Jeurys Familia stood on the mound, thinking. He’d retired the first two hitters of the ninth, up a run, and now faced Howie Kendrick, with his full arsenal available.
He looked in to d’Arnaud. He got his sign, and was ready. He came set, and went into his windup.
It’s interesting, when you think about it, that this all began with a Daniel Murphy home run.
Yes, Murph, apparently extremely intent on extending his Mets tenure as long as possible, took Kershaw deep in the fourth inning of game one, putting the Mets up 1-0 and giving Jacob deGrom a lead that he would not relinquish. Wright drove home two more – with his only hit of the series, which would have been a problem had everything not happened the way it did – and Clippard gave one back, but Familia sealed it. 1-0.
Then came game two, which has the misfortune of being known to posterity as the Chase Utley game, but was also pretty interesting in its own right. Cespedes homered. Conforto homered a few batters later. The Dodgers got one back, and then four more – undeservedly, as everyone but Chase Utley has admitted – and Kenley Jansen sealed it again. 1-1.
Having gotten through Kershaw and Greinke, we figured that we’d tee off against anyone who wasn’t, well, Kershaw or Greinke. True enough, Brett Anderson, who seemed more concerned with anger tweeting a-la-Donald Trump than actually pitching. It showed. The Mets teed off, Cespedes hit one that still hasn’t come down, and Chase Utley got booed so loudly that Alex Anthony had to stop his introductions because no one would have heard them. Goeddel gave three back, so Familia came in to nail it down. He retired every batter he faced. 2-1.
Then there was the potential clincher, with Matz – noted, about 1000 times, for being the pitcher with the 2nd fewest, or thereabouts, regular season starts prior to starting in the postseason – on the mound. Matz faced Kershaw. They were both good. Kershaw was better. A dinky little pop-up from Adrian Gonzalez, which could have gone either way but ended up going theirs, should have been the third out. It fell in. Turner doubled in the next two. 3-0. Murph took Kershaw deep again, because why the hell not, but that was all. We had several opportunities, but none came to anything. 2-2. Winner take all, game five in Los Angeles, Thursday night.
We were inundated with statistics as Wednesday became Thursday and the game still stubbornly refused to start: The Dodgers had never lost a winner-take-all, the Dodgers had lost every series in which they’d lost the first game, Greinke hadn’t lost at Dodger Stadium at all that year…and so on, and so on. No one was interested; none of that stuff really matters, especially when your first postseason in nine years is in imminent danger of coming to a premature end.
The moment didn’t have enough poignancy, I decided. Well, there’s only one solution to that: I’d make my own poignancy. Wednesday afternoon, as soon as my Spanish class ended, I walked down to CVS. I bought three bottles of root beer. Back at my dorm, I labeled the caps.
NLDS, NLCS, WS
If the Mets won, I’d shake up the NLDS bottle, open it up for celebration, and get ready for a tough NLCS matchup versus the Cubs. If the Mets lost…well, I spent some time figuring that one out. My plan came together eventually: if they lost, I’d drink one cup’s worth of the NLDS bottle to celebrate a quality season, and dispose of the rest somehow, without drinking it. Then I’d put on Grown Ups, and try to pretend that baseball wasn’t irrevocably over.
As Thursday dawned, and the game approached, I passed the time every way I knew how: watching old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway, trying to get some sleep but not being able to, watching old compilation videos of Whose Line Is It Anyway, and getting most of my work done for the weekend, in case of potential NLCS games.
Game time approached, and my excitement built as it did. Around 7:30, I retired to my room permanently, and waited for the game to start.
What a start it had, too – Granderson hit a slow grounder that Greinke couldn’t quite get to, Turner flipped to first, Grandy was called out, Grandy had actually been safe, we could…you know the deal. We challenged, Grandy was safe, we had the beginnings of a Greinke rally. Sure enough, after the Captain struck out, Murph – because of course – doubled him home and went to third on an error. Murph could have scored too, but Cespedes struck out on three pitches, and Duda made an out, to end the inning. I’ll say this, about Cespedes: I know he’s got some power and all, but I don’t particularly appreciate the fact that every time he hits a home run, the size of his swing increases by about 300%, and the next 18 pitches he sees are automatic swings-and-misses. Not that he can’t snap out of it; it’s just kind of irksome.
We had the lead, but deGrom gave it up quickly (I’ll take things you don’t expect Jacob deGrom to do for $800, Alex). The Dodgers scored two. They too could have had more, but they didn’t. Story of their game, you could say.
From there, it went on much as the series had – the Mets offense couldn’t touch Greinke, deGrom bent but didn’t break, and the score stayed 2-1 into the fourth, when Murph, in a truly inexplicable twist of baserunning acumen, advanced two bases on a walk, which I didn’t even know was possible, and then scored on a d’Arnaud sac fly. “Manufacturing runs”…that’s something we didn’t hear during the stretch when we were hitting four home runs a game, isn’t it?
We’d tied it, and we had deGrom, somehow not allowing anything, but we needed the lead, and Murph – at this point, you knew it was Murph – took on Greinke, and came away solidly victorious. As you may have heard, only one batter homered off both Greinke and Kershaw this regular season – Kole Calhoun. Murph did it in five games. You want him back. I want him back. We need him back. Come on.
With the lead, now. DeGrom was done. In came Thor. Ernie Johnson made a reference to it being tough to hit a guy that throws 100, and sure enough, Syndergaard’s first pitch came in right at the century mark. He was dominant: one scoreless inning, one walk, no hits, one giant infusion of momentum. Syndergaard got his guys and walked off the field. He was done – why, we’ll never know, because he certainly looked like his arm could’ve handled another inning or seven – and Familia was warming.
Well, Familia entered, and you know how that’s worked for the Dodgers so far this series. Two innings: six up, six down, five who were angry, and one – Chase Utley – who doesn’t feel emotions. With two men out, Howie Kendrick was the Dodgers’ last hope.
With the count 0-2, Familia considered his repertoire. He thought, and decided to go with a slider, down and in. He let it go. Right on the money. Kendrick had no chance. Put in the books.
Ballgame. Series. Mets advance. Worded however you want it, it comes down to the same thing: Mets win, Mets continue to play, Mets are a series away from World Series competition.
Eventually – two weeks from now, or four weeks, or perhaps after a rousing all-night celebration of a World Series win – I’ll drink one final toast, and lament the season’s end while celebrating all that came with it. But not yet. We’ve got an NLCS to win.