Saturday, April 26, 2014

There's Always A Way

I was feeling rather annoyed as the game moved into the 9th inning last night. The Mets had, for the most part, played well enough to beat the Mickey Mouse Marlins, behind a 10-strikeout performance by Zack Wheeler. The pitching, for 7 and 2/3s innings was great, and made the fact that the offense had only managed two runs stand up. But Gonzalez Germen didn't get an inning-ending 3rd strike call on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the ensuing pitches that followed produced a pair of solo Home Runs that now put the Mets in a position to lose, miserably, on another frigid night at Citi Field that felt about as frigid as my affections towards the Marlins.

Perhaps that was what made me more annoyed than usual about this game. That for all the talk and bluster about an improved roster and a better team and better results, they still couldn't figure out a way to beat the Goddamned Marlins. And for whatever reason, that really pissed me off. I don't think I've ever really gotten over the way the Marlins and their 4 fans treated the Mets in '07 and '08, and while none of the players that were actually on the Marlins in those years are still on the team, once you get a stink for a franchise, that stink lasts forever.

The game actually started out well enough. The keynote for the evening was sounded by what is for me a rare Citi Field beer with George, and continued with my first-ever meal in the Promenade Club. Most loyal readers, I'm sure, have probably been in the Promenade Club at one time in the now 6 years of Citi Field's existence. I only recently (read: Last year) discovered that thanks to my having a ticket plan, I actually have access to the Promenade Club and have taken advantage of it—but only because it's indoors and just about all of the games I've been to this season have been excessively cold. I've never actually eaten something from the little Food Bar they have there, mostly because I was either unsure or not in the mood for whatever's on the menu. It's not exactly a diverse selection; you can choose between the wing bar (pick your own sauce and they'll throw the whole blessed mess in a jug for you), and a menu consisting of a Cheesesteak (not the Pat LaFreida kind), a Burger/Fries combo, a Burrito, and some other things that I can't remember. I went for the Cheesesteak. George had the Burrito. It's charming. You order and then they give you a little number on a stand and then they bring the food out to your table, kind of like Steak 'n Shake or some similar joint. The food is fine, but I'm of the opinion that if you're going to have a restricted-access thing here, why not have a few more interesting options on the menu? Then again, I guess that's what the Caesar's Club is for.

Having made it through a meal, we then sat down for the game, which consisted mostly of Zack Wheeler pitching particularly well. Although he threw too many pitches and worked too many deep counts, he worked exceptionally well at keeping his composure, minimizing damage and making big pitches when he needed to make them. In the 1st inning, he survived a 2-base error by David Wright and struck out Saltalamacchia with runners on 1st and 3rd. In the 3rd, he struck out the side. In the 6th, he punctuated his evening by getting out of another 1st and 3rd jam with 1 out and the game on the line, striking out Derek Dietrich and Adeiny Hechaverria to finish off his 110-pitch effort with a flourish. Wheeler continues to demonstrate a good rapport with Travis d'Arnaud; this started last season when the two teamed together in AAA and continued when they both reached the majors. I expect it will continue throughout this season, d'Arnaud has done a good job of coaxing Wheeler through some jams in a few different instances and the one in the 6th was no different. Wheeler looked as though he was fading and about to unravel into one of those 3-run bloodbaths that ended with him walking off dejectedly in the middle of an inning, but he made a few outstanding pitches to Hechaverria when his gas tank was clearly just about empty.

And as the game drew on, you figured Wheeler's strong outing would be the story of the game. Gonzalez Germen came in for the 7th, got the Marlins in order, and came back for the 8th, because why not? The only question really left to chance was who would come in as closer in the 9th? We could see a variety of pitchers warming up, ranging from Scott Rice to Jose Valverde, to Kyle Farnsworth, whom George had actually forgotten was on the team...

...Oh. Then Saltalamacchia homered. Tie Game. No more worrying about who's closing right now. Garrett Jones followed and hit a real tracer down the right field line. One of those drives that was moving at such speed that while you hoped it would curl foul, it probably wasn't going to, and it didn't, clanging off the foul pole for another homer that put the Marlins ahead 3-2 and damn near wrecked the entire night. I was cold, I was about to see the Mets lose another game this season to throw my record down to an ugly 2-4 for the season (and a miserable 1-3 on the current homestand) and worst of all it was all happening at the hands of the Marlins, who should be getting pounded by every team in the league repeatedly, if for no other reason than their presence continues to make a mockery of the sport while more deserving cities (that shall remain nameless) go without.

Ultimately, though, it all ended up being a setup for a sublime finish in a 9th inning rally that included some unlikely names and some odd moves, but whatever it was, it all ended up working out in the end. Steve Cishek, the slop-throwing Marlin closer that was apparently on one of those consecutive save streaks that only the most overrated closers embark on came in and immediately gave up a parachute single to Lucas Duda on his first pitch, a ball placed just well enough to not be caught and give the Mets a good start on the inning. d'Arnaud followed and I was a bit shocked to see him bunting. Though d'Arnaud hasn't hit a ton this season, he's certainly hit better of late (now off the interstate) and his approach gives me the impression that he will only continue to get better from here, to the point where he might not be asked to bunt in a similar situation in the future. However, here, he was bunting, and he did manage to lay down a successful sacrifice, setting the stage for the ageless Bobby Abreu to pinch hit. For Abreu, who mysteriously resurfaced with the team earlier this week, this was his shot to prove that there was still some life left in that bat of his, and although he did get enough of a pitch to shoot it out into Left Field, and it appeared destined to fall in, Fielding Mellish had the ball played perfectly and picked it off for the second out.

This left it all up to Omar Quintanilla, which wasn't exactly an inspiring presence, but for all his foibles, Quintanilla is, if nothing else, someone who can come off the bench and whack a hit every so often when it's needed. And after being down to his last strike, Quintanilla managed to find a pitch he could handle and hit it in a similar spot to where Abreu's ball was hit, except it fell in, and when Mellish slipped and fell while attempting a throw home, Duda was able to score the tying run. Duda had a decent chance to score even if Mellish hadn't fell, although had he been able to get a clean throw off, the play would have been closer. Nonetheless, the Mets had managed to get off the mat and tie the game. Now, the key was could they find a way to win it in under 14 innings, because it was still cold and after a full week of work, neither George and I were relishing the thought of extra innings. Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed, hitting for Eric Young, and he delivered a gapper that could have won the game outright had Marcell Ozuna not cut the ball off before it went through to the wall, or had someone faster than Omar Quintanilla been running. Still, it did put the winning run in scoring position, provided Curtis Granderson could come through with one more hit. Given that Granderson had been 0-for-4 on the night and just hasn't managed to get himself on track to this point, it didn't seem likely, but then again, many of the contributing characters to this rally didn't seem likely. So, then, it stood to reason that Granderson would hit a screaming line drive directly at Garrett Jones...that would somehow find its way past him and into Right Field for the Game-Winning hit and the celebratory walk-off pie-in-the-face.

This ended up being a gratifying win, not simply for the obvious reason of who got the winning hit or who they beat in the game (it's always nice to throw a walk-off celebration in the face of a team that whooped it up a little too much at your expense), but because the Mets right now have been coming up with different ways to win just about every game of late, and when you can generate a string of games like that, it can begin to breed confidence and take off from there. I realize it's happened to the Mets before and then falls apart just as quickly, but, hey, it's gotta work one of these years, right? Right?!

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