Improbable foul ball vs. Braves set Mets on fatal path

In the movie “Havana,” Robert Redford’s character, Jack Weil, says, “A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean.”

This has been debunked by some very smart people, this “Butterfly Effect,” also known as a version of chaos theory. But if you are a Mets fan who agonized through their nine-inning Irish wake Sunday night at Citi Field as the Mets’ season ended in a 6-0 whitewash to the Padres, you may wish to take issue.

Yes, the Mets lost this series — and ultimately lost their season — because Max Scherzer was awful Friday night, because they managed all of one hit off Joe Musgrove and friends Sunday, because nothing Buck Showalter tried — capped by the umpires all but strip- searching Joe Musgrove in search of a mystery ointment, liniment or gel — worked out.

But the butterfly started madly fluttering its wings exactly a week earlier.

That would be last Sunday night, in Atlanta’s Truist Park. The Mets were desperately trying to salvage a game off the Braves, and winning that game would have meant leaving Atlanta tied for first and in possession of the tie-breaker. In the top of the third, the Mets made a move to make sure they would fly home with both.

Jeff McNeil led off with a home run. Pete Alonso, Eduardo Escobar and Daniel Vogelbach followed with singles and the Mets had Braves starter Charlie Morton on the ropes, up 3-1 and fixing to blow the game open with men on the corners and nobody out. Mark Canha was up next, and he took a ball low and inside.

Mets
The Mets’ season came to an end Sunday night.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

On the next pitch, the butterfly reported for work.

Canha hit a soft roller up the third-base line. Braves third baseman Austin Riley instantly knew he had two choices: field the ball and eat it, allowing a fourth run to score. Or let it go, let it keep rolling, and hope for the best. If it stayed fair, that fourth run comes in and it’s probably second and third, Morton is out, and the Mets can breathe again.

It stayed fair for about 88 ½ feet.

And then slipped just to the left of the bag.

Now, there are plenty of Mets fans who saw that as an omen. But this was actually more serious than that. Omens and jinxes and curses are ethereal. What happened to the Mets was real. Morton escaped the inning without further damage. The Braves took the lead in the bottom of the inning, won the game, won the division.

And the Mets had to play in the wild-card round.

This was always going to be a delicate matter, the Mets trying to negotiate their way through the NL playoffs. But adding a layer added to that degree of difficulty. It doesn’t excuse Scherzer’s egg, or the goose eggs that littered the Citi Field scoreboard Sunday. It doesn’t lessen the sting of a 101-win team not making it clear of the outbracket portion of the MLB tournament.

“No matter where you lose it’s stunning,” losing pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “No matter what round you lose in it just sucks. Almost every playoff team has a special group and you don’t want to leave.”

It certainly doesn’t make Mets fans feel better about their team’s immediate future, not with so many key elements of the roster — Bassitt among them — in flux, not with the uncertainty that will fill the offseason.

Austin Riley lets the ball go foul instead of fielding it.
Austin Riley lets the ball go foul instead of fielding it.
Screen grab (2)

And the harshest truth that was revealed by the bright light of these past two weekends wouldn’t have changed either: in retrospect, it is hard to see how the Mets lineup — which sure looked short in relation to the Padres, let alone the Braves and Dodgers — would have prevailed against the NL’s other elite teams.

Still, it would’ve been nice to see, firsthand.

“It’s sports,” Showalter said. “It’s gratifying and so many great things happen. But it’s cruel, too. It’s not always fair.”

But one snap decision by Austin Riley started to change all that, a flapping butterfly in Atlanta last week that sparked a baseball hurricane in Queens this week, and invited Armageddon to this 2022 baseball season. The ball remains fair, we might be having a far different conversation this morning.

The ball rolled foul. The butterfly went to work. And winter has fallen on Flushing Meadows.

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