Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Fix Is In

During the last Football Season, I wrote about The Hot Team, in reference to the Seattle Seahawks. They were a team that got on a roll and basically started catching every break, getting every close call and riding that wave to an extended string of rousing success.

The Hot Team applies to Baseball, too. The Hot Team in Baseball right now is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who came into their series last night with the Mets in the throes of a 37-8 stretch that has seen them go from a potential laughingstock to everyone's darlings. All of a sudden, Don Mattingly is a genius, Clayton Kershaw is the second coming of Sandy Koufax, and hotshot rookie Yasiel Puig is everyone's flavor of the week. They're on such a roll that they've even managed to leap the Atlanta Braves as everyone's darlings.

It's enough to make you want to puke.

After spending a majority of my evening watching assorted programming that did everything to drill into your head just how wonderful the Dodgers are (you know, in spite of the fact that they haven't actually won anything yet), I was really looking forward to the Mets maybe going into Los Angeles and kicking the Dodgers in the nuts a little bit. Nobody wants to talk about the Mets at all right now, but someday, they'll be The Hot Team too, I'd have to guess, particularly considering the fact that they currently boast a starting rotation that could rival any in the majors as far as level of talent goes.

But, you still have to go out and win the game on the field, and one of the frustrating things about playing against The Hot Team is that you not only have to beat them, you have to beat them in spite of all the breaks they're bound to get. Worst of all, The Hot Team seems to invariably have a particularly annoying mojo that makes their opponent turn to mush at the worst possible moment. Think about how many times in recent memory the Mets have played lights-out, brilliant baseball for weeks, only to turn into a bunch of schmucks against a team like the Braves, Cardinals or that other team that plays in New York. There's no logical explanation for it, like there's some sort of hex that The Hot Team can just will onto their opponent. Last night's game seemed to exemplify this to a "T."

Things were going swimmingly for the Mets as last night's game entered the 6th inning. They were ahead 2-0, thanks to a 2nd inning rally against old friend Ricky Nolasco, who I believe was pitching against the Mets for the 271st time in his career. Even in Los Angeles, he appeared to be as sweaty and sullen as I remember, although I'm sure he's enjoying himself more now that he's no longer stuck in Baseball Purgatory. Jenrry Mejia was looking even better, continuing his resurgence with 5 shutout innings and really showing the Dodgers what's what. He'd struck out The Great Puig twice and made him look bad, causing Puig to throw his helmet and pout around the dugout for a while.

But leading off the 6th inning, Carl Crawford hit a dinky little grounder to 2nd that Daniel Murphy gagged on, and by time he picked it up, it was too late to get the speedy Crawford. For whatever reason, it was scored a hit. For The Hot Team, sometimes that's all it takes. That little bit of voodoo hits one player and spreads like the plague. Mark Ellis followed with a little flare that somehow hiccuped off of Murphy's glove for another hit, then Dante Hicks Adrian Gonzalez roped a single to center that scored Crawford and eventually scored Ellis when Juan Lagares, found himself in the crosshairs of the Dodger Hex and had his strong throw to 3rd bounce off Ellis and into the seats, thus allowing Ellis to score and Gonzalez to go to 3rd. Puig followed with a sacrifice fly, and just like that, a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 deficit and made a loser out of Mejia through no real doing of his own.

The Mets certainly made their best effort to try to come back, but by that point, the hex had already taken hold and had spread to the Umpires, which was just about enough to give you the impression that the fix was in. The Mets loaded the bases with 1 out, prompting the Dodgers to bring in reliever Ronald Belisario to face Juan Lagares. This was, of course, the setup for the perfect storm of horrible. First, Lagares got rooked on a check swing with a 2-0 count, getting charged a strike when he didn't swing. But Lagares, undaunted, worked the count further, eventually getting to 3-2 when Belisario threw a pitch that appeared to not only be high, but a good 4" outside. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a bases loaded walk to re-tie the game 3-3. But not under the Hex. Under the Hex, Ball 4 was egregiously called Strike 3 by Home Plate ump Chad Fairchild, who put a little extra mustard on the call just to make sure everyone knew it. Given just how outrageously bad the call was, I have to applaud both Juan Lagares and Terry Collins for their restrained behavior, because I, probably every other Mets fan, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez were all probably ready to blow their collective stacks at Fairchild.

The Mets still had a chance to cash in with 2 outs, but Aurelio Lopez-like lefty Paco Rodriguez came in and Daniel Murphy's shot in the gap probably would have hit the wall and scored 3 runs under normal circumstances, but, again, the Hex, and there was Yasiel Puig to pick off the liner and end the inning.

None of the rest of the game is worth discussing, unless you really want me to go off on a diatribe against Danny DeVito or something. The Hot Team won again, not that that was at all surprising, and sometimes, when you're a young team that's learning how to be winners like the Mets are right now, there's just not much you can do except try to keep your cool and not let things snowball out of control from there. Fortunately, the Mets have Matt Harvey on the mound tonight, who for the most part has proven himself impervious to such outside stimulii as The Hot Team. But the rest of his teammates have to follow suit. We'll see what happens. 

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