When they brought the Antichrist back, it wasn't a sure thing we'd face him. Then it looked like their rotation wasn't aligned for another meeting. And that was fine with me. It's an old hatred by now, a grudge that involves vanished players and distant times. I can reach back and bring the causes back to life, but a lot of the hatred has become ritualistic, received wisdom — Greeks and Turks, Shiites and Sunnis, Hatfields and McCoys. Long ago something happened, and now we hate.
It didn't help that yesterday was one of those rarest of days in a baseball season — a day your baseball team isn't playing and you're glad. It seems crazy — in January you'd traverse the desert to see three scoreless innings between the Angels and the Rangers — but it does happen, and Thursday was proof. Did any of us want to see the Mets take the field after their humiliation by the Dodgers and apparently mute acceptance of same? They needed a day off. We needed a day off. But with Clemens and the Yankees on deck, that day off was inevitably spent bemoaning everything that had happened and fretting about everything that might happen.
Tonight was our final night on LBI, and Emily and I hijacked the TV and provided a running lesson in Met history and hatreds for our housemates. Two of our friends have an eight-year-old son, and we were off and running when he asked, “Why do you hate him so much?” I left the explanation to Emily and she provided, delivering a capsule biography that included Piazza, the bat shard, headhunting and hiding behind the DH. (I might have removed myself from consideration by telling Joshua, “You know how we say we don't want bad things to happen to any person? Well, that doesn't apply here. The Yankee pitcher is a very, very bad man, and if an asteroid crushes him, Mommy and Daddy will be happy.” Oh, and I also tried to convince the eight-year-old that you could see the stump of his tail. And if I were in a court of law, I would have to admit to saying he colored his hair with the blood of innocent children. What?)
The game itself was light on historical digressions, because they never would have ended. How could you sum up the rancid brew of emotions that churned in our guts when Oliver lost the plate and finally threw a strike that wound up with Carlos Gomez feeling for the left-field fence on a ball that was obviously going to be a home run? I mean, where to start? Todd Zeile hitting a ball to pretty much the same spot, only in that game the smartest Yankee fan on earth is in the seat and doesn't touch the ball, and Timo Fucking Perez doesn't fucking run and Derek Jeter does what Derek Jeter does and Armando Fucking Benitez walks Paul O'Neill and we're doomed, doomed, doomed. And of course it's hit by Miguel Cairo, one of the more useless Mets of recent memory who regards his time at Shea like we regard three hours spent in the DMV. And Gomez is a baby whose outfield play has been a little shaky considering all his talent and there are 55,000 baying on the biggest regular-season baseball stage of all. Telling the backstory of that one would scare any eight-year-old away from the game — best to avoid any sport where one home run barely sneaking over a fence can unleash such a geyser of bile and pain.
Only it isn't a home run. Two Yankee fans whiff on the ball. Gomez makes a great catch. Hideki Matsui is halfway to third for no apparent reason. Inning-ending double play and Oliver has escaped the hangman.
And while our offense was still pretty slumbery (the baseball newcomers were introduced to the concept of the golden sombrero courtesy of poor Delgado), Reyes' satellite-killer and Gomez's wheels were enough. Clemens disappeared (no doubt to turn into sulfurous vapor in the shower), Joe Smith got A-Rod, Captain Intangibles' double didn't kill us and we were home free . I'm not sure how exactly 2-9 feels like a ticket to the Promised Land, but it does.