Games like these make you want to kiss the Mets logo smack between the “e” and the “t”…though maybe it would be more appropriate to kiss its “s,” considering it was Thursday’s tail end that made the whole thing so lovable.
There were enough isolated incidents across the 8½ innings that preceded this happiest of endings to admire, to enjoy, to nod toward with a blend of dispassionate appreciation and genuine affection, but as long as it appeared we were headed toward a final of Phillies 5 Mets 4, screw that. It was going to be the kind of game that made you want to tear down every Mets logo in your field of vision.
Which would be tough for me because I once tried to count how many Mets logos are in the same room I’m in now, and I lost track.
You don’t become a Mets fan because you assume you’re going to get games like Mets 6 Phillies 5. But you stay a Mets fan for those handfuls of games that wind up Mets 6 Phillies 5, specifically for the way they become Mets 6 Phillies 5.
It wasn’t an R.A. Dickey night the way you’ve been conditioned to expect. R.A. was intensely human against Cole Hamels, and not in the R.A. sense of humanity, just a guy who couldn’t get his pitches over. I vaguely recall it happening to him one or two other times this year. This time it had the knuckleballer from heaven in a hellish 2-0 hole by the middle of the second. All you can do on these anomalistic occasions is hold tight, hope Dickey the Mortal doesn’t completely implode and hope at least a couple of Mets have Hamels on speed dial.
Fortunately, Scott Hairston indeed has Cole’s number and he belted it over the left field fence in the second to get the Mets going. That’s the word with Scott’s home runs. Kingman launched. Strawberry walloped. HoJo punished. Hairston belts.
David Wright also rang up Hamels pretty good. There was an epic at-bat in the bottom of the third that if it took place in the bottom of the ninth of a Game Seven would be legendary, or even Tejadan. As was, David battled Cole for seven pitches before lining a single up the middle to score Dickey (his own cause helped with a base hit), tying the game at two.
Sadly, the Phillies jumped ugly once more on Mr. Dickey with just enough nonsense (Fontenot, Rollins and Pence all singling) to take back the lead at 3-2 in the fifth. Mr. Hamels, however, felt the wrath of Wright once more, as he drove a ball into the stands the way David does when his swing is going swimmingly. There was a man on, which means the Mets held a lovely lead of 4-3.
And then they didn’t. Fucking Hamels (that’s the Olde World spelling) singled, Fucking Rollins tripled and Fucking Pierre safety-squeezed his fucking teammate home all in the space of seven pitches. Mets down, 5-4, in the sixth. No dice for Dickey.
From the first inning, you could see it, hear it, feel it: R.A. doesn’t have his good knuckleball. In the world of high-stakes pitching, this was the latter-day equivalent of learning Frank Sinatra has caught the sniffles. “Sinatra with a cold,” Gay Talese wrote 46 years ago, “is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse […] a Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.”
Dickey without his good knuckleball ensured the Citi Field scoreboard would read like the Dow. Mets down; Mets even; Mets down; Mets up; Mets down. The benefits of having the last at-bat in this game never loomed as more valuable.
Yet the rhythms of this game seemed to stall at 5-4. Dickey finally got a 1-2-3 inning, in the seventh, before departing with an awful line (5 ER, 11 H) that had nonetheless kept his team competitive. Shane Victorino swooped in on a sinking Tejada liner in the home seventh and for a change didn’t let it get by him. Nice catch, fucker. This Mike Fontenot creature made an annoyingly impressive catch somewhere in the late innings, too, and he doubled to start the eighth off Rauch, but he turned out to be a double-agent whose actions seemed designed to aid and abet truth, justice and the Metropolitan way. For it was when Chase Utley pinch-hit and singled off Byrdak that Fontenot (or “Contempt,” as my phone’s auto correct feature intuitively rechristened him) scampered home with delusional visions of Ty Wigginton in his head.
“Ty ran over Thole,” he appeared to have decided. “I’ll do the same!”
Except, Fontenot, schnook that he cleverly disguised himself as, overlooked Wiggy is a block of granite while he himself is, at best, a wisp of balsa. Plus Utley’s single to left was so shallow that even Hairston — a helluva slugger when it comes to his arm — could throw him out by the pitter-patter of twenty little feet…every one of them Fontenot’s. Miniature Mike slammed into Thole as Wigginton did, but the effect wasn’t the same. Josh brushed him off as if dusting away a spider, keeping the Mets just one run down. Shortly thereafter, the forgotten Pedro Beato trotted in from the corn field to retire John Mayberry and end the inning.
After nothing good happened in the bottom of the eighth against Antonio Bastardo and nothing bad happened in the top of the ninth on account of Bobby Parnell, it was still Phillies 5 Mets 4. Gary Cohen was touting this as a marvelous game, no matter the score, but I wasn’t detached enough to buy in to his legitimate observation. Too many Mets logos visible from where I sit. If it remained 5-4, it was a waste of nearly three hours of engagement.
But if our team could cobble together a run or perhaps string together a pair, then, oh what a night we would have spent in Metted bliss.
Here came Jonathan Papelbon, who is the Pete Campbell of elite closers. Mad Men fans will get the reference. If you don’t watch the show, here’s all you need to know: Pete got socked in the snooker three separate times in the season that just ended. By the finale, loyal viewers had come to think of him as Punchable Pete.
That’s Jonathan Papelbon. There’s something about that guy that makes you want to see him suffer the fate of a thousand Heath Bells. I once watched him, as a Red Sock, blow a save against the Yankees and I didn’t feel at all bad about it. Put him in a Phillies uniform and on the mound against the Mets when the Mets trail by one and you’re off to the exponential races where how much you want to see him fail is concerned.
Ike Davis was up first and lined a ball that a leaping Ruben Tejada probably would have caught but a leaping Jimmy Rollins didn’t. Surprisingly, its flight continued well into left field before rolling to the track. It went so far that even Davis, the model for last December’s Hess toy lumber truck, was able to reach second. In a fit of excellent managerial strategy, Terry Collins removed Ike for Ronny Cedeño, who doesn’t strike me as terribly fast but god knows he couldn’t be any slower than Ike Davis.
Then Terry contracted a touch too much of the managerial fever and ordered Josh Thole to bunt Cedeño to third, which seemed both the sensible thing to do and an extravagant waste of an out. If Josh did his job — and he did — Ronny would reach third easily (so what was the point of opting for the upgrade in speed?). But if lefthanded Josh was empowered to do a bigger job, against a righthanded closer who’d already given up a double, then maybe we’re tied and on our way to winning.
Debate it all you want, but the bunt was bunted, the out was sacrificed and Cedeño was on third, one out, and all we needed was a nice fly ball from Kirk Nieuwenhuis. A stat was flashed on TV that indicated young Kirk is exactly the man you’d want up to deliver such a blow. Seven times he’d been up with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, and five times the runner scored. But that was an eternity ago, when Nieuwenhuis was new and maybe not so contusioned on the hand. However the odds stacked up, they crumbled when Kirk fanned.
Two out, Cedeño just standing there. The next batter is pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin, which is either delicious — because of course we know what he did to Jonathan Papelbon in Philadelphia two months ago — or the stuff of queasiness because, let’s face it, Papelbon is still Papelbon and Valdespin is what we’re still not sure. When he takes his hacks and one of those hacks goes flying, you rally ’round the kid and call him fearless, which is a friendly synonym for clueless because on a team where everybody’s taking pitches, he’s swinging for the fences in the on-deck circle. Yet there’s something about Jordany that transcends the queasiness he gives you. If he can distill that essence and not dilute its strength, then I want Valdespin spritzed all over my roster.
But that’s for the long term. For now, not making the last out would be just fine, and on a three-two pitch, he did not make the last out. He made contact: his thigh with ball four. Jordany, too young and too physically thick to feel pain, took his base.
First and third now, and your inclination was to make sure you had plenty of canned goods, bottled water and batteries for your flashlight because you knew you were going to be here a while. It was a Ruben Tejada at-bat, and those never end swiftly when they matter most.
Ball, while Valdespin takes another base uncontested, Mets on second and third.
Hey, that’s four balls, that’s a walk, that’s Tejada not at all surprisingly on first, that’s the bases loaded.
Papelbon was up to 22 pitches. A reliever comes on and throws 22 pitches with a one-run lead, and he’s cooked. Yet for all there was to enjoy from Papelbon’s tightly wound high-wire act, he was still one out away from leaving with a save for himself and a win for the Phils. If he accomplished that kind of escape, Jesus, the trip from cataclysmic to catastrophic to catatonic would take no time at all. How could we have loaded the bases against Fucking Papelbon and not scored?
It was a possibility. Valdespin was one strike from ending it badly. Tejada was one strike from ending it badly. Now here was Murphy…sweet, lovable Murphy…oh-and-two after two pitches, oh-and-two after fouling off the third pitch, then one-and-two, then…
HE LINES IT UP THE MIDDLE! IT’S GONNA…
No, it’s not…
IT WENT OFF PAPELBON’S LEG! IT’S…
Where is it?
IT’S IN FOUL TERRITORY! PAPELBON CAN’T PICK IT UP! CEDEÑO SCORES! MURPHY’S SAFE! EVERYBODY’S SAFE! TIE GAME! TIE GAME!
That was either a great thing or a thing not as great as it could have been since up the middle would have ended the game. But 27 pitches had been thrown, the game was still in progress, it wouldn’t end to our dissatisfaction in regulation and would ya look at who’s up next?
David Wright became the first Met to put a ball in play on the first pitch of an at-bat all inning long. He also became the first Met to reach the outfield since Davis’s liner barely eluded Rollins’s leap. Most relevantly, he became the most obvious star of a stellar ninth — let Pablo Sandoval be a starter in Kansas City; David Wright is a Finisher wherever he goes — when his looper fell in front of the easily baffled Hunter Pence in shallow right. Valdespin scored from second, nobody prematurely tackled anybody on the basepaths (though you almost expected Todd Pratt to clean and jerk somebody amid the mob that materialized between first and second), Justin Turner justified his existence with a shaving cream pie whose symbolism is sublime even if the ritual attached to it is lamely derivative, and the Mets were 6-5 winners.
The Mets were winners. The Mets are winners. The Mets demand to be taken seriously, so that’s the only way I plan to take them from here until they let me know otherwise. The Mets are wonderful when they do this. The Mets do this often enough so you actually recognize it when you see it developing. The Mets are Mets enough — and you are Mets fan enough — so that you don’t count on it happening, but you never, ever count them out. Not against a herd of Hamelses, not against a pack of Papelbons, not against any Fucking Phillie or anybody else.
The giddiness is talking. The love is talking. Where’s that logo? I’m gonna go give it such a smooch!