What an appetizer for the feast that is interleague baseball in New York: one of those back-from-the-dead games that keep you in your seat or in front of the TV for years.
Eight years, in fact — we last overcame a four-run deficit in the ninth on May 23, 1999 off Curt Schilling and the Phillies. I remember it well, because I was at Dodger Stadium, watching the Cardinals and the Dodgers duke it out. (Literally — there was a brawl, which the Dodger Stadium powers-that-be reacted to by playing “Bad Boys,” that reggae song from “Cops,” instead of pretending nothing was happening, as they do at Shea.) I was scoreboard-watching, and couldn't help noticing that the ninth inning in New York seemed to be taking a long time — until somehow, the Mets had won. I'll admit I didn't quite believe it — scoreboard operators could make mistakes about games three time zones away, after all — so I raced back to my hotel and impatiently waited for Headline News to confirm the amazing details, ending with Roger Cedeno drumming his heels merrily in the dirt as Schilling stared in amazement, stuck with a screeched-to-a-halt 8.2 innings pitched and an unlikely loss.
Ruben Gotay didn't drum his heels, but he seemed happy enough. As was I, needless to say. I'd been paying fitful attention to the TV at work, amused by Willie's ad hoc lineup, mildly impressed by a not-bad start from Jason Vargas, relieved to see Jose Jose Jose being manic in the dugout, a bit sad to see us undone by former Cyclones heartthrob Angel Pagan, but ultimately accepting of what certainly looked like a loss in which bullets would be saved for later in the season.
As the ninth built, I admired Willie for sticking with the JV — after today, Gotay would storm a machine-gun nest if Randolph told him to. It was a surprise to see Shawn Green called back (let the record show I've cast aside my flirtation with scapegoating him — too nice a guy), but then I jumped over to ESPN.com to check Batter vs. Pitcher stats and found he was 2 for 22 off Scott Eyre with 10 Ks. Never let it be said that Willie doesn't occasionally look up a stat. Wright may never have pinch-hit before, but he grasped that Eyre desperately needed to throw strike one lest Piniella exile two relievers to the cargo hold on the plane back to Chicago. Mindful of all this, he didn't let that first fastball go by, though it came perilously close to being a diving stab by Izturis and a bang-bang play to double Endy off second and end the game. Then it was time for Delgado to somehow find a hole with Ryan Theriot playing halfway, and he did. Bedlam!
A work pal and I, meanwhile, were carrying on this IM conversation, preserved for posterity. I'm proud of my cheerful confidence, not so proud of my initial lack of faith in Delgado. (Though hey, tell me you didn't think GIDP when that roller came off the bat.)
Brian: who the hell is at bat?
Me: ruben gotay, baby!
Brian: are you kidding?
Me: he's gonna be ruben GODEEP!
Brian: he's hacking away on a guy who cant throw strikes
Me: no worries, it'll happen
Brian: i take it all back
Me: lou is going to beat dempster to death on the mound
Me: that was the sound of steam shooting out of lou's ears
Me: delgado will ground into a dp
Brian: youve got DP Delgado up
Me: see above
Brian: he doesnt even look confident anymore
Me: he'll get it done
Me: my god i love baseball
And now, the Yankees. Should they somehow sweep us, they'll be all the way back to … .500. Quite an accomplishment. Should we sweep them and some other things go right, we could send them off to the Boston executioner in last place. We'll see how much the morning papers make of our current disparity in fortunes: I could see the army of Yankee media propagandists wallowing in the woes of the Order of the Vertical Swastika, but I could also see the usual hyperventilating about mystique and aura and how the Mets are trying to make this their town but Captain Overrated and his band of hearties will dig deep, blah blah blah.
I'm going to try to ignore it, because that crap's annoying. But it won't work: By first pitch I'll of course have turned myself into an emotional pretzel and be engaged in screaming at the TV, just like every other year. Because what's not annoying about the Subway Series is the jet-engine roar of the stadium completely full and pumping adrenaline, or the way every partisan on either side treats every pitch like life or death for three innings or so until everybody's so tired that they're forced to pace themselves. It'll be a revelation for Joe Smith and Damion Easley and some of the other newcomers; it'll be a reminder for me that underneath all the manufactured nonsense you get three fever-pitch games that an entire city will spend the weekend buzzing about. And that's pretty cool.
Like all good-hearted Mets fans, I wish the Yankees ill — it pisses me off when they win a spring-training game. I daydream about a generation of lean years, about the V.S. headgear dwindling until it's worn furtively by old men and dim thugs and a few misguided children. (Not so different than now, but we're talking smaller numbers.) I imagine a world in which everything the Yankees did would be automatically compared to a Mets standard, even if that would just be a mirror image of our current daily exhibits of stupidity by lazy sportswriters.
But recently I've begun to wonder if such dreams are really good for us.
The Human Fight once brought me up short by noting, in a discussion of the increasing obnoxiousness of post-2004 Red Sox Nation, that once you're somewhere north of 2 million fans, you're going to attract your share of jerks. It's a very good point, though we shouldn't let it lead us to reflexively scorn newcomers — each and every one of us had his or her first day as a Met fan, after all. As our renaissance continues, some of those new fans will be true to the orange and blue for life. But some of them — maybe a lot of them — will be soulless front runners.
I love New York City, but it's home to a ridiculously large number of such people. Now, soulless front runners are slow on the uptake, the Yankees have been good for a long time, and we've only been good for a short time — because of all that, most soulless front runners currently fancy themselves Yankee fans. (I guarantee this annoys real Yankee fans, too.) If the Yankees get bad and we stay good, the soulless front runners will indeed take off their Yankee caps. But their next move won't be to hide in their apartments and shut the fuck the up for the rest of their lives, unfortunately — they'll go out, buy our caps without an ounce of shame, and start woofing about the Mets. This pool of New York asshole semi-fans' sole loyalty is to fashion and the standings. If you're wishing statistical famine on the Yankees, you're accepting that this tide would start washing up on our shores.
Put another way, some of my friends bemoan the march of crappy chain restaurants and touristy bars into New York City. I like to counter with a fervent plea for more such places — if there were a Planet Hollywood on every corner, it would be like a drain to suck down the clueless, leaving more room for the rest of us at more-interesting locales. The Yankees are the Planet Hollywood of baseball — a glitzy, soulless, overheated brand name for dolts and louts to gawk at. Close down Planet Hollywood, and those dolts and louts might crowd you out of your local spot. So peace of a sort be on you, Yankees. From now on, I wish you just enough success to keep the mooks hypnotized by your various three-ring circuses.
But not this weekend, of course.