It did not occur to me that an October might arrive when my two true teams would come face to face in a World Series, and that I would have to discover and then declare an ultimate loyalty. The odds against two particular teams’ meeting in a World Series in any given year are so extreme that I felt safe in moonily wishing for this dream date: when it came closer [...] I became hopeful and irritable, exalted and apprehensive, for I didn’t know — had no idea at all — which would break my heart. In dreams begin responsibilities, damn it.
—Roger Angell, “Not So, Boston,” 1986
I entered the current postseason relatively unencumbered by overriding loyalties. There were no Mets to root for, no Yankees to root against, no overly familiar Braves or Phillies to wish spited. Everything was gravy. Open a jar and pour it on.
The two Wild Card play-ins came first, exercises intended to inflict a handicap on the winners. Those poor non-division champion saps; they win a game, yes, but now they’ve used up an essential starting pitcher and absorbed wear and tear their next rivals have had precious time to mend. Serves them right for not finishing first!
Funny thing, though. Instead of moving on to the LDS round weighed down by the extra game, those winners — the Royals in the A.L. and the Giants in the N.L. — were buoyed by it. They had 2014 playoff experience nobody else had. They also had a leg up on the rest of the remaining field in one of those “intangibles” Jimmy the Greek used to tout on Sunday afternoons.
They immediately became my favorites for October. Though I could’ve lived with any number of hypothetical LDS and LCS outcomes, the ones I found myself wanting were the ones that had the Royals and Giants emerging as pennant-winners.
I got what I wanted, which meant I was tasked with an assignment for which I hadn’t bargained: choose between the teams I’d just spent two-plus weeks getting solidly behind. Not exactly Sophie’s Choice material, but still. As happens under the best of Metless postseason circumstances, I’d grown extremely (if fleetingly) fond of two wholly likable outfits. They were making October fun. It seemed cruel to acknowledge one of them has to lose. I suppose I could just root for “good games” and “a long Series,” but I don’t operate that way. I require a rooting interest.
With no baseball in sight on Saturday, I watched — on my iPad, for crissake — a hyperlocally telecast high school football game, the first high school football game I’ve ever watched that didn’t involve the Dillon Panthers or East Dillon Lions. It was the high school around the corner from me versus the high school from maybe a mile away. The key was I decided to have a rooting interest on behalf of the school around the corner. With it, I cared what happened. Without it, I would have been Creepy Rob Lowe keeping one eye on strange 17-year-olds slamming into one another.
Anyway, after one World Series game, the task of choosing a provisional favorite has grown marginally easier. Not too many pitches in, I realized can’t root for the Royals to lose. But I can’t root for the Giants to not win. The San Francisco pull, grounded in recent postseason experience and idealized ancestral loyalties, is edging the desire for an already great Kansas City story to grow into something historically spectacular.
The prior absence and the ongoing enthusiasm of the Royals makes them unquestionably worthy of contemporary affection. I’ll throw in two slight familial connections as well: 1) my Kansas-born wife was quite delighted to see the team that plays practically on Kansas’s doorstep ascend to prominence; and 2) Stephanie and I long ago named our then new kitten (now eldest cat) Hosmer, never dreaming that in some far off future month we’d be watching baseball games in which television announcers are constantly calling out to him. I swear Hosmer (the cat, not the first baseman) perked up at least once when Hosmer (the first baseman, not the cat) notched a big hit against the Orioles.
Then Hozzie went back to his nap and my Wichita gal became distracted by something on her tablet and, for all the Royals’ undeniable charms, the Giants were still my Giants. Maybe not “my Giants” the way Jim Mutrie allegedly meant it — though the 19th-century skipper might have happily mistaken massive Michael Morse for Coit Tower — but my Giants for the duration. They’re like an autumn timeshare I rent out now and then.
When the San Francisco Giants are successful, as they were resoundingly in Tuesday night’s Game One, it provides an excuse for ace statisticians to haul out New York Giants lore. Madison Bumgarner’s stretch of scoreless innings to start a World Series career was second only to Christy Mathewson’s; Joe Panik was the first Giant rookie to triple in a World Series since Bill Terry; by homering and doubling in a World Series game, Hunter Pence was elevated into the same conversation with Mel Ott. For years, nobody brought up old New York Giants. In one night, the three greatest who weren’t Willie Mays all took a Diamond Dust bow.
The orange NY with the familiar Metsian curls certainly factors into my recurring affinity for the SF successor as does my having come to know a passel of Giants loyalists hanging tough right here in the Metropolitan Area. I can’t read an e-mail like I did Monday from a fellow identifying himself as Bob in the Bronx…
“As a fan of the Giants my whole life — I am 65 — I can’t wait for Game One and a chance to win a third Series since 2010. Believe me, I am not greedy, but a truly tortured fan since the late ’50s, having been raised by a father who grew up in Yorkville, was a sandlot pitcher who threw a nasty knuckle curve, and spoke repeatedly of Carl Hubbell, Hal Schumacher and the great teams of the ’20s and ’30s.”
…and not want Bob — who proceeded to catalogue most every pre-2010 disappointment clear back to Willie McCovey’s line drive landing in Bobby Richardson’s glove — to bask in another hard-won round of glory. Then again, in 2002 I didn’t care where the Giants once called home or how many stubborn New Yorkers they let down, as I fell hard for the Angels in that postseason and rooted them home in the Series (Hosmer — the cat — figured into that, too).
As much as I revel in New York Giants lore, it’s the San Francisco version that appeals to me these nights, just as they did in ’12 and ’10. You can get sick of a team that wins every year. I somehow don’t get sick of a team that wins every other year.
I like renewing hostility-free acquaintances with Buster, Panda and Hunter, a trio that sounds and seems ready-made for its own Saturday morning cartoon if they still made Saturday morning cartoons (though I’d advise against calling it Buster: Panda Hunter unless you want to hear from the World Wildlife Fund).
I like that in Belt and Crawford they have true Brandon equity.
I like that during the 18-inning war of attrition against the Nationals, they had due up in one extra inning “Perez, Blanco and Panik,” and I thought those could serve as emergency instructions from a cut-rate Honduran airline.
I like that Tim Hudson is in the World Series and the Braves aren’t.
I like that nine years after he was part of the package that brought the Mets Carlos Delgado, Yusmeiro Petit is the world’s greatest long man. He’s pitched nine innings in two appearances and given up two hits. That’s essentially Roger McDowell against the Astros plus Sid Fernandez against the Red Sox plus a little more. I’d make the Delgado trade again, mind you, but while Carlos awaits his first Hall of Fame ballot this December, Yusmeiro the ex-Met prospect carries on. If nothing else, it reminds me we used to trade for power hitters and those hitters hit for power for us.
I like that if you stare at the back of Petit’s road jersey long enough, it will look like PET IT, which is a fine suggestion when you’re watching a ballgame in the company of a couple of cats.
I like that most of the core of the Giant bullpen is largely intact from 2010. How does that happen?
I like that Buster Posey, in whose name the act of sliding and attempting to score has been forever altered, has run into three outs at home plate this month and the Giants have won each of those games.
I like Bruce Bochy, the Met catcher for 17 games in 1982 who isn’t invoked as an all-time manager but is three wins from deserving a spot in the discussion.
I like Bumgarner becoming this great postseason pitcher without fanfare.
I like that the Giants eliminated the Nationals and the Cardinals, who aren’t the Yankees, Braves or Phillies but are surely the next-worst things.
I like the National League, even if the National League is apparently packed with teams I can’t stand.
I like that the 88-win Giants are in the World Series in 2014 more than two decades after the 103-win Giants of 1993 weren’t invited to the last playoff dance that didn’t include Wild Cards. Even though the Wild Card was supposedly designed to address such blatant omissions and not necessarily lower the standard for October admissions, the delayed cosmic makegood seems fair.
I like that Pablo Sandoval’s first-inning double looked awfully similar to the triple the Panda hit in the first inning of the 2012 All-Star Game at the very same Kauffman Stadium, though I still don’t like Sandoval usurping David Wright’s rightful starting nod at third base, or Matt Cain getting the ball over R.A. Dickey, or Cain reacting like a putz after hitting David in the head in 2009.
I like that Matt Cain is on the shelf, though I’m sorry Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are sitting there with him.
I like what Duane Kuiper is doing for his broadcast partner Mike Krukow, never mind that I didn’t care for Krukow being one of those lefties the Mets couldn’t touch when he was pitching.
I like the hell out of Hunter Pence, even if he was a Phillie. I’d be willing to commit that to posterboard.
I like that the Gotham Club exists at Phone Company Park. Nice to see somebody commemorating the rich tradition of New York National League baseball, even if it’s in San Francisco.
I like how the Giants took care of business four and two Octobers ago. I like how they’ve taken care of business to date this October. I don’t dislike the Royals one little bit. If the World Series turns and goes the Royals’ way, I can’t imagine I won’t be happy for Hosmer and the rest of the Kansas City litter. They haven’t stopped being that kind of story. But I haven’t stopped liking the Giants and probably won’t until June 9, when they and probably too many of their fans (who can really put the SF in insufferable) return to Citi Field.
I’ll like rooting against the Giants then. For now, I’m going to lean a little on their side.
I’m guessing the Kansas City Royals didn’t use their extended hiatus between clinching the ALCS and commencing the World Series to get to know our vast array of New York Mets blogs, which is to say I’m also guessing the Kansas City Royals are totally unfamiliar with us and our work. I put that out there because I always find it presumptuous when somebody congratulates a given entity on their well-known achievement when it is obvious that said entity will never encounter those congratulations. Yet I’ll put my reality-based reservations aside for a moment and offer my congratulations to the Kansas City Royals anyway.
Won’t they be thrilled?
The congratulations are not specifically for winning the American League pennant or for starting the postseason 8-0, though, yeah, sure, of course. The victories themselves have been monumental and my applause for them are implicit. Their spurt started by refusing to lose in sudden death and has morphed into a plaintive insistence on winning every time they take the field. As they methodically removed the A’s, the Angels and the Orioles from their path, their journey felt less filled with the angst we associate with our vaguely recalled postseason participation and more informed by a brisk joie de vivre. K.C. hasn’t made it look easy, but they have made it look simple. Perhaps if and when they drop a game or have to scuffle from behind again, it will get heavy at Kauffman Stadium. Thus far, the scene is as light as a puffy cumulus cloud.
All of the above is congratulations-worthy, but the achievement I admire most is that by their reaching this penultimate plateau, the Royals have ensured they are no longer that team.
What team? You know, that team. They’re no longer that team the rest of use as our default negative example to illustrate so many undesirable conditions. Without even thinking about it, somewhere between the mid-1990s and no more than a couple of years ago, you probably did it. I know I was prone to do it. It was a reflex reaction by the turn of the century.
• A bad team — like the Royals.
• A hopeless team — like the Royals.
• A perennially overmatched team — like the Royals.
• A team that can’t keep its young talent together — like the Royals.
• Why are they showing us Royals highlights?
• This is a big game, not some Tuesday night against the Royals.
• Look at how easy their remaining schedule is — six of their last nine games are against the Royals!
• It’s a shame about the Royals.
• I feel sorry for Royals fans.
• I wouldn’t want the Mets to wind up like the Royals.
You can certainly strike that last one. Every team’s fans but one at this instant should want their club to wind up exactly where the Royals are, and perhaps Giants fans will feel that way in four to seven games. You don’t have to have cared very much about the Royals over the bulk of the past three decades to appreciate what they’ve accomplished and to envy their current standing. You needn’t approve their every step up to this moment to celebrate their arrival. The team from next to nowhere now stands next to a championship. My goodness, that’s exhilarating.
There’s a reservoir of goodwill for these Royals. They don’t seem to have hacked off anybody during their years at competitive liberty. There’s no good reason to begrudge them their run to glory. When they won their pennant, Ernie Johnson on TBS framed it as having ended “29 years of frustration”. That didn’t sound quite right. Frustration is coming close and not getting there. That wasn’t the Royals. More like desolation. You never heard about them except when someone was groping around for a handy example of futility.
Most Octobers include an entrant that hasn’t been there before or in a great long while. Maybe that mystery team makes itself at home for the postseason haul. If your allegiances aren’t already spoken for (and if you don’t have a good reason to maintain stubborn enmity in their direction), you’re as likely as not to attach yourself to their cause. Call it bandwagoneering, if you insist. There’s only so many teams and so much baseball left. You wouldn’t be a baseball-loving human if you weren’t drawn to one of a dwindling few.
On the last night of September, the Royals charged into our consciousness with a plethora of rootable qualities and they’ve done nothing to discourage temporary acolytes from digging deep for additional emotional busfare. Theirs has been a fresh powder-blue breeze blowing across this nation, and as it brushes our extremities, it touches us as distinct from anything that’s wafted our autumnal way in ages. Granted, it’s probably a little like plenty of since-diminished winds that have rippled previous October skies. Teal breezes. Purple breezes. Breezes pushed into the atmosphere by unfortunate mascots and gestures. Of course the breeze off Flushing Bay that moved heaven and earth 45 years ago last week. I can still feel that one at my back.
This current meteorological pattern, though, feels just different enough to grab your attention and keep it a while. It’s Kansas City’s, first and foremost, but we can all revel in its invigorating properties.
And when it’s over, we can turn our attention to doing something about passages like this one from Adam Kilgore in the Washington Post on October 7…
After Harper’s blast pulled the Nats even in a do-or-die game, Williams stuck to the same plan he would have used in a July affair against the New York Mets.
…and this one from Tim Keown on ESPN.com ten days later…
But scripting doesn’t always work in baseball, and the script for the second game of a three-game series against the Mets in May is far different from the realities of a season-in the-balance playoff game in mid-October.
The subject in both cases was bullpen management. The subtext was when baseball gets real, don’t act like you’re just playing the Mets. In other words, we’re that team these days. Or one of them, at any rate.
Maybe someday soon we won’t be. If it can happen to the Royals, I’d like to believe it can happen to anybody. Even us.
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of perhaps the most iconic base hit in the history of the New York Mets. To commemorate the events of October 17, 1999, here is an excerpt from what I wrote the month the Grand Slam Single turned ten.
Four o’clock start Sunday. Too much down time to consider my credo or mantra or whatever you want to call it. No team has ever come back to win a postseason series when trailing three games to none, but several teams have come back to win a postseason series when trailing three games to one. And that’s us now. I’d think in those terms that afternoon, but it was too long an afternoon to sit around thinking about it.
So I left the house. I needed a distraction from my diversion. I drove to Tower Records in Carle Place to search out a CD I didn’t particularly need, but it was something to do. Of course I’m wearing a Mets shirt. On the way from my car to the store, I pass a mother and two children, both boys, one in Yankee gear.
Do I stare straight ahead? Do I exchange the slightest gesture indicating that we’re both in the playoffs and we all might be in the same Series if things go right for both of us? Do I gird for the kind of incivility to which I’ve grown accustomed from their kind since 1996?
The older kid, not even 12:
Mets! Ha! HA HA! METS! HA!
The mother laughs along. The whole bunch of them are laughing. We’re in an LCS against the Braves. They’re in an LCS against the Red Sox. Yet my team is somehow laughable.
I grumble at them. They continue to cackle.
How do we keep throwing Yoshii against Hall of Famers? He went up against Randy Johnson and we survived. He went up against Maddux and it wasn’t helpful. Here we are again, Game Five, and it’s Masato and the Mad Dog.
Masato is winning early. The skies are gray, but John Olerud isn’t gloomy. He takes Maddux deep in the first inning, with Rickey Henderson on. Mets lead the Braves 2-0. Yoshii leads Maddux 2-0.
Yeah, that’ll last.
Fourth inning: A Boone double, a Larry double, a Jordan single. Now it’s 2-2. Maddux has evened the score with Yoshii.
Hope you like pitching, defense and runners left on base. That’s all we’re going to have for quite a while.
The day game became a night game. The gray skies opened up. Somebody sitting between home and one of the dugouts covered himself with a popcorn bucket. Was it really that hard to remember to bring an umbrella?
Bobby Valentine works day or night, rain or shine. Bobby Valentine came to Shea to manage on October 17, 1999. If the Mets were going to die, it wasn’t going to be because a single button went unpushed. The evening became a blur of smartly deployed relievers and well-preserved pinch-hitters. Dennis Cook may not have enjoyed serving as little more than a scarecrow (brought in to complete an intentional walk), but the mere sight of his left arm shooed Ryan Klesko right out of the game. Bobby burned a useful pitcher between Turk Wendell and Pat Mahomes, but what he was gonna save them for — winter?
The bullpen went Hershiser to Wendell to Cook to Mahomes to Franco to Benitez to Rogers from the fourth through the twelfth. Seven relievers surrendered nothing of substance. All the Mets hitters combined to score just as much. It was a Flushing standoff. Seven relievers became eight when Octavio Dotel succeeded Kenny Rogers after The Gambler’s two scoreless frames. The Braves got to Octavio in the top of the thirteenth, but not to Melvin Mora. The man who threw out a Diamondback from left the week before and a Brave from center two nights before cut down Keith Lockhart when he tried to score from first on a Chipper Jones double with two out. Melvin’s throw beat Lockhart by a significant margin. An attempt to bowl over the aching Piazza was to no avail. The baseball game continued knotted at two.
The Mets didn’t score in their half of the thirteenth. Mike was done after that (thanks Keith). Todd Pratt nursed Dotel through the top of the fourteenth. John Rocker, who continued to suck even while pitching a perfect thirteenth, got Ventura to start the bottom of the fourteenth. Having retired Fonzie, Oly, Piazza and Robin as if they weren’t the heart of the order, he was removed in favor of rookie Kevin McGlinchy. He wasn’t scary like Rocker but he was similarly effective, giving up nothing of consequence.
Onto the fifteenth inning of October 17, 1999, the inning everybody remembers. Comparatively few remember the top of it, but it’s worth noting that it nearly killed the Mets’ season right then and there.
The Mets had had a postseason date with Walt Weiss, but they stood him up. That was in October 1988. Weiss was the pending American League Rookie of the Year on the powerhouse Oakland Athletics. He was their shortstop, playing alongside Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson. The Suffern High School graduate was part of a team that was going to meet its literal match in the powerhouse New York Mets of 1988. It was going to be a clash of titans, the most hotly anticipated World Series of the 1980s. The only thing that could prevent the Mets and the A’s from meeting would be forgetfulness. Sure enough, the ’88 Mets forgot to win the National League Championship Series, letting it slip to the Dodgers instead. Walt Weiss’s first World Series, thus, would come against Los Angeles, not New York. Being there wouldn’t work out any better for the A’s than missing it had for the Mets.
Had Weiss held a grudge from 1988 to 1999 against the Mets for keeping family and friends from attending a convenient October affair? Was he still feeling a pinch from the airfare it must have cost to fly them out to the West Coast instead of telling them to drive down to Queens from Rockland? Was Walt Weiss planning on getting even one of these days with those inconsiderate Mets?
Or was he just incidentally screwing them by leading off the fifteenth by singling and then stealing second?
The Braves had left fifteen runners on base since the fourth. Had Mets relievers been any less successful, their season would have been over by now. The guy with the popcorn bucket on his head could have grabbed a towel or something. But nine pitchers conspired to keep him wet. It would be a shame for him to dry off now.
Keith Lockhart must have noticed the man and taken perverse pity. He lashed a two-out triple to center, scoring local boy Weiss and making it Braves 3 Mets 2. Dotel, an alternately brilliant and disastrous starter during the season, had proven the first Met reliever to crack. To his credit, he repaired his fissure, striking out Jordan after an intentional walk to Jones.
Nice recovery. And completely worthless if the bottom of the fifteenth didn’t hold something better in store.
Shawon Dunston, the centerfielder who had no prayer on Lockhart’s triple, had a couple of things in common with Walt Weiss. First, he was local. Shawon was from Brooklyn. Also, he was an old shortstop. Difference was Weiss was still a shortstop. Dunston had once gunned throws from the hole to first like nobody could. But that was a long time ago by 1999. Now he was mostly an outfielder when he played. Another thing he didn’t have in common with Walt Weiss was postseason experience. Walt Weiss was a rookie in 1988 and played on three World Series clubs his first three years, winning the one in the middle. Dunston came up to the Cubs in 1985 and had made only one playoff appearance, on the losing end of the ’89 NLCS.
It was ten years later. Dunston had been around, far from Brooklyn, far from his favorite childhood team, the Mets. He wasn’t particularly choked up when Steve Phillips acquired him from St. Louis in July. He liked St. Louis. He had just bought a house there. Every ballplayer likes St. Louis and every ballplayer who buys a house is soon traded. Or so it seems. Dunston found himself dabbling in more real estate than he wanted in the summer of ’99. Now, in the suddenly very late fall, he was trying to get something started at home.
The Mets made Walt Weiss wait eleven years and fourteen innings for a postseason moment near where he was from. Now Shawon Dunston would make everybody wait almost as long for same. He would not walk (he literally never did as a Met). He would not make out. He would just work Kevin McGlinchy until he could get the pitch he could convert into a single.
We could wait…
They don’t play doubleheaders in the postseason, but you couldn’t have told that from the talk entering the sixth game of the 1986 National League Championship Series. The Mets led the Astros three games to two, having won two dramatic games at Shea. They flew to Houston one win away from a pennant. Yet it was said the pressure was on the Mets. They lose Game Six, they lose Game Seven: it was a daily double. The Mets couldn’t win Game Seven because it would be started by the evil Mike Scott, he who scuffed baseballs and made them dip, dart and dance so Mets batters — not even 1986 Mets batters — could hope to touch them.
It doesn’t sound legal, but it was.
Scott’s warmup act, Bob Knepper, was exactly all the Astros needed. He shushed the Mets for eight excruciating innings, taking an early 3-0 lead and maintaining it clear to the top of the ninth. Knepper had been tough noogies on the Mets all year, long before Scott emerged as resourceful and suffocatingly effective. The Mets — even the 1986 Mets — had all kinds of problems against very good lefties.
To lead off the visitors’ ninth, Davey Johnson sent up Lenny Dykstra to pinch-hit for Rick Aguilera. It wasn’t a percentage move. It was a lefty versus a lefty. But it worked. Dykstra stroked one to center, over the head of Billy Hatcher. Lenny rolled into third with a leadoff triple. It was still 3-0 Houston and we were about to play eight more innings, but I knew…I mean I knew the Mets would never have to look at Mike Scott again in 1986. They were going to win this game.
Sometimes a leadoff hit tells you everything.
On the twelfth pitch of the first at-bat of the bottom of the fifteenth inning, Shawon Dunston matched Walt Weiss and singled. He became the tying run at first. It was the first time the entire game the Mets had needed one of those.
Three months before, I wasn’t nearly as confident about a Met victory. I wanted to be, because we were playing the Yankees. For a few minutes here and there that Saturday afternoon at Shea, I was supremely confident, never more so than when Mike Piazza just absolutely walloped the bejeesus out of a Ramiro Mendoza delivery, sending it far over the left field wall and on to the roof of the Picnic Area tent. That made the score Mets 7 Yankees 6 in the seventh, and I couldn’t resist.
“YEAH! THAT’S RIGHT! YEAH! YOU!”
I don’t know exactly what I was yelling or who specifically I was yelling it at, but I was telling off every obnoxious Yankees fan in my section of the upper Upper Deck. When one of them made eye contact, I only pumped up my volume.
“YEAH! I’M TALKING TO YOU! YEAH!”
And all I could think was oh no, what have I done? It wasn’t pissing off Yankees fans that worried me (it was quite cathartic, actually), it was pissing off the baseball gods. That wasn’t a walkoff home run. This was the seventh inning. There were two very long frames remaining and the Yankees had already hit five home runs. What were the chances they wouldn’t hit a sixth?
I didn’t have time to calculate the odds. With one on and one out in the top of the eighth, the other team’s catcher, Jorge Posada, hit his second home run of the day. Now it was the obnoxious Yankees fans (also known as the Yankees fans) who were braying, squawking, woofing, whatever animal noise they make. We were losing 8-7, and they still had Mariano Rivera waiting around.
They didn’t score any more in the eighth, but neither did we. Somehow, they were held at bay in the ninth, which was nice, but here came the bottom of the ninth and here came Rivera and the likelihood that this was going to be the worst day I’d ever experience inside Shea Stadium.
Brian McRae grounds out to start the inning. Big surprise. But then Rickey Henderson, on base four times already, walks. Fonzie, so often the man in ’99, hits a fly ball that those not in Row T of Section 36 are pretty sure will be caught by Gold Glove centerfielder Bernie Williams. Except that’s fool’s gold down there. We hear a roar and we see baserunners: Henderson’s on third, Alfonzo’s on second. Williams, it seems, couldn’t handle a fairly simple deep fly ball (my favorite WFAN call of the year: the Yankee fan that week who insisted Bernie was defenseless having to play such an unfamiliar outfield, what with its grass, warning track and fence).
Olerud was up next, and I assumed he’d win it the same way he won it against Curt Schilling seven weeks earlier at Shea. How odd that he didn’t. He grounded out. I was genuinely surprised. But then I was confident because Mike was up and…oh, right, they’ll walk him.
Bases loaded, two out, we’re down a run. Everybody is screaming. Everybody but some effete prig in Row S who’s quietly reading the Times. I’m yelling and disturbing him, apparently, because he turns around and gives me this “what’s wrong with you?” look that would be appropriate in a Christian Science reading room perhaps, but not here. I’m at an 8-7 Subway Series ballgame, you’re reading the Times and I’m crazy, mister? I divined he was there at the behest of his Yankee fan children.
Oh how I hate them.
Anyway, the bases are loaded and my confidence is brimming until I look at the scoreboard because in my hysteria I’ve actually forgotten. Benny Agbayani started in right and hit fifth, but Bobby took him out for defense once Mike hit the go-ahead homer. But now we’re behind and his replacement is Melvin Mora. This is not the awesome Melvin Mora of October. This is the .067-hitting Melvin Mora of July, going up against Mariano Fucking Rivera, who we already know is going to the Hall of Fame. We don’t know anything about Melvin Mora except that he makes this a very poor matchup and it’s going to suck so much leaving Section 36 among all these fucking Yankees fans who are just going to have their empty existences validated in a matter of moments.
That’s when Del DeMontreux announces batting for Melvin Mora, No. 15, Matt Franco.
Ohimigod! Bobby Valentine is an absolute freaking genius! How did we get to the bottom of the ninth of a game in which seventeen different Mets have participated and still have our best pinch-hitter available? How has Matt Franco not been used yet? What was Bobby saving him for?
For this, of course. For facing the best reliever on the planet. For a 1-2 count (ball one considered strike three in some cynical circles) at which point one of the great Rivera’s cutters is lined into right field, easily scoring Henderson and, by a hair or two on Paul O’Neill’s strong throw, plating Edgardo Alfonzo.
The signature contest of the 1999 season goes down as Mets 9 Yankees 8. Matt Franco is awesome. Bobby Valentine is no slouch himself. And all of us who deserve to feel wonderful are beyond happy.
Hey, whaddaya know? It’s the fifteenth inning of the literal do-or-die fifth game of the NLCS and look who Bobby Valentine has saved for just this moment: It’s Matt Franco, batting for Dotel.
Again, I’m surprised. I shouldn’t be, but I am.
Franco stepped in. Dunston took off. He stole second.
There. Just like that.
No Met baserunner had gotten as far as second since the sixth. Practically an entire regulation baseball game had passed since a Met was in scoring position. By my reckoning, however, Dunston was home. I got the same feeling from his leadoff single that I got from Dykstra’s leadoff triple thirteen years earlier. Now it was essentially a leadoff double and we had Matt Franco up. Bobby had saved him all these innings precisely because there had been no great reason to use him before. Don’t waste Matt if there’s no runner in scoring position. We finally have one.
Franco walked twenty times as a pinch-hitter in 1999. It was a record. He walks here. It’s not surprising, nor is it particularly bad news. Would have been neater had he driven in Dunston, but he took what McGlinchy gave him. Matt Franco was the master of taking.
Twenty-seven home runs. One-hundred eight runs batted in. A batting average of .304. And with two on and none out, he is asked to bunt.
So Edgardo Alfonzo bunts. He can do it all and do it well. Fonzie sacrifices himself for the greater good. As a result, Shawon Dunston is on third and Matt Franco is on second.
How I loved that man.
Bobby Cox attempts strategy. He orders Olerud walked. He sticks with McGlinchy, even though he can theoretically end this series if he can escape this inning unscathed. Cox used Smoltz to finish out Game Two even though Smoltz would be his Game Four starter. Kevin Millwood, the Game Two and potential Game Six starter, could have come in here. So could have Gl@v!ne, who pitched Friday night and wouldn’t see action again until Wednesday at the earliest, if at all. They weren’t relievers but they weren’t McGlinchy either. Pennant on the line, Kevin McGlinchy’s not necessarily your best option if you have others.
Bobby Valentine has none anymore, not where the bullpen is concerned. He is warming up his last two pitchers: Rick Reed and Al Leiter. They’re both starters. One went in the last game. One is going in the next game if such a thing exists. As if to emphasize the point, he replaces leadfooted Franco at second with normally speedy Cedeño. Roger’s been sitting with a bad back. It’s all Mets on deck now. He’s the last position player Valentine has. His last two pitchers are throwing.
Leave no Met behind.
McGlinchy stays in to face Pratt, who came in for Piazza when Mike could go on no further. There was a time when that would have seemed risky, but that was before Todd Pratt made himself a Met legend by ending the NLDS with a home run eight days ago. It was also before the fifteenth inning and its prevailing anything-goes ethic. If Bobby could have snuck a Mets uniform onto the popcorn bucket guy, he might have sent him up to hit.
And I would have had all the confidence in the world in him.
When Mookie Wilson dodged an inside pitch from Bob Stanley in Game Six in the 1986 World Series, millions of Mets fans exhaled. We couldn’t lose in the tenth inning as it appeared we would. Kevin Mitchell raced home and made it Mets 5 Red Sox 5. That was the burden lifted right there. We’d keep playing, at least a little longer. We were no longer down to our last out, our last strike.
It’s one of those facts that’s known but not widely acknowledged because of what happened next. What is remembered much better is how the Mets won Game Six. Of course it’s worth remembering, what with the ground ball trickling and the first baseman not fielding it and Ray Knight racing home and pandemonium overtaking Shea. But it was tied. All hope was not lost before the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs.
Tying a game is important. What Todd Pratt did, drawing a walk, was important. By accepting ball four from Kevin McGlinchy, he ensured that the Mets season was not over in the fifteenth inning. We had inched back from the brink.
It’s one of those facts that’s known but not widely acknowledged because of what happened next.
Dean Palmer had a fine 1999 with the Detroit Tigers. Maybe he would have had a fine 1999 with the New York Mets. In the offseason between ’98 and ’99, there was a local baseball columnist — Tom Keegan in the Post — who insisted in that way tabloid columnists have of hammering points into submission that Palmer was exactly the free agent third baseman the Mets needed to get over the hump. Look at those numbers: 34 homers and 119 ribbies for Kansas City. Think of how perfectly that righthanded power would fit behind Mike Piazza. The Mets must get Dean Palmer!
The Mets had another idea, another free agent third baseman. Third base wasn’t actually a problem for them. Alfonzo did a more than representative job there for two seasons. It was second that was a mess. Carlos Baerga was nothing close to what he had been in Cleveland. He’d be gone after ’98. Fonzie was versatile. What the Mets decided to do was tap that versatility and shift him to second. It would make third base a hole again, however. That was an old Met story.
The new Met solution? Not Dean Palmer of the Royals, but Robin Ventura of the White Sox. His power numbers were lesser, but he was a lefty (allowing Bobby Valentine to mix up his batting order to confound opposing managers: Fonzie the righty preceding Oly the lefty, who was ahead of righty Mike who would then be followed by lefthanded Ventura). And he was a Gold Glove third baseman. The Mets had never had one of those. Fonzie deserved one in ’97, but Robin Ventura was supposed to be state-of-the-art.
I say “supposed to be,” because who the hell knew what went on in the American League? I didn’t. I knew Ventura was a hot prospect once, fought with Nolan Ryan once and was presumably a good hitter, though everybody in the American League had eye-popping stats. It didn’t seem like a bad idea bringing in Robin Ventura.
I had no conception, however, what a great idea it was.
Steve Phillips, reasonably maligned general manager of those Mets, made one indisputably awesome move as team architect when he signed Ventura. He transformed the infield, transformed the batting order and transformed the clubhouse with one stroke. Robin was everywhere in 1999. He was out front as no Met had been since Keith Hernandez. Not the same type of personality from what we could tell but he seemed to fit the mold of guy who came in and led the team by deed and example. Keith came over in 1983 and the Mets were much better by 1984. That Met hump from 1998 — just missing the Wild Card in exasperating fashion — suddenly got a lot more scalable with Robin Ventura at third, batting fifth, raising all kinds of Mojo.
Robin was having a lousy postseason. He hit .214 against Arizona. His final average against Atlanta would be .120. And nobody remembers any of that.
At first, it was a grand slam home run, right out of the Robin Ventura playbook. Robin hit grand slams like some guys take toothpicks when leaving a diner. He hit one in each end of a doubleheader in May. While it was certainly triumphant and dramatic — how’s that for understatement? — it was, to a certain extent, what you’d expect out of Robin Ventura.
What it turned out to be was something nobody would have ever expected.
Ventura against McGlinchy. Ventura swings. It’s a long fly ball. At that point, the game is over. The ball has gone to deep right. It’s a sac fly if nothing else. From its trajectory, it can’t be anything worse for the Mets or better for the Braves. If it can be caught by Brian Jordan, there’s no way he can throw out Roger Cedeño unless Roger Cedeño is literally paralyzed.
Keeping an eye on the ball, it’s becoming rapidly clear that the ball will not be caught by Brian Jordan. It’s too deep. It’s not going to the wall. It’s going over it. It is indeed a Robin Ventura grand slam.
It is triumphant. It is dramatic. It is incredible, actually. It is instantly the most Amazin’ thing any Met has done since Mookie put the right English on that ball he hit to Buckner. We’ve gone from a 3-3 tie to a 7-3 win. We are very much alive.
We are so happy.
I know I am. Mrs. Prince and I have positioned ourselves in front of our TV, right in front of it, I mean — on the floor. As Robin’s fly ball climbs higher, I stand up and watch. And once it’s out and it’s a grand slam, I’m overcome. I jump up and down, but that’s not enough. I have to launch myself as Robin has launched his four-run homer. I must make like a missile and head straight for my wife. We are going to do what teammates have been doing for years. We are going to dogpile on the mound.
She doesn’t know this. She’s seen celebrations on the field, but she forgets details. What’s more, she’s not on the field. She’s on the living room carpet. Now we both are. I have jumped on top of her. I am screaming and hugging and screaming. Stephanie does not have the capacity to raise her voice in any discernible fashion. Once we rode a roller coaster. She let out a sound like a car alarm laughing nervously. That’s what I heard here.
Nobody was injured in the celebration of this grand slam, I’m relieved to report.
I’ve got nothing on Todd Pratt when it comes to forging togetherness with teammates. Tank, who was on first when Ventura swung, is delirious that the Mets have won this game. First, he does the right thing. He runs to second. That’s what you do on a hit. You run forward, you take your base. Cedeño ran home from third, certainly. Olerud arrived at third from second. Robin, natch, ran to first. Everybody tagged the next base.
But that’s all that’s going to get tagged. Pratt turns around from second and heads toward first. Robin is distressed and waves him off. You can’t run in the wrong direction! You have to keep running to third! You…
“They’re mobbing him before he can get to second base!” the ever thorough Gary Cohen reports.
You can’t stop a Tank in its tracks. The Mets, who had been doing the unbelievable for weeks, defied credulity yet again. They turned a home run into a single. Because Pratt jubilantly tackled Ventura — and every other Met followed — Robin technically didn’t hit a homer. He didn’t drive in four runs. He drove in one. It wasn’t a 7-3 final. It was 4-3. The Mets still won, just not by as much. The ball cleared the fence, but it was a single.
It was a grand slam single.
Only the Mets.
Next day at work all I wanted to talk about was the Mets. And all anybody wanted to talk to me about was the Mets. There was this one very flinty woman from Oregon. We had never had a conversation that rose above cordial and businesslike. Yet on the elevator on the way out that Monday night, she said, “That was some game yesterday. I’m not a baseball fan, but I couldn’t stop watching. Fifteen innings…that was incredible.”
Yes, I said. Yes, it was.
October 16, 1969, 45 years ago today. I was watching. I was hooked.
How to build lifetime brand loyalty:
1) Find an impressionable six-year-old.
2) Put him in front of a television.
3) Show him the thing he recently discovered reaching its absolute peak.
4) Show him how happy everybody looks celebrating that ascension.
5) Hope the six-year-old is the type to remain stubbornly moored to that thing as he grows to be seven, seventeen, twenty-seven and so on into eternity…so stubbornly moored that even though repeat instances of that thing’s absolute peak ascension and corresponding celebration are exceedingly rare, he sticks with them forever probably because of what happened when he was six.
Complimentary consulting advice from a professional. Feel free to use it in Kansas City soon and Flushing again.
Thanks to @MetsPics for finding the above image. Thanks to the 1969 Mets for creating the scene.
What constitutes a trend? For our purposes, let’s say it’s when two people you know relay to you, independent of one another, the same piece of information accompanied by a similar slice of curiosity.
In her upcoming memoir, Not That Kind Of Girl, the reliably trendy Lena Dunham says her gynecologist used to pitch for the Mets. This is how she says it:
“Randy is my gynecologist. I have had a number of gynecologists over the years, all talented in their own ways, but Randy is the best. He is an older Jewish man who, before deciding to inspect ladies down there for a living, played for the Mets. He still has the can-do determination of a pitcher on an underdog team and, to my mind, that is exactly the kind of man you want delivering babies or rooting around in your vagina.”
Isn’t that a great story? Even it’s probably a story?
I don’t wish to cast aspersions upon the veracity of the creator and epicenter of Girls, a critically acclaimed (if periodically scorned) HBO series that a couple of seasons ago did include the rather random line, “Did ya hear that? The Mets are up, three-two.” When the Mets make an appearance on prestige cable, I am most definitely appreciative.
Still, even while respecting doctor-patient confidentiality, what the fudge? (On Girls, the phrasing wouldn’t be so PG-13.) Who among 984 Mets present and past could Lena Dunham be referring to?
My trend-generating friends have already saved me the trouble of doing the detective work regarding Mets named Randy. Thanks to them, I can tell you that there have been six, five of whom were pitchers, three on decidedly underdog teams.
• Randy Sterling, 1974
• Randy Tate, 1975
• Randy Jones, 1981-1982
• Randy Niemann, 1985-1986
• Randy Myers, 1985-1989
• Randy Milligan, 1987
We can eliminate Randy Niemann, for we know, from his stints as Met bullpen coach, he is a “baseball lifer” (unlike most coaches who apparently just dabble in baseball; what an odd term). Similarly, Randy Jones instructs Padres pitchers every spring and erstwhile first baseman Randy Milligan is an Orioles scout. Randy Sterling, according to an Ultimate Mets Database memory-leaver, went into parks and recreation (actual parks & rec, not the TV show). Randy Tate, a UMDB source assures, is not a doctor. Randy Myers returned to the Pacific Northwest after his playing days were over and no available evidence suggests he pursued medicine.
So let’s assume “Randy” is a pseudonym. Let’s take the other aspect of Lena Dunham’s description of her ex-Met doctor as “an older Jewish man”. There have been eleven Mets who, whether by faith, heritage or partial identity, could be referred to as Jewish.
Five of them — Shawn Green, David Newhan, Scott Schoeneweis, Ike Davis and Josh Satin — have been busy playing baseball during the past decade, which would make it difficult for them to have obtained the necessary degrees, set up a practice and attract a star-studded clientele. Also, although Lena seems impossibly young to have achieved as much as she has, I have to imagine even 41-year-old Green doesn’t strike 28-year-old Dunham as “older” in the classic sense. (If, somehow, it’s Scheoeneweis, I hope her insurance covers catastrophic events.)
Three of them — Joe Ginsberg, Greg Goossen and Dave Roberts — are no longer with us. If Ms. Dunham is referring to one of them, she might be overdue for a checkup.
That leaves Norm Sherry, Art Shamsky and Elliott Maddox. I’ve seen Shamsky and Maddox interviewed enough to discern that they don’t doctor for a living. Sherry is 81, which meets the general age requirement, but he stayed in baseball well after his playing days were over. (Sherry was a catcher, not a pitcher, though I suppose a well-worn mitt might come in handy for holding on to newborns.)
OK, so no former Met named Randy and no former Met who is or was Jewish seems to be Lena Dunham’s gynecologist. Why, then, would she say such a thing?
A few theories:
1) She’s a clever girl who makes up things. It’s gotten her this far.
2) The mystery doctor entertained her with a fun backstory and she bought it.
3) The mystery doctor perhaps tried out for the Mets or was drafted in a low round by the Mets and Lena misinterpreted those credentials as a genuine, The Holy Books-caliber Met career. (Every now and then I meet someone who, when they find out I’m a baseball fan, can’t wait to tell me about a relative who “was scouted” for the majors. What the hell, it’s closer than I’ll ever get.)
I could be wrong. I’m not a doctor to the stars and I don’t play one on TV, so maybe when Dunham’s book comes out, so will the OB/GYN who treats a famous patient, but first takes off his World Series ring before doing so.
It’s also possible, a fellow blogger points out, that she’s gullible as hell and is thus susceptible to terribly lame pickup lines in bars. And that would be fine, too, especially if she uses it in her show.
I’m thinking of the next season of Girls. It should be set in the summer of 2013, when Dunham as lead character Hannah Horvath and her sort of classy on-again, off-again pal Marnie decide to ditch their first-world problems in Brooklyn and jet to Las Vegas for a weekend of high jinks.
It’s about time. While I’ve been waiting for you here in the bar, I’ve had to fend off this rumpled little guy with a mustache who just reeks of Marlboros. Kept talking about how somebody owes him his big break and that he can’t stand being stuck “riding the buses,” whatever that means. I think he went out to buy more cigarettes. Uch.
Really? I just met this great guy in the casino. Sexy facial hair, lots of soul AND he’s from New York.
What’s his name?
Ike. Ike something.
You just broke up with Adam and you’ve found another one just like him.
No, he’s completely different. Ike is an athlete.
Yeah. He’s plays for the Mets!
The Mets, Hannah?
Yes. He told me he’s one of their best players. He hit 32 home runs last year, which sounds like A LOT. What?
Think about it, Hannah. If he really hit 32 home runs in the big leagues last year, then what’s he doing in Las Vegas? Wouldn’t he be in New York or somewhere with the Mets right now?
Maybe he’s attending a professional conclave. Like a convention of baseball players.
Don’t they play baseball in New York this time of year?
Well, my gynecologist told me…
The Jewish one who also “played for the Mets”?
Yes, kindly old Dr. Metsenbaum. Dr. Metsenbaum told me they take a little break every summer.
And you believe everything your gynecologist tells you.
I have to. I can’t maintain such an intimate relationship without a certain degree of mutual trust. He trusts me to keep my appointments, I trust him to have played for the Mets.
Hannah, I worry about you.
Don’t. It’s all very Zen. It’s like my doctor says, “you gotta believe.”
Your doctor said that?
He invented it. He said it was his thing.
It was very definitely a thing — a thing Tug McGraw came up with like forty years ago.
Tug McGraw. He was a Met and he invented that phrase. Even I know that.
Well, maybe that was my gynecologist’s stage name. Baseball players have those, don’t they?
How do you figure?
All that stuff about “performance-enhancing drugs” means athletes are performers, and performers have stage names. You know, like Lana Turner. Or The Rock.
You think he was born “The Rock”? I don’t think so. And don’t tell me he’s not a performer. We both laughed when he hosted SNL, remember?
Look, I just Googled Tug McGraw. Your gynecologist is definitely not Tug McGraw.
I didn’t say he was. Besides, I can’t keep arguing with you about this. I told Ike I’m gonna meet him for dinner.
Dinner and what else?
He says he wants me to help him with his stance.
His stance? Hannah, don’t you understand a euphemism when you hear one?
Ike says the only thing holding him back is his “stance” and he wants to hear my thoughts on it. He coincidentally also has a rumpled little guy with a mustache who reeks of Marlboros helping him out, but it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. I think Dr. Metsenbaum would approve.
Can’t promise everything said on this program will come true, but I try to offer an honest assessment of the Mets on The Happy Recap Radio Show. Listen in here.
When we’ve played this late into a year, we’ve been at our most Amazin’. Ours is the franchise over which Roger Angell once concluded, “The Mets go melodramatic in October, it’s in their genes…” He wrote that in 2001, specifically about a series of games from 1988, but also knowing the events of 2000 and 1999 remained fresh in the reader’s memory and that the lingering legacies of 1973 and 1969 were never far out of reach.
Ours were the Mets who never said die; who prevailed late, close and wet; who came out of nowhere and then wouldn’t go away. In the mind’s eye, ours will always be the team that is on in October.
On the televisions and tablets of today, however, we are pre-empted so TBS, Fox and something called Fox Sports 1 can bring you other teams doing what we were sure were once wholly Metsian things.
The Giants persevere past midnight. The Royals overcome resounding unlikelihood. The Cardinals keep boomeranging back. The Orioles are one of 24 franchises to have played a postseason game more recently than October 19, 2006.
All of baseball — save for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Astros and Padres — has practically conspired across eight Octobers to make the Mets look immaterial by comparison, but even as we sit on the sidelines and tune in to what others are up to, they can’t take this away from us:
The Mets are the best best-of-five team in major league history.
That’s right. The Mets, who haven’t been in the playoffs since Studio 60 was on the Sunset Strip, are still best at something when it comes to October. Namely, that when the difference between advancement and extinction depends of achieving three wins in five games, the Mets can’t be beat.
They’ve never been beat. In fact, we are on the fifth finger of perhaps the most impressive sequentially commemorative hand in what we’ll call modern baseball history this very day.
On October 6, 1969, the New York Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, 7-4, to win the National League Championship Series, three games to none.
On October 7, 2006, the New York Mets defeated the Los Angles Dodgers, 9-5, to win the National League Division Series, three games to none.
On October 8, 2000, the New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants, 4-0, to win the National League Division Series, three games to one.
On October 9, 1999, the New York Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-3, to win the National League Division Series, three games to one.
On October 10, 1973, the New York Mets defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 7-2, to win the National League Championship Series, three games to two.
Five of a kind! Or full house, NLDSes over NLCSes! The point is we’re unbeatable in a very specific kind of situation. Where there’ve been the Mets and a best-of-five — which was the LCS format from 1969 through 1984 and has been the LDS format since 1995 (as well as in Striketober 1981) — there’s been nothing but ultimate Met victory…in that very specific situation.
We’re not just the best at best-of-five. We’re the most infallible. Only the Marlins can say they have a perfect record in best-of-five series, but they’ve been in only two of them and, honestly, who can hear the Marlins say anything over that loud, garish home run sculpture in center field? The Blue Jays have also never lost a best-of-five series; they’ve never played one, having conveniently limited their postseason exposure pre-1985 and post-1993 to invisible.
Happy (slightly belated in some cases) 45th, 41st, 15th, 14th and 8th anniversaries to our best-of-five triumphs. May we get a shot at a sixth real soon.
The last National League East team to advance in a postseason was the Philadelphia Phillies of 2010, who swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, the series that opened with Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter. The Phillies seemed on track to make their third consecutive World Series, but would be stopped cold by the San Francisco Giants.
In 2011, the Phillies lost their first-round set in a dramatic fifth game to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, the Atlanta Braves were bounced by the Cardinals in the new Wild Card game, after which St. Louis eliminated the Washington Nationals in a shocking NLDS finale. In 2013, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who did in the Braves in the opening round. Come 2014, the Nationals went down again in the LDS, this time to the Giants.
Of the last six instances in which an N.L. East team has appeared in the postseason, five were ended by either the Cardinals or the Giants. Thus, for their recurring roles as executioners of our most constant tormentors — recent Phillie, Brave and National regular-season success having been built in large part by stepping on the backs of the New York Mets — I thereby encourage a hearty round of congratulations to the teams from St. Louis and San Francisco for advancing to the 2014 National League Championship Series.
Well, not so much “huzzah” for the Cardinals as “yeech” (residual thanks for those other years a little, but thanks for nothing vis-à-vis L.A.), but in the scheme of not them again, it’s hard to cleanly pick a side. We spend 162 games with our ire focused most frequently against division rivals. By the time they’ve outlasted us into October, we’ve likely burnished our resentment toward them to a high shine. Once they are ousted, even if it’s through none of our team’s doing, we revel in the Sheadenfreude of it. Eff you, Phillies/Braves/Nationals. You stomped on us all year. How do you like being on the other end of the stomp?
We could look at it differently. We could send our divisional representatives into postseason battle with our best wishes, urging them to do us proud, for now we rally around our flag, all for one, one for all…but we don’t. I tried it once or twice myself. In 1983, when the N.L. East champs were the Phillies, a team that had finished ahead of us for ten consecutive seasons, I consciously went this route. I loathed those Phillies, but was down on the Dodgers and felt no particular affinity for the Orioles, so I got behind “our” champions. The Wheeze Kids, as they were known (featuring Rose, Morgan and Perez in their dotage), lost the World Series in five. I tried to feel bad about it.
The next year I threw my provisional support to the Cubs in the same N.L. East vein even though the 1984 Cubs (and Met inexperience) had torpedoed the latter portion of what had been an Amazin’ summer. The whole country was swept up in “Cubbie Love,” as one newspaper I read called it. Maybe I was trying to hitch a pinky to that bandwagon; maybe I liked the idea that if the Cubs kept going, announcers would have to mention how they had to pass the up-and-coming Mets to win their division.
My attempt to engage in Cubbie Love was short-lived. Once the Cubs began blowing their two-oh lead in their best of five NLCS versus the Padres, I could feel a smile develop. Once the Cubs totally blew it and missed what was supposed to be their first World Series date since 1945, I could hear laughter emanating from deep within my Cub-hating soul. HAW-HAW!
By 1985, I reverted to resentful form and rooted against the then-division rival Cardinals after they nosed out the Mets. That’s more or less the tack I’ve taken ever since. There’ve been exceptions over the years. I generally liked the early-’70s Pirates; badly wanted the 1981 Expos to succeed in their split-season shot; was caught up in the Dykstra Phillies of 1993; got sucked into the absurdity of the Marlins in their two October appearances; and was genuinely curious to see how far this Nationals thing could run two years ago. I reserve the right to season my Metless postseason to taste, usually with little forethought. I don’t choose a team to root for when the Mets aren’t around — a team chooses me.
I’m not sure one has yet. In the American League, how do you choose between two fresh faces like those of the Royals and the Orioles? They are, in terms of the current era, new and novel. It was exciting to see them vanquish the Angels and Tigers, respectively, and I have nothing against the Angels and Tigers. They were just more familiar was all. We’d seen more of them in recent memory than we had K.C. and Baltimore. Naturally, I wanted to see more of K.C. and Baltimore.
On the other hand, who wants to see more of the Cardinals and Giants? Except for Cardinals and Giants fans, I mean? Those of us who are unaligned are entitled to think the TV listings are wrong to post “NEW” alongside the program descriptions for the upcoming NLCS, for surely SFG at STL is a repeat telecast. Plus, the Cardinals and Mets have enough history between them to make St. Louis legitimate anathema. The Giants? The Giants took six of seven from the Mets in 2014. That’s enough to make any Mets fan pause before rushing over to LinkedIn and enthusiastically endorsing San Francisco for its “Postseason Success” skill.
You can have it all ways if you wish — free country — but I’m going to come down on the side of the enemy of my enemy is…well, they’re all our enemies in the National League. Our closer enemies are the ones who play in nearest proximity to us. I don’t love the Giants when we cross paths because I don’t like anybody when we cross paths, but the Giants took out the dad-blasted Washington Nationals in four games. The same dad-blasted Washington Nationals who won approximately 483 of 19 games against the Mets this season, including 6,000 of 6,000 at Citi Field. I appreciate the Giants doing that so much I can’t get on board with the Giant half of the prevailing “not the Giants and Cardinals again” meme. I thank the Giants in 2014 for taking out the Nats as I thanked the Giants in 2010 for removing the Phillies.
What’s that? The Giants have won enough lately? It’s not their fault they’re biennially consistent. We should be plagued by such consistency. Besides, if it isn’t the Giants in the N.L., it’s the Cardinals. We don’t want that. I was going to add, “…do we?” but I doubt that’s necessary.
I keep a long list of phrases and ideas that I think might eventually come in handy in the writing of a team-specific baseball blog. Some I act on ASAP. Some I circle back to after a few weeks. Some linger unused until they’re too obscure or irrelevant to make much sense in a contemporary setting. For example, even what I consider my sharpest “Moises Alou sure is brittle” zinger from 2008 requires context that is no longer available on this platform.
Moises Alou looked out the window during the rain delay and he had to be moved to the 60-day DL.
See? Doesn’t really have the zing it would have had when Moises was playing. Or was supposed to be playing.
Here’s a pair of words I’ve been scrolling past for a quite a while: Omar bagels. So future anthropologists aren’t left to ponder the mysteries of such an otherwise inscrutable expression, I will explain. Omar bagels refers to the following colorful quote encapsulating alleged remarks offered as advice to the speaker:
“All I kept on hearing in the streets of New York when you get bagels in the morning was, ‘Omar, please address the bullpen.’ Well, to all you Mets fans, we’ve addressed the bullpen.”
Never mind the person disagreement between “I kept hearing” and “you get bagels” — and, for that matter, the past/present conflict (“kept” vs. “get”). Embedded in this rather self-serving anecdote like so many sesame seeds is real news about what was then the most beleaguered of beleaguered Met units, the team’s relief corps. Just how did Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets when he related the above tidbit on December 11, 2008, “address the bullpen”?
Apparently by clearing his throat and telling them to keep on sucking.
Actually, Minaya meant “address” as in directing efforts toward solving a problem. The problem was the Mets’ bullpen sucked to legendary proportions down the stretch in 2008. In bagel terms, the pitchers Omar provided Jerry Manuel to choose among were almost uniformly stale to the point of moldy or frighteningly underdone. At the close of business that season, he put aside the Pedro Feliciano bagel (you could never slather too many innings onto its left half) and otherwise mostly emptied the bin. Then he heated up the hot stove to bake a new batch.
Bagels in New York are the best bagels in the world, it is said, because of the water. The bullpen in Flushing was the worst bullpen in the world because no matter how Omar Minaya tried, he could never quite obtain the proper ingredients. But he did try. That December, he spent and traded his way to a bullpen transformation. He threw a couple of hot, steaming brown paper bags filled with cash at Frankie Rodriguez and then swapped out what he considered some spare lox to bring us, from Seattle by way of Cleveland or something like that, J.J. Putz and Sean Green. (Oh, and utility dude Jeremy Reed, whose throw past home plate at Dodger Stadium is still sailing.)
Long story short from a trade that encompassed three teams and a dozen players: the bullpen continued to suck in 2009 in a fashion reminiscent of 2008. Rodriguez wasn’t so bad (on the mound) for a while but he’d implode like most overpriced closers before his number was called for the last time. Still, K-Rod cost only money back when it was assumed the Mets had it. Putz and Green were the stuff of a blockbuster winter meetings acquisition, one of those exercises in which you had to give up something to get something.
The Mets got nothing. Nothing healthy in Putz’s case and nothing that delivered on its reported promise where Green was concerned. The 2009 Mets bullpen didn’t break as many hearts as 2008’s because there was little left to shatter. A touch of quality relief pitching might have kept Shea alive a week or two longer. In Citi Field’s first foreboding year, the only thing that would have saved the season was a shaman with a medical degree.
I wouldn’t have thought of Putz or Green or “Omar bagels” had Thursday’s ALDS action not included the Angels, Royals and Tigers, and even then I’d probably have left the lot of them in my subconscious had I not encountered this postseason note of postseason notes from USA Today’s Ted Berg:
Three guys the Mets traded for JJ Putz have played in postseason games today.
OK, I thought after I removed my right palm from my forehead, I know I just saw Joe Smith enter on the side of the Angels. Smith was a budding submariner who Omar had to include in order to bring back the bounty that was Putz and Green. He was 24 then and still seeking consistency. In a stretch run in which every reliever was culpable, you couldn’t avoid fuming at Smith a bit, but unlike the Scott Schoeneweises and Ricardo Rincons, he wasn’t at the end of his line. Why, by 2013, he’d be helping Cleveland to the American League Wild Card game. I liked young pup Smith as a latter-day Jeff Innis but I will admit to not crying myself a river upon his departure.
Kansas City’s starter Thursday was Jason Vargas. I saw Vargas muddle through a rare starting assignment against the Cubs in 2007. It turned into one of the best games I ever attended, but its glorious outcome had nothing to do with Vargas. I didn’t care that he was traded, either, even after he moved on and made something of himself. As with Smith, I accepted long ago that sometimes Mets you’re not projecting as stalwarts might get their acts together down the road. To be noble about it, those are simply the fortunes of the game.
But three Mets who were traded for Putz played yesterday? Was our old friend Ted certain? He wouldn’t have tweeted it if he wasn’t, but who was I missing from that trade?
Not Endy Chavez, who almost made the playoffs with the Mariners (and who — unlike Wright, Reyes, et al — did return to the postseason post-2006, first with the Rangers and then with the Orioles).
Not Mike Carp, who joined the ranks of Halloween Hindsight Haunters last October when the former Met minor leaguer who was never a Met major leaguer appeared in the World Series as a Boston Red Sock.
Not Aaron Heilman, for crissake…
I looked up the three-sided trade in question to refresh my memory. Besides Smith, Vargas, Chavez, Carp and Heilman, we dispatched two other players, each of them just kids in December 2008: righthanded pitcher Maikel Cleto — most recently a White Sock, earlier a Cardinal who never made one of their many postseason rosters but presumably received a playoff share and maybe a World Series ring between 2011 and 2013 — and Ezequiel Carrera.
Ezequiel Carrera? The Tiger? Maybe not “the Tiger” in the Al Kaline sense, but the guy whose name I heard as Baltimore’s rout of Detroit was about to go final? The guy who walked to load the bases before the O’s nine-run lead went into the books?
Yes, that Ezequiel Carrera. We had him between 2005 and 2008. He climbed as high as St. Lucie before being tossed into that very same Putz-getting package. And now he was one-third of Ted’s trivial trio. They were players the Mets organization had under contract as a season ended crushingly close to a playoff spot. They were traded. They were in the playoffs in 2014. The Mets haven’t been in those things since 2006. They haven’t even been crushingly close. They looked good winning their 78th and 79th games last weekend and we were beside ourselves with joy. That’s how long it’s been. Maybe not Royals long (and the Royals do go long) but long enough.
If the Mets had never traded Joe Smith, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Aaron Heilman and Maikel Cleto, does history change for us? I’m somewhere between “how the hell would I know?” and “probably not” on that fleetingly burning question. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt to have kept Smith around. Vargas has endured as league-average, but he has endured. When they said “Carrera” on TBS, I wasn’t sure they hadn’t said “Cabrera,” so I won’t overstate his theoretical impact. And, honestly, I’m not itching to undo any trade that dispensed with Heilman.
Still, the Mets gave up seven players in one deal. Five of them have since participated in at least one postseason. Three of them were busy doing so yesterday.
Omar Minaya works for the Padres now. They seem to have a pretty solid bullpen, but I’ll bet he can’t find a decent bagel anywhere in San Diego.
My regular team is nowhere to be found this October. I don’t have a temporary team at the moment. Some years I enter the playoffs with a cause. This year I’m just happy to be here as an unaligned onlooker. Some team will reveal itself to me as situationally mine soon enough.
Wednesday night, however, I was with the Giants. I had to be. I was with the Giants fans.
Not all of them, mind you, but as agreeable as a sample as once could find in their former hometown. The occasion was the previously scheduled fall meeting of the New York Giants Preservation Society, an organization whose stated mission is “To remember, treasure and preserve the storied history of the Giants of the Polo Grounds.” We keep talking about those Giants and those Polo Grounds because if somebody doesn’t, nobody will overhear what a team they were and what a place they played in. The New York Giants haven’t convened for a game since September 29, 1957, yet when you get together those who remember, treasure and preserve them, they are not dead at the present time. They are as alive any other ballclub that’s idle today.
What made Wednesday night fortuitous was it turned out the New York Giants’ direct descendants (albeit 3,000 miles removed) were taking the field in Pittsburgh. Better yet, our meeting was a home game at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse on East 11th Street. If you haven’t been to Bergino, deprive yourself no longer. It is baseball Shangri-La, no matter your affiliation. Jay Goldberg created a home plate away from home plate, a perfect destination to scamper toward when your official season is over. The Mets were done Sunday. Jay always keeps the game going.
And there’s an even better “better yet” beyond the confluence of New York Giants lovers, San Francisco Giants rooters, Jay’s generosity and Jay’s TV. Our special guest speaker was Ed Lucas, a storyteller of the first order…and whoa, what a story this man had to tell us.
Ed was twelve years old in 1951 (you meet a lot of twelve-year-olds from 1951 when you gravitate to the New York Giants). On tomorrow’s date that year, you might have heard, the Giants won the pennant, the Giants won the pennant. Young Ed in Jersey City was so happy with the result, he ran out into the street to do what twelve-year-olds in 1951 or 1975 or maybe even today somewhere do as naturally can be: play ball. Kids, bats, balls, Branca throws, Thomson swings. Perfect, right?
The only item that didn’t fit into this scenario were Ed’s eyeglasses. He decided he could see better without ’em, being twelve and all. So he took ’em off to pitch. A line drive came right at him. It was practically the last thing he ever saw. He suffered detached retinas in both eyes and went blind.
That should be the saddest story you’ve ever read, but Ed tells a much happier one. Baseball, he said, took his sight, yet gave him a life. With the aid of some remarkable and famous friends he made along the way, but surely very much through his own perseverance, Ed built a career as a journalist in baseball and remains around the game today, working to help those for whom vision doesn’t exist. He told us all about it at Bergino Wednesday night.
If you thought the comeback in Kansas City the night before was inspirational, well, you hadn’t heard nothin’.
It would be tough for any ballgame to follow Ed — not to mention the Royals and A’s — and the Giants and Pirates weren’t really up to the task, yet when you were lucky enough to grab a seat in Jay Goldberg’s Baseball Shangri-La and sit among a blend of hardcore NY/SF Giants fans and friendly onlookers whose sole rooting interest is for baseball itself, then the N.L. Wild Card game made for a helluva closing act. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs with one swing, Madison Bumgarner allowed four hits in nine innings and the team that blazed through two of the previous four Octobers ushered in this one in black and orange style.
If Ike Davis had been playing for Pittsburgh, I might have made my evening’s allegiances a little more malleable, but Bumgarner’s left arm rendered Ike’s Pirate presence superfluous, so I went with the crowd, which was basically a dozen folks who enjoy every Giant jaunt into the postseason like they haven’t experienced one since 1954. I love the New York Giants, but I honestly don’t get too terribly worked up on behalf of the San Francisco version. Inevitably, I draw a little subtle ribbing regarding my own contemporary loyalties. For instance, one guy enjoyed teasing me over how far in back of the Giants the Mets finished…in 1962. Yet, really, these guys couldn’t be nicer as a group. During a commercial break, the society’s nurturer-in-chief, Gary Mintz, even went so far as to volunteer a Giants fan’s perspective on sitting at Shea on June 14, 1980. For us, it’s the Steve Henderson Game. To him, it was the Allen Ripley Game. To him, it’s a bit of a horror movie. For me, it’s the highlight of my adolescence.
This Giant victory over the Pirates, presumably overwhelming enough to compensate for the Pirates sticking it to the Giants in the 1971 NLCS, involved no late-inning Thomson or Hendu magic. But there was a moment at the end that truly sparkled. When the final out fell into Buster Posey’s mitt, I found myself on the periphery of a flurry of hugs, the kind that say, hey, all right, we made it, we moved on, we’re gonna keep playing! These were the kinds of hugs I was a more active participant in at a different kind of Giants playoff game fourteen Octobers ago. The Mets had put away the San Francisco interlopers in the NLDS at Shea. We’d made it, we were moving on, we were gonna keep playing. On October 8, 2000. I was too happy not to hug. To us, it’s the Bobby Jones Game. To Gary and the other guys, it was probably the Mark Gardner Game or something they consider best forgotten, though it probably isn’t, because when you’re a fan like we’re all fans, you don’t forget your heartbreaking losses.
Which is what makes the resounding triumphs that much sweeter.
Directing 14/15ths of my baseball attention to 1/15th of the National League as I do, I can’t say I’m any kind of authority on what transpires in DH land. But I hear things. I heard, for instance, that the Oakland A’s were putting the finishing touches on a surefire run to the World Series when they traded Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester at the end of July. I heard that this was the move that had to be made, the one that was finally going to catapult Billy Beane’s “stuff” (family-friendly version) over the entangling isthmus of October.
Sometimes you’re not an authority but you have an authoritative sense that something’s a little off. The A’s had already traded for Jeff Samardzija. The A’s were so loaded with pitching that they could cast off talented Tommy Milone, pitcher of record on the winning side of Citi Field’s gloomiest afternoon ever. The A’s were famously (except in the movie version) loaded with pitching in the early 2000s when Beane’s teams went down as the leaves turned brown.
The A’s of today needed that much more pitching? The A’s didn’t need Cespedes, who — granted, in glorified batting practice — once conquered the far, foreboding reaches of Flushing like no man before or after him, save for every Washington National ever? Maybe people who watch the American League regularly know their territory better than I do.
But, it was confirmed Tuesday night, that a situationally unaligned baseball fan’s intuition is not to be underestimated. Actually, it was confirmed in August and September when, regardless of the contributions made by Lester (or Sam Fuld, whom the A’s picked up from Minnesota for Milone), Oakland slipped out of its seemingly secure perch atop the A.L. West and fell a mile below the Los Angeles Anaheims and nearly through the floor of the Wild Card race. The Wild Card, at its most noble, was designed as a safety net for 103-game winning outfits like the 1993 Giants, a powerhouse that had the misfortune of competing in the same division as the 104-game winning Braves when there were but two divisions in each league.
Twenty-one years later, the Wild Card emerged as the last refuge of lost souls. The ultimately 88-74 A’s collapsed like it was 2007 around here, yet hung on just enough to suggest maybe they’d have a little 1999 in them. Our 1999, I mean. Once you’re in what’s become “the tournament,” anything can happen. The Mets lost seven in a row fifteen Septembers ago and lived to play ball for several weeks thereafter as a born again Wild Card. The A’s of Lester and Fuld and Brandon “What’s Your Favorite Kind Of” Moss survived their plunge and bounced back to grab leads of 2-0 and 7-3 in their institutionalized play-in game. If they could nail down six tantalizing outs, they could seek to avenge the Angels the way the Mets long ago got one more shot at the Braves, an encounter that didn’t quite work out, but boy it was fun trying to make it happen.
At the wrong end of instant Wild Card history waited another set of lost souls, the 89-73 Kansas City Royals, framed in the Internet age as some sort of unfrozen caveman franchise. The Royals had won a World Series in 1985 and then, apparently, went on hiatus. The brief run-up to this showdown centered on “since 1985 this” and “since 1985 that” because since 1985, the Royals were very absent from games of surpassing heft. The most loyal denizens of western Missouri and eastern Kansas knew different, but save for producing the occasional Carlos Beltran and then sending him out into the world to seek his fortune, the Royals had ceased to exist at the time of year when profiles and stakes grew as high as the sky on the Fourth of July.
The first playoff game featuring the Kansas City Royals since…1985 kept this viewer entranced (the MVP of that World Series, Bret Saberhagen, would eventually pitch against fellow future Met Bartolo Colon, who won us a game Sunday, so really, how long ago could have 1985 been?). The principals and the setting alone made tuning in worthwhile, regardless of trajectories to come. The Royals? The A’s? In that ballpark with the fountains and the regal crest for a scoreboard? In prime time? You sure this wasn’t Monday Night Baseball circa 1976?
No sign of Howard Cosell or his yellow ABC blazer, so it must have been current. Moss hit a contemporary two-run homer in the top of the first. The Royals weren’t fazed and took a lead in the third. Lester settled in like the ace he was acquired to be. Big Game James Shields, proprietor of one of your more descriptive modern nicknames, gave his team five innings.
Then two A’s reached in the sixth, the Big Game guy was removed and a generally effective starting pitcher named Yordano Ventura was brought in by Ned Yost or perhaps accident to relieve. That, in essence, is how it got to be 7-3, A’s. (I’m no expert on the Royals bullpen, but if I’ve learned anything watching Terry Collins manage, it’s that you never bring in anybody not named Carlos Torres prior to the eighth.) Moss hit another home run, more A’s reached base and then scored after Ventura was replaced…it was good catching up with you, Kansas City. If you grow another Beltran, be sure to let us know.
As of the bottom of the eighth, this was going to be a great A’s story of redemption. Except for one thing. The TBS announcing crew was patting the Royals on the head and slingshotting them into next season. I’m pretty sure I heard Ron Darling say something to the effect of this Kansas City ballclub isn’t going anywhere, they definitely have a bright future.
Unaligned baseball fan intuition tingled. Announcers throwing dirt on playoff clubs who are still within a couple of swings of changing the conversation can only serve to change the conversation that much quicker. Thus, imbued with the sense that Darling and less listenable temporary buddies had tinkered with karma, I watched Lester not get out of the eighth and the Royals run like artificial turf had been reinstalled at Kauffman Stadium. Three different players stole a base; I’m not sure one of them wasn’t Willie Wilson. Kansas City pulled to within 7-6.
My eyelids lost their will more than the Royals ever did. As I was nodding off in the bottom of the ninth, the Royals tied it at seven. I ascertained it was still tied at seven when my eyelids gave me a reprieve in the eleventh. As bunts and thefts and blue blurred on the television, KC came from behind once more to prevail, 9-8, in twelve. I had no idea how it got to be 8-7 A’s, let alone 8-8 or 9-8 Royals (the same score Armando Benitez could not protect in the tenth inning of October 19, 1999), but I assumed Onix Concepcion was involved.
The last bottom of the twelfth this epic I slept through featured Carlton Fisk willing a fly ball over the Green Monster. I dozed that seventh-grade night at 6-6. I woke up moments after to discover there’d be a Game Seven of the 1975 World Series. In this case, there is no figurative tomorrow. It was Game One of one and only. Fine for Kansas City, which packs its magic for Disneyland. Terrible for Oakland, where the fans remain ridiculously hardy in the face of literal raw sewage, and the players — decade after decade — continue to undermine their general manager’s reputation at the worst possible moments. Something told me that if our fallen 2007 heroes and somehow landed in a hypothetical do-or-die Wild Card game that was five years from being invented, this was the outcome that would have awaited them. So thank you for that much, T#m Gl@v!ne, wherever you are.
What will happen over the rest of this postseason? My intuition isn’t saying just yet.
Meanwhile, as a Kansas City-based band we like would say, Jason’s got something to show you on the other side of the world.