Yesterday I would not have believed
That tomorrow the sun would shine
Then one day you came into my life
I am alive again
—Chicago (the group, not the Cubs)
Five straight dreary night games gave way to a Saturday afternoon like few others in the history of the old multipurpose stadium hard by the Grand Central. Shea had, however, but one purpose as of 4:15 PM:
Mets. Victory. Tomorrow…now today.
Baseball gives us 162 games. May as well use them all. The Mets decided to take advantage of their full-season plan and show up for the penultimate date of the year like they haven't shown up since…who can even remember? And for those 99.99% of us who were writing off the 2007 Mets after only 98.76% of the games were accounted for, we have one purpose, too:
Root like hell to the very end.
Good night to night games. Good afternoon, sunshine. Good morning and welcome back to a tie for first place. Mets maul Marlins. Nats nip Phillies. After an incredible Saturday in the park, don't you know we're feeling alive?
Yes, I was at the game yesterday. Yes, it was an extraordinary experience. No, I didn't see it coming. No, I can't quite believe what's happened on the heels of everything else I couldn't quite believe happened. Yes, we are alive again. And yes, when I said goodbye to somebody who sat near me Saturday, I uttered words I never thought I'd hear myself saying after Friday night:
“See you in the playoffs.”
That wasn't Mets Marketing Dept. “Your Postseason Has Come” bravado, trust me. That wasn't the haughty, arrogant, presumptuous attitude that nearly killed us before the 162nd game. That was plain and simple confidence. It's too late for anything else.
Oh, here's another word I didn't utter for a very long time Saturday: no-hitter. In the wake of the pennant race developments that are foremost in any happy recap of this sanguine Saturday, it's not exactly sidebar material that the first no-hitter in Mets history was one squibbish roller and three outs away from occurring. John Maine, as you're probably keenly aware, had it Goin' On. This was the John Maine who was once National League Pitcher of the Month, who was once an All-Star candidate, who was once a pleasant surprise. This was that John Maine times a thousand.
Fourteen strikeouts. Overpowering. Untouchable. And 23 outs without a hit. The phrase I kept coming back to was “All right, John — let's go.” I heard myself saying it in the fourth after a pitch, so I just kept saying it. “All right, John — let's go.” And John went as long as he could. He still hasn't given up anything like a legitimate base hit. The dagger in the heart of history of course rolled 45 feet and not foul. When Paul Who?ver half-swung, half-bunted and totally fucked with our hearts, time kind of stopped. It wasn't going to get to Wright and Wright wasn't going to get to it and it wasn't going to cross over a line and this nonentity of a third-string catcher actually had the nerve to run instead of doing what big-shot ballplayers do when they're not sure where a ball is going. Doesn't Paul Who?ver know to just stand there and get thrown out?
With John Maine's 115th pitch, he was removed (I was already envisioning him lifted after eight regardless of no-hitter because Pitch Count Is All). I knew what was next. I knew we had to stand up and applaud Maine's brilliant stab at Met immortality. Then I knew we had to continue as he walked to the dugout. But I didn't have it in me. I clapped weakly and trudged away. I hadn't been to the bathroom the whole game (who's superstitious?) but mostly I had to go hit something (the vacated cheesesteak stand did nicely) and slam something (men's room door) into a wall lest I moisten anything (like a tissue).
Yeah, I know. Fourteen strikeouts. One hit. A large shutout in progress. Alive again where it matters. (And we're not the Pirates.) Why cry? But I think I can speak for the 54,675 in attendance when I say as Mets fans, we wanted this. We really wanted this after going without for 46 years. The first guy sitting near me who said, maybe in the fourth, “Maine looks good” was immediately shushed by three people. We knew we wanted this. What a sudden possibility the first no-hitter in Mets history became. How quickly it departed.
The longest no-hit bid in three years would come amid the first certifiable Mets brawl in eleven years. What a marriage of sublime and ridiculous. I watched highlights later and heard explanations on the radio, but from what I can tell, the Mets were letting out their pent-up frustrations and the Marlins suck as human beings. I'd seen the benches clear between these two teams six years ago (when Todd Zeile informed Brad Penny he could “suck on this for Shinjo” after a close shave and a homer), but never twice in one game and never with real action.
If they ever want to juice baseball ratings, they need to work in more mêlées. The crowd loves a good fight. The crowd instantly redeemed Jose Reyes' numbskullishness (RUN! IT'S FAIR! EVEN IF IT'S NOT! RUN!) after being the target of Miguel Olivo's rabid doggery. Who said nobody cares about the Marlins?
Fights are fun — you know it's fun when you see Paul Lo Duca playing peacemaker — unless you have a pitcher who has a no-hitter in progress sitting on the bench for an extra ten minutes. You just hoped Maine wouldn't run out there…and hoped that maybe Dontrelle Willis would be very proactive and maybe sacrifice his left arm for the honor of the teal and black before the morrow. No such luck on the latter as far as I know.
I'm not clear whether his general flashiness was a flashpoint in any of this, but Lastings Milledge played and hit two home runs and apparently didn't speed around the bases with his head down to somebody's satisfaction. It was wonderful after wondering if he'd retired or something to see Lastings with the lid off, sparking this club on offense like Maine did on defense. Big game for everybody, I suppose — David Newhan drove in an entire run, for goodness sake — but Milledge really bubbled up. Hope Willie doesn't decide Veteran Experience trumps the Lastings effect and start lefty Green (or lefty Staub) versus lefty Willis today. I'd also like to see Castro hitting and throwing though Glavine seems to prefer pitching to Lo Duca. I prefer Glavine not gag as he has lately on this, probably his final regular-season start as a Met, ever.
A day in the sun really whets your appetite for another. The Friday night crowd, as faithful as it was, had its share of Characters. Met Mobile Met Man and Met Cape Man and Met Man Who Feels Need To Lead Cheers, Man were all on the loose and drawing attention to themselves…how come Mr. Met isn't good enough for everybody? Though he didn't wear a costume, I got quite a kick out of the guy sitting next to Jim who insisted Ollie's control problems were for the best because hitting the Marlins three times in one inning intimidated them — as their 7-4 win would indicate.
They only come out at night, I suppose. The Saturday afternoon crowd in the mezzanine wasn't any calmer, just less bizarre, perhaps because the game was bizarre enough. I should qualify this assessment, however, to account for the sighting of what I must term The Four Morons of the Apocalypse. While the Mets were mounting their big lead, a quartet of, well, schmucks in Phillies caps and t-shirts proclaiming in blue and orange lettering CHOKE '07 paraded by with a Mr. Met doll in a noose. Wow, I thought, this Utley crew is really asking for it, both in terms of rocks and garbage (security escorted them out for their own safety) and karma. The Phillies have spent exactly one day alone in first place and your first move is to taunt the team behind them that was still technically alive? Hours later, they got it in spades.
What a bunch of Lohsebags.
You know what kind of day it was? After the no-hitter dissipated and after the top of the eighth ended and while the XM Singalong was touching me, touching you, a gentleman in an American flag t-shirt several rows behind me stood and began to sing, in full operatic splendor, “God Bless America”. I feared we had just invaded Iran. Never got an answer for why he did this. My friend, Jodie, a Saturday Section 10 regular (I think, based on her own reaction to the end of the no-hitter, that she's also my long-lost if non-identical twin sister), said he wasn't some highly cultured Kowalski; she'd never seen him there before. His spontaneous rendition reminded me of how Archie Bunker would attempt to stifle all argument with Meathead by bursting into patriotic song. Except this was actually beautiful — the dude could belt it out. We were all genuinely moved to join in.
“God Bless America,” indeed. When your season stops being over before it's over, you're not shy about invoking Anybody who may have had something to do with it.
Two other Saturday oddities:
• I saw Coop from My Summer Family again. When I say again, I mean as usual. I mentioned seeing her two weeks ago at the final disastrous Phillies game. Well, I ran into her Thursday night. And not only did I see her Friday night, but I was sitting behind her cousin (he was our section's self-appointed cheer squad). Saturday she was sitting two rows in front of me. 54,675 tickets sold and two bloggers wind up within easy phantom high-five distance of one another…again. We agreed that one of us is stalking the other. I assume I'll see her at Shea today. You can be certain I'll be there.
• I was supposed to change at Jamaica to get the train to Woodside on the way to the game but didn't. That may not sound like much, but it was momentous. I've never not gotten off at the right stop for a Mets game. Most of our train assumed we'd get a Woodside platform but we didn't. I kind of knew better — there was no announcement but the digital readout was a great hint. I just didn't act. I saw Woodside whoosh by and I wasn't terribly alarmed. Thus we had to go all the way to Penn Station and then grab a Port Washington train east to Shea.
Don't you see? I willfully, maybe passively ignored the danger signs that indicated I wasn't going to get where I was going the easy way. I let it go so far that I was bumped off-track from the route to my destination when in fact my destiny had plainly been in my own hands. I made it more difficult on myself than it had to be. Yet everything worked out all right in the end.
Sound like any team or season you know?