It's a line that makes any Mets fan cringe and mutter, remembering a miscast Art Howe facing the chop-licking New York media after another loss. It was Art's kindly placeholder comment, his verbal shrug of the shoulders, his way of not saying, “What do you think I can do with this collection of once-weres and never-will-bes, palookas and tomato cans and misfit toys — win ballgames?”
With Joshua still up in Connecticut, Emily and I had a night to ourselves, and my wife promptly unveiled Reason #10,539 that I do not deserve her: This was one of the games on the 15-game plan she shares with her dad, but he was out of town too, so we were going to Citi Field.
From our Promenade perch high above home plate, it didn't seem like a particularly good idea at first. Somewhere down there was Nelson Figueroa, introduced rather ominously by the strains of Eminem's “Lose Yourself” (“you only get one shot,” etc.) And Nelson wasn't exactly making his escape from 8 Mile Road. In fact, he was getting hit so startlingly hard that you half-expected the next line drive to leave him sprawled on the mound in his skivvies surrounded by articles of clothing, Charlie Brown-style. You could tell how bad it was with your eyes closed: Ball after ball hit by Diamondback after Diamondback made the kind of sound that causes veteran fans to hurry back up the ramp or lean closer to the radio. With not quite two crooked-number innings complete, Figueroa was finally allowed to crawl away, chased by boos, with his team in a 6-0 hole. Around this time of family of late arrivals got themselves settled, looked at the scoreboard and did a double-take. Sorry folks. Emily and I just shrugged. The game had all the makings of a debacle, but it had become a nice night and there was the green of Citi Field spread out before us, and a night at the ballpark isn't a thing to take for granted even when you devoutly wish the scoreboard had better news.
And then, whaddya know? The boys … well. I'm squirming here, but you know what they did? They battled. As the lowest-caste member of the pitching staff, Tim Redding was forced out of the bullpen at batpoint to absorb the seemingly inevitable beating and somehow emerged with 3 1/3 innings of one-hit ball to his credit. Then, down five, the Mets staged an insurrection against Danny Haren. Cora and Santos singled, Pagan walked, and Luis Castillo brought the crowd to its feet in happy delight with a two-run single. Wright then followed that with one of his own, scoring Pagan and moving Castillo to second. 6-4 Mets, two on and one out, Gary Sheffield coming to the plate.
We're going to win this game, I thought to myself — and Sheff promptly bounced into a double play.
Yeah, the Mets had chances after that: Murphy's long home run brought them to within one, and Parnell, Feliciano and Stokes somehow avoided the two or three tack-on runs that generally put an end to fantasies of insurrection in games like these. But they missed those chances and went out with a whimper, with a loss that had some gallantry to pluck from it but was still a loss.
Still, Emily and I left not too terribly disappointed. Nice night, the team tried to come back, 7 express waiting to whisk us home. I like to say that the second-best thing you can do with an evening is watch your team lose a baseball game, but I've never really meant that. Being disappointed requires expectations, and mine have been recalibrated pretty thoroughly by now.
The season was lost a while back amid injuries and poor front-office decisions and bad luck, and the team that remains is one whose highest aspirations concern breaking even, not playoff odds. They battled. It's not enough and it can't be acceptable, but it's understandable. Here's one, however reluctantly, for Art Howe.
That's a gloomy note to go out on, so let's end with something a little different.
The folks at Hawk's Nest Publishing were kind enough to send us four copies of the latest edition of their Mets Coloring & Activity Book. I admit I'm not usually a fan of such books, but this one is pretty cool: It's got lots of puzzles and games, but what really grabs you are the illustrations. They've been artfully derived from well-chosen photos, and capture the likes of Wright and Reyes and Delgado (remember them) really well. They're fun to look at if you're an adult, so I imagine they'll be fun to color if you're a kid. (You can see sample illustrations from the book and order copies here.)
Anyway, seems like a useful aid for bringing up the next generation (W)right. So here's our impromptu contest: We'll send a copy of the coloring book to the first four people who send us a digital picture of their kid (or a family shot, or whatever) in a properly celebratory pose, wearing Mets garb.
Send 'em to email@example.com, and we'll let you know if you've won. (Don't worry, we won't use your photo on the site or anything like that without asking you first.)
Because hey, hopefully next year we'll all have more to cheer about.
WE HAVE OUR WINNERS. THANKS FOR SENDING SUCH GREAT PICTURES.
Remember the cheers of better years (and the gloom of worse ones, too) in Faith and Fear in Flushing, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.