No matter which hitters constitute the heart of the Colorado Rockies order in a given series when the Mets play in Denver, the most daunting presence in the home team lineup remains Coors Field. The 20-year veteran may not intimidate in the fashion it did when it was a brash rookie, yet you can never completely shake the lurking sense of dread that if you give this ballpark the chance to beat you in the late innings, it will.
Though every stadium the Mets visit is bound to evoke its own singular set of deep-seated horrific memories (Angel Hernandez quite clearly on the take behind the plate at Turner Field in 1998; Jimmy Rollins going 12-for-12, more or less, on getaway day at Citizens Bank Park in 2007; Jeremy Reed throwing a mile past home while manning first at Dodger Stadium moments after Ryan Church’s foot couldn’t find third as 2009 descended definitively into the fiery pit of Hades), with Coors Field, everything always resets in my mind to the very first game.
April 26, 1995: both the ballpark and the season were brand new. Both were sights for baseball-deprived eyes. The long strike of 1994-95 had been settled only after the farce spring of replacement exhibitions had worn our faith in humanity down to the nub. There would be just 144 games to the upcoming schedule, but the first two for the Mets would be in this gleaming jewel of a throwback. Coors Field was the National League’s first so-called retro park, a mold-breaker along the lines of Camden Yards, Jacobs Field and the Ballpark in Arlington. When you considered how rabid the fans of Colorado had been when their expansion team played at Mile High Stadium and then combined that passion with the beauty of a cozy, old-fashioned, baseball-only playpen, well, you couldn’t believe how lucky the Mets were to be the first team to come to bat there.
Fourteen innings later, you discovered the flaw in the design of Coors Field, namely that the Mets didn’t get to be the last team to come to bat there.
• The Rockies scored a run to go ahead in the bottom of the inning.
• The Mets grabbed a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth on Bobby Bonilla’s RBI single.
• The Rockies scored a run to tie it in the bottom of the inning.
• The Rockies scored a run to tie it in the bottom of the inning.
Guess what happened in the bottom of the inning.
Bichette happened. An overgrown Cody Ross who called himself Dante Bichette — pumping his obnoxious fist in instant triumph — belted a three-run homer that soared far above Otero’s head and landed in a nearby mountain range, winning the game for the homestanders, 11-9, and giving birth to the most haunting maxim in American sport:
No lead is ever safe at Coors Field.
Not the three different one-run leads the Mets gripped on Opening Night 1995;
Not the 6-0 advantage Jenrry Mejia was seemingly cruising aboard in the fifth inning Saturday night;
And not the hard-earned 10-9 edge the Mets took into the bottom of the ninth long after Mejia gave up eight in the fifth to shove the Mets into a Bichette-sized hole.
What appeared to be shaping up as a rare 2014 Mets romp had become a 1995-style nightmare, yet it was on the road to redemption, fueled by the kind of gumption that would have made my main mid-’90s man Joe Orsulak proud.
It was in the top of the ninth that Bobby Abreu lumbered off the bench with one out to face LaTroy Hawkins for only the sixth time in a pair of careers that stretch back to the Orsulak Era. Good old Bobby (40) got the best of good old LaTroy (41) and doubled to left. Abreu was exchanged at second for Eric Young, Jr., the pinch-runner whose namesake father drove in a go-ahead run against Mets lefty specialist Eric Gunderson as a pinch-hitter when Coors Field was all of six innings old on 4/26/95. The younger Young proved fast and wily enough to take third on Josh Satin’s groundout to Nolan Arenado, whose first name I mysteriously decided was Nelson — like Casey calling for one Bob Miller or the other, I suppose — but, in light of the platinum-level glove he employs, might as well be Andrelton.
Throughout this series the Mets had been failing to cope with the rockets hit at or by the National Arenado and Space Administration. When he wasn’t robbing Chris Young (no relation to anybody as far as we know), he was mauling Mejia. Nolan’s fifth-inning grand slam was the jolt that sent Jenrry’s hair really flying out from under his cap. Arenado, Blackmon, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez…a humidor may have been installed at Coors Field to keep baseballs from acting unnaturally up, but these were the new Blake Street Bombers in the Mets’ midst. Once the fourth became the fifth, what with Ryan Wheeler leading off with a homer to make it 6-1, Jordan Pacheco singling to reset the table and everything immediately unraveling in a blur of bloops, bleeders and blasts, Mejia might as well have been taking on the reincarnations of Burks, Walker, Gallaraga and Castilla.
But even as the home side was lighting up the scoreboard like something out of a Pacheco Palace, the Mets kept fighting back admirably: first from 8-6 to tie it at 8-8 in the top of the sixth, then from 9-8 to make it 9-9 in the top of the eighth. Save for their historically futile swinging and missing pitchers (0-for-48 this year and counting), the Mets were honest-to-god hitting for once in their lives. Abreu’s double was the Mets’ fifteenth hit of the evening. Juan Lagares — who could conceivably go into the defense contractor business with Nolan Arenado and Andrelton Simmons and keep America secure for a generation — registered the sixteenth when he singled to plate Eric Young, Jr., with the run that put the Mets up, 10-9. Daniel Murphy made it seventeen Mets hits on the night, and the bases eventually loaded up for Chris Young, but Hawkins found his way out of trouble and gave the Rockies a chance to come back in the bottom of the ninth.
Of course they had a chance. They got to bat last. Batting last is the Rockies’ most potent offensive weapon. No less an authority on analyzing defeat than Terry Collins referred to Coors Field as “a park that’s known for getting your last at-bat. The last team that gets up can be the most dangerous.”
By the accepted rules of baseball, the last team that gets up at Coors Field is inevitably the Colorado Rockies. And inevitably the Colorado Rockies have Dante Bichette waiting for Mike Remlinger. Doesn’t matter that the Met closer nineteen years later was Kyle Farnsworth or that the batter who strode to the plate with a runner on second was pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson. Charlie Culberson was going to hit the home run that beat the Mets on a night like this, 11-10.
Why was it plate accompli that Culberson would successfully scale Mt. Farnsworth? Because sooner or later Bichette happens to the Mets at Coors Field. It just does.