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Hoskins Defeats Diaz

The Mets won the damn thing, by a score of 8-7.

Those of you with enough years of scar tissue will remember that as channeling Bob Murphy’s judgment [1] after the Mets held off the Phils at the Vet in the summer of 1990, with the last out a liner speared by momentary Met Mario Diaz [2] on its way to the left-field turf.

I wonder what Murph would have done with replay review, challenges and other baseball modernities. Something wonderful, no doubt — if nothing else, the newfangled brace of delays would have given him more time to admire the few harmless puffy clouds overhead, or the genial tension of the spectators awaiting the verdict, or some aspect of the game that might have been shaded a few degrees to the positive but struck you immediately as the way things should be, and maybe inspired you to do your part to nudge them a little closer to the ideal.

On Sunday night we didn’t have Murph, alas — we had Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez [3] on ESPN. Vasgersian isn’t a bad announcer by any means, but managed to be simultaneously bland and annoyingly overcaffeinated, and ought to be told it isn’t cute to be self-deprecating about not knowing the material. A-Rod is far more frustrating — an apt student of the game with a keen eye for analysis, but a bad habit of stepping on whatever point he tries to make by trying way too hard, slinging out jargon and cute turns of phrase until you realize you’ve been grinding your teeth for three innings. I wouldn’t think I could feel sorry for a genetic superman who’s a millionaire many times over, but A-Rod’s fundamental insecurity bleeds out through the microphone on nearly every call. I ran out of scoffs and shakes of my head and was left mostly thinking, This is sad. He needs therapy.

Sad would also describe the broadcast’s lost opportunities. A lifetime ago I was briefly ESPN’s ombudsman, a job I didn’t enjoy and hadn’t missed for a second until last night. ESPN had miked up Rhys Hoskins [4], and early in the game we got the usual nonsense you get from miked-up players — generic dugout rah-rah and dopey attempts at banter with enemy baserunners. Once the game took a sharp right into surrealism, though, Hoskins was squarely in the center of two pivotal plays — a misplay that let the Mets tie the game and a valiant attempt at a Phillie comeback that came down to agonizing replay review. Here were two genuinely interesting moments, both of them prime examples of Things You Don’t See Every Day in Baseball, and through great good luck ESPN had the guy in the middle of both of them wearing a microphone. Unless I missed something, we got nothing from either moment. What in the world is the point of asking a player to wear a microphone if you’re only going to use the boring stuff?

At least this time around there wasn’t much boring stuff: This was a wild game, more messy than majestic but one that certainly held your attention, from a frenetic opening inning to the Mets crawling away from the ninth blinking and covered in soot and dust yet somehow not only alive but also victorious.

David Peterson [5] stumbled out of the gate, giving off a leadoff homer to Andrew McCutchen [6] and putting runners on first and second with none out, but got bailed out by a nifty double play engineered by Jeff McNeil [7] (whose defense has been superb of late) and Francisco Lindor [8]. He then settled in, allowing the Mets to tie the game in the third on a Michael Conforto [9] single off Zach Eflin [10].

For a while it looked like another of those frustrating games where the Mets’ offense went comatose — in the sixth, Jonathan Villar [11] fanned in a startlingly¬† horrible AB against Eflin with runners on the corners and none out. Next up was James McCann [12], competing with Lindor for the less-than-exalted status of Acquisition Fans Are Grumbling About Most. McCann smacked a grounder back to Eflin, who had a play at the plate or possibly an inning-ending double play behind him. He bobbled the ball — the Phillies were horrific with the glove all night — and threw it to the wrong guy at the second, getting nothing and allowing the Mets to take the lead.

Ahhh! Felt good, didn’t it? Well, at least it did for about six minutes before Miguel Castro [13] gave up a three-run homer to Didi Gregorius [14], putting the Mets in the rear again, down 4-2.

They came back again. Kevin Pillar [15] homered off Brandon Kintzler [16] — the same Kevin Pillar, fairness requires me to note, whom I’ve been grooming as my 2021 scapegoat — and with one out and Villar on first, Jose Peraza [17] (no longer a ghost!) hit a seething liner to Hoskins’ feet. It was a tough chance, but Hoskins was perfectly positioned to catch it and double off Villar, ending the inning. Instead the ball got through Hoskins, trickling past him and about 20 feet up the right-field line. Villar went to third and saw Hoskins glumly flip the retrieved ball to Nick Maton [18] at second — so he kept right on going, scooting home while the Phillies were feeling sorry for themselves.

Tie game, and here came performative loudmouth Jose Alvarado [19], who’d been suspended for his tiff with Dominic Smith [20] but appealed and so was still eligible for duty. (Smith was fined by MLB, apparently for the sin of being yelled at.) Alvarado should have taken the suspension — he gave up a single to McNeil, then walked Lindor and Conforto to hand the lead back to the Mets. Enter David Hale [21], whose first pitch was lashed up the right-field gap by Pete Alonso [22] — 25 feet too low to be a home run but harder than a lot of balls the Polar Bear has sent screaming off into distant climes. It was 8-4 Mets, and I proudly told Twitter [23] that the Phillies could eat shit.

Well sure, but I didn’t notice the teams were sharing a spoon. In the ninth, Luis Rojas [24] decided to ask Edwin Diaz [25] to finish up, causing me to groan on the sofa. Rojas was short-handed in the pen, but asking Diaz to protect a non-save situation doesn’t exactly have a glittering history of success. Diaz, on cue, walked Gregorius. He coaxed a pop-up from Maton, but Roman Quinn [26] tripled to make it 8-5. Diaz fanned Odubel Herrera [27], but walked Matt Joyce [28] and now in thousands of Met domiciles curious phenomena were being observed: pictures spinning wildly on walls, blood gushing from elevator doors across lobbies, bedridden children spraying pea-green vomit with their heads on backwards … bad stuff y’all.

Earlier, Villar had redeemed his lousy at-bat with a bit of heads-up baserunning; now, to my horror, the batter at the plate was Hoskins. Hoskins got a 2-1 pitch — 100 MPH but middle-middle — and hit it out. Tie game.

Except, wait, had it been out? Or had it hit the railing and caromed skyward? Hoskins received his congratulations — including a shout-out [29] from the Phils’ social-media crew for his 100th career homer — and was standing contentedly in the dugout, but the umps were gathering.

Railing. Ground-rule double. Hoskins’ reaction wouldn’t have been shared with the ESPN audience even if the network hadn’t discarded the microphone thing. And the Mets still led, 8-7.

Exit Diaz and enter Jeurys Familia [30], which is whatever the opposite of reassuring is. And here came Bryce Harper [31]. Except Harper had aggravated a wrist injury, and ended his last AB incapable of swinging the bat with any malice.

We’re Mets fans — we see things through a blue-and-orange lens, which is only logical. We were certain Harper would have some devil magic in him, or Familia would screw it up, or some combination of the two we wouldn’t care to parse. But that’s our lens, and it’s not the only one you can look through. The Phillie lens — the maroon one — was that the home team had spent the whole game playing like their mitts were on backwards, given up a tying run because they weren’t paying attention, led a head-case reliever blow the game, gotten either jobbed on a replay or suffered a correct but agonizing near-miss at glory, and now they were sending up a hitter who was in no shape to take an at-bat.

Seen through the maroon lens, they were doomed. And, on 2-2, Familia threw a sinker just off the outside corner of the plate. Harper struck out. They’d lost the damn thing, by a score of 8-7. How in the hell did we survive that? asked Mets fans, even as Phillies fans asked, How in the hell did we think that would end any other way [32]?