Panik, Pete, and Well-Timed Hitting

I can’t be alone in thinking that the double Pete Alonso hit in the seventh inning against the Royals today actually went over the fence. I didn’t see the play live, but I saw the replay soon after, and it left me distinctly unsatisfied. The ball falls toward the right field corner, disappears…then, eventually, reappears back onto the field. On the replay that I saw, at least, where it went while no one could see it is anyone’s guess. But Pete was stuck at second, close to going all the way but not quite there.

You have to hope it’s not a symbol of things to come. The Mets, former winners of 15 out of 16, have slowed down a tad: we’re three and four since those magical 16 games, and have fallen out of a wild card spot, albeit not too far. A deep fly ball, arcing towards the seats…the worst case scenario, right now, is that we bounce off the top of the wall and land back on the field, an extra base hit but not a home run, a good team but not quite a contender.

Like Pete’s dubious double, the question is where we land. The answer, of course, is uncertain. What’s clear is that for the Mets to finish the job and make the playoffs, things will have to go more or less as they went today (except, of course, we’ll thank Gary Apple for his service and welcome Gary Cohen back to the booth). Wilson Ramos will have to hit, as will Amed Rosario. J.D. Davis will need to continue raking. Juan Lagares will need to continue his rebirth; Todd Frazier will need to remember that he once knew how to hit; Tomas Nido will need to show more of that minor-league-batting-title-winning form. Joe Panik, meanwhile, can just keep doing his thing.

Pete was the hero today, but Panik might have been more impressive. Three times, innings looked sour — and three times, he turned them around. First inning: Amed singles leading off, then gets caught stealing. On a bad team, that’s that. Momentum disappears, the next two hitters meekly concede. Joe Panik disagrees. Joe Panik seizes that vanishing momentum and turns it into a triple, and a bad start to an inning becomes an intriguing middle, and suddenly, two batters later, Michael Conforto hit a ball that, from what I saw, must have landed in Kansas.

Sixth inning: Panik comes up with one out and singles again. If Panik makes an out, Pete bats with two outs and nobody on. But now there’s a rally in motion, and Pete singles too. It ultimately comes to nothing, but that’s twice already that Joe Panik has turned what look like quiet innings into exciting ones.

Seventh inning: Panik bats with one out, Mets leading 6-4, Amed on first. Pete is on deck, and the Royals can pitch around him if Panik makes an out. So he doesn’t. Another single, another rally sustained, and sure enough, the next three batters all drive in runs.

His numbers aren’t flashy, but how in the world did the Giants let Joe Panik go? He’s 28 years old, and has shown major offensive talent as recently as two years ago (not to mention today). Joe Panik, it seems easy to say, is a major league second baseman. Panik isn’t Brad Emaus…or Vinny Rotino…or Andrew Brown…or Wilfredo Tovar…no, he’s a genuine Major League player, flaws included like everyone else, but a ballplayer all the same.

If Joe Panik can put together a month and a half of competent offense, as he seems abundantly capable of doing, the wildcard race is ours for the taking. Joe Panik hits in front of Pete Alonso, and if Pete has runners on base in front of him, the National League will tremble. Joe Panik, only weeks ago a castaway searching for a home, is perfectly positioned to light a fire under the entire Mets’ offense, just as he did today. A fire that, kindled just right, could burn all the way to the postseason.

Of course, a few hot weeks from Joe Panik don’t guarantee anything. This is only one game, even if it’s an impressive one. Baseball is never that simple. Joe Panik can’t carry a team himself: other heroes will need to step up, and we fans will just have to wait and see whether they ever do. And so, like Pete’s seventh-inning double (home run?), the Mets’ eventual fate remains an open question.

Pete, it seems, doesn’t like that. Leading off the ninth, he sent a Jacob Barnes fastball deep into the stands. It was a home run off the bat: this time, there was never a doubt. Can the same be said of the 2019 Mets? Joe Panik would like a word.

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