Last night Emily and I continued our childless week with another excellent dinner and a sunset walk along the High Line, New York City’s startlingly beautiful conversion of an ancient freight railway into a meadowland in the sky. The Mets were even obliging us by being delayed by rain down in San Juan, where they’d staggered through two nights of horror at the hands of the loathsome Florida Marlins.
We got home and tidied up the house as the Mets dealt roughly with Chris Volstad and saw Mike Pelfrey give up hits to everybody except unwanted cameo guitarist Bernie Williams and the tropical-drink vendors. Sitting up in bed, I watched Elmer Dessens come in to finish the fifth, throw five pitches … and at some point after that my eyelids drooped.
It was a horn that work me up — the mating call of a cheap plastic goose, somewhere between the forlorn BRAAAAP BRAAAAP BRAAAAAAAP of an Olympic Stadium trumpet and the synapse-shredding drone of a vuvuzela. I woke up confused. There was a trash-baggy wall behind home plate, open-plan dugouts from another age, and the awful sicked-something-up green of artificial turf, so blissfully absent from the National League. And there were Mets, in gray, stumbling around out there looking unhappy.
Wha? Where are we?
I only saw the last sad inning of Monday’s affair and paid that as little attention as possible, seeing how it was already a debacle by then. On Tuesday night Emily and I turned on WFAN on our way home from Red Hook, just in time for Josh Thole’s pinch-hit. We decided to catch the end of the game in a watering hole, amended that to wait until the top of the 10th for safety’s sake, and so had an uninterrupted journey back to Brooklyn Heights. (For the record, though, I totally would have pitched to Dan Uggla over the swinish Cody Ross, whom I loathe with frightening, somewhat mysterious intensity.) Part of my brain must have registered these defeats, but when I woke up and finally understood that we were still in Puerto Rico, it wasn’t the last two games that made my guts churn. No, it was 2003 and 2004 I was remembering in horror.
This is Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where history took a macabre turn in April 2004. The Expos remain marooned here. Bud Selig has refused to allow them to leave the island, and has sold their team bus to buy Jeffrey Loria a beachfront apartment decorated with gold Terry Cashman records. The Expos are forced to hitchhike from the beach, where they spend their days harvesting coconuts and hawking shell art to confused tourists. (Peter Bergeron is a wizard with scallop shells and Krazy Glue.) Foiled in his plan to contract the Mets, Selig has decreed that we must play the Expos until the end of the time, forming a two-team league that plays only exhibition games. Roberto Alomar and Rey Sanchez are still here, losing games, giving each other haircuts and blaming their own laziness and sour dispositions on rookie pitchers. David Wright and Jose Reyes were awarded to the Yankees by the commissioner’s office in exchange for the lifetime rights to Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia. The overgrown wilds of Shea Stadium now serve as a preserve for feral cats. Our record as the perpetual visiting team at Hiram Bithorn stands at 2-1,046, though Art Howe insists he is proud of us for battling. The Mets live in a beach motel without power, and repeated nighttime collisions with their manager in the lobby have provided definitive evidence that Art Howe does not, in fact, light up a room. Needless to say, nothing good will ever happen to any of us again.
And then I woke up for real, and realized two things:
1. Almost none of that was true.
2. We were doing an inept job playing the Marlins, which was nightmare enough.
You saw the rest: The Mets playing like artificial turf was news to them, the Marlins playing like the rudiments of defense and pitch selection were news to them, Edwin Rodriguez driving Keith Hernandez to the brink of a psychotic episode by robotically subbing one inept Marlin reliever for another, and Francisco Rodriguez somehow not blowing it. We’d won, but I shut off the TV with alacrity reserved for games we’d lost, because I wanted to see no more of Hiram Bithorn than I absolutely had to.
A trip to Retrosheet revealed that the Mets had, in fact, won games in this awful stadium before. In 2003 we went 0-4, outscored by 22-8 by Los Expos. But in 2004 we were 2-1. Or so Retrosheet claims. I’m suspicious. Supposedly we won on April 9, 2004, with Todd Zeile driving in Ty Wigginton as the go-ahead run in the 11th and Orber Moreno securing the save by getting Brian Schneider to ground out. None of that seems terribly likely, except for the part about Brian Schneider grounding out, but the supposed events of April 11, 2004 are clearly make-believe. T@m Gl#v!ne got the win and Braden Looper recorded a save? I think I know my Mets history pretty well, thank you — certainly well enough to know neither of those traitors ever so much as recorded an out for us.
And even if I’m mistaken on some of those details (because I am still kind of sleepy and disoriented), I’m quite certain about one thing: San Juan is, on balance, a place where horrible things happen to the New York Mets, and the wisest course of action would be to never return here again.