Thumbs up!

Kevin Pillar

Kevin Pillar, one of the Mets’ Thumb Bunch, after slicing ninth-inning grand salami at the Nats’ expense Sunday afternoon.

That was last weekend: A few Mets decided to give what-for to Citi Field’s boo birds of August unhappiness. They flipped the script. If they were going to get booed for coming up short no matter the effort, by God they were going to give the fans thumbs down when they came up hit, pitch, play roses.

The racket was such a ruckus—or, should that be the ruckus was such a racket—that nobody paid much attention to the August-challenged Mess winning two straight from the retooling-on-the-fly Nationals. They were too busy reading beleaguered team president Sandy Alderson’s fan-their-behinds retort to care.

This is the end of this weekend: Including that previous Saturday and Sunday, the Thumb Bunch have won seven of eight, kicked themselves back into enough of the thick of the National League East they’d lost gruesomely enough during most of August, and out-scored the opposition 41-26 while they were at it.

Who cares if it came against the Nats and the equally also-ran Marlins? The Mets looked so badly like a team that couldn’t get next to a win if they paid by the run that the worst editions of the St. Louis Browns would have looked like pennant contenders against them.

Now, they’ve finished this weekend-to-weekend raiding with a 13-6 Sunday dismantling of the Nats that included a jaw-dropping six-run top of the ninth. In which the three major members of the Thumb Bunch were very much the major players. “If there’s a higher power looking over the Mets,” said broadcaster Gary Cohen, “He or She has an infinite sense of humor.”

He or She must have, since the Mets got close enough to letting the game escape in the first place. A four-run top of the first turned into a 4-3 squeaker in the bottom of the inning. A 6-3 lead after four and a half turned into a six-all tie in the bottom of the fifth. Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika’s sacrifice fly sending Javy Baez home with the bases loaded in the eighth broke the tie.

These are still the Mess, aren’t they? They’re still virtuosi at wasting leads and putting the crash carts on triple red alert, no?

They were until Francisco Lindor faced Nats reliever Austin Voth to open the top of the ninth. Lindor saw only one pitch, a spicy meatball right down the middle, and drove it over the center field fence. A two-run lead’s better than one, right? Even with Juan Soto looming as the third man due up in the bottom of the ninth, right?

Pete Alonso wasn’t taking chances. He followed Lindor’s launch with a double to the back of left field. Michael Conforto singled Alonso home and took second on a throw in. Baez finished a 4-for-4 afternoon by singling Conforto to third. Jeff McNeil wrung himself a four-pitch walk to load the pillows. Up stepped Kevin Pillar, to hold his lumber on two out of the strike zone before fouling away a pair off the middle.

Then Voth threw Pillar a low fastball. And Pillar drove it high and into the seats above the Mets bullpen. It may yet stand as the biggest slice of grand salami with mustard on their season to date. All this on an afternoon when Lindor went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs scored, Baez scored three times in addition to his four-fer, and Pillar went 2-for-4.

Some teams crumple under the lash of controversy, whether the controversy is real, alleged, ginned up, or imagined. Others discover it’s better than a diet of pitches over the middle of the plate for a royal feast.

The 1972-74 Athletics throve on internal friction; the 1977-78 Yankees didn’t earn the nickname the Bronx Zoo because they were tame and allergic to nuclear-level back-page 72-point headlines. The 1986 Mets made St. Louis’s mythological Gas House Gang resemble an Amish picnic. This year’s Astros seem to be using the noisily lingering hostilities over Astrogate as feud for thought—and thump.

This year’s Mets won’t inspire what those A’s inspired Jim Bouton to remember (in “I Managed Good But, Boy, Did They Play Bad!”)—“[T]hey didn’t have many rules. Oh, maybe they weren’t allowed to punch each other in public. No punching a teammate, I suppose, in a nightclub. Fighting only allowed in the clubhouse. No screaming at each other when the wives are around. And don’t embarrass the manager to more than two wire services during any homestand.” (Today, of course, we’d say “to more than two Web  reporters.”)

This year’s Mets may or many not have any player ready to say of them what third base virtuoso Graig Nettles said of his time (sentence?) in the Bronx Zoo: “Some kids want to join the circus when they grow up. Others want to be big league baseball players. I feel lucky. When I came to the Yankees, I got to do both.”

Unless I’m very wrong, and I hope I am, there isn’t a Met in the bunch now who’ll look back two decades later and remember this team the way ’86 Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda would remember that team, who broke an entire airplane celebrating their National League Championship Series triumph: “We were a bunch of vile [fornicators].”

These Mets may not be quite what Nettles’ Yankees became, but there were times this year when you thought the Mets couldn’t decide whether they were re-making E.R. . . . or Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

They play one more against the Nats on Labour Day, then take a trip for three more against the Marlins. Then, they come home to face the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Phillies. Before you remind them that those three aggregations aren’t exactly pushovers—even if the Yankees have just lost five of eight—ponder the point that momentum comes from unlikely places.

Even from places in which turning thumbs down after splendid plays to retaliate against the boo birds becomes the molehill turned by the hysterical into the Himalayas.

Five straight for the Thumb Bunch

Jeurys Familia, Pete Alonso

Jeurys Familia and Pete Alonso have a victory handshake after the Mess (er, Mets) won their fifth straight Friday night—with plenty of help from the Thumb Bunch.

Almost a full week ago, the Mets were likely to be number one on a baseball fan’s hate parade. You know, you can’t have those ornery spoiled brats giving thumbs down when doing things right to the fans who spent most of August booing their heads off during what seemed, once and for all, like a classically surreal Met implosion.

You could only imagine the curses and hexes fans wanted to place on their heads for their dissing the people who pay their goddam salaries. Never mind that fans alone, or even predominantly, haven’t really paid baseball players’ salaries in decades.

But the Mets looked so vividly like 2021 baseball’s biggest self-inflicted trainwreck last month that you could still be forgiven for expecting a complete collapse. Maybe even firing squads in the clubhouse and guillotines outside the ballpark.

The hell with Pete Alonso’s happy talk channeling his inner Tug McGraw. Maybe Alonso didn’t use the specific phrase “ya gotta believe,” and McGraw in 1973 deployed it sarcastically after a lame rah-rah clubhouse speech by then-Mets lord M. Donald Grant. But when he said, “If you don’t believe in yourself, then who else is going to believe,” around 10 August, things only got worse instead of better.

Maybe Alonso really was onto something after all. Because look who’s won five straight including the two games last weekend that brought the thumbs-downing to a boil before the weekend ended. Look who’s even figured out a way to blow a lead in the ninth to force extra innings and then won the game in the extras, anyway.

Never mind that the streak’s come at the expense of two other sputtering teams, the Nationals and the Marlins. The way the Mets looked for most of August, they could have lost handily to a lineup of nine arthritic maids, a pitching staff of five one-armed janitors, a bullpen of seven legless movers, and a bench of six quadriplegics.

But ever since the down-thumbing suddenly caught the attention of the rest of the world, the Mets have outscored the opposition 27-13. And on Friday night, they took a precarious 2-0 lead to the bottom of the ninth, watched Edwin Diaz surrender a leadoff home run (to Juan Soto) and an RBI double (to Riley Adams) to tie . . . and pried four unanswered runs out of the Nats in the top of the tenth to win, 6-4.

Let’s not kid ourselves just yet. The Mets get to abuse the Nats in Washington for four more games this weekend, then they get to fly to Miami to inflict a little more use, misuse, and abuse of the Marlins. After that? They come home to host three clubs who can be called many things without pushovers being one of them: the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Phillies.

There’s something to be said for gaining momentum even at the expense of the also-rans. And the Mets did claw their way back to .500 and to a mere four games out of first in the National League East.

Sure, they got some help from the Fish flattening the second-place Phillies 10-3 Friday night. Sure, they got some help from the Rockies eking out a 4-3 win over the first-place Braves. But a team that started August leading the division by three, and almost ended the month trailing by eight the night before the current streak began, has a few reasons to be happier.

Happier, but not quite to the delirious level just yet?

But let’s not spoil the fun. OK? Not the day after ancient Rich Hill pitched like a young man over six scoreless innings. Not the day after everyone in the Mets bullpen not named Diaz pitched three innings of one-hit, scoreless baseball.

Not after Diaz shook off those tying runs—and a scary collision between tying runner Andrew Stevenson and Mets catcher Chance Sisco that knocked Sisco out of the game at once—by ironing up and using a strikeout (of Carter Kieboom) and a ground out (by Luis Garcia) to strand the potential winning Nats run.

Not the day after Javier Baez, one of the Thumb Bunch, poked a one-out double down the right field line in the top of the second and came home almost at once when Michael Conforto—who’d gone from extension lock to question mark with a season’s worth of struggling—ricocheted a single off Nats starter Sean Nolin’s shoulder to send him there.

Not the day after Alonso, Mr. Belief, squared Nats starter Sean Nolin up on the first two-out, one-on pitch in the top of the third and yanked it as far down the right field line as he could for the RBI triple.

Not the day after Alonso drove Francisco Lindor—another of the Thumb Bunch, now deployed as the free cookie on second to open the New York tenth—home with a line single into the right center field gap.

Not the day after a third Thumb Buncher, Kevin Pillar, followed a free pass to Conforto by ripping a liner all the way down the left field line, sending Alonso and Conforto home as if they were escaping for their lives, Conforto following Alonso with an Olympic-level dive across the back of the plate.

Not the day after pinch hitter J.D. Davis was handed another free pass and Jonathan Villar cashed in at once by singling Pillar home for the fourth Met run of the tenth.

Not the day after Jeurys Familia returned to a once-familiar role, closing it out with a leadoff punchout and a pair of swift ground outs in the bottom of the tenth.

“As you can imagine,” Alonso the Believer said post-game, “it’s great. It’s awesome to rip off (five) in a row. [But] we just have to win every possible game that we can. Regardless of the standings, we can only control what we can control. There’s ebbs and flows in the season and right now we’re just looking to finish strong.”

“The whole thing is just the creativity as the game is kind of presenting what it is showing you as a pitcher, as a conductor,” Hill said post-game of his own solid outing. “You saw a variation of a lot of different things out of my mechanics tonight. It wasn’t necessarily just a traditional leg lift and a pitch and the timing was all the same. Trying to disrupt the timing is the whole art of pitching.”

So Hill isn’t as succinct as Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. (Hitting is timing, pitching is destroying timing.) But he sure pitched and sounded just as smart. Especially facing the heart of the Nats order three times, bringing them up empty, and surrendering only three hits overall during his six splendid.

Maybe the Nats helped the Mets’ cause by some rather uncharacteristic basepath mistakes. But if pitching is disrupting or destroying timing, then winning in large enough part is making the other guys pay for their mistakes. Usually, this year, the Mets have paid through the nose (and any other orifice) for theirs.

Enjoy it while it lasts. However long it lasts. Seeing the August Mess come back to life for even five games was still a pleasure. They might (underline that) even have a few more surprises in store when they come home from their current trip to the division swamps.

“Every game is really huge at this point of the year,” Alonso said. Stick to that attitude, Mets.

Two champion Series finishers move on

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife celebrates the World Series triumph he helped author with his on-fumes Game Seven start. Can he help the Dodgers go back to the Series?

The author of maybe the single most uplifting game in Nationals history is a Nat no more. The fellow with one blue and one brown eye who forced his way past a neck issue to keep the Nationals in line to win their first World Series has gone west.

That was hours after the Cubs finally said goodbye to the man who snapped into his mitt the final out of their first World Series win since the premieres of cellophane, the Geiger counter, and the Model T Ford.

Trade deadlines don’t often feature two or more signatures of two off-the-charts World Series champions changing addresses and wardrobes. When they’re men identified that tightly with their teams, even those with no rooting skin in their games can’t help thinking that the world just got knocked more out of order than it seemed going in.

This year’s Nats don’t have a staggering rise from the dead in them just yet, if at all. This year’s Cubs were bent on selling while the selling was good, with their National League Central chances this year anything but. “Go Cubs Go,” that rollicking anthem of the 2016 conquerors, now has another meaning.

Max Scherzer goes west for a better chance at a postseason return with the Dodgers. That was just moments, seemingly, after the entire world thought the splash-happy Padres had him all but loaded on the plane west. Ouch.

Anthony Rizzo goes east in a Yankee hope that a couple of heretofore missing lefthanded bats—they’d landed all-or-nothing portside slugger Joey Gallo from the Rangers just prior—might turn their season from somewhat lost to yet another shot at the Promised Land.

The Nats hope the package of prospects Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner brought back from Los Angeles mean this season proves a hiccup on their way back to the races to come. The Cubs hope the pair Rizzo brought back from the Bronx means likewise, especially depending on what they can bring back in any deal for Rizzo’s partner in 2016 World Series crime, third baseman Kris Bryant.

But ending eras is never pleasant. And these two deals ended a pair of eras that’ll live as long as Washington and Chicago live. The Rizz speared Bryant’s herky-jerky on-the-move throw over to secure the Cubs’ World Series winner. Max the Knife’s empty-tank performance of sheer will kept the Nats alive enough to pull just enough lingering rabbits out of their hats to nail Game Seven in 2019.

Chicago and Washington won’t forget as long as those cities and those men live. The feeling is very mutual with the players involved.

“This city,” Rizzo said when the deal to the Yankees was done, “will be ingrained in my heart for the rest of my life.” Told he was as transformational a figure in Wrigley Field as anyone who ever wore a Cub uniform, Rizzo accepted the idea with no small pride. “That’s what matters most—leaving this place better than when I found it. I can say the mission was accomplished.”

Scherzer still wasn’t sure whether he’d still be a Nat after he pitched Thursday and threw three-hit, one-run ball at the Phillies, in a start that was as much a showcase for his renewed health (he’d missed a start with a triceps strain a few days earlier) as for the trading floor. But he wanted to think about what Washington meant to him from the moment he’d signed that mammoth seven-year deal due to expire after this season.

Anthony Rizzo

Nobody beats The Rizz: Clutching the final out of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series conquest.

First, there were the purely baseball considerations. “I signed a seven-year deal here and we won a World Series. That’s the first thing I said when I signed, that I was here to win. And we won. We won a World Series,” he said. “That’s a lifelong dream come true and something I’ll always be proud of with these guys here, to be part of a championship team, looking forward to reunions and stuff like that.”

Then, there came the familial and community considerations. Scherzer arrived childless in Washington with his college-sweetheart wife, Erica. They’re going to Los Angeles with two of Scherzer’s three Cy Young Awards and three daughters.

“I’ve watched my girls grow up here,” Max the Knife said. “Living in Virginia in the DMV area, I’ve really gotten used to it, all the politics that are going around. Being in the nation’s capital has been kind of fun as well, driving by the monuments every day . . . What can you say about the fans? That championship will always mean something to all of us and we’ll always have that flag.”

Parting with uber prospects Keibert Ruiz (catcher), Josiah gray (righthanded pitcher), Gerardo Carillo (righthanded pitcher), and Donovan Casey (outfielder) made sense only if the Dodgers were going to bring in something well above average. They brought in the best pitcher and the best position player—a still-young shortstop with a live bat—on the trading floor.

If the Dodgers want to close the brief distance between themselves and the uber-surprising Giants in this year’s National League West, they couldn’t have done better if they’d gone to the lab and mixed the right ingredients in the test tubes and beakers.

The Nats aren’t exactly leaving themselves helpless. They have have pushed the plunger on this year, but with Juan Soto around whom to remodel they’re looking at 2022 and beyond. Particularly with a returning Stephen Strasburg and who knows what off-season deals or signings to come.

Mostly, Scherzer relieves the pressures on the Dodger starting rotation, what with Dustin May lost for the season recovering from Tommy John surgery and Trevor Bauer persona non grata when all is said and done, in the wake of a police investigation into a couple of turns of rough sex crossing the line from consensual to downright unwanted sexual assault.

Whether he proves a rental or whether the Dodgers want to keep him for the rest of his baseball life remains to be seen. Don’t bet against the Dodgers deciding to make the latter happen.

The Yankees should be so lucky with Rizzo and Gallo. Yes, they sent out a lineup full of raw power until those deals, but that lineup lacked consistency and lefthanded hitting, the long-traditional fuel of that long-vaunted, long-legendary Yankee power.

Rizzo is the far more balanced hitter between the two newcomers as well as a multiple Gold Glover at third base. Gallo is so all-or-nothing despite his ability to work walks that he actually lets you imagine Mario Mendoza as a power hitter, but he is a solid defensive outfielder with range and arm enough to maybe make the Yankees forget about Brett Gardner at long enough last. Maybe.

So where was the pitching help the Yankees really needed? Why weren’t they all-in yet on someone like Scherzer? Despite his expressed preference for going west, the Yankees have been nothing if not able to persuade such determined men otherwise in the past.

Why not all-in on resurgent and available Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel? Especially with other teams trailing him including now the Rays, rumoured to be pondering a package of Kimbrel and Bryant coming aboard? Or resurgent and available reliever Daniel Hudson, the 2019 World Series finisher whom the Nats dealt to Seattle before the trading floor really began bristling with prize packages?

Or Jose Berrios, the formidable Twins starter whom the Blue Jays have snapped up for a pair of prospects and who’ll have him through the end of 2022 at minimum pending their ability to sign him longer-term from there?

The Yankees are still in the race, technically. The problem is, they’re three games plus behind the Athletics in the American League wild card picture and eight and a half games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.

And while Dodgers mastermind Andrew Friedman may be taking bows enough for Max the Knife and Trea Chic, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman—whose questionable at minimum construction of the current Yankee roster should take the heat Yankee fans heap upon hapless manager Aaron Boone—may yet have some very serious splainin’ to do.

The Book of Ecdysiastes 1, 3, and 4

Max Scherzer

“I’m so happy I could just strip!”

“In the name of God and His servant Preacher Roe, just what the hell did Joe Girardi think he was doing out there tonight?” That was Gunko Gluedius on the Zoom. He was watching the Phillies play the Nationals Tuesday.

He couldn’t believe Max Scherzer came straight from the injured list and onto the suspect list. Three times in the same game.

“The TSA isn’t this freakazoid when they run you through the airport security checks,” I said, as calmly as I could. I know Gunko. He’s a pitching freak. It’s almost the only part of baseball he really loves. The other part is watching people like Anthony Fauci throw ceremonial first pitches sideways while aiming forward.

“No, they’re not,” Gunko replied. “Not with me, anyway. I had to fly to Seattle last week. I didn’t have the pre-check pass but they still didn’t think I should be peeled like a banana.”

Sometimes Scherzer looks like a fellow who’s spent as much time under the old-fashioned automotive grease rack as he’s spent on the mound. Sometimes he looks like a fellow who spent too much time cleaning the oven so his wife could have a big break.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s given to keeping anything like Goop, Pennzoil, Easy-Off, or pieces of Brillo hidden around his assorted anatomy.

He didn’t have to be thrilled about it, but he knew going in he’d be checked after his first inning’s work. But then Girardi decided to get cute. Especially with the Nats holding a 3-1 lead after three, the lone Phillies run to that point courtesy of former Nat Bryce Harper hitting a down and in cutter up and out into the right field seats in the second.

After a clearly unamused Scherzer stood for his second mandatory random search of the game in the third, Girardi asked the umpires to check Max the Knife again in the fourth.

“I bet that’s the only time in baseball history a manager decided to punish a pitcher for surrendering a bomb to his guy,” Gunko joked. I’m not necessarily sure he’ll win that bet.

As soon as he realised the fourth inning warrant was sworn out and being delivered, any amount of cute left Scherzer’s person at once. He thrust his hat and his glove to the ground. Then he opened his belt with such a savage yank there must have been those fearing for a split second that he was going to peel himself like a banana.

You thought the Citi Field people missed an opportunity by not playing “The Pink Panther Theme” when Jacob deGrom had the honour of first come, first frisked under the Show’s new this-time-we-mean-it-until foreign substance crackdown?

The Citizens Bank Park people should have had that classic from the Book of Ecdysiastes on cue and ready to blast, bump, grind, and growl. Right down to the last trombone.

“I bet you every woman in the house would have coughed up double the price of their tickets to see Scherzer drop trou–and anything else he could think of,” Gunko crowed.

Unless his wife would cough up triple the going price to have divorce papers drawn up on the spot. Grounds? Since Max the Knife isn’t exactly reputed to be one of baseball’s heretofore-unconfirmed cheaters, I’d hazard the guess it would be on the grounds of unaccounted for exhibitionism outside the marital home.

But perhaps Mrs. Scherzer instead would lead the cheers. “Get it, honey, Get it! Show ’em what I know you’re made of!”

Obviously, not even pitching and surviving Game Seven of a World Series with nothing left to throw but meatballs, grapefruits, and canteloupes up to the plate after a neck issue almost took him out showed enough of what Scherzer’s made of.

Remember, the Phillies’ pitchers had to be stopped and frisked, too. Except that Nationals manager Dave Martinez isn’t the kind of guy who’d have had three warrants per pitcher per game sworn out.

He’d better not be. When Scherzer got the third stop-and-frisk order of the night, Martinez looked more ready to file brutality charges than Scherzer did.

Maybe Martinez remembered the night Girardi was managing the Yankees and his starting pitcher Michael Pineda got caught and suspended for suspicious ring around the neck.

“Did you see Scherzer hollering, ‘I got nothing! I got nothing!’ when he got searched the third time?” Gunko hollered to me. Of course I did. It was easier to read Scherzer’s lips than the first George Bush’s.

If you think the pitchers were trying to get away with murder with their new fashioned medicated goo before—and just maybe they were doing it not to be cute but to deal with Commissioner Nero’s incessant ball tinkering the last few years—beware the managers trying to get away with murder for using their newly-conferred freedom to file ball police complaints not to uncover contraband but to live and rattle rent-free in a pitcher’s head.

They can be sent to bed without their supper for it, too. Not just after Girardi got sent there after Scherzer stared him down cold following the fourth-inning flap. It’s in the memo:

Please note that a manager will be subject to discipline if he makes the request in bad faith (e.g., a request intended to disrupt the pitcher in a critical game situation, a routine request that is not based on observable evidence, etc.)

“Oh, that’s cute,” said Gunko when I read that portion to him. “Bad faith, huh? That’s about as clear as a glass of water from the East River.”

“I haven’t had a glass of water from the East River since Bill Clinton was still in the White House, Gunko. But it’s right there. This isn’t supposed to become downright harassment.”

By that time, the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins made the score 3-2 with a healthy belt on a highball out over the left center field fence off Nats reliever Tanner Rainey. Somehow, another Nats reliever, Brad Hand, survived the bases loaded and one out in the ninth to escape with his and the Nats’ lives.

By that time, too, up in New York, Yankee pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga got frisked on a warrant—after pitching two thirds of the eighth inning and getting battered like a pinata on five hits for four earned Royals runs. Why were those umps patting Loaisiga down—for not using the naughty sauce properly?

And where were the Oakland Coliseum PA people when Athletics relief pitcher Sergio Romo almost did what Scherzer couldn’t quite bring himself to almost do—drop trou after finishing the seventh, but only far enough to let his long jersey keep him covered? Not even two bars of “The Happy Organ.”

“Let’s talk about bad faith,” Gunko urged. “You ever heard of the cop who pulls a driver over for a taillight issue and uses it as an excuse to have the poor sap’s car searched and stripped without a warrant? Don’t tell me there’s a manager alive who wouldn’t dream up a taillight issue for an excuse to have a pitcher stripped, searched, and slammered.”

I wouldn’t dare tell Gunko that. It’s right there, in Ecdysiastes 1, 3, and 4.

The Nats extend an Opening Day first-pitch invite

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill, in Phillies gear, watching a game at Citzens Bank Park.

When Donald Trump first took the job he will vacate in January, the Washington Nationals hastened to invite him to throw out a ceremonial Opening Day first pitch. At least, the team and the White House were in “talks” toward arranging it. The then-new president seemingly hastened not to accept the invitation thanks to a “scheduling conflict.”

That was then, this is now. Trump is on the threshold of departing office as only the second sitting American president not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at any major league baseball game since William Howard Taft introduced the practise in the first place. Who would have thought Trump shared common ground with Jimmy Carter?

President-elect Joe Biden is known to be a longtime Philadelphia Phillies fan but not otherwise sinister on a personal level. (He likes to joke that being a Phillies fan allows him to sleep with his wife.) That didn’t stop the Nationals from extending him a post-victory invitation to come to Nationals Park, just about any old time he chooses, Opening Day preferably, and throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Spotting the invitation on Twitter myself during a Saturday visit, I couldn’t resist replying to the Nats as I’d replied to Jesse Dougherty, the Washington Post‘s Nationals beat writer: Biden should do well throwing out such a first pitch. He won at last by standing on the mound with the bases loaded, two out, and a full count in the bottom of the ninth, and freezing Trump with a called strike three on the low outside corner.

“[Biden] was up by 4 million+ runs, so not a save situation,” tweeted one respondent. No, but I probably should have made clear that Biden and Trump dueled in a complete game that went to extra innings before Biden finally delivered the game-ending strikeout.

Complete games have become baseball outliers over a longer period of time than stubborn baseball “traditionalists” want to admit or care to research. (The last time half or more of a season’s games were complete games: 1922; the last time forty percent or more were such games: 1946; the last time thirty percent of more were such games: 1959.) So don’t fault the respondent for not knowing one when he saw one.

Biden/Trump wasn’t quite analogous to the most fabled extra-innings complete game, between Harvey Haddix and Lew Burdette in 1959, but the Biden/Trump game in presidential politics is even more of an outlier than was Haddix taking a perfect game to the bottom of the thirteenth.

Trump, of course, pitched the extra innings under protest. No few of his arguments compared to the kind a frustrated 1960 Yankee fan might have made, when he or she noticed the Yankees out-scored the Pittsburgh Pirates (55-27) in the World Series the Pirates won and proclaimed thus that those Yankees were the true Series winners. Well, no, they weren’t.

Those Yankees weren’t exactly outliers, either. Eighteen other teams in World Series history have out-scored the opposition while losing the Series. The Yankees themselves had three other such Series, in 1957 (they out-scored the Braves by two), 1964 (they out-scored the Cardinals by one), and 2003. (They out-scored the Marlins by four.) They’ve also been outscored in three Series (1962, 1977, 1996) they won.

But I digress. Give Trump credit where due: he may have performed the most unusual first-pitch ceremony of all time in September 2004. Invited to throw out the first pitch for the Somerfield (NJ) Patriots, Trump audaciously landed his corporate helicopter in center field, then strode to the mound to wind up and throw. For the record, he threw something arriving just under the floor of the strike zone that might have meant a swinging strikeout in actual competition. Might.

Trump did interrupt a coronavirus briefing from the White House in July to say he’d be throwing a first pitch out at Yankee Stadium come 15 August, before a game between the Empire Emeritus and the Boston Red Sox. The president spoke about an hour and a half before Dr. Anthony Fauci threw one out at Nationals Park on baseball’s pandemically-delayed Opening Day. (We do mean “out”: Fauci’s pitch would have been a strike . . . if the low outside corner was more adjacent to the on-deck circle than the plate.)

It proved to be news to the Yankees, more or less; they told reporters the president hadn’t actually been given an invitation for that date. Trump countered that he’d gotten the invite straight from the Yankees’ team president Randy Levine, who’d once been rumoured to be on Trump’s list of candidates for his White House chief of staff.

Levine didn’t affirm or deny, but another Yankee official said subsequently that the invite was on. The invite may have been on but that Trump first pitch ended up not happening.

Biden has said since his win that he’d like to work in a bipartisan spirit as best as possible in (speaking politely) contentious Washington. I have a suggestion for the president-elect and the Nats that might show he means business when Opening Day arrives next April.

He could do as then-president George W. Bush did when major league baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Bush was presented a unique baseball to throw for the ceremonial first pitch, owned by the late Washington Senators relief pitcher Joe Grzenda, who’d saved it from the final Senators game, ever.

Grzenda intended to throw that ball to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke at the plate, with two out and the Senators looking to say farewell with a 7-5 win on 30 September 1971. Thanks to heartsick Senators fans bursting the fences, swarming the field, leaving the RFK Stadium field and scoreboard resembling the remains of a terrorist attack, and forcing the umpires to forfeit the game to the Yankees, Grzenda never got to pitch to Clarke.

But he kept the ball and, at long enough last, got the invite to throw it as a first pitch in RFK in 2005 before the freshly transplanted (from Montreal) Nationals opened for new business. Instead, he handed the ball to Bush, likewise clad in a Nationals jacket, and Bush—ironically, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers that the Senators became—threw a neat breaking ball up to the plate.

Nats catcher Brian Schneider caught the Bush pitch. He had ideas about keeping the ball until Grzenda asked to have it back and the memorabilia-happy catcher obliged.

Grzenda died in July 2019. (Clarke passed away three months ago.) Assuming his family still possesses the ball—which Grzenda pitched to get Bobby Murcer on a grounder for the second out before being unable to pitch to Clarke—Biden’s people might think to ask them for the honour of throwing that ball out for the Opening Day first pitch.

The Nats might also think about making that particular ball an annual Opening Day first pitch tradition. They don’t have to worry about weird mojo attaching to the ball. Their 2019 World Series triumph took plenty of care of that.

If Biden jinxes or fouls his own presidency, it won’t be because he throws the last ball of Washington Senators baseball. Just be sure he doesn’t get any bright ideas about arriving at Nationals Park to do it by way of landing Marine One in center field.