We're nuts, we Mets fans. Honest to god we are. There was so much doubt permeating Shea Stadium last night, right up to the moment Delgado doubled in the eighth, that you would have thought we were the fourth-place team a dozen games out and that the Braves were the division leaders.
Force of habit, maybe, but misplaced anxiety for this particular era. But at Shea, where the beers are $8.50, anxiety comes with the territory.
We trailed 3-2 from the third until the eighth. That's five innings. You would have thought it was five years — like 1977 through 1981. And, based on the chatter in my particular box, you could have easily mistaken Carlos Delgado for Mike Jorgensen, save for the splendid defense and epic grand slam against the Dodgers many moons ago. Jorgy was clutch! Delgado?
Delgado had been slumping. In July he had been surging. But that was July. That was history. The Mets' six straight wins from August 12 to August 17 were history. Dusty, musty history ever since the morbid afternoon of August 18 (Mets fan math: 1 loss > 6 wins). What had Delgado done for us lately? Strikeout and two grounders to second across the first seven innings of August 19. It was the eighth now. The bases were loaded. Carlos Delgado, 26 homers, 79 RBI coming into the evening, at bat. Carlos Delgado, borderline Hall of Fame slugger, up with three ducks on the pond. Carlos Delgado, whose revival made accurate the phrase first-place Mets, staring at a large chance to change the game.
Boy are we in trouble.
I was sucked into this vortex of doom pretty easily. Yes, I said, Delgado…oh dear. Delgado will fail and all the goodwill from July will evaporate altogether. This is his last chance to hear cheers at Shea Stadium, because once he grounds into a 4-6-3 double play, Carlos Delgado will not be welcome here any longer, not this year, not next. What a downer that Delgado will go back to being booed and inevitably doling out snippy half-quotes in the clubhouse; the Phillies are beating the Nationals, so the lead will be a half-game before it completely vanishes; it was fun while it lasted; cripes, does Luis Castillo really have to come off the DL before the rosters expand?
Then Delgado doubled to the base of the left field wall off Will Ohman* and two runs scored and the third base side of Field Level, on my encore final stay in the lower stands, got up and boogied. The joint was literally jumping. The joints that hold the joint together were probably rupturing. Same thing happened on the first base side last month when Billy Joel did “We Didn't Start The Fire” (such enthusiasm for children of Thalidomide). I'd lived through joyful jumpiness in the playoffs way the hell upstairs, but Billy's show was my first exposure to it down below. Delgado's double was the second. It wasn't the last play at Shea. It wasn't even the last play of the eighth. But we're nuts, we Mets fans. Honest to god we are. We assume the worst and when what's delivered winds up 180 degrees opposite of what we expect, we exult to extents that make two-run doubles vibrate like twelve-run homers.
Tavarez came in to pitch. Easley singled in two more to make it 6-3. The jumping recommenced. Castro then doubled in another. More amateur gravity-testers, more ups and downs. The third base side in a rally, I must report, doesn't feel as secure as the first base side during a concert. Your mother would nag you to cut that out! if it were your bed you were doing this to. Most children's beds, however, are probably sturdier at this point than the third base Field Level at Shea Stadium. Had Yunel Escobar not robbed Argenis Reyes, I'm pretty sure we would have seen the seats roll off their tracks (bad news for Mets fans, but an opportunity for the Jets to come home, I suppose).
Four-run leads with no particular arm to close don't feel any more secure than Field Level during an improv bunny hop. During one of the many festive Atlanta pitching changes in the eighth, somebody in A/V got the bright idea to play one of those line-dancing numbers that instruct everybody to jump two steps to the left and so forth. People were actually doing it. Swell, more pressure on the infrastructure. A few more runs and there'd be plenty of final season souvenirs strewn about for the taking, including my spine.
I exaggerate slightly, just as we did when glooming so determinedly at the sight of only a four-run lead entering the ninth. Scott Schoeneweis, as good or bad a choice as any Met reliever at that moment, came in and gave up some hard-hit balls. None of them mattered. The Mets were golden by then. The lead held. The seats held. The Mets, they had their own edge. Even some scattered mock tomahawk chops — remember those? — couldn't piss off the deities who normally frown on that sort of behavior. The Braves had just surrendered a five-spot and, one of us noted, Brian Jordan loomed nowhere inside their dugout.
The Mets won. We went nuts. Not necessarily in that order.
*Will Ohman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. Or maybe I'm thinking of somebody else.