Finding Consummate Joy in an Inning of Baseball

Please, call it a comeback

Baseball brings us myriad joys, but perhaps none is greater than the comeback. The specter of losing looms, making everyone involved, from the players to the fans, feel uneasy. Even though it’s one game out of 162, even though there’s another to play tomorrow, losing sucks. And so when the comeback occurs, we are overcome with elation. In that way, the eighth inning of yesterday’s Mets-Brewers game might have been the greatest of the season. It contained two come-from-behind efforts and led to another, although related, joy: the walk-off.

The Mets and their fans felt it first. They came into the eighth inning having done little on offense to that point, but still trailing by a 2-1 score. Their lone run came on a balk in the fourth, but after that they managed just one more base runner. Kameron Loe, who had recorded the final out of the seventh, came back out for the eighth, but that almost didn’t happen. His spot was due up next in the order when Mark Kotsay flied out to end the previous inning. That worked for the Brewers, though, who have relied heavily on Loe this season.

It was luck that the Brewers didn’t require a pinch-hitter for Loe in the seventh. It was appropriate, then, that luck led to Jose Reyes’s leadoff single. It was a bouncer soft enough that Yuniesky Betancourt could field it, but also soft enough that he had no play. At that point everyone, including the Brewers announcers, knew that Reyes would try to get himself in scoring position. Sure enough, he took off for second and, as luck would have it, was safe by a hair. There wouldn’t have been much complaint, I think, if the second base ump punched him out. Not that it much mattered; Loe walked Justin Turner on four pitches anyway.

This is where the narrative moves to the personal. Carlos Beltran holds a special place in the heart of New Yorkers. Mets fans are divided about him; there are those who appreciate his wonderful contributions during his years with the team, while there are others who have never forgiven him for watching Adam Wainwright’s curveball go by for strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. For Yankees fans, he’s the one who could have been. After the 2004 season the Yankees could have had Beltran, at a discount, but instead decided to pursue Randy Johnson. It warmed my heart, then, to see Beltran rip one down the right field line for a game-tying double. The comeback was in place.

Only, it didn’t end there. No, the Mets had more fight in them. They took the lead on an Angel Pagan single, though they held up Beltran at third, deciding to remain humble in light of this fortuitous comeback. That worked out well enough. After Pagan stole second and Jason Bay struck out, the Brewers announcers wondered if they would walk Ronny Paulino and deal with the bottom of the order, with the force on at any base. Nay, said Ron Roenicke. He pitched to Paulino, and Paulino made him pay with a no-doubt home run. One can easily picture every head at Miller Park slumping downward the instant the ball hit the bat. It had that distinctive crack that might as well have said, “you lose.”

The Brewers, though, weren’t taking no for an answer. They needed just one hit from Craig Counsell, Rickie Weeks, or Nyjer Morgan to give them a shot, for it would bring their heavy bats to the plate. Every once in a while in baseball, it just works out that perfectly. They not only got that one hit, but a walk as well, which set up Ryan Braun’s booming gap double. The Brewers announcers called it a new ballgame, though that wasn’t quite true. It would take a follow-up effort from Prince Fielder to create that. Three pitches later, and there was indeed a new ballgame. The crack of the bat would have been loud if your TV’s volume had been on 1; I can’t imagine what it sounded like at the park. The sonic boom tied the game at six and marked the second successful comeback of the night.

Watching this inning a day later was better than drinking a cup of coffee. In fact, I had a pot of coffee brewing as I watched this half inning, while writing The Morning After. By the time I got around to pouring myself a cup, about an hour after TMA went live on FanGraphs, it was burnt and stale. As I started brewing a new pot I thought of that adrenaline shot that the eighth inning provided. How many other things in life — how many things that happen upwards of 15 times nightly — can provide that kind of energy? It’s just another reminder of why I watch baseball. It can bring sorrow for the losing team. I don not envy Mets fans after watching the eighth. But it can also bring joy that no other experience can provide. Even Mets fans have to admit: there was much joy during the comeback in the eighth.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Navin Vaswani

Preach on, Joe Pawl.