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That Wasn’t So Hard, Was It?

The first win after one of those lengthy losing streaks always makes me feel a little sheepish.

The Mets won. A spot of bother aside, it wasn’t even all that tense. And this after you spent five days being snarly and surly. Wasn’t that silly?

Well, of course it was. But my goodness, it really looked like they were all drowning, didn’t it? No one could hit. The relief corps was reliably horrific. And then on Sunday they managed to step on their own collective dick again in dealing with a personnel matter —

Nope. We’re not going to go there. That was part of the losing streak. This is a new week. A new beginning, even!

Of course it’s easier to be optimistic when you can throw Jacob deGrom [1] at a problem. DeGrom was even nastier than usual Monday night, throwing his usual 99 MPH gas complemented by a slider and change, but this time he also showed up for work with a solid curveball — his fourth-best pitch and a work in progress, and so usually limited to cameos. What must that have been like in the Braves dugout? Oh great, he’s figured out a curveball too. Well, this will be fun.

It wasn’t fun for them; it was fun — for a change — for the Mets, whose players hit, hit when it actually mattered (now there’s a concept) and ran the bases alertly and aggressively. Robinson Cano [2] and Michael Conforto [3] were your stars on offense, but Wilson Ramos [4] also hit a home run and everyone seemed more on point than they had in recent days. Even Pete Alonso [5] looked patient at the plate, at least, even if that patience yielded nothing.

By the way, kudos to Gary, Keith and Ron for breaking down a hitch that’s crept into Alonso’s swing. As always, my hope is that if the TV guys see something like that, someone’s communicating it to people in the actual clubhouse for scrutiny. Sticking with SNY, though, something that’s stuck in my craw for some time reared its head again Monday. Next time you watch the Mets, notice what happens with the shift. Keep track of how often Gary, Keith and Ron note balls hit against the shift that go for hits, and how much time is spent kvetching about those plays. And keep track of how often balls that would have been hits without the shift are corraled into outs, and how little attention they get. It’s an excellent example of confirmation bias, and a blind spot that the best booth in baseball is far too good to allow to persist.

Hopping off my soapbox, deGrom was superb except for the fifth, when he had trouble commanding his offspeed stuff and got hit around a bit, most notably by old friend Travis d’Arnaud [6], who homered. The last home run surrendered by deGrom was also to an old teammate — Wilmer Flores [7]. When deGrom actually gets in trouble it’s sobering and lends a bit of perspective — rather than be mad at him or for him, I tend to wax philosophical, musing that pitching must be really, really hard if even Jacob deGrom sometimes has trouble with it.

(By the way, I never want bad things to happen to the Mets. But if they must happen, I don’t mind d’Arnaud being their agent. While d’Arnaud never managed to fulfill his promise as a Met, he deserved better to be cast aside in a Wilponian hissy fit last spring. His beating the tar out of his old team the last few days suggests that the arc of baseball’s moral universe really might bend toward justice.)

Anyway, the Mets bullpen came in and started by doing recent Mets bullpen things, which was not what any of us had in mind: Jeurys Familia [8] was the culprit this time, allowing a one-out single, double and walk. Up came Ozzie Albies [9], who could bring the Braves within one and leave us all hiding behind the couch until someone whispered that Alonso is doing PSAs thanking all the vaccine researchers who helped us get back to work and we could come out now.

But Familia got Ozzie Albies and yielded the mound to Justin Wilson [10], who coaxed a groundball to Alonso from serial Mets killer Freddie Freeman [11], and the peril was largely past. Newest Met Jared Hughes [12], a tall smiley sinkerballer who likes to sprint in from the bullpen, finished up and the Mets were back in the win column [13].

Back in the win column with an asterisk, if you want to be a downer about it — Jeff McNeil [14] was a late scratch with a back issue, while Amed Rosario [15] and Cano both departed early with tightness in various things. We’ll see what that means — “tightness” is one of those diagnoses that can range the gamut from acute and precautionary to chronic and disastrous. (Atlanta’s Mike Soroka [16], on the other hand, tore his Achilles tendon on an awkward step off the mound — an awful thing to see and a blow to the sport when it needs every young star who’s fit for duty.)

For now, let’s hope that asterisk is written in pencil, and the Mets can stay in the win column for a while. And if not, well, every fifth day we get to watch a master at work. Which is a pleasure and a privilege, whatever the standings say.