-- Jonathan Papelbon
NEW YORK -- The Mets defeated the Phillies, 6-5, on Thursday night because of a force they can't identify by name, form or appearance. Bill Virdon, the manager of the Pirates, Astros, Expos and Yankees of other times, called it "hidden gibberish," and when asked to define it, he used the term "the law of averages." Hidden gibberish is better, more colorful and nebulous. I prefer to use "unseen hand" to explain that which cannot be explained.
The Mets defeated the Phillies because of the unseen hand, the hand that deflected an airborne baseball after David Wright had directed it toward right field with two outs in the ninth inning and a runner on third base. The unseen hand had intervened. And no defense exists for what the unseen hand does.
So the last-instant lunge of Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence left him several feet short of the 27th out and failed to save Jonathan Papelbon. And before much longer, Wright was wiping some sort of cream -- whipped, shaving, maybe both -- from his face. But he had been merely an accomplice in the Mets' 11th-hour caper. Justin Turner should have creamed the face of the unseen hand. But, of course, the face that comes with baseball's most fickle force can't be seen either.
The unseen hand visits no team regularly, but it can make its presence felt for a certain team at uncertain times. And a visit or two might be enough to convince said team that it has a chance to accomplish its aspirations.
The most compelling evidence of such influence that I have witnessed or heard came during the ninth inning of the third game of the Mets' sweep of a four-game series in St. Louis in April 1986. With two runs in, one out, runners on first and second and the Cardinals trailing by a run, Terry Pendleton hit a bouncer over the head of Jesse Orosco toward center field. The tying run, in the person of Tito Landrum, was apt to score if the ball reached the outfield.
Second baseman Wally Backman ranged to his right, extended his glove, caught the ball and initiated a blitzkrieg double play that kept the chance for a sweep intact. "The ball stayed up," Keith Hernandez said. "Last year, the ball stays down." The unseen hand had been at work both years.
In 1985, it was connected to an arm wearing a Cardinals wristband. It had moved to the arm of Mr. Met by April 26, 1986, and it remained there longer than usual -- through October.
And lest we forget, the Wall Ball of 1973 that allowed the "Ya Gotta Believe" Mets to overcome the Pirates and a similar play in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series: Todd Zeile's fly-ball hit to the top of the wall in left that came back, and Timo Perez foolishly ... well you know the rest. In that circumstance, the unseen hand was working in consort with the Yankees.
Some folks will say the Mets lost that game because of Perez's styling and blunder or the routinely overlooked but brilliant throw by Derek Jeter that beat Perez to the plate or Paul O'Neill's grinded at-bat against Armando Benitez. "But if the ball goes out," Zeile said afterward, "the rest of what happened doesn't matter. ... That's why they say, 'You'd rather be lucky than good.'"
Good fortune, you know, is a second cousin to the unseen hand.
The Mets are in second place in the National League East ahead of three teams that have more everyday talent and less combustible bullpens. The primary and more tangible reasons for their standing are Wright, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Scott Hairston and Terry Collins, along with the performances of the other starting pitchers, the recent exploits of Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, the hot streaks of Daniel Murphy, the "I never saw a wall I couldn't run through" mindset of Turner, Mike Baxter, Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jason Bay, the occasional and critical contributions of Jordany Valdespin, the often unnoticed impact of pitching coach Dan Warthan and hitting coach Dan Hudgens and the dedicated work of Tim Teufel with Murphy at second base.
If it seems that more than half the players and staff are mentioned here ... well, this is a team effort. Is it not?
Not the least bit tangible, but also undeniable is the impact of the unseen hand. Other than Dickey's right hand, Santana's left, Wright's, Hairston's and Davis' top hands, the soft hands of Tejada and the hands of Collins that prod and gently nudge the team in the proper direction, the unseen hand has been influential as any in the Mets' 2012 collection.
It certainly lent them a hand Thursday night, when patient at-bat after patient at-bat finally put the Mets in position to topple Papelbon for the second time this season. The unseen hand likes to see the game played properly, the way Collins' team plays it. It rewards those who hit the cutoff man, back up bases, grind through their at-bats and make plays like Baxter made last month in support of Santana's no-hitter.
The unseen hand can do only so much though. In the case of the '12 Mets, it is unable to provide what is needed most now, a bullpen. That responsibility is left in the hands -- left and right -- of Sandy Alderson. The general manager and his staff need to ... well, join hands ... and find a few arms that can handle innings eight, nine, etc.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.