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    The Alternate Universe: Nationals at Mets 3-26-2020

    We’re all depressed about what’s going on in the world regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, and baseball has become collateral damage. We all need to escape, and now you can read this blog in the alternate: the one where global pandemics were a myth and baseball was around no matter what. We’re imagining the 2020 Mets season as if everything was normal. Enjoy these works of fiction.

    Opening Day.

    Rebirth, rebuilding, and reinvesting. All that jazz. Thank goodness through all the issues in the world, there will always be baseball to lean on for comfort and support … even if baseball doesn’t always comfort and support us back. (And in those times, we can safely blame Carlos Beltran.) Even through morning showers threatened to delay the start of the opener, all it did was give the field that dewy aroma which reminded you that it was still early in the spring.

    So here are the Mets, with expectations of a special season surrounded by fans who are holding on to whatever imagined momentum they could find in the last pitch of last season which resulted in a walk-off home run by Dominic Smith. Smith figured to be a goner this past winter, but with the rosters expanded to 26 with certain restrictions on the number of pitchers that can be on a roster, Smith has a place on this team (although his old number’s place is on Rick Porcello’s back these days.)

    His place is exponentially expanded with the early season injury to Michael Conforto and the uncertainty regarding veterans. These veterans range from Yoenis Cespedes, who may be back by the middle of April, to Jed Lowrie who may be back by the middle of the rapture.  Smith, who represents all that’s hopeful with this team, seems to be here for the long haul. He could be play any role for the Mets. Roles that range from offensive force to defensive liability, serviceable spare part to good luck charm. Smith, with his ever present smile, is in some ways the face of the Mets. Even more than stars like Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, and Noah Syndergaard. If you’ve been a Mets fan for a long time, that last statement makes sense to you.

    But the face of Opening Day, as it should be for the next few Opening Days at least, is Jacob deGrom. deGrom’s first pitch of the season was a knee high strike to Trea Turner, and off he went. Off he went for five innings as he went to a three ball count on only one hitter (Turner), and gave up zero hits, zero runs, and zero errors behind him. There were only four strikeouts, but it sure as heck looked like he was going to join Bob Feller as the only pitchers to throw Opening Day no-hitters.

    The choice for the Nationals for the Opening Day bump was a little tougher, as you had long time ace Max Scherzer lying around, but you also had World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg on the roster. Strasburg might have gotten the Opening Day start anyway (since he deserved it), but Scherzer’s arm fatigue made it easier to slot him in for the second slot. Strasburg proved to be the right choice, as after giving up a hard hit first pitch single to Jeff McNeil, Strasburg mowed the rest of the Mets down for five innings, only giving up two walks to Brandon Nimmo besides McNeil’s hit.

    And thus, our first mini-controversy of the season. It makes a ton of sense to me to bat Nimmo in the leadoff spot with the contact happy McNeil second. It was a formula that worked in 2006 with Jose Reyes batting leadoff and Paul Lo Duca batting second, and with the much better batting eye of Nimmo, Pete Alonso could have 90 RBI’s by the All-Star break. But alas, the Brodie Von Monorail analytics team deems that Brandon Nimmo should be batting 5th. All hail the Monorail, I guess.

    So we go to the bottom of the 6th, and deGrom continues his cruise, striking out Kurt Suzuki looking and Carter Kieboom swinging for strikeouts five and six to extend the perfecto. But it all came crashing to a halt. deGrom gave Strasburg a letter high heater and somehow Strasburg sent one to the stands for a home run that would have been a home run in 2009 Citi Field. The Nationals had a 1-0 lead and the sold out Citi crowd was deflated. Here we go again.

    We had the prospect of a second and third mini-controversy as with the weather a little chilly, Luis Rojas pulled deGrom after six and went to Justin Wilson for the seventh. Wilson impressed by striking out lefties Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, and Eric Thames…  all went down swinging. Rojas then rolled the dice in the eighth and went to Brad Brach instead of Seth Lugo. Brach had impressed in spring training and had become a favorite of Rojas. Brach gave up hard singles to Starling Castro and Victor Robles before Rojas relented and went to Seth Lugo down 1-0, which he tried to avoid. Lugo was his 2019 self as he struck out Suzuki and got Kieboom to ground into an inning ending double play. Lugo also mowed down pinch hitter and former friend Asdrubal Cabrera. before retiring Turner on a deep fly ball and Eaton on a pop up that J.D. Davis had some trouble with in left field but managed to snare while falling on his butt in the ninth. It set up the bottom of the ninth.

    With Sean Doolittle in to close, Brandon Nimmo led off with a ten pitch walk. Amed Rosario scorched a single to right to send Nimmo to third, and now Doolittle is most assuredly having flashbacks to last August and Todd Frazier. But both Jake Marisnick and Tomas Nido, subbing for a banged up Wilson Ramos, struck out to bring up the ninth spot … and guess who: Wilson Ramos, who was available as a pinch hitter in the right spot. Hopefully, Ramos would hit a home run and be able to limp around the bases a-la Kirk Gibson and he wouldn’t have to run the bases.

    Instead, Ramos laced a sharp single to right to tie the game as long as Ramos could reach first base before Eaton could throw him out from right field. And he tried, but thankfully the ball landed somewhere in Whitestone and Ramos was safe at first. Citi Field went nuts as the Mets tied up the game. But Ramos couldn’t continue his trip around the bases and Rene Rivera pinch ran for him (good thing Brodie decided to bring up a third catcher when Michael Conforto was put on the IL to start the season.) McNeil had a chance to win the game and sent a long fly ball to the right field corner that had the fans gasping for air … but Eaton reached up at the wall and hauled it in as a reminder that “that ball would have been out in the hotter summer air.”

    The Mets rallied in the 10th inning, but Daniel Hudson got Pete ALonso Nimmo to pop up to end the inning. Meanwhile, Rojas rolled the dice again by bringing back Edwin Diaz for the 11th after he struck out Soto, Thames, and Castro in the 10th. Diaz gave up a long double to Victor Robles to leadoff the inning, and then walked Suzuki to bring up Kieboom. Kieboom chopped weakly to McNeil at third who then fired to first base for the double play. Now, two outs and Suzuki on second, pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman laces a single to left. Thankfully, Suzuki is running to allow Davis to chuck it home and get Suzuki by an eyelash to get Diaz out of the inning and save Rojas from unnecessary peril.

    Bottom of the 11th, Dave Martinez brings in Wander Suero. Rosario strikes out, but Marisnick grounds a single to center field. Rene Rivera strikes out to bring up the pitcher’s spot, and it’s the face of the hope of the Mets, Dominic Smith. The Nationals are playing a shift but with Kieboom in on the grass. Smith chops one high but right to Kieboom. Anthony Rendon’s replacement, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, took two steps in before realizing the spin on the ball was taking it over his head. Marisnick raced home with the winning run and the Mets were back to their winning ways on Opening Day, while putting them in first place in the division. Also worth noting, it’s Rojas’ first win as a major league manager. As his players poured beer on his head in the clubhouse, Rojas’ brother, Moises Alou, offered to pee on his hands in celebration. Rojas politely declined thus starting a new superstition which requires Alou to never pee on Rojas’ hands … ever.

    Today’s Hate List

    1. Stephen Strasburg
    2. Trea Turner
    3. Moises Alou’s urine
    4. Shane Victorino
    5. The flu, because there is nothing worse that you can catch from surfaces and exchanging fluids in this universe …

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