All my life I’ve been searching for somethin’
Somethin’ never comes, never leads to nothin’
Nothin’ satisfies, but I’m gettin’ close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
So that’s what it feels like to win a series at Yankee Stadium.
Took us long enough.
Here’s the rational way to look at this: We’re hitting and doing all that Willieball stuff that tends to come and go with the wind. We hit enough to make Saturday’s game Glavineproof. We took advantage of the opponent’s miscues, something we weren’t doing in Oakland or Seattle. We also caught the ball pretty darn well. It’s two wins and four of the last five and it’s nice to get to .500 and it would be even nicer to get out of last. Winning the third game of this series would be excellent if for no other reason that it’s important to beat a team, any team, when we have them down. It’s important, too, to keep winning ballgames as the Phillies, the Marlins and the Nationals lurk at the next three exits. As gratifying as a sweep of this weekend’s series would be (particularly given the obstacle presented by the opposition’s starting pitcher Sunday night), there’s the continuation of a regular season to worry about.
That’s pretty rational. But I’m only tangentially interested in being rational. Tonight, I’m about exuberance. I’m about vengeance and justice and a memory that’s sometimes too long for my own good.
I’m about winning SWEEPING a series at Yankee Stadium — winning two of two and very much wanting to win three of three. This is where rational self usually gets serious and begins to take into account the never-too-high/never-too-low rhythms of the long season and how, hey, two of three would be really helpful and here come Philadelphia, Florida and Washington.
Here’s from the AP account of Saturday’s game:
“I feel embarrassed. We take a lot of pride in what we do and it’s just not working out,” said catcher Jorge Posada, adding that he’s not sleeping well lately. “We are doing a lot of things that look bad out there,” he said. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
Jorge Posada can’t sleep? Is it any wonder I’ve sent my rational self to bed? My exuberant self, on the other hand, is staying up all night and sending out for pizza. Exuberant self is getting out his list. You know the list — it’s the one on which he’s been taking names in the event that there would be an opportunity to kick ass.
The opportunity is presenting itself at last.
The list started in earnest on June 18, 1997. It’s filled with co-workers from a couple of jobs ago. What a year to be a Mets fan that was. Gads, I loved it. There is no better year than the one in which the only expectations for your club are bad ones and those expectations never get met. That was 1997. It commenced badly, per usual. But then it turned. It turned, it turned out, for good. The team that started 3-9 and 8-14 got hot. It blew by .500. By the beginning of June, the Mets were 31-23 (en route to a most pleasant 88-74). This was a contending baseball team. I knew it. You knew it. But did anybody outside the still sparsely filled innards of Shea Stadium know it?
The Mlicki game on June 16, the one we all rightly bow down to, surprised so many people when it happened. Partly because the Mets won. Partly because there was such a sizable and vocal contingent of Mets fans on hand to witness it. Who knew anybody in New York actually rooted for a team that wasn’t the world champion Yankees? That was livin’. Here it was, Us and Them for the very first time and it was Us 1 Them 0. If the world ended immediately thereafter, the record would show that the Mets had always beaten the Yankees and that the Yankees had never beaten the Mets.
On the morning of June 17, I strode into my company’s kitchenette and found two Yankees fans. Not bad sorts away from baseball, but definitely arrogant as had rapidly become the fashion among their ilk since the previous October. Man, oh man was I looking forward to this. Dave Mlicki, barely our third starter, had just shut out their precious titleholders. So much to say. But I knew better. It was one game. Two remained. Give me two wins and I’ll walk these halls with my head held high. Give me, somehow, a sweep, and I will be insufferable to all of you, it’s a guarantee.
But for now, it was one game. I simply entered the room and cheerily greeted them with a “Hi guys!”
Their response: “Shut up.” It was as if they’d practiced it.
That alone was worth the price of admission. I wasn’t for Interleague play (I’m still not crazy about it), but if I could get a “shut up” just for saying good morning because of Dave Mlicki, then Interleague was a pretty good scheme.
I left it there. One game. Don’t go overboard. We need to win at least one more to make this an actual bragging rights situation. Besides, I was a little offended at the universal reaction to the Mlicki game. After we won it, the Mets and the Yankees had the exact same record (sound familiar?). There was no reason to act as if we didn’t belong on the same field. In fact, I’ve never quite forgiven Dave Mlicki himself for running out to the mound afterwards and scooping up a thimbleful of dirt. Damn, Dave, don’t lend credence to this House of the Holy nonsense. Just go out and pitch some more shutouts (yeah, right, he would do that).
To digress slightly, Ronald Reagan’s greatest film role, it is generally agreed, was Drake McHugh in “Kings Row,” his most famous line therein, “Where’s the rest of me?” I remember, even if I’d rather not, that after the Republicans took Congress in 1994, the Wall Street Journal ran a celebratory editorial citing that line and suggesting that as wonderful as the Reagan Revolution was, it was not complete without a conservative Congress to pass more of his kind of legislation. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America class of ’94, the Journal decided, was truly “the rest of him”.
Game Two of the first Subway Series was the kind of disaster to which we would become accustomed. Wells won easily. Armando Reynoso, who had been shockingly effective for the first two months of the season, took a line-drive off the left knee from Luis Fucking Sojo and it all but ended his season. We lost.
This left Game Three. Of all the regular-season Subway Series games that have run right off the tracks since then, this one, on June 18, 1997, is the one that hurts the most. That was the only midweek afternoon game the Mets and Yankees ever played. That was, you’ll recall, the Steve Bieser game. David Cone had a perfecto going for a while. It was broken up but he had a lead. The Beez got to third and then, as all schoolchildren know by now, coaxed a balk out of the great Coney. It tied up the game.
It was a fantastic moment. A wonderful moment. A stupendous moment. But as was so often the case in those rollicking Bobby Valentine years, it wasn’t the decisive moment. The Mets and Yankees went into extra innings and Tino Martinez singled home Paul O’Neill with the winner against John Franco in the tenth. That was that. Though it almost felt like 1 win, 1 loss and 1 tie — the third game was that taut — we lost the first Subway Series.
Hence, I couldn’t go into the office on June 19 and tell every arrogant Yankees fan I worked with, SCREW YOU, YOU LOST, WE WON, WE’RE BETTER THAN YOU, WE BEAT YOU IN YOUR OWN OVERRATED BALLPARK, GET USED TO IT, SCREW YOU.
I think that’s really all any baseball fan wants out of life.
I’ve been waiting eight years to act on that impulse. I no longer work with any of those people and it would be rather unbecoming to track them — the CFO who figured the Mets were getting Piazza just to deal him to a real contender; the editor and the art director who claimed they used to be Mets fans but now, you know, like the Yankees better; the other art director who swore he was a dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fan “from da Bronx” but actually didn’t know that the same two teams play both ends of a doubleheader; the generally nice young man who clung to the Pinstripes because they were “classy” or something; the idiot publisher who referred to games at The Stadium as “real baseball” and generally ignored those anyway because nothing really counted until October; and, oh yes, the former pornographer who goaded me into betting him that my team would have a better record than his team in 1996 (I lost $21.62; the $1.62 part was my idea) — down now for the sole purpose of sticking it to them for offending my well-honed sensibilities in the decade before this one. But suffice it to say that when the “Let’s Go Mets!” chants deluged Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the ninth Saturday, signifying not just one day’s but one’s series’ superiority over — all due respect to dreaded Atlanta — our most hated rivals in their house, it was like they found the rest of me.
I was actually pretty calm, pretty relaxed as our lead got bigger and the game got better Saturday. Maybe this isn’t really payback for 1997 or similarly ancient slights that I will carry to my grave. Maybe it’s not a big deal, this Subway Series. Maybe a .500ish team playing another .500ish team in June is just what it sounds like. But when the last out was recorded, I let loose a Floydian raft of feline-frightening screams. Hozzie took the first round in stride, but the triumphant closet door-banging sent him seeking solitude under a dining room chair. Once again, my apologies to the cat.
Stephanie wanted to know when we could go grocery-shopping. Not just yet, I said. I’ve gotta come down. She understood. We settled in to revel in half-an-hour of that awesome YES perspective — was it Singleton or Kaat who wondered whether the whole team needed to go to Joe’s place on an off-day of barbecuing and bonding? — while I cooled off.
Eventually, we headed to Waldbaum’s where we filled our cart and rolled it to our favorite cashier, Sydra. Sydra is the only cashier on all of Long Island who asks if we found everything we were looking for and means it. About once or twice a season, she remarks upon baseball for my benefit.
“I see the Mets have been doing well lately.”
“Yes, yes they have. They won today.”
“Oh, they did?”
“Yes. They beat the Yankees. Beat them pretty badly.”
“Oh good! Who pitched?”
This was my penance for playing modern-day Dick Young to Tom Glavine’s barely disguised desire to be traded last night. I had to admit that TMB was on the mound and managed to acquit himself all right. This made Sydra happy because one of her sons went to school in Georgia so she remembered Glavine fondly from way back as a Brave, before they were in the East. Yes, I said through slightly clenched teeth, he was, uh, certainly quite the pitcher in his time. She was surprised to learn that he’s 39, a fact I threw in for free.
As Sydra, Stephanie and I were chatting, another baseball conversation broke out at the next lane between two other Waldbaum’s employees, a woman who’s a cashier and a man who’s, for argument’s sake, the assistant manager. The woman started talking about how great Friday night’s game had been, how she was watching it with three Yankees fans and how she gave them all kinds of grief.
The assistant manager was having none of it: “We’ll always have one thing over you, and that’s 2000.”
Butting in because this was Sydra’s and my topic in the first place, I said, “2000? That was an awfully long time ago.”
The guy tried to repeat his assertion as if saying it often enough would make it more relevant, but I just kept beating it back by emphasizing that the World Series to which he referred took place five years ago. I ostentatiously pointed to my watch and reminded him, “Wow, will you look the time? It hasn’t been 2000 for five years!”
“Yeah, well you wanna talk about a long time ago, what about 1986? 1986 was a long time ago!”
That dog wasn’t gonna hunt tonight, boy. I just kept dwelling on 2000 having been five years ago until the other cashier chimed in.
“Yeah, that was five years ago. You wanna live in the past?”
“No,” answered the assistant manager, clearly groping. “I wanna live in today.”
Did he just throw me a cookie? My god, he did! I dug in.
“Oh,” I said as I continued to bag, “if you want to talk about today, we can talk about today. Looks like the Mets beat the Yankees today…”
The assistant manager slinked off to wherever assistant managers who have to work Saturday nights slink off to. Me and Stephanie and Sydra and the other cashier had a good laugh. Moments later, I walked the Waldbaum’s parking lot with my head held high. And if we somehow beat Randy Johnson Sunday night, I will be insufferable to all of them.
It’s a guarantee.