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Welcome to the Club, Mike Hessman

My contempt for my team was utter and total as the bottom of the ninth inning unfolded at Citizens Bank Park Friday night. I imagine yours was, too. What a travesty this evening had been. At the risk of proving everything Bobby Ojeda, Andy Martino [1], and Brian Schneider [2] have been saying about the Mets lacking the confidence their weekend opponents apparently possess in spades, I knew it was coming — I mean I knew it was coming. I just didn’t have a precise idea how it would get there.

I made the easy pick: K-Rod, blowing it in the ninth, conjuring up ancient visions of Bo Diaz, Neil Allen and the upper reaches of Veterans Stadium.

Yes, Bo Diaz. This is how I watch the Mets lose — in the present and 27 years ago, simultaneously.

Wanna know why Neil Allen was so tradeable for Keith Hernandez? I’m almost certain the route to the trade that changed the face of the franchise began nine weeks earlier, April 13, 1983, when the Mets carried a 9-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth at Philadelphia. Big offensive night for the Metsies: 17 hits, including four for Dave Kingman. The Mets were only 5-for-20 with runners in scoring position and left 13 on base, but so what? They had outlasted the Phillies through 8½ innings, and all they needed were three little outs.

Yeah, you know how that goes.

Rick Ownbey, later thrown in with Allen for Hernandez, but at the time considered a real comer, was in his sixth inning of relief. He had taken over for an ineffective Craig Swan and had carried the Mets this far, giving up only one unearned run in five innings. Manager George Bamberger asked him to carry them a little further. Just those three outs.

Ownbey justifies Bambi’s faith, to a point. He retires Pete Rose on a fly to left, but then walks Gary Matthews and Joe Morgan. Bamberger was big on throwing strikes, and from the fourth to the eighth, Ownbey had walked but one Phillie. Now he was losing the strike zone. Mike Schmidt came up, but Ownbey got him to fly to left. Two on, two outs. Just one more.

But Ownbey can’t put it away. He walks pinch-hitter Len Matuszek to load the bases. So that’s it — Bamberger takes out the kid and brings in the still unproven Jesse Orosco. Phillie manager Pat Corrales counters with another pinch-hitter, Bill Robinson.

And Orosco walks him. It’s now 9-6 Mets. The bases are still loaded. Catcher Bo Diaz is coming up. Bamberger removes Orosco and calls on his relief ace, Neil Allen, he of the 59 saves (when saves weren’t necessarily or automatically one-inning affairs) in the previous three seasons; he who was trustworthy enough to permit the trade of Jeff Reardon to Montreal for Ellis Valentine; he who was the hidden star of the very first Rotisserie League [3] in 1980.

Neil, Bambi essentially said, go take care of Bo.

Bo hit a grand slam off Neil.

Mets lose 10-9. Allen’s off to a miserable start in what becomes a miserable season for him and the Mets. By June, he’s gone. The Hernandez part works out, of course, but I’m sitting here, 27 years later, and all I can think is it’s 2-1 Mets at Philly, and pretty soon, somebody on that other team is going to play the role of Bo Fucking Diaz.

Yet I was wrong. There was no Bo Diaz for the Phillies Friday night, just as Francisco Rodriguez did not have to play the role of Neil Allen. That’s because the Mets couldn’t hold their lead all the way to the ninth inning to get it to Frankie. No, they coughed it up in the eighth — coughing like they were auditioning for a Robitussin commercial.

It’s not that Bobby Parnell helplessly turned a one-run lead into a furball. It’s not that Pedro Feliciano couldn’t suppress the coughing after Parnell left with what had turned into a chronic hack. It’s not even that Jerry Manuel checked the meter on Jon Niese and decided anyone who had pitched as well as he had deserved the rest of the night off.

It’s that I knew it was coming and it came. There was no stopping it. In fact, it arrived early by an inning. No time for Neil Allen to reincarnate himself in the Met bullpen. The Mets let the Phillies score six runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Not that I wanted to end the game shellshocked à la Diaz. It’s just that it wouldn’t have given me time to think and stew and hate. Instead, the Phillies left me with an opportunity to gather my contempt in big, bulging buckets. My contempt for Manuel. For Parnell. For Feliciano. For Wright not knowing how to play a bunt. For Beltran being creaky. For the elder Wilpon’s idiotic response [4] about the sun coming up when asked about whether Minaya was gonna be GM next year (he couldn’t have just waved?). For the whole lot of them, save maybe Niese. Niese did his job. The rest of them didn’t.

Well, check that — they didn’t do their job, but they did play their part. They drew just close enough to victory to allow us a shred of optimism and then they pulled back. Between the Mets and victory grew an ever widening gap. First we were up a run. Then we were tied. Then we were behind by one. Then two. Then so on. And so on. And so on some more.

Mets 2 Phillies 1 became, in as methodical a fashion as any mass production efficiency expert would admire and recommend to clients, Phillies 7 Mets 2. Mike Sweeney [5] turned into Pat Burrell, even wearing that fucker’s number, 5, for good measure. Sweeney, Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Bo Diaz…what’s the fucking difference after a while?

The top of the ninth had to be played despite the game being over. More stewing, more brooding. When I finished berating every Met who wasn’t Jon Niese, I began berating myself not just for falling for the Mets over and over and over, but for enabling them.

That’s it, I concluded: I’m an enabler. This blog is an enabler. Sweet, sincere posts enumerating reasons to feel good about being a Mets fan [6] — a hansom cab ride designed to ferry us from losing disgustingly in Atlanta to losing nauseatingly in Philadelphia — are enablers. Jason and I and our writing…we ought to be taken into custody by protective services. We’re not good for you. We’re not good for ourselves. Stop us before we tell you again why you should root for the Mets. Run for your lives. Run for your sanity. Run!

After there were two out in the ninth, because I’d run out of beratings and enablements, I just took off my glasses. Would the Mets suck any less if I couldn’t see them clearly? It seemed an odd protest, and it was giving me a headache, so I put them back on. And when I did, I saw Jeff Francoeur tap a ball about three feet and watched it roll…roll…roll…fair. It was so fair even Bob Davidson [7] wouldn’t dare call it foul.

Jeff Francoeur had an infield single. Now I was even madder.

1) This game wasn’t just over already.

2) Francoeur looked way too pleased with his good fortune. You hit it three feet, you’re down by five runs, stop smiling, even if it’s from embarrassment.

3) I had to take this fucking thing semi-seriously now, didn’t I? Ike Davis had somehow gotten on base while I was stewing, so we had first and second and the Phillies bullpen may be our only saving grace — not having to face Ryan Howard, Chase Utley or the schmuck from Hawaii certainly wasn’t.

4) Forty-two seasons of never giving up in the face of the logic that forty of those seasons have presented to the contrary kicked in.

Damn it, I have to believe, don’t I?

Jerry Manuel’s gonna send up Chris Carter. Charlie Manuel counters with J.C. Romero, whose history of undependability makes me wonder how he’s never been a Met. Anyway, Jerry Manuel, true to The Book, sends up a righty to face the lefty. He sends up Mike Hessman, the king of minor league swing. the dude who pounded a two-run double in his Met debut last week and has done close to nothing since then.

Hessman rips into the third pitch he sees from Romero and becomes the only Met to fully comprehend that Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox. It’s a three-run homer, and the Mets are within 7-5. Get a guy on, and Reyes up, and…

I should point out that I didn’t believe for a second this would work out. Not consciously. Not seriously. In fact, I couldn’t even get the kinks out of the You Gotta Believe reflex completely because just as I earlier imagined Bo Diaz, now I was whisked into the land of Prentice Redman.

Anybody else remember Prentice Redman?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t. He was more recent than Allen and Ownbey but left little reason for you to recall him, and I’ll hold to that assessment even if he someday comes back to seek revenge. He could, too. Despite a major league career that lasted just over one month seven years ago, Prentice Redman is still playing baseball. For the seventh consecutive season, he a Triple-A outfielder, at the moment with the Dodgers’ Albuquerque affiliate. He has ten homers in a notorious hitters league, but ten homers is ten homers in any league.

Prentice Redman hit one homer in the major leagues. It came on a night that felt not altogether unlike this one. Same city, too. The Mets were playing the Phillies on September 4, 2003. Back then, the Phillies were scrambling for a Wild Card spot. The Mets had been eliminated from the ’03 race sometime in February. We would try our hand at spoiling others’ chances, and we would fail miserably. We lost constantly that September to every contender we played. But we didn’t know that on September 4, for this was the beginning of that stretch of taking on teams with something to play for.

The Phillies led the Mets 4-2 after six and 5-3 after seven at the Vet. Ty Wigginton, the absolute embodiment of those 2003 Mets, reached base when Jim Thome couldn’t handle a throw. It allowed Mike Piazza to score and make it 5-4 in the eighth. That was the score Jose Mesa was asked to protect to start the top of the ninth.

Instead, Prentice Redman took him deep. Tie ballgame. The lousy, last-place Mets had tied the contending Phillies. It was 5-5. Prentice Redman had his first homer. His first of who knew how many to come.

The answer, by the way, was none. No more came. That was Prentice Redman’s only homer. That was also the Mets’ only resistance of note where Mesa was concerned. There’d be a Timo Perez single, but he wouldn’t be driven home. Then, in the bottom of the inning, Mike Stanton and David Weathers did their thing (Armando Benitez had been traded in July, leaving Art Howe to go closerless), and the Phillies won 6-5. They wouldn’t win the Wild Card in 2003, but it wasn’t because the Mets spoiled their chances.

Prentice Redman was on my mind when Mike Hessman’s ball cleared the right field wall. It’s not that I had particularly high hopes for Redman, then 24 and sold to us as a prospect. It’s not that I had high hopes for spoiling anybody else’s September. It’s that I allowed myself to think something good had happened for a moment on September 4, 2003, when his blast made it 5-5. I remember thinking, nah, probably not, they’ll find a way to not cash in, but I tamped that thought down for a few minutes and clung to the concept of it not being over until it was over, et al.

I did that with Hessman, and for a couple of minutes I believed the 2010 Mets — who had blown a narrow lead in the eighth and were falling inexorably from whatever smidgen of respectability they left Atlanta with — weren’t totally dead. I saw Lidge come in. I saw Blanco called back in favor of Jesus Feliciano and I let myself think…

Never mind what I thought. It didn’t happen. But I did stop berating the Mets and myself and instead kept mulling the similarity between the Redman home run and the Hessman home run, and it got me wondering about Mets who hit no more than one home run as Mets.

Thus, I spent a couple of hours exploring Baseball Reference and have since divined the following:

Mike Hessman is the 69th Met to hit exactly one home run. Perhaps by tonight, he will be off the list, but until then, he’s in the club.

• The most recent entrant to Club Hessman before August 6, 2010 was Josh Thole, who interrupted Barry Enright’s unforeseen brilliance in Arizona on July 20. Before Josh, it was  Johan Santana, who slugged the twelfth pitch he saw from Matt Maloney on July 6 (called in advance by yours truly).

• Of the 67 Mets with exactly one home run as a Met, 17 are or were pitchers. Three of those pitchers hit their single Met home run off future Hall of Famers: Al Jackson off Warren Spahn; Craig Swan off Ferguson Jenkins; and Tim Leary off Steve Carlton. In limbo: Shawn Estes’s home run off the mysteriously bulked up Roger Clemens (which is a separate issue from how Estes could have possibly missed Clemens’ bulk when he attempted to graze it).

• Though the Atlanta Braves made the Mets’ lives decisively miserable for a generation (and still do on occasion), the pitchers who formed the nucleus of their torture chamber each gave up a One And Only Met home run. Pat Tabler’s sole Met homer came off Greg Maddux when he was a Cub, in 1990; John Smoltz surrendered Raul Casanova’s lone Met longball in 2008; and when Darrin Jackson went yard once and only once as a Met, it was off T#m Gl@v!ne, in 1993. Gl@v!ne, incidentally, had his number retired by the Braves Friday night [8], perfect symmetry considering Gl@v!ne’s three-start implosion in September 2007 paved the way for the Phillies to become the Phillies as we know them.

• Say, let’s forget T#m Gl@v!ne and note Darrin Jackson and the guy for whom we traded him are both members of Club Hessman — Tony Fernandez’s only Met home run also came in 1993, albeit off someone less automatically recognizable than Gl@v!ne…unless you are achingly familiar with the work of the San Diego Padres’ Kerry Taylor.

• Seem strange that the Mets trade a guy for a guy and neither hits more than one homer for them? You’d think — yet Fernandez-Jackson wasn’t the first time it happened. Two-termer Tim Foli hit one Met homer (1978, off the immortal Tom Bruno of the Cardinals), then he’d be swapped the following season for Frank Taveras, who would also hit one homer — August 18, 1979, versus Mike LaCoss of the Reds at Cincinnati.

• Solitary Met home runs were in vogue at Riverfront that series. One day after Taveras cashed in, Gil Flores did the same: August 19, 1979, against Bill Bonham.

• But if you want proximity, you can’t beat Stanley Jefferson and John Gibbons. They each hit their only Met home run in the same game — the only Mets to pair their lonely dingers. At Shea on September 20, 1986, with the Mets having clinched the N.L. East three nights earlier, Davey Johnson stacked his lineup with youngsters. He’d be rewarded when Jefferson arrested a Tom Hume pitch in the sixth and Gibbons laid a glove on Mike Jackson in the eighth.

• Since we’re talking about the Phillies, and got off on this tangent because we were contemplating Prentice Redman by way of Mike Hessman, you might wonder if anybody else hit his only Met home run at Philadelphia. Why yes, it’s happened eight times. Leary’s shot off Carlton took place at the Vet. Pepe Mangual reached Lefty there, too. Pete Falcone and Paul Wilson, pitchers both, took nicely to the Vet’s hitting dimensions. Brian Daubach was the first Met to play one-homer trick pony at Citizens Bank, in 2005. That’s seven Mets hitting their only Met home run in Philadelphia. The eighth? Bob Bailor, off Sid Monge. The date: April 13, 1983…the very same game in which Neil Allen gave up that grand slam to Bo Diaz.

I could throw a few more One And Only factoids at you (three were good for Met walkoff victories; two were thrown by the same pitcher seventeen days apart; one was a grand slam hit by a Met pitcher off an ex-Met pitcher in what became a losing cause; one turned out to be the last swing of a playing career by a future Met manager; another was served up by a future Met manager and is legendary for who hit it and how he rounded the bases after hitting it; and one, amazingly enough, was hit by Alex Cora), but I’ll stop here, I think. The larger point is not so much that Mike Hessman became the 69th Met who has hit, to date, exactly one Met home run. It’s that after a positively revolting loss, I latched onto this little Met curiosity and immersed myself in it from like midnight to three. I am thrilled to have distracted myself from that 7-5 debacle in Philadelphia [9]. I went from having no idea how many Mets hit only one Met home run to knowing every Met who hit only one Met home run and I find myself caring deeply about it.

Yet again, I have enabled myself, damn it.