Phew. Or whew. Or new.
I'll definitely take new. There was too much old in the atmosphere, and I'm not talking about Ralph Kiner in the booth or Jimmy Carter in the stands or Julio Franco in a beautiful doff of the helmet. Them I like. Everything else I feared.
Whether it was the presence of Roger McDowell and Terry Pendleton in the same dugout or the creaky continuation of Brian Jordan as a Major League player or the unwarranted return of Lawrence Chipstein Jones or just about every late loss in that hot tub of horror engrained deep in my gray matter, I could barely function in the bottom of the ninth. It begged to be lost. It cried to be lost. It was bound to be lost.
Only the Braves in Turner Field could make a three-run deficit seem like a tie. Only the Atlantans could find a way to cancel insurance runs just by coming to bat. Only the 11-for-11 National League East champions could make Billy Wagner look like Braden Looper look like Armando Benitez look John Franco look like a cheap watch.
It was only a matter of time before this one got away. Renteria never hits Wagner, Cohen said. So he gets a hit. Chipstein, he of the two-run homer off Pedro (he never hits him either), strikes out, but there's the more dangerous Jones and Dangerous Jones made his elbow a part of it all; HBP, two on. Some nonentity strikes out but then Jeff Francoeur relives his rookie glory. Somehow Renteria doesn't score on the sophomore's hit. It's the bases loaded and it's Billy Wagner showing this uncomfortable habit of not being quite what we paid for and who is he facing?
Forget Arizona and 1999. Don't forget it, of course, but I didn't think it was relevant. It's not like Todd Pratt could touch Wags last week, but then Gary had to go and remind us that Tank caught Billy for the past two years. I've always assumed catchers who face their old pitchers should be able to own them. Then I remembered that Todd Pratt, for his many, many impressive attributes, isn't really much of a hitter. Never was and he sure isn't now. And Billy Wagner, even a Billy Wagner who is more of a Mad Hatters Tea Cup Ride than a monorail, is never going to be mistaken for Matt Mantei.
Like that matters to the man wearing a Braves uniform in Turner Field against the Mets.
But it wasn't Looper and 2005. It wasn't Benitez and 2001. It wasn't Franco and 1998. It wasn't even Jolly Roger getting taken deep by Terrible Terry in 1987 when everything looked so good. It's when everything looks so good that we're in trouble. I'm back in Shea in my mind to the night the magical comeback was close but so gone 19 Septembers ago. And I'm back at Shea in 2001 when Brian Jordan was Andruw Jones (though Andruw Jones was pretty much Andruw Jones then, too) and he was squashing our spirited surge. I'm in whichever ballpark Franco is coughing up a thousand deaths by nicks and cuts and mixed metaphors. And mostly I'm in Turner Field watching Braden Looper turn to goo a year ago.
Except it isn't last year anymore. It really isn't. It isn't any of those years when Braves are giants and Mets are mutts and Turner Field swallows us alive. This isn't one of those years when we're gasping and grasping and trying to move up. We can't move up because we're already on top. All we can do is bring the hammer down.
And we do. Billy Wagner strikes out Todd Pratt on three pitches.
Game over, you tomahawk-chopping dilettantes. Pedro beats Smoltz again. President Carter gets dragged under by a changing tide again. (Sorry, sir, we have to part ways when it comes to that cap you were wearing. But didja catch the size of that footlong Rosalynn was working on? It oughta be suspended for ingesting performance-enhancing substances, not Iriki). David Wright was David Wright for the first time in a little while and Kaz Matsui was Edgardo Alfonzo for the first time in his life and Paul Lo Duca was taking no guff and as much as we need Carlos Beltran back, I sure like what Endy Chavez is doing. Sanchez was perfect and Reyes was clutch and Carlos Delgado made the most productive out of the year.
But I still couldn't breathe fluidly until the bottom of the ninth was history. This is not an outfit against whom you hatch a single chicken ahead of time. This is the bunch that has made an ASS out of U and ME more times than I am able to count. This was the Braves in Turner Field.
Mets win 5-2, lead the East by six. It doesn't mean a whole lot when there's another game Saturday night, but it means everything right now.