There were nearly as few available Mets as there were visible Mets fans at Citi Field Wednesday night. The “25-man roster” was as hyperbolic a calculation as “paid attendance of 22,014”. Terry Collins fielded a Quadruple-A lineup, relied on a three-man bench and came up a run short of victory.
On the plus side, boy was there room to stretch out.
I was one of the “22,014” in attendance, commemorating Braves Night, the annual late-season trip my friend Kevin and I make to…well, see the Mets play the Braves. This little tradition of ours began in 2012 when we decided to wish Chipper Jones a fond farewell (except for the fond part) and we’ve kept going to greet the Atlantans in the hopes that all of them will retire. It hasn’t happened yet.
The Braves and I weren’t exactly strangers before this subgenre of games entered my Log. I’ve seen at least one Mets-Braves game every year since 1995, a personal record for self-inflicted frustration. They used to be a big deal, showdowns for N.L. East supremacy. Then they were reminders of the glory that was Flushing at century’s end/millennium’s debut. Then they were just the Mets versus another opponent we don’t beat nearly enough. But as long as the Braves insist on visiting, it wouldn’t be hospitable to not show up and seethe in their direction.
Of course when you have your own team at whom to fume, you might forget to find out Freddie Freeman’s real name and chant it derisively at him (“FREEEEED-er-ick,” in case you’re wondering). Actually, come August, you don’t really get up in arms at the Mets, either. You might as well curse the darkness for not containing enough light. Or players.
No David Wright. No Daniel Murphy. No Vic Black. No Josh Edgin. Would their presence have made a difference in what became a 3-2 loss once the three-man bench that shoved Ruben Tejada into a pivotal role proved surprisingly inadequate? Who knows? A Terry Collins team can always find a way to lose, even at full strength.
For those of you who like your moments defining, the Mets had runners on first and second against Craig Kimbrel with nobody out in the ninth, down by one run, with Wilmer Flores coming to bat — the same Wilmer Flores who had, in the second inning, launched his maiden Citi Field home run. With his most recently productive power hitter up, Collins ordered Wilmer to bunt, because…I’m back to who knows? Flores bunted, the fellas on first and second moved to second and third, but now there was an out nobody asked for.
Nobody except the Braves and Terry Collins, that is.
I know you already know what happened next, but indulge me when I dramatically nudge, “Guess what happened next.” Tejada grounded into a fielder’s choice — the fielder chose to throw home to cut down the tying run for which Collins was so adamant about giving up an out — and then there was a third out. If the Mets had prevailed, it would have been their third straight win. Perhaps by the fact that I’m about to ask, “Do you know how many three-game winning streaks the Mets have stitched together since the All-Star break?” you can divine the answer.
The answer is zero. The Mets haven’t won more than two in a row since the All-Star break, which was quite a while ago. The Mets haven’t won more than they’ve lost in a season since 2008, which was quite a while ago. When the Mets were en route to winning records at this time of the season between 2005 and 2008, you got pretty good crowds at Shea Stadium. I’ve not seen a pretty good crowd at Citi Field in the last several late Augusts nor a compelling reason to attend games there in late August.
Oh, except that I really like going to Mets games with the likes of Kevin, which is good enough for me, Braves or otherwise. We spend 8½ innings (I’m inevitably running late for first pitch and the Braves inevitably take an immediate lead as we’re being patted down by security) dissecting what the hell’s wrong with our franchise, never quite nailing a solution for what ails it, but passing a summer’s evening pleasantly nonetheless.
This year we enjoyed the novelty of sitting in the first row of the Left Field Landing, a splendidly isolated level I don’t think I’d visited since 2011 — and one the Mets initially announced would be known as Coogan’s Landing as homage to their Giant bloodlines. But then they conveniently filed the classy historical gesture under “N” for Never Mind. (Y’know, it’s not too late to call it Coogan’s Landing. Or Cleon’s Landing. Or Kiner’s Korner.) I’m certain I’d never sat right on the edge of the action, balcony-style. Row 1 of Section 336 brought one closer than expected to Flores’s home run into the Party City festivities; gave one a unique angle on Juan Lagares’s glove conducting its nightly memorial service for opposition fly balls; and, sadly, allowed one to watch Andrelton Simmons dash into the hole in the eighth to snuff out the Mets’ other rally that didn’t go very far. Once I saw Simmons make his move, I knew cleanup hitter Travis d’Arnaud’s would-be RBI single wouldn’t be anything besides a 6-3 on your scorecard. D’Arnaud neglected to hit like Mike Piazza in the four-hole, but he sure as hell ran like him.
Zack Wheeler pitched long and well and deserved a better fate, but so did all of us among the “22,014”. I did. Kevin did. The world-famous Chasins — who briefly abandoned swanky Field Level accommodations and searched out the dedicated Landing escalator so as to come up and say “hey” — did, too. In addition to this being Kevin’s and my annual Braves game, this was FAFIF correspondent Ryder’s final night at Citi Field for quite a while. He’s off to college the week after next, packing a 3-2 loss and no concrete memory of the Mets ever going anywhere except home come October. That doesn’t seem right. Then again, he and his parents Rob and Holly looked like they were having at least as good a time as Kevin and I were having, and that’s the sort of result that doesn’t show up in the Log.
Those of us who love the Mets enough to step right up and meet them repeatedly inevitably wind up sating ourselves with everything but final scores and elevated standings. The company, the view, the food, the breeze…would you trade it for a legitimate pennant race? You shouldn’t have to.