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Same Old Shanah

“L’shanah tovah,” give or take the “L’” (and maybe the silent h’s), is a greeting that’s passed back and forth [1] when the Jewish calendar changes, as it has from 5781 to 5782. The Mets could use a new year themselves. One-hundred thirty-eight games in, this 2021 business can’t quite work the kinks out.

On Monday afternoon, a few hours before sundown, the Mets labored the day away in Washington, rapping out a dozen hits, making several impressive plays in the field, riding the sixth-starter high-wire act of Trevor Williams [2] for five innings, feeding off the thirtieth home run from Pete Alonso and nursing a 3-2 lead until the bottom of the ninth. With twelve hits, there should have been more than three Met runs, but the Nationals hadn’t made more out of eleven hits than two runs, so just take what the LOBs will give you and hand it off to Edwin Diaz [3] for safe keeping.

Or, on second thought, don’t do that. Edwin Diaz has had many fine outings in 2021. He’s also made a terrific commercial for suite rentals at Citi Field. The best part of it is he’s not pitching in the ninth inning at Washington when he’s in it. On the mound at Nationals Park in the ninth inning, let’s just say Edwin Diaz will not win any awards for acting. Or closing.

Diaz stood sixty feet, six inches from Alcides Escobar and fed him four balls to lead off the bottom of the ninth. At that point, you understood the 3-2 lead was likely short-lived. “Oh look,” you might have thought, “there’s Juan Soto in the on-deck circle. I guess I can get on with my barbecue/synagogue plans now.” Except Soto was retired on a leaping two-handed grab by Jeff McNeil [4] in foul territory just beyond the left field line. McNeil is not a left fielder by trade, but he seems more dynamic when untethered from second base, his usual position.

So we escaped the obvious dagger Soto represented. All Diaz had to do was, honestly, not be Diaz for a change. Look, we’re trying. We’re really trying not to be that hairtrigger fan who spouts fatalistic four-letter exclamations at the sight of our imperfect closer. We try to believe every upbeat stat meant to convince us that the Edwin Diaz we think we knew in our first horrifying year together isn’t automatically the Edwin Diaz who emerges from the bullpen in the present. We want to love Edwin Diaz or at least not cringe at the sight of Edwin Diaz. But Sugar, ya gotta meet us three-thirds of the way in a ninth inning like this. We need you to get three outs and not give up a run — certainly no more than a run with a one-run lead — when it’s Labor Day and we fancy ourselves playoff contenders.

At two-and-two on Josh Bell, Diaz almost had Bell struck out. Bell checked his swing, which it seems for decades wasn’t acknowledged by umpires as a thing. You moved your bat a little, you swung. Here, Chris Conroy wasn’t so stern and called it a ball. But James McCann asked for help from Pat Hoberg at third base. Hoberg, too, was lenient. The ball to Bell stood and now the count was full.

Two pitches later, Bell walked, Escobar was on second, and Andrew Stevenson was up. Andrew Stevenson has been trouble to the Mets since late in 2020 when he fluffed up Jacob deGrom’s ERA (albeit from 2.14 to 2.38). Stevenson was trouble on Saturday converting the nah, they can’t possibly blow all of a nine-nothing lead to wow, they blew all of a nine-nothing lead. Monday was no holiday, secular or otherwise, for Stevenson’s darker instincts. He fell into an oh-and-two hole, yet climbed out, singling to right. Escobar, still on our spit list from the 2015 World Series, motored home. Michael Conforto heaved a decent throw to McCann, but it was too late to prevent a tie.

Except, wait a sec — did Escobar touch the plate? It sure didn’t look sure. He definitely missed it on the front end, but the back end was tougher to tell. An umpire’s review (different from a challenge) was instigated. Our best hope, previously thought to be Diaz’s slider, was now on the replay shadow docket.

We got no relief. Like Bell’s checked swing, I didn’t think what we needed to go our way actually went our way, but maybe somebody in authority would see it differently. Somebody didn’t. The run stood, the game was tied.

Had there been a Players Weekend promotion this season with players wearing darling nicknames on the backs of their jerseys, Carter Kieboom’s could have been A MATTER OF TIME. Once Diaz began not getting Nationals out, it was a matter of time that some National with a bat in his hand would end the ninth with something other than a trudge back to his home dugout. Kieboom rapped a ground ball up the middle that a playing-in Francisco Lindor [5] couldn’t smother (and probably couldn’t have pivoted to throw home if he had). Bell wrung the last iota of hope out of the ninth, indisputably touching home plate and saddling the Mets with their second 4-3 loss [6] of the five-game series.

Now we’re four games out with 24 to play, which isn’t as swell as being three games out with 24 to play. The loss in D.C. wasn’t fatal, but it wasn’t helpful. Diaz leaving the mound with the door ajar is essentially a cookie-crumble in June or some earlier month. Buck up, go get ’em next time! In September, the same missed opportunity to preserve a win resonates more deeply. And now that he’s got this mini-disaster to go with his blown save from Friday night and the 11-10 implosion from September 2019 on his ledger, I think it’s fair to say we never want to see Edwin Diaz in Washington again. He could run for Congress unopposed from our district and we wouldn’t vote for him.

Not the happiest way to end what we think of as summer. Not the happiest way to usher in Rosh Hashanah, either. There’s another game Tuesday night. That’s not intended as a threat.