Blowouts that go against you figure to be dreary business. Rare that you can attend an 11-1 loss and come away thinking it was one of the weirdest nights you ever spent at Shea Stadium. Yet despite the lack of eventual intrigue in the final score, it was.
I imagine that somewhere in the decisive fifth inning when Jose Castillo was at bat, Gary Cohen mentioned that one John Maine pitch was “fouled back into the crowd”. Well, I was in that crowd. My left thumb was the leading edge of that crowd. I still have my thumb. I don't have the ball.
Through the thoughtful invitation of my friend David and the unidentified patron who favored him with two choice loge seats behind home, we had the unique perspective that loge can afford. You could really see the ball. You could see it being pitched, you could see it being belted and you could see it coming at ya. Like Castillo's foul.
It was coming at me. Not at my face but just to the left of me. It's making its way up over the boxes and into the reserved. And I have time for one thought, which was…
“I can catch this.”
That was just silly. I couldn't catch it. I'm still following the advice of Marvin the Fifth/Sixth Grade Counselor from Camp Avnet, the sage who told us to leave our gloves in our cubbyholes as we filed on the bus for Shea Stadium 33 years ago next week 'cause “you'll just lose 'em.”
If I wore my glove Monday night, I probably would have lost Castillo's foul, too. But it would have been healthier. I wouldn't have put my left thumb in the way of sizzling Major League harm. This was no lofty foul. This was the essence of “fouled back into the crowd”. It glanced off my left thumb — the first time I've touched a foul at Shea after at least 2,700 innings of waiting — before hitting the guy sitting behind me on the arm and apparently beaning a woman sitting behind him before bouncing into someone else's hands (that was one magic horsehide). The lady was eventually presented with the ball in recognition of taking the worst Jose Castillo could mete out.
It's times like these that I'm thrilled that I've never been broken of the habit of chewing my thumbs. It's a lifetime of thumb-chewing, even through six years of braces, that has given me a marvelously strong callus which is where Castillo's foul hit. It felt like when you whack your funny bone provided your funny bone resides in your left thumb. It buzzed for a couple of innings but nothing was broken and nothing was bruised; nothing was gained, but nothing was lost.
'Cept the game, but that was going to happen anyway. When we weren't watching fouls make a beeline for our personages, we could see Maine (a surprise starter so surprising that I had no idea he was the man until I heard the third pitch of the game on the radio and no idea that Soler was gone; shucks) look unhittable for four-plus innings. His command abandoned him all at once.
In less than five frames, he was way over 100 pitches. That was weird.
The first-place Mets were hitting more than the last-place Pirates for most of the night, but not better, certainly not well enough to register a safety with someone in scoring position. That was weird.
By the time the Bucs began to slip away from the Mets, our relieving began to appear worse than our starting. That was weird.
And in the eighth, the mostly dependable Pedro Feliciano gave up two of the longest and hardest hit home runs, back-to-back, that I've ever witnessed from wherever I sat. That was very weird. Weird and disconcerting. I don't know the Pirates very well, but I do believe one of their eighth-inning sluggers was named McLouth. You can't spell McLouth without clout, that's for damn sure.
It wasn't just any 11-1 defeat, so it figured that the reactions would be somewhat out of the ordinary. Even though I don't sanction it, I'm surprised there wasn't more booing. Most of the hostility in our part of loge was funneled through one fan who kept telling Willie that he was “stupid” and should “go back to the Yankees.” Maybe the promise of fireworks kept everybody seated comfortably.
Two attendees were determined to be just that. I prefer sitting on the aisle because it gives me more legroom. As compensation, I have to get up a dozen or two times a game, maybe more, to let people in and out. Once in a while it gets on my nerves but mostly it goes with the territory. Well, one row down from David and me, there was a lady on the aisle who wasn't having any of it, not by the ninth. Late in the game, a family of three had gotten up to do whatever and came back together. They wanted to return to their seats in the middle of the row. The aislekeeper put her foot down…or, more accurately, nailed her ass down. She and her son wouldn't budge to let them pass. The father in the threesome began cursing her out. She said nothing. An usher was awakened to settle the dispute.
Finally the lady burst out with her complaint: “I CAME TO SEE A BASEBALL GAME! I DIDN'T COME TO STAND UP AND SIT DOWN!” I can't argue with her logic, but since when does logic have a place at Shea Stadium? In exchange for being coaxed into standing for five or six seconds — “THIS IS THE LAST TIME I'M GETTING UP!” — so the aggrieved party could sit down, the usher moved her and her son into a few rows down into a box seat. The squeaky wheel got the grease but, judging from the applause of several in our section, nobody minded the appeasement.
When it was 8-1, I reminded David that I was here six years ago on another Fireworks Night, the Mets down by the same score. But this wasn't that night and even on that night, I didn't hang around for the Gruccifest. Thus, I bid David adieu once the final out sealed the Mets' fate. They've been outscored 27-8 since Sunday night. I'm 2-6 on the year. I've seen eight different starters and the only wins I've enjoyed were secured via Glavine and Pedro. A little foreboding, no?
On the Pirates: They're atrocious? They played like the Red Sox did last week. I don't suppose it had anything to do with their common opponent. Every game I see the Mets lose to the Pirates is a blur of futility. They lose by 9-0 and 5-0 and 4-0 and 5-1 and now 11-1. The only NL teams the Mets have a losing record against when I'm in the neighborhood are the Braves (13-21) and the Pirates (11-12). I should hate the Pirates more than I do, but look where hating the Braves has gotten me.
My favorite thing about Fireworks Night is that if you leave after the game, you have the easiest trip of the year out of Shea (unless the year is 1993 and the trippin' is automatically easy). 54,000 filled the stands/seats Monday night. Maybe 4,000 departed in advance of the postgame show. Walking unmolested to the 7 — no pushing, no shoving, no waiting — I fantasized I had a police escort. Clear the way, folks! Clear the way! Half of Faith and Fear has to make his train at Woodside! My fantasies are pretty tame.
Made that train. Was on it in Forest Hills when I saw colored lights filling the northern sky. It was those Shea fireworks after all. Got to see 'em and got to walk in the door before 11:30. The Mets still lost, the night was still weird and the foul ball was still elsewhere.
There's no moral except maybe that more kids should chew their thumbs.