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March Metness: On to the Larry Elliot Eight

Favorites carried the flag in the first night of Rick Sweet 16 action, with both 1-seeds advancing. Would the story be same the second night? Let’s check the March Metness [1] results from Friday.

BELIEVE REGION SEMIFINALS
The Happy Recap (1) vs Seinfeld (4)
Jerry Seinfeld is the celebrity fan in all of Metsdom. He knows his way to his seat because he’s had it for years. The television show that shot him to stardom reflected his true blue & orange fealty. No regularly scheduled network television program did more to promote the cause of the Mets than Seinfeld. The Keith Hernandez episode is the one that springs to the collective mind first, but don’t forget “The Subway,” in which Jerry encounters the naked guy and dissects the Mets’ hitting — Bonilla, Murray; speed — Coleman; and leadership — Franco, while dismissing any worries over Doc Gooden’s rotator cuff surgery. “They got pitching,” he tells the naked guy. All right, so Jerry was wrong about the ’92 Mets, but that stuff doesn’t wind up in a script unless somebody knows what he’s talking about. Of course tipping the cap toward this TV show’s informed baseball content leaves a pretty big matzoh ball hanging out there. We all know who George Costanza wound up working for. Sure he may have gone to extremes in his failed attempt to quit and move across town for a better job (did the 1997 Mets shape up as so lame that they would want to hire George Costanza as director of scouting?), humming a nearly accurate “Meet The Mets” along the way, but Seinfeld’s Mets cred took a beating when the Yankees became George’s employer. Even the sound of Bob Murphy’s voice in the final half-hour ep of the series (the gang leaves Shea early and listens on the car radio only to run up against the Puerto Rican Day Parade) can’t quite compensate for that faux pas. Besides, Seinfeld was famously about nothing. Murph and his Happy Recap meant everything.

The Franchise (3) vs Baseball Like It Oughta Be (7)
Other teams have franchise players, but only one has The Franchise (and we’re not talking Steve Francis). Other teams play ball well, but only one played Baseball Like It Oughta Be (the ’96 Cardinals used that slogan to reflect the return of grass to Busch Stadium, but come now). Tom Seaver and the ’86 Mets are, respectively, the genuine articles of their type in team history: definitive ballplayer, definitive ballclub. They crossed paths in the 1986 World Series, Seaver from the Disabled List, the Mets from on high. Would have The Franchise stymied his old franchise? Could have Tom Seaver, 41 years old, done for the Red Sox what Al Nipper didn’t? We’ll never know. Maybe we didn’t want to find out. It’s hard to think anyone could stop those Mets; even young Roger Clemens couldn’t. But for all the 108-win greatness of those Oughta Be Mets, they left behind no single player who looms as large as The Franchise. With the possible exception of Mike Piazza — imported and here for a shorter tenure — no active-duty man in uniform has had close to the kind of impact on the Mets that Seaver did. Baseball Like It Oughta Be spoke volumes. The Franchise says it all. Tom Seaver and the nickname he inspired clear their throats now for a Sunday showdown with The Happy Recap.

AMAZIN’ REGION SEMIFINALS
Mr. Met (1) vs Pete Rose (5)
You can’t have your team without their team. And they can’t have their team without somebody you can’t stand. Was there anyone who went unstood by Mets fans longer or harder than Pete Rose? His career makes Chipper Jones look like a Larry Come Lately. For twenty-five seasons he came to New York and got under our skin — started doing it as a visitor to the Polo Grounds when he beat out Ron Hunt for Rookie of the Year. Taunted Tom Seaver at the ’69 All-Star Game even though the surging Mets were the talk of baseball: “You’re lucky to be where you are,” he said. (To which Tom answered, “Pete, we’ve got some guys who can get the ball over the plate.”) The takeout slide of Buddy escalated his infamy, though it’s worth noting his clutch and late home runs in Games One and Four of that ’73 NLCS didn’t improve his approval ratings among Mets fans. When Pete Rose became a free agent in 1978, the Mets made him, in their own half-assed manner, an offer. He wasn’t shy about scoffing before signing with Philadelphia. No hard feelings from the Mets, though. They gave him a day at Shea the next April, honoring his having set a new modern N.L. hit streak record at Shea the previous summer. He got standing ovations then (as he did upon having hit three homers in a Saturday game that same year). He was received warmly now. And how did Pete Rose address the Mets fans, his erstwhile tormentors? Did he acknowledge the irony, the shared history, the special relationship? No. He told the sparse gathering between games of a Mets-Phillies doubleheader, “it’s you fans who make me go-go-go!” He could have been talking to a Little League banquet. Detente ended. Pete Rose stayed with the Phillies long enough to become the first face booed lustily on DiamondVision when it debuted in 1982. In his final year as a player, back with the Reds, he inserted himself into the Cincinnati lineup and stroked the three-run single that led to the dismantling of Doctor K, ending Dwight Gooden’s captivating 37-5 stretch on May 11, 1986 in an irksome 3-2 loss. Pete Rose’s lifetime average versus the Mets was .302. Felt higher, probably because Rose was such an overwhelming and irritating presence. His head was figuratively as big as Mr. Met’s is literally. But Pete was a way bigger ass. Pete Rose may be the quintessential Met opponent, but we’ll take ours over theirs when the chips are on the table. Mr. Met hustles past Rose and into the Larry Elliot Eight.

Kiner’s Korner (3) vs Buckner (2)
Best story to come out of Ralph’s treasure trove of tales regarded his interview of the reticent Choo Choo Coleman. He was famously reticent, choosing to keep his own counsel save for calling everybody bub. Actually, he was famous for his manner mostly because Ralph made his tick so unforgettable. Choo Choo didn’t want to elaborate his thoughts a whole lot, which made it tough to ask him questions. But that was Ralph’s job, so he lobbed him a softball: “What’s your wife’s name, Choo Choo, and what’s she like?” The immortal response: “Her name’s Mrs. Coleman, bub, and she likes me.” Ralph has a million of ’em. We are well off for it. It’s hardly fair to compare 45 going on 46 seasons of enchantment with the one moment that enchanted us beyond all others. But that’s what March Metness is about. So let’s put it this way: Kiner’s Korner came on after home games. Buckner kept the most miraculous of home games from ending. A season and a championship dream, too. When it’s put that way, a close decision goes to Buckner. Will Bill ever get revenge on the Mets? He’ll have his chance when the Amazin’ final brings him the head of Mr. Met.

Saturday will bring us the Miracle and Magic regional finals.