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Magic Eighth Ball

Newsradio 88, flagship station for New York Mets baseball, must be pleased the New York Mets decided to make the 8th inning their flagship inning Sunday night. “Hits and runs on the eighth.” “You give us the eighth inning, we won’t give up a lead.” The latter evokes the other news station in New York, but WCBS and WINS each have their lead non-basketball sports story for the morning rush:

Mets win [1].

Did I say non-basketball? I’m stoked that the Nets are making genuine baller moves [2], but by the time a fully healed Kevin Durant is on fire in Brooklyn, Jeff McNeil could be deciding which batting crown looks best on the left side of his mantel and which looks best on the right.

Did I say sports? I shudder to think what could be a bigger deal in the world, the nation or the city than the Mets breaking their seven-game losing streak. Give me that eighth inning. You can keep the world.

If you were at Citi Field Sunday night as I was — accepting a replica 1969 World Series ring; avoiding ESPN; singing happy birthday greetings to Ron Swoboda at Colin Cosell’s suggestion; nodding appreciatively that the Mets acknowledged [3] they mistakenly killed two of their alumni [4]; and literally holding on to my hat from the vigorous summer breeze — you could hear what I heard. It was less the roar of the crowd than the exhale of deliverance, first from the five runs the Mets plastered on the glorious faux Shea scoreboard [5] in the bottom of the eighth inning, then because Edwin Diaz wasn’t Edwin Diaz in the top of the ninth. Or he was Edwin Diaz like he was supposed to be, not Edwin Diaz at whom we’ve come to shudder.

Will the real Edwin Diaz please stand up and stay warm, assuming he’s the one who easily nailed down a seventeenth save at the expense of the Atlanta Braves? Earlier in June, the St. Louis Blues won a Stanley Cup to the strains of “Gloria” [6]. Meanwhile, the New York Mets were going down the tubes to the tune of a lesser-known Laura Branigan ditty [7] that’s circulated through my head every time Diaz has encountered trouble:

The night
Spanish Eddie fell from grace
There was amazement on his face
On the night that Eddie failed
Sanity prevailed

Had sanity prevailed, Jarred Kelenic’s advancement would be our heartfelt cause rather than our bête noire. But that’s another story we’ll revisit only three or four times a week for the next couple of decades. In the shorter term, Spanish Eddie…I mean Edwin Diaz didn’t fail Sunday night when entrusted with a ninth-inning save opportunity. No need to pick exclusively on Diaz when it comes to failing and opportunity and trust. Every reliever in the Met-Tone galaxy of stars had dimmed through the seven-game losing streak. One of them was Wilmer Font, just last Tuesday [8] (which in Met time feels like months ago). Somewhat surprisingly, Wilmer Font was our non-Diaz pitching salvation Sunday night, cleaning up a mess left behind by Chris Flexen, who’s mostly avoiding salvation still, though Flexen did have a good moment cleaning up for Noah Syndergaard. His moments starting his own inning were less pristine.

The work of Mets pitchers, none of them wholly hopeless, wasn’t what was ringing the bells off the AP machine Sunday night. It was our offense…our All-Star eighth-inning offense. To lead off the inning that forever changed the course of franchise history — or just went well for a change — former All-Star Todd Frazier whacked a Sean Newcomb fastball like it was ordering onion rings for the table [9] at Holsten’s in Bloomfield (best in the state). I have to confess that while I’ve been happy to have been in receipt of all of Todd Frazier’s home runs this season, I haven’t found them much to look at. If there’s proof to be mined that power numbers are askew in 2019, it’s embedded in every pop fly Frazier lofts lazily over the left field fence. More than any slugger, he’s made home runs unimpressive.

But not this one. This one could have worn a Members Only jacket on his 418-foot trip to the Sponsorship Landing in left. Powerful. Breathtaking. Yet the Mets were still losing. The Toddfather’s blast pulled the Mets to within a run of the Braves at 5-4. It was encouraging for a normal team’s fans. As Mets fans, we were left to discern whether our guys would leave the bases loaded en route to the ninth or eke ahead just enough so their advantage could be fairly easily overcome.

Good thing we had more All-Stars coming up. Like former All-Star Robinson Cano who took one in the wrist for the team (Cano’s been finding holes lately, so we dutifully booed Newcomb for hitting Our Robbie). Like former future All-Star Amed Rosario, who singled Cano to second. Like certifiably perennial [10] All-Star Jacob deGrom’s personal catcher Tomás Nido — an All-Star by transference — laying down the bunt that snuffed out Cano at third but at least pushed Rosario to second while placing Jacob’s Tomás on first. Former All-Star Wilson Ramos pinch-hit for Font and lined out to right, but at least pushed Rosario to third. With everybody pushing Rosario, you think he’d be an All-Star already.

The Braves switched pitchers, bringing in A.J. Minter. Was I scared? Hell no! I was distracted. Up in Promenade, Joe and I, at our first Citi Field game together this year, were deep into a tangent on game shows we strongly or vaguely remembered from our respective childhoods. Font had pitched competently when the subject first arose, so we divined we were onto a winning formula. Ergo, while you might have been worried about former All-Star Michael Conforto taking on Minter, Joe and I were discussing Pay Cards!, Musical Chairs and Celebrity Sweepstakes.

Conforto drew a full-count walk. You can thank us later.

All-Star Announcement Sunday [11] started to shine in earnest with the next batter, All-Star Jeff McNeil. Say it again: All-Star Jeff McNeil. A year ago he barely existed in the Metsian consciousness. In winter, the Mets general manager, new to the job, thought he’d make a splash by dealing for an erstwhile client and didn’t care if one of the ripples was throwing in the second baseman who batted .329 for two months. Or have you forgotten that Brodie Van Wagenen was reportedly considering tossing McNeil’s ass into the jackpot to get Cano and Diaz because, gosh, we really have to convince you to let us pay rapidly aging Cano exorbitantly for another half-decade?

Postmodern Ryan-for-Fregosi aside, McNeil stayed a Met. He couldn’t stay a full-time second baseman because Cano took precedence in Brodie’s eyes. Had Jed Lowrie actually existed, that would make two American League veterans blocking Jeff from playing somewhere. Or trying to block him, because something tells me Squirrel would have burrowed into the lineup somewhere. “Something” is the .348 average McNeil brandishes at present. It is the highest in Major League Baseball.

No wonder he’s an All-Star. No wonder he served the first pitch he saw from Minter into right field, where it fell in front of Nick Markakis. In from third came Rosario. In from second came Adeiny Hechavarria, who had pinch-run for Nido and stolen second before Conforto walked and while Joe and I were debating the merits of the daytime vs. nighttime editions of Let’s Make A Deal. The best deal of all, besides McNeil not going to the Mariners for Joe Foy, was the Mets surged ahead on McNeil’s single.

Hey Minter — deal with All-Star Pete Alonso, the rookie who will form one third of our stellar Cleveland contingent. Better yet, succumb to the Polar Bear’s charisma and swing. Pete doubled down the left field line to bring home Conforto and McNeil and put the Mets up, 8-5. Joe and I ceased game show ruminations just long enough to join in a chorus of FUCK YEAH!!!!!

The five exclamation points were for the five runs.