Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Elation To Deflation

Tuesday night was the 7th Mets Postseason game I'd attended. Through Monday, the Mets had won all 6 of the prior games. Unhappily, I had my Postseason Loss Cherry popped in totally deflating fashion as the Mets were the unlucky recipient of a couple of ill-placed batted balls and the pitching of Clayton Kershaw, as they lost, 3-1, and failed to close out the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLDS at home.

There's so much that could be said about this game and yet in reality very little that could have gone differently. Kershaw, pitching on short rest, basically mastered the Mets, took the crowd out of the game and refused to let them get back into it. Prior to the game, there was that same frenzied, frenetic energy pulsing through the stadium. But it felt a bit more nervous than it did on Monday night. I certainly felt a bit more nervous. I and probably everyone else knew that the Mets were in a tenuous position. Win, of course, and the series was theirs, and a date with Destiny's Darlings, the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. Lose, and it's not over, certainly, but instead of a few days to recharge, instead a cross-country trip back to Los Angeles and a game Thursday night against Zack Greinke.

But a lot had to go right in order for the Mets to win. It would mean beating Kershaw for the second time in 4 days. Not impossible, but difficult enough. It would also mean that Steven Matz, making but his 7th Major League start, would have to get the ice in his veins extra cold in order to stand with Kershaw. Early on, he did, as the two matched zeroes through the first two innings. Matz got through the first with relative ease. Kershaw muddled a little bit, and perhaps the Mets could have broken through, but aside from a 1-out walk to David Wright, the best the Mets could muster was making Kershaw throw 18 pitches.

The game, for all intents and purposes, was decided in the 3rd. Kershaw singled with 1 out, and was subsequently forced out at 2nd by Enrique Hernandez. Seemed as though Matz had it under control, even after Howie Kendrick hit a 47-hop single up the middle that barely snuck by Wilmer Flores (perhaps Tejada fields it? Debateable. Were it hit slower, certainly) and moved Hernandez to 3rd. Matz then got Adrian Gonzalez to hit a little floater to Center, perfectly placed between the Cespedes-Lagares-Flores Bermuda triangle and, groan, in for a hit to score Hernandez. Justin Turner, who's simply murdered the Mets in this series, followed by drilling a ball down into the Left Field corner, plating Kendrick and Gonzalez and placing the hands of everyone in Citi Field firmly under their own respective asses.

True, I mused, the Mets were down 3-0 the night before early in the game. However, it wasn't against Kershaw.

Kershaw only improved as the game went on, and for as much as the fans wanted to get back into the game, it wasn't happening. The Mets didn't do themselves any favors either; where in Game 1 they made him work and throw a lot of pitches early in the game, this time they were hacking, flailing and generally helping him work through things quickly. Only when Daniel Murphy, who apparently just owns Kershaw, hit a Home Run in the 4th did we come to life. Otherwise, it was pretty much deadsville through 7 innings.

Fortunately, Matz allowed no further damage after the 3rd inning, although his location slipped a bit and he found himself in trouble multiple times before departing after 5 innings. Bartolo Colon, who's filled the Sid Fernandez role to a tee in this series, came in for the 6th and stopped the Dodgers cold for two innings once again. Colon, who was simply heroic working in a bridge role on Monday and again last night, did his best to get the crowd back into the game, but once again, Kershaw took everyone right back out of it.

In the 7th, Cespedes led off with an infield single off of Kershaw's glove, and that got everybody up again. The 7th was when Kershaw came unglued in Game 1, too. If only the Mets could sustain something here...but it didn't happen. d'Arnaud, who's just missing pitches, fouled out, Duda got a hold of a pitch and hit it well to Center, but not well enough, and Flores could only ground out.

Kershaw departed in the 8th, after only 93 pitches, and I was shocked that Mattingly removed him there. The Mets weren't solving him, certainly not with the bottom of their lineup coming up, and at 3-1, the game certainly wasn't out of reach. And if he was going to pull Kershaw there, why not just go right to his closer, Kenley Jansen? But instead, he went for Chris Hatcher, and immediately the Mets countered with a pair of Pinch Hitters, in Michael Conforto and Kelly Johnson, but neither of them could solve anything. Curtis Granderson worked a walk, though, and only then did Mattingly go to Jansen. Jansen, however, was wild, as he can sometimes be, and he walked Wright, and if there was ever an opportunity for the Mets in this game, this was it. And it was Daniel Murphy, who I and everyone else has killed for years for one reason or another. But if he could come through here, that might erase everything. I think everyone sensed this, maybe not the historical part, but certainly the opportunity part, and everyone was whipped into a proper frenzy, chanting and screaming and imploring Murphy to come through, or at least just continue the inning. Murphy worked the count full and had the runners in motion before he swung and hit a blooper, headed in a similar spot to Gonzalez's hit in the 3rd. But the ball hung up and was caught. The inning was over. The threat was over. And once again the air was just sucked out of the stadium.

The 9th inning seemed formality, even with the middle of the order coming up. For as much as the scoreboard tried to get everyone to rev up their energy, and for as much as we tried to energize ourselves to try to will the Mets on, the best we could muster was mostly muted agony as Jansen got the Mets in order to finish off the game and send everyone back to Los Angeles for a Thursday Night showdown. Except that 44,000+ people trying to cram down the staircase and onto the Subway at the same time was a bit more than Citi Field was able to accommodate and the resulting human traffic jam resulted in my getting on a train close to 45 minutes after the game had ended (on a normal Tuesday night, I can be out of the stadium and on a 7 in under 10 minutes).

On the one hand, I guess you could say that the story of the game was two bloopers, one that didn't hang up (Gonzalez) and one that did (Murphy). In reality, though, it was Kershaw. Though Kershaw has been maligned for some poor performances in October, you knew that if you gave a guy like him enough chances, eventually he'd come through and he came through big time last night. The Mets and everyone in the building knew that the potential for that to happen was there—perhaps that's why everyone was so anxious—and that's what happened.

So, the season comes down to one game for the Mets now, Thursday night in Los Angeles. Jacob deGrom will get the ball for the Mets, we know that, and probably everyone else within reason is available. Again, it's a deflating loss, and I hate that this is how my Postseason winning streak had to come to an end—or that it had to come to an end at all—but don't lose perspective. The Mets are still alive if nothing else and they'll have their guy going in the 5th game. Of course, Greinke will certainly be equal to the challenge. We already saw these two match up in what turned into a staring contest. There's a pretty good chance that Thursday could go the same way. The team that blinks goes home. The best we can do, I suppose, is try to shake off the blah from last night and re-mobilize ourselves. We owe it to these guys after breaking their asses for six months to get to this point.

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