Mets fans wait. It’s what we do. We waited through four barren seasons to have National League baseball in the first place, only to wait seven seasons stuck in ninth or tenth place. The Jobian patience mandated by the minute progress of the earliest of those years may best be summed up by Jimmy Breslin’s story regarding No. 1 Mets fan Joan Whitney Payson. Mrs. Payson owned the club, sure, but that was merely a technicality of immense wealth and exquisite taste. OK, questionable taste, as it turned out once her investment showed more liabilities than assets, but she was never a boardroom kind of gal when it came to baseball. In 1966, she told the Associated Press that she was happy to be known as “just a fan”.
Just a fan who annually summered in Europe, but never a fan who could handle being completely disconnected from her team, ocean or not. Thus, in her Mets’ inaugural year of existence, pre-Internet 1962, she left instructions back in New York that she wished to be informed of how the Mets were coming along. The No. 1 fan got her wish, of course…and of course all the news wired her way was dreadful. It became a bit too much for so dedicated a Mets fan, so she wired back from the Greek isles new instructions:
PLEASE TELL US ONLY WHEN METS WIN
“That,” Mrs. Payson told Mr. Breslin, “was about the last word I heard from America.”
The waiting paid off for Joan Payson and the Mets fans who lined up behind her in 1969. “When we won first place,” she told the AP on the eve of the World Series, “I just sat there and cried. I’m still numb about the rest.”
The rest of the Mets story has encompassed plenty more waiting and not a little numbness from time to time. The franchise that famously gave us losses of 23, 24 and 25 innings in its first thirteen seasons won a West Coast contest at 4:47 AM Eastern Daylight in 1973, recorded a last out in Atlanta a dozen years later at 3:55 AM and has tried our stamina, never mind our patience, in a thousand little ways on our endless journey in their unpredictable company.
The Mets have ensnared us in waiting game after waiting game throughout 2013 in particular. The snow delays. The rain delays. The run delays. The innings upon innings when much happens but nothing occurs. The deluge of frustration. The drizzle of elation. And still more waiting. But at least it’s not surprising in that it’s not unprecedented.
One night after it took five hours and thirteen minutes to fall behind, stay within reach of, reluctantly tie, again fall behind and ultimately surpass the Arizona Diamondbacks, the New York Mets were at it again. You wouldn’t have thought so at first. Things were actually zooming right along Tuesday evening. Phenomenal Patrick Corbin and dogged Jeremy Hefner pitched quickly and effectively, which would indicate a brisk night’s work for all concerned, except for two considerations:
1) When a Met is immersed in a pitchers duel, usually the lack of scoring foretells the arrival of more zero-infested innings than the Citi Field scoreboard is capable of displaying at once;
2) If the Mets are involved, the game will probably stop for a spell in deference to inclement climate concerns.
There was hope for a breakthrough, however, on the first count. The Diamondbacks had pulled even at 1-1 in the top of the seventh, but the Mets were poised to make definitive things happen after Lou Monte roused Lazy Mary from her nightly nap. Josh Satin had driven home the go-ahead run and Andrew Brown walked to load the bases. Anthony Recker, who had homered earlier, was up. Nobody was out. It was all on the table for Hefner and the Mets to mar Corbin’s heretofore immaculate mark, cruise to a big inning and forge a situation as close to resolution as one could one hope for in this sodden season.
Ah, but the second count…the weather. It had been raining for quite a while. The umpires ignored it, the way umpires ignore baserunners sliding under fielders’ tags. Yet the skies at last demanded their attention. Here came the tarp. Here came an indeterminate pause in the action. Here came a flashback to a gloomy Sunday afternoon in July of 1987 — the Mets and Reds, tied at five in the bottom of the eleventh. Bill Almon is on second, Keith Hernandez is on first, Darryl Strawberry works Bill Scherrer to three-and-two…
And the umpires decided it was too rainy to play. Fifty-eight minutes went by before the heavy showers let up and the field could be groomed. Straw returned to the batter’s box and received ball four to put three Mets on. Pete Rose sent in a new pitcher, Bill Landrum, to face Kevin McReynolds with the bases loaded. Big Mac, never one who cared to wait around Shea Stadium or any ballpark, lined Landrum’s fourth pitch to center to create Almon joy at home plate. Mets won, 6-5, in what the box score says took 3:26 but what the rain pushed to 4:24.
“OMG I was there!!!”
Thus emanated a Tweet from a dry corner of Citi Field in response to my own Twittered communiqué of how this soggy interlude on July 2, 2013, was similar to that rain-soaked interlude of July 19, 1987. No surprise it came from @Coopz22. No surprise the Coop, as my friend Taryn likes to be known, was at a Mets game that required waiting. She was at this one. She was at the one 26 Julys before. She was at the one 22 or so hours before as well.
I knew about that last one. I was there with her. I’m often there with her, albeit for no more than maybe two innings at a time physically or 140 characters spiritually. Coop and I are always at games together. Monday night, however, was the only second time in seven seasons of knowing each other that we’d actually sat through an entire game in tandem. The last time was in July of 2009, when the Citi Field home run apple was so new and little-used that it couldn’t handle two Mets dingers in three at-bats and failed to rise punctually for the second of them.
We didn’t have that problem Monday. The Mets did not test the home run apple, only our ability to endure. And that we could do. We’re Mets fans. If Mrs. Payson could do it in the days of Casey Stengel, Coop and I could surely honor that legacy. Fittingly, the seats Coop invited me to share are in the outfield section that slope down from a large Nikon-sponsored image of the Ol’ Perfesser. Every time I got up to use the restroom, Casey greeted me from the concourse wall, index finger in the air, prepared to make a salient point that the listener knew was eventually coming, albeit embedded in a torrent of Stengelese…or perhaps he was simply suggesting that it would sure be nice if his Metsies could score one run already yet.
It wasn’t my first encounter with our first manager Monday. Coop asked me to meet her outside the Left Field gate, which felt as far from where I usually enter as Coogan’s Bluff is from Citi Field. Since I arrived early, I carefully inspected this surprisingly unfamiliar side of the ballpark’s exterior. I was shocked to discover a Polo Grounds plaque had been installed amid the Fanwalk bricks last year, a plaque I took it upon myself to polish a bit with a paper towel. I was delighted that the skipper had earned a lamppost banner alongside Jay Payton. I was puzzled as to why the man who invented the Mets as we know and love them was paired with — though I liked him fine — a relatively unremarkable outfielder who came along several decades later, until I decided “Payton” is pretty close to “Payson”. That’s probably not the real reason they hang together outside left field, but I’ll take it.
“If a nice lady like that calls and asks that you help her,” Casey Stengel reasoned upon his hiring in October of 1961, “what can you do?”
The Mets for most of Monday night were a team Joan and Casey would have recognized from when they first went into business with one another. I had the distinct feeling Coop and I were sitting in for them as nine innings proved not nearly enough. Shaun Marcum provided Arizona with an early lead and reportedly looked uncomfortable in the process. Mets runner upon Mets runner remained stubbornly on base. John Buck showed himself more Throneberry than Strawberry when he failed to take second on what should have been a passed ball that would have put Josh Satin on third except Buck needed to stay on first. If he had, maybe the Mets would have won in nine.
But then they wouldn’t have made us wait. And if they hadn’t made us wait, they wouldn’t be the Mets, would they?
So Joan and Casey, version 2.0, stuck it out. What else were we going to do? Not stick it out? If 650 people were going to stay in the stands as Monday became Tuesday — and I believe my attendance estimate to be generous — it was going to be 648 plus us, me barely managing to conjure the slightest optimism that I wasn’t about to extend my personal record onsite losing streak to ten, Coop owning her essential Coopness as only she could. Coop has authored a Merriam-Webster’s worth of essential Mets aphorisms, most of which she sprinkles casually into conversation, some of which are suitable for repeating in polite company. One of my favorites involves something or other being done with a rusty nail to those who would deprive the Mets of victory. The most on the nose addresses Post Traumatic Mets Disorder, an affliction with which we all deal. Oodles of innings and hours devoted to the Mets and Diamondbacks daring each other to win a game in which nobody deserves to prevail only contributes to this Coopyrighted condition.
Extended extra innings can bring out the punchiness in some, the irritability in others. Coop stays Coop, just more deeply. I learned a handful of biographical details between blunders and strandings. I learned Two Boots’ meatball sliders are well worth their $8.75 price tag. I learned you couldn’t pay Coop enough to become a Yankees fan for even a day, though she amended her stance that maybe you could, provided she could turn around and use her newfound wealth to buy a significant share of the Mets.
The rest of us should be so lucky.
When the real/first Mrs. Payson wasn’t on European holiday, she generally took her box seat at Shea wired to a transistor radio. “Only between innings,” the AP reported, “does the plug leave her ear. That’s when Mrs. Payson gives her attention to the fans around her and discusses the action on the field.” In that spirit, the Coop is never far from Twitter, which keeps her in touch with her thousand-plus acolytes, most notably her statistically nimble hubby Ed, who I suppose was part Charles Shipman Payson, part Arthur Friedman in our reincarnation scenario Monday night. It was via Ed via Coop that I learned I showed up a few times on SNY when its cameras followed a fly ball in our direction, which will happen when the seats well outnumber the fans. It was Ed who noted after the eleventh that Kirk Gibson and twelfth innings are a bad mix where all of us are concerned. Not that Ed suffers from PTMD, too.
It was via Citi Field acoustics (which is to say you can hear every conversation in an empty ballpark late at night) that I learned from one kid in the next section that Buck was traded here from Toronto for “R.A. Dickey, Josh Lewin and somebody else”. Also nearby: that young fellow who lives to grab foul balls, home runs and attention — he magically appeared a few rows behind where Cody Ross’s bat-flipping disgrace landed. Moments like that are what Coop’s rusty nail is for…and exactly the type of the episode that exacerbates PTMD. At least the guy who wore an Arizona Diamondbacks wrestler’s mask all night seemed happy. You’d think an Arizona Diamondbacks wrestler’s mask wearer would’ve been more demonstrative in celebrating the taking of a 4-3 lead in the top of the thirteenth, maybe furtively slipping a foreign object out of his trunks or bonking somebody with a chair when the umps weren’t looking, but no, he just politely applauded Cody Ross.
Which in itself is pretty offensive.
Well, as you know, the Mets flipped the figurative bat and any handy rusty nails right back up our old Marlin nemesis and whoever the hell is in first place with him in the National League West (where apparently they’re not too picky about such positioning). It took some more waiting in the bottom of the thirteenth: for Satin’s one-out double; for Gibson’s hilarious intentional walk of Buck, whose bat isn’t worth a dime; for 650 people — give or take the guy in the Arizona Diamondbacks wrestler’s mask — standing and applauding the pinch-hitting debut of Matt Harvey; for Terry Collins to sap the moment of its momentum let alone its optimal utility by ordering Harvey, who can hit, to bunt; for Harvey to bunt successfully, as there is nothing that man can’t do; for another intentional walk; and, finally, for Andrew Brown to turn out the lights on all of Gibson’s brilliant tactics.
Mets 5 Diamondbacks 4. My losing streak was over. I was no longer the Susan Lucci of Citi Field. Shed of the pain of channeling Erica Kane, Coop and I hugged and/or high-fived everyone in our section. It didn’t take long.
Mets 5 Diamondbacks 4. Similar circumstances, Ed confirmed, as surrounded Tim Harkness overcoming the Cubs with a grand slam just over 50 years ago at the Polo Grounds. Chicago had taken a lead in the top of the fourteenth. Harkness took it back and then some, homering the Mets home, 8-6. The next regular-season occasion on which the Mets overcame a lead in thirteenth inning or later to win in walkoff fashion? Monday night. The Mets have been around long enough to have things happen 50 years apart. Maybe not the same thing, but close enough things. Collins had to resort to Harvey to pinch-hit in the thirteenth because he had used every position player? Stengel on June 26, 1963, explained why Harkness needed to be a hero when he did:
“We just about had to end it there because I’d run out of men.”
Mets 5 Diamondbacks 4. Same score, as Ed certainly immediately recognized, by which Gibson’s Dodgers beat our Mets 25 years ago on a night better known for what Mike Scioscia did to Doc Gooden and the rest of us sans rusty nail. In the course of what Josh Lewin (who, it turns out, was never traded with R.A. Dickey and somebody else to Toronto for John Buck) referred to as “five hours and thirteen mind-numbing minutes,” Coop and I revisited that playoff night at Shea from 1988. Coop traces much PTMD to Game Four. I countered that Scioscia didn’t beat the Mets in that series — the Mets beat the Mets in that series. Either way, October 9, 1988, was a very long game and Coop was there.
Of course she was. Or as Mrs. Payson said in 1969, “I’m with the Mets forever.”
The Coop was back Tuesday night, with she and Ed plowing through the rain delay, apprising their followers of what was going on inside Caesars Club. They found seats once the umpires decided another crowd of 650 strong had waited long enough. The grounds crew rolled up the tarp and revealed Recker still waiting to take advantage of the bases that had remained loaded through the raindrops. Brad Ziegler — who hit Justin Turner with the sacks full of Mets in my last thirteen-inning win, a shade over two years ago — was on for Corbin. Anthony singled. The Mets were up, 3-1, and if you’ll excuse the unfamiliar expression, the rout was on. Coop and Ed and their 648 companions would be released shortly thereafter on their own recognizance with a 9-1 triumph that took 2:24 in the box score and more than four hours in reality.
You wait, sometimes good things happen. More often the Mets happen. And they haven’t even visited the West Coast yet.
Follow the Coop @Coopz22 on Twitter and read her always entertaining take on the Mets and a couple of other teams at A Gal For All Seasons. Follow Ed @Studi_Metsimus and immerse yourself in his historical perspective on all things Amazin’ at Studious Metsimus. Boy, were these two Mets fans made for each other.
Photo of Casey Stengel from Citi Field concourse courtesy of Sharon Chapman.