This is the exciting conclusion of 1995. Part I appears in a previous post.
There was one week remaining in the season and I had a ticket for one more game. Actually, I had eight tickets. In ’93, I had the bright idea to lead the magazine on an outing to Shea. It went over so well that I repeated the plan for ’94. Except we got rained out in April. Then we got rained out in June. Then the strike came. Then there were all kinds of comings and goings at work, just as on the ’95 Mets. But those ’94 rainchecks were still valid because of the strike. At last, we settled on September 27 as our magazine game. This time, Mother Nature sweetened the pot, raining the night before, so we could have a doubleheader.
The Mets were playing the Reds. Although the staff was tense over our impending sale, most everybody came, including our new art director Robert. He was a quiet guy from the Bronx, coming along because everybody else was going. Hadn’t said much about baseball before the twinighter. He sat, watched the early innings and then leaned over to me to ask a question.
“Hey Greg, do the Mets play the Reds in the second game of the doubleheader, too?”
He wasn’t kidding. He didn’t know. That’s no crime, except that in short order, Robert from the Bronx would let everyone know that he was a Yankees fan, baby. Come 1996, he would be very vocal about his favorite team winning its sport’s world championship. But late in the 1995 season, he was clueless about that very same sport. One wonders how much of that was going around.
Our staff, whatever its level of acumen and interest, saw the Mets win two baseball games that evening, 5-4 and 9-2. The Mets swept the twinbill (against the Reds and the Reds, respectively) and the series. They stayed in third place. I was 6-7.
That was going to be it for the year. I had used up all my strike twofers and rainchecks and so forth. I could end the year on an up note, having won six of the last seven games.
No I couldn’t. I couldn’t not go for it. I had to do something that before was merely incidental but now felt mandatory.
I had to try to even my record.
It had been too good a run to let fade. My lifetime record was now up to 44-52. Even if it was too late to raise it to .500 in 1995, 7-7 was too tantalizing a target to dismiss. I yearned to scribble one more victory into the steno pad I’d used since high school to keep track of every game I’d ever attended. I’d write down the date, the opponent, our starting pitcher, a W or an L and the score. I wanted one more W for what I was now referring to (to myself) as The Log.
I’d have to get it against Atlanta, the best team in the league. And, I decided, I’d have to get it on my own. I could’ve called somebody. Maybe even e-mailed somebody. I went to several games a year with my friend Joe. Joe was a trip. We worked together for like five minutes five years earlier and out of one Mets conversation we became friends. Joe kept score at every game he went to. That, like Robert’s ignorance, is no crime. But he also kept stats on every game he scored. It went way beyond The Log. Joe called me once a week to update me on who was having a big year for him. I’d learn that immensely useless reserve infielder Bill Spiers was a .390 hitter for Joe. Yeah, but he’s hitting .208 for the rest of us.
I didn’t call Joe. I didn’t call anybody. 1995 was such a quiet revelation right there toward the end, setting The Log right was such a personal mission, that I didn’t feel I could share it with anybody. I kissed Stephanie and the cats goodbye on the morning of October 1, caught the LIRR to Woodside and then took the 7 to Shea. I bought one ticket from a lonely scalper and entered alone. In a Mets cap. If we were going to do this, it would be on my head.
This was it. The last game of the season, No. 144, my last chance at .500 and the Mets’ unlikely shot at finishing in a second-place tie. Yeah, after sweeping the Reds and taking the first two of this series from the Braves, the Mets were one game behind the Phillies, quasi-defending National League champions (they won in ’93, there was no winner in ’94) for second.
The Braves had nothing to do except avoid injury. They had the playoffs to look forward to. They started John Smoltz in a tune-up. We started our ace, Jason Isringhausen. He was 9-2 and pushing Hideo Nomo for Rookie of the Year.
I sat in the sunsplashed field level, short right field. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to a Mets game by myself but it was the first time it didn’t feel desperate. No, it was splendid isolation. I was where I wanted to be, where I needed to be. I felt one with my team. We were going to do this together.
Inning after inning produced zero after zero. Smoltz went five. Bobby Cox trotted out a parade of relievers who surrendered nothing. Izzy went eight, gave up just four hits and left without a decision. In the eighth, Joe Orsulak led off with a triple. I stood and cheered wildly. Joe Orsulak had been my man on the AOL Mets board. Somebody called him dead wood. I cyberlashed back, “JOE ORSULAK IS NOT DEAD WOOD!” A couple of innings earlier, I overheard some guy tell his girlfriend that this guy at bat, Orsulak, is no good. When Joe tripled, I considered pointing out that the guy on third was the guy you said was no good, but I restrained myself.
Joe Orsulak was left stranded on third. He came out in a double-switch. It was the last game he played as a Met.
The out-of-town scoreboard settled some matters and extended others around baseball. Seattle was losing despite its refuse-to-lose charge from nowhere to first. They were on their way to a one-game playoff. I saw a girl in a Mariners uniform top. Where did that come from? I wondered if she showed up at Shea because it was the best place in New York to track their game. Although Saberhagen was shelled in Colorado, the Rockies won the Wild Card (the one I anticipated for the Mets) in their third year. And in Toronto, the New York Yankees clinched their first post-season berth since 1981. They squeaked in with the A.L. Wild Card. If you listened closely, you could hear hubris clearing its throat.
We were still knotted at nothing, through eight, through nine, through ten. Pete Walker, one of 25 players new to the Mets at one point or another in 1995, pitched a scoreless eleventh. In the bottom of the inning, the Mets loaded the bases. Twice actually, thanks to a double play. The ninth Braves pitcher of the day, Brad Woodall, couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. He walked Bogar. Damon Buford trotted home with the winning run.
The Mets won 1-0. For however many thousands of us who hung around to the conclusion, it was bigger than the Mariners game, the Rockies game, the Yankees game. The Mets won the last game of the year. The Mets swept the Braves, the N.L. East champs right after sweeping the Reds, the N.L. Central champs, a month after sweeping the Dodgers, the N.L. West champs. The P.A. announced that the Mets were the only team in the National League to sweep a series from each division winner.
We cheered. Highlights of the season just ended ran on DiamondVision. We cheered. Our record over the past 52 games, 34-18 was noted. It was, except for the Braves’, the best anywhere since August 6, the day I was here, almost in the same spot, with Stephanie and Rob Costa. We were 35-57 then. We were 69-75 now. The DiamondVision said it all:
WE’LL BE BACK AND WE’LL BE BETTER
Then it showed a Mets logo and a Cardinals logo with the reminder that the next game here would be April 1, 1996.
We cheered that, too.
I stood, soaked in the finality and, satisfied beyond my wildest replacement baseball spring expectations, turned to leave. Gosh, what a nice day! The concession guy didn’t even charge me for the last Brett Butler soda of the year. On my way out, I ran into a girl wearing a Braves jersey. I still kind of liked the Braves. “Good luck in the playoffs,” I said. With that, they won the World Series.
I took my trains home, walked in the door and monitored the Phillies’ staticky broadcast on the living room stereo. They were in Miami where the game started at 4:30 in deference to the heat (or perhaps the sun that blinded rookie outfielders). The Marlins won. The Phillies were 69-75. We finished tied for second.
The Mets were a second-place club! In fact, we’d be listed first among seconds alphabetically for posterity. Second-place teams, even in three-division leagues, don’t suck. They can’t. I didn’t have a computer at home, so I called Rob Emproto and left a message on his answering machine: We finished tied for second, can you believe it?
Then I brought The Log out of its drawer, picked up a black pen and wrote down the vitals of the afternoon that just went by.
10/1/95 Atlanta Isringhausen W 1-0 (11)
I was 7-7 on the year, a .500 fan. Stephanie nodded. Bernie and Casey paid me no mind. But I knew. This was the first time I would make “my record” my business. The great turnaround of The Log was underway. The more I went, the more they won. There had never been such a cause and effect on my behalf. From 38-51 at mid-season, I would reach and pass .500 lifetime once and for all in 1999 and then rise 10, 20, 30 games above. A half-decade into the new century, I’d have no need to look over my shoulder. It was an obsession, but at least it was working. Perhaps because for the first time I felt that the Mets might win games I attended, I made it my business to go to Shea on a regular basis, usually by train, every year after 1995. Since 1997, I haven’t been to fewer than 10 a year. They play better with me than without me.
Nobody wants a baseball season to end, but — and perhaps it was from feeling trapped in an endless cycle of sameness and disappointment at my job — I really relished the sense of closure the last day of a baseball season could bestow. Attending Closing Day would become a tradition for me. I have yet to miss one since ’95.
I was a Mets fan and I was happy. Lots of fans whose teams had winning records were disappointed. The very next day, the Angels would complete one of the more dramatic choke jobs in recent memory by losing a one-game playoff to Randy Johnson and the Mariners. They were better than the Mets but their fans were unhappy. We were six games under and I was ecstatic.
Was I really that easy?
The answer is yes. I was that easy. I loved the big finish and the tentative promise of imminent improvement. That it didn’t come (we were back but noticeably worse in ’96) doesn’t bother me. That Jeff Kent, Carl Everett and Jason Isringhausen all became All-Stars for other teams doesn’t bother me (besides, Todd Hundley and Edgardo Alfonzo glittered for us). That the young pitchers never worked out in the long-term doesn’t bother me. Well, it does, but not to the point of distraction. Izzy and Pulse didn’t give us a lot, but they gave us a lot more than I would’ve dreamed when that season started so badly.
The Mets would be back. And they would be better. But it would take a while and it would have little to do with what I had just lived through. Thus, you might say the limited-scale triumph of 1995 took place in a vacuum.
But that’s a lot better than being compared to a Hoover.
The year was 1995, 10 years ago.
I was 32.
Flashback Friday is a weekly tour through the years, every half-decade on the half-decade, wherein a younger Mets fan develops into the Mets fan he is today. Previous stops: 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990. Next stop: 2000.