I missed all of yesterday’s outburst against the Cubs, monitoring it in dribs and drabs while saying farewell to summer at Coney Island and watching the Brooklyn Cyclones win their season finale, which they used as a tuneup for the playoffs. (If you’re near New York City, instead of enduring horrible baseball, go see the Cyclones — playoff tickets are available, and this looks like a team with some bona fide prospects on it.) Anyway, I saw the Mets had scored 10, gave a little silent cheer, and then shook my head patronizingly about 15 minutes later when the guy in the row in front of me announced they’d scored 18. Let’s not get carried away, I thought, then checked my cellphone again. Wow, wouldja look at that?
I missed the first inning of today’s game because I wasn’t paying attention, but after what happened at Wrigley Field, I wasn’t particularly surprised to find the Mets already up 2-0. Or when they added another run two innings later. I even allowed myself to be briefly annoyed that after a summer of lurching spastically down the road like a 16-year-old with a learner’s permit and a stick shift, the Mets had finally found third or even fourth gear. Watch them go on a run, I thought. Just to annoy me.
But no, all of a sudden the Mets looked around, realized they were the post-San Juan Mets of 2010, and they weren’t supposed to be doing what they were doing. With two outs in the top of the third, the Mets had three hits. With 27 outs in the bottom of everything, they still had three hits. And meanwhile, nobody could pitch. Mike Pelfrey came unraveled in a horrible fourth inning, and afterwards the Mets principals were predictably at odds about what the problems were: Pelfrey said he just couldn’t throw his fastball for strikes, Jerry Manuel said he lost focus, and Dan Warthen helpfully chipped in that Pelfrey had gone off to La-La Land. Raul Valdes, just returned from Buffalo, came in and was horrible. Sean Green, last seen being battered by Dan Uggla in the second game of the season, came in and was horrible. Pat Misch, who’s been mostly horrible, bucked the trend by retiring a batter. Ryota Igarashi — who definitely deserves consideration as one of the more horrible Mets busts — came in and was horrible. Oliver Perez, who can never return from being Oliver Perez, came in and was Oliver Perez.
And then, mercifully, it was over. Soon we’ll say the same about this strange fizzle of a season.
And yet, with two outs in the top of the ninth, I left off listening to Wayne Hagin slop paint on the word picture with his trademark clunky, tardy strokes and strolled over to the set. Why? Because Mike Nickeas, soccer scion, was up in search of his first big-league hit, and even in the worst of times I’m a sucker for a first big-league hit.
But watching Nickeas try to be the first Met in 20 plate appearances to get a hit, I had an unwelcome flashback to the final game of the 2003 season. Back then, there were two outs in the ninth and the Mets were down 4-0 to the Marlins, having collected three hits on the afternoon. All that stood between them and winter was Mike Glavine, looking at what turned out to be his final chance to go into the Baseball Encyclopedia with a ‘1’ under the H column. Glavine singled, which depending on how you felt either kept the season alive or interfered with a staggeringly terrible year’s being mercifully euthanized. (Because you’re curious despite yourself, Raul Gonzalez then reached on an error and Vance Wilson was rung up on a called strike three. None of the three would ever play for the Mets again.)
I remembered that I’d actually cheered for Mike Glavine’s hit, for a number of reasons. Because I’m a Mets fan, obviously. Because even though 2003 had been a horror show, one of the few seasons in which I actively loathed my ballclub, being mad at the Mets was better than winter. Because my dislike for T#m Gl@v!ne’s alibis and subtle shifting of blame hadn’t yet curdled into naked animosity. Because none of that was his brother’s fault. And as previously noted, because I’m a sucker for a first big-league hit.
Standing there watching Mike Nickeas peer at the pitcher, I tried to remember all those becauses, and not get distracted by how harebrained it was letting Mike Glavine be a Met in the first place. But it was already stuck in my head: Mike Glavine, hideous baseball, dopey decision-making, 2003. By force of will I made myself fast-forward to 2010, and watched Mike Nickeas strike out.