Last September 24, after the game that made third base infamous, I asked my friend Mark, he of Mets Walkoffs‘ bottomless bag of statistical tricks, if he could find out how many times the Mets had lost a game in which a Met had hit a grand slam. Carlos Delgado’s four-RBI connection had just gone to waste on the heels of many Met miscues; it always takes many Met miscues to neutralize a grand slam’s goodness, but the one we all remember and that some of us can’t quite forget was the failure of David Wright to drive in Daniel Murphy from third with nobody out in the ninth inning of what had become a tie game against the Cubs.
Wright wasn’t the lone culprit that dismal Wednesday evening. Ollie Perez wasted a 5-1 lead. Duaner Sanchez wasted a 5-3 lead. Brian Stokes wasted a 5-5 tie. All the Mets could muster in the way of scoring following Delgado’s third-inning slam off a clearly discombobulated Carlos Zambrano was a bases-loaded walk to Ramon Martinez. But come the ninth, the Mets were even at six. Then Murphy tripled in the ballpark where triples weren’t everyday commodities. He was on third and the Cubs were at ease. They had clinched. They weren’t even particularly trying. If Murphy was going to go to third with nobody out, no skin off their playoff-bound noses.
Up stepped Wright and down went the Mets when Wright didn’t step up. David struck out with the winning run on third and the Wild Card and division hanging in the balance. Wright, again, did not act alone. After two intentional walks, Ryan Church and Ramon Castro most decidedly did not get the job done. In the top of the tenth, sic transit closer Luis Ayala allowed three Cub runs, and that was all she and Kerry Wood wrote regarding Shea Stadium’s final extra-inning fiasco.
That was going to be a great night. It had been, for a while, a wonderful night. That was the second and final night I spent in the Pepsi Picnic Area, an event arranged by Matt Silverman who decided early in ’08 to buy up a block of bleacher seats and put on a party under the tent just because. The food was as Shea-good as Shea food got. The company was Shea-sublime. The occasion was almost transcendent. I spent the late afternoon with David G. Whitham, someone I was proud, for a day, to call “my photographer,” as he made pictures that would appear in my book. I reacquainted myself with Dana Brand, already author of one essential Mets work and, at the time, closing in on a second. Of course there was Matt, and there was Jon Springer, and there was Mike Steffanos, and a whole lot of friendly, informed faces. There was even the little bonus of being interviewed that evening for a documentary commemorating Shea’s final season (and its final concerts two months earlier).
Yes, a great night. That turned into a horrible night. How did we lose that game? How did we go from up 5-1 to over 9-6? Mike, Matt, Jon, David, Dana, me, tens of thousands of others…we were disgusted deer in the headlights of an oncoming choke. We didn’t know what was hitting us and we wanted to ram our antlers into the first windshield we saw.
Wright’s failure to bring home Murphy, and everybody else’s complicity in the third-to-last loss in Shea Stadium history, resulted in three baseball atrocities:
1) Painfully altering the pennant race;
2) Irrevocably tarnishing what had been a perfect day;
3) Unforgivably wasting Delgado’s grand slam.
You get four runs on one swing, you should win. I didn’t think it was possible to lose in those circumstances. You’re +4. How do you wind up -1? Ever? In the wake of September 24, 2008, I remembered only one other incident when it happened. Gary Carter hit a grand slam at Wrigley, also against the Cubs (natch), also during a stretch drive, also for naught. On September 25, 1985, Ron Darling, my future fellow Mets author, couldn’t make a 4-1 lead hold up. By the end of six, it was 4-4. In the bottom of the ninth, with two out, Jesse Orosco walked Davey Lopes. Lopes took off for second…safe. Lopes took off for third…safe. Carter and Orosco couldn’t quite get their signs straight. Bob Dernier then walked. Finally, Chris Speier did what seemed just a matter of minutes in the making but also seemed impossible: he drove in the winning run in a game in which the Mets hit a grand slam. I seem to recall Gary and Jesse sniping at each other a bit in the paper the next day.
That was my only other Mets slam/Mets lose memory before last September. I had to ask Mark, is that all? Were there others?
There were. David’s negation of Carlos was the tenth such episode in Mets history. Shame on me for forgetting that the ninth occurred within the Faith and Fear era, on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon in September 2005, Cliff Floyd having put the Mets ahead of the Nationals 5-4 one one four-run swing of the bat (off Liván Hernandez). The Mets were in freefall that late summer and this was their final plummet, Braden Looper giving up the lead in the ninth, Roberto Hernandez giving up the tie in the tenth, another hundred people getting off of the bus whose ride had seemed so promising just weeks earlier. Little could anyone foresee that the Mets would turn around what was left of their season directly thereafter, finishing with their best record in five years and setting the stage for 2006. What we knew on September 15, 2005 was everything about losing a game in which one of your guys launches a grand slam sucks.
“The home run doesn’t mean jack,” Floyd reflected after the loss. Just like Delgado’s didn’t last September. Just like Todd Hundley’s bomb in the very first Coors Field contest, April 26, 1995, one the Mets would squander to hot-dogging Dante Bichette in the fourteenth inning. Just like Joe Orsulak’s in May of ’94, Kid Carter’s in ’85 and the five other grand slams the Mets wasted in 1962 (Frank Thomas), 1966 (Eddie Bressoud), 1967 (pitcher Jack Hamilton), 1971 (Tommie Agee) and 1973 (Rusty Staub). As you can see, it’s so rare a phenomenon that you need a Mets Walkoffs to look it up for you.
But it’s apparently not as rare as it used to be, because Wednesday afternoon, a mere 37 games since it happened previously, it happened again. Today it was Fernando Tatis driving in four runs at once, putting the Mets up 6-4 on the Braves in the fourth. The giveback was almost immediate, as Jon Niese couldn’t make it out of the fifth. By the top of the eighth, the Mets were behind again. In the bottom of the eighth, Gary Sheffield went all button-fly — home run 501 — on Rafael Soriano and it was reknotted. By then, Tatis’ grand gesture had become mired in a muddle of details you’d need SpongeTech to help you absorb. In the end, there was enough poor hitting, poor running, poor fielding, poor pitching and poor construction of dopily high outfield walls to waste, for the eleventh time in New York Mets history, a New York Mets grand slam.
It’s a shame to throw out such good salami.
Enjoy what David Whitham shot last September and whatever words lie between the covers of 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.