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The Win Chill Factor

That was the coldest doubleheader in the history of Citi Field.

Granted, it was the first doubleheader in the history of Citi Field: the first one that required only one admission, the first one that left you doubting whether you’d leave with all the fingers and toes you brought and the first one that led us into first place.

Good god, it was freezing there and good god, it mattered not at all by the time all the chips fell from Tuesday night.

The Mets win [1].
The Marlins lose.
The Mets win again [2].
The Phillies lose.

And now your National League East looks exactly like this:

Those standings don’t reflect temperature, let alone wind chill. Wind chill would be leading the league if it had enough at-bats. As was, 18 innings at Citi Field felt like 18 degrees. And a half-game lead over the Phillies, following our frigid 2-6 start [3], feels like a week in the Bahamas.

As if a night in first place all to ourselves isn’t paradise enough.

This is the part where in past years I’d be cringing at acknowledging the current reality. Mentioning you’re in first place is a good way to get karma to bounce your ass right out of first place. Maybe so. But in 2010, when this was all unexpected — remember the hopeless 2-6 Mets from two weeks ago? — a dreamy interlude may be all we get, so let’s slather it on.

Or, conversely, it may be the start of something big. It makes this weekend’s trip to Philadelphia less a certain descent into poor-mannered misery and more a battle for first (Marlins and Nationals notwithstanding). First place in early May doesn’t quite carry the resonance of first place in early October, but the calendar says what the calendar says, and the standings say what they say.

What did the thermometer say Tuesday night? Whatever it said, it was a bald-faced liar. It was colder than that. The wind blew harder than Oliver Perez and he blew…hard. But the Mets persevered in the face of both the elements and the Ollie-ments. Johan Santana mastered nature for the first six innings of the first game, getting control of his pitches after ascertaining and then taming the atmospheric conditions (three walks in a tightrope second, no such things thereafter). Jason Bay unfroze to belt a leadoff homer to high and distant left in the fourth, his first as a Met, though I can’t help but think he should have hit his first home run as a Met around 2004 (thanks Steve Phillips). The Dodgers, like the Cubs and Braves before them, looked dead, but the Mets have been administering lethal injections all homestand, so who’s to say who’s dead and who’s very much alive?

In the second game, Ollie did seem inclined to give back all the good and chilly vibes of a 3-0 lead. Even spotting him the benefit of the doubt for how the ball must have felt like a rock, geez. This is not something you want to go through every fifth day, whatever the climate. Fortunately Hisanori Takahashi (and a little kind umpiring from Angel Campos, surely no relation to Angel Hernandez) righted the listing ship, making with the winning middle relief for the second time since last Friday, and from there, all was Wright with the world. Congratulations to David on your first thousand hits and the end, perhaps, of your stay in the dark forest. Jerry Manuel had said he could see you coming out of it when all anybody else saw was hopelessness. Jerry’s been correct about a few things of that ilk this year, a little ahead of the curve regarding his team’s fortunes.

Could it be Jerry Manuel knows what he’s doing more than we imagined? Could it be Jerry Manuel knows the Mets better than everybody else? We’re in first place, so anything’s possible.

It was a night when you had to think through such burning issues because burning issues gave off the only heat that was to be had outside the private clubs of Citi Field. Did I mention how cold it was? Way up in Section 508 for the first game, it was Arctic. Using whatever parts of our noodles weren’t coated with ice, our hardy band from Row 13 vowed to remain on Field Level for Game Two. Down there, it was Antarctic. There was no escaping the cold. We tried camping out on Shea Bridge for a couple of innings, which proved tolerable in terms of wind until it proved intolerable in terms of screaming, picture-taking idiots. We then slipped by the best security guard at Citi Field, a fellow huddled for warmth and not checking tickets, and sat in one of the myriad empty rows in the outfield. It was still cold, but sitting was looking pretty good by then.

Eventually cold won out over sitting. My companions, hardy as they were, thought a train sounded ideal while their extremities were still attached to the rest of them. Me, I decided to hang in a little longer, returning to the bridge, where the wind had blown away the early-inning idiots. It was a nice and undisturbed view for an inning or two before a large lead and my own train schedule gave me the confidence to get home and get warm. Though I know standing and watching is permitted, I kept expecting a man in a maroon or green jacket to tell me to move it along. But nobody did. Sometimes Citi Field personnel are at their finest when they’re not doing a damn thing.

Sixteen innings spent inside a ballpark (I missed the beginning of Game One due to real life not necessarily sanctioning a suddenly scheduled 4:10 start) will draw you closer to its inner self, and I felt better about Citi Field having endured, me and it together, through the bulk of two games in such dreadful conditions. Listening on the ride in, I heard Howie say he and Wayne were bringing us “a doubleheader from Shea,” then immediately fine himself a dollar. But I got why he reflexively reverted to pre-2009 form. Doubleheaders are what happened at Shea Stadium, if not all that often toward its end (last sweep I enjoyed there: the Ventura Grand Slamathon, 1999). This was new for Citi Field. Made it feel a little more like, dare I say, home.

Alas, there are still the moments when Citi Field feels like the Citi Field I strained to cotton to in its first season. For example, why is my 80% full bottle of water a threat to the physical plant? Why, when we’re playing the Dodgers, are Dodgers jerseys so ostentatiously displayed in the team store (the Mets team store)? Why is a criminal patdown of my receipt necessary seconds after I’ve paid for an item in said store? Why are there peppers all over my sausage when I said to the guy (the guy who gave me all onions when I asked in the past) “mostly onions, please”? Those questions all occurred to me in the ten or so minutes between the security table and approaching Section 508 when I experienced each of those little shots Citi Field still takes at my developing goodwill toward it.

My friend Sharon (whose generosity made my doubleheader attendance possible) and I agreed it’s not because the Mets are malevolent in their guest relations. It’s because they don’t think everything through. At Shea, we were used to it. At Citi Field, sometimes it simply feels like there are nicer things for them to run badly. While Sharon was pleased that the manager at one particular concession made up for the stand’s sluggishness by comping and enhancing her order, she was rightly turned off when a request she made of a ticket operative was met with bureaucratic blankness. She wanted to know if there was any way, since this night was by no means a sellout, to “upgrade” our seats for the second game — apply the cost of the previously bought tickets to a some better, warmer seats; we’d gladly pay the legitimate difference. Sounded like a good chance for the Mets to unload some inventory that was going to go unused for the rest of the evening.

The person at the ticket window on Promenade basically told Sharon to go outside and buy another ticket.

I don’t think that was malevolent on the ticket agent’s part. It’s just that it didn’t compute. Citi Field personnel are still capable of being badly thrown by queries that come out of very short left field. Sharon had earlier this year asked a Mets employee why her four-seat, 15-game plan in Promenade — quite a commitment, I think we’d all agree — doesn’t include some sort of club access.

Because it doesn’t, she was told.

Well, she asked, how about some sort of pass be made available for those who are interested? This did not compute with whoever was charged with handling her call. In fact, it almost caused the entire system to go TILT! In order to reboot, they tried to distract her with a keychain or some similarly shiny trinket.

If I’m running a ballclub, I don’t do that. I think of ways to make all my customers as happy as possible. If it means opening the doors to a club, then I open the doors. Next thing I know, my happy customers are purchasing things.¬†And that, in turn, provides jobs for people who can wear maroon or green jackets and circle receipts immediately after the purchases. That’s what they call a win-win.

Just like the Mets themselves accomplished in this first-ever doubleheader at Citi Field, where you’ll stand in the cold half the night if it means waking up the next morning in first place.