Was Friday night’s late-night tilt against the Padres A) deeply weird; B) snoozy with a side of annoying; C) frustrating; or D) all of the above?
I’m going with D.
For a while it looked like Blake Snell  would achieve one of the less impressive no-hitters in baseball history – he gave up a lot of solid contact early, none of which translated to a Met safety, thanks to the Padres’ solid defense but also to plain old-fashioned bad luck. The no-hit bid went by the boards when Francisco Lindor  led off the 7th with a dunker in front of Tommy Pham , which Pham played into a triple.
That was highly significant, as Snell only had a 1-0 lead, the one courtesy of a Manny Machado  missile to the upper deck in the first inning off Joey Lucchesi . Lucchesi had been open about his unhappiness at being traded by the Padres and getting on-field revenge against his old friends and teammates. In my experience revenge is a best served solely in one’s own imagination, and Lucchesi was clearly overamped in the first, running four 3-2 counts and losing pretty thoroughly in challenging Machado. But with the adrenaline having ebbed he found a good groove, allowing nothing else while pitching into the fifth. Which is how the game wound its way to Lindor standing on third with nobody out in the 7th and Snell looking disappointed.
Then it was our turn to be disappointed: James McCann  struck out, Pete Alonso  put together a good at-bat but fouled to Eric Hosmer  at first, and then Brandon Drury  struck out. In the seventh, Jeurys Familia  was clearly unhappy about his landing spot on the mound, but didn’t call out the people who get paid to fix such things. He walked in a run to make it 2-0.
Another source of frustration was the strike zone of Quinn Wolcott. The strike zone is supposed to be rectangle, but Wolcott’s was more akin to a tracing of an amoeba, one spastically shooting out pseudopods below the zone and across its inside boundaries, then mysteriously withdrawing them from those boundaries. Wolcott’s inability to do his job properly didn’t just affect the Mets – Billy McKinney  walked after being struck out according to any sensible rulebook – but it interfered with the game in the top of the ninth, when McCann was called out on an inside pitch with Lindor on first and one out. That got McCann and Luis Rojas  excused further in-person attendance. Alonso singled, but Mark Melancon  ate Drury alive with a steady diet of tantalizing curves and a high cutter for the coup de grace . By now I think it goes without saying, but baseball needs to take enforcement of the strike zone away from fallible human beings … well, yesterday.
The game wasn’t much fun, but it was made a lot more palatable by having Gary Cohen and Ron Darling  on MLB.tv via iPhone. I drove up to Maine on Wednesday to check on my parents’ summer cottage and get some family stuff done before my son’s high-school graduation (???!!!) on Sunday, and the entire trip has been a lesson in how lucky we are to have the announcers we do – not just Gary, Ron and Keith Hernandez , but also Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo.
On Wednesday the Mets were playing the Diamondbacks at 3:30 pm, meaning I’d have Howie and Wayne as company for the last couple of hours of the drive. It was a great plan until my rental car blew a tire in Griswold, Conn., and I had to seek refuge in a Park & Ride – should you be traveling and find yourself more bored than I hope you ever are, it’s the one at Exit 24 off of I-395 North.
I was there for a couple of hours, while Avis Roadside Assistance struggled with how to find me (“Griswold. G-R-I-S-W-O-L-D. No, not in New York. In Connecticut.”) and then with how to actually get someone out to help me. With the sun beating down, I took refuge in the shade created by the open tailgate of my Toyota 4Runner turned 3Runner, perching amid boxes of books and waiting for a wrecker to show up. (Before you ask: The tire was gashed open, I didn’t have the proper tools to change tires, and I last wielded a jack during the original Bush administration.) When I realized it was 3:30, I decided to see what kind of video quality my phone could pull down, which was when I remembered this was the game that had been handed over to YouTube.
The video quality was surprisingly good – pretty much HD, somehow. And the announcers weren’t that bad – I smiled at hearing the Brooklynese tones of old friend John Franco , who did a capable job discussing what was wrong with Madison Bumgarner in a nightmarish first. After the Mets scored four in the top of the first, I got back on the phone with Avis to see about the prospect of a rescue, only to discover the request was moving through the bureaucracy with a speed that implied carrier pigeons were involved. A minute ago I’d felt like George Jetson; now I felt like Fred Flintstone. And that was before I turned back to the Mets’ game and saw a score that made me do one of those Is That a Typo? double-takes: AZ 5, NY 4.
More double takes would follow: Avis decided I’d canceled my own request for help, which is when I did what I should have done in the first place. I told Avis Roadside Assistance that while they were indeed Avis and I was most definitely roadside, assistance – which, if you think about it, is the most important word of the three — had been nowhere in evidence and I wasn’t particularly confident that would change. Then I started Google-Mapping service stations and auto-repair places until I found one that could send somebody out to help me. Mikey from A&J Auto was just seven minutes away, knew perfectly well where the Park & Ride was, and didn’t need to wait for a carrier pigeon bearing a note that approved saving me.
My 3Runner was soon a 4Runner again, and I got back on the road in time for the Mets to take the lead, give it back and settle in for a long siege . Now that I was driving, I was able to return to the original blueprint, with Howie and Wayne painting the word picture. Which they did admirably: A few minutes into my resumed ride, Wayne cracked Howie up with a riff on Thurman Munson  and Lou Gehrig ’s widow that somehow referenced both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Captain Phillips.”
Which got me thinking about the YouTube team, and the perils of irregular announcers. It’s not that such announcers are necessarily bad – I thought the YouTube broadcast was fine, though I was comparing it with Avis Roadside Assistance, which isn’t exactly a fair fight. It’s more an issue of familiarity – and how home voices are not only more knowledgeable but also somehow reassuring. It’s like being a little kid and having the babysitter read your favorite book, and you have a tantrum about the way she read it and no one can figure out why, probably not even you. The problem isn’t that she read it badly – probably she did just fine – but that she read it in a way that struck you as wrong, minus the usual rhythms and cadences that had become as much a part of the story as the actual words and plot.
On Thursday night it was Gary and Ron’s turn , covering the game from the Citi Field, a mere 2,800 miles away from San Diego. That seems mildly absurd at this point in the pandemic, and sparked a great line from Darling when his monitor went black: “I looked at it like we had lost an Apollo flight.”
Here’s a partial list of players and bits of baseball history that came up in the conversation Thursday night: Lefty Grove , Denny McLain , Walt “No Neck” Williams, heart attack jackets (the plastic-looking sweat jackets players used to wear in spring training to shed offseason pounds), Ted Williams  and Tony Hawk and Tony Gwynn  being from San Diego, Babe Ruth ’s spring-training regimen, Sandy Koufax , Doc Medich , Harmon Killebrew , Eddie Mathews , Miguel Andujar , Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis , Alfonso Soriano , Huston Street , Moises Alou , Dick Williams , Matt Kemp , the San Diego Chicken, Joe Sambito , Jeff Musselman , the “billy goat strap” on a catcher’s mask and Doug Sisk . (Not covered: that there’s actually a human being named Jayce Tingler .)
It’s an impressive roster, but it never felt like a forced trip down baseball memory lane; rather, it was like a conversation in the stands with another fan who knows her stuff and is delighted to have a game in front of her to help those memories surface.
And there’s an easy rapport between the two that adds to the conversation. Watching Yu Darvish  at the plate, Darling remarked that “Yu, with his seven different pitches, has seven different swings – none of them very good.” Inevitably, Darvish then got a hit, prompting Cohen to note, “that was one of his seven swings. The one that works.”
Darling brought his own career into the mix in discussing Darvish as a pitcher, noting the patience and discipline it takes to be able to throw 96 and mostly throw in the mid-80s. Yet he did so without larding that up with a bunch of “in my day,” wearing his authority lightly but in a way that made it feel more earned. And Cohen was right there with a bit of context, noting how few pitchers are able to follow such a formula.
With a two-man booth, SNY is missing Hernandez’s nightly dose of surrealism and unpredictability, but the conversation flows beautifully with just two poles. Zeroing in on Gary and Ron, I realized Keith is a bonus; his gymnastics work (at least most of the time) because his colleagues give him a net.
And the three of them give us all a net, which we need when the Mets are disappointing us, fate is unkind, or it’s 1 a.m. and we’re wondering why the hell we’re still up. Howie and Wayne do that too, in a different medium but drawing on the same wonderfully deep well. They’re the company I want, whether the Mets are up four or I’m having to process the fact that they were just up four and no longer are. And trust me – when you’re sitting in the back of a wounded 4Runner in the Exit 24 Park & Ride, good company gets very, very important.