On Tuesday as the Home Opener got away from the home team, I heard myself think “I'm glad I'm not watching this at home,” as if any barrier more substantial than four decks from the field wouldn't let me cope with the rampant futility at hand. Friday night, after having turned down a ticket from two different sources, I wasn't at all unhappy that I was missing reaching out and touching Nelson Figueroa's flirtation with perfection.
It played better on TV.
If I were at Shea, I would have crossed my fingers and counted the outs and all until the inevitable imperfection smudged Figgie's pitching line. I would have sat in the fog, said “oh well” and gotten back to the business of rooting, moderately aware that this was a hometown boy making good. When it was over, I would have dug a Babylon schedule from my bag and left, conscious mostly of what I saw last, not what I saw early.
But from the living room, I could see and hear what was really going on, that this was Mets fantasy camp come north and come true.
We criticize SNY for reasons overwhelming and petty, and no doubt we will continue to do so, but on Friday night, we saw the power of television when deployed for good. We got the closeups of Figueroa. We got the cutaways to the bulging box of Figgie's family — and the information that their accommodations came courtesy of the Sandman, the first of two Billy Wagner saves on the evening. We got the interviews with the father and the son from trusty Kevin Burkhardt. We got Gary and Ron narrating the drama as well as calling the pitches. We got the whole picture on television.
I'm not interested in turning this into a critique of SNY right now, so let's just say they did their job just about as well as Nelson Figueroa did his, and we know he did a swell job. There would be no no-hitter, no perfect game, but this was one of those nights that was perfect enough, fulfilling if not flawless…not unlike, for two examples that came to mind while watching, Bobby Jones' one-hitter against the Giants in 2000 and Rick Anderson's no-decision in the callup he'd waited forever for in 1986.
There were elements of nights like those that served as precedent for Nelson Figueroa's excellent adventure, but ultimately, April 11, 2008 was a Shea original. This was the kid who — unlike Seaver, unlike Gooden, unlike Santana later today weather permitting, unlike all the greats and not-so-greats who have thrown the first pitch that counted on a given night in that old house — really, really, really cared that it was taking place where it was. A few Mets over the years have raised the issue of playing in New York as something they aspired to as youngsters growing up in New York rooting for the Mets. Never did they look or sound as convincing as Figueroa in terms of what it actually meant.
No wonder it meant something to someone like me. Usually a Met win can be credited to any pitcher not named Hitler, bin Laden or Clemens and it makes me no never mind. Once in a great while, however, you get choosy. If there's a chance that the win can go to someone who you can imagine checking the Mets yearbook and marveling at the presence of his very own picture, maybe even clicking on to his very own Ultimate Mets Database page, choosy Mets fans would choose Nelson Figueroa.
When Wagner who lent out his box ($200 bricks, $8 beers, closers with suites…don't wake Branch Rickey) recorded one of the most authoritative saves of his Mets career, I was the most excited I'd been since this shaky season began. Our four previous wins — even the walkoff won on the wings of Angel — served only to remind me that triumphs in April can be canceled out if you don't keep compiling them through September (yeah, I'm that screwed up from 2007). This, though…this was different. This was better than anything we've witnessed to date in '08. This was the Figueroas piling into their stationwagon and one of their boys drawn at random to participate in a Dynamets Dash whose route ran right to the mound and straight to a W.
No wonder, fog be damned, it looked so perfect on TV.