The beginning of a postseason series, when your team isn’t involved and you feel no automatic rooting interest, is a baseball fan’s awkward professional networking cocktail party. You show up out of obligation, you don’t really feel as if you belong, you scan the room for any familiar face and you overcompensate for your discomfort the moment you recognize anyone you used to know even a little.
“Hey,” you thought to yourself when you accepted an invitation to the Colorado Rockies’ event that one time, “there’s Kaz Matsui. We were never close, but he’s the only one here who I’ll have anything to talk about with. Hope he brought his interpreter. Wait — is that Bob Apodaca? I wonder if he’d remember me…”
Mets you weren’t that hung up on in their Mets day briefly become key figures in your October. Even the presence of former Mets farmhands takes on significance suddenly because you figure you and they at least have a little something in common, which is more than you can say for everybody else at the affair. “I guess I should go over and say ‘hi’ to A.J. Burnett. God, this is going to be awkward.”
Chances are the former Mets, Met minor leaguers, Met managers and Met anybodies you encounter have been away a while. Rare is the Met who leaves your midst late in a season and then lands in an exponentially better situation right away. (“Jeff Francouer’s here? He’s in the playoffs? The World Series? Who did he have to fu…Jeff! Good to see ya! We really missed you in September!”) Sometimes the Mets have only been away for months but usually it’s years. It can be many years. In your mind, they’re Met enough, but only because the circumstances compel you to think about them right now. (“Dave? Dave Magadan? Gosh, we haven’t seen each other in what is it? Gotta be fifteen years now. So…you’re working for the Red Sox now, huh?”) Overall, though, the ex-Met affiliation is just a point of entry these Octobers. When you first turn on the games, you’re a Mets fish out of Flushing water. Once you’re into them, you’re swimming along like it’s the most natural thing there is. (“Will you excuse me, Octavio Dotel? I just remembered there’s something I need to tell David Freese. Dave! Dave! Over here!”)
Until October awkwardness becomes October ease, you cling to anything and anybody in whom you can detect a residual aura of orange and blue. It’s for that reason that the bottom of the ninth inning of NLDS Game One between the Reds and the Giants briefly absorbed me Saturday night. With Ron Darling analyzing on TBS and Gary Cohen announcing on ESPN Radio, here were the first four hitters Bruce Bochy sent to the plate in attempt to rally from four runs down:
• Joaquin Arias, 2010 Met
• Xavier Nady, 2006 Met
• Angel Pagan, 2008-2011 Met
• Marco Scutaro, 2002-2003 Met
I’d like to believe Bochy regularly regales his quartet of fellow Met alumni with tales of what it was really like to play 17 games for George Bamberger in 1982 and how, no, Joaquin, it was a lot worse than anything you experienced in your 22 games for Jerry Manuel in 2010…and yes, Marco, I have heard the story about how Bobby Valentine didn’t know who you were when you were called up to the big club in 2002…and Xavier, you have to get over your fear of your reliever teammates getting into cabs…and is Angel in the crapper again?
But that probably doesn’t happen. Bochy and his boys have all, no doubt, moved on from their Met days. They’re not Mets this October. They’re in the playoffs, which is proof enough they’re not Mets. A branch of the military used to advise, “Join the Navy and See the World.” In baseball, it’s leave the Mets and see the World Series — or edge closer to it than you would otherwise.
Anyway, four former Mets batting consecutively in a postseason game under the auspices of a former Mets player had to be some kind of record. How did it work out? Arias singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch; Nady walked; Pagan fouled out; Scutaro walked. Bases full of ex-Mets. Alas for San Francisco, though there was one more helpful wild pitch uncorked by Aroldis Chapman, neither Pablo Sandoval nor Buster Posey could drive anybody in and the Giants lost.
Clearly Bochy needed one more Met to bat. Too bad he’d already used Guillermo Mota to pitch.
Too bad we’d already used Guillermo Mota to pitch, too, but that’s another story.