This, I thought as I sat in Promenade Box 405 during the sun-soaked bottom of the fourth on Sunday, is where the dream has at last arrived to meet reality. All those computer-generated images of bustling new Mets Ballpark from 2006 tried to capture what the future would look like. It would have people and enthusiasm and, presumably, winning. It was what everything was leading up to.
The path, we know, went astray. But now, nine years after we were shown our first glimpse of the concept that would soon be dubbed Citi Field — and six since everything about the team and the facility it inhabits had begun to reliably disappoint us — the course corrected itself.
Met after Met was reaching base.
Run after run was crossing home plate.
Seat after seat was filled.
Cow-Bell Man, modeling the jersey of the day’s starting pitcher, was hustling from section to section and leading whole groups in chants of LET’S GO METS!
Whole groups were responding to his cue.
The Mets, in turn, were responding to them.
I wanted to freeze the moment. I have, I suppose. I will keep it with me for at least the rest of this season. The fourth inning on April 19 was the instant when either:
a) the Mets once and for all transcended the miasma that had defined them for more than a half-a-decade and elevated themselves onto a whole new level of competence, competitiveness and contention that would stoke our inner fires for the foreseeable future and make us proud for the rest of our days; or
b) the Mets experienced their high point of 2015, because it was all about to go achily downhill from there.
It was a fine half-inning, that bottom of the fourth. The Mets just kept coming against the Marlins until they couldn’t be held back. Singles and walks and singles and walks and a booming three-run double and the starting pitcher lining out and another walk and another single and when the dust cloud that had been hovering over the joint since 2009 evaporated, the Mets were leading the Marlins, 7-1.
They were in first place, they were undefeated at home, they were riding their longest winning streak in five years and they had their ace taking the ball to protect a six-run lead against an surprisingly inept and seemingly demoralized opponent. We, the fans, had found our voice in the preceding week, remembering what it was like to pour ourselves into baseball games again, taking our team seriously and blissfully.
Going to the fifth, how could it get better than that?
It couldn’t. It could only get worse.
The good news, when the afternoon was over, was that the Mets remained winners. They secured (barely) their eighth consecutive victory, matching two such spurts from 2010, a season nobody associates with uninterrupted winning, but it actually happened. It happened in the first half. The Mets went to hell in the second half. We weren’t surprised. Here, in 2015, we’ve seen the calendars and understood it was April, but we’ve proceed in the vein of “if April’s like this, we can’t way for May and June and everything that follows.”
And maybe we still will see it like that when our schedule resumes Tuesday night against second-place Atlanta. If you were in Promenade or anywhere at Citi Field on Sunday as I was, I suspect you maintained that vibe when Jeurys Familia was grounding out the perpetually looming Giancarlo Stanton to seal the four-game sweep and create the eight-game streak. You couldn’t have not been caught up in the momentum that was still in the air from the bottom of the fourth, when those seven runs scored and the ball was returned to Matt Harvey to make the rest of the affair academic.
At the same time, your life as a Mets fan had gone through myriad changes in the innings it took to complete the journey to eight straight.
First, there was the matter of Harvey himself, who it turned out was pitching under the influence of some horrible virus. Mind you, he wasn’t getting lit up by the Marlins the way had had been the last time I sat in Promenade to see him pitch. That was in 2013, against the Tigers, the day he didn’t have it, the day that led to the announcement he wouldn’t be on the mound again for an indeterminate period of eternal waiting. But the Marlins were getting hits, and I couldn’t help but think, “I sure hope the Mets add to this 7-1 lead.”
Second, there was the Mets lineup not adding to that 7-1 lead. Harvey got a hit. Juan Lagares got one later. That was it. The unstoppable Mets from the fourth went into sleep mode from the fifth onward.
Third, the effort to push Harvey through the seventh backfired. We didn’t know he’d been sick that morning. We just figured he ran out of gas. That’s OK. He is still technically coming back from an extended absence; it just seems like he’s been throwing shutouts without pause forever.
Fourth, after Harvey exited with two on, nobody out and his lead down to 7-3, Jerry Blevins entered to settle down our simmering nerves. He retired Ichiro Suzuki on a little line drive to first. He then induced a liner to the mound from Dee Gordon, and it, too, resulted in an out. Well, two outs, sort of. The ball bounced off some element of Blevins’s body and he was able to glove it and toss it to first to get the runner. So Gordon was out.
Fifth, Blevins was out. That liner fractured Jerry’s left forearm, the one he uses for pitching. We didn’t know that yet in Promenade. We just saw him leaving for what we decided were precautionary reasons. It had to be a precaution, right? You can’t be too careful with the newly obtained glue to your bullpen. Besides, it was still a four-run lead, we were still headed toward an eight-game streak and (for some of us) there was the added bonus of learning the Islanders had just defeated the Capitals in overtime. I was in YES YES YES mode. I did not want to insert an OUCH into the middle of my Sunday euphoria.
Sixth, Alex Torres replaced Blevins in one of those “he’ll get all the time he needs to warm up” situations, which never sit well. Sure enough, Torres threw a wild pitch that made it 7-4 before striking out Christian Yelich.
Seventh, why didn’t Lucas Duda blast a three-run homer to cap the bottom of the fourth when he had he chance? Three innings had passed since he had the golden opportunity to put the game away (as if a six-run edge and Matt Harvey weren’t reassurance enough) and I was still desperately mentally seeking tack-on runs.
Eighth, Brad Hand started the bottom of the seventh hitting Travis d’Arnaud’s hand. I would’ve preferred Travis d’Arnaud had hit Brad Hand’s d’Arnaud. It doesn’t work that way. D’Arnaud was instantly removed. This didn’t look like a precaution. This looked like a truckload of trouble.
Ninth, Buddy Carlyle, the bullpen savior from Opening Day and Saturday night, had nothing in the eighth, but where was Terry Collins going to turn? He’d already used his top two lefties, he was saving his closer for an inning later and what happened to our overloaded eight-man bullpen anyway? Even our seven-man bullpen, now that Blevins was being examined somewhere in the stadium bowels, seemed amazingly inadequate to the task of extinguishing the Miami Marlins. Buddy, who’s been persevering in baseball since Dallas Green was making the calls to the Met bullpen, persevered to finish out the inning, which was great. Less great: It was now 7-6.
Tenth, my briefly recharged phone had enough juice left in it to bring me up to speed on the Mets missing in action. Blevins had suffered a fracture. D’Arnaud had suffered a fracture, too. His right hand was broken. Anybody within earshot of me who didn’t know this news knew it soon enough by my repeated use of a particular four-letter word. The Mets were going for eight wins in a row. I may have racked up a dozen consecutive expletives.
Eleventh, the Marlins got the tying run to second off Familia. It all came down to Stanton. It always comes down to Stanton. Fortunately, the final encounter in which he was involved came down on the side of Familia and the Mets. What was once a 7-1 romp ended a 7-6 nailbiter…with casualties.
A win being a win, I was more celebratory than mournful. I willfully ignored what happened to our budding star catcher and our essential lefty reliever. I tried to forget that d’Arnaud and Blevins had joined the unparticipating ranks of Edgin, Wheeler, Black, Mejia and Wright. I temporarily overcame my inevitable tetherance to the past and tamped down my impulse to invoke 1972, the year when a superb Met start (25-7) was obliterated by an outbreak of injuries. I wondered a little about what Kevin Plawecki would show as the new catcher and Hansel Robles would add to the bullpen, but neither of those pending callups would appear at Citi Field until Tuesday, and on Sunday that was a world away.
I wanted to stay in the world we’d been building since last Monday, when the Mets came home and took three of three from the Phillies and four of four from the Marlins while we urged them on with the kind of passion previously thought to have fallen victim to deep-seated cynicism and a diligent demolition crew. I wanted this week to go on forever, or at least into next week. I wanted the fourth inning to stay with me.
It did. It has. It will.