An amusing, apocryphal anecdote alluding to Gibson’s legendary power is told about a home run he hit in Pittsburgh. The ball jumped out of the park like it was shot out of a cannon, clearing the fence and sailing out of sight. The next day, in Philadelphia, a ball came down out of the sky and landed in an outfielder’s glove, whereupon the umpire promptly declared to Josh, “You’re out yesterday in Pittsburgh!”
—Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
The mist became a downpour. The infield disappeared under a tarp. Time in this particularly interminable game — two hours to play five innings, dictated to a great extent by a strike zone known only to Mike Estabrook’s fortune-teller — was suddenly of the essence. The tarp wasn’t going anywhere, but a train or two would be. The goal went from wriggling Mike Pelfrey out of his jams, to not standing around when we could be making tracks.
The tarp stayed, covering up not just basepaths but all physical evidence of the five longest 1-0 innings Citi Field has ever witnessed in its short life. We left, satisfied that while Pelf bent and bent and bent, breaking was no longer what he automatically did. My friend was soon Jerseybound. I just wanted Woodside and a convenient connection to the Babylon line.
I could babble on, all night, I suppose, about what a strange venue Citi Field was for a Sunday night, late April, five-inning-ish affair. How strange the 8 o’clock start. How strange the breath that visibly wafted from everyone’s mouth. How strange the utility of that ski cap the Mets gave out the other night; I thought I’d be wearing it in December, not right away. How strange the Mets’ offer to let everybody move down and get wet in better seats. Was management taking pity on its customers or just noticing that empties don’t look very good on ESPN?
Thirty or so pitches for Pelfrey in the first, but no runs. Thirty or so more pitches for Pelfrey in the second, yet again no runs. Ride that Pelf! Alas, you can only ride that pony so far for so long at such a Mike-boggling rate, thus we were all over his pitch count, but he got us through five alive. Tommy Hanson of the Braves wasn’t exactly an exercise in economy, either. He needed to throw 93 pitches to an inept offensive team for five innings, giving up only one unearned run. Pelfrey worked harder — 106 pitches — but his the batters he faced were even more offensively inept (half the Brave lineup was batting below .200) and besides, Mike just keeps finding ways to toughen when he used to just tighten.
Raul Valdes comes on in the 1-0 game to start the sixth. He threw exactly one pitch to Jason Heyward. It was a strike. Then lightning figuratively and literally struck. Buckets of rain. Never has a tarpaulin been such a happy sight. We assume the game will be called. We’re not sure, but trains are trains, and it’s after 10 o’clock and come on, will ya look at what’s coming down?
I’m home by 11:30. Just before 11:40, I turn on ESPN, for whose benefit we play 8 o’clock Sunday night games, and I see “F/6” — that means it’s final; all you need is five innings, of course. I start clapping in my living room for our 10-9, series-sweeping Mets, not much more than an hour since I stood surveying the skies over Citi Field and fumbling for my umbrella. We just this very moment won, and technically I stayed for every pitch.
All 200 of them.