Sunday night, while waiting for the season premiere of Mad Men, I tuned into the rain-delayed start of the ESPN game, Phillies at Braves. A ball took a weird hop over Adam LaRoche's head in the top of the first and I reflexively cheered because it meant trouble for the Braves. When I realized the ball was struck by Shane Victorino and thus benefited the Phillies, I reflexively booed. A moment later, a Chase Utley liner was converted into a double play. I cheered the unfortunate turn of events for Philadelphia. I booed the help it gave Atlanta.
Maybe Don Draper — á la the “Maidenform” episode — could have devised a campaign to sell me on spending another 8½ innings choosing between two evils (“Chipper and Chase — Two Sides of the Same Vermin”), but otherwise, continuing to watch this game was going to give me Schadenfreude whiplash.
The Braves finished hosting the Phillies and now we have them both on our dance card this week. Atlanta arrived at Citi Field first and I can report with confidence that I still hate them, every bit as much as I hated them in the heyday of those nifty “Rocker Sucks Cox” t-shirts and every bit as much as I came to hate the Phillies in 2007 and 2008 and, if memory serves from when we were still sort of in it this year, 2009. The Phillie hatred has been more applicable at the end of this decade but the Brave hatred is classic, stylish, sleek…it's the 1962 Coupe de Ville Don buys in “The Gold Violin“. You can't beat a classic.
But you can sure stick it to the Braves. You can stick it to them all night every night. Failing that, you can stick it to them like the Mets did in the fourth inning Tuesday night. Oh, it was classic, all right. It brought back some fine half-innings from a not always so fine rivalry.
Let's stroll Memory Lane — I hear they just extended it!
September 29, 1999, Bottom of the Fourth
Trailing 2-1 in one of the most “must” games they've ever played, the Mets start nicking Greg Maddux. Darryl Hamilton singles. Roger Cedeño (when we still deemed Roger sterling) singles. Rey Ordoñez singles infield-style, loading the bases. Al Leiter, who presumably couldn't hit Maddux if he were playing Strat-O-Matic, bloops a single to center, tying the game. Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson tucks one through the right side, scoring two more. Edgardo Alfonzo — Fonzie, to you — coolly slips one to left. Leiter is held at third. Henderson's on second. Fonzie's on first. John Olerud then slams Maddux's jukebox for four runs. Aaaayyyy! The Mets are ahead 8-2 on seven consecutive base hits. One more single (Mike Piazza's) eliminates Maddux. Robin Ventura singles off Kevin McGlinchy for not the last time in 1999 to make it 7 runs on 9 hits. The Mets live another night and then some.
June 30, 2000, Bottom of the Eighth
Oh, you know this one by heart (you voted it Shea's eighth-greatest moment), but what's the fun of doing a greatest hits medley without brushing off the favorites? Here we very enthusiastically go again: Mets down 8-1 and all but out of it on what is about to be the most explosive Fireworks Night in human history. Derek Bell sounds the alarm with a single off Don Wengert. Fonzie flies out. Piazza singles Bell to third and moves to second on a bad throw by Rafael Furcal, who can't make enough bad throws for my taste. Ventura grounds out to second, scoring Bell, sending Mike to third. So we're within six with one on and two out. Todd Zeile singles home Piazza to get us within five. Jay Payton singles Zeile to second. Wengert disappears and Kerry Ligtenberg materializes. He is not in control of the situation, however: a walk to Benny Agbayani to load the bases; a walk to Mark Johnson to bring us within four; a walk to Melvin Mora to bring us within three. Exit Ligtenberg, enter Mulholland. Mulholland drives the Mets within two by walking Bell. All that was prelude for this, the chorus: On two consecutive swings, Fonzie singles home two, Piazza homers home three and the Mets lead 11-8. That's 10 runs on 6 hits, one error and, what, about a million walks? They all look line drives in the boxscore and they always will.
April 6, 2002, Top of the Ninth
This one's more of a rarity. Maybe it sounds familiar, maybe it's new to you. I think you'll like it, though. Let me cue it up and…listen to this: It's 2-2 at Terrible Turner when Brave closer John Smoltz enters to face Jay Payton. Jay triples. Rey singles, again in the infield, so on first it's Rey and on third it's Jay, but you doesn't have to call me Johnson. Joe McEwing strikes out, but Cedeño singles home Payton and Robbie Alomar, during that brief period when he was considered a Met boon, singles home Ordoñez. The Mets have a 4-2 lead. Not enough, right? Fine. Smoltz balks, moving Roger to third, Roberto to second. He strikes out Mark Johnson (who you does have to call Johnson). But Vance Wilson doubles the two R's home to make it 6-2. Fonzie, always in the middle of these things, draws an intentional walk. The immortal McKay Christensen singles to load the bases. Smoltz, struggling but left to fend for himself, walks Payton to make it 7-2 Mets. Bobby Cox finally notices what's transpiring and replaces Smoltz with Aaron Small. Small makes Ordoñez (a bases-clearing double) and McEwing (a two-base hit that sends Rey-Rey home) both look pretty big. There'd be a wild pitch and two more walks, but Mark Johnson, more Saluga than slugger at this point, would leave the bases loaded by striking out looking, limiting us to an 11-2 lead. Still, a pretty good half-inning's work for the Mets: 9 runs, 8 hits and a sense that 2002 would be our year. (Two out of three ain't bad.)
July 29, 2006, Top of the Sixth
We stay in Atlanta to observe the passing of an era. The score is tied at three, and Tim Hudson's getting by, retiring Julio Franco to start the inning. But he walks David Wright, gives up a line drive single to Cliff Floyd, wild pitches them forward a base apiece and is forced to intentionally walk Jose Valentin. Now the fun starts: Endy Chavez singles home Wright and Floyd, taking second on the throw; Orlando Hernandez singles home Valentin and Chavez, taking second on the throw. Yup, El Duque's on second. Jose Reyes's deep fly ball doesn't move the needle, but that's OK. Hudson, like Maddux in '99 and Smoltz in '00, remains moundbound despite the nine miles of bad road he has paved. After walking Paul Lo Duca, however, Cox removes him in favor of Chad Paronto. Chad Paronto proves not the answer once Carlos Beltran plus bat adds up to a three-run bomb that puts the Mets ahead 10-3. Franco tries to keep the wheel spinning with a single to center, but a third out inevitably follows. The Mets spark up 7 runs on 5 hits while Atlanta burns.
August 18, 2009, Bottom of the Fourth
Philadelphia's regrettable ascendancy likely means this half-inning, unlike the previous four recounted, involves no eventual division winner. The Mets are done for, but the Braves cling to Wild Card hopes. Their cling gathers static, however, when the Mets, behind 4-0, loosen up and begin to play some Citi Field pinball. The guest of dishonor this time is Derek Lowe, who we allegedly wanted instead of Oliver Perez last winter. Funny how the alternative no longer seems desirable to the reality, even if the reality is Oliver Perez. Let's see now: Angel Pagan singles to short. Luis Castillo singles to right. Gary Sheffield, going the other way for a change, doubles to right, driving them both home. Daniel Murphy moves Sheff to third on a grounder to second. Jeff Francoeur goes deep to right with a double (the Citi Field version of going deep) to score Sheffield. Fernando Tatis singles to score the former Brave who has seen the light by becoming a reasonably hot-hitting Met. Omir Santos singles Tatis to third. Anderson Hernandez, here mostly for his ability to breathe and not fall down, singles Tatis home and moves Santos to second. Somewhere in there, the Mets take the lead. Ollie fails at bunting the two runners over, but succeeds at singling. The bases are loaded for Angel Pagan, who raps into what would have been a double play had Angel not been flying toward first. Perez is out at second but Angel's safe, Hernandez is on third and Santos scores. Angel keeps the inning interesting by stealing second. Then Castillo makes the inning downright fascinating when he drives both baserunners home with another single. Sheffield doubles the usual way, to left, but a little too hard to score Luis. We'll have to settle for 8 runs on a club record 10 hits en route to a 9-4 victory.
If you're scoring at home, that's 41 runs on 36 hits across five classic half-innings. That's scoring even Don Draper would envy.
AMAZIN' TUESDAY returns to Two Boots Tavern August 25 at 7:00 PM. Join Jason Fry, Dana Brand, Caryn Rose and me for a fun night of reading, eating, drinking and all things Mets baseball (Mets baseball optional). Full details here.
And if your interests veer to a galaxy long ago and far away, then for the love of Han Solo, let somebody who has literally charted the route show you the way there.