That sudden blast of hot wind you may have felt in the New York City area about an hour ago wasn't Tropical Storm Hanna coming back around in the batting order — it was millions of Met fans exhaling.
The math of pennant races is cruel: The Phillies got two stellar pitching performances, put the Mets back on their heels, couldn't complete the sweep and so leave having gained just a game in the standings. Let the record show that in this case, I'm all for cruelty.
The cruelty would have been on us, of course, if Johan Santana and Carlos Delgado hadn't been kind. Those two contributed 116 pretty good pitches and about 870 feet of home runs to the cause, erasing two and a half days of grinding frustration. Now we can forget about Friday night, with Brett Myers throttling us and ball after ball bouncing the Phils' way and Brad Lidge dancing through a hard rain of solid Met at-bats and somehow not getting wet. We can forget about the anxious thumb-twiddling of a soaked Saturday, with pennant races reserved for drier climes. And we can forget about Sunday's first game, where the weather was gorgeous and everything else was hideous.
If you're feeling magnanimous, you can admit a game like yesterday's matinee was lurking in the cards somewhere. Smacking Jamie Moyer around a couple of weeks ago was the exception to the usual rule (and didn't get us anything), so it made sense that for a long time the only thing standing between us and the potential humiliation of being no-hit was a bunt single from a rhinoceros-sized catcher. (Comparison animal not chosen idly: As with rhinos, Robinson Cancel is faster than you think. By the way, has anyone ever won 243 games more quietly than Moyer?) Meanwhile, the Mets had been remarkably lucky this spring and summer in escaping the logical outcome of bracketing Carlos Beltran with guys who have no particular business playing the outfield. Sunday they weren't so lucky: Fernando Tatis misplayed a fly ball into a double, Jose Reyes neglected the extra duties that the presence of Nick Evans (or Daniel Murphy) put on his plate for a tack-on run, and even Beltran misjudged a ball that should have been caught.
That was difficult to watch, but not wholly unexpected — if one can possibly find perspective when we're playing the Phillies in September. Harder to shrug off was the fact that Pedro Martinez apparently had no problems getting loose, had decent velocity, and it didn't matter. While some of the day's runs should be taken off his ledger due to outfield shenanigans, Pedro looked old and ordinary, and his aura alone is no longer enough to mesmerize an opponent. (Oh by the way, I hate Greg Dobbs even more than he hates us. His swing is apparently perfectly tailored for hitting balls a foot over Shea Stadium fences.)
And so the waiting for the nightcap, with football and anxiety equally unwelcome visitors in the Fry household — and the added burden of hearing that Billy Wagner had walked off the mound after just a dozen or so pitches, the last of which hit poor Gustavo Molina in the ankle and did something worse to Billy's balky forearm. (Oh, and did you hear Tom Brady hurt his knee? Seriously, I think ESPN hollered town criers to spread the word. I'm always bemused that the first true day of football season invariably includes several marquee players sustaining injuries that end their season. Can you imagine if our Opening Day was like this?)
And then the nightcap didn't get off to a great start either, not with Johan's location way off and the Phillies smelling blood in the water. Ugliness seemed imminent. I thought of the possibility of Greg spending 10 hours in Queens in which he'd discover little more than that first place was gone and witnessing six hours of humiliating baseball isn't good for your health.
But the fucking worm was turning, if you'll forgive paraphrasing Joe Torre. Cole Hamels didn't look so good either, and unlike Johan he wouldn't gather himself. And suddenly it was the Mets getting breaks and the Phillies getting unlucky. (Catcher's interference and being out at third but called safe — quite a bottom of the first for David Wright.) Beltran got us even and Delgado began his assault on Hamels, punching a single up the middle. By the time Delgado came up in the third, Santana could direct his change-up properly and I was willing to watch the game from the couch instead of peeking out from under it. (Hey, I said I wasn't scared — I never said I wasn't one anxious sonofabitch.) Delgado helped push that anxiety further away with a moonshot, prompting me to wonder out loud what he had written in his famous composition book afterwards. I imagine it was something like this:
9/7/08 HAMELS, PHI. BOT 3. 0-2 CURVEBALL, CENTER OF PLATE. I HIT IT TO FUCKING MARS.
Which was soon followed by this:
9/7/08 HAMELS, PHI. BOT 5. 0-0 CHANGEUP, HIGH. I HIT IT TO FUCKING JUPITER.
From then on I kept begging for the Mets to score, oh, about five more runs to make me feel vaguely safe. Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes did stalwart work after Santana departed, but tell me you weren't freaking out after Luis Ayala singled not one but two ludicrous little worm-killing singles to Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs. Ayala, who'd already disposed of the evil Dobbs, got Andy Tracy (who somehow never played left field for us in the pre-Evans/Murphy farce) to fly out, trading a run for a much-needed out. Up stepped Jimmy Rollins, the count went to 1-2, and I told Emily that whatever was gonna happen, you knew Rollins' at-bat was going to take at least seven pitches, each of them possibly meaning a week off my life.
Ayala promptly fanned Jimmy to end it. Sometimes it's great to be wrong.