- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

And You Don’t Stop

One look at the dark clouds encroaching from the west led me to an unassailable conclusion, which I shared with my friend Joe as we sat waiting in the third row of Promenade, section 508, for the top of the ninth inning to commence Thursday afternoon.

“End times,” I declared mostly seriously, “are coming.”

Joe glanced up from his scorebook, assessed the atmosphere and tacitly agreed.

“It’s been nice knowing you, Greg.”

Then there was a clap of thunder emanating from, I’m guessing, the Mr. Softee cart in the food court behind us. It was a little too close for comfort, especially considering how little comfort had been available to us all day. A six-run Mets lead had recently been whittled to two; I was drenched in enough sweat that you’d have thought I’d just hustled over from opening for Bette Midler at the Continental Baths; and Camp Day — because the Mets aren’t camp enough every day — was still going surprisingly strong and surprisingly loud. Since 12:10 Camp Day kids had been responding to every Noise Meter tickler the Citi Vision board had put before them, as if they needed the challenge. Their screams weren’t as loud as the thunder, but they were unnerving in their own way. They were still screaming nearly three hours after they’d begun.

Put it all together, and it was enough to drive a diehard toward a life preserver.

“I’ll meet you down in the concourse after the last out,” I told Joe, hoping “last out” wasn’t to be taken literally, as in the last out prior to the impending rapture.

I watched Jeurys Familia [1] make quick work of two Padres and get one strike on a third — Derek Norris [2], the devil Friar who personally changed the score from 7-1 to 7-5 two innings earlier — from veritable safety. I could see it was starting to rain, but baseball games with only an instant or two left to them could withstand a shower, even a downpour. The Dodgers eliminated the Phillies from the NLCS in that kind of rain in 1977. The Giants did the same to the Cardinals in 2012. This was just the Mets and the San Diego Padres in the heat of nothing more than a summer’s day. Surely they could dance another couple of steps between the raindrops and give Joe and me and campers from all over the Metropolitan Area something to enjoy on our respective ways home…assuming we weren’t all being Called Home in a different vein.

There would be no next instant for Familia, no oh-one pitch for more than half-an-hour. The weather started getting rough; Citi Field was tossed; if not for the courage of the Mets ground crew, the infield would be lost.

The next thunderclap was more like a standing ovation, and not for a shortstop who thought he’d been traded. This one said get out of the stands, get off of the field, get out of the monsoon that is about swallow Flushing whole. I was met down in the concourse by Joe and by everybody else. Hundreds of campers remained and now needed to be corralled by counselors who probably didn’t sign up for this particular duty. Every boom of thunder, every crack of lightning was met with shrieks you hadn’t heard since Luis Castillo [3] circled under a pop fly one borough away.

The counselors tried to distract their campers by leading them in repetitious chants, somehow skipping Let’s Go Mets. At their and our feet, lagoons like you’d see at Shea Stadium…lagoons the size of Shea Stadium…formed. To call them puddles is to refer to the Atlantic Ocean as your bathtub. The rain blew in horizontally. Security shooed the curious from sticking as much a head out from under for a clearer look at the thick, gray skies. They could not be held responsible for your imminent extinction if you did.

The video screens showed 1986 Mets: A Year To Remember, as if to give us one final pleasant memory before we were washed away for good.

As it turns out, the rains subsided, then evaporated. The camp groups were able to depart. Citi Field grew quiet, save for Larry Keith’s expert narration and the Duran Duran soundtrack that emphasized just what wild boys Lenny Dykstra [4] and Wally Backman [5] were back in the day. Dozens remained along the first base side of Promenade, Joe and I among them. The seats were too wet to sit in, but that wasn’t a big deal. We weren’t going to be long.

At 3:15, when we’d been standing around for about 20 minutes, it was announced the two teams would retake the field at 3:30. One more out would be recorded and we could all go home. The grounds crew was diligently sweeping away the water that sat in front of the Padres dugout, which I thought was a lot of trouble to go to for just one out’s worth of baseball. This, I suggested to Joe, must have been what it felt like at Yankee Stadium that night in 1983 when they opened the place up to play the final four outs of the Pine Tar Game.

Around 3:25 the field looked fairly immaculate. We were antsy to see the end of our 7-5 Mets win. Did they really have to wait until 3:30? Couldn’t Norris get his ass up to the plate now? Couldn’t Terry send in…

Hey, who was Terry going to send in? Familia looked fine getting those first two outs, but we were staring at something like a 35-minute delay. Jeurys was going at it in the Flushing tropics and then he was sent, I’m guessing, to cool his heels in an air conditioned room. Aren’t pitchers supposed to not be left to their own devices for that long a period? Wasn’t Carlos Torres [6] fresh and capable of a single out with nobody on? (Yes, I realize I was advocating for one of the Tsuris Bros. over our de facto All-Star closer, but this was a first guess based on circumstances more than personalities or track records.)

Familia returned to the mound. Oh well, I tried to rationalize, Terry might actually know his pitchers better than I do. Maybe the rain delay won’t have an effect on Jeurys. “Water and rain have always been a blessing to me,” Pedro Martinez [7] said in his memoir, referring to the night Shea’s sprinklers surprised him in the midst of pitching. “That’s what this felt like.” Perhaps it would feel the same for Familia.

Six minutes later, all blessings had turned cursed. As we stood behind an unoccupied Promenade Box section, Norris stayed alive on an oh-two count before dropping a hit into short right field; he was now 5-for-5. Matt Kemp [8], who’s been around long enough to have played in a playoff series against the New York Mets (but didn’t, despite having been a rookie on the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers), poked a fast grounder through a hole just right of Ruben Tejada [9] at short. Next up was Justin Upton [10], or “The Upton,” as Joe and I would come to label him in short order when we decided his secret identity could be that of Batman archvillain.

Not so secret, I suppose. The Upton lined Familia’s second pitch far and deep to center, through the raindrops — for they were falling anew — and over the fence.

The Mets were trailing the Padres, 8-7. The only worst-case scenario we had conjured while waiting in the concourse had come to pass. It might as well have been end times.

Familia got the third out.

Joe, as peaceful a sort as you’d be fortunate to know, punched the hell out of an abandoned Goose Island Beer cart.

The rain intensified.

The grounds crew attempted to unroll the tarp.

The tarp attempted to devour the grounds crew.

The game was on pause yet again.

We weren’t. We decided we’d had enough.

Joe hardly ever bolts before the conclusion of affairs — I think our last mutual early exit was the nightcap after the Craig Counsell [11] Game in 2002 — but there was no sign the rains would ever slacken and there was no stomach to endure what was likely to occur if they did. Joe’s got this great optimistic streak. Every one of his freakish hypotheticals always has the Mets coming back to win, but even he couldn’t sell that kind of sunny outcome to himself. I’m not nearly as sanguine. I was there the night before, which should indicate that my goodwill toward best-case scenarios was already well frazzled.

Wednesday represented my annual moment of Ben. Ben is a friend who was good enough to stop on his way to starting law school to invite me, as he does every year, to see a game with him. Ben’s an optimist, too. Ben was undergrad at the University of Arizona and cheered his heart out for their teams, most of whom did a lot of winning. I don’t want to tamp down his enthusiasm as he tries to apply the ol’ school spirit to the occasionally amateurish Mets. Thus, when we watched from 310 on Wednesday night, I attempted with every sweat-covered ounce of enthusiasm I could muster to partake in his patented six-run rally in the bottom of the ninth way of thinking. Once we saw Lucas Duda [12] sock his third home run, it didn’t seem all that crazy.

Then, of course, it did.

Alas, all I wound up with at the end of the 7-3 Met loss was a little more shvitz and a lot more wear on my phone’s battery, as together we tried to follow the Wilmer Flores [13] saga, featuring Carlos Gomez [14] and guest-starring Zack Wheeler [15], from our seats and then the 7 Super Express. We were among those who made Wilmer emotional by standing and applauding him on his presumed way out. We thought we were contributing to a beautiful, spontaneous moment of fan support. We didn’t know we were part of some nefarious social media plot to undermine our manager’s and general manager’s best-laid plans or lack thereof.

I’ve been asked several times since Thursday’s inevitable loss went final — the Mets waited about three hours to make three more outs, by which time I was home and slightly drier — if this had been the worst or strangest or Metsiest 24 hours I’d ever seen. That’s a lot to put on one blown six-run lead (granted, the first of its kind in Queens since 1970) and one colorfully aborted trade. As is usually the case with those kinds of questions, the answer is if you’re having the conversation, it doesn’t really matter where it ranks. What matters is you’ve been motivated to have the conversation.

Thursday they lost [16]. Wednesday they lost. Wednesday you know from [17] in terms of the Met trade that wasn’t, the Met internal communications that went every which way but between anybody who could have clarified things internally and the Met infielder who still is a Met infielder until otherwise notified. There’s no need for me to add to the abundance of analysis of what is bound to wind up in public relations class text books as a “what can go wrong will go wrong” case study for a generation to come. But I will say I wish the Mets had handled the aftermath differently.

Instead of harumphing it away, the Mets should have embraced their debacle. You’ve heard the expression, “Stranger things have happened”? This is a franchise built on the strangest things. And the day after the story broke would have been perfect. It was July 30. July 30 is a charmed date in Mets history. On July 30, 1890, Casey Stengel [18] was born. He’d grow up to manage Mets who drove him to (probably) ask, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” It’s a query that’s never far from our tongues as we watch his Amazin’ descendants. On July 30, 1969, the Mets were getting blown out of a doubleheader at home against Houston. Gil Hodges [19] didn’t like the level of Cleon Jones [20]’s defensive commitment. Hodges marched out to left field and removed Jones at once. Long story short, a message was sent and from that nadir grew ultimate victory, with Cleon standing in the same vicinity of where he’d been unceremoniously removed, this time catching the year’s final fly ball. Like Casey’s pithy quote, Gil’s purposeful march to left is legend.

The night we thought Wilmer Flores had been traded, moving us to move him to tears, is already legend. I say expand on it. Here’s what I would have done yesterday, July 30, 2015:

• Put Wilmer Flores merchandise (if there is any) on closeout special in the team stores, but just for one inning. Attribute the sudden sale to an unavoidable misunderstanding

• Splice 2007 Carlos Gomez highlights into the usual rally reels and see if anybody notices.

• Retire Wilmer’s No. 4 in a touching pregame ceremony…and then unretire it in a slightly less touching pregame ceremony five minutes later.

• Record a PSA in which Terry Collins urges all fans to use their mobile devices with utmost caution — “or better yet, just watch the game while you’re at the game.”

• Get Wilmer to endorse GroundLink Transportation, the official ground transportation provider of the New York Mets: “I may not know whether I’m coming or going, but I can always depend on GroundLink to get me somewhere.”

• Set a montage of Wilmer’s home runs (assuming they are adaptable to modern technology; he hasn’t hit one since kinescopes) to a loop of Gary Cohen’s “OUTTA HERE!” calls. And then bring the soundtrack to a screeching halt.

• Make Zack Wheeler the answer to every trivia question, since it seems we’ve all kind of forgotten who he is. Or was.

Instead, the Mets pretended nothing happened, built a six-run lead, blew a six-run lead, waited and waited and waited and lost. Ben, glutton for Metishment, was at Thursday’s game, too, but unlike Joe and me, he stuck around to the bitter, bitter, bitter end. I predict that when he graduates from law school, he will pursue a career in which he tirelessly advocates for the underdog.

Though I skipped that final half-inning, I’ll keep rooting for the team that came up short. End times? Ha! Once you get into this, there is no end to this. This week marked two personal Met milestones that absolutely nobody forced on me. Thursday was my 200th game at Citi Field — that was fast — and Wednesday was five years since the last Mets game I entirely missed. I napped through the action of July 29, 2010, also a 12:10 start, except one that followed a thirteen-inning marathon the night before that I got home from late, wrote about [21] until dawn and then stayed up some more to drive my wife to the station and then resume my other work. I then opted to lie down for just a few minutes that became the entirety of a swift R.A. Dickey [22] start, one I blogged [23] anyway.

Since then, I’ve watched or listened to or attended at least a small portion (usually more; usually most) of every regular-season Mets game that’s been played. Regardless of what else I’m doing, it’s what I seem to do. It’s a hard habit to break. As disgusted as I was after The Upton foiled Familia, I’m not seeking to break it. I’d just like possibly positive trades to be consummated; seemingly prohibitive leads to be maintained; and potential pennant race showdowns with the likes of the Nationals to live up to their tentative billing.

After these past five years of uninterrupted observation, when only massive rains and astounding frustration have served to sidetrack me, I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for.