Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 358 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
8/31/01 F Florida 10-5 Leiter 27 130-97 W 6-1
Contrary to the evidence presented by the jerk sitting behind you, the putz in front of you and the moron a couple of seats over, Shea’s baseball IQ is usually quite impressive. As a group, we tend to get what’s going on. We understand the nuances of the game beyond liking home runs and abhorring strikeouts. When we see something extraordinary coming, we take note and we express our indigenous amazement.
Never more so than when Al Leiter would bat. Everybody knew Al Leiter couldn’t hit. Everybody knew Al Leiter was as likely to get a hit as Billy Crystal and that he was only slightly more qualified to take a turn in the order. Al Leiter didn’t know how to stand in the box, Al Leiter didn’t know how to hold his stick, Al Leiter was lucky not to fall down.
But when Al Leiter fought futility and futility didn’t win, everybody’s breath was taken away.
It happened once. I was there. For all the pitchers’ plate appearances I have seen at Shea Stadium, it will always be Al Leiter’s third time up on the night of August 31, 2001 that will stay with me. Should they ever foist the designated hitter on the National League, at least I will be able to say I’ve seen the one thing every Mets fan should be able to say he saw when it came to a pitcher batting.
I saw Al Leiter triple.
Watch Al Leiter as many times as I did, starting 37 regular-season games plus one in the playoffs, and you’re bound to see Al Leiter do everything. But triple?
Yeah. It happened. You don’t forget something like that. I imagine I saw Al do things with his bat other than swing like a barn door and hit nothing but air, but other than a well-timed single off Greg Maddux very late in 1999 (when six consecutive Mets singled off Greg Maddux as prelude to a John Olerud grand slam), I don’t remember. But I do remember the triple.
“John Franco told me that if I was running the whole time, I could’ve scored,” Al said after the game. “I don’t think so.”
I didn’t think so either. Then again I never would have thought we would see unfold what actually did.
It’s the seventh inning, the Mets have just gone up 3-1. Agbayani is on third. Ordoñez is on first (a rare enough occasion). Leiter’s preparing to get splinters on his hands. He tries to bunt once but it doesn’t work. He tries to bunt twice but it doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t. This is Al Leiter we’re talking about, versus Brad Penny no less. He’s oh-and-two with two runners on base about to be rendered loiterers. Nothing left for Al to do but strike out.
Except Al connects. I mean really connects. Past the grasp of the catcher, far from the pitcher, clear over the infield, mightily into short left-center. Preston Wilson comes running and running and diving.
He doesn’t catch it! The ball rolls in the general direction of the World’s Fair Marina and now it is Al Leiter who is running and running, and all of us, 23,020 of us — including Jason and Emily and me on our Tuesday/Friday plan — are running with him in spirit. The Marlins send out a St. Bernard to find the ball. Benny scores. Rey-Rey scores. Al is still running. Or chugging. Maybe straggling. But he has not quit. He makes it to first. He touches second. He’s going to third. He lands there safely.
HE HAS A TRIPLE!
It is as if we are all out of breath. It is as if we have all raised our season average to .061. It is as if we have all surprised ourselves. Everybody exults. Nobody asks what the big deal is, why this three-bagger is different from all other three-baggers. Everybody understands what we have accomplished.
WE HAVE A TRIPLE!
This one belongs to Al Leiter and his Sheawide entourage, the 20,000-plus who have jogged and sprinted alongside him as best we can. Fans love it when their pitcher homers, but for a pitcher to triple…for this pitcher to triple…that’s beyond what Tim McCarver said about triples being better than sex. I don’t think you can print in a family blog the kind of ecstasy this feels like.
It was the first triple of Al Leiter’s career. Also, the last triple of Al Leiter’s career. The two RBI that secured his win on that last night of August were his first two for the season. Almost a month later, he managed another, and the next year, two more. That would account for all five of the runs he batted in after the millennium was celebrated, even if Al Leiter did pitch clear into 2005 in the league where he was compelled to attempt to hit. He would wind up batting .065 in ’01, .084 as a Met, .085 overall.
The odds that you could buy a ticket to Shea Stadium and see Al Leiter pitch weren’t very long. Like I said, I saw him do that 38 separate times. Al and I were on the same cycle. You’d think we joined a convent together or something. But to pay your way in, sit yourself down and then jump yourself up and cheer him on a full 270 feet around the bases…successfully? That’s literally once-in-a-lifetime stuff.