Maybe you thought this was the night.
And why not? The baseball gods enjoy a good laugh as much as any other cosmic entities, so why wouldn’t Dillon Gee — he of the Triple-A ERA near 5.00 and the penchant for gopher balls — do what Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack and Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez and David Cone and Frank Viola and Bret Saberhagen and Al Leiter and Rick Reed and Mike Hampton and T#m Gl@v!ne and Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana could not? Why couldn’t Dillon Gee take the mound on a September evening in D.C. and leave it as a Mets hero for eternity? Wouldn’t that be just like baseball, to double down on the Mets out of caprice, and finally give a no-hitter to a Met in his major-league debut?
I’ve taught the Mets countdown tradition (which perhaps may double as the perpetuation of the Mets no-hitter curse) to Joshua: You count down by threes after each inning until a hit is recorded. “Twenty-four to go!” “Twenty-one to go!” And so forth, until a white ball bounds gleefully and nose-thumbingly across an expanse of green grass and you moan, “Another night….” Somewhere in the fourth inning you start thinking about what the next number is, because you’re beginning to depart from the script. In the fifth inning the balance shifts to fewer outs remaining to get than outs safely recorded. I’ve always wondered what happens when you get to the ninth: Do you shift to “two to go” and then “one to go,” mirroring the Bernstein/Fry tradition of holding up fingers for outs as if we were fielders? Do you maintain superstitious silence? Do you scream at Gary Cohen for noting the no-hitter with every other syllable? I’ve never had reason to find out, but suspect I know the answer: Should “three to go” territory arrive, I’ll have crammed myself under the coffee table and be writhing and groaning with every pitch.
Gee got to “12 to go” before running afoul of the inevitable Willie Harris, who I really think spends Christmas Eve popping down the chimneys of Met-fan homes and taking away toys. One misplaced fastball, and Gee was turning around in consternation, watching his no-hitter and shutout get fielded by a spectator. Then, after seven innings and 86 pitches he was sitting on the bench, removed by Jerry Manuel for reasons that remain mysterious as of this writing. (I assume it was the old “manager wants young pitcher to leave with a good feeling” reason, as articulated by Ron Darling and assailed by Gary Cohen and a cranky Keith Hernandez. I’m usually on the Gary/Keith end of the spectrum where this old saw is concerned, but I admit that I then inevitably think of Paul Wilson’s sixth major-league start being reduced to ashes by Sammy Sosa.) Whatever the reason, Gee was out, but the Mets relievers tidied up without an excess of fuss, and a quick, quietly satisfying game was concluded.
So no, Dillon Gee wasn’t the second coming of Bumpus Jones. Looking ahead, those pesky minor-league numbers would strongly counsel against expecting him to be the next Tom Seaver. One of the hard lessons taught by age is that garbage-time starts are the beer goggles of baseball love affairs: Pat Misch looked pretty good late last year, after all, and the only Met to throw a complete game in his big-league debut was the immortal Dick Rusteck. Though to be fair, Rusteck hurt his arm. And why couldn’t Gee be the next Rick Reed, relying on guile and location and rising from unheralded to beloved in the space of a couple of months? Come to think of it, don’t we all love R.A. Dickey for more than his sad-eyed eloquence?
Having watched the Mets decline into fall, it’s easy to forget that our team has had its share of good luck, too. Sometimes we pull a Hall of Famer out of a hat, or are favored by a black cat, or have a right-fielder’s desperate dive come up with the ball, or watch a banjo-hitting reserve stroke two World Series home runs, or watch the ball come off the wall just so, or have a batter jackknife out of a pitch’s path at the perfect time, or watch a little trickling grounder get by Buckner, or have a catcher sense that not one but two runners are inbound. We’ve had successful gambles. We’ve even witnessed a miracle or two. It’s just that none of those miracles involves a game starting and 27 enemy batters recording outs before one records a hit.