Curiouser and Curiouser

mets 10 Curiouser and CuriouserThe Mets continued their season of stupefying depths and dizzying heights with arguably their most improbable win yet—a 7-6 result over the Cubs on Thursday night, one night after a 9-6 loss to the Cubs that saw the team strand a runner at third in each of the last five innings.

The ups and downs have, against all odds, put the Mets in a tie with the Brewers for the wild-card playoff spot, and just one game behind the Phillies for the National League Eastern Division lead. And somewhere along the way, both their victories and losses stopped making sense—never more than during Thursday night’s farce.</p.

Though Carlos Beltran got the game-winning hit, his heroics were only possible thanks to an eighth-inning rally that featured RBI singles from Robinson Cancel, a third-string catcher who only played because the first two catchers were hurting, and Ramon Martinez, a middle infielder with three major-league at-bats all season who hit .197 last year.

“It was big test, overcoming those three runs,” a smiling Jerry Manuel said during his postgame press conference. “Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel came up with some big hits.” Less likely words have probably never been spoken by a Mets manager.

The Cancel hit only tied the game because Ryan Church, who reached base three times after showing little evidence that he was over his two concussions in the previous month, managed to score despite arriving quite a bit after an outfield throw reached the catcher. His acrobatics, which took him around the catcher, well past the plate, then back to it, were not part of any coaching regimen, despite Church’s smiling claim after the game that “we practice that in spring training” as he answered questions in front of his locker.

Even the 6-3 deficit that New York overcame Thursday night came about in highly unlikely ways. The Mets were victimized for five hits, including two home runs, by Micah Hoffpaiur, who entered the game with zero career home runs in 57 major-league at-bats. He’d hit for power in the minor leagues, yes—but that hadn’t translated into major-league success.

His second home run appeared at the time to be the final dagger in New York’s 2008 season. After an inspired performance by Pedro Martinez, who overcame early difficulties to provide six strong innings, striking out nine, Martinez allowed the first two runners to reach base in the seventh. Up stepped Hoffpauir, who Martinez had yet to retire, in a 3-3 game. Jerry Manuel went to Ricardo Rincon, who hadn’t allowed a hit to a lefty all season, and had given up just 15 home runs to lefties in 564 career major-league games. One pitch was all it took, and the Mets trailed, 6-3.

A loss would have put the Mets two behind Philadelphia and one behind Milwaukee with three games to play.

It appeared the great tug-of-war between the extreme performances out of their star-laden offense and the top of the starting staff would be overcome by the tragicomic bullpen. Instead, one inning later, the Mets tied the score, and in the ninth inning, Jose Reyes, as he has been doing all season, started an inning by reaching base. Four batters later, the Mets scored the winning run.

After the game, Manuel told The Observer that Ramon Martinez would “more than likely” be the team’s second baseman Friday, and given the lack of success from Argenis Reyes and Luis Castillo, that could quickly become Martinez’s position to lose. Of course, he has only three games left to prove himself, but tonight alone may have earned him a spot on any postseason roster.

For his part, Martinez, who a month ago was playing for AAA New Orleans, admitted how surprised he was to be in this position.

“Naturally, I thought I’d play a little,” Martinez said as he spoke to a group of reporters for likely the first time all season. “But no, not this much. I didn’t expect this.”

No one could have.

“You can talk about the black cat in ’69,” Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa, a lifelong Mets fan, said following the game. “There’s the pennant chase in ’73, playing an extra game. But I’ve never seen anything like this. This is as much fun as you’re going to have coming to the ballpark.”

The forecast calls for rain both Friday and Saturday.