- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Let’s Play One

Here’s a proposed rule change for baseball to consider: A team that wins the first game of a doubleheader in inspiring style doesn’t have to play the second game. They get to defer it for a day and bask in the afterglow, instead of going right back into battle and risking an emotional fallen souffle.

The Mets would have been in favor of that Saturday. They recorded one of their most satisfying wins of the young season in the matinee against the Rockies, spitting in the eye of recent history and exorcising some pesky statistical demons. Then they looked flat and overmatched in the nightcap, going down meekly. That second loss didn’t cancel out the good vibes of the opener, but it did affix a moderately sized asterisk to the proceedings.

On the other hand, the Mets actually getting to play was a victory in its own right, after two days of being sidelined by rain and snow. Despite the sun finally shining on him again, Jacob deGrom [1] looked out of kilter early, struggling with his posture on landings and wearing the perturbed look that he reserves for such situation: I’m the best pitcher on the planet. Why are things I do better than anybody else suddenly hard?

But as is so often the case, the prospect of an emergency — runners on first and second, nobody out — helped him find his footing, and boy did he ever find it. Nine Rockies up, nine Rockies down, all by strikeout. One more K, and deGrom would stand alongside Tom Seaver [2] — a Met immortal whose place in the firmament is a little less above deGrom’s head with every start — as the only pitchers to fan 10 straight. Two more Ks, and deGrom would stand alone.

Ah, but baseball is baseball, Denver is Denver … and there’s no Jacob deGrom masterpiece that his teammates won’t try to improve with crayons and finger paint. After swinging through deGrom’s first pitch of the fifth, Josh Fuentes [3] slapped a hard grounder back of the middle that eluded deGrom and handcuffed Jeff McNeil [4], who flung it past Pete Alonso [5]. After a strikeout, Dom Nunez [6] rifled a ball off the right-field fence that Michael Conforto [7] had to corral halfway back to the infield. Tie game. The next batter, Yonathan Daza [8], hit a low liner to Conforto in short right; Conforto looked like he had a play at the plate, but threw wide of James McCann [9]. Then Raimel Tapia rifled a ball down the right-field line for a homer, and hey, you couldn’t blame that one on defensive slapstick. In a few minutes, deGrom had gone from flirting with baseball glory to being once again on the wrong side of the scoreboard and practicing his thousand-mile stare in the dugout.

Except, well, rerun that part about baseball and Denver. A line-drive homer by Alonso brought the Mets within one, and in the top of the seventh they rose up in indignation: McCann started the inning by singling and Jonathan Villar [10] doubled into the corner, with Gary DiSarcina [11] sending pinch-runner Albert Almora [12] rather than leave things to Brandon Nimmo [13] with runners on second and third and nobody out. Almora was safe at the plate, by somewhere between a pinkie and an eyelash; Francisco Lindor [14] then singled through the infield for the lead.

Which Edwin Diaz [15] secured with so little fuss that you felt a little bad for thinking about, well, all the times he hasn’t. The Mets had got to play baseball and they’d won. DeGrom had even won. It had been downright inspiring [16].

At the risk of being told it’s rude to do that in the punchbowl, though, a note of discontent has crept into the year for me.

DeGrom and Diaz combined to strike out 17, meaning just four Rockie outs were recorded away from home plate. Now, I find even routine baseball plays beautiful — the way shortstops glide across the dirt to pick off a grounder before it can reach the grass, or the instinctive paths outfielders carve across so much green to corral a fly ball’s arc. But a pitcher and catcher tossing the ball back and forth past a human windmill? There’s not a lot of beauty on display, even when a generational talent like deGrom is involved. Frankly, games like that are boring — static and leaden instead of balletic and filled with possibilities, like baseball ought to be.

They’re boring and they’re increasingly common. I bristle at tinkering with baseball’s essentials, but my muttering has become half-hearted as too many games become dull affairs. Something needs to change, even if it means messing with elements I once considered sacrosanct.

Anyway, there was more to the Mets’ day than that, but I’ll make it mercifully brief [17]: They played more baseball and were carved up by German Marquez [18] and his merciless slider, able to mount very little resistance. But let’s not talk about that, because remember the Mets invoked the inspiration rule after Game 1, meaning the rest was just a strange dream and they’ll play two tomorrow.

Oh wait, that experiment hasn’t even reached the Atlantic League yet. Shoot. Would’ve been a good day to give it a try, right?