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The Grinding Down

The Mets played one of their more discouraging games of 2020 on Tuesday night, one that left me so dispirited and annoyed that I decided this morning everyone would be better off reliving the misadventures [1] of Paul Sewald [2], Jonah, than revisiting what had happened more recently.

Fighting for their lives against the Phillies, the Mets … never really seemed to be in it. Rick Porcello [3] pitched tolerably, briefly losing his way in the fourth for two runs and then making a mistake against Didi Gregorius [4] in the fifth for two more. Which wasn’t great, but it was better than Porcello’s been for too much of the season. And given the Mets’ offensive firepower and the Phils’ flammable bullpen, four runs shouldn’t have been insurmountable. Except they were — the team left 12 men on base, turned 11 hits into just one skinny run (and that came on a Brandon Nimmo [5] solo shot), and failed repeatedly in the clutch. Which you could feel the whole time — it was almost as if you could sense guys tightening up as they came to the plate, squeezing the bat until sawdust shot out from between their fingers.

Wilson Ramos [6] was the biggest offender: inning-ending grounder back to Jake Arrieta [7] in the second with runners on second and third, K in the fourth, inning-ending GIDP on JoJo Romero [8]‘s first pitch with runners on second and third in the sixth. But the Buffalo had company: Pete Alonso [9] flied to center with the bases loaded to end the third, flied to right with one on and none out in the sixth, and fouled to the catcher with one on and one out in the eighth. Alonso is popping everything up and spent large chunks of the game hanging miserably on the dugout railing, looking like the woebegone protagonist of approximately 70,000 country songs featuring deceased dogs, vamoosed wives and busted barns. Jeff McNeil [10] made a boneheaded play to short-circuit the eighth, getting tagged out at third when he a) didn’t need to advance, b) a run was going to score, and c) Jean Segura [11] had no play except for the one McNeil gift-wrapped for him.

It was that kind of night [12]. Afterwards, Luis Rojas [13] talked about poor-quality at-bats and McNeil’s lack of awareness, and Ramos said something that everyone trying to work through COVID can sympathize with: “I’m overthinking every night because I have nothing to do.”

True … except 29 other teams are dealing with the same problem, and a bunch of them have a better chance to make the playoffs despite having less talent than the Mets. And hey, fairness to the other guys on the field: The Phils’ bullpen stood up, at least for one night, and Joe Girardi [14] came up aces with the decision to send Adam Haseley up as a pinch-hitter in the fourth, which seemed overeager at the time but gave his team the win.

There’s no way the Mets should be behind the Marlins or Giants, but the standings say they are, and that’s the only judgment that matters. The Mets are rapidly running out of time to change that judgment, and they’ve given little indication that they’re capable of forcing a different one.