Fourteen out of fifteen isn’t bad, and, considering from how far back we traveled to get as far as we did, 8-7 in 13 isn’t inexcusable.
But it still sucks to lose that way. Or lose at all. I hadn’t forgotten the feeling, no matter how unusual it had become to experience in 2010.
The Streak — the stretch of Mets baseball that produced fourteen consecutive wins at Citi Field in my previous fourteen appearances there — is over, going the route of where they say all good things eventually go. But I gotta tell ya: The Streak did not go gentle into that good night.
It was, however, plainly on its way out the Rotunda gate in the very first inning on Wednesday night. Johan Santana, who had started four of the fourteen wins that composed The Streak and had even homered in support of it, pitched without a clue for the first inning. Was he tipping his pitches? Were the Cardinals bribing Henry Blanco for the signs? Was it the spillover from the full moon of three nights earlier? I ask whether that’s a possibility because whenever the bizarre happened around our house when I was kid, my mother would write it off with, “Must be a full moon!”
There’s nothing more bizarre than Johan Santana surrendering six runs and eight hits in the first inning of a baseball game. Then again, it was pretty bizarre that I’d been on a fourteen-game winning streak. And that I’d been chatting no more than two hours earlier with Ed Kranepool.
Yeah, that’s right. Ed Kranepool, the all-time Met hit king and me, hanging out on the warning track behind the batting cage at Citi Field. And by hanging out, I mean I stood in close proximity to Ed Kranepool while he went about the business of being Ed Kranepool — chatting up several of his successors and dispensing his signature — and I spouted an occasional inanity that was vaguely related to our surroundings.
Things I learned during my ten or so minutes intermittently bothering but mostly relishing proximity to Ed Kranepool:
• He enjoys the Hamptons.
• He agrees with my assessment that he’s probably signed more autographs than any Mets player in history — “Probably,” he confirmed.
• He thinks Ike Davis is a good, young player and had no idea why he wasn’t in the starting lineup Wednesday.
“I guess it’s a lefty-lefty thing,” I said in my desire to furnish Ed Kranepool with potentially useful background information.
“He’s looked pretty good against lefties,” Ed Kranepool, good-looking lefty himself, responded.
Ed Kranepool has 1,418 hits. I had a one-time field pass as part of a generous Mets blogger outreach program. It was hanging from a button on my shirt. All bloggers, reporters, guests, what have you had to have a pass to be on that warning track. Ed Kranepool, the only Met to play in eighteen seasons, did not require such mundane ID.
All the credentials Ed Kranepool needs to show appear on page 408 of the Mets Media Guide and occasionally on the Citi Field scoreboard. First in hits; first in doubles (since passed by David Wright); first in pinch-hits; first in sacrifice flies; first in multi-hit games…and first in the hearts of any countryman who watched him personally script the batting portion of the Mets record book from 1962 to 1979. If Ed Kranpeool didn’t see a reason lefty Ike Davis shouldn’t be starting against Cardinal lefty Jaime Garcia, he was right.
When I wasn’t orbiting the surface of Ed Kranepool, I walked the track during BP, or as much of the track as our passes allowed. Mostly I joined my blolleagues in loitering in front of the Mets dugout for most of our allotted time. This gave me a good look at the righty hitter who was taking Davis’s place for the evening, Mike Hessman. Hessman stretching. Hessman taking ground balls. Hessman not being bothered by anybody the way an Ed Kranepool might, which seemed reasonable given that Ed Kranepool played first base for the Mets in 1,304 games and Mike Hessman still has that new-callup smell.
Mike Hessman isn’t without his own set of credentials. Per Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, he’s been around, ya know? He hasn’t been around the Mets before or the majors much, but if you want minor league power, Mike Hessman’s been your man for a generation. He’s slugged 329 home runs of the Triple-A and lower variety since 1996. You’d figure that would have earned him more of a shot at a higher level than he’s received (77 games in four seasons spanning 2003 to 2008 with Atlanta and Detroit). It didn’t. He’s been a Bison this year. He’s homered 18 times as such. He’s also played a lot of third, a little first and a bit of everything else since turning pro. He became a Met two days ago when Rod Barajas went on the DL. He became a Met first baseman last night, Ed Kranepool’s lack of blessing notwithstanding.
Maybe it was the recent full moon or maybe it’s just that this is what you get when you rematch the two pitchers who threw cartons of goose eggs in what became a twenty-inning test of nearly scoreless endurance in April, but Garcia didn’t look a lot better than Santana in the bottom of the first. The Mets, far from shellshocked after landing in their 6-0 ditch, loaded the bases for their first baseman and five-hole hitter, Mike Hessman. And Mike Hessman creamed the third pitch he saw for a very deep drive to a very high left field wall. In Buffalo and International League points south, that’s probably a grand slam. At cutesy-poo Citi Field, that’s a two-run double.
Still, a two-run double isn’t at all something at which you sneeze when it was 6-0 a second ago. Hell, I even allowed myself to think that it was just as well it didn’t go out because, sure it would be 6-4, but the bases would be empty, our momentum would be spent and Mike Hessman would do nothing but swing for the fences the rest of the night.
I didn’t sneeze at 6-2, but I must be allergic to optimal good fortune.
Our momentum turned moot. It stayed 6-2 for a long spell. Johan settled in, I guess, but so did Jaime. It was The Twenty-Inning Game all over again, save for the tiny difference that the first inning featured eight runs. Eventually the Cards would push across another run off Santana, who left in the sixth. The Mets would answer in their half when Carlos Beltran reasserted his power by smashing a homer to left. Hearing “El Esta Aqui” again and seeing El himself circle the bases was mighty gratifying, but we still trailed by four with time running down on The Streak. Once we played seven and it was still 7-3, I surrendered to the inevitable. I knew I was going home on the proverbial “L” train for the first time in fifteen games.
And with that, a mini-miracle unfolds. Castillo leads off the bottom of the eighth with a single and Pagan rockets one to right. It’s 7-5. Hey, I reasoned silently while otherwise screaming loudly, 7-5 is doable. A home run doesn’t necessarily nip momentum in its bud. Sometimes it scatters the seeds for imminent success. Didn’t Mike Piazza reach Curt Schilling for a leadoff single and Robin Ventura follow with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth on May 23, 1999? Yes indeed they did. That trimmed a four-run lead to two on another day when the Mets seemed endlessly out of it and it opened a door to what soon became a five-run ninth that beat the Phillies and their often intolerable ace (all five runs were given up by Schilling) 5-4.
At 7-5, Wright reaches on an infield hit. Beltran strikes out, but Hessman — who hasn’t homered — has the decency to be nicked by a Mitchell Boggs pitch. The Tony La Russa overmanaging carousel begins to spin: righty Jason Motte gets Jeff Francoeur to fly out with runners on first and second after an admirable ten-pitch battle on Frenchy’s part. Lefty Dennys Reyes comes in to face lefty Josh Thole, but walks him. Now the bases are loaded. The pitcher’s spot is due up. Reyes is still standing on the mound, left arm dangling as a weapon to discourage production by lefty hitters. Lefty-lefty matchups may not be what Jerry Manuel wanted when Jaime Garcia began this game, but he has no other option now.
Thus, the batter is the apple of Ed Kranepool’s eye, Ike Davis. The regular first baseman of the New York Mets, pinch-hitting for the second time in his young career (whereas Ed Kranepool pinch-hit 370 times in his old career), singles through the right side of the St. Louis infield. David Wright scores from third. Mike Hessman lumbers — and I mean lumbers — from second but scores as well. Thole can go no farther than third. Davis is on first.
And the game is tied at seven.
The Streak, one person in 35,009 thinks, is still alive. Or at least it’s not yet deceased. The Mets can win this thing they seemed destined to lose. And if that goes down as a fifteenth consecutive “W” in my Log, then everybody wins.
La Russa continues to manage. His fourth pitcher of the eighth inning, Kyle McClellan of the righthanded persuasion, enters. Jose Reyes, worthy inheritor of No. 7 from Ed Kranepool, sees six pitches and walks. The bases are loaded yet again. Luis Castillo can drive in the run that will give us our first lead of the night, a lead that can be handed off to Frankie Rodriguez and (theoretically) put in the books.
Man, it would be great if Luis could do that. Castillo actually won the Mets a game on a walkoff single versus Trevor Hoffman his first month as a Met. Omar Minaya was so excited, he granted little Luis a lifetime personal services contract that precluded any other second baseman from ever playing the position for the New York Mets. I exaggerate slightly, but Luis wasn’t always the guy at whom you yell “bunt him over!” as I did all night. Luis can do this, we’ve all decided to decide. We came back from 0-6 to make this 7-7. It would be a shame to let our general disregard for Luis Castillo discourage us from believing it can be 8-7.
We believe (I actually muttered “faith…faith…faith” under my breath his entire at-bat) and Luis tries, but we are not rewarded for our belief. On the sixth pitch he sees, he grounds to short.
Still, 7-7 going to the ninth. We’ve been routing the Cardinals 7-1 since that pesky top of the first when Johan was abducted by aliens and injected with a serum for failure. Now it’s a clean slate. Now it’s Frankie being used in a tie game because we’re home; if we were on the road, Frankie would have to make John Candy’s bunk, but because we’re home, Jerry Manuel can actually use his ostensible best reliever to keep things tied. Which is what Frankie does. He’s so brilliant in the ninth and it’s a game whose sudden chance to become a Met win was so hard-earned, even Jason Fry of Faith and Fear in Flushing is cheering his Frankie-loathing heart out for him.
We’re all set up for a dramatic and wonderful conclusion to our long night. Very long night, I should digress. The blogging bunch has been here since four o’clock. We saw up close how much the Mets prepare for a game. We saw the stretching drills and the infield repetition (I learned Angel Pagan takes throws from Ike Davis at second and then whips them back to first — is there no end to this man’s versatility?) and the enormous home runs that are hit when the balls are grooved by batting practice pitchers. Jeff Francouer must frighten LaGuardia’s air traffic controllers late every afternoon. We saw, too, that the Mets conduct themselves like nice guys, posing for pictures with little kids, signing baseballs, answering questions from all manner of media (Jose had a Latin American contingent following him diligently). The rest of BP is a lot of standing around, but for the players, all of this is simply what you do when you come to work.
Yet let’s not kid ourselves: you also see, when you’re privileged with a gander, how much baseball is a game. It’s not one I, at 47 and decidedly in not the best shape of my life, can play, but I recognized it as essentially the same fun activity I dived into every chance I got when I was kid. The Mets playing catch, I swear on a stack of revised yearbooks, isn’t much different from me playing catch, save for the exponentially better skill at all facets of the throwing and catching involved. Granted, you look at everything these fellows do through the prism of their megabucks salaries — who wouldn’t want to play a game for a luxurious living? — but you can’t help but notice that when they’re just going through the motions of throwing, catching, swinging and preparing for a game, they seem to be having the time of their lives.
And they get to do it daily.
That’s baseball. That’s the grind. That’s what separates it from football, the scholar Earl Weaver noted: “We do this every day.” Whatever the tasks that compile an evening of Mets baseball, you can tell, when you’ve got a field pass, that it takes a lot of people doing a lot of likely the same things on a daily basis to make it all happen. In my short time around it, I admired the effort put in, whether it was from the trainers, the bullpen catcher, our friends in the PR department or even the security guard whose job it was to sneer at me slightly as I stood in the Met dugout where I technically wasn’t supposed to be (Ed Kranepool doesn’t mind me hanging around, but the guy in the yellow supervisor’s golf shirt’s got it in for me).
But ya know what? I wouldn’t want to be a part of it every day the way all those folks are. I wouldn’t want to be one of the beat writers whom I noticed waiting around for the chance to get a few minutes with Wright or Reyes or whoever. I wouldn’t want the Mets to be my job. If it were, I couldn’t have been in the stands in the eighth showing no objectivity and demonstrating no pretense of professionalism. It was fun to be around the way it works for a day. I think it would be a shame for it to be anything but fun any more than that. I want the drama and the wonder and the full moon bizarreness and the chance for joy. Everything else should be somebody else’s responsibility.
(Though I am obligated to point out I am available for consulting.)
Good thing there are people trained to deal with whatever comes up, because something very big came up in the bottom of the ninth in the section next to ours. While the Mets attempted to push across that one run that would certify Wednesday night as practically magical — Wright and Beltran singled with one out — a man had taken ill. I couldn’t tell you what it was, but he was in bad shape, and various security and EMT personnel rushed to his aid. That sort of thing may not be uncommon, yet to watch it unfold while the stadium PA did its job — blaring rallying cries and blasting upbeat music — was surreal. I swear it was something out of The Naked Gun: in the foreground, earnest medics struggle with transferring a patient onto a stretcher; in the background, tens of thousands of oblivious fans chant LET’S GO METS! It would have been funny if it hadn’t been potentially tragic.
I have to admit I sort of hoped the Mets could find a way to foul off fifty or sixty pitches in the bottom of the ninth so the emergency responders could finish their job in something less than a carinval atmosphere. It felt unseemly to root for a baseball team while a baseball fan was in what appeared to be peril. I sure hope he’s all right.
Wright and Beltran weren’t driven in. The Mets didn’t score that eighth run and it felt like the momentum had slipped away. Frankie was money in the tenth and Bobby Parnell was just as valuable in the eleventh and twelfth, but we weren’t getting anywhere versus La Russa’s lobbers. Our only baserunner in extras, Reyes, was gunned down by Yadier Molina, who remains the only public figure upon whom I perpetually wish an onslaught of physical harm (come to think of it, he did come out before the game ended and I did read something about a sore shin…suck on it, destroyer of dreams). Second base was not a lucky bag for Mets baserunners. Prior to Beltran’s sixth-inning blast, Wright singled on what he (and I) thought would be a double. A good throw by Matt Holliday and an overslide by Wright cost us a baserunner for Beltran. Would have Carlos necessarily homered with David on and would have we won 8-7? And if Jeff Wilpon hadn’t insisted on wacky walls, would have Mike Hessman’s double been a grand slam? And what about the presence of candies and nuts replacing ifs and buts — wouldn’t that make every day Christmas?
Anyway, two key Mets were out at second base and not enough Mets crossed home plate and sooner or later, the team with Albert Pujols is going to get an opportunity to take the measure of whichever reliever the team trying to retire Albert Pujols has kept hidden until some very late inning. Pedro Feliciano was not, on this occasion, the equal of Frankie Rodriguez or Bobby Parnell and he sure as hell wasn’t up to the task of setting down Pujols with runners on first and third and two out. Prince Albert kinged Pedro with a hot grounder to left, scoring Skip Schumaker (whom Pedro hit either because Pedro hasn’t been all that effective or he was just pissed there are grown men running around calling themselves Skip**) and the long day was nearing its inevitable, unsuccessful end.
Fourteen consecutive games that I’d attended have ended with “Takin’ Care of Business” following the final pitch. This time, the Citi DJ went straight to “New York State of Mind,” the Mets’ good night music when there’s nothing good about it. There was plenty good on Wednesday, but my mood when I had to handle loss for the first time since Willie Harris snared a sinking liner on April 10, wasn’t in that category. Losing 8-7 didn’t leave me in a “New York State of Mind”. It left me in a state of dismay.
Losing at Citi Field had become so rare an occurrence as to grow seemingly nearly extinct. But I spotted, at last, a loss, right out there in the wild. It’s a thrill I could have lived without at least one game longer.
It’s worth noting in this context that on July 28, 1993, exactly seventeen years before my version of The Streak whimpered to an end, a far more famous and far less desirable Met streak snapped. Anthony Young finally won a game after losing 27 of them in a row, the most any pitcher ever lost in one ongoing string. He did it the hard way, giving up the go-ahead run in his only inning of work against the baby Marlins before being rescued by Ryan Thompson’s and Eddie Murray’s tying and winning RBI. I was really happy AY was no longer the biggest loser as of July 28, 1993, and if I had to pay for that karmically on July 28, 2010, so be it.
That’s one rationalization. Another is it had to end sooner or later, damn it, yet it wouldn’t go down without a fight, and I appreciate the Mets giving it a puncher’s chance in the eighth — and regret how their offense played pat-a-cake from the tenth through the thirteenth.
I recently found myself reluctantly rewatching Billy Crystal’s 2001 Yankee gushfest, 61*, when it appeared on one the HBOs. Late in the movie, Babe Ruth’s widow dismisses the suggestion that her late husband wouldn’t necessarily have minded Roger Maris breaking his mark since Maris, after all, was another Yankee. No, Mrs. Ruth said, she didn’t think so: “The Babe loved that record.”
That’s how I felt about The Streak, even if it existed for me and me alone (though many of you have been kind enough to wish it well). I am all but certain I will never experience this run of luck again. For three months, I considered myself the luckiest fan on the face of the earth. How do you keep going to the same ballpark to root for the same ballclub and come home every single time having gotten exactly what you rooted for?
I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I’ll always cherish that it happened.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have between now and Sunday to figure out how to vanquish a one-game losing streak.
**Or, to borrow a phrase from George Read, Tory delegate to the Continental Congress from Delaware, “in many cases”. Apologies to the good Skips out there…besides Lockwood, I mean.