BUFFALO — On an aggravating night, in an aggravating season, it only seemed appropriate that the Mets would suffer one of their most damaging losses of the year thanks to the follies and foibles of an unbelievably, unconscionably aggravating inning.
It ended on a pickoff?
Of course it ended on a pick-off.
Of course before the pickoff Wilson Ramos grounded into an around-the-horn double play that took half an hour to complete, thanks to the fact that he is the slowest man in baseball, and that he treated us all to that display of footspeed (or lack of same) by swinging at a 2-and-0 pitch from a wild pitcher that was a good five inches off the plate on his hands.
Of course. Of course. Of course.
The Mets can’t afford to lose a lot of games the rest of the way anyway if they want to maintain the illusion that they are on the periphery of this prefabricated playoff chance, and they certainly can’t afford to lose the way they lost last night, 3-2, their bats turning to mush one night after they’d resembled Murderer’s Row.
“I don’t want to nit-pick,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said, before admitting, “But we have to show up the next day.”
Look, is it easy to do what the Mets are trying to do now, which is essentially to win just about every single game they play? Of course it’s not easy, but that’s the predicament they’re in. Every day, every game, every inning takes on extra importance mostly because of the many sins of self-sabotage the Mets committed in July and August.
They could never quite figure out Robbie Ray, the Toronto starter who’d entered the game as the least-efficient starting pitcher in baseball. They couldn’t maximize the seventh inning, when they had two on and none out and only scored one run, and were fortunate to get it.
And then, cherry on the sundae, there was the ninth. There was Brandon Nimmo turning in a quintessential Nimmo at-bat, falling behind 0-and-2 against Jays closer Rafael Dolis before drawing a walk, and then Dolis looking shaken and lost starting 2-and-0 against Ramos, whose bat lately had seemed to come out of hibernation in the nick of time.
But even after Ramos swung at ball three, and even after the super-slow-mo 5-4-3 that sucked most of the life out of the Mets’ dugout … and even after Amed Rosario (three hits on the night as he, too, seemed to perk up) swung at a lousy splitter, the ball bounced away from the Jays’ college-refrigerator-shaped catcher — 5-foot-8, 265-pound Alejandro Kirk. So Rosario was on first. Jeff McNeil and his scalding-hot bat was due up.
What Mets fans have been reduced to, in lieu of a team that has been unable to craft an honest-to-goodness hot streak all year, is look for a sign, any kind of sign. The other night Michael Conforto saved a game by making a circus catch in right field, saving three runs, saving a game against the Orioles they absolutely couldn’t afford to lose. The Mets won that game. Maybe that was a sign.
Now Kirk had MickeyOwen’ed strike three. Here came McNeil. Mets seasons that end well almost never get to the final chapter with ease, without plots twists and turns. Maybe McNeil finds a gap. Maybe he coaxes his fifth homer over the fence in a week. Maybe he simply passes the baton to J.D. Davis, keeps the line moving.
And sure, maybe he hits a routine 4-3. All of that was possible.
And we’ll never know. Dolis quick-tossed to first. Vlad Guerrero Jr. made a terrific tag. Rosario was called safe, but he sure didn’t look safe in real time, and he looked less safe on replay, and it was only a matter of time before the video back home in Chelsea revealed the evidence. Of course he was out. Of course it ended that way. Of course.
“In a situation like that,” Rojas said sadly, “you just have to get back to the base.”
Said Rosario: “I thought from my point of view I was safe.”
It was wishful thinking. That seemed appropriate much of what sustains the Mets now is wishful thinking, waiting for the six-game winning streak that never comes, waiting for the hot streak that is forever elusive. Seth Lugo was asked if the rapidly expiring calendar was starting to bear in on them.
“That’s a realistic thing,” said Lugo, who pitched well enough to lose a toughie last night, “but if we’re focused on that we’re focused on the wrong thing.”
It’s just hard to focus on much else right now. You look for hope, look for heat, and instead settle for signs. It’s a hard way to live this late in the game.