If you can remember all the way back to May 17 (as in 17 runs surrendered), the Mets scored five runs in the ninth inning against the Cubs to secure a most unlikely 6-5 victory at Shea. I was at that game, endured eight mediocre innings and almost left. Almost. Instead, I changed seats and was treated to what stands as the in-person comeback of a lifetime. I came home and divined one lesson of many from that afternoon was “play the full nine, stay the full nine.”
I haven’t been particularly reliable about taking in first pitches lately, but I’m almost always around for the end, whether at Shea or on the couch. This week’s three-night Festival of Humidor Destruction has adhered to that pattern. I seemed to miss the competitive portions, a.k.a. the first innings, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but once it became apparent that these games had become follies, I hung in there to watch them become history.
The Fourth of July followed the examples set on the Second and Third. We were deep into our 17th (as in 17 runs surrendered, it bears repeating) annual viewing of 1776 (as in 17 runs surrendered, it bears repeating yet again) when the Mets and Rockies began to get it on at Coors. As is tradition, I forego baseball and everything else for this movie. Thus, the Mets had to start without me — not a bad deal for them as they jumped to a 3-0 lead in my absence. David Wright belted a home run, inspired no doubt by John Adams’ words when he recruited Thomas Jefferson to serve on the Declaration of Independence committee:
This business needs a Virginian.
The same could be said for our tattered rotation and John Maine’s upcoming turn in it, but as ever, I digress. We paused the disc once or twice to monitor doings in Denver, unfazed by an early 3-3 score. We weren’t winning, but at least we weren’t losing. It’s effing Colorado, after all; 3-3 in the third is no more definitive than 3-3 in the NBA. Once our DVD was over (spoiler alert: we’re not British), Stephanie called me upstairs to peer out the bathroom window, our best southern exposure. We had a panoramic look at no fewer than nine different fireworks displays, sanctioned or otherwise. No Aaron Copland accompaniment, but no crowds either. Nice show.
Twenty minutes of peering complete, I head back downstairs. It’s the bottom of the fifth. We’re losing 7-4, a runner’s on first. Discouraging, but not devastating. It’s still Colorado unless they’ve moved it. Plus, there were two outs. Mota’s pitching. He gives up a foul grounder. Oh wait, it’s called fair for some strange reason. First and second. Then Matsui pokes one between Delgado and Valentin. Thought one of ‘em could get it. 8-4. Damn. Ball in the hole to Reyes. He can get the runner. No, Holliday beats it out.
And that appeared to be the best part of the game I would see. In a matter of seconds it would be 12-4 and a few minutes later it would be 15-5 and they told two friends and they scored two runs and so on and so on and so on.
Anyway, through eight the Mets were losing 17 to 6, giving me some morbid consolation that it was an appropriate score on a day when we commemorate 1776. But then the ninth rolled around and reminded me why I like baseball so much.
1) Paul Lo Duca led off and saw 14 pitches before grounding out to third. Down eleven runs, he worked the count to 3-2 and then fouled off eight consecutive Matt Herges deliveries. Talk about never giving up. Lo Duca doesn’t think “let’s get this over with, let’s get showered, let’s get on the bus, let’s get to Houston.” He’s just “next pitch…” I’m sure there’s a graph somewhere that would illustrate the Mets’ likelihood of storming back from eleven behind in the ninth was nil (a little Best of Thomas Paine would also do the trick). But watching a baseball player hang in there in impossible circumstances…well that’s why you sit around all winter and stare out your southern exposure. You wait for baseball. You wait for 6-5 rallies in the ninth, of course, but you wait just as much, in a way, for Paul Lo Duca to not care that it’s 17-6 in the ninth and foul off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch.
2) As noted, Lo Duca battles for 14 pitches and reaps nothing more than an atom ball and an atta boy. Next batter, Carlos Beltran, hits the first pitch he sees far, fair and for a double. That, too, is baseball. It evens out in the oddest ways. Beltran comes around on a single and a sac fly to make it 17-7, thus ruining my 1776/17-to-6 symmetry, but that’s OK. Nice to see the Mets taking ninth innings seriously even if their pitchers mostly laughed off this entire series.
3) I laughed a great deal during the latter portions of Lo Duca’s epic at-bat when Keith Hernandez compared Paul to Bruce Willis. What, you mean like Die Hard? asked Gary Cohen — who admitted during some desperate blowout chatter that he doesn’t go to the movies during the season. Between pitches, the announcers tried to remember the name of the latest Willis action thriller, one whose exploding title (Live Free or Die Hard) chewed up much screen space during ads on Mets telecasts not two weeks ago. Gary’s guess was Die Hard and Like It.
I can’t say why for sure, but that cracked me up. Die Hard and Like It. Captures Hollywood’s sequel ethic perfectly. Describes what this road trip has become, too. Anything one finds funny as a 17-7 decision and a four-game losing streak go final must be worth staying tuned for.