On September 28, 2010, Ruben Tejada came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning with a pair of runners on base and the Mets down 3-2 to the Milwaukee Brewers. He belted a double to deep left field. Ike Davis scored from third. Pinch-runner Luis Castillo chugged home from first. The Mets, already mathematically eliminated from contention, won 4-3.
Now consider the essentials of the aforementioned scenario:
• Last week of the season.
• Mets out of the race.
• Bottom of the ninth.
• Mets trail.
• Rookie swings.
• Mets win.
Do you know how many times before last night these precise circumstances aligned and culminated in such a favorable Met result?
Never. It never happened before. Never has a rookie come up in the bottom of the ninth at the tail end of a kaput season with the Mets behind and put them ahead. Of all the walkoff wins the Mets could hope for in a non-contending context, this has to be the most uplifting type of walkoff win imaginable.
If you still have any imagination left when a season is so foregone.
This is a new type of walkoff, so it requires a new name, one reflecting all it potentially represents. I know! Let’s call it…
The Ruben™: A heaping helping of hope sandwiched between two slices of despair.
Better yet, serve it open-faced so as to see only the hope.
The Ruben™ — gosh, I feel like Homer Simpson after he discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch.
Congratulations to the National League Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds, qualifiers for the postseason for the first time since 1995. As if those fifteen years weren’t long enough, the Reds snapped another lengthy streak of a dubious nature. On October 4, 1999, Cincinnati had a chance to make the postseason as N.L. Wild Card with a win in what is alternately referred to as a one-game playoff or a play-in. Either way, they lost….to the Mets, of course, 5-0 on an Al Leiter two-hit gem. Their ensuing eleven-year wait was longer than any other one-game/play-in loser in the divisional era has had to endure to overcome the sting of almost making it.
1978: Boston Red Sox lose to New York Yankees
1986: Boston Red Sox next make playoffs 8 YEARS LATER
1980: Houston Astros lose to Los Angeles Dodgers
1981: Houston Astros next make playoffs 1 YEAR LATER
1995: California Angels lose to Seattle Mariners
2002: Anaheim Angels next make playoffs 7 YEARS LATER
1998: San Francisco Giants lose to Chicago Cubs
2000: San Francisco Giants next make playoffs 2 YEARS LATER
1999: Cincinnati Reds lose to New York Mets
2010: Cincinnati Reds next make playoffs 11 YEARS LATER
2007: San Diego Padres lose to Colorado Rockies
SAN DIEGO PADRES STILL WAITING; 3 YEARS AS OF 2010
2008: Minnesota Twins lose to Chicago White Sox
2009: Minnesota Twins next make playoffs 1 YEAR LATER
2009: Detroit Tigers lose to Minnesota Twins
DETROIT TIGERS STILL WAITING; 2 YEARS AS OF 2011
Even if you throw in losing teams from pre-divisional tiebreakers, the Reds waited longer to reach — and surpass — the postseason precipice than almost everybody who came up short before them.
The 1946 Brooklyn Dodgers were avenged 1 year after their heartbreak against the St. Louis Cardinals, as were the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers following their legendary defeat at the hands of the New York Giants.
The 1959 Milwaukee Braves needed 10 years, a move south and the slicing of the National League into two divisions to get over their loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. By then, they were the 1969 Atlanta Braves, losers of the first National League Championship Series (to the New York Mets).
The 1962 Los Angeles Dodgers lost a devastating tiebreaker series to the San Francisco Giants — or did they? The devastation was plowed under 1 year later in the 1963 World Series as the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four straight.
The 1948 Boston Red Sox, however, waited longer than anybody to be dug out of their tiebreaker hole. They lost a one-game playoff to the Cleveland Indians and didn’t have their defeat avenged until 1967 — 19 years later.
Anyway, I’m happy that the Reds have finally shaken off that loss to the 1999 New York Mets. Cincy shouldn’t feel bad it took them this long. The Atlanta Braves have never been the same juggernaut since the Mets battled them to a bittersweet end in that season’s NLCS.
Congratulations are also in order for the Texas Rangers, A.L. West champs and postseason participants for the first time since 1999. Who says a team can’t win anything with Alex Cora and Jeff Francoeur on its roster? Come to think of it, two teams have traded for Jeff Francoeur and one is in the playoffs. Two teams have traded away Jeff Francoeur, and if Atlanta holds on to its slim Wild Card lead over San Diego, it can also be said that one team that has dispatched Jeff Francoeur is in the playoffs.
Then there’s the Mets, who traded for Jeff Francoeur and traded away Jeff Francoeur, yet all they’ve got on their plate at this moment is a Ruben™.
Aside from our erstwhile right fielder and utility infielder/team leader; two of our former relievers, Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver; our almost catcher, Bengie Molina; two of our alumni who are now two of their coaches, Clint Hurdle and Mike Maddux; and the Never Met superstar whom we could have had for a relative free agent song when he could still play the outfield, Vladimir Guerrero (oh, and our young fireballing righty turned their team president, Lynn Nolan Ryan), we share something else of a contemporary nature with the Texas Rangers. And, in a way, it spools back more than two decades.
6/2/1987: Mets draft Tim Bogar.
3/31/1997: Mets trade Tim Bogar to the Houston Astros for Luis Lopez.
1/21/2000: Mets trade Luis Lopez to the Milwaukee Brewers for Bill Pulsipher.
6/2/2000: Mets trade Bill Pulsipher to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Lenny Harris.
1/21/2002: Mets trade Lenny Harris to Milwaukee for Jeromy Burnitz (part of a three-team, eleven-player transaction).
7/14/2003: Mets trade Jeromy Burnitz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Victor Diaz.
8/30/2006: Mets trade Victor Diaz to Texas for Mike Nickeas.
Nickeas then burrowed into deepest minor league obscurity until making his surprise major league debut with the Mets on September 4, 2010. He returned to obscurity after his most recent appearance, on September 6, 2010, but at least he’s obscure on a major league roster. I saw him among the revelers congratulating Ruben Tejada last night on his Ruben™.
Victor Diaz, if you’re wondering, isn’t in the Texas organization or with any MLB club any longer. He spent his summer playing for Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz, leading the Mexican League in home runs (29) and runs batted in (96). As a Met rookie on September 25, 2004, another season in which the Mets were out of it, he hit a three-run homer in the bottom of ninth inning to tie the contending Cubs and send the game to extra innings. Another Met rookie, Craig Brazell, homered to win it in the eleventh. Because it wasn’t a ninth-inning, come-from-behind, one-swing win, and it wasn’t the last week of the season, we can’t call it a Ruben™ — but it was close enough to Rubenesque.
The same might be said of Victor Diaz’s physique; his figures look pretty good south of the border.
Incidentally, Bill Pulsipher, who is somehow still not yet 37 years old, went 5-1 in 11 appearances for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League this season. He also won his only start in the playoffs. Like Diaz, he put up good numbers in the minors in 2010.
Like Diaz, he’d trade them in a heartbeat for where Mike Nickeas is this week.
As long as we’re on the subject of ancient Met trade threads, you know that guy on Toronto who’s hits 52 home runs? We had him. We really did. We had Jose Bautista. I had no idea until I read about it on Studious Metsimus.
More congratulations, to the playoff-clinching, first-place Tampa Bay Rays. And here’s to their ownership attempting to defuse controversy by giving away 20,000 tickets to their final regular-season home game tonight. The Rays are drawing flies even as they are compiling what is, at present, baseball’s best record. The fan in me says it’s disgraceful that 12,446 showed up one night with a playoff spot imminent and that 17,891 came the next night when it was secured. The human being in me, however, never tells other people how to spend their money, particularly in a sad economy.
Evan Longoria and David Price expressed their frustration at receiving sparse visible support at Tropicana Field. Can’t say I blame them for feeling that way, but you don’t win customers to your cause by shaming them, certainly not when you personally outgross your physical fan base on any given night.
Still, you have to give away 20,000 tickets to get people to come see the best team in baseball? That’s frightening for the future of Tampa Bay baseball, which saddens me a little, as I went to college in the area, albeit too long ago for it to be highly relevant to the current state of affairs down there. There were no Rays in my day. There weren’t even Devil Rays. But there were Rowdies — the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL. Professional soccer was on its last legs, and there were $5 tickets being sold on campus for a weeknight game at Tampa Stadium against the Toronto Blizzard. I bought one, mostly because the offer included a 98 ROCK t-shirt. No playoff spot was on the line, it was dull as could be, yet the Rowdies and the Blizzard drew about 16,000…or almost as many as the Rays got for winning their division.
I’ve read dozens of comments on the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times Web sites as to why attendance is so low. The theories/gripes are generally these:
1) The stadium’s too inaccessible. The Rays shouldn’t be playing all the way over in St. Pete. Build a new stadium in Tampa. (This is presented against the backdrop of a simmering threatdown in which the Rays keep fear alive and hint they might pack up and vamoose altogether if they don’t get a better ballpark on better terms for them.)
2) Why should I pay all that money — money that’s tight to begin with — to go to a game at a lousy stadium that’s far away when I can watch on TV?
3) Too many people in Tampa-St. Pete are from somewhere else and have remained loyal to their teams, making it difficult for a 13-year-old franchise to take root.
On the first point: I’ve never been to the Trop, but I understand its location is far from desirable. Your call if you don’t want to make the schlep.
On the second point: universal complaint, perfectly legitimate; cable bills are high enough, might as well get some use out of it.
On the third point…I sort of get it even if I sort of don’t.
I lived in Tampa for four years and never developed any affinity for the Rowdies, the Bucs of the NFL or the Bandits of the USFL, who were a big deal during their brief existence (Burt Reynolds owned a piece of the team, Jerry Reed recorded an unforgettable theme song and Loni Anderson posed for a very popular poster — trust me when I say this was early 1980s Tampa Bay heaven). If I had stayed after graduation, I doubt I would have converted to any of the local teams. Had I still been a Tampan in 1998, I might have adopted the Devil Rays as my A.L. club, but I can’t fathom ever having transferred my primary rooting interest to them from the Mets.
Yet in a metropolitan area of more than 2.7 million people, you’re going to tell me all you have are transplanted New Yorkers, New Englanders, Midwesterners and others who were never won over to the home team? Nobody who grew up in Hillsborough or Pinellas County immune to the charms of teams from somewhere else? There are such creatures as native Floridians, believe it or not. And what about a good, old-fashioned bandwagon? The Rays are rolling..no hop-ons?
During my time in the Tampa Bay region, Major League Baseball was a dream. The dream came true. For a decade, the D-Rays were a nightmare, yet now the Rays are surreally good. I can understand 12,000, if that many, for the Mets and Brewers these nights, but for the Rays and a playoff spot? Kind of a special occasion, I would think. Granted, it was a Silver game by the Rays’ reckoning (versus the Orioles…sounds Bronze to me), but unless you’re a certain other American League East team which has now qualified for the postseason 49 frigging times, how often do nights like these come along?
The Mets clinched postseason berths at Shea five times. Here was their paid attendance for those blessed events:
Remember, the first three were actual turnstile counts and didn’t include comps. The latter two were tickets sold, but I can assure you from having been on hand, in ’00 and ’06 that Shea felt very, very full both nights.
Maybe it’s Big Apples and Florida oranges to compare New York and Tampa Bay. I could point out the Mets were newer in 1969 than the Rays are now, but that would be specious. The Mets were no ordinary expansion franchise. They were filling a void left by two long-lived National League clubs that had been gone a mere four seasons, whereas the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were marking previously uncharted territory at the time of their birth. Passion’s another difference. We’re New York. They’re Tampa Bay. There’s a good chance we’re going to chafe at that comparison in a few weeks, pending the ALCS matchup, but it’s true.
Just ask Jerry Manuel, which is what Mike Francesa did on Tuesday in what was, in all likelihood, the final weekly afternoon drivetime chat Manuel will give WFAN in his capacity as Mets manager. Francesa asked him if New York was what he expected. Here’s Manuel’s answer:
I didn’t realize how great the passion was here. I didn’t realize how knowledgeable the fan was here. This is, to me, the Mecca of baseball.
If Jerry weren’t on the clock, I imagine the Post would run a front page headline highlighting that “Mecca” remark and demanding to know why the Mets hate America. That aside, yes, of course, he’s right, and not because his portrayal flatters us. Baseball is what we do in New York. If we had any reasonable chance of doing it in Queens beyond this Sunday, we’d be doing it like crazy all week this week at Citi Field. The Mets reported 24,666 were in attendance last night for Ruben Tejada’s Ruben™. The Mets are funny that way.
Nevertheless, we had more invisible fans in the park Tuesday than the Rays did in reality Monday, and the Rays are playing for much more.
Boy am I glad I didn’t stay in Tampa.