Call it hindsight of the sharpest degree, but I swear I had a feeling about today’s game when it was 7-0, and that feeling wasn’t all about the different vessels I considered packing Mike Pelfrey into and what destinations I would have liked him shipped. Well, that, too, but after Pequeño Pelf finished the third giving up only one run after surrendering thrice as many in the first and the second…I dunno, I just had this feeling that included the following elements:
• “All it takes is one big hit to close the gap.”
• “These are the Pirates and, due respect, this is just too good a setup for them.”
• “Does DHL have a long enough tube in which to cram Pelfrey, or would it be more cost-effective to shove him in a trunk and bring him to UPS?”
And as I’m sorting all that out at Citi Field, Citi Field suddenly becomes a fortuitous place to spend one’s Thursday afternoon. Three Mets who had been keeping the Mets relatively afloat these past few weeks — Reyes, Turner and Beltran — arranged for that gap-closing of which I pondered. 7-0 became 7-3, and in that fan logic I like to deploy when the Mets merit logic, you’re no longer coming back from down 7-0 if it’s 7-3.
It was 7-3. Teams don’t often come back from seven down, but coming back from four down isn’t so crazy.
Since Pelfrey couldn’t (legally) be sent anywhere against his will, I was perversely relieved to see he hadn’t been relieved despite his ostentatious hole-digging. Even his batting in the bottom of the third, before Jose, Justin and Carlos (especially Carlos) crafted the foundation of the comeback, heartened me. Terry heartened me Wednesday night with his tearing of 22 or 23 new ones, and from some very sweet seats, I was thinking that keeping Pelf in the game was an extension of that. No, we’re not going to write this one off. No, we’re not going to parade the relievers out here early. Yes, you big boy, you go out there and hold these Buccaneers at bay.
Michael had the perfect foil in the Pittsburgh Pirates. They just weren’t, I believed, ready for prime time, even if prime time was taking place in daytime and even if all that was at stake was taking three of four from the Mets at the beginning of June. I’m not in the business of looking down my nose at the Pittsburgh Pirates or devoting more than cursory notice to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ship of state, but I know what it’s like to root for a team that’s been down so long that you’ll jump on any sign that it’s coming up for air.
I could see the Pirates fan version of myself — maybe the 17-year-old Pirates fan version of myself — getting way too excited by the 7-0 lead, by the newfound prowess at competing on the road, by the prospect of winning a four-game series, by rising so close to .500 to almost touch it. I recognize giddiness scratching and clawing to emerge from the closet of anxieties. I also recognize that there’s a reason giddiness gets stuck in that closet for so long.
So if the Mets were going to fall behind 7-0 to anybody, and were going to leave in the pitcher who shoved them behind 7-0, the Pirates, I sensed, were the team to do it against.
Besides, it wasn’t 7-0 anymore. It was 7-3. Pelfrey stiffened in the fourth and the fifth. He retired his last seven batters in a row. Normally, someone gives up seven runs, you’re not interested in seven extraneous batters. But I swear I didn’t think there was anything extraneous about collecting every out we could. If the Pirates were going to be unbeatable this afternoon, then why didn’t they add to their lead? And if they didn’t add to their lead, why couldn’t we reduce it further?
We get through the top of the sixth, Byrdak having replaced Pelfrey. Despite giving up Paul Maholm’s second hit of the day, Tim sets down the next three Bucs. What sign overrides the other: Mets pitching allows an .050 hitter two singles, or the .050 hitter not coming around the second time he’s on? Sounds silly, but I’m looking at the Pirates, having lived a charmed life against R.A. Dickey one night and Chris Capuano the next, not conjuring any more magic. Paul Maholm scoring some more…any Pirate scoring some more, and they’ve ensured it’s just not our day. But they stopped scoring, so the day was up for grabs.
Bottom of the sixth. Beltran, whose third-inning homer stung the Allied sign that fronts the Left Field Landing, launches another very long fly ball. It’s high, but it’s not high enough. It’s a double off a wall that if it was a less pretentiously high wall would have been another homer. “Fuck this fucking ballpark,” I said to Jason. This ballpark has been swallowing home runs and spitting them out as doubles when not turning them into 7s, 8s and 9s on scorecards. Fuck this fucking ballpark, maybe, but the Mets decided not to be so fucked by it for a change. Maybe that’s Terry’s tirade burning in their ears from Wednesday night. Maybe managerial anger is just one of those things we fans choose to read into.
Whatever. The Mets load the bases when Bay walks (he’d later be hit by a pitch; just standing still seems to turn Jason Bay into a useful offensive weapon) and an apparition faintly resembling little-used Nick Evans walks. Ruben Tejada, here for his defense and out of desperation, is the guy who has to get a base hit. There’s just no question that it’s on him. There are two outs. There is no rally without Tejada coming through. Tejada is supposed to be an improved hitter. He’s been getting hits, but they’re the kinds of hits mostly that the Pirates were getting against Capuano: not deep, kinda lucky. We need a real major league hit from a real major league hitter.
That’s my boy, Ruben, poking one to right, bringing home Beltran and Bay, and now we’re not overcoming a 7-0 deficit or a 7-3 deficit. We’re down 7-5 in the sixth inning. We have Tejada on first and Evans’s apparition on second. Teams obliterate two-run deficits with three-plus innings to go all the time. At once this is an extraordinary effort and just another game.
Clint Hurdle must not have been all that alarmed, because he kept Paul Maholm in. I don’t understand why. Whereas Pelfrey had stiffened, Maholm was crumbling. It wasn’t the first and second anymore. He wasn’t fooling hitters. He wasn’t fooling anybody. Perhaps Hurdle was examining the Mets’ bench and realized there were no opposing batters of the righthanded persuasion to take on his lefty. Scott Hairston had already been used. Terry had four lefties from which to choose to pinch-hit for Byrdak.
He chose Daniel Murphy. My third great hunch of the day — after “we’re not necessarily screwed” and “leaving Pelfrey in isn’t necessarily stupid” — overcame me. It’s lefty-lefty, this is supposed to represent a terrible disadvantage for the batter, but this is no run-of-the-mill lefty swinging. This is Daniel Murphy. That may not sound like much generally, but the point is Murphy isn’t a strict platoon player and he’s not usually a bench player. He faces lefties regularly. I didn’t have the splits in front of me, but I didn’t remember Daniel dissolving at the sight of a Paul Maholm as a rule.
I wanted Daniel Murphy up there. And I was rewarded when Murph shot a ball into the outfield and Great Nick Evans’ Ghost! scored. Young Ruben followed immediately when Matt Diaz (fucking Brave) overthrew his target.
Now it was 7-7. The Mets weren’t overcoming deficits anymore. The game was tied. You know those radio spots Howie is forced to read at contractual gunpoint about “safe and secure”? That’s how I feel about tie games when they’ve been trailing games. That’s how I felt when Rich Gedman couldn’t corral Bob Stanley’s alleged wild pitch and Kevin Mitchell pounded down the third base line to make it Mets 5 Red Sox 5. No matter what else happened, we weren’t losing anymore in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. That’s how I felt when Todd Pratt walked with the bases loaded in the fifth game of the 1999 National League Championship Series. Mets 3 Braves 3, Ventura coming up.
We weren’t losing then. And we weren’t losing now. Safe and secure…aaahhh.
Was the rest inevitable? Is anything with the Mets? Could anything be inevitable when you’re compelled to sort out a scenario that, in the eighth, involves Willie Harris as a pinch-runner (would he get picked off first or steal second and get picked off there?), Chris Capuano as a pinch-bunter (over Thole, who was going to have to come in for Paulino, being allowed to hit away) and the world’s quietest balk? Oh, that balk. “What’s Willie Harris doing on second?” was what Jason and I asked each other and what everybody around us asked everybody else. Nobody seemed to know. I was slow on the draw with my radio, but I heard Howie mention “balk,” and that was all the explanation I needed. Jason attempted to boil it down further, but all I knew was Harris was on second, it was sanctioned by umpires, Capuano was giving way to Thole in the midst of an at-bat that didn’t carry as many strikes as we thought it did and we weren’t losing.
From there, we were gonna be all right. Harris got to third on a wild pitch (no, the Pirates were not ready for prime time), Tejada lifted a simple fly ball that’s not always so simple to lift, and we had the lead I envisioned us taking five innings earlier. Then we had a slightly larger lead, thanks to several walks.
9-7 Mets. I was aware this was conditionally the second-largest comeback in Mets history, tying what the Mets achieved in front of Jason and me on June 30, 2000, but I have to confess it felt nothing like that, save for immense satisfaction, of course. That night against Atlanta — lotsa walks, Fonzie’s two-RBI single, Piazza’s three-run crescendo off Kerry Ligtenberg — literally rocked the house. A weekday game I attended against the Cubs on May 17, 2007 — down 5-1 entering the ninth, up 6-5 in a matter of pitches — was emotionally explosive everywhere you looked. Those comebacks rocked Shea to its core. This comeback, in the place that came after Shea?
It was more methodical, so maybe that’s why Citi Field didn’t seem to shake. I was a little disappointed that the only ballpark we have wasn’t all aquiver over matching the second-largest comeback in Mets history. It was happy enough, but I swear the school groups made more noise in the first and second innings when they were simply clearing their lungs than the crowd that remained did as the Mets put the Pirates almost to bed in the eighth.
“Does this feel like we just came from down 7-0 to go ahead 9-7?” I asked Jason. He confirmed it did, and the scoreboard offered evidence. I knew we had, just as I believed we could…but I was missing the mass thrill that usually accompanies these things. Then again, I was grateful this was one of “these things,” and I was thrilled for that.
Besides, I said to Jason, if this somehow becomes a 10-9 loss, it will doubtlessly feel like we blew a 9-7 lead.
Blessedly, that contingency didn’t have to be broached. A 9-8 win, saved by Frankie Rodriguez, sufficed. The W went to Jason Isringhausen, as if he doesn’t have enough letters. It was the first time he was the Mets’ winning pitcher since June 8, 1999. His opponents then were the Blue Jays of Carlos Delgado, Chris Woodward and Tony Fernandez. His left fielder was Rickey Henderson. His immediate successor on the mound was Dennis Cook. His future lay elsewhere, his short-circuited Met past had long ago gained on him.
Izzy, however, had quite a present today with a scoreless eighth, as did Bobby Parnell with a scoreless seventh, as did all the Mets who didn’t lose just because it seemed so obvious they would. Instead, they won, which seemed so strangely possible to me despite its inarguable improbability.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to believe in your team for no good reason except that you do.