October Moment: Mets steal third (again)

Tuesday night in Chicago, the Mets won. Again. Which means they have four chances – four! – to beat the Cubs and move along to the World Series, and a trip to Toronto or (more likely) Kansas City. How’d they do it?

Well, they won Game 3 by three runs, without a particularly big hit. Yes, of course Daniel Murphy homered. Again. But we’ve already got him covered. Instead let’s focus on something strange that happened two batters before the Mets took the lead they would never give up, on this play:

It’s been suggested that Miguel Montero should have kept this pitch in front of him, and he certainly could have. But a baseball’s not a Spaldeen; it’s got seams, and it’s thrown by immensely strong men with huge amounts of spin. If that pitch wasn’t blocked, that’s probably because it couldn’t have been blocked. Not without a small touch of Divine Intervention.

In fact, Montero had already blocked a 56-foot curve and another in the dirt, in the same at-bat. If anything, you might blame Trevor Cahill for not throwing his waste pitches even remotely close to the strike zone. After the wild pitch, Cal Ripken said, “I was just thinking how great a luxury it is, to be able to bounce the ball that way and have Montero block it. One too many bounces.”

Indeed. Bounce enough of them and your luck’ll run out eventually.

Montero was going to miss one eventually, but he didn’t have to miss that one; he could have kept the ball in front of him, and thrown out Conforto at first base. In which case just about anything might have happened. They might still be in the middle of a rain delay, in the middle of the 10thinning.

What is perhaps more fundamental has been the Mets running wild on the bases. How did Cespedes get to third base in the first place? He led off with a single, advanced to second on Lucas Duda’s first sacrifice bunt in more than four years – which says something about Terry Collins’ current confidence in Duda, by the way – and then stole third base.

In 162 games during the regular season, the Mets stole third base five times.

In these three games against the Cubs, the Mets have stolen third base four times. They would probably match their pre-NLCS figure, except the NLCS won’t last long enough.

In fact, the Mets stole only 51 bases during the regular season, which was dead last in the National League. And yet somehow they’ve swiped five in three games against the Cubs.

So what’s going on?

Joe Maddon on Cespedes’ steal: “That was our fault. We permitted that; permitted him to do that. That was a very big play right there. In general, they’ve just played well. They’ve played well. They’ve done little things well, and they’ve taken advantage of us in different moments.”

I won’t try to enumerate all those little things. In Game 1, a steal of third base did lead directly to a run, but the Mets won by two runs. In Game 2, Granderson stole second and third base in the same inning, which led directly to a run … but the Mets won by three runs.

So while they have run wild on the Cubs, it’s hardly been decisive. Yes, if Cespedes hadn’t stolen third base in Game 3, everything might have turned out differently. But the Mets got on base 15 times, the Cubs only six times; essentially, aside from Schwarber’s and Soler’s homers, only two Cubs even reached second base.

So you want a Moment? Sure, we can find a Moment. We can always find a Moment if we look closely enough. But the story of Game 3 is the story of the series, in which the Cubs have been outscored 13-6 in three reasonably close games.

From the first of September through the end of the regular season, the Cubs led the National League in scoring. After getting shut out in Game 1 of their Division Series against the Cardinals, the Cubs erupted with 20 runs over the next three.

Yes, the Mets have really good pitchers. So did the Cardinals. The Cubs’ problem isn’t that they’re cursed. It’s that they play a cruel and capricious sport, where nothing makes much sense from one week to the next.

Also, they might want to think about holding runners a little closer at second base next time.