Getting your bearings when you show up in the middle of a radio broadcast is always hard, and generally at least mildly comical.
So it was with me, back in New York more or less for keeps. The second the plane from Salt Lake City hit tarmac at JFK, I flipped on my radio. Something big was going on — that much was obvious. The crowd was roaring “JOSE! JOSE! JOSE! JOSE!” The crowd sure didn't sound like it was on the wrong end of a 7-1 score. But then Howie and Tom were talking about a fracas, something Jose was in the middle of. Jose Oliva Alomar DiFelice Not Thrown out Bucknor Now at Third JOSE JOSE JOSE JOSE. That's what I was left trying to process, with my ear and the earbud and the radio and my hand and the airplane window making a rather ludicrous sandwich.
Oh my goodness, I thought — have the Mets finally engaged in their first fisticuffs since Pete Harnisch decided Scott Servais's attitude would be improved by some shots to the jaw? I was briefly pleased — it's fairly amazing and somehow faintly unmanly for a baseball team to go 11 years between dust-ups, and Reyes seemed not to have been excused from the proceedings. But then I got paranoid. Maybe things aren't so good after all. Maybe I'm hearing the crowd finally releasing all its emotions because the Marlins are up 4-1 but the Mets are being rather literal about showing some fight.
Nope. As if he'd known I'd be coming in late, Howie Rose rather breathlessly noted that there was a lot going on for a game that was only half-over. The Mets are up 10-0 and John Maine is throwing a no-hitter, he explained.
It took forever to get home — JFK to the Van Wyck to the LIE to the BQE, with traffic all the way. I didn't care. The cabbie had the game on, and obligingly turned it up for me. As Maine came closer and closer to history, I found myself fretting. How typical for the Mets' first no-hitter to be a deck instead of a hed. (Newspaper talk, but you get the idea.) One of the first Faith and Fear blog posts I ever wrote in my head was about the aftermath of that impossible-to-imagine feat. After Andino's ball took a funhouse hop off Wright's knee to Reyes' glove, I started wondering if I should stick to the program and unleash that long-ago-composed post, or scrap it for the bigger news of the day. Mike Jacobs struck out as the taxi neared Brooklyn Heights (five outs to go), so I started worrying about jinxes. What if I walk in the door and some Marlin call-up immediately gets a hit? Shouldn't I stay out on the stoop listening to the radio? But that's insane — Maine was recording outs when I was 30,000 feet over the Midwest. And all the time I'm worrying about the Phillies and tomorrow and what it all means, annoyed with myself for being preoccupied with the sideshow of the no-hitter when we were still trying to ram our way back into the big top.
The Mets being the Mets, Maine of course didn't do it — Paul Hoover's little worm-killer won him admission to the Clubhouse of Curses, and Maine had to content himself with a performance that was merely godlike. Paul Hoover, Jeez Louise. Tom McCarthy was going on and on about how the Marlins' lineup was now without Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera (whose pathetic sloth would probably have gotten him thrown out, had he switched places with Hoover). Tom clearly thought this was of import, but I was shaking my head. Didn't he know it's always the guy you've never heard of — the Kit Pellow or Jimmy Qualls of the roster? Paul Hoover is a 31-year-old journeyman catcher who arrived at the ballpark today with eight career hits. Of course it was going to be him. If you'd told me the Marlins would keep us in the no-no cold with a 45-foot dribbler with two outs in the eighth and showed me the roster, I would have pointed right to Hoover. Because I'd never, ever heard of him.
And you know what? Who cares. Maine pitching a one-hitter, Maine pitching a no-hitter, Anderson Hernandez getting the win in emergency relief in the 23rd inning — the only thing that mattered today was that W. And we got it, and the L from Philadelphia a couple of hours later. (And a much-needed L from San Diego not long after that, with the Padres' postseason celebration was delayed by Tony Gwynn Jr. Baseball doesn't need surrealists — the surreal is built into the very fabric of the game.)
Our season could have ended today, but it didn't. And now matters are clear: Win, and get to play at least one more game. For a team that's battled complacency and a fan base that's struggled with its own expectations, that stark simplicity should concentrate the mind marvelously. Tomorrow is enormously simple and simply enormous.