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A Very Strange Secret Weapon

The Mets have played a fair number of snoozy low-scoring games this year, but on Tuesday they played a fun low-scoring one — a genuine pitchers’ duel, followed by a sequence of unlikely events, capped off by a satisfying cameo for one of the stranger secret weapons they’ve had in a long time.

The pitchers’ duel paired Marcus Stroman [1] against John Means [2], he of the no-hitter in his last start, and both were terrific. I don’t personally give a hang that Stroman is a local product, but he’s easy to root for, from his small stature and his relentlessly Lindorian tempo to his ferocity as a competitor. Things looked bleak for Stroman right away, as Cedric Mullins [3] singled and the Orioles wound up with second and third and nobody out when Jonathan Villar [4] muffed a double-play grounder. Stroman went to work, coaxing a grounder that led to Mullins getting caught in a rundown, then following a flyout with another grounder. He used his sinker and slider to keep the O’s beating balls into the grass, trading zeroes with Means until the seventh and looking more than a little perturbed to be taken out with the bases loaded and one out.

In came Aaron Loup [5] to face Pat Valaika [6], who was hitting for Means, and who connected for a sac fly that gave the Orioles the lead. An inning later, Trevor May [7] was ambushed by a leadoff triple, which Albert Almora [8] Jr. briefly corralled before losing it after he slammed face-first into the wall, a scary moment that thankfully seems to have left Almora merely discombobulated. May struck out the next two Orioles, but Freddy Galvis [9] saw the defense playing back and shot a bunt up the third-base line, so perfectly placed he might have sent it on its way with a pool cue. Villar’s valiant throw to first came up late, the O’s led 2-0, and the execution had been so perfect that I struggled to be as mad as I wanted to be.

What did make me grumble was that the Mets were once again squandering opportunities, wasting a leadoff runner in the first, two of them in the sixth and another one in the seventh. They scratched in the eighth thanks to a Michael Conforto [10] single that brought Pete Alonso [11] up with the tying run on second and one out, but the Polar Bear hit into a double play.

That Galvis bunt loomed large, but the Mets still had their secret weapon in reserve. Said secret weapon, of course, is Patrick Mazeika [12], an unassuming backup catcher with a hipster beard and zero big-league hits on his resume. It was only a week ago that Mazeika escaped being a Mets ghost [13] by grounding out meekly in St. Louis, but since then he’s had a decidedly surreal ride: On Friday he tapped a ball just far enough from the catcher to deliver a walkoff, extra-inning win against the Diamondbacks and make the postgame’s l’affaire vermine emblematic of dissembling goofiness [14] instead of dysfunctional grumbling; then, on Sunday, he drew a bases-loaded walk to give the Mets a crucial insurance run in another game they’d win [15]. If you’re scoring at home, that’s two RBIs in two straight plate appearances, without a single ball struck with anything resembling anger.

How things came down to the curious sorcery that is Mazeika magic was pretty surreal, too. For a couple of seconds it looked like the increasingly non-useless Kevin Pillar [16] had led off the ninth with a homer scorched down the left-field line off O’s closer Cesar Valdez [17], but a certain slump to the shoulders of the Mets watching from the dugout rail told a different story, one the umps would soon make official: foul ball. Pillar went back to work and I had visions of Cliff Floyd [18] a long time ago against the Angels [19], but Pillar had to content himself with a clean single to left. Villar singled his vague namesake to second, and James McCann [20] didn’t hit into a douple play, if we’re going to accentuate the positive — he struck out.

Enter Dom Smith [21], who’s had a hard road of it so far this year but refused to be lured by change-ups below the bottom of the zone. Valdez’s third changeup was where Smith could elevate it, and he spanked it into right-center, where Austin Hays [22] made a Swobodaesque dive that fortunately came up about three feet short, allowing Pillar to race home with the tying run just ahead of the throw and Villar to scoot to third.

Enter Mazeika, who saw eight change-ups, tapping the last of them to Trey Mancini [23] at first — much the same play he was out on in his first AB. Perhaps familiar with his teammate’s recent work, Villar got a terrific jump and arrived home both ahead of and well beneath Mancini’s high throw, securing a win that was equal parts goofy and giddy [24]. (Watch the replay and you’ll spy Alonso and another Met — I think it’s David Peterson [25] — both wiping out hopping the dugout rail to strip Mazeika of yet another jersey.)

The Mets have had to draw on their depth more than you’d like of late, but so far the likes of Villar and Pillar and Almora have provided, and that’s without even considering Mazeika and his apparently charmed, so far weirdly backwards baseball life. I don’t know what’s ahead for him, but I do know this: When he finally slaps a grounder through the infield and stands at first in the seventh inning of a humdrum 6-2 loss, I hope he turns around to discover his teammates have come over the rail and are ready to relieve him of that jersey too. He’s earned it, hasn’t he?