He Dropped the Ball

The wisdom of Yogi Berra – “It ain’t over till it’s over” – took on new and dreadful meaning last Friday (oddly Friday the 12th, not the 13th) when Luis Castillo settled under a high pop-up to the infield, shaded to his left six or eight feet, and let the descending ball bounce off the heel of his glove and fall to the ground.

Let me set the stage. This has been a less than optimal season for the New York Metropolitans. At the moment the disabled list has claimed their lead off hitter and shortstop, their cleanup hitter and first baseman, their number three and four starting pitchers, and their number two reliever. For extended times earlier in the season they have been without their starting catcher and right fielder as well. Nevertheless, the schedule is made up and the games must be played. So the first baseman has never played that position before? There’s always on the job training.

These are not the circumstances under which one would most like to take on the New York Yankees. Less than optimal also is the fact that the Yankees new playground in the Bronx features a jet stream that carries baseballs into the stands at regular intervals. The Mets have very few long ball hitters.

Nevertheless (I said that before but this was a nevertheless event) here we were in the ninth inning, two out, the Mets, improbably ahead 8-7,and the Mets ace reliever on the mound, a man who had converted fifteen consecutive save situations to victories since the start of the season. He had gotten two outs but had given up a single to Derek Jeter who then stole second. When the count to Texeira, leading the league in home runs, reached three and one, Francisco Rodriguez decided to walk him, putting the winning run on base (those of us who remember the 1947 World Series know this is not a smart thing to do), and take on Alex Rodriguez (no relation), one of the best hitters in the game but a man notorious for failing in critical situations – such as this.

True to form, A. Rodriguez popped up and it seemed that F. Rodriguez had done it again. It seemed. But repeated reruns of the tape show the same thing happening every time. The ball hit Castillo’s mitt and bounced out.

Now your average base runner under these circumstances would, of course, be off with the crack of the bat but not exerting himself since the game was, for all practical, purposes over. There are, however, impractical purposes and Texeira, running hard from first with the winning run, could see the third base coach signaling frantically for him to keep going. He slid into home plate, looked up, and said, “What happened?”

What happened was that Castillo picked up the ball and fired to second base. No Yankee runners being in the vicinity, the shortstop threw home – much too late. The game was over and there was no joy in Long Island where the citizens were staring at their screen with mouths open and hands clutched to heads.

Ads for the New York lottery say again and again, “Hey, you never know.” The next day, a demoralized Mets team took the field behind a pitcher who hadn’t started a major league game in three years and impressed very few on that occasion. Needless to say, the Mets won 6-2 in routine fashion.

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