No losers reach the Rick Sweet 16. You get this far in March Metness, you can stake a serious claim to being a quintessential element of the overall Mets experience. While there are no losers, only half of the entries in any given matchup will get to walk away a winner.
Here’s how that inevitable winnowing process unfolded Thursday night.
MIRACLE REGION SEMIFINALS
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs Jane Jarvis (5)
Ms. Jarvis gets this party started by tickling the Thomas Organ as she did so expertly at Shea Stadium from 1964 to 1979. Whether it’s a simple “CHARGE!” or a trademark rendition of “Meet The Mets,” the crowd is suitably moved. Moved? How about revved? Shea has heard the Beatles, the Stones, Grand Funk and Bruce Springsteen, but no live musical act has ever owned the old ballpark like its organist of record. There’s been more to this accomplished pianist’s career than the Shea gig — she recorded several well-received jazz albums and helped run the Muzak company. As recently as 2006, having passed 90, she was playing dates in Manhattan. Recorded music has been the rule since Frank Cashen imported it from Baltimore in 1980, but Jane Jarvis will forever remain a singular name recalled for producing a singular sound as long as Shea Stadium is remembered. If anybody could give Let’s Go Mets an aural run for its money, it’s her. She did, but Let’s Go Mets is a 1-seed for a reason. Truth be told, the Shea crowd doesn’t need much revving beyond the promise of the next pitch. Jane plays her best — she always has — but Let’s Go Mets takes another round.
Banner Day (3) vs Rheingold The Dry Beer (2)
Miracle proved a musical region because you simply cannot think of Rheingold The Dry Beer without wanting to break out into jingle. That’s RTDB’s not-so-secret weapon in taking on one of the great Met traditions. My beer is Rheingold the dry beer/Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer/It’s refreshing not sweet/It’s the extra treat/Won’t you try extra dry Rheingold beer? If you grew up hearing those commercials, you can’t forget the melody or the lyrics. If you didn’t, you wish you had. Rheingold wasn’t just a beer either. It was the sponsor of Mets baseball, the one with approval on who would announce the games. If a man named Norm Varney, account executive from J. Walter Thompson, had balked, there might have been no Murph, no Ralph, no Lindsey. Fortunately, Varney — and George Weiss — had good taste, at least as good as Rheingold’s. “To Err Is Human, To Forgive, A Mets Fan” went one famous fan-drawn banner. It left out the thought that to beer is divine. Banner Day made for some great parades. Rheingold provided an even better backbeat. The Dry Beer douses Banner Day’s championship dream and proceeds to the Larry Elliot Eight against Let’s Go Mets, a classic 1-vs-2 matchup.
MAGIC REGION SEMIFINALS
The 7 Train (1) vs Outta Here! (5)
The 7 Train will eventually get you to Shea Stadium, but it’s been known to slow down at most inopportune stations. If you and it were running late in tandem between 1989 and 2005, you could depend on the voice of Gary Cohen to whisk you to the Willets Point stop in your ear if not in person. As long as you stood near a window, you had as good a seat as whatever the ticket burning a hole in your wallet entitled you to…eventually. Listening to Gary Cohen on whatever radio you had handy was one of the privileges of being a Mets fan during his 18-year stint on WFAN, whether he was calling home runs Outta Here! or merely reading the lineups at Junction Boulevard. Gary’s won greater exposure on television, as fans who would never think to bother with something as hopelessly retro as a radio have discovered him. But for those who relied on him in a pinch, it just isn’t the same. As the 7 Train gets in gear and begins to rumble toward 103rd Street, we listen for Gary. And he just isn’t there. Alas, neither is Outta Here! in this tournament. The 7 Train grinds, squeaks, sputters but, in the end, rolls on.
Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (3) vs Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7)
Talk about old school against new school. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game encompasses everything about this beloved team’s beloved roots: Casey, Marv, Whitey Ashburn, Hot Rod Kanehl, Roger Craig, the Polo Grounds — the whole tragicomic bit. Jimmy Breslin’s volume describing their downs and further downs is as physically thin as the portfolio of 1962 Met wins but as rich as any baseball book for sheer color. And it’s been said you can’t be too rich or too thin. Just ask Jose Reyes. He’s lithe, he’s well-compensated and he’s writing a new chapter for another generation of fans. They love him every bit as much as the gang from Gilmore’s Tavern in Breslin’s book loved his shortstop predecessor Elio Chacon. (We used to think Pee Wee Reese was pretty good. That was until Elio Chacon came along.) There’s not much irony to the loyalty Jose inspires, just joy. “The New York Mets are in existence,” Breslin wrote, “for a simple reason: New York City needed them.” New York needed Reyes in its own way when he came into our lives in 2003. By 2006, the need had grown in intensity. The legend of the ’62 Mets will not diminish (an odd thing to say about a 40-win unjuggernaut). Yet the legend of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! is poised to only grow. Thus, new tops old in an upset. It will be the 7 Train versus the 7-seed on Saturday.
The Believe and Amazin’ regional semis get underway Friday night.