Friday, September 23, 2016

Combination Of All Things

The adage goes, I believe, that each time you go to a Major League Baseball game, you have a chance to see something you've never seen before. Last night at Citi Field was my 20th game of the 2016 season and my 399th in total. I've seen lots of things happen at a Baseball game.
But I don't think I've ever been to a game that packed all of these things into one crazy night, with the backdrop being the Mets in the thick of a Pennant Race and coming off a 3-game losing streak. In spite of all sorts of things going wrong, the Mets managed to get up off the mat and tie the game in the 9th inning on a lightning-like Home Run from Jose Reyes. In the 11th inning, the Mets fell behind again, and with the clock pushing midnight, Asdrubal Cabrera tolled the bell for a 3-run Home Run to give the Mets a 9-8 victory that has to rank up there with some of the most rousing games I've ever been to.

This long night of Baseball began innocently enough, with Seth Lugo on the mound for the Mets and Adam Morgan for the Phillies. The imminent drama that would unfold over the course of the evening barely seemed plausible given a matchup like this. The Mets jumped ahead in the 2nd on a Curtis Granderson 2-run Home Run, and with Lugo mostly humming along, everything seemed fine. The Phillies scored a run in the 4th after Cesar Hernandez hit what was kind of a fluky triple to lead off the inning, and Roman Quinn followed with an RBI groundout.

Then, of course, the Phillies ambushed Lugo in the 5th. They'd been hitting fly balls off of Lugo most of the night, and of course the perfect storm for bad tends to be the combination of a fly ball pitcher on the Mets and Ryan Howard. And of course, Howard led off the 5th and blasted a Home Run out into the night of the Center Field seats. This, of course, is mere rite of passage for Lugo, since Howard has hit what, 79 career Home Runs against the Mets? However, when Cameron Rupp followed with a Home Run of his own to put the Phillies ahead, that wasn't a rite of passage, that was a sign that Lugo was probably done for the night and thus the parade of relievers would begin.

The Mets managed to rally back in the last of the 5th. Ty Kelly hit for Lugo and walked, moved up on what was charitably scored an infield hit by Cabrera and a Morgan Wild Pitch, and then scored when Yoenis Cespedes stuck his bat out and flicked a single to right. In the 7th, Cespedes put the Mets on his back again, finishing off a two-out rally against Michael Mariot by nailing a double to score Reyes.

The Mets have been using their bullpen liberally and often lately, which has been a side effect of a decimated starting rotation combined with taking advantage of every possible expanded roster spot. As such, it took Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel to complete the 6th and Fernando Salas to pitch the 7th, and once Addison Reed hit the mound in the 8th, it seemed like things would be stable. Of course, how wrong I was. Reed allowed about 20 feet worth of singles sandwiched around a sac bunt and the Phillies had runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out and Maikel Franco at the plate. I mused that what Reed needed was a Mike Pelfrey Special—the bowling ball that's chopped right at the Shortstop for an easy DP. What Reed got instead was something completely different—the ball flying over the fence and into the Phillies bullpen for a 3-run Home Run that put the Phillies ahead 6-4 and sent a multitude of fans streaming for the exits.

A rather fair-weather fellow with a man-bun sitting directly in front of me stood up, slapped his cap down and started screaming, "HERE IT IS, THE GREAT COLLAPSE OF 2016!" This, of course, was not helpful at all and turned into one of those moments where, were I more of a hothead, I might have kicked him in his bun or smacked the shit out of him. I know that there's this general trepidation because the Mets are in a pennant race with 10 games to go, and I know that there's a whole quadrant of Mets fans that think Terry Collins just fell out of the stupid tree. But how is it a collapse when the Mets just came back from 5.5 games out altogether, ran past 4 teams and somehow sit tied for the 1st Wildcard just 27 games later? And never mind that, how about the fact that the Mets have done this while 3/5 of their starting rotation is hurt (and if you want to throw Wheeler in the equation, that's 4/6), 2 guys that were in the Opening Day lineup still standing, and the team is basically stuck throwing out lineups that include Alejandro De Aza, Rene Rivera and on this night Eric Campbell, and they're relying on unknowns like Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera for meaningful contributions? The fact that the Mets are in this position at all is a minor miracle. This is a team that's refused to throw in the towel all season. But this jackass is screaming collapse. Really, I think he should have just admitted he actually was a fan of the other New York team rather than continuing his charade, but as the 8th moved to the 9th and he continued his nonsensical rants, I realized I was doing myself no favors sticking around where I was, and I did something rather out of character for me—I left my seat and walked down to the Field Level, where I ended up just standing around the concourse, figuring that if this was going to end, at least I'd get out of there quick and get away from Yelly McDoofus.

Hansel Robles cleaned up Reed's mess in the 8th and he and Josh Edgin got the Phillies in the 9th, while the Mets managed nothing off of Joely Rodriguez in the last of the 8th, and while he apparently was ready to come out for the last of the 9th, Pete Mackanin decided to get cute and once Travis d'Arnaud was announced to hit for De Aza, he pulled Rodriguez in favor of his closer, Jeanmar Gomez, which you had to figure was coming because why the hell would Joely Rodriguez be closing games? And at this point, Terry Collins decided to just throw his entire roster at the wall. He called back d'Arnaud and sent up Brandon Nimmo, who got a hit in a similar spot on Wednesday, and of course Nimmo did what he does best and hit a line drive single. Jay Bruce followed and was met with bewildered looks, calls of "Where's Duda?!" and, oddly, cheers, because hey, if Bruce could get a hold of one and tie the game, maybe all would be forgiven. But that didn't happen. Although Bruce hung in for a while he still struck out, which was only helpful in the sense that he didn't hit into a Double Play, which was quite fortunate because Reyes followed by drilling a 2-1 pitch into the Mets bullpen to tie the game and spark a frenzy of crazy people jumping all over the concourse.

So much for quietly slinking off into the night. Rather than a silent finish, the real action was just getting started. Mackanin, now having burned his closer, removed Gomez from the game in favor of Hector Neris, who walked Cespedes but allowed nothing more of consequence. So, it was off to Extra Innings, and after not catching an Extra Inning game for the first 5 months of the season, I was now in for my second in less than a month, and this one was coming on the heels of an already long game, as the clock was pushing 10:40 and although it was Thursday, it was still a school night. At this point, I decided I was good for one more inning, and then I had to get out of there, loath as I was to do so.

Jeurys Familia came in for the 10th and worked a quick, uneventful inning, and Severino Gonzalez did the same, in spite of the fact that Lucas Duda came up as a pinch hitter for Rivera and came within about 6 inches of hitting a Game Winning Home Run. In fact, as it was more or less directly in front of me, I couldn't quite see just where the ball landed and for a second I, and the people standing near me, thought it was gone. But Duda pulled up around 1st and wheeled back to the plate...where he then struck out.

Familia came back for the 11th and I held my ground...The 10th was quick. One more inning, I tell myself. Next thing I know, it'll be 1am and the 15th inning if I'm not careful. Freddy Galvis led off by lining a double in the alley in Left, which wasn't helpful at all. Familia then rebounded by striking out Aaron Altherr and getting Tommy Joseph to ground out. With two outs, he then walked Hernandez intentionally, which was the right move with A.J. Ellis and his .190 batting average on deck. If Ellis beats you, he beats you. Unfortunately, that's what Ellis did, floating a little dying quail of a single in front of Nimmo to score Galvis and put the Phillies back ahead. Collins then did nobody any favors by continuing to run more guys in from the bullpen in an attempt to get the 3rd out. Jerry Blevins came in and hit Odubel Herrera. Collins then removed Blevins for Jim Henderson. Henderson walked Maikel Franco after an excruciating 10-pitch At Bat that was like watching paint dry. Now the score was 8-6 and at this point I was ready to leave right then and there. The Mets had pulled a July move and resurrected themselves from the dead only to shit the game right back out again. Only then did Henderson manage to get the last out of the inning as more people vacated and I stood around stewing.

The Phillies brought in a fellow named Edubray Ramos for the last of the 11th in order to pick up the Save for them. This was the Phillies' 9th pitcher of the night, which is a lot, until you remember that through 11 innings the Mets had managed to run through 10 pitchers, which is the sort of thing you can only accomplish in a game like this, at this time of year when you carry 20 pitchers on your roster, and this combined with the 16 position players they'd used tied a club record. I didn't realize this at the time. I was too busy thinking about a) who was left on the bench to hit in the Pitcher's spot which was due up second and b) If the Mets tie this game again, who's left to pitch? After Nimmo grounded out, I got one of my answers when Michael Conforto emerged from the dugout, remained patient and walked on 4 pitches. Reyes followed, and I started thinking that Reyes might turn back into the Homer Happy ninny he used to be after his 9th inning heroics, but instead he did what his M.O. normally is and singled the other way. And this brought up Cabrera, and at this point all I was hoping was that he didn't hit into a DP just so Cespedes would have a chance. And, of course, Cabrera rendered this hope and my second question irrelevant by nailing the second pitch he saw over the fence for the Game Winning 3-run Home Run. He knew it right away, I think everyone else did too. It was just one of those hits that had that arc, sort of like Reyes' did. These fly balls look a lot different when you're sitting downstairs and I'm used to the view from the Promenade.

Whew. This was exhilarating, but also exhausting. As I said, I know I've seen a lot of crazy, wild things happen at Baseball games, but never one that seemed to cram so much action, absurdity and intrigue into one 4 hour, 23 minute melange of madness. Hell, I watched the last 3 innings standing, that's how messed up things got. But this game was truly emblematic of the fact that the Mets refuse to simply lie down, no matter how much they have to absorb as far as injuries and inconsistency. As weird as it seems, the Mets are now essentially run by these three gentlemen at the top of the lineup, Reyes, Cabrera and Cespedes, and they're winning these games just because they're getting things done. Go back and look at that scorecard again. The Mets had 9 runs and 11 hits for the game, and these three guys accounted for 4 runs, 8 hits and 7 RBI. Think about it: That's 3 out of the 27 players the Mets used in this game accounting for that much offense. But these guys are paving the way. They refuse to throw in the towel and dragged the whole team back into this game and didn't stop until it was won. I don't know how far it will take them over the next 10 days, or if they play beyond that, but they've kept the Mets alive and at this point I don't think there's more we can ask of them.

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