“Step by step, one by one, higher and higher,” Huey Lewis sang after as scintillating a victory as the Mets have manufactured this year, describing to a tee the process by which our fellas are elevating themselves these days. They can’t win more than one game at a time any more than they can put their pants on two legs at a time. A win following a win following a loss following four wins doesn’t inoculate them from pumpkin status. In the short term, midnight is never more than a few ticks away. A bunt doesn’t stay fair. A pinch hitter gets his pitch and sends it foul. A leap isn’t high enough. The winning run isn’t liberated from second base.
These things happen to the Mets with discouraging regularity. They have, anyway. Just not lately. And lately is where we are. Lately, we’ve got ourselves a pretty good team.
We’ve got a team that pulled off what a reliable source believes was the best game of 2014 to date, certainly the best game this reliable source has attended since Matt Harvey was popularly acclaimed as better than Stephen Strasburg. The reliable source is draping himself in exceedingly cautious optimism because of the one-leg/two-pantlegs rule, but in the moment he was pretty bleeping ecstatic.
Why did I love this game so much? Because the Mets were en route to losing it and I could’ve lived with it. The Mets have been losing more than winning for several seasons now. I’ve become inured to it. I almost get annoyed when they insert a win into their stack of losses.
“Quit screwing with the narrative I’ve constructed through copious amounts of observation, the one that’s allowed me to accept your continual futility. When you win, all you’re doing — by my reckoning — is making the next loss hurt more. You made me think you’d keep winning. But you didn’t. You never do.”
The Mets fell behind, 2-0. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked like the fifth starter pro tempore he is. Tom Koehler, who I understand attended Stony Brook University (it never gets mentioned locally), was fairly dominant for four innings. Those Marlins, hate ’em as we may, have been the version of ourselves we wish to be: not only excellent young pitching but a plethora of talented position players plus a couple of valuable veterans. I may write off the Marlin fans as mostly nonexistent but I think the Marlins are closer to real than the Mets are. And as countercompetitive as their ownership is, we surely can’t claim an edge in that category.
Big, bad Tom Koehler gave up two runs in the bottom of the fifth, anyway. The Mets scored them because they pounced. Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a ball long and hard and hustled when it wasn’t caught. Juan Lagares placed a grounder in exactly the right spot. The suspiciously competent Ruben Tejada laid down a squeeze of dreams.
Then Dice-K gave both runs back, which led me to accept the losing, though it was worth noting (or is worth noting with hindsight) that he could have completely imploded but escaped further damage. Matsuzaka went six, gave up four runs, yet it could have been worse.
Yet who would have thought it was going to get better? For the Mets to walk forthrightly into the sunshine of having a fighting chance, two fans needed to find themselves some shade.
Stephanie and I were enjoying what there was to enjoy of a 4-2 trail in very nice Excelsior-level seats on the first-base side, courtesy of the ever thoughtful Sharon Chapman, but given the oddball 4:10 PM start, it suddenly got a little glaring for my wife’s tastes. Stephanie asked if we could move back a few rows. Another oddball situation: there wasn’t the usual array of unoccupied seats behind us, presumably thanks to Huey Lewis and the News’s plan to entertain us following the final out. I scanned the stadium, peered up at traditionally sparse left field Promenade, expertly judged the sun’s angle and proposed we head up there.
So we did. And the second we sat down, we sprang up. Chris Young…the same Chris Young at whom we were poking reflexive fun during Kevin Chapman’s trademark top-notch tailgate extravaganza…made us eat our words like we had eaten Kevin’s guacamole. CY launched an absolute bomb that detonated over the left field fence with a man on. Suddenly we were no longer losing. Suddenly it was 4-4. Suddenly the shade of Section 529 was the hottest place we could be.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Stephanie does this little thing I like with her fingertips up and down my arm. I like it a lot, y’know? She was doing it when Daniel Murphy leapt into the stratosphere to rescue Vic Black from danger in the eighth. She was doing it when Travis d’Arnaud doubled with two out in the bottom of the inning. She was doing it when Eric Campbell, in a lefty-righty switch worthy of Bobby Valentine at his master-strategist best, singled Td’A home with the go-ahead run. When the ninth came around, I was asked if I needed the fingertipping of my arm to proceed.
She had to ask?
Jenrry Mejia and Stephanie teamed to give me goosebumps with a 1-2-3 top of the ninth. The Mets won a game that first I didn’t think they’d win, then I began to believe they might win and then decided there was no way they weren’t going to win. It was something so wonderfully validating to be a part of. It was great, of course, to follow up a vigorous Friday night with a determined Saturday afternoon. It was great for whatever is or isn’t going on in the standings. It was great to watch the unused Marlin relievers trudge across the outfield grass in defeat; it reminded me of how all those bottom-feeding Fish surged out of the third base dugout to congratulate one another on the last day of 2007 and again on the last day of 2008. The circumstances were far different then and the stakes were exponentially higher, but whether Florida or Miami, a Marlin is a Marlin, and saddled with the eternal image of them sealing the Mets’ final Shea fates, well, I couldn’t have been any more Nelson Muntz about them in the middle of 2014.
What was most great (besides sharing this victory with my helluva Mets fan wife) was sensing we don’t root for a rotten team at this moment. In another moment, we could. You give the Mets twenty-two moments and they’ll give you a world of pain. The Mets’ moments seem to turn from sunshine to shade pretty horribly quickly. It wasn’t three weeks ago when we were on a five-of-six roll and searching the linen closet for suitable towels to wave in sync with our heroes. It wasn’t two weeks ago when they reverted to familiar form and we were cynically throwing in those towels. So who knows?
But they don’t seem rotten anymore. They just don’t. Maybe not worldbeaters. Probably not Natsbeaters or Bravesbeaters ultimately. But not rotten. Not terrible. Possibly good. Possibly. Don’t want to get carried away by six of seven. Been carried away by heftier displays of eptitude and been burned in the aftermath. Huey’s advice from “Jacob’s Ladder” totally applies to our climb.
Step by step. Rung by rung.
I looked around during the postgame concert. So many survivors. So many who bought jerseys and t-shirts implying fealty to a veritable generation of Mets who aren’t here anymore. BAY 44. DAVIS 29. REYES 7. DICKEY 43. MARTINEZ 45. I saw a FLOYD 30 on Friday. Despite his current employment status, now and then a BELTRAN 15 comes into view. That’s apparel not worn ironically or reverentially. That’s clothing worn because the hopes they represented are still a part of us. So is the disappointment they shared in. What all of those names have in common, in one way or another, is we looked to them to lift us up…lift us all the way up, ideally. None of them did. None of their teammates did. Some of those teammates are still Mets. We don’t know what they’ll do. We don’t know how long they’ll keep doing what they’re doing right now.
I want everybody who wore those kinds of tops Saturday (including myself, clad in vintage Jose-Josewear) to not have dressed in vein. To not have bought those jerseys and t-shirts only to ante up for a WHEELER 45 or a GRANDERSON 3 or maybe a fresh WRIGHT 5 and see those, too, fray at the edges and grow Bayishly obsolete without reward stitched into the memories they will hold. I want a run on world championship gear at Modells some brisk late-October morning. That’s what I really want. That leap of imagination, however, will tear the inseam of your pants to shreds, because you might as well try to put them on two legs at a time.
“All I want from tomorrow,” Huey Lewis also suggested in that Bruce & John Hornsby-penned song from which I quoted before, “is to get it better than today.” That’s all I want from my Mets — and that’s taking into account that today turned out spectacularly.