The Dodgers obviously haven't heard about our roll. That, coupled with San Diego's refusal to stay classy, allowed the Phillies to elbow us back into fourth. Plus, Clemens, the ol' evildoer himself, has Houston ahead of us for the Card that runs Wild. On the other hand, the Astros kicked Washington in the Nats; the Giants kept the clock ticking on McKeon; and Alex Cintron proved one dandy Diamondback (the Braves lost in the tenth a game they all but won in the ninth? Unpossible!). Ergo, we're still 4-1/2 back if not quite as roly-poly as we were Thursday afternoon when the world was our bag of oyster crackers.
This was a horrible, horrible game to not win. It was so much like lice, I said it twice. And really, we lost it twice. We lost it early when Victor didn't have it (no crime there, except for pitching to Kent) and we lost it later when after Beltran got us to within 6-5, Floyd, Wright and Piazza let Weaver off the hook on like five pitches. I have no witnesses, but after Zambrano left — shame on anybody who booed him and still calls him or herself a Mets fan — and Bell gave up the hit that made it 6-0, I muttered, “great, now we'll lose 6-5.” Sometimes the gift of clairvoyance is pretty annoying.
As is Merengue Night every year. I hate Merengue Night with a fiery passion. I have hated Merengue Night with a fiery passion going back to the second one. The Mets lost that night. Ya hear that, Gary Cohen? Mets PR Department? THE METS LOST ON MERENGUE NIGHT, 1998!
Sorry if I sound a bit cranky and irrelevant about this but every year Gary mentions this incredible record the Mets have posted on Merengue Night, particularly the first several, and it's just not so. I saw the press notes from which he derived this erroneous information a few years ago, so Jay Horwitz's staff isn't getting it right either. They listed the wrong date for 1998; I don't remember the date they listed but I do remember when Merengue Night actually was.
It was July 10, 1998. It was a complete Mets disaster. First off, it took place in that stretch of 1998 when almost every loss was a tear your hair out with your teeth debacle. The night before, for example, the Mets lost 9-8 in eleven; Todd Pratt was picked off second, I think, after delivering a pinch double. The game before that, right before the All-Star break, was the Angel Hernandez game. 'Nuf said.
Frustration was in the air. And the Expos were in the park. These were unvarnished Expos, not reconstituted 40% Natspos. In 1998, Montreal took eight of twelve from the Mets. The Mets finished one game behind San Francisco and Chicago for the Wild Card. The Expos' record that year was 65-97. You do the math. You think Mark Grudzielanek, Shane Andrews, F.P. Santangelo, Rondell White, Chris Widger and a couple of kids named Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero cared that they were overmatched against the big, bad Mets?
Not only were the Expos continually rising to the occasion of playing and beating the Mets but thanks to Felipe Alou, they had an unnaturally large following among New York's Dominican community, which was already sending a sizable contingent to Merengue Night. Music was the main attraction. Alou and his Dominican superstar-in-the-making rightfielder provided an opening act. And the Mets? To what must have been at least half the crowd, the home team was no better than a nuisance.
There I was, already in the throes of a bad summer of Mets-rooting. One night was more aggravating than the next. And in “my house,” I had to put up with oblivious, obnoxious strangers. Again. Two weeks after withstanding the initial invading force of Yankee fans, there were suddenly Expo fans, actual or de facto. A sizable portion of Shea was rooting against the Mets. And, worst of all, the Mets were playing to their interests by falling behind 4-0 and, after tying it in the sixth, 5-4.
The Mets fought back to take a 6-5 lead in the seventh, sparking some hope among the bare plurality that was under the odd impression that this was a Mets game. Silly us, we forgot our bandanas and flags. We came to root for the home team. But we were shouted down by Expo fans and, more gallingly, non-baseball fans. Forget what the paid attendance reads. The gates stayed open all night to accommodate a flood of showgoers. Not only did they have no interest in the game, they had no interest in finding their seats. By the ninth inning, the front row of loge reserved, where I sat, was no match for those who decided to ease on down to the field boxes for a good view of the post-game extravaganza. Those folks didn't bother with those messy ramps. They just streamed right down from the loge boxes, where blue practically meets orange, while the game was in progress.
While we poked our heads over the steadily flowing masses of Merengueans, John Franco was blowing the business at hand. Did I mention the game? Oh yes, that loss that never gets reported as part of Merengue Night lore. Leading 6-5 in the ninth, Johnny gave up three runs to the fothermucking Expos. As the Dominican flags waved in salute of the team from Canada, Uggie Urbina shut down New York in the bottom of the ninth. We lost 8-6.
The place went wild. Expos win! Merengue's starting! Mets lose their fifth in a row and ninth of their last eleven!
We didn't stay for the concert.
As my companion for the evening and I exited, turning our seats over to whoever was determined to take them, I seethed. Seethed like I never seethed before at Shea and only a few times anywhere else. In the dark concourse, I found the first thing available, an almost full bottle of Pepsi with its cap off and flung it as hard as I could at the side of a trash can. Like me, it exploded. Still cursing and still unsatisfied, I found a half-drunk cup of Budweiser. I lifted it above my head and slammed it to the ground. Most of it splashed on my pants. That cooled me off slightly, at least in terms of my instinct to raise the stakes and search out a bottle of Jack Daniels to destroy. Didn't make me feel any better though. My companion, who by this point in the evening would usually be reciting chapter and verse from his scorebook (“at least Wayne Kirby scored a run for me”) was frightened into silence. It was a good — good, being a relative term — ten minutes before he said a word to me, and when he did speak, it was to inquire into my well-being.
I attended three other Merengue Nights, all because the tickets were part of my or somebody's mini-plan. The Mets won all of them. The first one was against Sammy Sosa and the Cubs which was an even bigger sop to the Dominican community but we won, so I didn't care. The second one was secured by Timo Perez, who was cheered by all attendees given his background and uniform. By then, the Mets had established enough of an identity for themselves with New Yorkers of all heritages to be confident enough to have Merengue Night against some non-descript band of Marlins who weren't led by a Dominican icon.
Before the Mets had their first Merengue Night (which, if memory serves, came after the Mets split a doubleheader with the Dodgers in 1997, a harbinger of things to come in that Shea was packed with Dominican fans of Raul Mondesi and Korean fans of Chan Ho Park, with Mets fans of Mets from all over kind of left out), I'd never heard of the genre that was being celebrated. I have nothing against it musically. I have nothing against it culturally. I have nothing against people who seek it out.
But don't enjoy in the face of a Mets loss at Shea Stadium with so much enthusiasm seven years ago…and don't rewrite history to pretend it never happened. Because it did.
Boy, did it ever.