Ya gotta love ballplayers. They put the brutal loss behind them, they say. They show up at the park, to a man they insist they don't mention among themselves the devastating events of the night before, they drown out their bad memories by turning up the clubhouse music and they go get 'em.
Congratulations, Mets. You forgot you lost on Friday, or so you claim, and you won Saturday with no sense of drama other than that provided by the backdrop of having lost horribly Friday. We got a start that would have delighted us had it come from John Maine; because it came from heretofore unknown quantity Fernando Nieve, we can be ecstatic from it. Given the tenor of what enshrouded the Mets from Friday, I think we can catalogue Nieve's 6-2/3 innings as the best, most crucial start we've seen since Johan in Game 161 last September. It was definitely an effort that won't keep us all awake and drinking later tonight.
Yet, at the risk of labeling them liars, I don't believe the Mets had total amnesia about Friday. Nor should they have. They should carry the way that game ended with them into Sunday's game, into Tuesday's game and for the rest of the season. The way they played Saturday indicates to me Friday weighed on them, which is good news. Something can weigh on you without necessarily crushing you.
Take our entrenched second baseman Luis Castillo, who apparently will be a Met clear to the final weekend of 2011 no matter what he does in the field or when he does it. His recent glovework is the most noteworthy aspect of his recent repertoire, but I'm thinking of Luis at the bat for the moment, specifically what he does once he puts the ball in play. I don't think Luis dogs it as a rule. I don't think any of the Mets dogs it as a rule. But every time Castillo hit something Saturday, he consistently busted it out of the box in a way I hadn't seen all year. It paid off in terms of a second base hit late in the game when Robinson Cano took his time on Luis's grounder and Castillo beat the throw to the bag by a half-step.
Was that single manufactured because Luis Castillo woke up Saturday with total amnesia about Friday or because he thought about the previous game a lot and wanted to atone?
The entire team's approach to baseball from first pitch to last seemed much improved, as if the Mets were the kid who was scolded by a parent for naughty behavior and then threatened with TV or computer time being taken away. “No, no, I'll be good! I'll hustle!” And off they went, darting from home to first and appearing interested for nine full innings. Still saw a little too much one-handed magic with the gloves, but Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day.
You wouldn't want your team standing and staring into space thinking “I can't believe he didn't catch it…” while their next game is in progress. You do appreciate that they might know more about the mindset it takes to play professional baseball than you do, including the importance they attach to having a short memory. But I don't want them forgetting Friday, and I don't think they did Saturday. My concern is they don't develop a brand new case of amnesia for Sunday, one in which they collectively decide everything is fine, nothing was ever wrong, let's settle in to our usual relaxed pace.
Remember Friday. Remember Castillo. We the fans will. You the players should, too. Short memories are fine, but selective amnesia can be dangerous.
We the fans will always have long memories, of course. That's our blessing and our curse — mostly our blessing. If we didn't care, we wouldn't care, y'know? Unless you were just introduced to baseball Friday night in the bottom of the ninth inning, there'd be no frame of reference to explain the immense, intense shock that set in when Luis Castillo didn't do what second basemen have been doing since Bid McPhee came up to the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1882. If you hadn't been a Mets fan long enough to understand what it means to lose to the Yankees anytime but particularly with a one-run lead and 26 outs penciled into the books, you could dismiss Friday night as a novelty and flip over to Bill Maher on HBO.
That's not why we're fans, I don't think. Some who follow baseball seem to pride themselves more on adherence to isolated ideals or leading-indicator statistics than raw emotion and blunt passion. Most of us live somewhere in the middle, but some nights cry mostly for emotion, passion and a long memory. As long as you don't make good on your threats of violence to yourself or Luis Castillo, those are perfectly valid landing spots on those kinds of nights. Some moments are absolutely more immense and intense than can be plotted on a graph. Sometimes you gotta ask not “who's going to play second base let alone replace his on-base percentage if he's released?” but declare, “fuck it, get him out of here, fix this goddamn team.”
There's always the next day to recalibrate. There's always the next day for the Mets fan who's cheered every second baseman since Charlie Neal to wander back into his allegiance after swearing to swear it off. There's always the next day to not completely rue every single Luis Castillo sighting you're going to experience for the next 2½ years but to take a deep breath and say, all right Luis, get on and maybe Cora can move you over.
It may not satisfy a dark night's bloodlust, but next days are relentless, so you've to be prepared for every contingency, including that the Mets won't release the guy you don't really want to look at anymore for what should be considered the worst sin of them all: not not using two hands; not not throwing to the right base; but not beating the Yankees.
We don't root for the Mets to go 6-156, but if the Mets could only win six games out of 162, which six would you choose? Accomplished college football coaches have been shown the university door because they lose the rivalry game once too often. Auburn boosters, for example, have been known to communicate their priorities as such: we don't care what else you do, but beat Alabama. SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10…baseball ain't college football, but boy wouldn't it feel good to see a blue and orange penalty flag thrown for allowing the Yankees to encroach on our sure thing of a win?
However high they fly or low they skulk in the American League standings, the Yankees will always be the Yankees to us in terms of the one team to whom we do not want to lose, ever. We just watched three searing battles with our divisional archrivals and, from a comparative fan standpoint, it was a tea party. I've already forgotten how much I hate the fucking Phillies. They're a warmup act in that respect. We could play the '69 Cubs, the '85 Cardinals, the '99 Braves and the last three years worth of Philadelphians as prelude to a Subway Series and I'd forget everybody from Leo Durocher to Shane Victorino. It may not be the formula for securing a pennant, but for six games per season, who gives a fuck? Beat the Yankees…especially when up by a run with two outs and a pop fly is wafting softly into a mitt.
An encouraging development, at least as gleaned via television, is the Yankee Stadium aura & mystique bit may officially deader than Brian Bruney's sense of discretion. Remember how every time the Mets would go to Yankee Stadium II (1976-2008) and whichever of our players was new would be asked about what a thrill it must be to play on the (approximate) site where so many greats and so much history, blah, blah, blah? And our guys always went along with the script of what a privilege this was. I always thought that put us two runs in the hole before a pitch was fired in anger. But YS II is vacant and YS III is just another retro park that can't sell its best seats.
Yesterday I heard Mike Pelfrey interviewed about how great and exciting it must be to come to Yankee Stadium.
Oh yeah, he said, the clubhouse is really nice.
And Nieve, answering questions about how well his mystery date went, was queried as to whether he was even more nervous considering it was the Yankees he'd be facing.
No, he said.
Pelf, like my wife, is from Wichita, and she suggested Mike was “just being a Kansan” about it (when asked how she liked Star Wars, Stephanie's grandmother responded, “It sure was loud”). But Fernando the Third — good for you. Don't let the media revive the dying “we're in such awe” narrative. You can use “it's important we beat the Yankees because we're the Mets” or just keep that in mind as you head to the mound. But no visits to monuments, nothing about ghosts, ixnay on all that tired “they're just such a great team” logorrhea.
And, it can't be stressed enough no matter what happened in the most recent game played, always use two hands.
METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball is coming to Manhattan on Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet the authors of A Magic Summer, Mets By The Numbers and Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, talk baseball with us, watch the Mets beat the Orioles just as they did in '69 with us and have a generally great time. Details here.