There’s another nice Mess they’ve gotten themselves into

Jacob deGrom

Losing Jacob deGrom for the season was the key blow, but the Mets lacked the ability to overcome that the Braves and the Phillies—squaring off critically this week—really had.

This is what 2021 became for the Mess (er, Mets). As MLB Network’s Jon Heyman points out rather cruelly, this year’s Mets have done what no Show team ever has done: spent the most days in first place (103) in a year they’ll finish with a losing record.

Look to your non-laurels, every St. Louis Brown ever, every Washington Senator before and after 1924, every Indian since the Berlin Airlift, every 1964 Phillie, every 1980s Brave, every 1987 Blue Jay, and even every 2007 Met.

Feel just a little better about yourselves, fellow 2021 collapsers in San Diego. Maybe you both fell out of contention officially and once and for all on the same day. But that exhausts whatever you actually had in common.

Well, ok. You both spent lavishly last offseason to augment, fortify, and strengthen. “It is a familiar formula,” the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman reminds us. “The teams that spend the most and/or add the most famous players are cheered and crowned in winter, often followed soon after by dismay in summer.”

Dismay? How about deflation? How about disaster? How about formerly gleeful prognosticators and impatient fan bases who feel again as though they’ve been walked up to the mountaintop, shown the Promised Land, and given a swift kick in the tail with a jackboot to crash on the rocks below?

Joe and Jane Padre Fan should count their blessings. They’re not half as accustomed to great expectations turning to gross vaporisations as are Joe and Jane Met fan. Joe and Jane Padre Fan adjacent to the pleasant, embracing San Diego waterfront expect no miracles but merely hope.

Joe and Jane Met Fan inside the belly of the New York beast, adjacent to the rumbling East River, expect everything—until they don’t. Even when the Mets held fast at the top of the none-too-powerful National League East heap this year, there was always the sense that, somewhere in New York or beyond, there was at least a minyan worth of Met fans thinking to themselves, “OK, when’s it going to happen?”

If you don’t know what “it” is, you haven’t watched the Mets for half as long as I have. And I was there to see them born with Abbott pitching to Costello and Who the Hell’s on first, What the Hell’s on second, You Don’t Want to Know’s at third, You Don’t Even Want to Think About It’s at shortstop, the Three Stooges in the outfield, the Four Marx Brothers on the bench, the Keystone Kops in the bullpen, and Laurel and Hardy on the coaching lines. I’m still not sure whether it was Casey Stengel or Ernie Kovacs managing that team.

Even by the standards of this year’s NL East, the division was the Mets’ for the taking—and they let the tellers reach for their own pistols to stick them up at the bank window. Meanwhile, the Braves and the Phillies open a series today in Atlanta. A measly two games separate them at the top of the division.

Too many Met injuries? Well, yes. But let’s look around.

The Braves lost a franchise player (Ronald Acuna, Jr.) trying for a leaping outfield catch dead middle through the season. One day later, they sat at 44-45. Since the All-Star break: 39-27. The Phillies almost lost a franchise player (Bryce Harper) at April’s end, hit in the face and wrist hard with a pitch, watched him struggle to get back into his full form through a wrist injury. At the All-Star break: 44-44. Since the All-Star break: 37-31.

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos simply reached out, plucked a few spare outfielders at or around the trade deadline, and found the unforeseen gems in Jorge Soler and (after wearing out his welcome in Los Angeles and Chicago) Joc Pederson.

Phillies general manager Sam Fuld might have shocked more than a few observers (and a lot more than a few Phillies fans) when he went trolling for pitching at the deadline—but he came away with Ian Kennedy for the bullpen and Kyle Gibson to augment the rotation.

As in, the rotation that already included Zack Wheeler pitching his way into this year’s Cy Young Award conversation after spending last year only beginning to make the Mets wish, possibly, that they hadn’t given up his ghost just yet. In case Joe and Jane Met Fan need it rubbed in a little further, Wheeler to date has a 2.63 ERA, a 7.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .216 opposition batting average against his former team.

Entering this week’s just about do-or-die set with each other, the Braves are fifth in the National League for team OPS to the Phillies at sixth. The Braves are sixth in the league with a team 3.95 ERA against the Phillies tenth with 4.41. They both play in home parks hitters love, but the Braves as of Tuesday morning were a .500 team at home while the Phillies as of Tuesday were seven below .500 on the road.

They’re both in better shape than the deflated Mess in New York. Losing deGrom for the season, after he dropped a few more jaws despite earlier injury interruptions, was a blow that couldn’t be cauterised or treated simply. That goes without saying.

But the Mets’ pitching staff not named deGrom got reminded rudely and the hard way that they could even pitch no-hit ball and still discover themselves betrayed. The Mets turned up lost or terribly inconsistent at the plate, almost with or without men in scoring position and showing a distinct knack for bats coming back to life only after it mattered the most.

Marcus Stroman in particular pitched like an ace among the remaining starters; Aaron Loup turned into the Mets’ most dangerous bullpen weapon; Javier Baez shook off his early shakes upon arrival in New York to perform according to his previous notices.

But Francisco Lindor remained a textbook and casebook study at shortstop while struggling to live up to his glandular extension at the plate for the first two-thirds of the season. Michael Conforto in his walk year may or may not have pressed too furiously under the weight of his hopes for either a Met future or a free agency pay day. Pete Alonso re-learned the hard way that his bomb sight meant too little when there wasn’t always someone for him to drive in or someone behind him to drive him in.

That was how the Mets collapsed in August, entered September on a roll showing 10-5 from 28 August-12 September, then went 1-10 from there through Tuesday morning.

It’s one thing to give the boo birds a taste of their own medicine. To this day too many sports fans and too many sports commentators alike equate defeat with moral and character failure. Too many sports fans and too many commentators alike think a loss, or even a losing record (with or without spending 64 percent of the year in first place), equals the end of what’s left of the free world.

But from the top down, these Mets also seemed more interested in blaming the outside than looking inward when trouble arose. It’s something else entirely to say it’s all the fans’ or the press’s fault that a genuinely talented team didn’t know how to overcome the injury bugs the Braves and the Phillies overcame—in a division that looked so modest most of the season that any team ironing up for it could steal it in broad daylight.

Still-new owner Steve Cohen’s growing pains must end after the season does. The end must only begin with finding a new general manager and president of baseball operations. (Preferably, men or women who have verifiable allergies to scandal.) Possibly a new manager, though incumbent Luis Rojas hasn’t been a bad manager so much as he’s been a befuddled one as often as not.

But the most important acquisition the Mets can make to begin their revival should be an unfogged, unclouded mirror. The kind that enables them to see clearly, without alternative, where the issues lay. The kind that might have them unwilling to break the dubious record this year’s model’s collapse enabled them to set.

Manny Machado teaches a hard-learned lesson

Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Machado gestures emphatically while putting Tatis in his place in the fifth Saturday night.

More often than I care to admit, I miss the real fun stuff. That’s when I have to play catch-up as best I can with what I have.

On Saturday night, I watched my Mess (er, Mets) lose to the Phillies, 5-3, because the game was available to me on Fox Sports via Hulu.

But out in St. Louis, there were Padres veteran Manny Machado and boy wonder Fernando Tatis, Jr. having it out as the sides began changing in the middle of the fifth in St. Louis.

There, moreover, was Machado actually behaving like a team leader in the bargain. Go ahead and say it, until now you thought putting Machado and “team leader” in the same sentence was the equivalent of mining a diamond with a dental pick. But hear me out.

In both games, both sides spent enough time chirping over, shall we say, floating strike zones—the Mets and the Phillies about plate umpire C.B. Bucknor’s, the Padres and the Cardinals about their plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s. That isn’t exactly new business when it comes to that pair of arbiters.

But the worst out of either the Mets or the Phillies  about Bucknor in Citi Field was chirping. In Busch Stadium, Tatis didn’t just take it when Cuzzi rang him up on a called, full-count, third strike from Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leading off the top of the fifth.

The Padres led 2-0 at the time, in a game they absolutely had to win to stay alive in the National League wild-card race. First, Tatis gave an obviously frustrated sigh. Then, he bent his head over his left shoulder and made a few body-language movements plus some utterances . . . but he did it facing away from Cuzzi.

The bad news is that replays showed Cuzzi actually called the pitch right. It hit just under the strike zone ceiling. The worse news for the moment was Padres manager Jayce Tingler hustling out of the dugout to argue the call, trying to protect his player, but getting himself tossed post haste.

As Tingler got the ho-heave, Tatis returned to the dugout and banged the bench a few times in his frustration. Then, apparently, he continued grumbling about that third strike as the inning went forward, with Jake Cronenworth stranded on second following a one-out double. Machado is known to have befriended Tatis personally, but he’d also had more than enough of whatever bellyaching Tatis continued during the inning.

The next thing anyone knew, Machado could be heard hollering clearly enough at Tatis, Go play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! Tatis must have tried to interject something about the disputed strike right there, because Machado then hollered, No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.

Then the Padres’ veteran third baseman and their youthful superstar shortstop went back to the field to continue [fornicating] playing baseball.

The Padres lead held until the bottom of the eighth, when Cardinals third baseman Tommy Edman lofted a one-out sacrifice fly, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt wrung Padres reliever Emilio Pagan for a walk, and left fielder Tyler O’Neill hit a 2-2 cutter into the left field bullpen.

Perhaps ironically, two innings before that blast, O’Neill was no more thrilled with Cuzzi’s strike zone than any Padre on the night. He simply didn’t let mere frustration turn into a fuming that might require a Cardinal veteran or two dressing him down on the spot before the ump might throw him out.

“That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” said Wainwright, who’d surrendered only a pair of RBI singles to Victor Caratini and Tommy Pham in the top of the fourth. “If we lose him right there, we probably lose the game . . . That was a lot of maturity by him to not get thrown out right there on some tough calls.”

O’Neill’s blast overthrew the lead Padres starter Yu Darvish handed the Padres bullpen after seven shutout innings during which he’d allowed a mere three hits while striking nine Cardinals out. The Padres had no answer in return against Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos in the top of the ninth, with their own veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer striking out swinging on a slightly high fastball to end it.

Machado and Tatis had to be separated by Padres coach Ryan Flaherty before they returned to the field. Post-game, Tingler said only that the dustup wasn’t viewed “negatively” around the team that’s now lost 23 of their last 33 games after entering the season practically crowned the World Series winners-to-be by an awful lot of people now dining on roast crow.

“I’m sure people on the outside think it’s whatever they think, but we’re family,” Tingler told the press. “We’re not going to discuss the details, but we care. There’s passion, there’s frustration. Those are all emotions that are natural and those things happen. But it comes down to a group of men caring.”

The details were captured on more than one video that went slightly viral within moments of the dustup ending, as things turned out. Then the real focus became Machado, who once had a reputation for just the kind of petulance over which he’d now dressed Tatis down so dramatically and, shall we say, colourfully.

Those trying to score the dressing-down as just another example of Machado still being a self-centered pain in the rump roast might be shocked to discover a former Padre, Will Middlebrooks, tweeting very much otherwise in the immediate wake:

I know people will take the angle of “Machado is a bad teammate”…but you couldn’t be more wrong here. This was a leadership move. Let’s not forget FTJ is still 22. A phenomenal player, but still a lot to learn. Tatis can’t get tossed in the 5th inning of a game they need to win.

During an exchange featuring more than a few dissenting tweeters, Middlebrooks added, “History tells me that Machado had the experiences to know better. He’s grown up a lot and learned from his past.

The Padres didn’t make either Machado or Tatis available to the press after the game. But a week earlier, Machado spoke to Athletic writer Britt Ghrioli, during a weekend on which the Padres lost twice to the Dodgers. Machado only began by saying he’d learned some things at last.

There’s a time and place for everything. In Baltimore, I was young. I was just there to play. There were other guys that were leaders—Adam (Jones), J.J. (Hardy), (Matt) Wieters . . . Now, obviously, it’s different. Guys are looking up to me.

I think what’s happening now in this game is we are losing track of the older guys, the respect of the veterans, guys who have been here and done it a long time. You got to earn that respect; you got to earn that role. It’s not just given. A lot of players now are just expected to be the guy [when they reach the majors]. But I’m old-school baseball; I want to teach it how I was taught.

When you are young you make a lot of mistakes. You make mistakes as you grow and hopefully you learn from them, you gain experience. You [fornicate] up again, give your thoughts and learn from it again. That’s what it’s about. I messed up a lot at a young age, like a lot of people, but you take that and you try to learn from it. I’m at the point now where — I’ll be 30 [next year], I want to win. I just want to win.  And I think we can do that here.

“I would say Manny’s done a good job with all his leadership throughout the year,” Tingler said, though he refused again to speak of the deets involving the dugout dustup. “But I would say Manny being able to share his experience and share his past experiences of coming up in the league is a good thing.”

It hasn’t turned Machado into a grump refusing to let the kids play. He still has clear fun playing the game. It’s simply made him one of the adults in the room who knows from bitter experience when the kids can’t afford to get sent to bed without their supper and tries to stop it as best he can with what he has.

While all that happened, I was watching Phillies second baseman Jean Segura hit a pair of solo homers in the first and third off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco. I watched Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo hit a one-out triple off the top of the right field wall and score on an infield ground out in the sixth to cut the deficit in half.

But I also watched Bryce Harper hit a two-run double in the seventh off Mets relief retread Brad Hand to put the game just out of the Mets’ reach. The other guys have now hit .357 off Hand since the Mets lifted him from the waiver wire at the beginning of this month.

And, after Mets reliever Miguel Castro sank into but escaped a bases-loaded jam with no further Phillies scoring in the top of the eighth, I saw Nimmo hit one over the right field fence to lead their half off but no further Met scoring the rest of the way.

It put the Phillies a mere game behind the Braves in the NL East, with the Braves losing to the Giants, 2-0, in San Francisco. It also kept the Mets five and a half out of first in the East but pushed them to seven games back in the wild card race. The Phillies knock on the door of improbability; the Mets—now losers of five straight—are only a step or three from going through the floor.

Catching up to the Padres and their once-unexpected adult in the room in St. Louis proved just as intriguing.

Luis’s pieces

Luis Rojas

If you want to know why Met fans call for manager Luis Rojas’s execution every other day, Tuesday night’s loss to the Cardinals handed the prosecution incontrovertible evidence.

Maybe it’ll be better all around if the Mets end up out of the postseason picture, after all. If the manner in which manager Luis Rojas ran Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Cardinals is any indication, the Mets would be lucky to get past a wild card game, never mind to it in the first place.

No, we’re not taking the Mets’ hitters off the hook for going a measly 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position. We’re not taking them off the hook for killing four rallies by hitting into double plays.

We’re not taking them off the hook for one of those double plays coming in the tenth inning, after a walk to Jonathan Villar added to the free cookie on second to start the inning. And we’re not taking Pete Alonso off the hook for hitting into two of those double plays plus striking out with first and second to kill a fifth-inning chance at tying or taking a lead.

But we’d like to know what on earth Rojas was or wasn’t thinking, after he lifted his starting pitcher Marcus Stroman following six innings of two-run ball in which his only troublesome inning was the fourth, when the Cardinals scored those two runs on a deep infield hit and a sacrifice fly.

Since Rojas entered the game knowing he wasn’t going to use either Seth Lugo or Miguel Castro, he brought Aaron Loup in for the seventh. Watching Loup use only seven pitches to get two fly outs and a swinging strikeout, it didn’t cross Rojas’s mind that Loup might have another healthy and even economical inning in him.

No, Rojas went instead to Jeurys Familia, who’d been less than effective in his previous two outings, rather than giving the ball to his usual eighth-inning option Trevor May. May might have been pried for three runs in his previous outing (against the Yankees, in the 9/11 anniversary game), but he’d been sharp and un-scored upon in nine of his prior ten gigs until then.

Familia surrendered a one-out walk (to Paul Goldschmidt) and a two-run homer immediately to follow (by Tyler O’Neil). Not until the Cardinals followed at once with Nolen Arenado singling and Yadier Molina reaching on catcher’s interference did Rojas finally remember May. And May only caught Dylan Carlson looking at strike three before getting Edmundo Sosa to ground out for the side.

Rojas also didn’t read the deep text when inconsistent Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless ninth with only thirteen pitches needed. Sure, Harrison Bader led off reaching on an error, but the Cardinals handed Diaz and the Mets a present by ordering pinch-hitter Lars (Sometimes You Feel Like a) Nootbaar to sacrifice. After such Cardinal generosity, Diaz needed only two pitches to get rid of Tommy Edman on a ground out and four to get Goldschmidt to foul out for the side.

Then Javier Baez led off the bottom of the ninth against Cardinals reliever Geovanny Gallegos by hitting the first pitch of the turn over the left field fence to tie it up at four. Three Met outs later, Diaz might well have been able to pitch the tenth successfully, leaving Rojas the option of Heath Hembree for the eleventh.

But no. He lifted Diaz and sent Hembree out for the tenth. Hembree struck O’Neil out swinging to lead off. The Mets ordered Arenado to first on the house and got exactly what they bargained for, Molina hitting into a double play to end the inning. It only cost Hembree seven pitches (remember, you don’t have to throw four wide ones for an intentional walk anymore) to do it. There might have been no harm, no foul if Rojas sent Hembree back out for the eleventh, either.

“I can’t ask any more from the guys,” Rojas said post-game, when asked why he didn’t push his pen men just a little bit harder considering the time running out on the Mets’ hair-thin postseason chances.

“Right now, it would be unfair,” he continued. “I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else, their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there and he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be, as well. There’s just a lot of things that go into it. Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there’s some other things that come into play when you talk. It’s the player’s feel, the pitching coach’s feel, my feel.”

Where was the feel when the best options Rojas played pitched so economically in their effectiveness that an extra inning from any of them might have made a phenomenal difference?

There came harm and foul when Rojas instead went to Jake Reed, a 28-year-old rookie not long returned from the injured list and not having thrown a major league inning since mid-August. The good news was Reed, too, pitching economically enough—eight pitches total.

But then there’s the bad news: 1) His third pitch was hit for a leadoff single, sending the free cookie on second to third post haste. 2) His sixth pitch was hit for an RBI single to break the four-all tie. 3) His eighth pitch was turned into a two-run single.

Then Rojas brought in Trevor Williams, his import from the Cubs and normally a starter but well between assignments and able to throw part or all of an inning if necessary. Williams shook off a base hit to get Goldschmidt to dial Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Now the questions would include why not have Williams open a clean inning (if you didn’t count the cookie on second) instead of opening it with a rusty rookie? Said Rojas: Well, Reed’s a reliever and Williams is a starter. There’ve been how many skippers burned alive when they went by The Book instead of what their eyes, ears, and actual numbers whispered in their ears?

Going his Book enabled Rojas to pull the lulu of the night—turning to spaghetti bat Albert Almora, Jr. to pinch hit in the bottom of the eleventh, after the Mets pulled back to within a run on an RBI double and a throwing error by Cardinals reliever Kim, and with Williams’s lineup slot due up.

He picked Almora over Luis Guillorme. After opening 0-2, Almora wrestled his way to a full count—and grounded out modestly to end it. Why Almora over Guillorme? “Against a lefty,” Rojas said, “not the right matchup.”

Which part of his Book did Rojas ignore, in deciding the righthanded Almora was his best chance to tie or win despite the fact that Almora’s been hitting like . . . a pitcher, this season? (Slash line: .115/.148/.173.)

Which part of that Book did Rojas ignore in deciding Guillorme the lefthanded bat had no business going to the plate in that spot . . . even with his .344 on-base percentage against portside pitching in 33 plate appearances this season?

(What’s the name of his Book, anyway? For Whom the Bell Tolls?)

Maybe Guillorme would have poked an RBI hit to tie or even win the game. Maybe he would have ended the game the same way Almora did; maybe he might have flied out to end it. But he’d have given Rojas and the Mets the absolute better shot at keeping the game alive or winning it.

The only time Rojas did set his Book to one side Tuesday night was taking Familia over May. As Casey Stengel might have said, there comes a time in every man’s life and he shouldn’t have had that one.

You want to know why frustrated Met fans call for Rojas’s summary execution after just about every other Met loss and sometimes after oddly-managed Met wins? Tuesday night was gilt-edged evidence for the prosecution.

This morning they’re thanking God and His servant Stengel that Tuesday night wasn’t a postseason game. They may even thank both if the Mets finally don’t make the dance at all. How sad is that?

Max the Knife vs. the Lindor Rock

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife went from immaculate to 3,000 in the same Sunday afternoon game . . .

Who says baseball isn’t good for a little hair raising anymore? If you weren’t paying attention Sunday, you missed some real hair raising in Los Angeles and New York. As a matter of fact, you could feel sorry for Dodger Stadium’s  being upstaged by Citi Field’s.

Even if both hit the history books running.

Max Scherzer took a perfect game into the eighth inning. Along the way he pitched an immaculate inning—the third man ever to do it three times, joining Chris Sale and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax—and bagged his 3,000th career strikeout. Right there it should have been the biggest story in the game.

Immaculate inning? Three thousand strikeouts? Could that someone be Max the Knife?

Those Big Apple pains in the ass had to horn in on Scherzer’s glory. They had to go from a brothers-in-arms 9/11 twentieth-anniversary hair-raiser to a Sunday night soiree full of chirping, whistling, snarking, bombing, and oh, yes, Francisco Lindor doing what nobody else in the 139-year history of the Subway Series had done before.

It wasn’t enough that Scherzer should have struck San Diego’s Eric Hosmer out swinging on down and in and a full count in the fifth to record the milestone strikeout. It wasn’t enough that Hosmer was sandwiched by Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Tommy Pham in the middle of that immaculate second.

It wasn’t even enough that Hosmer should have been the one to bust Scherzer’s perfect bid with a double deep to right field, a little quiet revenge for having been on the wrong side of Max the Knife’s further burrowing into the history books.

No. Those spoilsport Mets and Yankees had to go out and enable Lindor—the off-season signing splash whose first year as a Met has been a battle at the plate while remaining a study at shortstop (where he’s worth five defensive runs saved about the National League average)—to do the damage that mattered in a 7-6 Met win.

Never in the entire history of New York’s major league teams tangling against each other—we’re talking serious World Series tonnage, plus all those decades when the Dodgers and the Giants turned baseball into total warfare against each other, not to mention the Yankees and the Mets in regular-season interleague play—had any single player hit three home runs in a single contest between them until Sunday night.

In other words, Lindor accomplished what not even a small truckload of Hall of Famers ever did in Big Apple uniforms against each other. Not Home Run Baker or Babe Ruth. Not Lou Gehrig or Mel Ott. Not Joe DiMaggio or Jackie Robinson. Not Yogi Berra or Johnny Mize. Not Mike Piazza or Derek Jeter. Not even Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

All around the Lindor clock, hey, let’s do the Lindor Rock!

Bottom of the second. Lindor batting lefthanded, squaring off on 1-1 against Clark Schmidt, a Yankee excavated from the farm system to make the start in the first place, and hitting a hanging breaking ball for a three-run homer into the bullpens behind right center field, pulling the Mets from a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

“If Francisco Lindor’s first year as a Met could include a signature moment,” called ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian as Lindor came down the third base line and crossed the plate, “we just watched it.” If only his crystal ball had undergone a tuneup.

Bottom of the sixth. One out, Yankee reliever Wandy Peralta throwing his first pitch to Lindor batting righthanded. The changeup arriving down and on the lower outside corner got driven high and into the left center field seats. Fattening a 5-4 Met lead by a run.

Francisco Lindor

“I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I bomb by night . . .”

On the way home down the third base line, Lindor made a gesture simulating a kid sticking two fingers into his mouth to whistle a huge blast—a zap back at the Yankees over suspicions that Saturday night’s Mets starting pitcher, Taijuan Walker, was caught tipping his pitches with the Yankees whistling the tips to their batters during their five-run second.

Maybe the Yankees did it, maybe they didn’t. It’s not as though the Yankees have been immune to suspicions of on-field chicanery in the recent past, even if they’re not yet suspected or affirmed to have been quite as deep-cover as the 2017-18 Astros were shown to be for espionage aforethought.

But Lindor tripped a Yankee trigger when Giancarlo Stanton smashed a game-tying two-out, two-run homer in the top of the seventh. Stanton and Lindor jawed back and forth while Stanton was still running the homer out, though the Yankees and the Mets were both kind enough to let Stanton cross the plate before the benches and bullpens emptied completely for a little, shall we say, conversation over the matter.

“The last couple nights, we’ve just been loud over there,” said Yankee manager Aaron Boone. “Not doing anything.”

“I’m not accusing them,” Lindor said post-game Sunday night. “I’m not saying they’re doing it 100 percent because I don’t know 100 percent, but it definitely felt that way. And I took that personal. I took that personal and I wanted to put runs on the board to help my team win.”

For his part, Stanton postgame thought Lindor was actually ticked off at Peralta for whistling—not to steal signs but to try putting a little more life into what Stanton suggested had been a sluggish Yankee bench during a sluggish Yankee spell. That, Stanton said, is what he was trying to convey to the Mets’ shortstop en route the plate.

“If you’ve got a problem to Wandy, give it to Wandy,” the left fielder said. “Don’t be talking to multiple people, bringing everybody into it. Running around the bases, that was my thought process. Obviously, I didn’t get all that out running around.”

If anyone had a real complaint about Peralta’s whistling, it was probably Yankee right fielder Joey Gallo. “It’s definitely not for pitch-tipping or anything like that,” Gallo insisted, before complaining  good naturedly. “It’s been hurting my ear, honestly. It’s unbelievable how loud he can whistle.”

Bottom of the eighth, one out, Lindor back batting lefthanded against another Yankee reliever, Chad Green. This time, he hit a 2-0 meatball practically down the chute even higher over the right field fence than his first flog of the night traveled.

It wasn’t as spiritually delicious as Hall of Famer Piazza’s eighth-inning blast in old Shea Stadium, during the Mets’ first home game after the original 9/11 atrocities’ baseball hiatus, but the Citi Field racket as it traveled out of reach was equal in volume to that twenty-year-old cathartic hysteria.

There’s nothing like a three-thump night to make a high-priced shortstop—who’s spent most of his first such high-priced season struggling at the plate if not with the leather—suddenly feel lovable. “It probably helped them believe in me a little bit more,” Lindor said post-game.

Poor Scherzer. The tenacious righthander hit the history books with a flying fist. So he had to be one-upped by those New York yo-yos. Not even Mookie Betts speaking postgame could neutralise things. “He was destined for it,” the Mookie Monster told reporters. “All the work he puts in, everything he does. It kind of sounds weird, but I expect nothing less from him.”

Echoes of Hall of Famer Don Drysdale once saying of his rotation mate and buddy Koufax, “I expect Sandy to pitch a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.”

The bad news in New York was that Met fans have come to expect a discomfiting balance between virtuosity and disaster from reliever Edwin Diaz. And Diaz delivered just what they expected in the ninth Sunday night.

He wasn’t the only bullpen culprit in the hair raising, not after Jeurys Familia threw Gleyber Torres a two-run homer in the sixth, and not after Brad Hand handed Stanton that jaw-inspiring two-run shot in the seventh. But Diaz was the bull most over the edge, almost.

A leadoff strikeout followed by a base hit. A followup walk followed by a swinging strikeout. Then, he had a little help from catcher James McCann, letting a 1-1 pitch to Stanton escape, enabling pinch-runner Tyler Wade and Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo to third and second.

Lucky for Diaz and the Mets that Stanton got under the 2-2 fastball and popped it up. To the left side. Where, of all people, Lindor awaited to haul down the game’s final out. Some dared call that one poetic justice.

On a sober anniversary

New York Mets, New York Yankees

Honouring the murdered and the fallen who tried to save them during the original 9/11 atrocity at the World Trade Center, the Mets and the Yankees stood shoulder-to-shoulder before Saturday night’s game. Shown left to right here: Pete Alonso, Gleyber Torres, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Jonathan Villar, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Nimmo (still on the injured list), and Aaron Judge.

Members of the 2001 Mets, including Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, escorted various groups of first responders onto and around the field Saturday night. The Citi Field audience cheered loud and long, not just for those Mets but for those first responders who survived or whose comrades were lost in the 11 September 2001 atrocity upon the World Trade Center.

Several of today’s Yankees and Mets—wearing assorted New York first-responder hats, this time with the blessing of baseball’s government—lined up intermingled on the baseline and came close enough to tears. The Mets wore the same non-pinstriped home whites the team wore in 2001, complete with “9-11-2001” embroidered on the right sleeve, but this time with a  black-shadowed version of their “New York” traveling letters across the chest.

After a moment of silence in honour of those murdered in the WTC attacks,  and those who died trying to rescue the attacked, the New York City Cops & Kids Choir sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in a striking balance of chorale, section, and soloist. The cheer at the finish amounted as much to a prayer that a country now fragmented in enough ways might yet un-fragment once again in enough ways, as it did the performance that truly honoured the dead.

The Fox Sports telecast cut to a special anniversary video story, recalling the moment New York can never forget, ten days after baseball ended its self-imposed hiatus following the original atrocities—Piazza blasting what proved a game-winning, two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, in old Shea Stadium, off Braves reliever Steve Karsay, off the second tier of a television camera stand behind the center field fence.

Then, the Mets’ and Yankees’ 2001 managers, Bobby Valentine and Hall of Famer Joe Torre, threw ceremonial first pitches to the plate, after Valentine puckishly ran back onto the mound to toe the rubber. That was a very far cry from Valentine having led his 2001 Mets in running rescue-and-recovery efforts outside old Shea Stadium itself—and having fear of further danger, as he’s acknowledged often since—after the WTC attacks.

After a commercial break—including a stunning montage of a young lady named Rowen Emerson Jones playing “God Bless America” on her violin, at various New York spots including the Brooklyn Bridge and a 9/11 memorial—it was time at last to set sober reflection and ceremony to one side, play baseball, and grip the Citi Field crowd until the last out of an 8-7 Yankee win.

On baseball terms, the Mets’ home crowd would have loved to have back the awkward should-have-been double play finisher second baseman Javier Baez—hurrying the throw to first—sent airmail past first baseman Pete Alonso that allowed the eighth Yankee run in the top of the eighth in the first place.

This was an interleague game whose sole significance otherwise rested solely in the now-faint postseason hopes of both the Mets in the National League East and the Yankees in the American League East. Had it not been for 9/11’s twentieth anniversary, the bigger baseball news of the night might have been Brewers pitchers Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader collaborating on a major league record ninth no-hitter of the season in their 3-0 win over the Indians—now the first team to be no-hit three times in a season.

The Yankees and the Mets exchanged single-hit halves of the first inning off their starting pitchers, Corey Kluber for the Yankees and Taijuan Walker for the Mets. The baseball fun really began in the top of the second, when the Yankees battered Walker for a pair of two-run homers (catcher Kyle Higashioka, center fielder Brett Gardner), a solo bomb (Aaron Judge, right after Gardner), and a too-early 5-0 lead.

Aaron Judge

Judge led the Yankee attack with two home runs Saturday night.

The Mets got right back into the game in the bottom of the inning. Second baseman Javier Baez, one of the notorious Thumb Bunch, waited out a leadoff four-pitch walk and stole second while left fielder Jeff McNeil struck out swinging. Then a second Thumb Buncher, Kevin Pillar, drove Baez home with a liner just inside the left field line, before catcher James McCann—who’s seen as one of the Mets’ more dubious free agency signings ordinarily—hit a drive that eluding a leaping Judge at the right field wall into an RBI triple. Walker himself followed with a line single to right sending McCann home effortlessly.

From there, Walker overcame his own wounding flaw, trouble commanding his fastball, and retired each the next thirteen Yankees he faced. Along the way, Baez turned on a Kluber service with two out in the bottom of the third and ripped it on a fast high line into the lower left field seats to pull the Mets back to within a run.

Kluber endured through four innings before Yankee manager Aaron Boone opened his bullpen and brought Lucas Luetge in to work the bottom of the fifth. The good news for the Yankees: Luetge shook off a one-out base hit by Mets right fielder Michael Conforto, shot through unoccupied shortstop territory on the defensive shift, to get rid of Alonso on a fly to the back of right field and Baez on a bullet liner Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela speared in a somewhat spinning crouch for the side.

The bad news for the Yankees was Luetge opening the Mets’ half of the sixth by walking McNeil on four straight pitches. Exit Luetge, enter Chad Green in a double switch sending Tyler Wade to play third base. Unfortunately, enter three baseballs thrown onto the field in right by unknown Citi Field idiots, followed by another couple of jackasses running onto the field but taken down swiftly enough by stadium security.

The unruly delay knocked Pillar out of his batting rhythm and into a swinging strikeout. But it didn’t stop McCann from turning on a 1-1 service and driving it into the left field seats, yanking the Mets into a 6-4 lead and inspiring one fan adjacent to the broadcast booth to holler, “Rock ’em! Sock ’em!” Those who remembered Piazza’s 2001 blast hoped against hope that another Met catcher’s bomb would prove the winner on the actual 9/11 anniversary, instead of in the first Mets home game back after baseball’s self-imposed September 2001 break.

The Mets had one more run in them in the bottom of the seventh, when with two outs and Clay Holmes on the mound for the Yankees, Baez chopped one off the plate up toward third, with Wade having a tough throw to make and Baez beating it by a hair as a few television replays plus the umpires’ review showed. McNeil singled him to third, Pillar singled him home with a liner to left, and it looked as though the Mets had an insurance run.

Seth Lugo had relieved Walker and thrown a spotless top of the sixth, and now Trevor May took over for the seventh. Oops. Gardner opened with a base hit through the hole at second, and Judge hit a parabolic punt sailing above the top of the stadium roof but landing halfway up the left field seats to tie the game at six. Yankee left fielder Giancarlo Stanton chased May with a long single, and Aaron Loup took the mound for the Mets.

It looked like Loup would have a simple gig when he got rid of Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo in a hurry on a fly out that nudged Conforto back almost to the track in right. Shortstop Gleyber Torres smashed one hard enough on the ground to short that his Mets counterpart Francisco Lindor couldn’t handle properly and got ruled a base hit.

Luke Voit pinch hit for Holmes. He grounded one to short on a very weird hop, but this time Lindor snapped it up at once and threw to second to get Torres. Baez in his rush to end the inning threw flatfoot off his right leg, mid-pivot, and the ball sailed over and past Alonso, enabling Stanton’s pinch runner Andrew Velasquez to score the eighth Yankee run.

The blameless Loup promptly struck Higashioka swinging on four pitches, but the Mets couldn’t cash in the two-out baserunner they got when Lindor wrung Yankee reliever Albert Abreu for a full-count walk. After another delay from another idiot running on the field—Hall of Fame pitcher/Fox Sports analyst John Smoltz wondered aloud, and appropriately, why people pick even evenings of sober commemoration for their “look at me!” moments—Conforto wrung Abreu for another walk.

Up to the plate came Alonso, the Met everyone in the ballpark wanted in this situation. He gave it his best shot, too. On 1-1 he hit one high and deep to center field, but he’d connected just on the underside of the ball, enough to give the Yankees a momentary jolt but not enough to keep Gardner from catching it on the edge of the track.

Veteran Mets relief pickup Brad Hand rid himself of Wade (ground out to second), Yankee second baseman D.J. LeMahieu (identical ground out to second), and Gardner (foul tip swinging strikeout) in the top of the ninth. But Mets pinch-hitter J.D. Davis’s one-out ground-rule double wasn’t enough in the bottom. He took third when strike three escaped Higashioka but the Yankee catcher recovered the ball soon enough to keep Pillar from taking first by just a step.

Then McCann gave one a ride out to right. It wasn’t enough of a ride. Judge snapped the ball into his glove to end the game, snapping a low for the Yankees in which they’d entered Saturday night having lost seven straight and—how cruel the irony—nine of eleven.

In baseball terms, the win put the Yankees into a tie with the Blue Jays for the second AL wild card, the Blue Jays having taken a doubleheader from the hapless Orioles. The loss kept the Mets five behind the Braves in the NL East and four behind the Reds and the Padres—both defeated earlier Saturday—for the second NL wild card.

In spiritual terms, the full Citi Field house, the pre-game ceremonies, and the shoulder-to-shoulder interweaving of Mets and Yankees on the baseline during those ceremonies reminded people of the better sides of New York City. The sides that show recovery and perseverance with little more than just basic effort of the heart. Even commemorating the anniversary of an atrocity that—who could have predicted—killed fewer people than were reported to have died Friday alone from COVID-19-related illness.

Maybe sports don’t really heal, but maybe something like a baseball game relieves the sting of certain atrocities, pestilences, and sorrows for just a little while.

But to the idiots throwing balls on the field, running onto the field, and even booing the 7 Line Army—that particular group of orange-shirted, die-hard Met fans—for refusing to partake of the still-idiotic Wave in the seventh inning (if the 1980s call demanding it back, let them have it back, unapologetically), three words: Go to hell.