If there’s no clock in baseball, why is the time of game listed? Seems antithetical to the spirit of the enterprise. Then again, Shea Stadium’s original scoreboard reserved prominent space for a clock bearing the Longines logo, and later its auxiliary scoreboards flashed the digital time from Armitron. If we truly weren’t supposed to be able to track the time of game, ballparks would follow the examples set by casinos, where not only do they not mount clocks, they block out natural light. Is it day? Is it night? Never mind, just give us your money.
On that count, Citi Field is like a casino, I suppose, but the time is not treated as a state secret. Tuesday night the game officially began at 7:11 PM and plodded forth as if stricken by arthritis until 11:19 PM. The time measurement that we are trained to count, innings, reached a mere nine, but the hours and the minutes involved in compiling them set a stadium standard. Citi Field had never before hosted a nine-inning game of such temporal length. If only Chris Young, the final batter, had stepped out of the box to tie his shoes and then maybe amble over to the on-deck circle for a spot of pine tar, we wouldn’t have to qualify the record-setting.
Time of game in the Mets’ 9-4 loss to the Dodgers: 4:08, a high for Citi Field, but not enough to establish a new franchise nine-inning mark. Much as the home team kept falling one hit shy of making the visitors sweat, the two teams missed by one minute matching the all-time Met record for longest nine-inning game. On a late night in late May of 2000, these very same outfits competed for four hours and nine minutes. Their stately Dodger Stadium maneuvers yielded a happy recap, with Todd Pratt topping off a 10-5 comeback win via grand slam, yet I clearly remember just…wanting…it…to…end. Five years later at Shea, the hot August afternoon result against the Brewers (12-9) was less a blessing than a curse, but the time remained the same: an unformulaic 4:09.
Tuesday’s version of regulation elongation was probably best processed as a series of 18 one-act plays, many of which ratcheted up the dramatic tension, but few of them paying off in terms of satisfying resolution. I’ve seen shorter games that schlepped worse, actually. This one could’ve used better pacing but didn’t expend the audience’s rooting interest wholly until the almost bitter end, and then you had the business with the potential record to reignite enthusiasm.
There was a moment when it seemed like the whole thing was gonna get legitimately good. I’m thinking of the inning the Mets left the bases loaded. Well, one of the innings the Mets left the bases load — the fifth. What had been a gradual but unremarkable 1-1 duel tilted inevitably in the Dodgers’ favor when Rafael Montero and Jeurys Familia (two generations of prospects) allowed L.A. four runs to remind us which team among the two was the talented one. But then the Mets, in their contemporary Metsian way, teased us with their spunk. Lou Grant told Mary Richards he hated spunk, but with the Terry Collins Mets, spunk is usually all you can rely on.
Here came the spunky Mets in the bottom of the fifth: Juan Centeno singling with one out; Eric Campbell pinch-hitting and singling; Eric Young singling. The bases were loaded, set up for the Mets’ most dependable hitter and the Mets’ most decorated hitter. Sadly, the dependable guy, Daniel Murphy, chose Tuesday to stop being a hitting machine and struck out. It all came down to Decorated David Wright, the Captain of our hearts, the steward of our souls. David could unload these bases. David could set his previously adrift campaign on course. David could remind you why you put up with Team Tease…because sometimes it’s not a tease.
Josh Beckett threw David Wright nine pitches with three on and two out in the bottom of the fifth. In another context, it would have been a battle for the ages or at least one worthy of dissection on some offseason MLB Network special hosted by Bob Costas. As it was, it was pretty compelling. David took ball one, then fouled off the next two. He worked the count full. Three more foul balls followed, David just missing, Beckett barely maintaining his balance on the tightrope of his own making, one side ice, one side fire.
Finally, on pitch nine, David raps a ball up the middle. In, for example, 1981, a year before David was born and three decades more infield shifts took hold, it would have undoubtedly gone through to center for a two-run single. These days, though, everybody is played persnicketily precisely. Wright’s rap was not hard enough to beat the modest Dodger shift. In the scorebook, it became a harmless grounder converted into a 4-3 forceout and meant another 0 in the row where you write the Met runs.
It was one of those episodes where you’re sure that was the moment right there. Except it really wasn’t. The Dodgers tacked on another run in the top of the sixth, but the Mets suddenly stormed the castle walls in the bottom of the inning. BAM! Curtis Granderson homers to the potato chip sign. BAM! Chris Young lines a double to deep center. BAM! Lucas Duda flies over the right field fence with the greatest of ease. Three runs were produced so quickly and so easily that I expected another loyalty letter to appear in my inbox pronto (“Now that we’ve shown you how good we can be, won’t you join True New Yorkers like Alex Treviño and Tim Bogar in supporting your favorite team…”). Beckett then walked Wilmer Flores and appeared overly ready to depart the mound for his traditional midgame snack of Popeye’s fried chicken and icy cold Bohemia-style beer. It was 6-4, there was nobody out and…
And nothin’. The Dodger bullpen excised the momentum right out of the Mets and they wouldn’t score again. Oh, they’d threaten. The bases would reload in the bottom of the seventh, but as in the fifth, there would be no runs. The Dodgers threatened in the eighth, but they wouldn’t back it up, either (huzzah to Collins for trotting out seven pitchers across nine innings). It stayed 6-4 just long enough to convince you this game, while not exactly getting itself won, hadn’t been lost.
Then the Dodgers tacked on another three in their half of the ninth and the four-hour mark was surpassed and all that was left aspirationally was making the kind of history that’s buried in the media guide and not exhumed until the next time somebody thinks to look at the clock in the fifth inning and express shock that the game’s already two hours old. Which is why I was rooting for Chris Young to call time and tie his shoes and get us to 4:09, perhaps 4:10. But this game already had plenty of time to it. You couldn’t in all good conscience call for a single minute more.