Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lucky 11th

Some Mets games I've been to have more twists and turns than I'm able to adequately describe. Monday Night's game at Citi Field most definitely can be classified as one of those games. On the heels of seeing the Mets get No-hit last week, this game got off to an eerily similar start. Things turned in the Mets favor in the middle innings when they finally got a hit and some runs, only to slip away at the hands of an overused Closer. Things appeared lost in the 11th inning, but the Mets managed to take advantage of some bizarrely specific circumstances to come back from the dead and win the damn thing, 4-3, stopping the Blue Jays' 11 game winning streak and keeping their perfect Home record against Toronto intact.

My 10th game of the season came a mere 6 days after the ignominy of last week, which I'd prefer to never mention again except that sometimes I have to. The Mets were playing the Blue Jays, a team I'd hadn't seen the Mets play since 2001—because they hadn't played the Mets in New York since 2001. The Blue Jays had also never won a game against the Mets in New York. But, 14 years later, who would pay attention to that? This meant the return of several things to New York, among them Jose Reyes, who received a warm welcome, in stark contrast to when he appeared with the Mickey Mouse Marlins 3 years ago, R.A. Dickey, who was lost in a sea of blue sweatshirts in the Toronto dugout, and the Canadian National Anthem, which I feel squashes the Star Spangled Banner like a grape, and has never been performed at Citi Field—because this was the first time a Canadian team had ever played at Citi Field. As such, they had to get a professional to sing O Canada, because nobody here probably knows it; certainly the school group that sang the Star Spangled Banner didn't.

Then, there was a game to be played, and after striking out Reyes and getting Josh Donaldson to fly out, Noah Syndergaard faced Jose Bautista, and Bautista greeted Syndergaard by clobbering a pitch so far up the 2nd deck in Left Field that Michael Cuddyer didn't even give it a courtesy run. This seemed to unnerve Syndergaard, who then gave walked Edwin Encarnacion and allowed a bloop hit to Chris Colabello (and his .345 batting average) before finally getting Dioner Navarro to end the inning, after having thrown about 15 pitches more than he needed to. However, Syndergaard settled down, and more importantly settled in, and looked every bit like the dominant pitcher we were looking for. Against a lineup that's been bombarding pitchers for double-digit runs over the past few weeks, this was a particularly impressive effort. Though he only managed to make it through 6 innings, Syndergaard allowed only the 1 run, 2 hits and 1 walk in the 1st inning and supplemented that with 11 strikeouts.

Syndergaard's counterpart, Mark Buehrle, had no such pitch count issues, as he set down the Mets in order in the 1st, and then did so again in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, as I began to get more and more apoplectic. It wasn't lost on me that I'd just seen this happen, and that personal hitless inning streak was stretching much longer than I was comfortable with. After 12 innings, I'd had enough of that. After 13 innings, I was really starting to get frustrated. In the 5th, Lucas Duda hit a shot that sort of handcuffed Encarnacion (who clearly plays 1st Base like a DH) and went down the line. I had to wait a few seconds just to make sure it was actually scored a hit. Fortunately it was, so I could finally breathe easier.

Still, for the great work Syndergaard had done keeping the Blue Jays in check, the Mets hadn't cracked the scoreboard. But in the 6th, they broke through for a pair of runs, started when Kevin Plawecki used the often-reviled head-first slide into 1st base to beat an errant throw from Reyes, aided when Syndergaard stayed in the game to lay down a bunt, and finished off by back-to-back RBI Doubles from Juan Lagares and Ruben Tejada.

The Mets turned this lead over to the bullpen. First, Carlos Torres came in and got the lower half of the Toronto lineup in order. This was just fine. Jack Leathersich came in the game in the 8th and got one out, but then walked Justin Smoak, the failed Rangers/Mariners prospect who's mysteriously resurfaced with Toronto. Jose Reyes followed by grounding hard to 3rd, a ball that might have been hit hard enough to double up Reyes, but Tejada double clutched the ball and only got one of the two outs. In Tejada's defense, that was Jose Reyes running to 1st, so it's just as well he assured himself of one out. This, then, brought the meaty part of the Toronto lineup up, beginning with Josh Donaldson. There was no way in hell Leathersich was going to be left in. The only question was who would come in the game. After doing some heavy lifting on Sunday, the Mets bullpen was somewhat limited, to the point where Akeel Morris, a guy you've never heard of unless you watch Spring Training games or collect Bowman Baseball Cards, was summoned from A-ball to fill some holes.

Oddly, Jeurys Familia was summoned for a 4-out Save, one day after he converted a 4-out Save. This wasn't odd in the sense that Terry Collins wanted his best pitcher to go after Toronto's best hitters. But it was sort of irritating because Collins has been working Familia pretty hard all season, and 4-out Saves on Back-to-back days is a tall order, plus the fact that there was no other arm he could trust in that situation isn't really good. George agreed with the move, at least until I mentioned that Familia had picked up a 4-out Save the day before. Then, he thought the move completely asinine. Regardless, Familia came in, struck out Donaldson and got 25% of the way to a victory.

Unfortunately, that's as far as he got. Steve Delabar stopped the Mets in the 8th, so Familia returned still nursing a 1-run lead, which lasted the duration of one pitch in the top of the 9th. That pitch was sent screaming down the Left Field line by Jose Bautista, towards the corner. Were the Left Field foul pole 340' away from Home Plate, the ball might have hooked foul. Unfortunately, the line is only 335' and thus the ball landed a few feet fair for Bautista's second home run of the night, lead gone, 4-out save blown, good vibes gone. Things could potentially have gotten much worse, as Encarnacion followed with a jam shot double. Familia, who was clearly working on fumes at this point, got Colabello to pop out to Duda, but then walked Dioner Navarro. He wasn't putting batters away like he normally does, and Kevin Pillar battled him gamely, but fortunately bounced into a Fielder's Choice, and then Danny Valencia struck out and the Mets emerged from the inning tied.

Roberto Osuna set the Mets down in order in the last of the 9th, and so, after 8 innings of holding the hottest team in Baseball in check, the Mets now found themselves heading to extra innings. Fortunately, the game had been relatively quick to this point, not quite past the three hour mark. This was primarily because Mark Buehrle had spent the first 7 innings working at his usual metronomic pace, averaging :08 between pitches and keeping things moving along. Plus, there wasn't a lot of cocking around with pitching changes, and even a lengthy 3rd inning delay when Home Plate umpire Marty Foster was injured after getting clocked with a foul ball didn't slow things down much.

Hansel Robles, who really hadn't had a chance to calm down after his 9th inning misadventure on Saturday, entered the game and worked a clean inning, even getting through Russell Martin, who I still insist is a low-rent Paul LoDuca. Aaron Loup, a stringy lefthander, came in for Toronto in the last of the 10th, and in spite of facing a pair of righthanded hitters also allowed the Mets nothing.

By the 11th, George was beginning to wind down. I felt I still had a couple of innings left in me, but George, who has to work earlier than I do, said that this would be his last inning. The discussion then turned to the longest games I'd attended, in terms of innings. We'd attended a couple of 13-inning affairs over the years, but 14 innings remains my personal record, something I've been subjected to 5 times. I noted that by time the game gets that long, I start to root for someone to score period, not necessarily the Mets. This, of course, led to the inevitable mention of the fabled Bobby Valentine Moustache game, which took place against the Blue Jays and featured a walk-off hit by none other than Rey Ordonez.

The hope was that this particular game wouldn't follow suit, and when Robles walked Ezequiel Carrera and then gave up a hit & run single to Colabello, the Jays were in business. Robles then got ahead of Navarro 0-2, but Navarro hacked at the 2-strike pitch and hit a fly ball out to Granderson in right, and any fly ball to Granderson in right is likely deep enough to plate a run, and that's exactly what happened as the Jays grabbed a lead, and suddenly found themselves 3 outs from stealing a win and extending their winning streak to 12.

This put me and every other Mets fan in a rather foul mood as Brett Cecil, who somehow is the Jays closer, came in for the last of the 11th. I've always operated under the assumption that Brett Cecil was a former Yankees "prospect," and as such wasn't any good, but it seems that was never the case. He's always been a Blue Jay. So, he retired Lagares to start the inning, but then walked Tejada.

This, then, is when the circumstance and brilliance of Baseball took over.

Michael Cuddyer, who was certainly capable of popping one into the seats, came to bat. He didn't pop one anywhere, instead he hit a ground ball to 2nd base, horrifyingly destined to be a game-ending Double Play. Ryan Goins fielded the ball, and all he had to do was just slap a tag on Tejada, toss to Colabello and finish off the Mets. Tejada, however, broke to a stop rather than running into a tag. He then wisely backpedaled towards 1st, forcing Goins to chase him down in order to make the tag. Goins might have been wiser to try to get the force at 2nd, except that he'd committed to the play and instead chased, and eventually tagged Tejada, but by that point Cuddyer was well safe at 1st, and Tejada had managed to keep the Mets alive for one more batter. This was Lucas Duda, certainly one capable of blasting a pitch into the seats, even against a Lefty. The Jays went into their overshift, as teams usually do against Duda, pulling the infielders over to the right side, and shifting their outfielders over as well, and deep, to the point where Carrera was playing somewhere in front of the Apple, Pillar was in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Bautista was playing somewhere in Forest Hills. Essentially, they were daring Duda to try and hit one the other way. Duda worked the count full, which meant Cuddyer would at least have a running start as Cecil delivered the pitch. Duda swung and did exactly what was necessary at that particular moment: he lofted a pop fly into shallow left field. With Carrera so deep and the infielders swung to the right, it was easy to see off the bat that nobody was going to catch the ball, and Cuddyer was steaming around the bases. Carrera picked up the ball and perhaps a good throw had a chance to get Cuddyer, but Donaldson for some reason cut the throw off and then fumbled the ball, allowing Cuddyer to slide home with the tying run uncontested. The Mets had staved off defeat, and now had an opportunity to win. Cecil was removed in favor of Liam Hendriks, who came in to face Wilmer Flores. Hendriks only needed one pitch, which Flores grounded straight up the middle for a hit. Pillar made a desperate throw towards home but it was nowhere near close enough to get Duda and the Mets escaped with the 4-3 win.

So, it took longer than expected, but the Mets stopped the hottest team in Baseball and kept their home record against the Toronto Blue Jays undefeated in one of the more rousing games the Mets have played at Citi Field in general, never mind rousing for this season. Duda and Flores will get the bulk of the credit, and they should, because Duda's hit was perfectly placed and Flores earned himself getting bum rushed by the entire team and getting the Juan Lagares Sunflower Seed shower, but this whole inning was made possible because of Ruben Tejada not running into the tag on Cuddyer's ground ball. His keeping the game alive made everything after that possible, but of course, that particular play is basically lost in the box score. The sort of little things that make a game like this memorable. Now, hopefully SNY will show replays of this game in their Mets Classics rotation instead of continually showing that game against the Cubs from 2007.

No comments: