But when my pace is falling slack
I catch myself thinking back
A certain night, a certain summer
Long gone long
I suggested to my buddy Jim we get together Friday night to watch the Mets game at this place in Rockville Centre in whose present incarnation I’d never set foot but in whose confines I’d seen plenty. The place is called Monaghan’s now but back in the day, it was Copperthwaite’s. And when it was Copperthwaite’s, the Mets played a game that lasted from back in the day well into the day after that.
Twenty-seven years and two nights before Reed Johnson got Johan Santana off on the wrong foot — and later the wrong ankle — Rick Mahler picked Wally Backman off first base for the second out of the top of the first inning, but then gave up a double to Keith Hernandez and a single to Gary Carter, and with Doc Gooden (11-3) sitting in the other dugout ready to take the mound in the bottom of the first, Mahler must have known he and his Atlanta Brave teammates could be in for a very long night.
But how long he couldn’t have guessed.
That was July 4, 1985, long before it became July 5, 1985, by which time I was planted at Copperthwaite’s with my friend Joel. When it was still just the July 4 game on radio and TV, Joel dropped by the house and said let’s go watch the rest of this at Copperthwaite’s. We got there in the seventh or eighth. We left in the seventeenth or eighteenth. They had to throw us out not because we were trouble but because it was late. Rick Camp hit his home run while we were driving home. The five runs in response and Ron Darling in relief and the 4:01 AM fireworks came after.
I wasn’t looking for a repeat performance 27 years and, technically, one night later. I was just looking for the Mets of 2012 and Jim and maybe a nice chicken pot pie out of this particular Rockville Centre summer evening. That was the idea the day before when Jim said, yeah, sure, see ya tomorrow night. Soon enough, though, I was looking for Johan to straighten out from the second pitch of the top of the first, the one Johnson whacked over the left field fence while I was still home. I was feeling better about things when Lucas Duda returned the favor against Travis Wood while I was on my way over. And once we were seated, and Ronny Cedeño doubled in Ruben Tejada to put the Mets ahead, what was there to worry about? Johan was on the mound, the chicken pot pie was on the table and Jim was speaking in a bonnie Scottish brogue (or burr) whose context eludes explanation.
At Copperthwaite’s in 1985, I was glued to the TV as the Mets came back on the Braves and the Braves came back on the Mets. At Monaghan’s in 2012, I looked up every now and then, noticing the Cubs had tied the Mets, passed the Mets and made the Mets look like a lost cause. I think I saw a trainer look at Johan. I know I saw a ball sail toward the Shea Bridge. It went from 2-1 to 2-2 to 7-2 in the wrong direction really fast.
I grumbled. Jim didn’t, perhaps because his back was to the screen. Hey, he reasoned in his native Long Island accent, they gave us what they gave us against the Phillies. So tonight they won’t. It’s the way it goes.
The Scottish, I’ve since learned, more or less have a phrase for this kind of game: whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.
Loved the chicken pot pie. Loved the brogue. Loved everything about Friday night at Monaghan’s with Jim except for the score and whatever befell Johan. It was 7-2 and Ramon Ramirez was pitching. It was 8-3 and I didn’t notice who was pitching. It was 8-4 when Jordany Valdespin was pinch-hitting a home run in the ninth and looking way too happy about bringing the Mets to within three runs with one out.
Then I remembered these are the 2012 Mets, and being down three runs with two whole outs left to play through isn’t all that far removed from the 1985 Mets being a run down to Bruce Sutter in the ninth or withstanding an exchange of home runs between Howard Johnson and Terry Harper in the thirteenth or overcoming Rick Bloody Camp taking Tom Bleeping Gorman deep in the eighteenth as Bob Murphy admits that maybe some games you’re just not meant to win. The 2012 Mets’ DNA, tested thoroughly against the Phillies on the Fifth Of July, is just strong enough to remind you leaving them for dead by dint of a discouraging scoreboard reading is premature folly.
And weren’t these the Cubs? Who in the bloody hell were the Cubs to deny us hope? Who in the bloody hell was Carlos Marmol, except at this moment the guy who was in the midst of walking Tejada, then Daniel Murphy, then David Wright?
The bases were loaded! Ike Davis was up! Ike Davis may have been a .201 hitter as he strode to the plate, but he was less than that when he led off against Papelbon the night before. This was no time to bet the percentages or the Cubs.
Davis singled! Here came Tejada! Here came Murphy! It’s 8-7! Visions of ancient and revered comebacks raced through my head: the Phillies game from 24 hours earlier; the ninth inning against the stupid Cubs in 2007 that I was going to leave but didn’t and boy was I glad I stayed; a week in 1980 when the Mets kept coming back on the Dodgers and, more legendarily, the Giants; and, as I took stock of my surroundings, July 4 and July 5, 1985, right here at Monaghan’s, where I hadn’t been since it was still Copperthwaite’s in 1995 and hadn’t been before that since 1989 but I’ll always think of as the place where I watched from the seventh or eighth from Atlanta to the seventeenth or eighteenth from Atlanta until state regulations informed Joel and me we didn’t have to go home but we couldn’t stay here.
Ohmigod, I decided here and now in 2012, this game is going to go nineteen innings.
As if to assure me I wasn’t off in my confident projections, the cosmos screwed with Monaghan’s cable reception. The broadcast quality was suddenly Soviet-caliber during the depths of the Cold War. The screen kept freezing. Lines streaked across the picture. “What’s with this dog boy television?” Jim sneered (he has the best phrases for these moments). There’s Duda…I think. There’s Duda swinging…I think. There’s…
Ah dinnae ken, would say the Scottish in this situation — I don’t know. Did he bounce to Marmol? That’s what it looks like amid this Moscow mess. Marmol throws to first to retire Duda, but at least he advanced the runners to second and third…
Wait a second. Why does the first thing I can clearly make out on the screen in this sequence say “FINAL”?
It wasn’t a bouncer. It was a liner, snared by the pitcher. That throw to first doubled off Davis, and there would be no sensational comeback and there would be no more innings and there would be no immediate sequel to Mets 6 Phillies 5, just a lousy Cubs 8 Mets 7 whose array of dismaying details I’d pick up on later. I wasn’t exactly seething and I wasn’t exactly sulking, but I sure could have gone for Mets 9 Cubs 8, however long it might have taken. Jim was still being reasonable about the result, accepting that some miracle comebacks aren’t meant to be.
Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye, indeed.