Please come to Denver
With the snowfall…
Submitted for your approval…nah, scratch that. Who here would approve of anything the Mets did Tuesday night in the city that’s been their personal Twilight Zone for two decades? Not fans of the Mets. Certainly not fans of crisp, clean baseball. Perhaps fans of the Rockies, but honestly, those are 200 people who can go home and thaw at a glacial pace for all I care. That just leaves fans of the supernatural, since only a Rod Serling could imagine a doubleheader like that which the Mets and Rockies just played to horrifying conclusion.
Submitted for our disapproval, then: Baseball — the summer game. But some summers are slower to occur than others. Witness the summer of the fourth year of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a season nowhere in sight as a baseball team from the Northeastern United States travels across its continent into colder and colder climes until not only does summer disappear from the horizon but the current spring is reduced to a memory. Only winter goes on, into apparent eternity, a time and space best measured in…the Twinight Zone.
The Mets and Rockies played two baseball games in Denver. They were supposed to play one. Or were they supposed to play three? Who can remember anymore? It’s been snowing in Denver since the weekend. Or was it snowing in Minneapolis and then it snowed later in Denver? Impossible to keep track. The Mets played two games in Minnesota, both of them wins. They were supposed to play a third. It couldn’t be done. Colorado came next and, with it, more snow. A first game was postponed due to snowout, as if that’s a thing. Then there was one of those day-night doubleheaders, except the day got away because the Rockies, whose home is somewhere amid the Rockies — where it’s been to know to snow during the spring — were perplexed when it snowed on their ballfield as to how to remove the snow. So everybody grabbed a shovel.
State-of-the-art snow-removal technology at its finest, eh?
The snow was shoveled, the hoods were pulled up over the ears and it was “play ball!” at 5:10 PM Eastern, 3:10 PM Mountain, get here when you can get here and stay all you want because nobody’s coming anyway. The day-night doubleheader became a traditional twinight doubleheader (though the tradition of selling one ticket for two games in one night is admittedly the stuff of ancient civilizations), except technically you had to show another ticket or get another voucher so the Rockies wouldn’t have to give anybody back their money. Thus, I believe it was the world’s first single-admission split doubleheader.
In the first game, everybody wore 42, David Wright hit two home runs, Dillon Gee was alarmingly ineffective and nothing good came of any of it. The Mets lost, 8-4.
Nothing good came of the second game, but much more so. Whereas the opener was garden-variety lousy (save for wasting a pair of Captain jacks and the lessons attached to the proliferation of the Butch Huskey look), the nightcap was straight-out Serling. It was the Mets at Rockies so perfectly staged — which is to say too bizarre to be to easily digested, too real to be easily dismissed — that if you only glanced at it, you’d think it was the Rockies at Mets.
Because that’s what the Rockies wanted you to think. Except they got to keep the home team share of the gate…which wasn’t anything like the actual attendance…which is the kind of trickery the National League never used to pull until the founding of the Rockies and Marlins in 1993.
You know, because we see the Marlins approximately every two weeks and their owner is so relentlessly slimy, we tend to bristle more virulently over the misdeeds and shortcomings of the Miami franchise than any other in our midst. But the Rockies — to my thinking the National League’s most exotic road flower since the Astrodome stopped seeming wondrous and the Expos ceased to be — came along on the same 1993 plague train. Though I tend to maintain a default conceptual soft spot for those who have followed in our expansion footsteps, man, have the Rockies been a mostly nightmarish element in our existence for twenty years. Maybe “nightmare” is too strong. Not so much a bad dream but a weird dream, especially these trips to Denver. Especially this trip to Denver, which weirdly celebrates our complicity in bringing the Rockies to light.
That, of course, is why the Mets were wearing home uniforms at Coors Field in the second game Tuesday night, because the Mets were the hosts to the birth of the Rockies on April 5, 1993, a deceptively promising afternoon which I could imbue with sun-splashed nostalgia until inevitably getting to the crux of that inaugural Colorado season from a Flushing perspective. The Mets removed their uniforms’ racing stripes, added a tail to their wordmark and started the year 2-0 at Shea. I went to both games and was giddy with anticipation for what else 1993 would bring.
It all rolled downhill like a Colorado avalanche after that.
In the second week of the Rockies’ existence, the discomfortingly 2-3 Mets (already swept a weekend series by Art Howe’s allegedly underwhelming Astros in between bouts of right fielder Bobby Bonilla snarling geographically at reporter Bob Klapisch) visited Mile High Stadium, where they won two and lost one. That should’ve been a good sign, but somehow it wasn’t. The night games started at 9 o’clock Eastern, which had to have been some kind of first for the Mets. The enormous football stadium cast strange shadows, like out of the 1950s, at least on television. The Mets tried on new, not particularly flattering road uniforms for the first time. There was something off about the entire experience.
Our boys left town after David Nied defeated Dwight Gooden, which had to have been a typo, but was factually correct. Nied was the Zack Wheeler of his day, more or less, snatched from pitching-rich Atlanta in the 1992 expansion draft. He got hurt and never panned out. Gooden was Gooden, still capable of intricate surgery on occasion, including Opening Day, when he bested Nied and the newborns on four hits and no runs. After losing at Mile High, Gooden — who had been hit hard by Houston the day Bonilla informed Klapisch he was guiding tours of his home borough — was 1-2. The Mets were 4-4 and definitely not clicking. They came through Cincinnati at 6-5. They’d get to the end of the following week at home, 8-7.
And they’d never be over .500 again. The Mets’ record in 1993 ended up at 59-103, eight games worse than the Rockies, five games worse than the Marlins, thirteen games worse than the 1992 Mets who inspired Klapisch and John Harper to write a book in which that squad was portrayed as the “worst” value buy imaginable. If that was true, then this bunch was sub-worst. The 1993 Mets’ mark of 59-103 (achieved, if you can be said to achieve such a plateau, by winning their final six in a row) was the lowest posted by any Mets squad since 1965. It outworsted every one of those notorious Grant/de Roulet debacles Mets fans of my demographic wallow good-naturedly in now that we’re not living them any longer. It wasn’t remotely approached by the hapless Howe gang of a decade later let alone recent dispiriting Met editions.
Not only were those Mets spectacular underachievers — Pythagoras claims the 1993 Mets performed well enough to win 73 games, but I’m pretty sure Pythagoras was slamming ouzo when he made that calculation — they were boorish in the process. The threats of Bonilla were merely the tip of the ick-berg. Every big name acted the part of the bad seed. Everybody you never heard of deserves his hard-earned obscurity. Anthony Young didn’t deserve to lose a million consecutive decisions, but somebody on that collective of the damned was going to have to bear a heavy statistical burden that transcended mere futility. They were awful and they were ugly. One forlorn pitcher dropping the back 15 of an eventual 27 consecutive losses was the least of those Mets’ misdeeds.
Anyway, the 2013 Mets decided to play dressup per the Rockies’ request and slipped into their 1993 home uniforms at Coors Field. As you might have guessed by the above paragraphs, this caused some searing last-place flashbacks as soon as they showed off the Shea whites, the light pinstripes, the narrow lettering and that goddamn tail underneath “Mets”. It doesn’t take much to jolt me back into a time and space I haven’t occupied for decades. Seeing the Mets pretend it was 1993 transported me 20 years back in a way a contemporary game hasn’t taken me out of a moment since 2005, specifically the June night I saw the Mets wandering through the Oakland Coliseum and recovered all kinds of deeply repressed memories of losing the 1973 World Series.
This wasn’t worse, exactly, but it didn’t set a very helpful tone. Nor did the conditions so apparent on television. Gary Cohen concealed his contempt for the Mets having to play in 35-degree temperatures (plus wind chill of who knows what) thinly and elegantly. He and Keith Hernandez were dressed for a bitchy January morning’s wait for the 6:08 to Penn Station. Poor Kevin Burkhardt looked like the last kid whose mom forgot to pick him up from hockey practice. I don’t think our broadcasting knights were complaining about having to work in the cold. I think they were dismayed that the beautiful summer game of baseball is so crammed with unnecessary inventory — greetings from daily Interleague play! — that clearing eight inches of snow for two games on the eve of several more inches is considered sound strategy.
As enthusiastic as Colorado was in the temporary days of Mile High Stadium (a name Keith insists on using for the local club’s permanent home of now 19 seasons) and as gorgeous as Coors Field is, there’s never anything normal about playing the Rockies in Denver. First there was the elevation. Then there was the humidor. Always was the possibility of snow. They had to clear snow away for the first game ever played at Coors Field — a crushing Mets loss to open the 1995 season. They had to jury-rig day-night doubleheaders before they were fashionable because of freak storms and high demand — the Mets were swept one of those in 1996. Yet Tuesday night, perhaps because it came on the heels of Minnesota, tipped into “pushing it” territory. The mind raced as the nightcap plodded.
• Why are they really making the Mets play in such bitter cold everywhere they go?
• Why are they really making the Mets wear those 1993 home uniforms?
• Ohmigod, they’re going to relocate the Mets to Colorado, aren’t they?
• The New York Mets of Denver are going to lose 103 games again, aren’t they?
• Wait — does this mean we get CarGo and Tulowitzki here? Tell me more about this plot!
Such are the thoughts that swirl around when there’s snow present at one too many baseball games. I swear I got up a couple of times to look out the window to see how bad the storm looked here before I realized that the winter weather was happening two time zones away.
This was all very eerie, and the Mets’ leading by six runs didn’t much allay the spookiness, considering the eight runs they’d shoveled onto the board through the top of the fifth accumulated with all the force of a light dusting. Not that you won’t take eight runs, but the Mets’ provisional success seemed more a result of Jeff Francis’s inability to get the ball over than anything Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd were doing, even though Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd were doing swell jobs. The 8-2 lead also didn’t feel sturdy because for his second start in two, Aaron Laffey pitched like the guy on the wrong end of the score, never mind he never has to pay for his transparent mediocrity. Nevertheless, Laffey limped through four wobbly innings and was poised, you’d have figured, to give Terry Collins one more to position him — unless something crazy happened — for the win.
Several crazy things happened, starting with the removal of Aaron Laffey after four innings. Canceling Collins & Warthen’s Laff-In was a different twist on taking one for the team. In this case, Laffey saw his chance for his first Mets win taken away so he could come back four days hence to pitch against the demonstrably more dangerous Washington Nationals. So far in ’13, Laffey’s made his mistakes against Marlins and Rockies, orders where you can get away with being hittable for a while (apparently). But the Mets are so shallow in the starting pitching pool and so determined to not “start the clock” on Wheeler any sooner than they have to that they are confusing Aaron Laffey with Johan Santana. Johan Santana gave the Mets eight solid innings on the Tuesday of the final week of the 2008 season when a playoff spot was on the line and then brought him back, meniscus and all, to carry them as far as he could on the succeeding Saturday.
This will be the last time Aaron Laffey will be compared to Johan Santana, but before we leave the profane comparison, consider that was a September with everything on the line and Johan was our ace. This is April and the Mets, because of a doubleheader (or two, pending the next couple of days) are “forced” to preserve Aaron Laffey so he can be deployed on short rest. Not because he’s that splendid, but because he’s that here.
Laffey left after four, leaving the six-run lead in the hands of Josh Edgin, who worked with LaTroy Hawkins, Mike Baxter — his insertion in left so quiet it couldn’t be heard above the din of dozens — and the Rockies’ offense to make a game of it after all. By the end of the fifth, the Mets were up by two. And you knew…you knew…the Mets would not win by 8 to 6.
You just weren’t sure how that was going to happen or when the tipping point would come into view. While the Mets channeled the wrong part of Jackie Robinson’s legacy, opting to have the courage to not fight back, Scott Atchison (who has that Duke Snider quality of looking twice as old he already is) scaled the Rockies with ease in the sixth and nearly had them tumble onto his prematurely gray pate in the seventh, but deftly avoided a rockslide. The Mets held that 8-6 lead into the eighth, clear up to Brandon Lyon recording two quick outs and teasing the easiest of comebackers to the mound.
Oh, it only looked easy. Josh Rutledge’s tapper eluded Lyon and the Rockies readied to roar. In came Scott Rice — we’re really getting to know these fresh bullpen faces of 2013, aren’t we? — and against the shift went Carlos Gonzalez for his 43rd hit of the doubleheader, sending Rutledge to third. Exit Rice, enter Bobby Parnell, for whom luck is a rumor, unless it’s bad luck with just a touch of Anthony Young residue of design. For Parnell, it was not bothering to hold CarGo on first. There was no look over, there was an uncontested steal and there were suddenly tying runs on second and third. But then Parnell did what he was supposed to do, enticing Michael Cuddyer to hit a grounder to surehanded Ruben Tejada at short.
Well, he hit it to Ruben Tejada, at any rate. The surehanded version is AWOL this season. Ruben threw high and astray of first. The two runners scampered home (second base indeed represents scoring position) and it was, at last, 8-8.
You knew it would be. You didn’t know if that meant the Mets were altogether doomed as opposed to inconvenienced. There was no reason they couldn’t come back in the ninth after Parnell left it tied. With two outs, Baxter walked and the obviously bearded and deceptively dependable Justin Turner singled, bringing Tejada up. The redemption angle was juicy. It was also a mirage. Ruben flied out. A good Parnell ninth kept it tied. Come the tenth, a shaky Rafael Betancourt walked two Mets as Collins emptied his bench the way he’d emptied his bullpen — both Terry and Walt Weiss managed as if this was the seventh game of Spring Training — but Betancourt flied Wright to right to keep the Mets from a ninth run for the fifth consecutive inning.
With literal last resort Greg Burke pitching in the bottom of the tenth, Eric Young — who could have been Eric Old as this game languished well into a fifth hour — socked a ball to deep right that Byrd tracked down. Marlon prevented a triple, which is the kind of thing that can really lift a team in extra innings.
But not Byrd’s team. With two out, Burke walked Gonzalez, which nobody could complain about. Cuddyer hit a tricky grounder to Wright…a very tricky grounder. Wright couldn’t figure it out and it bounced into left field. The scorer couldn’t figure it out either, first assigning David an error, later changing it to a hit for Cuddyer. It should’ve been an error because it should’ve been handled. Then again, the Rockies should’ve been handled but rarely are. Gooden should’ve handled them on the first trip in to Denver in 1993 when Eric Young’s father, Eric Young, Sr., was Colorado’s leadoff hitter; more than 52,000 showed up at Mile High; and the Mets’ 5-3 loss was accomplished in a tidy 2:14.
They should’ve been handled 20 years later, but Gonzalez wound up on third base. Then he wound up across home plate once Burke allowed a game-losing single to Jordan Pacheco. Collins used just about everybody and just about everybody had a hand in letting the nightcap get away by the miserable score of 9-8. It’s a great score when it’s in your favor. Doubleheaders are fine affairs when you go 2-0. The Mets went 0-2. It took them 4:19 to lose the second game, 2:59 to lose the first one, 2:02 to wait for the snow to be shoveled and a half-hour to change from honoring 42 to evoking 1993. Everything took forever but it all looked dismal just the same.
Let this be the postscript: should you be worn out by the rigors of your team competing in a very exhausting doubleheader; if you’re distraught from having to pepper your existence with the chills and neuroses of baseball played a mile above sea level; if you crave the summer game but demand it full time and with no strings attached, there is a place where there is never a delay on account of weather, where balls do not require adjustment on account of the havoc nature wreaks on humidity. But unless you wish to relocate to a tropical non-paradise and make a business arrangement with a nefarious art dealer lacking in both taste and scruples, you will resign yourself to the occasional hectic April business trip your ballclub makes into the heart of the Rocky Mountains, a range detectable on digital maps uploaded for your planning pleasure — in the Twinight Zone.