“Ain’t nothin’ horrible gonna happen today!”
—Nate Cox, shortly before he’s macheted to death by his brother Dewey in Walk Hard
I probably would have remembered being at Sunday’s game for the two three-run homers the opposing team blasted in the top of the first.
Or the way the home manager took out his starting pitcher after he ran a 3-0 count on the opposing pitcher, still in the top of the first.
Or the opposing pitcher being a first-time returning icon.
Or his giving up an inside-the-park home run to the first batter he faced.
Or the opposing centerfielder facilitating the four-bagger by apparently being too delicate to pick up a baseball that was by no means wedged between the fence and the ground.
Or the opposing pitcher/returning icon singling in a run despite being a terrible hitter.
Or the inside-the-park home run hitter also hitting an outside-the-park home run.
Or the opposing second baseman, with a batting average worse than even that of the offensively pathetic home catcher, collecting several hits while playing in place of perhaps the fiercest visiting player the host venue had ever known.
Or the way that the opposing second baseman — his average seemingly soaring with every plate appearance — was robbed of an additional base hit by the home rightfielder who was mimicking his franchise’s greatest right field play ever.
Or the way that spectacular catch was mistakenly ruled a trap, allowing the opposing second baseman to race unmolested to third.
Or the way the umpires conferred and ruled that trap call a mistake, thus foiling the opposing second baseman vis-à-vis the extraordinary effort of the home rightfielder.
I’ll probably remember all that, too, but I wouldn’t blame anybody if they forgot all of it and only remembered the now mythic ending of what shall forever be known by one sobriquet. All index entries regarding the events of August 23, 2009, whether they be “Pagan, Angel (leadoff inside-the-park home run)“; “Martinez, Pedro (relatively triumphant return)“; “Perez, Oliver (enormous waste of money and time)“; or “Umpires, Terrible (rare competent performance of tasks in series)”, will necessarily carry the notation see “Play, Game-Ending Unassisted Triple“.
The Game-Ending Unassisted Triple Play Game…or TGEUTPG for short. I’m pretty sure that’s the sound I made when Jeff Francoeur’s liner landed in Eric Bruntlett’s glove and Eric Bruntlett stepped on second to force a departed-for-third Luis Castillo in advance of tagging an onrushing Daniel Murphy.
It’s pronounced exactly as it feels.
You could say lots else at a moment like that, and I’m sure we all did. I could hear it like I’ve heard little else this year. New Shea…I’ve been calling it Citi Field, but the impulse, given the lunacy of the bottom of the ninth is, as those ubiquitous t-shirts suggest, to go with the area’s indigenous name…was roaring like Old Shea in the bottom of the ninth. Visions of improbability befitting Saturday night’s celebration danced in the heads of everyone who stayed for the — if you’ll forgive the understatement — dramatic conclusion to Sunday’s affair. Could have I been the only Mets fan doing the math and refashioning Bob Murphy’s signature declaration? We had been down 6-0, now it was 9-6 going on 9-7 and, if we could go on a just a little longer, we could win this Damn Thing 10-9, just as we did in Philadelphia in 1990, (and would do there again in 2008). It wasn’t a perfect construct, with the cities, situations and teams trading roles, but it was in the air, even if I couldn’t bring myself to utter it for fear of ruining it.
I don’t know that I’ve thought in those terms since Old Shea stood tall and New Shea parked cars. Infrequent has been the occasion in 2009 when I was worried enouigh about the outcome of an individual game to fret jinxing it. These Mets have not seemed worth shielding from superstition nor have they much been in a position in which the slightest flap of a butterfly’s wings could tangibly alter the outcome of history. Had things unfolded differently Sunday, the Mets would have surged to within 13½ games of first with 38 to play. The bottom of the ninth wasn’t about a pennant race (if it had been, I’d be deep into the Xanax by now). It was about why you stay to the bottom of the ninth despite losing all day and all season. It was about why you don’t get up and leave after the top of the first when the mold for much of what you’re about to experience has clearly been cast. It was about imagining how you’re going to celebrate one of the greatest comebacks in Mets history and then fighting off the impulse to imagine such a happy ending because if you think like that, it’s never going to happen.
I thought like that. It never happened. But I’m not blaming myself, not when I have the 2009 Mets as accomplices.
There will be no UltiMET Classics from this season, except perhaps airing on other teams’ regional sports networks. You could argue, if you prefer taut to turbulent, that this exhibition of baseball shouldn’t be confused for classic. Even the climactic moment, one so swift and final it left absolutely no room for denouement, was forged by an error (at first), another error (at second) and a quasi-error (again at second). The Phillies were failing as much as the Mets were succeeding, but we never claimed the Mets didn’t need all the help they could get. It would enhance this game’s classic bona fides if indeed Eric Bruntlett had extended himself as heroically in the bottom of the ninth against Jeff Francoeur as Francoeur had against Bruntlett in right in the top of the ninth when he channeled Ron Swoboda. The Phillie second baseman, however, just happened to be in the right place while every Met who mattered found himself in the wrong place. The two runners in motion would have been better off standing still, while Francoeur’s mistake was suddenly developing a knack for making contact.
But who could have guessed? All day, I’d been muttering “no DP” whenever a Met got to first with less than two out. I guess I should have been more expansive in expressing my anxieties.
New Shea roared right to the instant Francoeur’s liner was caught and trebled. Then the roar was supplanted by an echo roar, that of the maybe 20% of the house that was satisfied with what had just transpired. The Phillies fans were maybe a fifth as loud as we would have been en masse had things worked out, but I’m sure they were just as ecstatic as we were on the verge of becoming. Why not? They had just seen their fragile closer not blow a three-run lead and their stonehanded fill-in second baseman compensate for all the damage he did in the preceding minutes, which itself was about to cancel out all the fine hitting he did while subbing for the chronically Meticidal Chase Utley.
You’re not expecting to hear any kind of widespread positive reaction at home, whichever home it is, when the Mets are thwarted. The only time that’s happened is when the opposing team is from another precinct of New York. At the end of Sunday, I suppose the only good I could divine besides the Mets battling, never saying die, yada yada yada, is this happened against the Phillies in a season when we’re long out of it and not against the Yankees at any time ever. It’s hard to believe, actually, that this wasn’t a Subway Series ninth inning, that there wasn’t a dropped popup or bases-loaded walk to a relief pitcher mixed in there to spice up the meatball, as it were.
I would say that would be too much, but wouldn’t you think we’d already exceeded our annual quota of too much? Isn’t a game that begins with two three-run homers too much? Isn’t it too much that the first three-run homer is hit on the twelfth pitch of an at-bat? Isn’t it too much that the second three-run homer is hit by a guy who had been 0-for-23 against the Mets this year? Isn’t three years and $36 million for Oliver Perez too much?
The whole day was a bit much, starting with my having woken up Sunday morning at three o’clock with the kind of headache one might contract had a surgeon taken the Manhattan Yellow Pages, dipped it in cement and inserted it into your brain through your ear. I somehow shook it off, though, and by eleven o’clock I was on the Long Island Rail Road with my friend Joe, heading where we hadn’t headed together since April. Our reception committee included:
• A man on the 7, looking very much the Sam Elliott part in Mask, commenting approvingly on my DELGADO 21 t-shirt (“I bought his jersey because I like his politics”) and recommending Fred Wilpon sit Ollie down with Sandy Koufax thereby solving everybody’s problems;
• A Mickey Lolich-sized man in the row in front of us who told us (without our asking) that it was a mortal lock the Beach Boys would be singing the national anthem, but it wouldn’t be the “real” Beach Boys, therefore he planned to heckle these Mike Love-led latter-day impostors with cries of “WHERE’S BRIAN WILSON AND AL JARDINE?” (the Beach Boys, FYI, were nowhere in sight);
• Four teenagers next to him who spent most of the afternoon taking pictures of themselves — that is, holding the camera in front of their faces and laughing hysterically — when not being engaged by the Brian Wilson guy;
• A man behind us who informed his seatmates that the Mets have an option year remaining on Carlos Delgado (they don’t), that the Mets are not permitted to use Billy Wagner because he was put on waivers (they are); and that Billy Wagner wears No. 34 (he doesn’t);
• And my favorite, the woman I remember from a previous outing in this particular section, she who I dubbed Captain Obvious. Captain Obvious points out all that is readily apparent (except that Billy Wagner wears No. 13, because she asked the guy who was sure he wore 34 — and is not righthanded, since it was No. 64, righty Elmer Dessens, warming up that brought all this on), repeats it incessantly and complains about it. Captain Obvious is also a weathervane, as in Sean Green throws a strike, he’s very good/Sean Green throws a wild pitch, he’s very bad. My previous exposure to Captain Obvious informed me “Jerry has to use Sean Green to get him mentally well in the head.” Also, Captain Obvious enjoyed a trip to the air-conditioned Verizon Studio. Know how I know that? Because she mentioned it approximately every eight seconds for five consecutive innings.
But I would have forgotten all those fine people had Jeff Francoeur’s liner sailed past Eric Bruntlett’s glove, or at least would have downgraded them from irritating to colorful. I would have reveled in Angel Pagan’s longball versatility and gotten a far greater kick from Shane Victorino invoking his own secret ground rule in the first instead of simply picking up the ball Pagan hit to the wall. I would have remembered something, vaguely, about Ollie Perez giving up a couple of bombs to Jayson Werth then Carlos Ruiz, but would have chalked it up as another no-decision and given him credit for, in his fashion, displaying those innate winning ways that make him worth every penny he’s getting. I would have needed reminding, maybe, that August 23 was also Pedro Martinez’s homecoming, and that I did clap when I first saw him in the wrong uniform, but, as so often happens, the storyline I suspected would be primary wound up no more than tertiary. I would have delineated great foreshadowing from Francoeur’s catch on Bruntlett, particularly the shoe polished way the umpires caucused to overcome their tendency to make calls with their eyes closed all weekend. And, if we had won the Damn Thing the way it began to appear we were en route to doing, I would have recanted every nasty thing I thought of and yelled at Brian Schneider and his .176 uselessness. I would be invoking Eric Bruntlett for the rest of my days every time we didn’t think something could go right instead of the way I’ll probably be invoking him every time something goes inevitably wrong. I even had a scenario worked out in which the Phillies would be eliminated in the first round and a narrative would take hold that once Lidge and Bruntlett blew that game to the Mets, you just knew they weren’t repeating. It wasn’t an essential aspect of what I imagined, but it did cross my mind.
I’d say a lot crosses my mind in a game like this, but I’m fairly certain I’d never seen a game like this until Sunday.
Alas, Jeff Francoeur’s liner sailed into Eric Bruntlett’s glove. I stared at second base, counted the sudden surfeit of outs, absorbed the echo roar of what no longer felt like New Shea and trudged out of Citi Field with my friend Joe, each of us deconstructing what the hell just happened and how the hell it could have happened.
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.
I’ve followed the crowd to Twitter. Follow me there, if you like.