MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets

Game recap September 23: Only eight more of these to go

Near the end of the classic Simpsons episode “Homer the Vigilante,” burglar Molloy claims that he has buried all of his stolen treasure under a big T. Naturally, all the residents of Springfield scramble to find the treasure. All they find is a briefcase with a note that there is no treasure and Molloy has used the time to get out of jail.

The fine people of Springfield foretell the madness of 2017. Instead of recognizing their obvious mistake, Homer and the other people of Springfield conclude there must be treasure if they dig deep enough. Cut to Homer, Chief Quimby, Otto, and the mayor standing in a 40-foot hole. There’s no treasure in sight. They didn’t even bring a rope to try and climb out of the hole. Otto asks “how are we going to get out of here?” Homer: “We’ll dig our way out!” As the credits roll, Quimby yells “no, no. Dig up stupid!”

The Mets’ season went off the rails on April 30 when Noah Syndergaard felt some soreness, declined an MRI, then tore his lat muscle pitching against the Nationals. Washington ran away with the division, while the Mets bungled one injury after another en route to a likely fourth place finish. With nothing to play for, the Mets decided they would bring Syndergaard back for one inning in their final homestand of the season. It felt like they were committed to dig their way out of injuries by continuing to overextend players!

Syndergaard threw all of five pitches against the Nationals’ starting lineup. Thankfully, he didn’t leave with another injury. He just gave up three hard hit balls, but two of them were right at fielders to get out of the inning. It’s impossible to say just how sharp or ready he was based on that sample size. Then again, the main way to know for sure is if you push a player too far and he gets hurt again. Hopefully the Mets will avoid this style of injury “management” for the last week of the season.

Matt Harvey came in for the second, making his first “relief” outing of his career. Most teams this far out of the playoffs would shut down pitchers like Syndergaard and Harvey. Then again, most teams realized Major League Baseball moved to a 10-day disabled list this year while Sandy Alderson continued to avoid putting players the DL if possible. I can imagine him saying “There’s got to be a team of able-bodied players who can win the division if we just keep digging deep!”

Brandon Nimmo gave Harvey a lead in the third and Kevin Plawecki added two more runs with a seeing eye single up the middle. Harvey was able to keep the Nationals off the scoreboard his first time through the lineup by being effectively wild. However, when he left a changeup middle-away, Adam Lind sat on the pitch and drove it opposite field for a two run homer. Matt Wieters crushed a mistake fastball to tie the game in the fifth. Harvey was done after four innings and 80 pitches.

The Nationals pulled Stephen Strasburg after 83 pitches, making the game a battle of the bullpens. Early in the season this would be doom for Washington, but they have only blown one save since the All-Star break. Terry Collins used five pitchers to get through the next four innings. With a tie game in the ninth, Collins turned to Jeurys Familia instead of A.J. Ramos. Familia threw a strong inning, but the Mets couldn’t score against the relatively hapless Sammy Solis in the bottom of the ninth. Since Collins had used all his reliable relievers, he turned to rookie Jacob Rhame in the top of the 10th. Daniel Murphy may be struggling, but he’s still able to hit game winning homers against the Mets, as New York lost 4-3.

Around the League:

Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire any player who chose not to stand for the national anthem on Friday night. Professional sports didn’t seem like a major part of Alabama’s special election for the Senate. However, Trump’s initial comments on Friday night and continued criticism of black football and basketball players has drawn widespread attention from the sports world. On Saturday night, Oakland catcher Bruce Maxwell – who was born on a US Army base – became the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

Baseball encourages players to fit in and not show too much “disrespect.” Hitters still run the risk of getting a 95 mile per hour fastball thrown at them for flipping their bat in celebration of a home run. Rookies still get hazed in many clubhouses. It takes tremendous courage for a 26-year-old rookie to take a political stand.

If this happened a month ago, I imagine reporters would have flocked to Curtis Granderson’s locker after Saturday’s game. Granderson is a veteran who won the Roberto Clemente award for community service. He’s always been a conscientious voice on social and political issues. Now that Granderson is in Los Angeles, it’s hard to think of a Met who would speak up. This problem isn’t limited to the Mets. We expect black athletes to be the sports world’s leaders in speaking out against racial injustice. However, the percentage of African Americans on Opening Day rosters this year was 7.1 percent, the lowest since 1958.

As several NFL owners joined their players and commissioner Roger Goddell in condemning Trump’s divisive remarks, and the NBA’s stars spoke out, the relative silence from baseball has been deafening. Baseball can’t dig its way out of this hole by repeating the history of Jackie Robinson integrating professional sports. Current generations continue to face racial injustice. We can all see the difference between institutions that cling to the past and institutions that work towards promoting a more just future. If the last few weeks have taught us anything about activism, it’s that people who stand in the dugout when given a great pitch to swing at stick out like a sore thumb.

Photo credit: Brad Penner – USA Today Sports

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