s more fun to pound on the back and drench with liquid than Wilmer. Certainly no current Met has been the cause/object of more walkoff affection. Saturday’s was the eighth game in Wilmer’s six-season career that he was directly responsible for ending in the best way possible. We can also high-five over Mesoraco’s continued revival. There’s no figure baseball treasures more than an old catcher in a new locale, provided the catcher has a track record of success (he was an All-Star in 2014), was set back by circumstances for several years (he was injured and on the Reds) and is now considered reasonably healthy, preternaturally wise and the kind of hard worker directors of pickup truck commercials linger on lovingly. We adore unsung professionalism and sing its praises to the high heavens when it gets our attention. Nobody is more of an unsung professional than a veteran backstop who coaxes the young pitchers, mentors the young catchers and socks a few dingers. Too often our Kelly Shoppachs and Jose Lobatons don’t rise to narrative-quality performance. Mesoraco has already attained René Rivera knows-what-he’s-doing-back-there status behind the plate and is verging on John Buck territory when it comes to sudden, surprising power.

True, Devin couldn’t nurse Matz past trouble (irony of ironies, it was Diamondbacks catcher John Ryan Murphy Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt who put the most hurt on Steven), but the Cincinnati import put down all the right fingers for Lugo, Sewald, Ramos and Familia. Mickey Callaway said prior to Saturday’s game that Tomás Nido — up for the DFA’d Lobaton — was recalled so he could study under Prof. Mesoraco. The manager and his coaches value the way [8] Devin prepares and they want their main catching prospect to absorb some lessons. Jacob deGrom, fresh off his thirteen-strikeout masterpiece Friday night [9], gave his new receiver all kinds of credit [10], too: “You come in and he’s already got a full scouting report written out.”

That the Tao of Mesoraco is so impressing the Mets underscores what they must not have been getting from their sidelined platoon of Travin d’Arwicki, which can be interpreted as a telling commentary on the state of contemporary Mets catching. For as long as Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki have been fixtures around here (albeit of the easily detachable variety), they’ve never particularly emitted the air of knowing what they’re doing back there. Perhaps they never had a Mesoraco mentoring them. Perhaps not every catcher is constructed the same way, inside or out, just like not every inning can give us all the runs we need.