It was one of my wife's more modest goals, but also apparently one of the harder-to-reach ones: See Johan Santana pitch.
Emily and her dad have had a seven- or 15-game plan for a couple of years, and their run of starting-pitcher luck has been spotty to say the least: Last year they got a surfeit of Mike Pelfrey (not so bad in the final reckoning, but not the kind of thing that makes you circle dates on calendars), and so far this year they'd seen a whole lot of Livan Hernandez. So I cringed when I heard how excited she was that Johan was in line for tonight's start. First of all, the weather forecast was iffy with a chance of sucky. Second, I was beginning the day in Denver, with my flight scheduled to arrive at 4:38 pm. At JFK.
Put the two together and you had the makings of a mess, but happily everything turned OK — Emily got there in the top of the first, in cool but clear conditions, and there was Johan on the mound as promised.
But instead of JOHAN — the burn-you-to-cinders-with-his-radiance version we've become blessedly used to — my wife got johan, who surrendered a home run to Adam Dunn that might have caused NORAD to scramble F-16s and walked four guys in one inning. I'll amplify the point for future links and 2012's archive wanderings: Johan Santana walked four in one inning, not one month. And the four guys were Washington Nationals. Startling, I know, but every maestro has his off-night — like Mozart didn't have a few nights in which he futzed around on the clavier, hit a couple of bum notes, said to hell with it and shuffled off to booze it and play cards. The joke is that Johan got a win — ironic payback for all those nights in which he was brilliant and his supporting cast spent the night kicking balls around and striking out.
Of course it helps when you're playing the Nationals. It is not news that the Nationals play horrible baseball (OK, maybe it's news in the Sandwich Islands or something), but what doesn't seem to get discussed enough is that the Nationals play stupid baseball. They don't cover bunts, they can't direct traffic on infield pop-ups, they … let's just be kind and say they have a long way to go. I've seen whole seasons of hapless, agonizingly stupid baseball, so I'm sympathetic — but what I don't understand is how the Cult of Manny Acta remains open for business amid all this mess. The Nats' ownership should be scalded for running the team like they're still the vagabond Expos, and the GM's tenure was an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal, but the field management and coaching look slipshod too. It's hard to win when you've got a roster of guys who are too young paired with guys who are too old (and when your roster is seemingly about one-third first basemen and designated hitters), but it's a hell of a lot harder when you're giving away one or two runs a night on mental errors. The Nationals play like they've either tuned out their manager, aren't receiving sufficient adult supervision, or both, and yet I haven't heard a word of criticism aimed at Acta.
(Speaking of adult supervision, I'm wagering Fernando Martinez will feel the sting of those boos for a long time. That was one time in which the boos from a Met home crowd were completely justified — and I say that in part because I'm sure F-Mart's first safety will be rapturously cheered. All as it should be.)
Anyway, a scuffling Johan, David Wright cooling the ballpark with swings of the bat, and understudies playing the roles of Reyes, Beltran and Delgado. (If anybody has “see umpires review a home run on video” on their bucket list, just head to Citi Field most any night.) Hard to say that was the game Emily wanted, but she did get an entertaining, goofy and just plain weird affair, one that ended with the Mets victorious, and back in first place. Which is pretty much all any Met fan needs.
Addendum: While in Denver I got to check out Coors Field, and it was like an alternate-reality Citi Field, with lots of brick and green seats and a glassed-in corner restaurant (in right, not left). The prices were a bit different, though: I paid $40 or so for a legitimate ticket from the Rockies, and wound up 11 rows behind home plate. (A good chunk of the topmost level was not just empty but actually chained off.)
Everything was perfectly nice, but if you think Citi Field is generic, go see Coors Field. The Rockies feel more celebrated on Blake Street than they do inside the park, and aside from center field's Rockpile and the line of purple seats at the mile-high elevation, there's very little that sticks in the memory. (The food was generic, too.) The Coors Field attraction I most wanted to see was that Bambi fantasia of pines and rocks and waterfalls beyond the center-field fence. It's every bit as ridiculous (in a kind of endearing way) live as it is on TV, but what I hadn't expected is that it's an extension of the visitor's bullpen. Shouldn't the right to commune with some simulacrum of nature before toeing the rubber belong to the home team?
Alas, one item in my report doesn't favor the Mets, and it's a big one. I was there early, so I hiked up to some of the cheapest seats in left field, right field and the Rockpile. (Which left me gasping like a 70-year-old chain smoker — when I say Coors Field lacks atmosphere, I mean it literally.) The seats didn't feel like they were farther removed from the field than our own Promenade level, but the only view missing was a sliver of the left- or right-field corner. In Coors Field's cheap seats, the only way you could not see two outfielders at once would be if they snuck into foul territory to perform a normally private act. As SNY viewers found out tonight, in Citi Field, that view's missing from the broadcast booth.
I honestly love Citi Field, but the Mets' adventures in geometry continue to defy explanation.
The darkest corners of Mets fans' personal geometry (and some sunny ones) are explored in 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.