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Riding the Tiger

On the one hand, the Mets have made the lowly Detroit Tigers into world-beaters, opponents every bit as formidable as, say, the Miami Marlins. Can’t we just play the Nationals 162 times a year? On the other, both of these games have been a lot of fun, filled with twists and turns and chills and thrills and everything else you’d want for your entertainment dollar.

On Friday, the two teams went at each other like drunks in a barroom parking lot, launching haymaker home runs until the Tigers were the last ones standing [1], if barely. Saturday’s game was less of an offensive barrage, but otherwise more of the same: five lead changes and enough oddities and storylines for a week of less-interesting contests.

First of all (and I’m sure I’ll miss a few things), Jason Vargas [2] had an … interesting … start? The Mets remain criminally negligent for offering Vargas as their best answer for fifth starter in a year with supposed playoff aspirations, but Saturday’s was the kind of game where you can squint and see why the brass likes him. He’s cool under fire, aware of what he can and can’t do, and executes the strategies available to him as best he can, not sweating it too much if results aren’t what he would have wanted. It’s not the most compelling formula, but it worked Saturday: Vargas allowed only one run, and that one wasn’t his fault.

Opposing Vargas was young Ryan Carpenter [3], who proved able to handle every Met except Wilson Ramos [4], who homered in the second and had an RBI single in the fifth. (And again after Carpenter’s departure.) The second run allowed by Carpenter was helped along by two consecutive farcical balks, with the motion Carpenter’s probably used for years suddenly deemed unfit for big-league baseball. Carpenter’s motion in the stretch features a double pause with the glove, one neither designed for nor capable of deceiving runners. Ron Gardenhire [5] was appropriately apoplectic, while Carpenter settled for being merely aghast. To his credit, he limited the damage admirably: Yes he allowed Ramos’s single, but he fanned Pete Alonso [6], got Carlos Gomez [7] to fly out and struck out Todd Frazier [8]. If Vargas could blame the run he allowed on his teammates, Carpenter could blame that one on the umpiring crew, who put their thumbs on the scale for no good reason.

The game ground along until the eighth, when Mickey Callaway [9] risked being burned as a heretic by bringing in Edwin Diaz [10] with two out and the tying run on third. Callaway had sworn he would never do that, because reasons; at some point someone persuaded him that this bit of reliever dogma was singularly unhelpful for winning games, and one (deep breath here) should use one’s best reliever at critical junctures where the game’s in the balance, not just at the end of games. (One could go even further and note that might mean the sixth or seventh, but let’s not get too terrifyingly radical.)

It really was extraordinary — and heartening, to be honest. We all have our hobby horses and hangups, stubbornly persistent and self-defeating beliefs we simply can’t shed. Why, if Mickey Callaway can stray out of his comfort zone, perhaps the rest of us can too. Perhaps there’s a freedom — even, I daresay, a joy — in learning that new ideas are not necessarily harmful, and maybe there’s a comfort in discovering that one’s worldview can stretch at the margins without threatening one’s sense of self.

Except Diaz, arriving into the game not just as protector of the lead but herald of Mickey Callaway’s spiritual growth, immediately gave up a sharp single to the annoying JaCoby Jones [11].

Mickey, his fragile curiosity about the world having been brutally rebuffed, was last seen stomping on vaccines, destroying a flashlight and toilet, and retreating into his cave while jabbing a sharpened tree limb at anyone threatening to follow. I too have given up on the idea of doing or thinking anything different ever again. You should do the same, for fear of what new things might bring.

Thanks Diaz. Really uplifting appearance for everybody.

On the game ground, until it threatened to impinge on our dinner plans with friends a neighborhood away. When our allotted time exprired, we walked that way with WCBS burbling out of my phone. With the Mets about to be out of players, I assured Emily that Tomas Nido [12], the last man sitting, would hit a walkoff homer in the 11th — if Daniel Zamora [13] didn’t do the honors himself, of course.

Neither one of those things happened; we met up with our friends for pre-dinner drinks and I turned off the audio but kept Gameday on my knee, watching in horror as the newest Met, Hector Santiago [14], sprayed balls well out of the strike zone but somehow escaped the usual and fitting punishment for such antics. The Mets failed to cash in their own opportunity and then it was time for dinner, with whatever the two teams did communicated through an occasional glance down at my knee.

Until, leading off the bottom of the 13th, I spotted that loveliest bit of Gameday shorthand: no out, run(s).

I’d kind of lost track, so I had to check who’d been at the plate. Well, whaddya know [15]?