A royal blue t-shirt that says Amazins. A navy blue sweatshirt that says NEW YORK METS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. A bright orange hoodie that says NEW YORK. A blue satin jacket that says Mets. A dark green parka just in case.
And that was above the waist.
I was ready for the worst. They said it would be cold and I believed them. As a bona fide veteran of postseason sitting, I learned in 2000 preparation is key. I wasn’t going to be caught off guard.
The only thing I wasn’t ready for was a loss. There have been so few.
Who remembers the last time the Mets lost before Friday night? It was in another month, another season, with another couple of pitchers still prominent in their plans. Besides the paucity of losses there was the lack of severity surrounding them. You have to go back to Shea Stadium being genuinely frigid on April 5 to find the previous time when a Met loss — the second game of 2006 — carried more than symbolic significance.
That was the night Ryan Zimmerman reached Billy Wagner and the left field stratosphere in rapid succession. How long ago was it? Jorge Julio took the loss. How important was it? It knocked the Mets out of first place…for 24 hours. They recovered and, though we would be intermittently irritated on 64 more occasions between April 15 and September 27, they weren’t materially affected. You could argue the Mets hadn’t “suffered” a defeat of substance since September 2005.
Until last night. Now that was substantial.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t cold. Maybe layering works. Maybe the Shea wind tunnel simply skipped my one particular row of my one particular section of the mezzanine — an area, I have to assess, that wasn’t as boozy as my other stops this October and, perhaps as a result, I have to confess, not quite as much rabid fun. Maybe I was just fortunate, luck already having brought me there instead of my couch. I had no prospects at being at this game until rain, rescheduling and religion forced the original ticketholder out of his Friday night slot. I was more than happy to swap him a set of Andrew Jackson trading cards for his admission (and thrilled that he was able to find his way in Thursday, so I didn’t feel like a secular Selig vulture feeding off the bum circumstances MLB and meteorology dealt him).
Strange how quickly attending postseason affairs at Shea went from wishful thought to giddy reality to something that by definition became ritual this month. Four games, four go’s. Nobody’s more surprised or delighted than me.
I suppose you’re waiting for the inevitable punchline, the “some prize that turned out to be,” but no. On my way in last night, at the juncture where I step off at Woodside to turn toward Shea, hundreds poured out. Big roar went up. A cacophony of “LET’S GO METS! LET’S GO METS!” mixed with “JOSE! JOSE! JOSE! JOSE!” and even a little “Meet the Mets” (“butcher and baker” verse, no less) ensued. Oh, I thought, here we go again with this.
Slap me. Slap me hard. Don’t ever let me find fault in being caught in a nightly crowd of exuberant Mets fans ever again. Yes, some were liquored up and many were too young to fathom. “Isn’t it funny that the last time the Mets won was 20 years ago and we were born 20 years ago?” I heard one adult tell another. It wasn’t that funny. But the sensation of being in a mass of Mets fans marching to Flushing in October will never not be wonderful.
Can’t say the same about a number of other elements, however, including Willie’s addiction to Guillermo Mota; the deployment of the Sandman when it’s clear the ocean needs to make more sand; John Maine’s reversion to Kris Benson sans the mouthy lifemate; the inability to not hit into crucial double plays; the aversion of Carlos Delgado to trickling grounders; the nice try but you got your glove on it so why don’t you catch it business in right; and…crap, it was a loss. What do I want? Blood?
The obvious of October is don’t lose games you can win. Don’t lose games you lead. Don’t lose games you lead twice. Don’t lose games in which you make Chris Carpenter look like Karen Carpenter. Don’t lose games to which your bullpen just devoted five innings of its finite resources. Don’t lose games that could you put in front two-oh.
I wasn’t cold, but I came away with a chill, reminded as I arrived home what winter feels like. Basketball and hockey scores infiltrated the 20/20 updates. I could make out my breath. Win or lose in St. Louis tonight, there are no more than five games left at Shea this month if things go various combinations of wrong and right. Go very wrong and there are none. With the unknown being exactly that, who knows if this particular stadium of ours, destined for demolition after 2008, will ever host another night at the time of year when you don’t dare not layer?
Approaching Shea, I dared to dream of sweeps and World Series. Leaving it, I envisioned nothing. Absolutely nothing.
It’s October 14. It’s too soon.