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Meet the Moot

In the bottom of the eighth Saturday night, with the Phillies leading by more runs than were worth counting, the Mets employed an extreme shift against Didi Gregorius that sort of worked and sort of didn’t. It sort of did because third baseman J.D. Davis [1], stationed in right field, fielded the ground ball Gregorius pushed through the infield. It sort of didn’t because Gregorius beat Davis’s throw to Pete Alonso from what amounted to medium right field.

Yeah, I guess it didn’t work.

As SNY ran a couple of replays, Hernandez criticized Davis (or whoever directed Davis to set up where he did) for playing far too deep to get a runner as speedy as Gregorius, which was a reasonable point. Keith then raised an intriguing question, if not necessarily one that could be addressed through defensive heat maps: was what Gregorius just achieved an infield hit? It was, after all, handled by an infielder who threw it to the first baseman a shade late for what would have been scored a 5-3 force. If a batter beats out a would-be 5-3 force, that, intuitively speaking, gets marked an infield hit in ol’ Henry Chadwick’s scorebook.

The MLB app’s play-by-play summary described the action as “Didi Gregorius singles on a ground ball to third baseman J.D. Davis.” Over on the ESPN app’s version of what happened, “Gregorius singled to shallow right” was the call. I’ll have to see what Baseball-Reference has to say in the morning*. According to B-R, Gregorius entered Saturday night’s game with two infield hits for 2020. If his total is twice that when his splits are updated (he had an infield hit in the fifth), we’ll have further evidence that a ball to an infielder standing undeniably in the outfield isn’t exactly what it appears…whatever it appears to be, since I suppose an observer could make a case for either. It was hit into the outfield, but it was hit to an infielder. In the age of the shiftiest of shifts, the intrigue is positioned here and there.

*Sunday morning update: Didi Gregorius is indeed now listed by Baseball-Reference as having four infield hits for 2020, with his eighth-inning at-bat noted as producing a “Single to 3B (Ground Ball)”.

Two pitches into the next Phillie at-bat, Phil Gosselin grounded to Luis Guillorme for the third out of the inning, and the production had to move into commercial, compelling Gary Cohen to follow in the best tradition of Jesse Jackson [2] and rule Keith’s question “moot”. The Mets would come up in the top of the ninth at Citizens Bank Park down, 6-0. Dom Smith [3] would homer for a fourth straight game to make the matter at hand a modestly more appealing/less appalling 6-2. That’s how it ended [4], with a final that made the game appear closer than it really was.

From the first until the middle of the fifth inning, the game was legitimately close, with Long Island’s Own Steven Matz [5] having dueled Aaron Nola to almost a standstill. Nola had given up nothing but baserunners Met batters couldn’t drive in. Matz had allowed only a solo homer to Jean Segura. What an encouraging progression from the recent Matz habit of falling behind early and plummeting precipitously from there.

Ah, but in the bottom of the fifth the game stopped being as close as it could possibly appear and grew sadly distant. Matz’s inventory of offense-facilitation included a hit; another hit; a walk; a lineout; a bases-loaded walk to Andrew McCutchen; a very deep bases-clearing right-field double to Rhys Hoskins (where no infielder or outfielder could have wrangled it); and another double somewhere in right to Bryce Harper. Presto, it was Phillies 6 Matz 0, Jeurys Familia on his way in from the bullpen. Steven’s ERA now stands at 9.00, but nobody’s better at getting first dibs on the hot water the nights he pitches.

LIOSM appeared equal parts dejected and frustrated through the filter of postgame Zoom, which couldn’t help but elicit empathy for a familiar fella whose difficulties have been more than virtual. “I really do think I improved a lot on my stuff today, commanding the ball,” Matz said, which sounds encouraging coming from a professional who knows more about pitching than you the home audience ever will. “Good pitches” got hit. “Hard-fought” at-bats became bases on balls. Yet once your starter has given up five runs in an inning and your team is not assisted by the other starter giving up any at all, it’s Moot City, whether the game is being telecast from Philadelphia, announced from Flushing, or both. This entire Mets season, at 9-13, has a moot vibe at present. That is, “deprived of practical significance,” for you devotees of “the dictionary defines moot as …”

In practical terms, Gregorius reached first base in the eighth. In practical terms, Dellin Betances left him on first base. In practical terms, neither mattered much because Matz buried the Mets three innings earlier and, Smith’s power surge notwithstanding, the Mets were not coming back. In practical terms, a crummy Steven Matz, layered atop a sore-necked Jacob deGrom, an unstretched Robert Gsellman and whatever other uncertainties circle the rotation next, figures to doom the Mets in a season that isn’t far from over despite having only recently begun. But practical terms don’t really seem all that relevant to a season that pleads not to be taken seriously, even in the realm of the fun and games sports ought to be providing in These Challenging Times.

The Mets are in a virtual tie for last place? Weren’t they just more or less lined up to make the playoffs a couple of nights ago? They were. Maybe they’ll be again in a couple of days. Or not. The Cardinals are back on the field after quarantining for more than two weeks. The Reds are now off it for the same reason the Cardinals were absent. This is not a season to be grabbed by the shoulders, shaken purposefully and told to get real before it’s too late. This is barely a season in any sense of the word except someone said it is and therefore we are conditioned to tune in and treat it as one.

Treat it as you will. Contemplate the philosophical puzzles about trees falling in right field forests and being cleared away by wayward third basemen rather than stress over what’s wrong with Steven Matz if that’s your jam. If the Mets go nowhere, as they appear headed, chalk it up to all of these games being played under shaky, shady circumstances and help yourself to a large bowl of mulligan [6] stew for 2021, knock wood. If Matz gets it together; if Smith keeps smoking; if deGrom can turn to his left and right without debilitating discomfort; if the Mets win three in a row for the first time since the last decade, go with that and call it a roll, a race, a ride, whatever you like. Believe me, I’ll be right there with you (well, six feet from you) in October should we somehow get a crack at a 61st game and then some.

For now, from here, the whole 2020 deal strikes me as moot, save for the parts we choose to define as better than nothing.