I've referenced my August trip to Citi Field a few times, never mentioning the actual game. What was to mention? By the time I got home and was able to even think about writing about it, the Mets were mired in a losing streak against two of the worst teams in the league where they couldn't muster more than two runs, and even that, or one, was a near-impossibility for most of the week. By the time the homestand was over and they'd eked out a couple of good-riddance wins against their soon to be ex-pansion cousins, all hope of this season going anywhere was largely out of the box- or, rather, hopelessly stuck inside it.
Yet there was this play at the end of that first Rockies game. Sharon and Taryn had already said their farewells (Coop not entirely of her free will, as the Caesars Police wouldn't let her back in), so Greg and I got to experience the moment of reverse schadenfreudestalisis that is an attempted Mets comeback.
Recall the scene. Bottom eight, Mets down 2-1, that early staking of a Dickey lead having long passed into that deficit and the offense having managed exactly one hit in six innings against a less than stellar crew. Yahoo tells it, retrospectively and impassively, like this:
- R. Tejada popped out to shallow right
- M. Baxter doubled to shallow left
- D. Wright intentionally walked
- I. Davis struck out swinging
- D. Murphy walked, M. Baxter to third, D. Wright to second
- M. Belisle relieved R. Brothers
- J. Valdespin hit for S. Hairston
- J. Valdespin grounded out to first
All due respect, Son of Serious, but that's not how it happened. Jordany, who'd been with the Bisons in recent days and would be back here eight nights later for their home (and likely Met) finale, hit the squibbiest of squibblers up the first base line. The tying run crossed, the go-ahead might have been in motion as well, but the fielder threw to first and, by the barest of measures, if any, he was out, the inning was over, and the ninth was completely anticlimactic.
From there, it got worse before it got even a little better. The wrapup wins against the 'Stros helped; so did the road results against our true current competition. And yet, I saw the stories about post-Labor Day collapses. The Braves and Red Sox can tell you how safe a big Labor Day lead is, they said. I checked the standings for the first time in a month, and there we were, nine games out with 30 to play.
Hell, we've come from almost as far ahead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Could I believe? Today's Citi Field contest would tell a lot, as the Cardinals are one of the teams we'd likely have to beat out in that stretch.
Except it wasn't AT Citi Field. My bad; turning the game on and seeing an Arch dispelled that. Also seeing an Arch enemy behind the plate and probably the worst choice of starters for a key-to-any-chance victory.
I saw Collin McHugh on the preview page. He pitched great in the Bison game at Fenway I attended three Saturdays ago, then pitched almost as well in the fourth lost-cause game against Colorado three days after I was there. He was back in Buffalo for that rather depressing Bison finale, where he was staked to an early 2-0 lead, lost it, left in the fifth with the bases empty and the score tied at 2 when a pitch count limit kicked in, got into a Twitterfight with the local baseball columnist later that week, and then promptly lost his stuff in his fewer-than-five stint early this afternoon.
It looked bleak. I started catching up on Newsroom episodes I'd missed on my computer; I put laundry in; anything to avoid the Cardinal sin unfolding before me. Yet the picture was always on, and before I knew it, first Shoppach and then Murphy had gone yard and a seemingly random insurance tally against Robert Carson (by my count the 2,130th reliever on the staff this year) was all the difference going to the top of the ninth.
Crucially, the Mets got that second tater and a lot of wear and tear off a variety of Card relievers, forcing them to bring in their closer top eight to get five outs. Of which he got exactly four. The fifth came through another of those bang-bang inch plays at first, so much like the aborted mission I saw in Queens, that might have been the Budweiser Turning Point of the Season, which, when you're the beer that owns the opposing team, can never be good.
Andres Torres, leading off, hit a shot almost straight along one of those lawnmower-perfect lines fanning out near, but not quite in, the right field corner. He's gonna try for two!, my heart pounded, while my head did some basic math and trigonometry to gauge his chances of making it. They were good, and we had the tying run in scoring position with nobody out and the top of our order one pinch hitter away.
Only then came.... well.
Until I was about eleven, I thought there was something in baseball called "a peel play." My father could never explain it to me, and it took years to get the metaphysics of it all.
And that goddam LaRussa acolyte in the dugout promptly tossed a peel on the field and Torres slipped right on it. Bang bang, season dead, ten game deficit in your head.
Collins put up a semblance of a fight, but as SNY the boys properly noted, the runner never bothered to react himself. (At least Ike Davis, when he'd been nearly doubled off in the previous inning, did his best imitation of a wide receiver signaling the officiating crew to move the chains or change possession.) And from there, as with the final Met turn I was at against the Rockies, it was all over except the waiting. They got a guy on, who would've made it two on and one out in a parallel universe, but you just knew, as you saw him standing there, that this team, on this date, was just Beat All.
It ain't over until mathematical elimination pays a call, probably sometime in the next homestand. But today felt like our last and best chance, and it is even more painful to realize that we missed it by that much. Or little.