Flipping on SNY in the early afternoon Friday, I heard myself paraphrase Bill Terry:
“Is Chicago still in the league?”
I wasn't looking to take a shot at the Cubs the way the Giants manager was jabbing the downtrodden if eventually vengeful Dodgers in 1934. I was kind of serious. Here we were, on the last weekend of August 2009 and we hadn't played the Cubs since the final week of September 2008, the final week in the life of a stadium that no longer exists. We hadn't visited their ancient haunt since…gads, when was it? Two desultory days the April before the most recent one, actually. I heard something about the Cubs joining the Mets as the most disappointing clubs in the N.L. this year. They'd been so far off my radar — having been so far off our schedule — that I swear I actually hadn't noticed just how not in it they were.
The Cardinals seem to have flown away with the Central. The Wild Card looked like the Rockies' (or even the Dodgers') a couple of days ago, but Colorado has lost three in a row, so you can't quite write off those teams that are still within You Gotta Believe distance of the Rox: the Giants at 2 out, the can-go-screw-themselves Marlins and Braves each 4½ out and, now — because you can't dismiss any team that entered this weekend with a crisp, unopened six-pack of games left against the Mets — the Cubs, hanging on at 6½ out.
The vaguely familiar franchise from the heartland did what disappointing teams do to vastly more disappointing teams: they disappointed less Friday, winning the first overdue meeting between these once-upon-a-time rivals. The story for us, for a while, was Pat Misch, the third or fourth (depending on how you view Bobby Parnell) of our starters who would in no way be starting if things hadn't gone so cripplingly disappointing where our rotation was concerned. The first two-thirds of the largely unwanted trio, Figueroa and Redding, had pitched well this week. So did Misch, probably the most obscure starter the Mets have dug up this decade since Brian Stokes in '08 — sadly ironic, don'tcha think? — but way more effective than most of them, including the patron saint of obscure 2000s Mets starters, the immortally ineffective Brett Hinchliffe.
I had a pretty good feeling about Misch pitching better than expected (7 IP, 1 ER) for two reasons. One was once you're in a mindset that nothing can go right, such as the result from handing the ball to Pat Misch, it's usually turns out not as bad as you envisioned. Two was there is something so blatantly absurd about hearing the Mets have promoted Pat Misch that ultimately he deserves a break just to make you who roll your eyes at him feel foolish. I'm sorry, Misch family of Northbrook, Ill., I mean no offense. But Pat Misch? I've twice given into my baser instincts where Mischanthropic headlines have been concerned, even though Pat Misch has acquitted himself decently and then some since arriving upon the Metscape in June. In a season when we've clearly outpointed the Cubs for disappointment, it hasn't been Pat Misch's fault. It hasn't been Brian Stokes' fault, either, though from what I can discern, Friday it kind of was.
I didn't stick with Misch nearly as long as Jerry Manuel did. As rare as a Friday afternoon Mets-Cubs game from Wrigley has become (this was the first since 2007 and only the fourth since the turn of the century), meetings with my three high school buddies of record come along just about as infrequently. The last time I saw them in one place, that place was Shea Stadium a little more than a year ago. The last time before that was 2001. Even with divisional realignment, the Mets see the Cubs more often.
The guys are in town for the second wedding of another member of our little high school newspaper alumni society. Saturday's groom was in a beautiful marriage for 17 years, from 1988 until 2005, when his betrothed took ill very suddenly and just as suddenly passed. We got together as fast and as best as we could then, too, though not with any sense of joy, obviously. Alerted to Save The Date of August 29 because our friend has happily found somebody new with whom to share his life, we all did. For me, logistically, it was no big deal. For a couple of us it probably was, but I'm guessing they didn't see it that way. It's just what comes naturally among friends who have known one another thirty-odd years.
The other thing that comes naturally is Gino's in Long Beach. There was going to be a barbecue, but the rains threatened and, besides, it's Gino's. If you're from Long Beach, it's where you go. Long Beach has sprouted dozens of enticing restaurants since I left there in 1990, but I've never been enticed to enter a single one. It's always Gino's and pizza. Always.
In a less disappointing Mets year, a radio would have made the trip to our table and these friends of mine wouldn't have blinked. They're not all Mets fans, but they know what I'm about. I'm about an afternoon game, no matter the record, no matter the score. But Friday it seemed overkill. I could leave Pat Misch behind, if not the handy little electronic device whose refresh button I quietly hit now and again when it occurred to me. Mostly I was about Gino's and their pizza and my friends and the kinds of anecdotes I wouldn't have guessed we'd be unearthing when we reached an age when only one man playing Major League Baseball would be older than us.
“Remember that time we broke into that cabinet and stole glue?”
“Yeah. Not to sniff. Just to have.”
We were never going to be mistaken for juvenile delinquents in high school. No sex. No drugs. Not much rock 'n' roll. Just the perverse thrills wrought from pinching office supplies and churning out a particularly cheeky editorial. It seems lame in retrospect. It seemed lame at the time. But we must have liked the way we were because we keep finding reasons to revisit our younger selves.
After Gino's, driving around Long Beach a bit aimlessly as I refreshed one last time to ascertain that the Cubs had indeed finished off the Mets, one of us suggested we drop by his mother's house. We agreed and pulled into her driveway, trundled up the basement stairs, entered the kitchen and greeted her as we might have had we just come home from college for Thanksgiving.
“It's so nice to see you boys,” she said.
Boys? Us…boys? Three of us are pushing Jamie Moyer en route to AARP membership and one of us isn't far behind the others. We are middle-aged men by any chronological reckoning. But I suppose when you're in your friend's mother's kitchen, the same kitchen you first wandered into when you were 16 or thereabouts, and your friend's mother is there asking after you, well, you probably never quite altogether stopped being your younger self.
We sat ourselves down at the kitchen table and caught her up in broad strokes on what we'd each been up to, where we were living, what we were working on, how our wives, girlfriends and children were doing as applicable. The rains that were forecast began to fall hard on the patio furniture outside the kitchen window. It was pretty chilly for late August. My friend's mother mentioned plans for Rosh Hashanah, only a few weeks away. The Mets were thirteen under and seventeen out with thirty-three games left to play in their season. Pat Misch would be starting again in six days because he pitched valiantly today in defeat and because there was nobody else. After maybe twenty minutes, the boys needed to get going 'cause one of them had yet to buy a suit for the wedding tomorrow.
September's almost here, isn't it?