“It feels good for me, but it would have felt even better if we had won that ballgame.”
“We lost, so I can’t get too excited. If we would’ve won, it would’ve been more exciting.”
“I just wanted to play hard, but it didn’t matter because we lost.”
“It was great while it was happening. but when they kept scoring runs, it really wasn’t that enjoyable, to say the least.”
“It’s bittersweet, for sure.”
These are the worst kinds of quotes. They’re from players who have just enjoyed some of the greatest individual glory they are likely to generate in their major league careers, yet they can’t smile about it because they came in service to a loss.
All of the above quotes, you might have guessed, were issued by Mets — Mets who did great things to no avail. The last of the above sentiments came from Ike Davis Saturday night, who joined the club nobody really wants to be in. It was a wonderful game for the first baseman who struggled so long in 2012 to find a semblance of his groove, and now he’s wailing away on National League pitching.
When a 4-for-4 night hikes your batting average to .216, it’s hard to say you’ve conclusively turned your season around. Let’s get that number to .220, maybe .230, and we’ll call it a resurrection. But you can’t say Ike’s not getting the most out of the low .200s, not when three of those hits Saturday were of the four-base variety and the fourth was a very well-struck single that served as a potential catalyst in what loomed as a very big Met inning.
Davis’s reaching down and stroking a one-two pitch from David Hernandez into right field for a measly single was magnificent hitting in the clutchest of spots. David Wright was on first after walking and the Mets needed base runners and momentum like Chris Young (4 IP, 6 ER) needed to stay back at the team hotel. Ike, after blasting three solo home runs earlier (and they were definitely blasted), delivered just what a team would want in an eighth-inning rally.
But of course these are the 2012 Mets of post-break infamy and they wouldn’t know what to do with an eighth-inning rally if Ike Davis hit them in the head with it. The Mets were down, 6-3, at the time of Ike’s single because nobody else but Ike had bothered to hit anything of note, and the Mets stayed down, 6-3, because after the Davis single, Daniel Murphy’s long fly to center could do no more than chase Wright to third. With one out and two on, the rally was effectively over because the next two batters were Jason Bay and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
On the 2012 Mets of post-break infamy, is it really necessary to detail what Bay and Nieuwenhuis did with their at-bats?
The Mets cobbled together the possibility of another opportunity to exploit Ike’s hotness in the ninth. They were still trailing, 6-3, when Andres Torres reached first on a strikeout Miguel Montero couldn’t handle from J.J. Putz (which is odd, since he handles current Mets pitchers with ease) and Ruben Tejada, who made a startling, sliding catch under a leaping teammate earlier, singled. Runners on first and second, Ike in the hole, as they say. If Scott Hairston could get on…no, he couldn’t. But if David could keep this going, then the man with three home runs would come up, lefty versus righty, in a most delectable situation. Imagine the first Met four-homer game emerging via ninth-inning, lead-taking grand slam!
Yeah, imagine that.
Wright struck out. Game over. Mets still the Mets, despite the excellent performance put forth by Isaac, your bat-tender.
No wonder he said it was bittersweet. It’s always bittersweet these types of nights and days. They have been since April 11, 1962, when Charlie Neal went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs but the Mets fell to 0-1 lifetime. Neal was hardly the inaugural year king of bittersweet, though. That role fell to Frank “The Big Donkey” Thomas who never hit three home runs in one game as a Met but did homer twice in five separate contests in 1962, each of them at home, all in losing efforts. That includes three games in a row, from August 1 to August 3, with two home runs apiece, one of them encompassing a grand slam and six runs batted in.
“‘I can’t explain it,’ I shrugged when they asked me why all of a sudden I was hitting them out of the Polo Grounds,” Thomas wrote in his 2005 autobiography. “‘That’s what makes this game so interesting.’”
Interesting or not, the Mets lost. Of course they did. When Frank Thomas homered in 1962, which he did 34 times (a Met record until Dave Kingman’s 36 in 1975), the Mets tended to lose. Granted, when anybody did anything in 1962, the Mets tended to lose, but the Big Donkey’s contributions stood out as particularly for naught. Twenty-six of his 34 homers came in losses. And because of his Donkeyish durability, nobody played in more home losses (58) or, for that matter, road losses (59).
If Ike Davis became a modern-day Big Donkey Saturday night in Phoenix, he surely isn’t alone. A while back I began tracking best individual performances by Met position players in regular-season losses (leaving out the scads of brilliant starting-pitching innings Met bullpens went on to detonate and trying not to dwell on Endy Chavez leaving the bases loaded a half-inning after the greatest catch ever in a postseason game). My impetus was the night in 2010 when one Met should have been basking in adulation but was compelled to manfully mutter, “If we would have won that game, it would have been a lot of fun.” My benchmark was 1980, the night I came home and turned on the radio to discover in full-force just how little difference one player can make when his teammates aren’t cooperating.
In tribute to Ike Davis and his 4-for-4, three-homer night in Arizona that came in a 6-3 Met loss on July 28, 2012, we bring you a not necessarily all-inclusive rundown of the Biggest Donkeys of the last more or less third-of-a-century. Like Thomas, they literally did their best, even when the rest of the Mets didn’t. In the end, they could claim, per an old Rodney Dangerfield bit, “I’m all alone here!”
But they didn’t, because you just don’t do that in baseball.
August 5, 1980: Doug Flynn triples three times. Expos beat Mets, 11-5. I tuned in just after Dougie’s third triple, which Bob Murphy reported breathlessly from Olympic Stadium. Oh man, I thought, we must be hammering the hell out of them! Instead we were cutting the deficit from seven to six runs. I didn’t quite understand how something so magnificent could lead to absolutely nothing. In 2010, with thirty years’ perspective, Flynn told Jesse Spector in the Daily News, “It was a good day in that I tied a record, I guess, but a bad day because we got our rear ends kicked.” I thought Donkeys were the ones who did the kicking, but either way, Doug admitted, “It was pretty cool. For not being known for hitting, to tie a major league record, I was pretty excited,” yet “you can’t really celebrate when you lose.”
August 12, 1982: Rusty Staub crowns four-run, sixth-inning rally with a bases-clearing double to give Mets a 5-3 lead at Shea. Before the seventh-inning stretch arrives, the Mets will have used four pitchers to record three outs. Cubs beat Mets, 13-6.
June 26, 1983: Rusty Staub ties the National League record for consecutive pinch-hits with eight to start the ninth at Shea. The hit begins a rally that will see the Mets load the bases and bring the potential tying run to bat with George Foster. But Staub is stranded on third. Phillies beat Mets, 8-4.
June 22, 1985: Rusty Staub hits what turns out be the last home run of his 22-season major league career, a pinch-hit three-run job off Jeff Reardon that gives the Mets a lead in the bottom of the seventh. Expos beat Mets, 5-4.
(You can’t say Donkeys don’t come in orange sometimes.)
October 3, 1985: With Mets desperately needing to beat St. Louis to stay alive in a pennant race for the ages, Keith Hernandez goes 5-for-5 at hostile Busch Stadium and drives in a pair of runs. Cardinals beat Mets, 4-3.
In his diary of that most bittersweet Met season, If At First, Keith admits, “If it has to be a losing effort, I’m glad I don’t make the final out of this particular game, giving the fans still more to gloat about. I’m sorry that Gary [Carter] does.”
August 28, 1988: Gregg Jefferies electrifies Shea with a single and a double in his first two plate appearances as a major league starter, foreshadowing the monster month (and, it is assumed, killer career) that will follow. Giants beat Mets, 7-4.
May 27, 1990: This is sort of about pitching, but not exactly. With two out and the Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Dwight Gooden, having allowed two runs (only one earned) and five hits, bats for himself. Gooden homers to left off Ed Whitson to knot the score at two. It’s the third home run of Doc’s career (he will hit seven as a Met, eight overall). Doc goes out for the eighth, surrenders a leadoff single to Fred Lynn, is victimized by a Mike Marshall error on a Bip Roberts sac bunt — putting runners on second and third with nobody out — and, after retiring Robbie Alomar on a groundout and intentionally walking Tony Gwynn to load the bases, is touched for a single through the right side by Joe Carter. With the Mets now trailing 4-2, Davey Johnson removes his starting pitcher. It’s the last time Davey Johnson will do that, as the Mets will be rained out the next night in Cincinnati, and Frank Cashen will replace Davey with Buddy Harrelson the day after that. Padres beat Mets, 8-4.
(Within the 1980-present time frame, another of Gooden’s seven Met home runs plus both of Jason Isringhausen’s and one of Rick Aguilera’s three came in Met losses.)
July 14, 1991: Needing an outfielder and wanting to keep him away from behind the plate, Buddy Harrelson inserts Mackey Sasser in right field for his first start ever at the position. In the top of the first, with Bip Roberts on second, Tony Fernandez lines a ball to deep right. Sasser turns around, crashes into the wall, makes the catch, turns again and fires to Kevin Elster to double off Roberts. Next batter is Tony Gwynn, who crushes a ball above the right field wall. Sasser goes back, leaps and grabs it. Two putouts and an assist in his very first inning as a starting right fielder. Seven innings later, Mackey breaks up Greg Harris’s bid for a no-hitter with a leadoff double. Padres beat Mets, 2-1.
April 26, 1995: Todd Hundley helps christen Coors Field with a sixth-inning grand slam, one of four hits he collects on Opening Night in Colorado. The last big swing, however, belongs to Dante Bichette in the fourteenth, a showy two run homer that elevates the home team. Rockies beat Mets, 11-9.
Other Mets who have hit grand slams in losses since 1980: Gary Carter, 1985; Joe Orsulak, 1994 (pinch-hitting); Cliff Floyd (2005); Carlos Delgado, 2008; Fernando Tatis, 2009; and the ever popular Jason Bay (2011).
May 6, 1995: Edgardo Alfonzo chooses to make his first major league home run an inside-the-park job, which contributes to the building of an 11-4 lead at Riverfront Stadium. It would become the biggest lead the Mets would ever blow. Reds beat Mets, 13-11.
June 18, 1997: In the signature moment of his brief major league career, pinch-runner Steve Bieser coaxes a two-out, eighth-inning balk out of David Cone to score from third base and tie the rubber game of the first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees beat Mets, 3-2.
August 5, 1998: En route to setting the Mets’ single-season batting average standard, John Olerud bangs two doubles, one of them for two RBI. He also handles a fifth-inning ground ball and turns it into a 3-6-3-2 triple play, Snow out at first, Kent out at second, Bonds out at home. Giants beat Mets, 6-4.
May 1, 2000: Jay Payton dashes to the Pac Bell Park left-center field wall and leaps above it, his shoulder crashing into the padding, his glove stretched just above the hands of a teenage fan, to rob Bill Mueller of a sure home run to end the bottom of the third inning. Giants beat Mets, 10-3.
May 17, 2001: Desi Relaford starts at short and records an RBI double. Bobby Valentine moves him to the mound for the top of the ninth and he pitches a 1-2-3 frame before singling in the bottom of the ninth. Padres beat Mets, 15-3.
June 26, 2002: Mo Vaughn’s second home run of the night is a blast off Kevin Gryboski that hits about two-thirds of the way up the Budweiser sign on the Shea Stadium scoreboard — an estimated 505 feet — and leaves a dent. Braves beat Mets, 6-3.
August 9, 2005: David Wright needs no stinking glove, as they say. The third baseman lunges into the outfield to snare a Brian Giles bloop base hit in the making with his bare hand. He held on to the ball as he fell to the ground to make the second out of the top of the seventh inning at Petco Park in San Diego. Padres beat Mets, 8-3.
August 21, 2005: All but packed off and sent back to Norfolk after not having played as an emergency callup, Mike Jacobs is given a pinch-hitting assignment on the wrong end of a blowout. He uses that plate appearance, the first of his major league career, to blast a three-run homer and help secure his place on the Mets’ roster for the rest of the season. Jacobs becomes the fourth Met to hit a home run his first time up. Nationals beat Mets, 7-4.
June 4, 2006: Down to the Mets’ last out, rookie Lastings Milledge — in his first week in the majors, three years after the club drafted him in the first round — launches a one-two pitch off former Met closer Armando Benitez over the Shea fence to tie San Francisco in the bottom of the tenth at six. The response from fans in right field is so effusive when Milledge (3-for-4 on the day) trots back to his position to start the eleventh that he exchanges high-fives with them, to the chagrin of manager Willie Randolph and other self-proclaimed traditionalists. Giants beat Mets, 7-6.
June 21, 2006: Jose Reyes hits for the cycle. When he singles to clinch it in the bottom of the eighth, the Ho-ZAY! chant rocks Shea Stadium in earnest for the first time. With Keith Hernandez exulting in the SNY booth that he’s never heard Shea so loud, Billy Wagner comes on for the save in the ninth. Reds beat Mets, 6-5.
August 15, 2006: Jose Reyes hits three homers, good for four RBI at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies beat Mets, 11-4.
(Lest Reyes’s spectacularity, if that’s a word, be thought only to shine in defeat, he crafted one of the most beautiful inside-the-park home runs Shea ever saw in a blowout win in September 2006 — the kind of regular season that was pretty forgiving of Big Donkey-ish episodes.)
August 23, 2007: Marlon Anderson caps a six-run sixth-inning rally with a three-run pinch-homer, giving the homestanding Mets a 7-6 lead, unleashing a wave of euphoria at Shea. Padres beat Mets, 9-8.
September 25, 2007: As Mets cling tenuously to first place, Moises Alou extends team record hitting streak to 29 games with a 4-for-5 night. His last hit is a three-run, ninth-inning double that brings the Mets to within one run of a tie score. Nationals beat Mets, 10-9.
July 26, 2008: Jose Reyes sets tone for Mets offense by doubling to lead off bottom of first and coming around to score on an Endy Chavez triple. He will add a double in the second, a homer in the fourth and a single in the tenth, going 4-for-8 by the time the night is done. In supporting roles, Carlos Delgado homers twice and Fernando Tatis ties the game in the ninth on leadoff home run in the ninth. The game goes fourteen. Cardinals beat Mets, 10-8.
May 19, 2010: In the top of the fourth inning in Washington, Angel Pagan lifts a fly ball to center over the head of Nyjer Morgan that Morgan severely misjudges. Morgan’s leap allows the ball to bounce off the wall into no man’s land. Pagan steams ahead and scores on an inside-the-park homer. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with the bases loaded, Pagan, playing center, dives and catches a sinking liner off the bat of Roger Bernadina. It goes as a sacrifice fly, but it could have been a good deal worse. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Pagan makes another diving, thieving grab of a sinking liner, this time against Cristian Guzman. Baserunners on second and first are caught off guard as the umpires make a deliberate call on the catch. The end result is an 8-2-6-3 triple play, with Pagan overthrowing second, Henry Blanco backing up the throw and Jose Reyes making an unnecessary relay to first. Also of note, unheralded minor league callup R.A. Dickey yields only two runs in six innings. Nationals beat Mets, 5-3.
(This was the loss that got me to gathering other losses that detracted from great individual position player performances, less from historical curiosity but because I was so pissed off the Mets wasted Pagan’s and Dickey’s big nights, and research is how I cope with frustration. Who knew Dickey would have plenty more big games and Pagan…well, he brought us Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez, didn’t he?)
September 18, 2010: In a moment reminiscent of Kirk Gibson, Luis Hernandez limps around the bases after homering off Tim Hudson. He’s limping because on the previous pitch he fouled a ball of his right foot, requiring the attention of assistant trainer Mike Herbst. He left the game after (finally) scoring. Turns out he broke a bone in his foot and was out for the rest of the season. Braves beat Mets, 4-2.
Luis currently toils with the Rangers’ Round Rock affiliate, not having played in the majors since making it around the bases on one good foot.
May 16, 2011: Another asterisk where pitchers are concerned in this conversation. Down to their last out and with no position players available (David Wright is on the bench, but bound for the DL with back problems), the Mets send Jon Niese to bat. He triples off the glove of Emilio Bonifacio and threatens to tie the game in the bottom of the eleventh inning, but Leo Nuñez strikes out Jose Reyes. Niese’s blow — the fifth pinch-hit by a Met pitcher overall and the third to come in a loss (Dwight Gooden, in 1992, and Brian Bohanon, in 1997, crafted the other two) came one-half inning after Florida reliever Burke Badenhop put his team ahead with an RBI single. Marlins beat Mets, 2-1.
April 27, 2012: Scott Hairston’s single, homer and triple propel the Mets to a 6-2 lead in the fifth inning at Coors Field. In the sixth, Scott adds a double to hit for the cycle to drive in the Mets’ seventh and eighth runs and his third and fourth. But by then, Chris Schwinden and Manny Acosta had allowed eleven runs in the home fifth, so the Mets trail, 13-8. Rockies beat Mets, 18-9.
Three months later, Ike Davis’s inner Donkey came out to bray…humbly, of course. As Doug Flynn warned long into retirement, you can’t sound too happy if your team loses.
Because that would make you sound like an ass.