The Mets took a lead, held a lead and only made you think it possible, not probable, that they would blow the lead.
A good win for the Mets over the Yankees at Citi Field Saturday night. A good win beats any kind of loss, though I have to say in the fourteenth season of Interleague play, that’s all it felt like: a good win. A good win like the one Jeff Wilpon inspired over the Braves last Monday or the one John Maine somehow didn’t cost us against the Nationals on Thursday. Just another win in a season when — as in every season, I suppose — we can use as many of them as we can puzzle out.
I’ve really become the standard Met/Yankee talking point as regards the Subway Series. You know, “It’s just another game,” followed by variations on the theme about respecting opponents, special atmosphere, not being too high or low for any one series. In the Record of North Jersey on Friday, Jeff Roberts wrung confessions out of past SS participants who admitted, long after the fact, that their robotic “just another game” dismissals were simply a shield for actual “Oh boy!” anticipation.
John Franco: “When we played, we just treated it like another game [outwardly], but really it was exciting.”
Rick Reed: “When you’re playing, you have the uniform on, you don’t want to hype it up. But now that I’m done, it was awesome. We wanted to beat their brains in just as bad as they wanted to beat ours. It was a big thrill for us.”
Jeff Nelson: “Even though everyone is going to say, ‘Oh, it’s just another regular-season game,’ and it is, but it’s a little special because you’re uniting the biggest city in all of sports. The guys got up for it.”
Someday, perhaps, Jason Bay will tell you a 4-for-4 night against Phil Hughes and Chan Ho Park was one of the standout highlights of his distinguished career (though god help us if he doesn’t pile up a ton more highlights in a Mets uniform over the next $64 million or so of his contract). Surely Jenrry Mejia won’t mind being reminded that after allowing runners to reach second and third with one out in the seventh, he struck out Mark Teixeira and retired Alex Rodriguez. For that matter, Kevin Russo will have no problem remembering the circumstances of his first two runs batted in and Francisco Cervelli may not be able to forget against whom his knack for hitting with runners in scoring position was definitively derailed.
The players should treat these like big games, even if we’re a little less to a lot less hyped about them than we used to be. We, as fans, treat most games like big games. We like to believe players do the same. Players will tell you night and day about the need to maintain an even keel for 162 games. Whatever. It was a big game Saturday night because we needed a win. And if it was a big game for the reasons it used to feel like a big game, all the better.
When Frankie Rodriguez struck out Cervelli and then accepted plaudits from the sky in that adorable Frankie Rodriguez manner of his (adorable because he’s on my team), there was a deep breath let out and a high-five shared with my wife, but that was about it. It wasn’t the municipal holiday unleashed by Dave Mlicki or the eruption of emotion wrought by Matt Franco high atop Section 36 of the Upper Deck from eleven years ago. It wasn’t close to the giddiness that came from being a passenger on Mr. Koo’s wild ride. It was, at the risk of being labeled a habitual liar by Dan Warthen, just another win.
There is not a Mets fan of any age, but particularly between the ages of approximately 16 and 30, who will tell you the 2000 World Series was just another loss. It was a transcendent loss. It’s a decade gone by now, yet it remains in many ways quite the fresh wound. Ten years just isn’t as long as it used to be, not when you haven’t had as close a shot in the succeeding ten years, not when you’re too young to have had a transcendent win to balance your personal cosmic scale.
The calendar would have made the 2000 Mets a topic at some point in 2010, but they were nudged to edge of the spotlight this weekend thanks to some characteristically questionable Met scheduling. Seven members of our last pennant winner were handed golf shirts and invited to Citi Field to hang around during the Yankee series. It wasn’t exactly a full-blown tribute to the N.L. Champs of yore and, with only seven of the guys on hand (eight, counting one doing TV for a regional cable network), it could hardly be called a reunion. Goodness knows it wasn’t Old Timers Day reborn.
But they were at Citi Field Friday and Saturday handing out “Teammates in the Community” awards, throwing out first pitches, posing for photographs and fielding softballs from the likes of Kevin Burkhardt and Eddie Coleman. At least one (one of my all-time favorites) will be in the stands tonight. On principle, it’s never a bad time to have Mets Alumni in the house.
Unless, perhaps, their presence automatically aggravates a relatively fresh wound.
I won’t feel bad for guys who enjoyed lucrative careers as major league ballplayers, but I did feel kind of bad that when I first learned that when the Mets noticed the calendar and decided to welcome home Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Benny Agbayani, John Franco, Rick Reed, Turk Wendell and prodigal son Mike Hampton — plus, via YES, Al Leiter — it would be while the current Mets were playing the current Yankees, four of whom were 2000 Yankees, all of whom defeated the 2000 Mets in that World Series that took place ten chronological years and ten psychic minutes ago.
Having had yet another management decision instigate our usual “WTF?” reflex, the first specific question many of us asked ourselves and each other was why were the Mets having back those Mets this weekend against this opponent? We get the concept, but does anybody pay attention to anything? Does nobody who signs off on these things think them through? Ten years suddenly became ten minutes in our minds. There was this Met not running from first to home and therefore not scoring; there was that Met not getting strike three and therefore no out; there were those Mets not doing anything tangible about a piece of a bat that only one deluded soul on this entire planet swore was a ball…there was all that and too much more still hanging over us in 2010 even though it took place in 2000.
Let’s get it on the table right away that if this was our only 2000 commemoration until 2020, this was a stupid, half-assed way to do it. Oh, no question, as Jerry Manuel himself would say. The Mets didn’t so much announce the boys would be back in town as let word slip out. Relentless selling of tickets for the Subway Series never included the phrase “Come see Mike Piazza and several other 2000 Mets at Citi Field!” If it had, I probably would have found the wherewithal to attend.
I live for such events. Agbayani, Reed and Wendell had not been back in proper ceremonial capacity before. I would have loved the chance to have applauded them. Even Hampton — for goodness sake, forget the silly free agent statements about school systems already and remember the NLCS. Yeah, I’d welcome back Mike Hampton without reserve given the right setting. I’d rewelcome Piazza, Franco and especially Fonzie, whose appearance was my personal co-highlight of the Shea Goodbye Irish wake. Bring back the whole 2000 roster, March to October. Bring back Mark Johnson and Jim Mann. Bring back the putrid Rich Rodriguez and the ineffectual Mike Bordick. Hell, bring back Timo and Armando, two Mets without whom there is no pennant even if they are also two Mets because of whom there is no world championship.
And of course bring back Bobby Valentine (read that statement in any light you wish).
Bring ’em all back, eventually. It has been more than ten minutes even if it doesn’t quite seem like ten years — or that ten years is long enough to shed whatever additional layer of skin we grew to deal with the disappointment of the Mets losing a World Series to the Yankees. I’m not suggesting we commemorate the loss. I’m insisting we, once we’re at proper psychological remove from the pain, celebrate the wins that got us there: over the Giants, over the Cardinals, over the odds, across a fairly wonderful season. We’ve won four pennants. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be ashamed of any of them, or any of those who won what is thus far last of them for us.
The only victory the Mets have ever celebrated consistently and without reservation is 1969. We may be inundated with personalities from 1986 nowadays, but there was a time when this ownership could barely stand to be reminded that it took “bad guys” to win a great title. That was never the case for ’69, not even as M. Donald Grant was dispatching its heroes. As if by clockwork, the Mets honored the 1969 World Champions on their thirtieth anniversary in 1999. As if by Met clockwork, the ceremonies began ridiculously early on a Sunday morning in May so not enough fans were seated to enjoy them, but they did have much of the gang on hand, as well as several 1969 opponents so they could play a brief old timers game.
Everybody was in a good mood. Everybody applauded everybody and everything, even Met opponents from 1969, particularly Met opponents who later became Mets. Like Rusty Staub. Like Felix Millan. Except for my friend Richie. As we stood and applauded everybody and everything, Richie suddenly dropped his hands to his sides and waited silently for Felix Millan’s introduction to be completed. What’s up with that? I asked.
1973, Richie said, the other Met World Series of our youth. Felix Millan’s error in Game One against the A’s. We lost 2-1 en route to losing in seven games. Felix Millan fields a ground ball, and maybe we don’t lose. Richie hadn’t forgiven Felix after 26 years, and he wasn’t going to start then.
That was my guess, actually. And it is my far more educated guess that the grudges Mets fans feel toward the 2000 Mets collectively and, in select cases, individually, will be just about as slow to contract as Richie’s toward Millan. Ten years later, and Hampton is still the guy who took the money to run to Colorado, Perez is still the guy who didn’t bother to run on Todd Zeile’s non-homer and Benitez is still Benitez, which almost nobody takes to mean the guy with 160 saves in less than five seasons as a Met. By 1983, give or take a Richie, nobody was holding a miscue from 1973 against Felix Millan. Give or take Yogi Berra’s decision to make like Moses and pass over George Stone, nobody automatically held anything about losing to the A’s against the Mets.
But losing to the Oakland A’s wasn’t the same as losing to the New York Yankees. And the ’83 Mets didn’t honor the ’73 Mets prior to Bert Campaneris leading off and Rollie Fingers closing out against the ’83 Mets. Ten years was a lot longer back then. It wasn’t easily confused with ten minutes.
The stealth placement of seven (or eight) of your last league champs in your new ballpark for the first time indicated the Mets weren’t quite sure if this was good timing. It wasn’t, but the world didn’t end. The world didn’t end because seven Mets who lost to the Yankees ten years/ten minutes ago were recognized if not exactly honored in a stadium that contained more than a few fans who were happy that those Mets lost to those Yankees. The world didn’t end on October 26, 2000, either. I was pretty sure it would if a Subway World Series ever came to pass and it ended in the worst way possible.
Friday morning, Mike Hampton appeared on WFAN with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts. The tenor of the questions was mainly “how could you lose that World Series for us?” Hampton lost Game Two. He didn’t pitch well and he didn’t hit anybody. Benigno and Roberts — Mets fans who flagellate themselves three hours daily — hadn’t intimated the whole thing was Hampton’s fault, but they were still steamed at the outcome of his game and that series. I couldn’t help but notice they didn’t ask him a single question about the three-hit shutout he pitched against the Cardinals, the one that clinched the Mets’ fourth and most recent pennant. Hampton earned NLCS MVP honors with two wins and sixteen scoreless innings. He was as brilliant as any Mets pitcher ever was in any Met postseason series.
Who remembers that? It was ten minutes and five games ago. It’s as if it didn’t happen because of the five games that followed the clinching. In the revisionist, self-flagellating imagination, it’s as if the 2000 Mets achieved nothing — or achieved almost everything just to set us up for the ultimate five-game defeat at the hands of the last team against whom we could handle losing. We would have accepted a five-game World Series defeat against that year’s ALCS runners-up, the Seattle Mariners, relatively gracefully. We would have passionately hated it then, would have continued to rue it in spots, but would mostly remember with satisfaction now, I’m convinced, that we won a pennant.
That’s difficult to do where the actual outcome of 2000 is concerned. I understand that, particularly if you weren’t fortunate enough to experience 1986 and therefore can’t know fully the difference between being in a World Series and winning a World Series, but would sure like to. I’m also not happy with the actual outcome of the 2000 World Series, and I use the present tense purposefully.
I still can’t believe Timo went into a trot (as did Todd).
I still can’t believe Armando couldn’t muscle strike three past Paul O’Neill and wound up walking him to set up the tying run that led to extra innings.
I still can’t believe Roger Clemens wasn’t ejected after flinging a bat shard at Mike Piazza (or wasn’t already doing time for beaning him in July).
I still can’t believe how many missteps the Mets made in Games One, Two, Four and Five and still only lost by one, one, one and two runs, respectively.
I still can’t believe we lost that World Series. In my own way, I’m still not over it.
But I’m also not over the pain that necessarily came with ultimate defeats in 1973 and 1988 and 1999 and 2006 and just about every year when there was the slightest hint that the Mets might win what they’ve only won twice. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t appreciate the beauty and joy inherent in those particular seasons. When this particular season meets its almost inevitable doom, I will still remember that fleeting instance in late April 2010 when the Mets were 14-9, had won ten of eleven and held first place. I’m not just a glass half-full kind of fan. I am, if given anything at all to quench my thirst for winning, a glass tenth-full kind of fan.
Which is why, though I may begrudge 2000 its most fatal misstep of all, I can’t get over the fact that we did attain a second consecutive playoff spot, did prevail in two playoff series and did raise an indelible flag that I’ll always appreciate for the victory it symbolizes rather than resent for the victory that didn’t come next.
It was ten years ago. I wish it was only ten minutes ago. If it was, then the World Series would be coming up in five days and I could make it clear to Bobby V that he should save Hampton for Shea where he’s nearly unbeatable. He should’ve done the same with Kenny Rogers the year before. Also, Randy Myers should have been warming up in the ninth inning, George Stone should have gotten the ball in Oakland and Cliff Floyd shouldn’t have been on the NLCS roster once it was obvious he could barely walk let alone run.
The glass can always be fuller.