The email came at mid-afternoon: Two tickets for tonight, did I want them?
I nearly broke several fingers replying in the hell-yes affirmative, then fired off a note to Greg. (You never know, he might have been busy tonight or something.) And so it was off to the ballpark for Faith and Fear — a rambling odyssey home, then to Penn Station for the securing of tickets, then out to Shea on the LIRR, then to Gate E where Mr. Prince was waiting, resplendent in his orange Mr. Met jacket. Endless thanks to our original benefactor, a Yankee fan who felt strongly that the two tickets he couldn’t use should go to raving Met fans (a kingly gesture — there is some good in Yankee-fan hearts, folks), and to pals Aileen, Keith and Nick for their kind middlemanning.
Greg and I made our way along the mezzanine during the top of the first, and the roar of the crowd told us exactly what was happening. We were in a fine section, too — lots of high-fiving and high spirits and no horrible drunkenness — the worst thing we saw was scattered Cardinals getting rough vocal treatment, but even that seemed to be in good fun, though obviously the blue-and-orange masses enjoyed it far more than the lonely outposts of red. (OK, the worst thing was actually poor Greg getting nailed in the face by a vendor’s bag-of-peanuts missile, but that was really just startling. He was fine and the guy behind us, for whom the peanuts were intended, felt so bad that he shared them.)
If this had been a game on a sultry July evening, we’d have praised it to the skies as a classic pitcher’s duel, a modest little baseball gem. I suppose that’s still true — but this was October and I, at least, wasn’t in a frame of mind to admire the ratcheting tension and all that. Instead, I was bouncing around in my seat in complete terror, aware that something was gonna break and aware that it could well be us. Glavine’s pitching line came out looking spectacular, but appearances can most definitely be deceiving: He benefited from seemingly innumerable balls hit right into gloves, a great catch by Endy (replacing Cliff Floyd, now our pinch-hitter deluxe) and some boneheaded Cardinal baseball. After Pujols was doubled off first, he was left standing in the center of the diamond, alone except for the umpires, for an excruciatingly long time, waiting for someone to bring him his hat and glove already. Of course we occupied his time by serenading him with various critiques of his baserunning.
Meanwhile, I don’t know if some heretofore-unknown Weaver brother was impersonating Jeff for most of this year, when he sucked, or has been doing so this fall, when he hasn’t sucked. But something is definitely up. Weaver was well-nigh unhittable, and it was interesting to hear the crowd’s bloodlust slowly diminish and turn to befuddlement and then desperation. In the sixth, with two out, the crowd was begging Lo Duca just to work the count and get Weaver somewhere in the vicinity of 100 pitches. His modest little single through the hole didn’t exactly fire up the faithful, particularly not when Beltran immediately found himself in an 0-2 hole. But then, that thunderbolt into the night — it didn’t exactly have the trajectory and acceleration of the game-ender off Isringhausen, but we all knew exactly where it was heading. By the time Beltran came home, our section and every other one had dissolved into a happy pandemonium of slapping hands and screaming and spilling beers and fans falling into each other and nobody minding. Of all the magical things about baseball, I think this is my favorite part of all: one swing — a few seconds of bat meeting ball and ball in urgent flight — blasting hours of frustration away like a cork from a bottle, turning worry into joy so quickly and thoroughly that it actually hurts a bit, like a mild case of whiplash from toes to fingertips.
That was of course the signature moment of a marvelous game, though there was drama yet to be witnessed. When Guillermo Mota went 3-0 on Preston Wilson with Pujols looming on deck as the go-ahead run I could barely watch. And there were some anxious moments as Wagner recorded his outs on a hard shot right at Delgado, another one speared by Valentin and a dunker that sure looked like it would drop between Valentin and Green.
Were we lucky tonight? Maybe. Oh, make that probably. But you know what? Luck’s part of it too — balls with shoe polish on them and backup catchers not called for running inside the baseline and right-fielders making foolhardy but marvelous catches and balls hitting off the top of walls and rebounding right to outfielders and little rollers behind the bag and tagging one runner out and then finding a second bearing down on you.
Luck, the kindness of friends and strangers, and thrilling baseball on an October night. I’m grateful for all three.
(Keep going — we’re doubling up. It’s October, after all.)