It was hard to believe what happened in the sixth inning of Wednesday night's 7-4 Mets win. Fernando Martinez, in his second big league game, popped a ball up above home plate. He reacted like he was seeing Halley's Comet, standing and staring at the ball with wide eyes as if it was going to sprout wings and soar over the fence for a home run.
Sadly, it was an ordinary pop-up which 99 times out of 100 settles into the glove of Nationals catcher Wil Nieves. Martinez got lucky, though, as his ball dropped to the grass in fair territiory. Well, he would have gotten lucky if he had done what he was supposed to do and run out the ball so that he was in position to capitalize on Nieves' error. Because he's a born and bred Met, though, Martinez didn't run hard and was easily thrown out at first base.
If you're not hustling in your second big league game, what chance is there that you're going to do it in your 20th or your 200th? They'd increase if the Mets seemed to care, but Jerry Manuel seemed no more bothered by Martinez's sloth than he might be by a small fluffy cloud on an otherwise sunny day.
"That was really an unfortunate thing for him, but it was a mistake," Manuel said. "I don't see that as part of his [regular] behavior."
Contrast that with Ryan Church missing third base in Los Angeles, a much more honest mistake that sent the manager into an apoplectic fit. Apparenly missing third base is part of Church's regular behavior, even if he's never done it before. Manuel talked a big game about changing the team's culture when he became manager in 2008, but boneheaded mistake after boneheaded mistake has gone unpunished.
It's hard to even qualify Martinez's choice not to run as a mistake. A bad choice perhaps, it's a pretty willful act, but not a mistake. He may be 20, but you learn to run to first sometime before your 8th birthday. There are teams in the big leagues that might very well send Martinez back to the minors for such an egregious transition, but it's hard to imagine the Mets would be one even if they weren't desperate for warm bodies.
Martinez got booed, a note from the fans that that's not how we do things in the big leagues. Recent Mets history tells a slightly different story, but perhaps Martinez will be the man who grows up to change the way things are done in Queens.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.