How different. How incredibly different. For two years in a row, I was a first-hand witness to history, sitting slumped over and dejected in the highest tier of an enormous stadium. On a Sunday afternoon in September 2007 and on another Sunday afternoon in September 2008, I watched my baseball team eliminated from a chance to compete for a championship. They were two distinct events but they are definitely bound together in rueful memory.
The Mets broke my heart on September 30, 2007. The Mets broke my heart again on September 28, 2008. You know the gory details of how they arrived at those finish lines and found themselves finished. It was gory. It was gruesome. It was heartbreaking. A saner or perhaps more well-rounded individual would have moved on to other endeavors.
But I’m not sane or well-rounded. I’m a Mets fan. My team lets me down, I dig in just a little deeper.
And for my trouble, I get 2009. While I wouldn’t have accepted delivery of this season had I known what waited inside the box, I can say this much on its behalf:
When inevitable elimination materialized, it didn’t break my heart. It didn’t come anywhere near it, actually.
We were out of this thing sometime in June, early July at the latest. There was one respectable tease that tantalized our wilder fantasies at the beginning of August, but none of us actually took it seriously. Thus, we had plenty of time to prepare for the ouster. There would be no shellshock, no dumbfoundedness. I wouldn’t be left staring at a field from an upper deck helpless and hopeless. That field isn’t there any longer. Nor is that upper deck. But that — literally, I suppose — is neither here nor there.
This time it happened on a Sunday, but a Sunday night. It happened on TV, in somebody else’s stadium. It happened at the hands of a team we consider our archrival, but really, without an honest-to-goodness duel, rivalry has no edge. The Phillies are just some very good team with a slew of very obnoxious fans who live a little too close by. The only thing that made them a noteworthy foe for this occasion was their starting pitcher.
It wasn’t quite the same as wondering how the Mets could find a way to forge the worst last-minute collapse in baseball history or wondering how they could double down on that equation by falling apart minutes before their ballpark would begin to undergo demolition, but I guess if you were ordering up a pitcher to pitch you officially out of the playoff picture — and you wanted tragicomic overtones befitting a Met appointment with the grim reaper — you’d send Pedro Martinez to the mound.
Assuming T#m Gl@v!ne wasn’t available.
If this were a final day of a season, and it was Pedro Martinez in the wrong colors and in our way of a brass ring, well, he wouldn’t be Pedro to me. He’d be Martinez. He’d just be the other team’s pitcher. That’s sort of what he was in August when he came to Citi Field. Yes, I applauded him then, but I didn’t feel any kind of juice from seeing him in my midst for the first time since he slipped away, likely attributable to the half-inning that preceded his taking the mound (which featured Ollie Perez surrendering six runs and oodles of the franchise’s dignity).
Sunday night, with our tragic number 2, I can’t say I wasn’t taken by the sight of Pedro in proximity to the Mets. This was the first time Pedro would be facing some semblance of the Mets lineup that supported him between 2005 and 2008. Last time, everybody was injured. This time, our three-hitter was David Wright and our four-hitter was Carlos Beltran, two-thirds of the triumvirate that, in conjunction with Pedro Martinez, was going to lift the Mets from their early ’00s irrelevance to untold heights as this decade unfolded. Spring 2005: the kids Reyes and Wright, the imports Beltran and Pedro. No Jose last night, but everybody else was gathered there in one place.
Thus, it felt, at times, like I was watching a private affair. When the three-hitter and the four-hitter batted, I saw David vs. Pedro, Carlos vs. Pedro. The former matchup had never before occurred. The latter was layered with weirdness once I remembered 2005 and how all of Carlos’s home runs seemed to be hit only when Pedro pitched. The first Met win that year was Martinez outlasting Smoltz when Beltran blasted a ball out of Turner Field. That was the whole idea of having them on our team.
April 10, 2005 and September 13, 2009 were bookends for this era now passed. Then it was the promise of something new and something better and the first hint that it would really (if too briefly) take shape. Now it’s pieces scattered about a baseball wasteland. The Wright piece remains. The Beltran piece remains. The Martinez piece was misplaced.
Yet his was the piece that looked best of all Sunday night.
I relished those two matchups. I didn’t see anybody else on the screen, not Pedro’s catcher, not the umpire, not those regrettable people in the Citizens Bank seats (and the ESPN sound was turned way down, I assure you). I saw only our three guys from 2005. I wanted Pedro to challenge David and Carlos, and I wanted David and Carlos to meet Pedro’s challenge and one-up him. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t much care what the rest of the Mets did last night, nor the rest of the Phillies. I assumed, Saturday night’s revelatory comeback notwithstanding, that the Phillies would find a way to eliminate the Mets eventually.
It didn’t occur to me, however, that the Phillies defeating us would amount to Pedro doing it practically all by himself. Wright had the one double off the wall (taking his sweet time leaving the batter’s box because he thought it was gone — does this team ever learn?). Beltran didn’t do anything but walk once. Neither is likely 100%. Pedro? He was off the charts, 100% and then some. Tim Redding threw a whale of a ballgame, apparently, but I didn’t notice. It was all Pedro for me as Sunday night wore on. If it wasn’t going to be David or Carlos muscling in on his showcase, I preferred he not be intruded upon by mere Met amateurs.
I’ve never wished another starting pitcher well when he faced the Mets. Never. Not Seaver in 1977, not Gooden in 2000 — and I loved those guys. They were my favorites of all time. Still are. I never really felt that away about Pedro Martinez. He wasn’t my favorite Met while here, but having him be a Met was one of my favorite experiences. Still, he was just the opposing starter last night. He was no different in that regard from Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen, the pitchers we had to beat if we wanted to live another day at the end of 2007 and 2008, respectively. I rooted for the Mets to batter them senseless, just as I wanted the Mets to conk Kyle Kendrick Sunday afternoon and jump Jamie Moyer the day before.
This was different. This wasn’t a Mets-Phillies game. This was three guys I was watching. This was Wright and Beltran versus Pedro. If the two batters couldn’t win, then I couldn’t help myself. I rooted for the pitcher. I rooted for Pedro. Not at first, but the longer he went, I saw no purpose in reverting to form. The other six Mets hitters were footnotes. Redding was a foil. This was Pedro Martinez, 2005. That Pedro was our Pedro, red cap or no red cap. Nineteen games out of first place in September 2009, that’s who I saw and that’s whom I supported.
Come the eighth inning, with Daniel Murphy on second, I was astounded to find Pedro Martinez still standing, still giving up nothing that mattered. It was only one out’s worth, but it was suddenly important to me that Pedro not have to leave after 7-2/3 innings. I wanted him to finish the eighth intact. I wanted his stubbornness and savvy validated. I wanted a great starting pitcher whose Hall of Fame plaque will include one line denoting NEW YORK (N.L.) to stay out there, throw 130 pitches and get away with it.
Murphy took off for third on a ball that didn’t roll nearly far enough away from the catcher to merit an attempt at moving up. Carlos Ruiz picked it up and fired it to Pedro Feliz. Murphy was (predictably) out, ending the eighth, ending Pedro Martinez’s night with eight scoreless innings.
Without forethought, I made the “out!” motion with my right fist and I clapped just a bit. I turned to Stephanie and said, “You didn’t see what you just saw. And you’re never going to see it again.”
It would have been reasonably wonderful had somebody in a Mets uniform torched Ryan Madson in the ninth. I wasn’t invested in Pedro’s won-lost record. I just wanted him to succeed while he was the center of the action. Once he left, I saw Phillies again and I saw Mets. I saw a one-run deficit that should have been surmountable, but if it were that easy, would have the Mets really been on the brink of elimination on September 13? If it were that easy, wouldn’t have they done damage to Scott Olsen last September 28 or pieced together a legitimate rally after Dontrelle Willis exited the September 30 before that? Wouldn’t have they won enough games the last two years so that at worst we’d be relinquishing our divisional crown after a worthwhile run of three championship years?
The Mets lost 1-0. The Mets were eliminated. They didn’t break my heart this time. They didn’t come anywhere near it. I rarely felt for any of them what I felt for Pedro Martinez, technically a Philadelphia Phillie, on Sunday night.
How could a season this long still have eighteen games left in it?
The final 2009 edition of AMAZIN’ TUESDAY is tomorrow night at Two Boots Tavern on the Lower East Side. Details here. Hope you’ll join us for one more great night of reading, rooting, pizza and beer.