The Nikon folks can exhale. They won't have to update their 75-candidate ballot for the Greatest Moments at Shea. We were what felt like one timely hit, pitch, bounce or something from having a 76th genuine contender on our hands.
July 26, 2008 – Mets and Cardinals compete in endless game that is still going on.
Alas, it wasn't quite to be. Those of us who attended Saturday night's/Sunday morning's almost endless almost victory will remember at least bits and pieces of it vividly for years to come. It goes down as a Mets Classic that will never be rebroadcast as such only because of the regrettable outcome. The final score — and much of what informed it — necessarily keeps us from categorizing this as a great moment for promotional purposes (though that Nikon ballot has as many holes in it as Dave Kingman's swing, but that's another complaint for another time), yet between you, me and the unsanctioned dancer on the first base dugout, that was a great game the Mets lost to the Cardinals in 14 innings.
A great and terrible game. More great than terrible, I'd testify under oath, despite their 10 edging our 8.
Perhaps my vision on this one is skewed since I took such a proprietary interest in this affair from long before first pitch. I was through Gate C — all the other Gates were not yet open — two hours before first pitch. I was in my fourth seat and sixth level of the night when the last pitch was thrown. I saw a pair of crazy comebacks that lifted me so darn Row Q high, that I never for a second thought a third and definitive comeback was out of the question. I saw a pitcher I'd never heard of until like a week ago throw the kind of first inning generally reserved for Hall of Famers when their teams need them most: a horrible one. But Brandon Knight, unlike he who shall not be named, pulled himself together after throwing a number of pitches (39) higher than the number on his uniform (28).
Knight settled down and the Mets got riled up. These are the new and improved 2008 Mets who ain't afraid of no ghosts. Yadier Molina? He couldn't even throw out Robinson Cancel. Joel Piñeiro? Last September's bad news. The Piñeiro who threw to Molina this July night was no Brandon Knight. Knight battled from the second through fifth. Piñeiro surrendered a four-run lead as quickly as he could. Brandon Knight actually outlasted Joel Piñeiro. Most of the Mets lineup out-and-out mugged Joel Piñeiro.
Knight hangs in and pitches through five. If we can get a little decent relief, we're golden. But we get very little decent relief at first. Carlos Muñiz becomes Duaner Sanchez, and not the good one. Joe Smith misplaces his magic. Knight's gone. Piñeiro's gone. The Mets' lead is gone.
But the game is just regetting good. Carlos Delgado hits his second home run of the night, his hundredth home run this week, I believe. It's 8-7. When it's 8-7, you begin to think it can be 8-8. It's just a matter of time….
It's just a matter of time before Fernando Tatis makes it 8-8 in the ninth! At that moment all your train schedule issues go out the window. And as the ninth becomes the tenth and the tenth becomes the eleventh you don't get hung up on schedules. The Mets aren't watching the clock, why should you?
Of course the Mets aren't helping the time pass productively. Baserunners are wasted in the tenth, the eleventh, the twelfth. Normally you'd be steaming except you're too happy with what the Mets bullpen is doing. It's not allowing anything over a prolonged period. Smith recovered from his sinful sixth with a saintly seventh. Sanchez recorded outs for the first time in six days. Schoeneweis bent but didn't break. All-Star closer Billy Wagner held the tenth and eleventh together without flaw. And Aaron Heilman, whose first batter was Yadier Molina of all things, was a gem in the twelfth and thirteenth.
It was just a matter of time before we would score. I swore it was. But the thirteenth ended with Aaron Heilman batting for himself with nobody on. The Mets were out of players, out of opportunities, out of relievers, too. All that coming back was so five innings ago. Shockingly, a game that, through thirteen, encompassed 16 runs and 33 hits required more offense to settle it.
Sadly, it came from St. Louis, especially Albert Pujols. You can't play fourteen innings of baseball and not have Albert Pujols heard from in the most resonant manner possible. He crushed the last reliever the Mets had, Heilman, and ain't that a shame? Aaron Heilman threw three pitches on Thursday and got credit for a win that was mostly the doing of Ollie Perez (the same Ollie Perez who was warming up for the fifteenth, FYI). Saturday into Sunday he gave it his heart, his soul and 57 pitches. Aaron Heilman got to be a starter again, sort of, and just as it started to feel like a good fit, that damn Pujols made it feel terrible.
The bottom of the fourteenth ended without incident and just soon enough for those of who abide by the entreaties to use mass transit to use it effectively. My companion for the evening has since relayed to me that New Jersey Transit, early on a Sunday, carries “a lot of drunks on the last train out of town”. I can report the Long Island Rail Road does precisely the same on the 1:50 to Babylon, and most of them, in their toasty, chatty state, are prone to address each other as “bro”.
But they were, at least in my car, curious drunks, curious about this game that was apparently becoming legendary in the watering holes of Manhattan. Dressed as I was, I was asked repeatedly what happened tonight…we heard the Mets had come back, that the Mets had forced extra innings, that they had not won…but what happened?
Well, lots. Like I said it was a long day, what with all those innings and levels and runs. I met up with Sharon in Penn Station for the 4:49 and we delightedly found Charlie on our platform and the three of us made a cameo in the Diamond Club lobby ('cause they wouldn't let us in the Diamond Club bar, even though a guy in the Diamond Club store actually recognized me…and have I ever used “Diamond Club” this much in one paragraph?). Failing to cocktail with the Shea power elite, we settled for a corner of the field level where we could stand undisturbed during BP and curse out the Braves for not beating the Phillies and the Phillies for beating the Braves and ourselves for rooting for the Braves at all. Seventeen escalators later, it was off to the Upper Deck with the likes of us, Charlie to his barony in Section 22, Sharon and I to the people's air of Section 3, Row Q, where you get the idea that Mile High Stadium is alive and well well east of Denver, but where you can still see the U-Haul sign, so there.
And while we sat in Row Q, encouraging Brandon Knight to hang with 'em and thrilling to Delgado and Reyes jumping ugly on Piñeiro, we got our very own Greatest Moment at Shea, the kind that won't be on any corporate ballot. It was Dancing With The Fans, that worthless thing they do where two people — Choice A and Choice B — put on ugly hoodies and one of them eventually does the worm on one of the dugouts and somewhere Verizon presumably collects a rumpload of money for taking your texts. Pretty mundane between-innings entertainment, except for Saturday night.
Choice B had a partner. Choice B was dancing on the first base dugout alone initially, but then someone, presumably with very good seats, jumped up to join her. The joiner, also a she, wasn't wearing an ugly hoodie. She was, in other words, unauthorized to be Dancing With The Fans. Hence, while DiamondVision, as ever, featured Choice A and Choice B shuffling their feet, a Pepsi Party Patrol girl leapt up on the dugout and tackled the interloper.
John Stearns sacking Chief Noc-A-Homa it was not. Pretty it was not. In an instant, security got involved: one older man in an orange golf shirt joined the Pepsi Party girl in dragging away the unsanctioned dancer. And all of this — all of this — played out on the right half of DiamondVision while “Stayin' Alive” blared and Alex Anthony instructed us how to text our votes for Choice A or Choice B. Choice B's backup dancer was being wrestled to the ground. Choice A just kept boogieing to the Bee Gees.
After that, fourteen innings seemed like a sure thing.
Sharon and I thought we were onto something by moving from Row Q to an unoccupied Upper Deck box for the eighth. We sought egress, as Sharon put it in her best SAT. We just wanted to be able to make a cleaner getaway after the last out was all. It was in that Upper Deck box where we watched Tatis homer. It was also in that Upper Deck box where, as Endy Chavez was bunting away the winning rally in the tenth, that a woman decided to pose her family in several award-winning tableaus for a bushel of snapshots in our line of sight. (She must have really taken that Nikon sponsorship of Great Moments seriously.) It was only the tenth inning of an 8-8 slugfest. I could see where she'd need a diversion.
The game went on, our egress gathered momentum. Wanna try Mezzanine? Sure. So we scooted down a level. That didn't change the score. How about Loge? OK. (But only after a second curiosity-fueled end run at the now-closed Diamond Club and slightly surreal elevator ride that deposited us in a sterile corridor that appeared abandoned from the set of Being John Malkovich.) It wasn't Loge's fault, I don't think, that Pujols got to Heilman. Aaron held the lot of 'em for a while while we were there. It was while we were there, too, that we received that Shea treat almost as rare as friendly and efficient customer service: a fourteenth-inning stretch, with Clapton's “After Midnight” subbing for Monte's “Lazy Mary”. We received five hours and nine minutes of baseball, all the offense we could stand until, alas, we could stand no more, some fairly courageous (Murph's word) relief pitching and a trio of Dancing With The Fans dancers for the price of a pair. Our egress was sound in the end, too — sounder than it was for some unfortunate soul.
A great and terrible game, I tell you. A great and nearly endless evening. A great moment at Shea. If we'd managed a couple more runs, I might have had to have written it in as one of the Greatest.