Friday, April 14, 2017

A Different Ending

By all rights, the Mets generally lose last night's game in Miami. They've played games like this in Miami previously and that's always the end result. It usually happens in some sort of annoying fashion. Generally it involves the Mets falling behind, scraping and clawing their way back to tie the game, and the Marlins ultimately winning either in the 9th or some later extra inning by getting an infield hit, a walk, an error, and then the winning run scores on a check swing that goes 40 feet, or a Wild Pitch or something typically Marlin, and then they run all over the field slapping each other with baloney and acting like they won the World Series in April.

But something funny happened last night—the Mets didn't lose. They didn't fall victim to Stupid Marlin Tricks, they didn't run out of pitchers and they didn't have the Marlins Pizza Party thrown in their faces. Instead, after twice coming back from multi-run deficits, forcing an already long game into extra innings and running out of Pitchers, the Mets actually won, 9-8, thanks to Travis d'Arnaud's 16th inning Home Run.

Most of the action in this game was long forgotten by time the game ended, which is usually the case when you have ridiculously extended games like this. Robert Gsellman in the 1st inning had some command issues and for the second time in as many outings came away getting cuffed around pretty good. He gave up a Grand Slam to Marcell Ozuna in the 1st to put the Mets in an immediate hole. But, these Mets don't seem to take especially kindly to being pushed around. Almost immediately they struck back and tied the game against Wei Yin Chen, who in spite of some decent years in Baltimore seems to be the Tom Koehler for a new era; the Marlins pitcher whom the Mets face about a dozen times a year and generally rake around. d'Arnaud tripled home 3 runs and then scored the tying run on a Curtis Granderson sac fly in the 2nd inning and almost immediately it became clear that this had all the makings of a real barnburner.

In the 3rd, the Mets started throwing haymakers at Chen. Yoenis Cespedes hit a Home Run that appeared to go over the Magic Machine in Loria's Puke-Green Hell Hole, and Wilmer Flores followed with a Home Run of his own, albeit not nearly as majestic. That spelled the end of the road for Chen, but not so much for the Mets as Cespedes sent a Jose Urena offering into orbit in the 5th. So this 4-0 deficit had turned into a 7-4 lead and everything seemed to be just peachy.

Then, of course, Gsellman ran out of steam in the 5th and everything crashed back to earth in a string of singles and walks and sacrifice flies—you know, the typical Marlins rally—and Gsellman gave way to Josh Edgin who allowed every inherited runner to score by giving up a double to Nickleback and later a single to Billy Marlins and only by the grace of Cespedes were the Mets able to negotiate the final out of the inning as he threw Nickleback out at the plate (he runs like he's carrying a double rack of PBR on his back, dont'cha know).

The Mets, then, needed to negotiate the remainder of this game and keep the Marlins on lockdown. Rafael Montero had a hairy 6th and started an even hairier 7th before Jerry Blevins bailed him out, getting a pair of key outs, among them a strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki. In the 8th, d'Arnaud singled with 2 outs, bringing up Michael Conforto in a Pinch Hitting spot. This has hardly been an ideal role for Conforto, who probably should be playing infinitely more than he has been, but to his credit all he's done over the first two weeks has been shut up and hit the ball, and that's exactly what he did here, drilling a long double in the gap in Right Center to score d'Arnaud, tie the game, and set the stage for the remainder of the night's proceedings.

Usually, in games like this, teams tend to mount spirited rallies early, and then run out of steam. The Marlins had two men on in the last of the 8th vs Fernando Salas, but he reared back, struck out Mike Stanton and got out of the inning. He remained in the 9th and had no issue. The Mets had a similar rally go nowhere in the 10th against Dustin McGowan. Addison Reed came in for the 10th inning and stepped on the Marlins' throats.

By time we hit the 12th inning, the wheels were beginning to rattle off the reality portion of this game. Generally, when it goes beyond 12 innings, you enter "all bets are off" territory, and you have to start thinking about survival tactics. In this case, the Mets had already blown through their front line of relievers, and now were down to Josh Smoker and Hansel Robles, and we already went over Robles last night because he'd pitched three days in a row and had to be avoided at all costs. So it was Smoker to the whip and to his credit, Smoker put forth probably the finest outing of his career to date. He hadn't looked especially good in his early outings this season, but with his ass on the line he rose to the occasion and in three sterling innings allowed a meaningless hit, a meaningless walk, and nothing else, bridging the 12th, 13th and 14th innings. He had to, because the Mets were doing just as much bupkis against Junichi Tazawa and Nick Wittgren.

By the 15th, it had become spaghetti-at-the-wall time. Jacob deGrom took an at bat hitting for Smoker, which meant that on-fumes Hansel Robles was coming in the game. Full-strength Robles is already a dicey proposition, so you know what this meant. However, to his credit, Robles didn't cave after giving up a leadoff single that probably shouldn't have been a single but for the official scorer acting like a Marlin. And that sent the game to the 16th inning, where d'Arnaud connected off tonight's starter Adam Conley's second pitch and put it out in the seats, giving the Mets the lead. For d'Arnaud, who's really one of those "crossroads" guys this season, this hot start he's gotten off to has been major. Both to solidify his place on the team but moreso to simply remind everyone that he can do it. But of course he's now got to keep it up.

Meanwhile, Robles now had to protect a lead against the meat of the Marlins lineup, and so of course he walked Hamburgers Yelich to start the last of the 16th, to bring up Stanton and cause every Mets fan that was still awake at 12:45am to cover their eyes. And Stanton connected, but only managed to line out to right. Nickleback followed, and after a back-and-forth battle, Robles finally struck him out on what has to be one of the ugliest-looking changeups I've ever seen, just a dying quail of a pitch that wasn't particularly close to being a strike, but was waved at anyway. Ozuna followed and almost anticlimactically swung at the first pitch and flied out, ending this game and giving the Mets their 5th win in a row.

Phew. These kind of games are very mettle-testing both for fans and players and really, I'm glad I was home watching this one on TV and listening to Keith get progressively crankier as the game went on. Keith clearly isn't made for extra innings like this, but that's OK. At least the Mets won and at least I wasn't in the ballpark for it. By the 14th, I was thinking "one more inning, then I'll go to bed," but of course I kept on watching until things finished. And, well, if there was ever a game to do that, I suppose this was it.

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