I saw Tyler Pill’s big-league debut last night. Or at least, I thought I did. At some point, maybe when the grounds crew came out to fix the mound in the 12th inning and I realized my life had entered a surreal state of impartial observation, I realized I was seeing much more than that.
For his part, Pill was excellent, with the caveat that it doesn’t seem all too hard to be excellent against this Brewers offense. Tyler Pill seems, at this early stage, the proverbial pitcher who knows how to pitch: with a fastball that sits 87-90 miles per hour, he induces soft contact and hits the corners. Even from my seat right behind home plate, cheaply procured out of a confluence of rain and it being a Tuesday night game against the Brewers, I could almost hear Keith sighing in satisfaction. Throw in Neil Walker’s 1000th career hit, and it was shaping up like a classic feel-good win.
But the story doesn’t end there, because with the Mets, it never does. Asdrubal Cabrera, they say, has no range, but great hands. Unfortunately, it appears, the lack of range is becoming more pronounced by the day, while the proficiency of the hands is diminishing in importance. With two men on, Asdrubal lost a mile-high pop up in the mist, and two Brewers came around to score, tying the game at four.
So Tyler Pill would not win his starting debut, a game he’d left with a lead and a good feeling. In fact, for the longest time, it was unclear who would win Tyler Pill’s debut, beyond my fairly confident assertion, made regularly starting in the sixth inning, that it would not be Neil Ramirez. Not that he wouldn’t pitch — I hear Terry’s a big fan — but that even if he did, he wouldn’t come away with a win.
He didn’t, thankfully. Blevins finished his inning. Edgin worked a worry-free frame. Reed, looking like his old self again, breezed through the ninth.
The Brewers were breezing too. They trotted out two relievers with ERAs under 2.00 and strikeout rates through the roof — you know, the kind we can never seem to find — who shut us down easily. Terry forgot to make a double-switch. Our bats were failing.
It would be baseball justice, I thought, if Asdrubal Cabrera could redeem his error with a key hit, even a walk-off home run. Twice, he had chances. Twice, he failed.
Ah, well. You know what they say about baseball: you can always try again tomorrow.
So in came Smoker for an emergency stint in avoiding Neil Ramirez, and he pitched like all mediocre relievers do in these situations. It’s a storyline right out of a children’s book: no one else can pitch, so the last guy comes in, and wins the game on nothing but heart and grit. It’s cliched, maybe. Simplistic. Except, Smoker did it.
So we reached the aforementioned mound work, which did indeed seem to work, and Smoker kept right on chugging through the 12th. T.J. Rivera pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the inning, and singled. Conforto walked behind him. Reyes failed twice to put down a sac bunt, but then hit a slow grounder to first that fulfilled the same function.
So it came down to Jay Bruce, long time outcast, recent returner to good graces, sudden possessor of moderate offensive competence. A fly ball of any kind of depth would win the game, even though Terry, presumably distracted, had declined to pinch-run Juan Lagares for Rivera at third. Bruce, it seems, realized this as well.
Bruce hit a shot. It evaded every infielder in the vicinity and touched down on the outfield grass. Rivera trotted home with the winning run, and Tyler Pill’s debut ended in a win, if not a strictly individual one. As we left the stands, Bruce was being interviewed on the field. For his heroic, gritty three scoreless innings, Smoker was awarded the postgame crown. Baseball justice? Kind of. Not unjust, in any case.
“Well-earned win for Smoker,” my friend said as we walked down the steps out of Citi Field. Smoker? Did you mean Pill? Should you mean Pill? Meh. It’s done. No use relitigating the past.
A well-earned win, that’s first, foremost, and true. Who earned it is a separate matter, and a less important one. But it was well-earned nonetheless.