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Things Stop Working

In Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Phillies, the Mets’ 2022 formula worked to perfection: grind out at-bats, drive up pitch counts, exploit weaknesses and strike.

Brandon Nimmo [1] led off with a walk against old chum Zack Wheeler [2], who threw 17 pitches in the first and 20 in the second, unscored upon but with his pitch count rising. Meanwhile, Trevor Williams [3] — the Swiss army knife of the Mets’ pitching corps — was holding his own, and the Phils were dealing with multiple other frustrations, whether it was short-circuiting an inning on the blown double steal the Mets had pulled off Friday night or watching a member of the 7 Line Army throw out the first pitch. In the fifth, Wheeler surrendered a single over the infield to Michael Perez [4] to score two; an inning later a Francisco Lindor [5] triple and a Jeff McNeil [6] single brought in two more, leaving Wheeler to depart and mutter about “cheap hits,” [7] which simultaneously wasn’t wrong and wasn’t a good look. The roof then fell in on the Phillies in the ninth, with Darick Hall [8] pressed into service to spare the bullpen further effort, and the Mets had struck first [9].

That first game began while we were driving back from our week on LBI, with Garden State Parkway traffic grinding me down like a starter in the City of Brotherly Love; it ended as the Q train bore Emily and me down to Coney Island to check in on the Brooklyn Cyclones, who were squaring off against the Hudson Valley Renegades on Star Wars Night. (A friend who joined us got his picture taken with costumed intergalactic ne’er-do-wells and asked me if I wanted one; my response was “nah, it’s too much like work.”)

Being AWOL, I caught a good chunk of the nightcap as delivered by Howie and Wayne over my phone, tipped up to one ear because I’d forgotten to bring airpods. Honestly, I wish I’d heard less of it. (Also: The Cyclones lost, though Alex Ramirez [10]‘s quick hands and easy power are worth keeping an eye on.)

The Mets seemed poised to repeat Game 1’s formula against some Phillie with the unfortunate name of Bailey Falter [11], who couldn’t find the plate in the first. With a run already in and the bases loaded, McNeil smacked a sinking liner to the vicinity of Nick Castellanos [12] in right. With Castellanos, “vicinity” generally isn’t enough to yield an out, but this time he crumbled to his knees and somehow emerged with the ball in his glove instead of loping disconsolately after it as various Mets scooted around the bases, an outcome I very much would have preferred. I enjoy playing “Why Is Jeff McNeil Enraged Right Now?” as a quiz accompanying Mets games, but that wasn’t one of the more difficult puzzlers.

A bad omen, as was Falter’s delivery coming from the left side, known in olden times as “sinister.” The Mets couldn’t touch Falter after that and David Peterson [13] looked out of sorts, allowing an RBI single to J.T. Realmuto [14] in the first and (by an inch or so) a two-run double to Alec Bohm [15] in the third. Yet the Phils couldn’t land the knockout blow that Peterson seemed constantly about to receive. Nor could they break through against Stephen Nogosek [16], who had to battle not only the Phillies but also his teammates’ suddenly inept fielding — made up for, with the game about to get away, by a desperate lunging grab by McNeil. (The scouting report on young Brett Baty [17] has been accurate so far, by the way: He’s ready with a bat in his hands but a work in progress when one of those hands occupies a glove.)

The seventh inning arrived with the Mets somehow still within striking distance, and you could imagine the story turning around and this recap becoming a long meditation on Philadelphia frustration. But it wasn’t to be [18]: The Mets misplayed a Kyle Schwarber [19] double into a hustle triple that became a fourth run and couldn’t get to Jose Alvarado [20] and David Robertson [21], with a fizzled ninth inning (long foul drive that became part of a strikeout, double and walk setting up a little bounder to third for the final out) serving as a miniature portrait of their troubles. The Braves — those chopping chanting Terminators of our increasingly uneasy dreams — then inevitably survived an epic throwdown with the Astros, and so the Mets will look to young Jose Butto [22] to avoid a split and the possibility of their lead shrinking to two games.

What happens will be chronicled closely here, of course, so I’ll leave you with a bit of roster-trivia sherbet. Saturday brought three Met debuts: Sam Clay [23], Yolmer Sanchez [24] and Rob Zastryzny [25], with Clay joining R.J. Alvarez [26] as a recent escapee from Met ghost status and Zastryzny avoiding ectoplasm as a 27th man, which may or may not be easier than navigating the heart of the Phillie order. The roster of 2022 Met ghosts has thus shrunk from a record-setting four (Alvarez, Clay, Gosuke Katoh [27] and Kramer Robertson [28]) to just two. Katoh may yet materialize given infield misadventures; Robertson is once more Cardinals property and thus an unlikely candidate for resurrection. Both played in the big leagues for other clubs earlier this season and so at least can be considered curiosities instead of tragedies.

Hey, somebody’s got to keep track of these things.