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Agents of Chaos

There are games you’re clearly fated to win, ones you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose, and ones where the outcome teeters and totters between joy and horror while your heart tries to keep pace. And then there are games like Monday night’s in Cincinnati — ones where the sheer insanity of everything gobbles up logic and equilibrium and finally emotion itself. You don’t win games like that, even if the outcome reflects a victory in the standings. You merely survive them, staggering out of the tornado blinking and dazed and exchanging disbelieving fragments of what you think you saw with others stumbling around in the wreckage.

Once upon a time Monday night, Pete Alonso [1] and Jeff McNeil [2] hit first-inning home runs to give the Mets a 3-0 lead and make you imagine that Sunday’s unlikely uprising [3] against the Pirates was a turning point in this completely baffling, seemingly ad-libbed season.

But that was before poor Jerad Eickhoff [4] was out there for about an hour, trying to look imperturbable as Met infielders heaved balls unlikely places and kicked them around their surroundings and did everything but shot-put them into the outfield with their noses. It should have been a warning that the Met in the center of this maelstrom of malpractice was Luis Guillorme [5], normally the most sure-handed of defenders but suddenly looking like he was playing his position blindfolded. In a blink it was 4-3 Reds and in another blink it was 7-3 Reds, and it was only the second inning, so the question was which unlucky Met position player was going to draw the black spot once the wolves had reduced Eickhoff and newly recalled cannon fodder Stephen Nogosek [6] and Anthony Banda [7] to pink ribbons.

But Eickhoff somehow got through the third without a teammate doing something ill-advised with a baseball, and Michael Conforto [8] homered and Alonso singled and suddenly it was 7-6. And it was only the fourth inning.

From there, well, it’s a bit of a blur. The Mets tied it on a Dom Smith [9] homer, lost the lead on a Jesse Winker [10] double off suddenly unreliable Seth Lugo [11], then took the lead when James McCann [12] subbed for Tomas Nido [13] and connected for a pinch-hit home run, sending the bull market on Dave Jauss genius shares into a frenzy even given the wonders of last week. (Nido, to his credit, was front and center to high-five his fellow catcher in the dugout.)

The Mets were up 9-8, but with six outs to get. Jauss sent Lugo out for another tour of duty and he survived, though Ed Hickox’s bizarre strike zone had something to do with it, as Joey Votto [14] would tell you quite emphatically. The Mets handed the ball to Edwin Diaz [15], and I assumed the fetal position to save myself time. Diaz walked the leadoff guy, because of course he did, got two outs, because of course he did, and the Mets opted to pitch to Winker instead of putting him on first and facing Mike Freeman [16]. Winker doubled to left center, the game was tied, and I’d like to tell whoever replaced Diaz with the vat-grown love child of Braden Looper [17] and Armando Benitez [18] that their little prank isn’t funny anymore.

(Aw hell, that’s a lot of work. Our prankster just replaced Diaz with his 2019 self. Same outcome and a lot simpler.)

So, it was 9-9 in the ninth. The Mets cashed in their ghost runner, but with Trevor May [19] and Jeurys Familia [20] and Aaron Loup [21] all gassed, they handed the ball to the briefly aforementioned Banda. To call Banda unassuming would be putting it mildly — he looks like a fan who won a Closer for a Day! contest. (Of course he also throws 95 — it’s 2021.) Banda immediately yielded a pair of singles to knot the score at 10-10 and looked like he was headed for Mac Scarce [22] territory, to be remembered with a sad shake of the head decades from now by those whose taste for trivia runs towards the tragic. But he somehow coaxed a double play from Eugenio Suarez [23] and a harmless groundout from Shogo Akiyama [24] to survive. (After the disasters of the early innings, every Met who fielded a grounder in the late going handled the ball like it was filled with nitroglycerine, for which I blame them not at all.)

It was 10-10 after 10, just like it had been 7-7 after seven and 9-9 after nine, so of course Brandon Nimmo [25] led off the 11th with a single, sending ghost runner Jose Peraza [26] to third. Alonso struck out and the Reds decided to one-up the Mets in head-scratchers, choosing to pitch to McNeil with the pitcher up next and the Mets out of position players. McNeil promptly singled in Peraza, and I was both happy and offended. (Seriously, what in the world?) I was also exhausted — the game had degenerated into madness, leaving me feeling like I’d watched it while standing on my head doing Whipits. Surely it would be 11-11 after 11, and then 12-12 after 12, and my wife would find me at five in the morning lying on the living-room floor laughing and sobbing at the same time while the last 18 ambulatory Mets and Reds lay on the field in two exhausted heaps and occasionally chucked a ball back and forth.

But no, Kevin Pillar [27] hit a bomb of a homer and the potentially rejuvenated Conforto connected for his second of the night and it was 15-10. Of course the game had a few last dregs of madness at its bottom — a reluctantly summoned May came within a whisper of having to face Votto as the tying run, which would not have been entertaining to recall until the mid-2030s at least. Happily, Freeman swung through a 3-2 fastball, leaving Votto as a spectator, and the Mets had won [28].

Or survived, which is close enough. They’ll play again Tuesday night, and anyone who can tell you what will happen is either lying or insane. Because who the heck knows? They give up a thousand runs, then somehow snatch them back. They play baseball so ineptly that you want to lie down in the road, and then they summon magic and make you want to dance on top of cars. They shed All-Stars, and anonymous bench guys manage to hold the line. Guys with good gloves inexplicably kick balls around and the reliable relievers explode and somehow they win anyway, except on the nights when they lose hideously and you wish they’d release everyone.

I don’t know what to make of it. I doubt they do either. We’re all just whirling around in the same storm.