Around here we usually do a night-of recap and a next-day amplifier. But some games demand not just one but two recaps — particularly when you're getting Faith and Faith, with Fear skulking around somewhere in the dark waiting for its turn again. Last night's is one of those games — because who wouldn't want to relive this one an extra time or two?
In 2006, Fernando Tatis was dividing time between the Ottawa Lynx and the Baltimore Orioles. But tonight's bolt of heroism would fit perfectly if spliced into the Met highlight tape from that glorious year. Think of it as Baseball Like It Used to Be — and, of course, as we dream it could be again.
Oddly, I had a feeling early on that tonight would be different. I can't tell you if that's because you could truly feel something different at work at Shea, if I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired, or if an absent-only-physically cat was pawing up something special. But whatever the reason, clearly things were going to be slightly crazy — I have trouble recalling a game with so many balls hit like rockets for outs and outta-heres, from Cody Ross's Piazzaesque blow beyond the bullpen to the surface-to-air missile fired by Jacques Jones and caught from behind by Carlos Beltran, not to mention assorted smashes by Beltran and Luis Castillo and frozen ropes that have thawed out of memory.
Normally — by which I mean “in 2008” — I would have sunk into the couch as this game assumed a depressingly familiar shape: Oliver Perez shows some electric stuff but is erratic and gives up the lead, Mets go to sleep, Heilman scrubs the lipstick off the pig, people get booed, last Met in the clubhouse had to talk to the pesky media and turn off the lights. Yeah yeah, I've read that script. But for some reason I stayed upbeat — and for some reason the Mets rewarded that faith.
The much-maligned bullpen did its part by tearing up the depressing script before I could flip any further: Schoeneweis was good and Heilman was great, with a superb fastball and change, good location and a rather un-Heilmanlike stomp as he went about his business. And you know what? It's nice to not have that be the point of this recap — that OK, we lost but Heilman had a great outing and the fans got behind him, so maybe that's the start of something. Not that that wouldn't have been true, but it would have been awfully cold comfort for losing a series to these upstart Marlins. Endy — ENDY! — changed that with a low fastball golfed to right to tie the score, and then it looked like the Mets might reward Heilman with a win, a win that might have come with a slapstick coda as David Wright singled in pinch-runner John Maine and assorted large excited athletes tried to remember to celebrate without dogpiling a precious starting pitcher. (They're made of glass, donchaknow.)
That ending wasn't to be — it was Long March time, to an hour, an inning and a conclusion undiscovered. But hope was still along for the expedition. Billy Wagner came in (in a non-save situation) and looked superb. Duaner Sanchez, whose nice comeback story is shadowed by his ominously inconsistent velocity, pitched awfully well for five hitters but then got his head turned around by Alfredo Amazega, the Anti-Endy. Yet somehow hope still wasn't dead. There was magic in the night still to be tapped. No, with one out and runners on first and third Fernando Tatis wasn't going to roll one to Hanley Ramirez and slam his helmet to the ground after just getting doubled up as the young Fish congratulated Justin Miller for cheating the hangman. No, he wasn't going to hit an ankle-high screamer into Wes Helms's glove and watch in dismay as Wright was trapped halfway between third and a home plate he'd never reach. Not tonight. No, he was going to hit the game's final rocket down the left-field line, then still be digging for third (in case Beltran was nailed at the plate) when this one was put in the books.
When SNY replayed footage of the happy pile of Mets that briefly formed atop Tatis, I leaned closer: Who was the guy who'd wound up second from the bottom, giving Tatis some gleeful pounds? Oh, it's Sanchez. That's right, he looks completely different without his goggles. I didn't recognize him at first, just as I needed help getting reacquainted with the gritty, gutty pay of the last two nights. But I could get used to both sights.