The weather-insurance off-day always makes for a cruel start to the season — being confronted with a Metless Game 2 is a little like being a starving dog who’s snoffed down half a can of Alpo only to find himself dragged away from his dish and told to wait for 30 hours. What? You’re kidding me, right? You realize I haven’t had anything to eat since late September, don’t you? I’m dyin’ here, man!
But that’s the way it goes, so we’ll have to tide ourselves over with White Sox-Royals and other vague nourishment until tomorrow night. Still, at least we still have yesterday to bask in, from the fact that the day even existed to its unaccustomed plan-gone-rightness in the final innings.
I suppose it was fitting that the longest and weirdest and boringest spring training in recent memory be followed by an unorthodox Opening Day. I’d taken the day off, it being a national holiday and all, only to rescind that decision when it looked like Cincinnati would be a far better locale for hockey. With Opening Day clearly delayed until today, I went about my salary-related business with relative equanimity, occasionally glancing over at Metsblog or Mets.com for official word that the game was called. Until, finally, I flipped on WFAN and gathered that the game was not only not called but starting in about 15 minutes. Wha? Over to weather.com, where sure enough the blob of pink and purple vectoring in from Indianapolis had degraded into light green blemishes, prompting Jerry Manuel and Dusty Baker to meet with the umpires, chew toothpicks, discuss ladies and gangsters, reminisce that in their day they’d once played in four feet of snow and still hit behind the runner, and say let’s play ball right now.
Fortunately my commute is eight minutes with optimum subway luck — off I dashed, day off turned day on now hastily remade as a day half. And was in my living room just in time to wonder why ESPN HD was a black rectangle, fall back to the FAN and then hunt for the game on SNY. Hello baseball!
I just can’t take spring training seriously anymore — I now plop down on the couch with a magazine in the top of the first, if I even remember it’s on — but I snapped nicely back into focus for real baseball, exulting at Johan’s first two punch-outs and groaning through the walks that followed. Until I calmed down around the bottom of the third, every Met hit was a sign of an MVP award and NL East supremacy and every LOB was a sign of deep slumps and a summer scuffling with the Nats. Overheated, but welcome given that a week ago I realized to my shock and horror that I couldn’t fill out the likely 25-man roster.
Even more welcome was seeing familiar players big as life and going about serious business. There was David Wright with his tics and wiggles at the plate and his vaguely amazed expression when he finally gets himself settled and focuses on the pitcher. There was the stock-still ferocity of Carlos Delgado, huge in waiting, the effortless glide of Carlos Beltran, and Johan all taps and swipes on the mound. And there was the first for-real look at the new guys: J.J. Putz was particularly striking, with his vulture-like hunch on the mound, his half-asleep stare, and the slow, uncloserlike metronome of his pitches. (Early warning: Right now Putz seems admirably unhurried and inexorable, but when he goes through his first bad stretch we’ll find him downright Trachselian.)
And baseball itself, of course: There was the outfield bad luck of Darnell McDonald, treated cruelly by his teammates and the baseball gods in his 22nd game of a career that’s taken him to age 30, contrasted with the good luck of Ryan Church, who turned in a 9.0 difficulty sliding juggling routine paired with a quick throw to first for a hugely unlikely double play. (And a piece of evidence to be put before the jury in the forthcoming court case The People for Good Defense vs. Gary Sheffield, Right Fielder.) Give a Reds fan seven inches to reapportion between McDonald’s three misplays and Church’s little miracle and he could have turned a Met nail-biter into a Red rout, but that’s baseball in all its beauty and unfairness.
If there’s a Met fan in this great land who didn’t think of Pedro and Joe Randa and Willie Randolph and Braden Looper in the ninth, they’re either new around here or deliberately amnesiac. (And probably better off either way.) I muttered and fretted and squirmed through the debuts of Sean Green, Putz (who got away with a couple) and K-Rod, all too aware that this game’s dominant theme could still turn out to be David Wright Left Murphy on Third AGAIN, or Johan Still Can’t Trust That Bullpen, or Don’t You Regret Saying All Those Mean Things About Aaron Heilman? Happily, everything turned out just fine. Heck, the only improvement would be hearing that at the very moment Ramon Hernandez struck out, someone in the San Francisco visiting clubhouse startled Braden Looper, who spilled a cup of coffee in his own lap.
For a quality start, effective middle relief and a flawless save, chart pitches along with Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.