First thing I heard when drifting from my Saturday sluggishness was Howie Rose telling me Derek Jeter had just homered against the Mets.
“Hey, hey, hey!” as I used to hear through habitually half-asleep ears on early Saturday afternoons — it's the Subway Series! And from what I could tell, it was another repeat. Jeter was homering, Pettitte was in command, the Mets were immediately in arrears and I wished I could turn over and resume napping.
“Subway Series, they should call you tedious.”
“Tedious? Why is that, Fat Albert?”
“'Cause you the same thing year in, year out.”
OK, I'm no Bill Cosby when it comes to producing punchlines, but the 61st episode of this intermittent weekend staple had a few surprises more than I could have inferred from its unpromising start. Hey, hey, hey, it turns out, you can always learn something from the Subway Series.
Lesson 1: It doesn't have to be tedious.
The blessed soul of Dave Mlicki notwithstanding, my impression of Subway Series games at Yankee Stadium is the Mets give up five in the first and then slowly fall away. Obviously we've had a few successes since 1997, but my perspective is tinged mostly by the one SS@YS I took in personally in 2000 — on a Saturday afternoon, no less:
Them 13 Us 5, me and Rob Emproto again squirming away before it was over. Pettitte started and won. Jeter went 3-for-5 and homered. Some yutz sitting behind us in left yelled at Jason Tyner “hey TYNER, make an ERROR” and, by cracky, that's what he did. (Ah, good times.)
It doesn't have to be that way. Saturday afternoons at Yankee Stadium can be beneficial to the human race. Saturday afternoons at Yankee Stadium have actually had their moments through the Subway Series years. We were, to my surprise, 5-4 on Saturday afternoons at Yankee Stadium coming into this Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. More shockingly, most of the wins were of the uncompetitive variety. We won four of them by impressive scores like 11-2, 8-1, 10-3 and 8-3. They didn't make up for that 13-5 beatdown (they never do), but they felt good when they were in progress.
Today's was different. Today's was an actual good game, a good competitive game, one in which we came back and one in which we staved off. I'll always take the Us 11 Them 2 romps, but for unbiased entertainment scintillation, you could do worse than seeing all your pieces — starting, closing, hitting, running, fielding, throwing, blocking, sheer winning — coalesce for Us 7 Them 4.
Lesson 2: It's nine innings, not one or four or seven.
I was distressed in the first. I was defiant in the third and fourth. I was ebullient in the seventh. I was still uncertain in the ninth, until Billy Wagner righted himself against Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg (and if you can't right yourself against Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg, nobody wants to hear what you have to say about anything else). It took nine innings for the Mets to put away the Yankees. It took watching 40 games to see them play one that merits mini-classic consideration. It took two days to forget how annoying they can be.
The FAN has been playing a promo in which Paul Lo Duca unexpectedly calls Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts and gets on their case for harping on Jose Reyes' recent shortcomings. Lo Duca's reasoning: “It's May!” Say, he's right. It is. No wonder many of these Mets run to work out or fill their buffet plates after games. It's May! Just as there's no penalty for being behind in the first and no prize for grabbing a lead in the fourth or enlarging it in the seventh, there's nothing definitive about what you're doing in May, especially when you're right there with everyone else in your division.
Our eyes don't deceive us. They are lethargic a lot. And the numbers don't lie either. 21-19 isn't world-beating material (and 76-76 since May 30, 2007 is damning). But the season lasts beyond the most recent pitch thrown. The next pitch thrown might be hit into the gap (no!) but it also might cut off by the rightfielder (yeah!), might reach the second baseman quickly (Yeah!) and might be fired to the catcher who blocks the plate like the defensive wizard we were told he is (YEAH!!!). Likewise, the perennial opposing lefty might be treating our bats like used Q-tips for three innings, but that doesn't mean we can't gut him out for 41 very long pitches in the fourth.
The Mets had some good innings there in the middle of the game. It guaranteed them at most a chance to be in decent position to win at the end. I'll take that on a Saturday afternoon like this.
Lesson 3: Good pitchers should pitch as often as they can, particularly the best pitchers.
Johan Santana has pitched on more rest than any starter in the big leagues this year. Johan Santana has been pitching on almost as much rest as Mark Bomback's been getting in 2008 — and giving up about as many home runs as Boom-Boom did back in his day. But pet gopher notwithstanding, we know Johan Santana's better than that. He needs to be employed as steadily as he is paid. Once he found his groove today, he was that guy who had us doing our Avery the Cat on the Bed impression (rolling around in total glee) when we learned he agreed to take oodles of Met money to pitch for us until I'm in my fifties. If he's gonna get paid anyway, for cryin' out loud, find a way to give him the ball every fifth day. Unseed the clouds. Institute a drought. Do something, as someone I admire said Friday.
Santana versus the Yankees, admittedly, was worth the extra day skipping him against the Nationals cost us (not that it really cost us in terms of having to settle for Pelfrey). His record against New York (A) aside, I figured he'd want to stick it to the team he probably thought was going to make him an absurdly rich man, just like Carlos Beltran seems to have that thought in mind when he travels to the Bronx. Beltran, like Santana, was “supposed” to become a Yankee. It was his moneyfest destiny. Now he reminds them that he could have been tripling and tracking down balls everywhere for, just as Johan reminded them today that he's a much better bet than Generation K, Jr. to lift them out of last place.
Lesson 4: Shut up and play.
In I guess it was the second, Gary, Keith and Ron (who make a helluva t-shirt or two, FYI), along with trusty Kevin Burkhardt, discussed at length the Wagner-Delgado controversy from a couple of days ago. It was typically enlightening, including a niblet about how the Mets clubhouse has physically changed since Hernandez's and Darling's career — how the room where Charlie Samuels used to store equipment is now given over to the “eats” and how nobody but nobody used to lift weights or ride bikes once a game was over. Logistics as much as anything have enabled players who don't think talking to reporters is crucial to not talk to reporters.
I found this fascinating. But by the time Church to Castillo to Schneider kept Damon from scoring and by the time the lineup batted around and Alfred Hitchcocked Pettitte (drip…drip…drip…) into submission and by the time Reyes and Wright were homering and especially by the time Delgado was showing Joba Chamberlain a rope, I didn't give a damn who talked to the media and who didn't; who bolted from the clubhouse and who didn't; who said who should have been by his locker and who didn't. Honestly, I didn't and tonight, in the glow of glorious victory, I don't.
My hope for my team, beyond its capabilities relative to its opponents, is that it's not populated by cadres of jerks and they don't say stunningly stupid things about each other or us the fans. It would be reassuring to know they're considerate of reporters on deadlines, but…eh, it's like what my partner once said about having lots of homegrown players on your roster. It's the equivalent of good posture: it's nice, but you won't fall over if you're walking around without it.
These guys (the Mets, not their beat writers) have been driving me nutso this year and last for the way they don't win enough and the way they don't play baseball to its optimal state, but the 2008 roster doesn't bother me at all in terms of personalities. There's nobody here I don't like rooting for. Even if the media remains my filter, I don't get the sense I'm clapping for a single bad guy. For that matter, the media loved to death T#m Gl@v!ne, whether it was for without fail being available to them or because he was “a good teammate,” but I couldn't stand him. There's not a single Gl@v!ne, not a single Mota on this team. I can live with that and their puncher's chance at the title as long as it's May.
Lesson 5: Beating the Yankees is beating the Yankees, always and forever.
The Subway Series snuck up on me this week. I needed to see the schedule to know it was to begin Friday. Usually I'm at full froth by the preceding Monday. This year, I didn't give it an ounce of additional thought. The Mets had to prove themselves by proving themselves every day, not in some mythical bat-measuring contest against some mythic enemy. It didn't help (or hurt, depending on how you look at it) that the Yankees have been pretty wan themselves in 2008. I haven't watched them much and I haven't paid attention to their travails even a little bit.
I can't argue that Jeter's career has been completely overblown by sycophantic hagiographers, no matter that he will always be a sneering weasel in my book. I can't attribute all of Pettitte's good fortunes to a vial he wasn't using to gain an edge. As much as I cringe at Jason Giambi's thongular revelations (Keith's referral to fundamentals as “fundies” made me think he was referring to the Giambalco's funderwear…brrrr), he's still good for a long ball now and then. As dumbfounded as I am that Chamberlain has been hyped to high heavens — well, I'm just dumbfounded that anyone that young and that fresh has been penciled in for immortality already, even by the Daily Snooze. Anyway, it's quite possible I've matured to a point where the vertical swastika isn't so readily the red cape to my bull instincts. Maybe I'm ready to accept that the Yankees exist and won't, as I've been deep-down hoping since 1970, move to Utah.
But they are the other team in town, and beating that never gets old. It just doesn't. Maybe I never grow up where that's concerned. So be it. We won the 61st game of the Subway Series today. We beat the Yankees. Whatever else was wrong with us before this particularly Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it's not a problem tonight.
Hey, hey, hey!