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Highlights Early and Late

For eight innings, the highlight of the Mets’ Wednesday matinee in San Francisco was that I got to watch it as it began. That may sound like a lowlight from the perspective of the Mets’ five previous games/losses, but understand where I was coming from or at least where I was. I had taken my wife to the eye doctor for a followup examination related to a successful procedure she underwent recently. “The eye doctor” is actually an enormous ophthalmological practice wherein patients and those who drove them there are shuttled from waiting area to waiting area, with occasional brief intervals inside examination rooms. Visits to this enterprise remind me of what I once read about the NFL, that in a three-hour telecast there are maybe twelve minutes of actual football action.

In one waiting (and waiting) area, there was a television tuned to HGTV. I assume it’s a law that televisions in doctors’ offices are tuned to the most anodyne programming possible. Patients are on edge enough, as is the staff that treats them. Here, stare at these noncontroversial images of homes and gardens. The doctor will be with you shortly.

Apparently when you’re 92 years old, you may not stand for being told to sit tight and contemplate rose bushes. A 92-year-old lady whose age I knew because she had announced it out of bewilderment when she was told to check in for her appointment at a computer terminal (“I’m 92 years old! I don’t know how to use this!”) did not think much of HGTV. “This is so stupid!” she declared when a medical technician wandered by. “Put on something else! Put on cartoons!”

Better yet, “Put on the Mets game!”

That helpful suggestion was voiced by Stephanie, offering a common-sense solution to everybody’s waiting room blues. You’d think that would be me calling out, but I was honestly content to listen to the word picture on my phone. When I was younger, I might have been bumptious enough to request if not demand an available Mets game fill the nearest television screen. Should I make it to 92, I’ll probably be so again. But here in the latter portion of middle age that has made me accept certain realities, like doctor’s office waiting room TVs’ channels never change, I tend to roll with punches that don’t sock me in the face.

Son of a gun, however. A remote surfaced, my wife called out “Channel 60,” and — whoa — the Mets game was on at the doctor’s office! I was put in mind of the episode of The Office in which Kelly, the Mindy Kaling character, was given the opportunity to watch television at work for her birthday. Who gets to do that? Likewise, who gets to watch the Mets while enduring an interminable wait for his wife to see the doctor?

This guy! And everybody else in this particular waiting pod! The 92-year-old lady approved. Her companion lit up as well. “That’s right,” she remembered with admirable awareness of what matters in this world, “the Mets are in San Francisco.” The sound was muted, thus the game was easy for the agnostic to ignore, but I noticed several patients, particularly my elders, directed their optical attention to SNY with genuine game-watching purpose, no doubt strengthening their vision in the process. Older Americans (which I am close enough to being) understand that no matter how many things change, only a couple of things can genuinely be categorized under the heading National Pastime: baseball and being sure they’re gonna keep you waiting all day at the doctor’s office.

Mind you, what this unexpected video bounty allowed me to see was mainly J.D. Davis [1] failing to run to first base on a two-out third strike that got away and Jonathan Villar [2] getting picked off the same base an inning later. But, given the circumstances, it was vastly preferable to not seeing it.

Soon enough, the interminable waiting terminated; the actual business of the appointment was gotten on with; Stephanie’s eyes were deemed in suitable working order; and we were released into the cloudy Long Island day, listening to the game on our drive home and settling in eventually on our living room couch to take in the rest of it as we usually might. It hadn’t been much of a game from a Mets fan perspective, which also made it the usual. Tylor Megill [3] had pitched well, no Met had crossed the plate, Steve Cohen hadn’t been proven wrong about the offense he owns [4], and a sixth consecutive loss doubtlessly loomed. At least it would end quickly and painlessly.

Ah, but just when you’re sure it’s safe to watch something else, the Mets run long. In the top of the ninth, trailing by the official score of futility (1-0), the Mets mounted a rally, which is to say Pete Alonso [5] got plunked on the elbow. That’s a Met rally in the middle of August 2021. Fortunately, Alonso was wearing an elbow pad, and whatever stung didn’t slow him down when Michael Conforto [6] singled and sent Pete to third. Davis then delivered a fly ball to deep right. It wasn’t necessarily extraordinary that the runner from third would come home on such a play, but it was almost shocking to realize Pete could trot in and tie the score. The Mets seemed less capable of registering a run than that doctor’s office TV seemed of being nudged from the home and garden channel.

But what are the Mets if not generators of miracles? We forget our heritage in the midst of a plunge from first place to third, crashing through .500 along the way. It wasn’t reasonable to assume they’d never win again, but it was instinctual. Yet here we were, with a whole new ballgame, and it would head to an extra inning.

That’s where we’d lose, right? That’s where instead of posting a quick run as teams chronically do when gifted a runner on second ahead of the tenth inning’s first pitch, the Mets protested. They didn’t file a protest, exactly. Instead, they had Patrick Mazeika [7] attempt a bunt to move “free runner” Villar to third. Mazeika may as well have caught the pitch he was trying to bunt and jog it over to the third baseman so Villar could be more conveniently tagged out. That’s how well this bunt worked. It went into the scorecard as a 1-5 tag play, Jonathan out, Patrick on first. It came off more as a denunciation by the Mets of the “free runner” rule, which I endorsed in my heart, but didn’t care for in practical terms.

So the Mets didn’t score in the top of the tenth. Glory be, however. Edwin Diaz [8], in his (gasp!) second inning of work, prevented the Giants from winning ASAP. Nobody’d won in the tenth, so it was on to the eleventh. This time, the Mets resigned themselves to the existence of the odious “free runner” rule and used it to their advantage, with Travis Blankenhorn [9] moving Jeff McNeil [10] to third on a grounder and Conforto doubling McNeil home. Beaten down by recent events, I assumed the lead wouldn’t last long enough to make us winners, and sure enough, the Giants tied the game immediately in the bottom of the eleventh.

Yet they didn’t win it. Go figure. The Mets were still alive as a twelfth inning commenced. Hell, a twelfth inning commenced. That hardly ever happens in these get-it-over-with days. But on this day, as afternoon out west became nighttime back east, we kept going. Villar led off the dozenth frame with an RBI double down the left field line…for about a minute, until video replay confirmed, nope, it was a foul ball. Villar, already out from standing near first base and sliding into third base, proceeded to turn his presumed two-bagger into just another K. Typical Mets.

Atypical Mets: Mazeika the inadequate bunter singled Dom Smith [11] to third, and Kevin Pillar [12], folk hero of months gone by if wholly ineffective at bat deep into summer, whacked a three-run homer to left. It went out of the park and everything! Mackerel was holy! The Mets were up, 5-2! And, for fun, McNeil doubled and Chance Sisco [13], a Triple-A name that hadn’t crept into our consciousness until the contingency backup catcher’s emergency backup was activated from the taxi squad, doubled on the first pitch he saw as a Met to make it 6-2. Ready to take a Chance again, indeed!

Have you noticed the epidemic of exclamation points in this essay? They’ve been stockpiled in storage, as we haven’t had much opportunity to get excited about our team until now (we use a different set of exclamation points to express disgust). Wednesday we had occasion for excitement. Conforto came through. Pillar came through. Mazeika came through. Sisco came through. At the very end, Jake Reed [14] came through to record the final three outs that preserved the 6-2 victory [15]. It was a breath of familiar air, provided by a burst of the veritable-stranger energy that informed the exultation that defined the 2021 season before we arrived at the point of quite rationally giving up.

Mostly giving up, that is. Not entirely. Not so fast. Not every pitch, at any rate. You don’t gotta believe, but it’s not gonna kill you if you revel in the good innings you manage to see for yourself.