Aaron Heilman, it's been said, should go back to starting. His three innings of game-changing relief, however, suggest he should fill all roles on the staff. Now starting…Aaron Heilman. Now warming up…Aaron Heilman. Now entering the game…Aaron Heilman. Now lifting an entire team and all the momentum it could ask for upon his back…Aaron Heilman. Those three perfect, perfect, PERFECT innings would have looked awfully good at the beginning of the night, too, but do ultimately successful Met-Yankee games ever operate that neatly?
On a night when Met ghosts were all over the TV — Rico Brogna in the SNY studio; Mookie Wilson on the WB pregame; Al Leiter fulfilling his sinecure; Ron Darling pretending to talk like he has something valuable to say; Tom Seaver's fleeting rear end barely evading the Channel 11 booth door on the way out; the zombie-like form of Jeremi Gonzalez morbidly hosting the right arm of Jeremy Griffiths, the only pitcher worse to start a Subway Series game for us and they both have the same initials — you know whose spirit Heilman evoked? None other than that of El Sid.
Yes, El Sid Fernandez, the starter who was never quite equal to the sum of his stuff but whose parts all added up in Game Seven of the World Series twenty years ago. Sid rescued Darling in that game much like Heilman rescued Oliver who rescued Gonazlez who swallowed the fly, I don't know why.
Game Seven…you know what I remember about Game Seven? I mean in particular? While I'm trying to watch and will the determination of the world championship, the phone rings. It's Larry, a dear friend whose connection to baseball couldn't be more tangential. Actually, I was pretty much his connection to baseball in those days.
He called me at the dawn of the bottom of the seventh on the night of the October 27, 1986 and freely admitted I was his anthropology experiment. Wouldn't it be fun, he thought, to hear Greg react to the Mets winning the World Series. I couldn't have been more annoyed if the Red Sox had reacquired John Tudor. It was tied! I had no time for this! But Tudor was still a Cardinal and Calvin Schiraldi was pitching yet again for Boston and Ray Knight (his name comes up a lot here lately) lined a fastball over the rightfield fence and I let out a shriek that woke the squirrels in the neighbors' eaves.
“THAT's what I hoped I'd hear,” Larry said. I hung up seconds later.
Hey, what's with the bonus post-Friday Flashback? What are you trying to tell us, boy? Did you get a phone call around the seventh inning Friday night?
Was it, by chance, Larry calling in what seemed like the first time in twenty years?
Nods vigorously, barks at TV.
It's a bit of an exaggeration to say I haven't heard from Larry since 1986, but we don't talk that often. He continues to be one of that strange breed of people who doesn't know his team's daily and nightly whereabouts because he doesn't have a team. He just happened to be flipping around the dial and noticed the Mets were playing the Yankees and thought it would be a good time to call and check in with his old buddy the baseball fan.
That's both touching and odd. But I thought back to Ray Knight. Larry called me at a bad time in 1986 and it turned into a historically good time. So what was the harm of chatting through Heilman's perfection and Wagner's release from the closer protection program? So what if we talked about mostly non-baseball topics during the latter and crucial stages of a Mets-Yankees game? It's not like it was the World Series. Maybe it was like the World Series, but there's a fine difference.
At least once, Larry — who assured me he was rooting for the Mets, presumably on my account or out of common human decency or both — reacted to a batted ball, Lo Duca's double, that I hadn't seen yet. I deduced he was watching on Channel 9, not Channel 11. Larry didn't know the difference, that one was Good and one used to be. That's only worth noting because with two on and two out and Wright up in the bottom of the ninth, Larry made an encouraging noise while I was still watching a pitch. And Larry was describing a ball that was traveling toward the outfield while David was still swinging. And while something exciting, very exciting, was happening for Larry, I was…
a) still tracking the flight of Wright's ball on Channel 11, yet
b) implicitly understanding that it had already landed safely on Channel 9 but pretending that there was no way of knowing.
When I saw it with my own eyes, I let out some screams and threw some unbreakable objects and jumped around a lot and probably spooked both cats. There, Larry said — THAT's what I hoped I'd hear.
Just like 1986.
Not at all annoyed but terribly anxious to savor (rhymes with Xavier if you're not too picky) all that a Mets 7 Yankees 6 wrapup has to offer, I got off the phone and watched as much video as I could muster. That's where the ghost I had most hoped to see tonight, the ghost of Matt Franco, came to life. It was, for once, a chance to call up that hoariest of plays-on-musical-words, because the Mets did indeed gather around David Wright at first base and toss an impromptu walkoff party like it was 1999. It was the same kind of mob that surrounded M. Franco back then, the same camera angle that captured the happy teammates rushed over from the dugout, every single one of them.
That included this week's most despised Met ever, Jose Lima. He jumped up and down as if he'd been here longer than Trachsel. Whatever his shortcomings on the mound — and they are lengthy and genuine — I couldn't help but think, man, he must really be as great a teammate as they say. It wasn't twenty minutes later that I heard that his next assignment involves designation. It was the correct move. The only way it could come more correct is if it could be retroactive to two weeks ago. Still, I was an eensy bit sad that a guy who obviously loved being a ballplayer very likely wasn't going to be one on this level any Lima time soon.
Then, for no good reason, I realized Heilman is an anagram for Lima Hen. Aaron surely pecked away at a starting slot Friday night. Surely? Perhaps. Perhaps he's so good at pitching three innings that that makes him too good to pitch seven innings; I love the new math. Perhaps Pelfrey, whatever his state of readiness, will be on hand in a few days. Gary said Omar said something like “we could do anything,” which can be read as positive in terms of J-Gone being as long gone as L-Time, which ended in a New York minute (or three starts, whichever came last).
Hovering rotation storm clouds aside, it was a Friday night to flash back to other Mets-Yankees games, the wonderful ones. Franco versus the very same Rivera in another ninth. Spencer off Sturtze. The confusing ending when Baerga scored and McRae managed to not quite get himself doubled off first. All the Piazza we don't get around here no more and the David who was a Dave who started it all and the fallout from last year's Big Unit implosion — Koo! Koo! — and you can remember the rest if you think hard. The Subway Series has been around long enough to become an institution. We've won 20 games from the Yankees and 18, I swear, have felt something like this and all of them have been, in a word, special. Mets wins over the Yankees can't not be. Claim they're not and you're either lying or dead inside.