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Solo Artists Band Together

“At 10:13 P.M., it became officially official. The Cubs had lost, 6-2. Even if the Mets lost the second game, they would still be first. Millennium, we are here. But the Mets were no longer in a mood to lose anything.”
—Leonard Koppett, on the Mets taking first place as they swept a doubleheader from the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium, September 10, 1969

The bottom of the fifth inning of the second game of Monday night’s Mets-Marlins doubleheader began promisingly but ended in frustration, as J.D. Davis [1]’s leadoff double went to waste. I really thought it was going to lead to something, especially as Juan Lagares worked a three-two count versus Sandy Alcantra, but Lagares wound up fouling out, and the next two batters went down in order.

The bottom of the sixth inning of the second game of Monday night’s Mets-Marlins doubleheader also began promisingly and also ended in frustration, as two hits to start the frame — a solid liner to left from Pete Alonso [2] and Wilson Ramos’s grounder that couldn’t be properly plucked from the ground by shortstop Miguel Rojas — resulted in nothing but two stranded runners. Luis Guillorme attempted to bunt Alonso and Ramos up a base, but Luis bunted too hard and Pete was out at third. Adeiny Hechavarria proceeded to strike out and pinch-hitter Todd Frazier grounded out.

Hence, the Mets were going to the seventh behind Miami, 4-2. It was a game in which little was going right. Two quick runs in the first were eventually negated and surpassed. After the Marlins outlasted Walker Lockett [3], your classic nightcap callup starter providing a classic nightcap callup starter start (4.2 IP, 8 H, 2 BB), Curtis Granderson, a former favorite in these parts, dipped into the box of Forrest Gump-context chocolates that is Robert Gsellman [4] and rattled a two-run double to left that put the Marlins up by two in the top of the fifth. Given that we’d already lost Jeff McNeil [5] to a calf cramp, necessitating the immediate depleting of an already thin bench, things didn’t look as good as they did in the first game.

The first game didn’t look all that great at an early interval, either, as Jacob deGrom [6] briefly forgot how much he loves pitching at home in the sunshine, but Jake straightened himself out around the third inning and the Mets hit more than they usually do on his behalf. McNeil, when his calf was purring, led off Robert Dugger’s major league debut by belting the first pitch that young fellow ever threw at this level over the right field fence; how’s that for a classic callup start? Amed Rosario [7] added another solo home run in the third. In the fourth, deGrom, who’s attended myriad rodeos in which two runs aren’t enough, singled in two runs. Ringing the “helped his own cause” bell seemed to guarantee the opener wouldn’t close badly. And it didn’t. Jake went seven (5 H, 1 BB, 8 SO, 2 ER) and the Mets prevailed, 6-2.

The Mets were a .500 club. Somewhere in Napa Valley, a Mets fan thought, Tom Seaver [8] poured a nice glass of Chardonnay, because he knows .500 is no cause for Champagne [9]. Nevertheless, the rest of us mortals could toast our break-even fortune with a perfectly good sip of whatever we had handy. The Mets hadn’t won as many as they’d lost since late May. The Mets were eleven games from .500 as recently as July 12, when insightful bloggers who diligently watch this team daily and nightly assured their readers [10], don’t worry, the second half of this season won’t be any better than the first half.

Funny how insights can change. The Mets got to .500 by winning 16 of their next 21 games, right up to and including the first game of this makeup doubleheader on August 5. It was quick and it was stunning and it was productive. The Mets weren’t only chasing mediocrity. They were going after almost every team in the National League, thereby compelling a whole new view of them. The Mets weren’t just another team let alone just another massive letdown of a team. The Mets were now another contender. They may have arrived in this new phase of their 2019 existence on the backs of distant also-rans, but you run where they tell you. They ran over the Padres, the White Sox, the Pirates. Now they left a cleatmark on the heads of the Marlins.

They’d really need to leave another in the second game. Getting to .500 for five minutes isn’t the most satisfying way to spend a Monday evening if you know you’re going to sleep under .500 once again when the night comes. We didn’t know it in the fifth and sixth innings of Game Two, but we could surely sense it. Lockett can’t last. Gsellman can’t get Grandy. We can’t do anything with a leadoff hit one inning or two to commence the next (WTF was with Guillorme bunting?). Robinson Cano, we were told, was gonna be out a long time with a left hamstring tear, and though we were assured McNeil’s cramp was only a cramp, who wants to be without Jeff McNeil ever, never mind in a surge toward the top of a race we’d just entered?

The seventh inning began. Jeurys Familia appeared. If you gave up on Monday at the sight of Jeurys, you could have been forgiven. But you also would have been more wrong than I was on July 12 when I declared the second half a rerun in waiting. Familia, nobody’s best bet since his return from his semester abroad, inflicted no damage to his own team. He did a walk a guy, and the guy did get as far as third on a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch, but the didn’t score. Guys — Jeurys got out of the top of the seventh unscathed.

On one hand, it was still 4-2, Marlins. On the other hand, it was still 4-2, Marlins. It wasn’t a disaster, but it loomed as potentially disheartening. Splitting doubleheaders is a preoccupational hazard of watching them. We won the first game. Losing the second happens regardless. It happens a lot even if doubleheaders rarely transpire anymore. But who wants to lose after winning so much so recently? Momentum is a funny thing. You can’t resuscitate it on demand.

Or can you?

Davis led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run off Jeff Brigham to cut the Marlins’ lead to 4-3. That was certainly a more efficient way to begin an inning than what the Mets tried in the fifth and sixth, so no complaints. But solo homers…boy, I don’t know. Depending on the score, solo homers have a way of sucking the momentum out of a comeback. One run has crossed the plate, one run has been trimmed from a deficit, but there’s nobody on base and now you have to climb a mountain again from scratch. When Lagares fouled out and Rosario grounded out, we appeared stuck at base camp.

While the next batter, Michael Conforto [11], went about battling Brigham toward a full count, and I calculated all that was not going to work to our advantage, Stephanie called from upstairs with a message:

“Home run!”

Yes, I said, Davis hit a home run earlier, that was nice. It was also nice that when my lovely wife went into the bathroom to get herself ready for bed that she didn’t change the station from WCBS-AM, where I’d left it earlier in the evening, to WCBS-FM, as she usually does (because how can a person nod off without one more playing of “Hotel California”?). The Mets must be doing OK if Stephanie’s not automatically tuning out the Mets.

No, she reiterated as if I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me:

“Home run!”

Wait a sec. I suddenly got what was going on. The radio has been ahead of the TV all season. Sometimes they’re in sync. Lately they haven’t been. She’s heard me shriek from the upstairs bathroom over Met home runs that she had yet to notice on the TV downstairs because they hadn’t happened yet on the TV downstairs. Now she was upstairs with the radio. She doesn’t shriek, but she does deliver:

“Home run!”

And on the TV in the living room, Conforto indeed delivered. It was the home run I’d been hearing so much about for seconds on end. I knew it was coming, but I shrieked anyway. These solo home runs, in whatever medium they materialize, may not be so bad after all.

The Mets were tied, 4-4. For the first time since McNeil was convinced not to push his cramp any further in the third, I was fully present in the idea we could sweep. Stephanie and I both watched on television as Alonso built a full count of his own. Pete hadn’t homered in what seemed like an ice age. There had been only nine consecutive games without one of his Arctic blasts, but we had gotten used to these things coming around every couple of days. The rookie, unfortunately, was gaining experience in slumping. It was pretty much the only thing he hadn’t done since appearing fully formed in our lives in late March.

I don’t know if Pete Alonso has emerged from his slump, but I do know that he interrupted it very effectively in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second game of Monday night’s Mets-Marlins doubleheader. Against Jeff Brigham, somehow still on the mound, the Polar Bear struck like the Polar Bear does, lining a fastball into the leftest portion of the left field stands. It didn’t rise particularly high, but it exited forcefully. When it did, it changed the scoreboard once more: Mets 5 Marlins 4.

High-fives were exchanged. Stephanie went to bed. She can sleep through the endings of games like these. Go figure.

The only thing left for the Mets to do for those of us remaining awake was not blow it. “Don’t Blow It” is coincidentally my new nickname for Edwin Diaz. Diaz pitched the ninth of Game One with a four-run lead. “Don’t blow it,” I said. It was a non-save situation. We used to worry abut Diaz pitching in non-save situations. Lately we just worry about him pitching in situations. He didn’t look particularly sharp, but he didn’t blow it. Way to go, Edwin! Also, because he expended 28 pitches in securing three outs, there was no way Mickey Callaway was going to ask him to do anything in the second game. Seriously, way to go, Edwin!

Seth Lugo [12], National League Reliever of the Month for July (there are all sorts of awards nobody ever told us existed before we started receiving them), came on for the first three of the six outs required to make this an excellent night. Mr. July continued to master August as well. Grandy worked him to three-and-two, but grounded out to Pete. Harold Ramirez struck out. Lewis Brinson grounded to Rosario, who threw successfully to Alonso. That took care of the eighth. What of the ninth?

Have you met Seth Lugo? He’s the defending National League Reliever of the Month, you know, and he doesn’t appear in the mood to hand the trophy, assuming there is a trophy, over to anybody else. Starlin Castro grounded to short. Bryan Holoday fanned. Garrett Cooper grounded to second. It took only eight pitches in the ninth for Lugo to register a six-out save. And with Six-Out Seth in command, the Mets had become, for the first time since the world was young, a winning team.

We were and are 57-56. Maybe Tom Terrific would sanction a gulp of the bubbly to celebrate this little accomplishment that shook 41 Seaver Way to its exhilaration-starved core. One Game Over isn’t much in the picture we hope enlarges to encompass more, but climbing above .500 was a step that needed to be taken and therefore a step worth savoring. More savoring came later, for once Monday’s West Coast action was completed, we could luxuriate in knowing we’d hopped over Arizona and San Francisco. We now sit in fourth Second Wild Card place, 2½ from the top of the playoff qualification heap…though who can sit amid this much excitement let alone sleep? Because we swept before we slept, we gained ground on everybody. Clever of these Mets opting to play and win two games [13] when others were settling for no more than one.

On June 29, when the Mets commemorated their 1969 championship, Ed Kranepool [14] expressed best wishes to the 2019 squad, urging them to do something memorable with the approximate half-season they had remaining. “They can do it like we did,” Ed insisted. At the time, the current Mets were 37-46 and mired in a six-game losing streak. They proved so inspired by the Krane’s words that they charged out after those beautiful ceremonies [15] and lost to the Braves, 5-4. I appreciated that Eddie thought to include the Mets of the moment in his remarks, yet I took his upbeat assessment of their chances as some combination of politeness, sentimentality and nuts.

But what the hell do I know? Other than that I now root for a team with a winning record and a stake in a pennant race?