When my son was four years old, we went to Shea one horrifically hot day, watched the Mets fall behind, watched them try to catch up in the ninth, watched Carlos Delgado hit a long drive that was headed out of the park … and saw Willie Harris, that bringer of Metsian misery, leap impossibly high above the fence and turn it into an out. A cruel, crushing, crucifying out.
Willie Harris moved on to the Nats, where he continued taking balls away from Mets trying to win games. Then he became a Met himself, and of course his dives and leaps were suddenly a few inches short. Now he isn’t anything — he was last seen as a Red in June 2012.
But he lives on. Because damned if that wasn’t Willie Harris in center field when it really truly mattered last night, when Justin Turner arrived from the disabled list to face Craig Kimbrel and rain and pressure and seemed to get the better of all three, whacking a pitch to left-center that seemed destined to plop down a couple of steps from a despondent Jason Heyward as Andrew Brown scored. And then maybe since things are wet out there and Heyward is a newcomer to center field with a cranky leg Omar Quintanilla comes around third behind Brown, and something goes awry between the outfield and home plate and Q scores and the Mets have won and Turner, to borrow Ron Darling’s idea, is so giddy with happiness that he pies himself.
None of that happened. Because the spirit of Willie Harris animated Jason Heyward, propelling his limbs out and down and sending him sprawling across the grass Swoboda-like, with Turner’s ball vanishing into his mitt just before it and Heyward and the Harrisness he had riding shotgun hit the ground.
Reed Johnson’s arms shot skyward in exultation.
Craig Kimbrel’s arms shot skyward in grateful disbelief.
Justin Turner’s arms shot skyward in disappointed outrage.
My arms stayed crossed on my chest and I held very still to keep from screaming or throwing things.
Yeah, that kind of game. That kind of game played so often against these Braves since their arrival in our division back in the days of Smoltz and Gl@v!ne and Maddux, all gone now but somehow still looming over us, just like Millwood and Klesko and Rocker and Chipper and Prado and Tucker and a thousand other tomahawk-wielding tormentors.
Of course the game was really lost long before the manifestation of Willie Harris made it official. It was lost in the bottom of the eighth, when David Wright looked at strike three with Eric Young Jr. on third and one out and the Mets clinging to a 1-0 lead. Then, in the top of the ninth, Bobby Parnell came in to try and secure things for Dillon Gee (who was wonderful) and everything went wrong. A hit through the shift. Another hit dropped in front of Marlon Byrd when Parnell threw an 0-2 curve over the heart of the plate. After a welcome fielder’s choice erased the lead runner, Parnell and John Buck couldn’t get together and a passed ball moved the runners up. Then a grounder to short hit too slowly for Quintanilla to get the tying run at home. Then a flat fastball down the middle that Johnson smacked into center for a Braves lead.
Bad pitches + bad defense + bad luck = bad results, and the sneaking suspicion that Parnell is having one of those lousy stretches that afflict nearly all pitchers for a while each season, except for starters it means a couple of stinker outings but for closers it means two weeks of blown saves and fans howling for blood.
Which isn’t exactly what this team needs, particularly since the other guys have Willie Harris playing marionette when it really, truly matters.