June 30, 2000: I remember. You remember. The night before we'd come up short in John Rocker's return to Shea after running his mouth about the 7 train and its various inhabitants. We were out in force the next night, too — you, me, Emily and Danielle down the right-field line in the mezzanine, my friends Megan and Tim somewhere in the ionosphere of the upper deck. (Megan wasn't a Met fan, but she was eager to defend New York's honor, and she'd hedged her bets against a Rocker no-show in the first game.)
We were out in force to watch the Mets fall behind the Braves 4-0 and then 8-1 after 7 1/2. As things went from worse to much worse, my cellphone ran. It was Megan.
“Your team sucks,” she said — not rubbing it in, more annoyed and a little shocked.
I muttered something. Because even if I could summon up something eloquent, the scoreboard would have the final word: Braves 8, Mets 1. Yes, my team did pretty much suck.
“If the Mets come back in this game I'll eat my shoe,” Megan concluded.
Bell single. Alfonzo flyout. Piazza single. Ventura groundout. (8-2.) Zeile single. (8-3.) Payton single. Agbayani walk. Johnson walk. (8-4.) Mora walk. (8-5.) Bell walk. (8-6.) Alfonzo single. (8-8.) Piazza home run. (11-8.) Ventura groundout.
And through it all, the four of us in the mezzanine were desperately trying to keep doing whatever we'd been doing while our thoroughly sodden team improbably kept walking on water. Danielle was still pretending to read the New Yorker, even though I knew she was no longer even seeing the words on the page. Emily was veering between imprecations and cheers and yells. You were chewing on a cup and muttering to yourself and refusing to look at anybody. I was busy denying the entire thing to avoid breaking the spell. (At one point I went too far and tried to keep the jinx away by telling you that of course you understood they wouldn't actually do it, which violated your own negotiation of a deal with the baseball gods. I don't think I've ever seen you look so furious.)
When Piazza hit Mulholland's first pitch on a line over the fence, it was like an emotional volcano blew. Bedlam! Celebration! The stands swaying and bobbing, mad cheering and hugging, calling Megan on the cellphone to babble something triumphant. (Coincidentally, she just wrote me about that game a couple of weeks back. Her verdict: “Best. Game. Ever.”) There are about a million things I love about baseball, but near the top of the list is the way every pitch can ratchet the anxiety and terror higher and higher over agonizing minutes and hours, only to have the unbearable tension released in mere seconds. Baseball can be slow and take a long time, there's no doubt. But it can also be shockingly fast.
Games like June 30, 2000 help keep you in your seat or in front of the TV for years of games that go ugly early and are obviously destined to be lackluster, desultory, depressing, horrifying, numbing or farcical. Because you can't ever know when another shocker's coming, and if you aren't there when it does, you might never forgive yourself. A 10-spot? We'd only done that once before, on June 12, 1979 against the Reds.
For emotion, tonight's uprising was probably more Doug Flynn vs. Cincy than Mike vs. Atlanta — we don't collide with the Cubs often enough to feel much anymore where they're concerned, and they're just trying to get through a nightmare season with some modicum of pride. But it did have the same out-of-the-ashes quality as 6/30/00 — El Duque was so stupendously horrible that I pawed my portable radio off my head in disgust and decided to eat hot dogs in the backyard with Joshua and leave the Mets to their fate. But I was so pissed that outside I became the El Duque of frankfurter grilling, burning buns and rolling dogs off the fire and onto the pavement. (Heck, nothing a dip in the kiddie pool couldn't fix.) Between fuming and grill-related slapstick I was rehearsing tonight's blog post. I had my headline, following up on Friday night's post. This Just In: We Ain't So Great Either.
But I let the TV keep playing in the house, and was mildly mollified when we came in from dinner to see it was 5-1, instead of the half-expected 134-0. (BTW, what a fucking tragedy this game was on ESPN, with statistical Flat Earther Joe Morgan as an eyewitness to our history-making instead of Gary.) The beginning of bathtime saw a bobble and two bloops, better than things had been but not exactly epochal stuff. Bathtime was just finishing when Cliff Floyd hit the same pitch John Hirschbeck had unaccountably called a ball two pitches earlier into the basket for a grand slam and a 6-5 lead. I let out a roar that startled Joshua, who then demanded to be walked through what had happened.
“That's good, right?” he asked after I got done explaining it.
In my head, I was trying to figure out the script. Seems like a three-game set at Wrigley always features one ho-hum game, one hide-your-face disaster and one crazed donnybrook where the lead changes like six times and extra innings are needed to decide things, I thought. This would be the donnybrook, then. Hope it doesn't wind up being Bell-Lee II.
Then, amazingly, came Carlos Beltran's grand slam, heard on the radio in Joshua's room as he finished his juice and we neared the end of a dinosaur book. “I wanna see it!” he yelled, and we rushed over to Mom and Dad's room to see the replay on ESPN. (During the kid's bedtime you can go from room to room in our downstairs with the Mets either on radio or TV, like that ad from a few years back in which the soccer fan has TVs everywhere.)
The inning had taken up all of bathtime and most of reading time and still wasn't over. Maybe it would never be. Would the Wrigley faithful rush the field to string up poor Todd Walker? Would some empty suit from the Tribune Co. hand Dusty Baker his pink slip in the dugout? Would the ESPYs have to start at midnight? And then Wright went deep, and 10 runs in an inning was so last millennium.
Forty-one minutes. Sixteen batters. Seventy pitches. Two grand slams. Eleven runs. And fuel for watching the next six years of games that start with us on the wrong side of 5-0 in the 2nd.
Since this is a historically minded post, let's call the roll.
Woodward flyout. Beltran safe on error. Delgado single. Wright single. Floyd home run. (6-5.) Nady walk. Castro fielder's choice, Nady safe on error. Chavez single. (7-5.) Valentin single. Woodward fielder's choice. Beltran home run. (11-5.) Delgado double. Wright home run. (13-5.) Floyd walk. Nady walk. Castro flyout.
Yes, my boy, that's good.