By Jason Keidel
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First of all, I apologize — to the Mets and to their fans, to Terry Collins and their brass, and to all baseball fans east of the West Coast.
When they eased off the gas and butchered the last week of the season, I saw it as an omen, and felt foreboding from a fledgling team that had no business pretending it knew how to prep for playoff baseball.
Then Jacob deGrom happened. The tip of a most potent pitching trident, deGrom smashed any cliches about neophyte pitchers wilting in big games. In the desert heat of Los Angeles, deGrom was even more sizzling, short circuiting the radar gun and the Dodgers’ bats. The Mets’ lineup squeaked out just enough runs to sneak by Clayton Kershaw.
This isn’t about Kershaw, who was brilliant until the final inning. (And he should have been given a chance to get that final out, a move that might cost Donnie Baseball his job.) A friend on Facebook called him “Clayton Manning” — a clever, biting brand that is a bit harsh, though quite funny.
I also apologize to the Mets on behalf of baseball for the hosing the umpires put on your team and our town. Analyst Ron Darling, as impartial as you can expect from a local color commentator, saw that Utley’s bowling-ball takeout of Ruben Tejada was illogical and illegal. It’s a shame that the rest of his booth and broadcast team wasn’t simpatico.
Cal Ripken, Jr., the closest thing to a corporeal institution that we have in baseball, sounded like a drunkard while declaring that Utley’s slide was safe, hard-nosed, old-school baseball. Which school is that? The class of 1886? Do the Dodgers get paid by the broken bone? (Ty Cobb just tweeted that he thought it was too rough.) Do the umpires get paid by the blown call?
It’s perilous to parse future results. So we cannot assume that the Mets win that game if the umps properly punch out Utley, call interference and — God forbid! — give the Mets the double play.
But it sure would have helped.
It italicizes the use of instant replay, around sports in general. What’s the point of replay if it’s restricted? If our use is so selective? Too often, umps and refs duck under that canopy and still return with the wrong call. Other times they’re not allowed to review plays because of some obscure paragraph in the back of a league-sponsored tome written by lawyers and bureaucrats. Like this infamous “neighborhood” play.
An NFL ref recently blew a Monday Night Football event, handing the Seattle Seahawks a win while ripping the game — and the season — from the Detroit Lions. The Seahawks were bequeathed another game a few years earlier. On Saturday we had an MLB game of much greater gravitas, and the league choked on the biggest stage.
Joe Torre, the NYC icon and avuncular face of baseball, is now a rules czar. Despite his decades in the dugout and various official posts, Torre hadn’t a clue what to do. It was painful to watch old No. 6 at the dais while he fumbled over the rulebook, flanked by his personal translator who couldn’t even feed him the right answers.
To paraphrase WFAN host Craig Carton, MLB had to “fubar” the entire thing.
The umps blew it. The command center in NYC blew it. The league brass blew it. Even the beloved Torre blew it. He handed Utley a suspension, but it’s cosmetic at this point. Utley isn’t an essential player anymore, and the game is already lost.
Utley flew into Tejada like Blanka from the “Street Fighter” video game on the old Nintendo. He broke the Mets’ leg, snapped his fibula and did his damage — suspension be damned.
But let’s exhale and grab some perspective. Don’t let this loss hang solemnly around your neck. The Mets march home, tied in a series some of us saw as a kind of pitching Kryptonite for the old orange and blue.
And it’s time to acknowledge and avoid the possible hangover that comes with being two innings from two wins, then leaving with the series tied at one apiece. The Mets should absorb this series in its titillating entirety. The Kings from Queens are in the driver’s seat, with The Dark Knight behind the wheel.
Matt Harvey has a chance to wipe clean his dusty PR slate. All the missives and monologues, all the pitch counts and innings firewalls, can be erased with seven strong innings tonight. Or, as WFAN host Boomer Esiason suggested, maybe eight or nine innings. After all, this is Harvey’s only time on the mound. Why not air it out?
Let the world look into his mysterious profession and persona, and draw millions more onto the Mets’ bandwagon. Lord knows there’s been swaths of empty seats for way too long. To borrow from their 1980s anthem — often played on Boomer & Carton — let’s see if the Mets have the teamwork to make the dream work.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.