Alert the dairies: we need to post pictures of people on the sides of milk cartons. Lots of people. The boxscore says there were 45,321 in attendance at Shea Stadium Monday night, but my educated estimate tells me we started with no more than 18,000 and simple fingers 'n' toes counting says we ended with approximately 800.
Where did everybody go? And can we save one milk carton for the Met momentum that's gone missing again?
Better yet, make it ice cream. Or iced tea. Or just ice, like the glacier that Shea froze into between frigid Sunday and bitter Monday.
Very bitter Monday.
This was, as my partner suggests, one of those games you associate with a winter night, not so much because you should think of it in winter, but because I can attest first-hand that it was in fact played in winter. Seems like an all right idea when the calendar indicates it actually is winter. I've experienced those baseball-crazed January evenings when I've thought, man, it would be great to be at Shea right now, even if outside is as cold as the inside of a Slurpee cup, even if the wind is howling like a Crazy Eddie commercial and even if I'm wearing so many clothes that my old Nixon Administration cronies in the Pentagon call me Melvin R. Layered.
Forgive the subtopical references, for it was sub-subtropical weather and then some on Monday night. It made Sunday afternoon feel like, well, a good day for baseball. There haven't been many of those this season — nor much good baseball.
I honestly thought we were scaling a hump after the weekend. The Mets seemed so competent twice against the Reds and so all-around able before leaving L.A. and pretty darn good in Phoenix. Peel the layers of the onion, however, and you remember that it was all potentially illusory: we always win in Arizona and we always beat up on Brad Penny and Cincinnati is Cincinnati when Bronson Arroyo isn't pitching.
We're still not all that ept. We're still in a two-season .500 groove, 74-74 at last check from May 30, 2007 through May 12, 2008. We're still capable of looking overmatched by the Washington Nationals on nights barely fit for taking on the Washington Redskins. It may be a different year, but with the Nats piling on the extra points and the Mets' prevent defense preventing nothing, it may as well have been last September.
Except it was warmer then.
Given that I had barely withstood six innings of elements on Sunday and that weather.com was giving me no better than a 40% chance of not precipitation (and a 60% chance of feeling my extremities), I was in the counterintuitive position of sort of rooting for a don't-screw-with-us rainout until about three in the afternoon. That was when my friend Mike Steffanos told me he was leaving from his home in the wilds of Connecticut to reach Shea by car, train, subway and sleigh. Once Mike begins his journey, it would be cruel not to play — in theory.
Mike, high-quality company regardless of low-grade score, graciously secured the best seats I've sat in this season to date: Loge, Section 3, Row B (providing a vantage point so fine it deserves capitalization). This is the part of Loge that's treated by Shea personnel as Field Level, Jr., akin to a Forest Hills living room where plastic covers the ancient sofa because oh no, we don't sit on that. An usher actually bothered to chase strays out of noticeably vacant Row A in the late innings. “I could lose my job,” he pleaded to a father who was miffed that he and his two boys were booted after three innocent pitches.
You mean there are firing offenses at Shea Stadium?
I wish no man deprived his livelihood, not a humble just-followin'-orders usher, not a sweet kid from Lincoln High who couldn't find the strike zone with a compass (though I'll have to get back to you on the older kid from Brooklyn who doesn't seem to be managing very well this year or last). I would, however, like to stop scooping small solace from being among the hardy handful that sits through 13-1 and 10-4 beheadings to their completions as spring then becomes the winter. The fine print on the back of the ticket declares nothing about the pursuit of happiness where competitiveness is concerned. I thought it was kind of implied that the Mets could hang with the Pirates or Nationals on any given date this season. Maybe not.
But for all my morning moaning, I can say, for the second time in a two-week span, I was there. I was there at the end of one of these things. I was among, I swear, maybe 800 people when Saul Rivera retired Carlos Delgado to put it in books nobody will ever check out of their local library. When I deduced that the final out would probably be registered by Delgado, who bore the brunt of the boos that weren't directed at Lastings Milledge (what'd he do other than change uniforms at the Mets' behest?), I figured Carlos would hear it but good. But he didn't. When there are 800 of you in the stands and one of them on the field, you're kind of in this together. A Mets fan who remained to the 195th and final minute of yet another abortion of a debacle of a disaster of a game probably wasn't the kind of Mets fan who stuck around to boo.
Or if he was, he knew not to because Delgado could easily pick him out from 800 people and come after him with a bat — and tap him to the second baseman.