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Bottle That Stuff

Well, well, well.

That wasn’t what I thought for most of Thursday night’s game against the Phillies, but then that’s always the case with a classic comeback — you need to trudge through the vale of despond before getting sherpa’ed up Mount Probability to giddily plant the most unexpected of flags.

That mountaineering metaphor’s less random than most of mine — the game’s win expectancy graph looked like this, courtesy of MetsAnalytics on Twitter [1]:

Mets win expectancy graph [2]

That kind of sheer vertical face doesn’t get climbed very often, and certainly not when you’re down 7-1 in the ninth.

But back to the vale of despond part.

I was late reporting for duty because it was a pleasant spring night, Emily needed a cocktail and I almost never don’t need a cocktail, and since we were having cocktails we might as well eat something, and then I remembered it was a weird 6:45 start and looked at my phone and saw a 3 in a place I didn’t want there to be one.

“Ah hell,” I muttered, wondering what had gone wrong and deciding to figure it out a little later.

What had gone wrong, primarily, was a double-play ball that Francisco Lindor [3] had botched, and that wasn’t good, not with Lindor’s hot start having turned lukewarm and even a little chilly. By the time we got home it was 4-0 and the Mets were looking dispirited against Aaron Nola [4] and pretty soon it was 5-0 and I was spending more time with my phone than with the game, because while what was on my phone was making me grouchy, what was happening on my TV was making me grouchier.

I did the Wordle, getting a yellow R and an E at the tail end of my starter word and then a ERM in the middle of my next guess, all yellow. While I was pondering that, Bryce Harper [5] reduced a ball to scraps of flaming yarn and cowhide. I watched the ball cease to exist with a sour expression, looked back down at Wordle, and … oh.

Another ingredient of a classic comeback is you don’t want to be the guy or gal who gives up in disgust and winds up saying “wait, what?” the next morning. Fortunately, I consider my duties as a given night’s Faith and Fear recapper sacred I got lucky. I decided I’d go downstairs in the middle of the sixth, most likely to find a book or a better use of my time, but then Starling Marte [8] golfed a solo homer into the left-field seats — after Phil Cuzzi called a close 3-1 pitch a strike, no less.

While a much-ballyhooed offseason acquisition, Marte hasn’t lit the blue and orange world on fire just yet — particularly not on the bases. But I’ve enjoyed watching him despite that. He plays the game with an air of palpable menace that demands you pay attention, has taken to new outfield duties without complaint, and generally goes about his business in a way I approve of. A little earlier, Marte had hustled to make a play in the outfield in what looked like a lost game; now he’d homered to at least put some lipstick on this pig. If Marte hadn’t given up, surely I could handle the low-impact duty of continuing to be a spectator.

There was also the SNY app, which has definitely improved my quality of life, allowing me to watch games in my study without wrangling a TV-via-Internet feed that’s balky, to put it kindly. The Mets were down there on my sideways cellphone while I dealt with email and sundry digital things, and it didn’t really matter if I had to squint at them because I had Gary Cohen and Ron Darling [9] talking to me, which is pretty good company no matter how small your screen is. And while things weren’t getting any better for the Mets they also weren’t getting any worse — Chasen Shreve [10] and Adonis Medina [11] had shut the barn door, which was good news even though conducting an inventory of horses didn’t seem like a particularly wise idea.

When all was done (sorry, spoilers), the statficionadoes determined that the Mets had been on an 0-for-330 streak when trailing by six in the ninth inning. The game before the one that started that bleak count came on Sept. 13, 1997 [12], and the vale of despond had been even despondier than Thursday night — the Mets had tallied a lone single before the ninth and wound up down to their last strike before they scored a run.

But Roberto Petagine [13] hit a two-run single, Luis Lopez [14] and Matt Franco [15] singled to load the bases, and Carl Everett [16] — who’d had a troubled season for unfortunate reasons beyond the existential ramifications of dinosaurs — hit a grand slam off Ugueth Urbina [17]. Bernard Gilkey [18] then won it with a walkoff homer in the 11th.

That game is remembered as the Carl Everett Game — Greg’s written about it here [19], and revealed that it was actually Stephanie who led us to victory. But I missed the part that made it a classic. I was at a friend’s wedding and if memory serves (which it probably doesn’t), I left my Motorola SportsTrax in a motel room because the Mets were getting creamed, then peered blearily at it hours later while horrifically drunk and stripping off the battered, grass-stained tuxedo pieces I hadn’t already lost. NYM 9 MON 6 (11). Wait, what?

(If you don’t know what a Motorola SportsTrax is, it was a pager that came with a subscription plan allowing you to dispatch a message to wandering monks, who’d journey to your abode collecting alms and then inform you of the current score of a baseball game, albeit in Latin. What we have is way better now.)

(Oh wait, I’m confused. The Motorola SportsTrax looked like this [20] and bleeped and stuff. The point is, it was a long time ago.)

The sequence of those impossible comebacks should always be preserved for posterity, so here’s what happened in the ninth 25 years later: Marte led off against James Norwood [21] with a grounder to Johan Camargo [22] that he beat out for an infield hit — another play where Marte could have opted for half-speed and no one would have clucked but the Back in My Day crowd. Lindor then clubbed a Harperesque homer into the stands, making the score 7-3 and at least giving the pig some mascara and rouge. Pete Alonso [23] scorched a double down the third-base line over Alec Bohm [24]‘s glove.  Eduardo Escobar [25] lined out, but Jeff McNeil [26] poked a single through the right side of the infield.

A general rule is not to get too excited about ninth-inning scratching and clawing, because most of the time (330 out of 331 times if you’re down by six) that yields at best a moral victory, which is also known as a loss. A more specific rule is to not get too excited unless the tying run is at the plate, because the moment you let yourself get into ankle bone connected to the shin bone and shin bone connected to the thigh bone hypotheticals, someone will line into a double play. And Mark Canha [27] wasn’t the tying run, but one tally shy of it.

Joe Girardi [28] summoned Corey Knebel [29], which is another one of those moral-victory things. (“They won but we made them use their closer and he was probably extra sweaty so he drove up the water bill in the shower haha Phillies!”) Canha grounded a ball off Knebel, who sprang off the mound, picked it up and threw to first too late as Alonso scampered home.

It was 7-4, and now Dom Smith [30] really was the tying run, and even though this probably wasn’t fated to work out, it had at least become pretty fun. Dom worked the count to 3-2 … and struck out on a disappearing Knebel knuckle-curve.

That brought up pinch hitter J.D. Davis [31], who ripped another ball past Bohm into the left-field corner, scoring McNeil and advancing Canha (still one shy of being the tying run, because Rob Manfred hasn’t messed around with that part yet) to third, where Joey Cora [32] wisely opted for something short of his usual level of aggression. Now the tying run was at second, and this was definitely fun. Now the Mets didn’t need a whole sequence of good things but just one more good thing.

That’s usually when the supply of good things runs out, but hey, hope’s free. Travis Jankowski [33] replaced J.D. at second and the game would come down to Brandon Nimmo [34] against Knebel and that knuckle-curve. Just the game, I reminded myself — not the season or my eternal happiness or the fate of the cosmos. Knebel threw a curve for strike one, then a fastball high and tight, and then went back to the curve — leaving it right in the middle of the plate. Nimmo slashed it over the infield to chase home Canha and Jankowski and tie the game.

Which, if you’ve watched enough baseball, leaves you simultaneously cackling with glee and worried that your team will now get walked off in the bottom of the ninth to make everyone involved wonder why they bothered. Except Marte smashed Knebel’s first pitch off the fence in left-center — gone on a summer night or with a differently constructed baseball — to bring home Nimmo as the go-ahead run. UNBELIEVABLE! crowed Gary Cohen, while Knebel lurched around on the mound looking like a man trying to wake from a nightmare.

With the Mets improbably and astonishingly up 8-7, on came the suddenly possibly trustworthy Edwin Diaz [35], a phenomenon I still find stranger than anything I just used a few hundred words to carefully chronicle. With Phillie fans looking on in shock, Diaz struck out Roman Quinn [36], coaxed a grounder from J.T. Realmuto [37] and then struck out Rhys Hoskins [38] on three pitches, using that deadly slider as the coup de grace.

That’s one you should bottle — a mental vintage you’ll want to savor should the rain wash away the rest of this series, or during the next 330 games in which being down six in the ninth turns out as you’d expect. In a quarter-century you’ll proudly tell fans who take their neural implants for granted that you were at the Brandon Nimmo Game (or the Starling Marte Game, whatever works) or kept the faith and watched the whole thing on TV or at least squinted at it on your cellphone. Or maybe you’ll admit that you did something more sensible with your night and didn’t know until morning, when your reaction was, “wait, what [39]?”