On Friday night the Mets looked like a team that had been up all night, which they were. Balls got muffed, the Angels took full advantage, and .500 retreated from view once again. It was predictable, perhaps even understandable, but dispiriting nonetheless.
On Saturday night things were different.
Emily and I were there, sitting in awesome seats thanks to a benefactor, in perfect weather, and we got to watch the Mets play a basically perfect ballgame. (The whole thing, it should be noted, was Emily’s idea. My wife is a lifelong Mets fan, a baseball fan whose knowledge extends to stuff like catcher’s interference, and she thought that a June Saturday night was best spent at the ballpark. Oh, and she got me Verano while I sat on my butt. I do not deserve her in any way, which we both know but she has the charity not to point out more than is absolutely necessary.)
Any Saturday night in my wife’s company is marvelous, but I didn’t have a lot of hope that the Mets would do their part. My trust in Mike Pelfrey has been eroded to basically nothing, and Pelf was going up against the supremely talented, impressively leonine Dan Haren. But Pelf made it clear early on that this night he was trustworthy, throwing all his pitches for strikes and working with speed and purpose. Meanwhile, speed and purpose were the Mets’ calling cards as well. They ran wild against Haren and Hank Conger, throwing off Haren’s rhythm first and then starting in on his location. Reyes’s first steal led to Carlos Beltran serving a high curveball into center for a 1-0 lead; Angel Pagan’s first steal led to Jason Bay smacking a pitch for another run (and a nice semi-standing semi-ovation for the resurgent Bay); Bay’s steal led to a carom shot by Lucas Duda off Russell Branyan’s glove and past Howie Kendrick; and Reyes’s second steal set up Justin Turner’s RBI hit to right.
And then oh my goodness.
We were sitting a couple of rows behind third base, from which juncture the center-field fence of Citi Field is quite a ways off. It’s a big park (maybe you’ve heard), one in which a lot of fly balls look promising but wind up in the gloves of outfielders, or elude those gloves in the big spaces out there and turn into doubles or triples. You can be teased by fly balls anywhere in the park; from field level it’s even easier to be fooled.
But none of this mattered when Beltran connected. One of the many things I adore about baseball is how when a batter really tears into one, the sound and the trajectory quickly make you think the ball was struck by a man twice as tall as any man could be. Everyone in the park knew the ball was gone — the only question was how gone. The answer: gone enough to bounce off the Shea Bridge, way out there in Davis/Duda/Dunn territory. Standing at home plate, Beltran gave his bat a slightly little jaunty mini-flip, a pose that Sammy Sosa might have struck for a middling sac fly, but was downright boastful for Carlos. No Angel took exception — hit the Shea Bridge and you’ve earned the right to style.
That ended Haren’s night and made the rest of the game basically academic, with the sole remaining drama concerning whether Terry Collins would let Pelfrey go back out for the ninth. He did and Pelf was superb, save for poor Turner extending the game by muffing a Bobby Abreu grounder with two outs. While Turner looked for a divot deep enough to vanish into, all eyes in our section turned to Collins, now pacing in agitation by the bat rack.
Stay there, we urged him. He did, and one Vernon Wells pop-out later all was well.