No two words are any more Amazin' in the Met lexicon than Game Six. The '86 playoffs. The '86 World Series. The '99 NLCS. You can throw in the 2006 version while you're at it.
But there was another sixth game not that long ago, in 2005, to be precise. It wasn't in October. It was April — April 10. It was the 0-5 Mets taking on their archnemeses, the perennially defending Eastern Division champion Atlanta Braves. And it was a doozy. John Smoltz could not be touched in any meaningful fashion for seven innings: 103 pitches, 15 strikeouts, 6 scattered hits, no walks, no runs. His opponent was Pedro Martinez. Pedro Martinez was everything the Mets thought they were signing. His only troubling inning through seven was the fourth: a one-out walk to Chipper Jones, a two-out RBI double to Johnny Estrada. Smoltz led 1-0 heading to the eighth.
The eighth was Smoltz's undoing. Jose Reyes singled. Miguel Cairo sacrificed him to second. Carlos Beltran walloped a two-run homer to right. Pedro now led 2-1. Exit Smoltz. Enter Cliff Floyd, homering off Tom Martin. After a Doug Mientkiewicz double, David Wright homered off Ramon Colon. Suddenly Pedro had a 5-1 lead and he was a possessive dog with your shoe from there: a complete game, 9-strikeout 2-hitter. The Mets were in the win column and the first note of a hopeful new era was successfully struck.
That was the sixth game four years ago. It was a classic. And it might not have been as good as today's sixth game, even if we did lose this one.
Marlins 2 Mets 1 isn't what we wanted to pack up prior to the Super Home Opener (FYI, we didn't win our last game prior to entering the Polo Grounds or Shea Stadium either), but this isn't the sixth game of the World Series or the League Championship Series. It was the sixth game of a season, that has 156 remaining. We're 3-3. We can live with being on the wrong end of 2-1. It's not often you don't feel like a chump for saying that.
Today's sixth-game classic was brought to us by Johan Santana and Josh Johnson. Each was better than the other. Johnson got the win. Santana, who's done quite a bit of breath-taking versus the Marlins, took the loss that had to be assigned based on the score. But neither outshone either. They both sparkled in that way you want to show every baseball fan who has ever bemoaned the demise of starting pitching and every non-fan who wonders what's the big deal about a game in which almost nobody scores.
Santana hooked up in a perfectly respectable 2-1 game with Aaron Harang on Monday. It wasn't a duel, though. This was a duel. This was the best pitcher in baseball and one of his most talented counterparts. This was the master working change, slider and fastball versus the kid going away, away, away and hitting his spots hard. They made their opposing batters look clueless, yet somehow nobody (outside of the vapor-locking security guard who touched a live ball) seemed particularly foolish in this. These were good and occasionally great major league hitters being overmatched by unquestionably stupendous major league pitching. Isn't that how baseball at its purest is more or less supposed to work?
Sure, the decision rested in the hands — or off the glove — of Daniel Murphy, but that's just a break. The Marlins got the break the Mets didn't. Without it, maybe the Mets get the first break in the ninth when Carlos Beltran, who looked awful all day, finally got to Johnson for an RBI (driving in Delgado who'd had no luck prior…but got a bit of a break when Bob Davidson didn't call give Johnson strike three). But it happened. We've seen Murphy stumble a bit toward the left field fence and come down with the ball. This time we saw it bounce away. That's baseball.
You wish this was baseball every day. You wish a 2-1 double gem wasn't a diamond in the 162-game rough. You wish your guy could strike out 13 in seven innings more often. You wish your guy could go the distance the way their guy did, too. You wish you could watch both lineups hang tough against state-of-the-art pitching the way ours did in the ninth, running out everything and finding places to hit the ball toward the way Delgado and Beltran (and Wright and Church) did at the end. You wished, as a Mets fan, that Brett Carroll would have as much trouble with Ryan Church's sinking line drive as Daniel Murphy did with Cody Ross' deep fly. It wasn't to be. Santana and Parnell — it seemed an injustice to turn this afternoon over to a reliever, any reliever — combined on a 14-K 3-hitter and allowed no earned runs (a mere coincidence Doc Gooden was in the stands?). Johnson went all the way, giving up one run on five hits, yet quoting even that stellar line diminishes his accomplishment.
We lost the sixth game of the year. But if you watched it intently, consider yourself a winner for 2 hours and 4 minutes.