In retrospect, why were we surprised? Didn’t it stand to reason that David Wright would go down too? And didn’t it make sense that, having failed to injure himself sliding into third or stretching for a bag or descending the dugout steps or conducting other maneuvers that have waylaid unwary Mets, the cruel baseball gods would finally strike Wright down in frightening, decisive fashion, via a fastball from the hand of an enemy pitcher?
I don’t mean to make light of what happened in the fourth inning. Wright’s in the hospital, presumably for precautionary measures, but that’s no insignificant thing. Nor did it seem so at the time. Matt Cain’s fastball came up and in, too much of each, there was the sound of impact and then the helmet had gone one way and the player another, and then Wright was lying on his face in the dirt. And then, worse, Wright was lying on his face in the dirt and not moving.
The natural instinct is to say what you thought of when it happened, but in truth I didn’t think of anything when it happened, because I wasn’t capable of thinking anything except whatever goes through your mind when your mouth is a cartoon O. A minute later, with Wright still on his face, I thought of Tony Conigliaro, and exhaled in relief when Wright turned over and wasn’t bloody. And then I thought of Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza. But at the time? I was thinking Oh no and Fuck, please get up and other formless, useless things.
It’s a basic rule of baseball that you never know what a game will wind up being known for. Before first pitch, I brassily predicted that Johan Santana was pitching a no-hitter, an idea that caught Joshua’s fancy and left him marching around the bedroom declaring the imminence of the first Mets no-no during the brief time in which it seemed possible. Pablo Sandoval, the amusingly nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, put an end to that fantasy, and soon Johan was spinning this way and that, dismayed by an unlikely barrage of hits. Then it became the game in which Cain beaned Wright. And then it would try and fail to become other things.
The game was also a chance to take the measure of the Giants, one of those likable, done-with-mirrors teams that misses the memo about how they’re supposed to suck. Their lineup is full of guys I never heard of, guys I lost track of and guys I thought had retired (if they were a band I’d expect them to be Aaron Rowand and the Giants), but there they are with very real postseason dreams, thanks to good defense and superlative pitching. (1969 Mets, anybody?) And the Giants were impressive — no more so than in the seventh-inning sequence in which Santana decided the best place for a fastball was the same space occupied by the Kung Fu Panda. The ball wound up behind Sandoval (though, happily, not in a lame-ass Shawn Estes way), Santana got warned, Santana threw another one inside, and then Sandoval hit the next one to Montauk. Which was one of those baseball sequences that left everybody nodding: Johan answered as his team would have liked and Sandoval sure as hell answered the way his team would have liked. Measure taken, respect given. (Johan then hitting Bengie Molina, on the other hand, was baseball as farce — particularly the sight of Bruce Bochy arguing he should have been thrown out instead of ushered out by his own manager.)
With the Mets behind, Emily and I left the house for our Saturday evening. The eighth inning’s scrappy comeback unfolded remotely at the Good Fork over Gameday, with its kabuki figures and blue, red and green pitch indicators and its cryptic, edge-of-your-seat alerts about run(s) and out(s). With my phone dying, I cut back to occasional peeks after the game went into Free Baseball territory. If it had been disappointing to miss the Mets’ rally, it was some mild relief to miss what came next: I caught up with the decisive blow a few minutes after the fact, but updates weren’t particularly necessary. We all could have guessed that a Molina brother hitting a home run would be fatal.
Brushback the indignities of 2009 with 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.