I’m glad the Mets seem to like each other as much as they do. Or do at the moment the lot of them accomplish something unforeseeable, which is score a fifth run in an eleventh inning. When Ruben Tejada lined a single through the drawn-in Phillies infield to plate the Young who isn’t Eric as Sunday afternoon was morphing into Sunday evening, every Met on the roster and maybe a few flown in from extended spring training burst out of the dugout to embrace Ruben, perhaps out of gratitude for snapping a five-game losing streak, maybe just for letting them go home after the longest, most drawn-out three-game series in human history.
I was grateful that I got to see the Mets win in dramatic fashion not quite nineteen hours after I saw the Mets lose in excruciating fashion and less than 48 hours after they flailed in astounding fashion. The Mets are not much in fashion these days, but they do have their elements of style.
One of their signature pieces of flair, if you will, is to celebrate every walkoff win as if it had just been preceded by a ball rolling through a first baseman’s legs. Zack Wheeler laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt to have moved Young to second after the revivified Young singled may not have been the spiritual equivalent of Kevin Mitchell deciding that he, like Gary Carter, wasn’t going to make the last out of any bleepity-bleep World Series, but you go to walk off with the circumstances you have — not the circumstances you might want or wish to have at a later time.
And is there anything more exhilarating, despite what it says about personnel depletion, than a pitcher coming to bat in extra innings? Even a Mets pitcher? Take that, designated hitter rule!
Young hits. Wheeler bunts. Juan Lagares walks via the intentions of Ryne Sandberg and without objection from Chase Utley. Anthony Recker — the Mets’ Mothers Day gift to swooning moms and aesthetically appreciative dads everywhere — taps a ball Cody Asche can’t turn into an out. (I’m guessing Cody Asche will be the current generation’s default player with whom they were legendarily inundated when they grow up and reflect upon their 2010s baseball card collection: “All I ever wanted was one lousy Mike Trout, but every pack I opened had like six-dozen Cody Asches instead.”) Up steps Ruben Tejada. In steps the Phillie infield. It steps in a little further. It steps in some more until it is inside the Delta Sky360 Club asking if the kitchen is still open because, gosh, it’s getting close to dinnertime and we have quite the bus ride ahead of us and the traffic on the Turnpike is a bear and maybe you can look in the back?
The Phillies’ barely disguised desire to get this thing over with was complemented by Sandberg’s strategy of sidelining three of his usual relievers — they were supposedly tired, but who wasn’t by 5:30? — and playing the infield in. You know the old saying: when you play the infield in, you turn a .186 hitter into a .195 hitter, which is exactly what happened when Ruben laced the next pitch from Jeff Manship (not his real name; can’t be) into short left. I thought for a sec that if shallowly positioned Dominic Brown charged the ball, he might have had a play on Young, if only because the Mets are the Mets and what are the odds a fast runner from third might score on a base hit to win a game? But Brown turned away from Ruben’s souvenir with what appeared to be, from the vantage point of graciously appointed Excelsior level seats, utter disdain.
Chris makes it home. Ruben, who isn’t big on attempting to beat out grounders, makes it to first. It is officially Mets 5 Phillies 4. The final is confirmed when Randy Bachman and Fred Turner are hauled out of cold storage to perform the song that the Mets present whenever they win at home. As soon as the B and the T of BTO flip through their catalogue so as to remember what song that is — it had been so long — the first notes of that old favorite begin to blare over the Citi Field public address system.
The Mets had taken care of business. It was good to see and it was great to hear. “Takin’ Care Of Business” is positively Proustian to the Mets fan ears, instantly transporting them to a land of happy recaps and magic numbers. “Takin’ Care Of Business” evokes a division clinched inside a stadium that shook amid expectations that were regularly matched and sometimes exceeded. The 1974 classic rock staple that served to accent 2006’s N.L. East domination only sounds dated if you don’t think the Mets are supposed to take care of the business of winning ballgames.
It was nice to be rewarded for four hours and twenty-two minutes of rooting on Sunday, particularly after being punished for three hours and sixteen minutes (plus a rain delay of thirty-nine minutes) on Saturday…never mind the four hours and thirty-nine minutes of televised flagellation from Friday. It was nice to bop along with Bachman-Turner Overdrive and to shout “METS WIN!” at a register so high that the “WIN!” cracked. Losing too much unhinges a fan. Winning once in a while merely irritates a vocal cord, and that heals soon enough.
While the Mets engaged in their madcap marathon of Ruben On The Pony, my wife and I high-tenned with middle-aged moderation. I used to bring my palm(s) to Stephanie’s with force appropriate to “METS WIN!” euphoria, but I’ve learned across the exactly 27 years we’ve known each other that six balls could roll through the twelve legs of six Bill Buckners and she wouldn’t appreciate a full-on high-five because no matter the occasion, she always says, “ow.”
Sometime before the ninth, when the Mets staged the rally that lifted them from near-extinction to deadlock, I remarked to my wife that here it was, my 162nd game at Citi Field — marking a full season’s worth in my Log since the no longer new joint opened in 2009 — and I might never have borne witness to a duller one. What, she asked in all earnestness, made this game any worse than any of the others?
“I just realized something,” I said before sincerely answering her question. “All baseball games must look alike to you.”
She didn’t disagree. My wife doesn’t jot down the particulars of every game she attends in a steno notebook as I do, nor will she dissect the Mets’ ineptitude like her middle name is Elias, yet continued exposure to the Mets through the prism of marriage hasn’t disabused her of the notion that an occasional ballgame is more pleasant than painful — assuming intemperate cold winds or excessively sunlit humidity can be avoided. Neither of those meteorological conditions were in effect Sunday, and if they were, refuge awaited in the Caesars Club, an option she doesn’t avail herself of all that much, champ that she is, but she likes knowing it’s there.
As indicated above, we were celebrating our 27th anniversary of being introduced to one another. It was on May 11, 1987, that I stopped listening to Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne on my knockoff Walkman long enough to be introduced to the woman who would in an instant become the other love of my life. Stephanie, the Mets and I have been enjoying one another’s company ever since, the Mets aggravating only one of us to fleeting excess now and then.
Sunday’s synergy provided an effective antidote to Saturday’s disillusionment. I knew when we walked across Mets Plaza to inspect our brick and I hummed involuntarily along with the loop of “Meet The Mets” that no matter how disgusted I get with my team, I’ll always see through to something better than whatever they’re doing to me at a given moment. It makes me a lousy consumer but it reassures my instincts. Of course I sing in sync with the team song. Of course I bring my wife (if not my kitties) on our Night We Met anniversary to remeet our team together. Stephanie had actually requested a visit to the ol’ ballpark. She does that sort of thing after 27 years.
Her name’s Mrs. Prince, bub, and she likes me.
We went with May 11 for her 2014 debut since it’s worked so well before, not only in the sense of what I was listening to that Monday night in 1987 but where we commemorated our big date in 2008 and again in 2010. We were 2-0 at Mets games on May 11s. Now we are 3-0, a rare slice of perfection connected to a franchise otherwise allergic to flawlessness.
Those eight innings before the Mets decided to awaken (and Sandberg let Jonathan Papelbon rest) were, despite the inherent charms of a baseball-laden May 11, dull as Duda. Cole Hamels, the subject of the best t-shirt I saw all weekend — “COLE HAMELS IS A CHOKE ARTIST” — dipped his toe into recurring trouble but never got bit. He gave up a run to the Mets in the first, which is what every opposing starter does, and then nothing for the rest of seven pitchy innings. He kept throwing, the Mets kept not producing. When Curtis Granderson came up to bat for Jonathon Niese in the sixth with Eric Campbell on third and Tejada oddly on second, it was a classic encounter of lavishly compensated reputations. In this case, overpaid pitching stopped overpaid hitting and the Mets continued to trail, 3-1.
It was a quintessentially Queens version of New York on Sunday, as Bobby Darin can still be counted on to belt out — Mets offense takin’ a nap. They trailed, 3-1, forever. That’s why this game felt as if it was never going to improve, though that’s also why this game felt as if it wasn’t completely gone. Niese was solid for six and Daisuke Matsuzaka was a pro for two more. But the scoring simply ceased.
As I can attest to after a full 162 (89-73), there are worse places than Citi Field to watch the Mets avert success. I don’t know if it’s necessary to layer “Family Sunday” on top of the experience of baseball played without weather concerns, but the themed in-game entertainment was certainly poured on. Big Mom has quite the lobby in this country, so of course Mother’s Day was invoked a few thousand times on the video screen. Several Mets mentioned how much they adore their mothers. Prizes were showered on mothers. The Mets had a mother of a time doing anything with Cole Hamels. It was a very thoroughly executed theme.
We survived seven innings of Hamels and an inning of Mario Hollands besides. We somehow endured Jose “Papa Grandé” Valverde digging the Mets a slightly deeper hole to climb out from when he issued a two-out walk to Jimmy Rollins and a triple to Chase Utley (do these guys ever go away?). After Valverde walked Ryan Howard to get to Marlon Byrd, I muttered without malice, “ah, go ahead, Marlon, for old time’s sake,” thinking 7-1 wasn’t any worse than 4-1 and at least we would be guaranteed an imminent departure to that Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights where we were headed postgame.
But Valverde struck out Byrd to end the top of the ninth, Antonio Bastardo (strange choice for a day celebrating parentage) imploded to start the bottom of the ninth and the tease appeared on.
The Young who isn’t Chris doubled. The Murph who is Daniel homered as if Mets do that all the time at Citi Field. Bam, 4-3. I felt this thrill going up my leg as I recalled Robin Ventura doing something similar to Curt Schilling to rouse a similarly torpid game against this very same opponent in this very same inning in this very same month in this very same vicinity in 1999. Now I had to brush off the dullness of the first eight innings, take our chances seriously and hope somebody would emerge as our John Olerud for the current century.
The Mets wouldn’t reveal their true intentions for many minutes. They never do. A strikeout. A double. A pitching change. A pinch-hitting appearance. A soft line drive whose destination was literally and figuratively up for grabs. A diving second baseman whose glove would touch a ball but not grasp it. A baserunner who by necessity would have to hold up at third. An effectively placed grounder that tied the game. A strikeout that continued it.
Yeah, dinner would wait through the onset of extra innings, a Met threat gone awry in the tenth and a Phillie opportunity extinguished in the eleventh. But the Tandoori oven would be fired up sooner than later once Ruben Tejada refused to keep playing in the best way possible. As the English translation to Juan Lagares’s walkup music strongly suggests once one is compelled to look it up after hearing it six times in eleven innings, “I will believe, I will believe, I will believe.”
That’s how they get ya. That’s how they keep ya.