Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rewriting The Story

After 6 innings on Tuesday night, I don't think any Mets fan could be blamed for being a little annoyed. Yes, a loss wouldn't have been the end of the world, particularly considering the Nationals are still very much a contending team with a ferocious lineup. But the way things were playing out was quite aggravating. First, after the whole innings limit spectacle over the weekend, Matt Harvey had a chance to go out and just shut everyone up, and he didn't do that. He didn't pitch especially poorly, but Washington reached him for 2 runs in the 1st inning and another in the 2nd before things completely unraveled in the 6th. Harvey did himself no favors by basically Daniel Murphy-ing an Ian Desmond bunt attempt with 2 on and no outs, and the resulting late throw he made to 3rd base put him in an impossible spot. Harvey got 1 of the 3 outs he needed to survive this mess, but then 14-year old Outfielder Michael Taylor rocketed a single to center field that hopped past Yoenis Cespedes, rolled to the wall, and instead of allowing 1 or 2 runs to score, 4 runs scored and a salvageable 3-1 lead turned into a 7-1 bloodbath. That was going to be the story of the night: Matt Harvey with egg on his face. When your Ace starts giving up Little League Home Runs to guys who actually look like Little Leaguers, you had to figure it just wasn't the Mets night.

Or, you know, the Mets had the Nationals right where they wanted them.

The Mets only reached Jordan Zimmermann for 1 run, a David Wright Home Run, but of course what doesn't show up in the box score is the fact that they kept making Zimmermann throw extra pitches and drove up his pitch count to the point where Matt Williams removed him from the game after 5.1 innings. I know Matt Williams has sort of become the butt of all MLB jokes because of his questionable in-game decisions, and this was sort of the theory in action. Zimmermann had thrown 100 pitches, yes. But given how awful his bullpen has been, wouldn't he have been wise to at least try to squeeze another inning out of him? Instead, Zimmermann was gone and the parade began. Just like in the 7th inning on Monday.

Blake Treinen started the 7th inning for Washington on Tuesday. Because, you know, Monday worked out so well for him. He gave up a hit to Wright, then got two quick outs, and then walked Michael Conforto. Again, no real cause for panic. Then, Treinen gave up an RBI single to Wilmer Flores. Kelly Johnson was then sent up to hit for Erik Goeddel. Again, at 7-2, there's no real need to panic or play matchups, especially with 2 outs. Naturally, Williams comes out to remove Treinen for Felipe Rivero. Because, you know, Monday worked out so well for him. Juan Uribe pinch hit for Johnson. Rivero walked him. Curtis Granderson followed. Rivero walked him. Now it's 7-3 and even though there's two outs and I'm thinking there's still no way they can screw this up, there's also that thought in the back of my head of that Friday Night in 2000 when Kerry Lightenberg and Terry Mulholland started walking everyone and all of a sudden the Mets scored 10 runs in an inning. Williams, who by this point must reflexively come out of the dugout every time someone reaches base, came out to remove Rivero. This time, he went to Drew Storen, his deposed closer.

Støren, however, has basically become Washington's Aaron Heilman. Støren blew an important playoff game three years ago, and ever since then he's mostly been a disaster. Somehow, he righted the ship this year and was having a fine season up until Washington traded for another closer and Støren was shoved to the 8th inning. That hasn't gone well. Still, Williams keeps going to him. Sort of like how Jerry Manuel kept going to Aaron Heilman when Heilman invariably would give up at least one long hit every time he hit the mound. It didn't take very long for this move to bite Williams in the ass. Cespedes greeted Støren by scalding a line drive down into the Left Field corner that cleared the bases and turned a 4-run game into a 1-run game. At this point, Williams probably should have done the prudent thing and taken Støren out of the game, because he already looked like he'd swallowed his jockstrap. But curiously, after having such a quick trigger with everyone else he threw out there, Williams sat on his hands and watched while Støren walked Daniel Murphy, walked David Wright and then walked Lucas Duda to force home the tying run. Still, Williams left him out there. Støren by now was starting to turn the kind of colors reserved for outfield wall padding. Travis d'Arnaud was next, and it wouldn't have surprised me if Støren either drilled him, or threw the next pitch into his own dugout in a blind rage. It also wouldn't have surprised me if d'Arnaud sent the next pitch into orbit. None of these things came to pass; Støren finally got it together enough to throw a strike and d'Arnaud hit it well, but also hit it right in the vicinity of Bryce Harper for an inning-ending out.

So. After all that, the game was now tied, and once again, the Mets dugout looked like a pep rally while the Nationals looked like a Gravediggers convention. But the Mets still had to survive their own iffy bullpen, although by comparison the Mets seem to have guys that look dominant. Addison Reed, who's been tossed right into the fire, came in, gave up a leadoff hit and then got the next three guys. This was a good example of Terry Collins not panicking and either trying to squeeze two innings out of Clippard or Familia before he had a lead. Instead, he just went with the guy he thought gave him the best chance and it worked. Matt Williams, on the other hand, panicked and went right to his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, in the 8th inning, in spite of not having a lead. Papelbon got the first two men out, and then, of course, gave up the Pinch Hit Home Run heard 'Round the World to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and the Mets led for the first time all night. It figures it would be Nieuwenhuis, whose season Home Run output was concentrated to one game. Because that's what happens when you're really going well. You get weird, magical things happening like a guy who was traded, released, resigned and bounced between AAA and the Majors multiple times hitting a clutch Home Run.

Now, with the lead, the game had played right into Collins' hands. Tyler Clippard was rested after his Sunday debacle and set down the Nationals with ease. In the 9th, Jeurys Familia appeared once again and this time was not quite so clean, allowing a single to Dirtbag Pete (who in his usual classy fashion barked at Familia all the way to 1st) and later walked Harper. I, like many others, did not mind walking Harper quite so much, considering the alternative, him hitting a ball into the 3rd deck and clowning his way around the bases. Besides, it just set up Yunel Escobar to hit into the 5-4-3 Double Play to end the game and assure the Mets of leaving town with nothing worse than a 5-game advantage and chewed up one more day off the clock of the Baseball season.

Monday's game was kind of a frenetic frenzy of a game, given the way things went back and forth. Tuesday night was something different. This was one of those groundswell games, where all of a sudden a team starts getting a little momentum and they can't stop. Or their opponent just can't stop them. Or both. The story of the game went from being about how Matt Harvey failed in a big game and a bah blah blah to the Comeback Mets sticking it to the Nationals again. The kind of game that you point to as one of those watershed nights looking back on a memorable season. I still hate to seem like I'm getting ahead of myself. But it seems like there's a lot of memories yet to be created this year.

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