Fringe benefits

New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard, giving J.D. Davis a high sign after Davis’s staggering fourth-inning catch Thursday night. Syndergaard had two answers for Tribal trolling . . .

It seems like ancient history to talk about it now. But once upon a time there was no social media for baseball people to troll each other. They had to settle for trolling by way of print or broadcast interviews. But they still learned the hard way that the flip side to “don’t feed the trolls” is “don’t poke the bear.”

David Cone ignored it at his peril during the 1988 National League Championship Series. The Indians ignored it to their peril Thursday.

Writing a (presumably ghosted) running NLCS commentary for the New York Daily News, Cone started tripping the Dodgers’ triggers when he said the Dodgers’ Game One starter, Orel Hershiser, “was lucky for eight innings.” Actually, eight and a third: Hershiser surrendered Darryl Strawberry’s one-out RBI single, pulling the Mets back to within a run.

But then Cone teed off on Dodgers’ closer Jay Howell.”We saw Howell throwing curveball after curveball,” Cone went on to write, “and we were thinking: This is the Dodgers’ idea of a stopper? Our idea is Randy [Myers], a guy who can blow you away with his heat. Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.”

Myers did bring heat and lots of it, never mind that he retired the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth on a line out, a ground out, and a pop fly out, to save the 3-2 win. It was nothing compared to the Dodgers chasing Cone early in Game Two with five runs in two innings, en route a seven-game Dodgers triumph.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with the team that’s trying to pin your ears back in either a pennant race or in a League Championship Series. It’s to shudder what would have happened if Cone had teed off on Hershiser and Howell while that NLCS was played in the Internet social media era.

Cone learned the hard way in 1988. (It’s a shame Gene Garber wasn’t there to remind him of the uses of breaking ball-heavy relief pitchers, considering Garber’s breaking repertoire put an end to Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak a decade earlier.) So did the Indians Thursday night.

For a team that once had Hershiser on its own pitching staff (1995-1997) and went to a pair of World Series with him, the Indians didn’t exactly have a sense of trolling history when their social media people went off on the Mets Thursday afternoon. And it’s not brilliant to think about trolling a team that just took the first two of a three-game set from you, in their playpen or otherwise.

It’s a long season. We didn’t erase an 11.5-game deficit to roll over,” came the tweet from the Indians Thursday midday. “We split a series with one of the best teams in MLB at their home ballpark. We lost the last 2 to a fringe postseason team. We understand your frustration. Get it out here, but let’s renew the perspective.”

Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ scheduled Thursday night starter, didn’t just feed the Tribal trolls, he cleaned, stuffed, and mounted them.

First, he he pinned the Indians’ ears back with six and a third perfect innings en route a rain-delayed, rain-short-ended Mets win, 2-0. Then, he replied with his own tweet: “We got some FRINGE for you right here, we call it a SWEEP in NYC. #LFGM.”

Leaning away from his customary pure power game and throwing as much of an array of off-speed breakers and changers as heat, Syndergaard was on such a roll, even after he turned aside first and second on a pair of singles in the sixth, that the only thing that could have stopped him was the two-hour plus rain delay that struck in the bottom of the sixth.

Married to whipping winds around the park, the rain which began about an inning earlier finally prompted the umpires to pull the teams off the field, as Mets catcher Wilson Ramos was at the plate with two outs and Michael Conforto aboard with a base hit. The winds were fierce enough that the Citi Field grounds crew needed to pin the tarp to the infield themselves until the weights could be brought out to hold it.

The Indians were pretty brassy to think about trolling a team who’d beaten them on their own fielding lapse Tuesday night and bludgeoned their bullpen to win the night before. But their rookie righthanded starter Aaron Civale was actually close to Syndergaard’s effectiveness—his only blemish hitting Pete Alonso with a pitch in the first—until he ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth.

That’s when Joe Panik, a late Mets acquisition after his release by the Giants and very effective as a Met since, opened with a line single to right. One out later Conforto high-hopped a ground rule double over the high side fence down near the end of the left field line, before Ramos extended his hitting streak to sixteen games with a clean two-run double down the right field line.

The Indians even got sloppy in the field again Wednesday night, with the lone saving grace being that this time it didn’t cost them a ball game.

After play resumed and Mets reliever Jeurys Familia worked a scoreless seventh, Mets third baseman Todd Frazier grounded weakly up the first base line. Indians reliever Tyler Clippard, himself a former Met, fielded but threw the ball straight over first baseman Carlos Santana’s head.

The ball sailed into foul territory near the seats as Frazier rounded first and neared second, as right fielder Yasiel Puig scampered in to retrieve the ball. As Frazier rounded second Puig—whose arm is powerful but not always calibrated properly—threw across to third and right past the pad as Frazier arrived safely.

Clippard’s mistake might have been snaring the ball with his glove before getting a less than firm grip with his throwing hand. A barehanded grab might have put the ball into a better grip and he might not have sailed it above Santana’s attic.

The Tribe was lucky they had Tyler Naquin—who ended Syndergaard’s brief perfect game bid with a one-out single in the sixth—catching Ramos’s arcing line drive in perfect position to throw Frazier out at the plate by three feet. Consider it a small payback for what Mets left fielder J.D. Davis did to them in the fourth.

With one out, Indians center fielder Greg Allen sent one that looked like it was going for extra bases until Davis, on his thoroughbred running back on an angle to his left, extended his glove and made a Willie Mays-like one-handed, over-the-shoulder, slightly over his head basket catch. The Citi Field ovation was so thunderous Davis had to tip his cap under it.

“Just a crazy catch,” Davis told reporters after the game. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

The Indians thought they knew how to describe the Mets before the game. Except that the Mets are now 12-5 lifetime against the Indians in interleague play. And while the Indians did yank themselves back from the dead, once as far as eleven and a half back of the Twins in the American League Central, the Mets didn’t exactly yank themselves back from a little slump, either.

The lowest point for the Indians this season? Eleven and a half behind the Twins on 2 June. The lowest for the Mets? Fourteen and a half out of first in the National League East on 14 July. Low enough and tattered enough, it seemed, that the trade deadline run-up was almost dominated by speculation as to whether Syndergaard himself, or Zack Wheeler, would change addresses on or before the deadline.

Since the All-Star break? The Indians: 24-16. The Mets: 27-10. And even if interleague play continues making hash of pennant races, the Mets play in a far more tough division. Now the fringe contender is also only a game and a half out for the second National League wild card and nine out in the East.

And they also have a far tougher schedule the rest of the season. Except for another pair of sets with the Twins and one each with the Phillies and (ending the regular season, strangely enough) the Nationals, the Indians get a lot more bottom-dwelling competition the rest of the way than the Mets.

The fringe contenders just swept the Indians in three, helping to put or keep them three and a half behind the still AL Central-leading Twins, and leaving the Indians with a 2-5 record for their now-finished New York trip. The best thing about the trip was the Indians not having to change hotel reservations to meet the Yankees and the Mets.

Let us renew the perspective indeed.

 

 

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