I guess there was always going to be something to spoil what might have been a fun set between the National League East’s leaders otherwise. Because they play hard, they play fun, and there are times when you think even a pair of combatants as fun as the Mets and the Phillies are more concerned with the Sacred Unwritten Rules than with, you know, playing the damn game.
Kind of like ancient-school detectives were more interested too often in beating a mere suspect’s brains out than, you know, getting information.
As of this morning the Mets sit atop the NL East by half a game over the Phillies. They’re also the only teams in the division above .500. The Braves are in third and at .500; the Nationals are in fourth a game below .500. The Marlins (yes, Virginia, they’re still in the league, and the division) are 8-17 and tied with the American League Central’s Royals for baseball’s worst record thus far.
The Mets and the Phillies in New York was supposed to be fun. These are two teams with a penchant for upholding Crash Davis’s Law (This game’s fun, ok?) no matter what ill knocks on the door going in. Getting into skirmishes over the SUR isn’t fun, folks. Depending on the SURs in question, it’s either a nuisance or a pestilence.
When Rhys Hoskins avenged himself against Mets reliever Jacob Rhame on Wednesday night, answering a pair of headbound message pitches the night before, with a home run trot slow enough to make you think he’d hired a donkey and a wagon to travel around the bases, he struck a blow for common sense that might have been the only one struck in the set.
The last time I saw a home run trot that slow was when Sherman Lollar was still in the Show. The difference is, Lollar probably was running full speed. Those who called him Sherman the Tank didn’t do so because he did perfect impersonations of the Road Runner. (Though he was an excellent defensive catcher.)
Even if Rhame did little more than send a message in return for a pair of Mets getting drilled in the first game of the set. That happened back-to-back in the seventh, to Jeff McNeil and Peter Alonso, courtesy of Phillies relievers Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio. But Mets setup man Jeurys Familia threw only one pitch inside to the three Phillies he erased in order in the eighth, and closer Edwin Diaz threw only three in the ninth, one to Hoskins himself, none of which looked like a message pitch.
Rhame may not have known he’d taken a page out of the late Don Newcombe’s book; the husky Brooklyn Dodgers righthander’s practise was to deck the opposition’s hottest bat at the moment when a message needed to be sent. Just why the Mets didn’t answer their two plunked with a least one message via Hoskins on the night before escapes.
Maybe the Mets thought things were testy enough since earlier in the game, when the Phillies’ Bryce Harper got himself tossed for chirping from the dugout then barreling out to argue a called strike (already under vocal dispute by manager Gabe Kapler) . . . to teammate Cesar Hernandez.
Replays showed manager and bombardier were right: the pitch in dispute sailed clearly enough above the strike zone over the plate. No matter. Certainly not to Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta, who made almost as egregious a mistake when he called Harper out publicly for the ejection and, while he was at it, called out his team just as publicly for, what, listlessness? Sleepiness? Lying down on the job? Square dancing?
At least when since-departed Carlos Santana took his bat to a big screen television set down last year’s stretch, after catching a few teammates playing a video game on it during a ball game, he didn’t go bragging to reporters about it and never opened his mouth about it until after he’d moved on to the Indians from whence he’d come in the first place.
Calling your own team out in the press isn’t necessarily the way to make friends and influence pennant races for the better. Just ask the 1969 Cubs.
Other than that it’s not clear why neither Familia nor Diaz sent the Phillies no return message on the spot, especially Diaz to Hoskins. But at least it didn’t take almost three years for a particular pitcher to send a hitter a thank-you note (however unwarranted) this time.
And those weren’t even the deepest burrowings toward foolishness in the set. On Monday, the Mets got mad when J.T. Realmuto bolted for second with Hoskins at the plate, the Phillies in an 8-0 hole, and Alonso not even holding Realmuto on the pad. Hoskins fouled the pitch off, sending Realmuto back to first. But still.
You’re not supposed to take off during a blowout when the team blowing you out is being nice enough not to hold the runner, don’t you know? Well, now.
The Phillies were down eight with a baserunner and probably not exactly in the mood to be polite about it. The Mets don’t want to hold Realmuto, the Phillies should have thought about convening a kangaroo court and fining Realmuto if he didn’t make a try for it. Eight runs down, no runs of your own on the board, and only three innings left, you don’t have a lot of time to close that deficit.
So in the bottom of the inning, the Phillies shook it off and chose not to hold Juan Lagares on first. The only thing more dumb than not running when you’re gifted the opportunity while you’re eight runs in the hole is not holding the guys blowing you out and doing your best to keep them from hammering another nail into your evening’s coffin.
And Lagares swung the hammer, all right. With Robinson Cano at the plate he took off on the pitch, guaranteeing he’d make it to third when Cano singled, becoming the Mets’ ninth run after a followup walk and a base hit to left center.
The Mets handed the Phillies a gift and the Phillies blew it. The Phillies picked the wrong time to hand the Mets a return gift and the Mets said thank you very much and beep-beep!
The Phillies were in no position to chirp about the Mets breaking the SURs. The least the Mets could have done was just accept it, instead of one unnamed Met spoiling it by telling a reporter, “They did it first, they broke an unwritten rule,” and another unnamed Met adding, “If you’re still playing, we’re still playing.”
The fact that the Phillies dropped the Mets ten days earlier with a ten-spot in the first inning was entirely irrelevant, of course.
“The Phillies’ offense, though currently hobbled, is plenty capable of an offensive outburst to get back in the game,” writes NBC Sports’s Bill Baer about the two runner non-holds. “The Mets saw the Phillies still putting in effort, so they figured they would continue to try as well. Seems quite reasonable.”
Rhame got himself a two-day unpaid attitude adjustment time off for sailing something over Hoskins. What should the penalty be for an SUR clash that’s more foolish than most of the SURs themselves?
The Mets paid one viable penalty with Hoskins’ blast and his walk-around-the-clock travel home. When they meet again—as June morphs into early July, and August into early September—things stand to become, shall we say, extremely interesting.