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That’s Why They’re Called Throw Pillows

Pete Alonso [1] just swung by to remind us that not every Met ending that oughta be happy winds up that way, nor do even the most promising of post-1986 Mets teams always play baseball like it oughta be. Or maybe Pete Alonso just swung — again. Last we saw him, he couldn’t help himself.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning. The bases were loaded. Two were out. The score was Mariners 8 Mets 7. The score had been Mariners 8 Mets 5. The score had also been, at various intervals, Mets 1 Mariners 0; Mariners 4 Mets 1; and Mets 5 Mariners 4. Once it grew to Mariners 8 Mets 5, I was resigned to a soft loss landing. The first series defeat of 2022 was on approach, but it was going to be to the Mariners. Our undefeated series streak (not really a thing) was still intact versus National League opponents. Same for not having lost a series to a team I could possibly give less of a damn about. Sooner or later we were gonna lose two out of three to somebody. Strangers from a strange land would do.

Except for Paul Sewald [2]. Acquired by Jerry Dipoto [3], he’s the new Jerry Dipoto in my personal frame of reference. In August of 1997, after so much had been going right for the Mets for months, we pulled into Colorado and got swept by the nothing-special Rockies, whose closer was former futile Met Jerry Dipoto. It’s one of those curses of a lengthy and detail-laden memory to maintain simmering grudges against middle relievers who ruined games for you ages ago and then got in your way when they materialized in another uniform. Dipoto mostly sucked as a Met in 1995 and 1996. The Mets sucked as a whole most of Dipoto’s tenure, so the grudge against future GM Jerry shouldn’t be any more sizable or enduring than it is against similarly bad news bullpenmates Doug Henry or Blas Minor, to name two arms from the distant past I hadn’t planned on invoking this week. But then Dipoto goes west, finds himself, and cuts us down in three consecutive games. I had high hopes for those 1997 Mets. That series at Coors Field was the first signal I processed as nope, this won’t be our year.

Except I don’t remember Dipoto cupping a hand over an ear after recording his saves as if to say, “Let’s hear it for your doubts about my abilities now, Mets/Mets fans.” No, Dipoto taunted us much, much later by taking a flier on Sewald and Sewald finding himself en route to his return to Citi Field. Sewald pitched in 125 games as a Met, winning one and losing fourteen. Won-lost records can be deceptive where relief pitchers are concerned. I don’t know that 1-14 meant Sewald sucked or was slowly growing into a big leaguer. Jerry Dipoto went 7-2 in 1996 and still sucked. I grew to disdain Dipoto (and Henry and Minor). Conversely, I never had it in for Sewald as a Met. I mostly experienced sadness when he entered a game between 2017 and 2020. Sadness for what Sewald’s presence indicated about the state of the Mets’ competitive aspirations. Sadness that he attracted Ls and repelled Ws. Sadness that he was, as often or not, bound for Las Vegas or Syracuse when a roster crunch required an option to chew up and spit out. That part was human empathy, which a fan can sometimes conjure for a person when not dismayed by a player. I got a glimpse of Sewald the person at the January 2020 FanFest and determined he seemed more 14-1 than 1-14 when it came to character.

The person who is a fan reserves the right to reverse impressions regarding people who are players. Paul Sewald succeeded at his craft Friday night in a one-run Mariners win over the Mets. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He indicated afterward how much satisfaction [4] it gave him. That’s OK. He’s entitled to tell whoever runs the Mets now, in so many words, “no more shines [5].” Little Paulie, all grown up and doing the town. Whatevs. Congrats. We have different management ensconced since those who “gave up on me” saw enough of Sewald, but environs are environs and orange and blue mean something different to the reliever whose 125 outings in said colors weren’t enough to prove himself by his reckoning. Have your moment, Sewald.

Two is one too many, though. The cupping the hand over the ear, all “how ya like me now?” surpasses Winker in wankerdom. Jesse Winker as professional Citi Field heel is performance art. I’d almost admire his horsespit if in the mood to like anything at all about the Seattle Mariners other than their having defeated the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS.

The grist of the gripe with the Mariners isn’t the flourishes. It’s that they wouldn’t go away quietly after being absent without anybody noticing since their last Queens visit [6] fourteen years earlier. That 1-0 lead, built on Francisco Lindor [7] second-decking Robbie Ray in the first, was whisked away all too easily, as Carlos Carrasco [8] entered Didn’t Have It territory. Ah, but in the fourth, the 2022 Mets showed their contemporary stuff, featuring a pair of triples that each plated a pair of runs, one from J.D. Davis [9], the other from Brandon Nimmo [10]. That tandem of unicorniness (the Mets had never before produced two two-run triples in the same inning) vaulted the Mets into the 5-4 lead that was definitively More Like It. More Like It is far preferable to Didn’t Have It.

But More Like It didn’t last. Carrasco gave way to Chasen Shreve [11], whose general effectiveness this season surely had a YA GOTTA BE SHREVE t-shirt on some clever entrepreneur’s drawing board. The garments went on backorder once Julio Rodriguez went deep (torpedoing the A-CHASEN METS iteration as well). The next heretofore dependable arm to display fallibility was Drew Smith [12], who gave up a two-run homer to the capital of North Carolina, a.k.a. Cal Raleigh. Joely Rodriguez [13] got in on the unrequested action a little later, permitting the eighth Mariner run. The only Met pitcher who escaped with a zero where it counted was the only Met pitcher we didn’t know would be in our sights when Sunday dawned. Colin Holderman [14], who planted himself on the organizational radar with a nifty Spring Training, replaced Tylor Megill [15] on the roster when it was announced Megill was dealing with some right biceps inflammation, which is one of those maladies a fan repeats calmly while thinking, “WHAT?” An MRI showed Tylor is dealing with tendinitis. “WHAT?” also, but in the realm of all that could bother an arm, maybe it’s not so bad. Except for being without Tylor Megill in the interim.

Sewald clowned his way through the bottom of the eighth. Holderman held ’em in the top of the ninth, keeping the M’s from oozing any further ahead than 8-5. I didn’t want to lose to the Mariners (or anybody), but you gotta take the occasional lump in middling humor. Come the bottom of the ninth, I decided, the Mets would conduct the last of their dismal business for Sunday quickly, I’d shrug it off as I’ve shrugged off each intermittent Met loss this year, and then I could move on to my cooking — curried chicken, in case you’re wondering.

Except the Mets, after one out, had other ideas as they took on Drew Steckenrider. Eduardo Escobar [16] awakened from his offensive slumber and tripled. I would’ve been delighted with a double. I was mortified he was going for three down three runs. The rule about not getting thrown at third as the first or third out also extends to the second out in the ninth. Y’know what? Just make it if you’re gonna go for it. Eduardo did. He was surely due. Jeff McNeil [17], who spent 2020 and 2021 due, continued to make up for lost time with a single to make it 8-6. Patrick Mazeika…

Listen, I love a feelgood story as much as the next Mets fan, but, oh brother, am I not confident in Patrick Mazeika [18]. Did I learn nothing on Saturday night when his homer made all the difference? I did not. James McCann [19] does not light the world on fire (unless his surfeit of double play grounders are soaked in gasoline and his bat is a Bic lighter), but a team losing its No. 1 catcher — even its 1A catcher in the prevailing McCann-Nido combo — is a team that’s asking for trouble. We’ve withstood the loss of deGrom. We’ve gotten by without May. Megill, we’ll see. But I have a really bad feeling about finessing however many weeks it will be without McCann. The Mets of the early 1970s were doomed whenever they were bereft of Jerry Grote. Duffy Dyer was the Tomás Nido [20] of his day, but depth gets shallow fast behind the plate. And unless somebody’s gonna drop a Mike Piazza in our laps, don’t get me started on the 1998 Mets without Todd Hundley.

So, no, I wasn’t all “Mazeika Magic!” when Patrick came up to continue the rally. And maybe the Nido-Mazeika platoon will run short on durability soon enough. But on Sunday afternoon in the ninth inning, the kid somehow did his thing, slapping a ball where no Mariner could effectively lay a glove on it, placing Jeff on second and himself on first. Brandon Nimmo was a different story in terms of inspiring confidence. Nimmo is in that Mookie zone right now, that “he does it all and he’s doing it again!” mode Mr. Wilson used to inhabit for significant stretches every season. Nimmo had already tripled and extended his on-base streak to 26 games. Brandon, I was convinced, was gonna do something good here.

Brandon doubled. McNeil raced home. Mazeika made it to third (catchers rarely race). Second and third! Eight-seven! No series has been lost yet! My man Starling Marte is up! I love Starling Marte!

I love Starling Marte [21] a little less since I felt that emotion yesterday, for Starling gave us one of the two worst at-bats I’ve ever seen in my life. Three pitches from Steckenrider’s sudden replacement Diego Castillo (with the infield in) led to three of the dumbest strikes I can recall. My database for “I’ve ever seen” and “I can recall,” by the way, is not to be considered exhaustive. In the moment, however, it was accurate. WTF, Starling?

Ah, but that’s OK, because Lindor, he of the high and handsome home run, is coming up and he’s gonna…be walked intentionally? Just waved to first like Jesse Winker waves to his jeering section? I’m beginning to think there’s a reason the Mariners have missed the playoffs for 21 years. Not my problem. Seattle’s problem was more the matter. Their 8-5 lead was whittled to 8-7. Their none-too-reliable reliever had to pitch with the bases loaded. His manager, Scott Servais, told him to face Pete Alonso with nowhere to put him. And the game I’d been content to shrug off now sat heavily on my shoulders.

So it was my problem, too. I could’ve dealt with an 8-5 loss. An 8-7 loss is a different story. How can it not be? There’s nothing implicit in a score of 8-7 when you don’t have the “8” that isn’t aggravating. You gave up too many runs and scored not quite enough. It’s a one-run loss, but it’s hellishly different from 2-1, which is how we lost Friday night. When it’s 8-7 in the other team’s favor, you have to get it to 8-8 at the very least. Surpassing 8-8 is even better, but one antsy thought regarding outcomes that are completely out of your control at a time. My mind was operating like J.B. Smoove’s in one of those Caesars commercials, everything zipping around in a digital display.

Can we really come back like this again?
Is this almost too easy?
Is thinking it’s almost too easy going to make this even harder?
But don’t assume the worst.
Is 2022 our year of destiny?
Will Pete fuck this up?
If we don’t win today, are we somehow doomed?
Seriously, are we gonna get another catcher?
Who thought not having Tylor Megill might be a linchpin?
Have faith in Trevor Williams if he takes Megill’s start.
I have little faith in Trevor Williams.
Don’t even worry about that right now.
Don’t worry about the catching.
Just have faith in Pete.
Maybe there’ll be a wild pitch.
How did Pete swing at that?

“How did Pete swing at that?” was the most operative of thoughts, especially but not solely on three-and-two with the still unreliable Castillo tempting Alonso one final time to swing at a slider away. If Pete’s bat remains still, it’s ball four and we’ve got a tie game and all the momentum and all the magic and Canha coming up and what a year! Instead, Pete can’t help but swing, and though the first base umpire has to be consulted, it’s strike three. Diego Castillo didn’t do much well, but neither Marte nor Alonso was willing to let him beat himself. The two worst at-bats I’ve ever seen (don’t hold me to that) sandwiched an intentional walk, resulting in an 8-7 loss [22] that sounds about as bad now as it was when it unfolded.

Not knowing what else do to, I grabbed the objects nearest to me and threw a couple of throw pillows to the ground, thus learning why they are called throw pillows. Then I grabbed a few paper napkins and threw those to the ground. Paper napkins don’t make for very emphatic throwing in disgust. I stalked around like Max Scherzer for a spell; fumed at every mention of how noble it was that the Mets didn’t quit (are they supposed to quit?); attempted to take succor from Buck Showalter’s reminder that the opponents are an assemblage of competent professionals or whatever he said; snarled at Sewald; rationalized that somehow a loss like this was healthy in the long run because ninth-inning comebacks can’t be wished into existence on an almost daily basis; realized anew that you can be having a splendid season yet a loss that sucks is a loss that sucks; catalogued several of society’s genuine ills for perspective; and eventually turned my attention to my cooking to take my mind off what I just saw, which was Pete Alonso swinging at fucking ball four with the bases loaded and two out and the Mets down by one in the bottom of the ninth and it would’ve been so much better had he taken a pitch there.

Sometimes you just have to grab a big knife and slice the hell out of some carrots.