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The Orosco Ovation

In the land of small sample sizes, the curious factoid is king, so all hail this minuscule nugget: The current series against the Red Sox represents the first series in which the Mets have dropped the first two home games versus Boston since the 1986 World Series.

Obviously, a world championship is just days away.

Until then, on the heels of listlessly losing a second consecutive “unusual” Interleague matchup [1] to those stubborn Sox, we’ll have to make due with our slightly diminished first-place lead of 5½ games and take solace in Saturday being only the second day in three weeks when Washington actually gained ground in what we hope will soon stop qualifying as a pennant race and start registering as a runaway.

Winning in a walkover would be quite acceptable, too, but we don’t want to be greedy. We’ll take whatever we can get from our lofty National League East perch where only Mets and their trusty parakeet sidekicks dare to soar. We’ll surely take our Jesse Orosco [2] bobbleheads and show up as early as we have to secure them.

If you were at Citi Field Saturday afternoon as I was, perhaps you nearly fainted as I could have at the sight of lines, lines and more lines outside the Jackie Robinson [3] Rotunda two hours before first pitch. I know the game was sold out. I know the bobblehead was to be granted to only the first 15,000 ticketholders (which is downright miserly, but that’s another story). I know bobbleheads are one of the few items to which I would affix the overworked adjective awesome.

But all of a sudden we’re lining up two hours early for a giveaway? Wow. We as a people have never done that as best as I can recall. I’ve shown up at Citi for just about every bobblehead handed out since the place opened and by arriving about an hour ahead of time, I’ve never entered the joint disappointed. I couldn’t believe a two-hour lead time would be required for bobble purposes.

The buzz was unmistakable in the week leading up to Jesse Orosco Bobblehead Day, however: get there way early or get completely shut out. So Joe and I got there way early, we got on/in line (behind a brood of anticipant Bostonians, which is its own brand of weird) and we got what was coming to us. Once that primary mission was accomplished, there was still well over an hour-and-a-half until our secondary mission of watching the Mets play ball could commence.

Have to say it again: wow.

All things being equal, I don’t mind spending an extra hour inside a ballpark. I think it was the first time I saw anybody (the visitors) take batting practice without my having to flash a press pass or some similar credential. It’s probably more fun to take in from Promenade than it is up close. Still, the whole idea that you’d better get there by two o’clock for a four o’clock start’s premium was startlingly strange.

Citi Field is like this now. It has lines and people and buzz. It’s wonderful, even if on Saturday it only served to preface a game whose air came out of it almost immediately. You put a baserunner on third in the first and second and you score no runs, it’s a bad sign. Jacob deGrom [4] was untouchable for five innings, and then just touchable enough in the sixth. Joe Kelly [5] was never in anything resembling trouble. Ultimately the only on-field highlights were Eric O’Flaherty’s failure to completely implode and Bartolo Colon [6]’s tantalizing success in a new role.

To be fair, O’Flaherty and Colon did essentially the same thing: they each pitched a spotty but scoreless inning. Yet Colon was the revelation, pitching in relief for the first time as a Met — maybe a harbinger of October, if there is such a month in the Mets’ future — while O’Flaherty might have been throwing his last frame here. After the game, word spread that Addison Reed [7] was on his way from the Diamondbacks [8]. I assume he was obtained to replace O’Flaherty. At least that’s my fervent hope. Too bad the rumors didn’t swirl sooner. We could have given Eric a Wilmerian sendoff, albeit an intensely sarcastic one.

The Met offense didn’t click whatsoever, save for the Boys of Late July, Kelly Johnson [9] and Juan Uribe [10], combining to create a single run in the seventh, by which time the Red Sox had scored an insurmountable three. After a week when every number quoted was sensational and indicative of spectacular achievement, the last two games have been marked by two depressing statistics:

• On Friday, Red Sox pitchers walked 12 Met batters and the Mets lost anyway.

• On Saturday, Met pitchers struck out 16 Red Sox batters and the Mets lost anyway.

The tendency things have to even out may have been on display. The Mets couldn’t lose at home and couldn’t win on the road and now that’s evening out. The Mets couldn’t hit but could surely pitch for the longest time. The evened out until re-evening out. Given the Mets’ presence at 13 games over .500, I hope the evening out soon ceases, because I don’t want to spend the final 33 contests of 2015 in a 10-23 slide that gets us to the quintessentially evened out record of 81-81.

See how easy it is to get carried away when you’ve lost two in a row? So stop losing any in a row altogether, Mets.

Things were never exactly even-Steven for Jesse Orosco, New York Met from 1979 through 1987 (save for 1980, when he was a Tidewater Tide, which was only like being a Met). Those of us who lived the Orosco era remember a shaky, young lefty at the beginning, a dazzling stopper in the middle, a typically aggravating closer after a while and then an avatar of apocalypse by the end. His arc in Flushing crashed. If you mentioned Orosco by the latter days of ’87 and suggested anybody line up outside Shea, somebody would have brought a length of rope.

But nobody thinks of that anymore. They don’t think of the Jesse who wasn’t ready in 1979, the Jesse who had to feel his way in 1982 or even the Jesse who earned All-Star honors in 1983 and 1984. Anybody who was around for Jesse — and certainly anybody who knows him only from a loop of video clips — thinks only of Jesse flinging his glove skyward. Orosco pitched in 380 regular-season and postseason games for the Mets. He only did that glove thing twice, once in Houston against the Astros, once at Shea against the Red Sox. The latter episode (technically its knee-dropping, fist-raising immediate aftermath) was captured on 15,000 bobbleheads. I am the proud owner of one of them.

On October 27, 1986, you know what Jesse Orosco did and how it is revered to this day. On September 9, 1986, you probably have no idea that the very same closer couldn’t hold a 7-6 ninth-inning lead versus Montreal. Jesse allowed a two-run homer to Andre Dawson [11] and an insurance run besides. The Mets went on to lose, 9-7. Prior to that outing, he’d fashioned a scoreless streak of 11⅓ innings. The Mets’ lead remained 21 games despite Orosco’s faux pas. Just one of those things, you might say.

The Shea throng said differently on that Tuesday night. Jesse was hooted off the mound. “No one on this ballclub deserves to be booed,” declared frequent jeer target Darryl Strawberry [12]. “You hate to see Jesse or anyone get booed.” Orosco had less to say about his treatment to reporters: “I’m still not talking, sorry.”

Less than seven weeks later, Jesse’s heavenbound glove spoke volumes.

Lesson? Win the game that wins your club the World Series (along with three others in the playoffs). It will elevate you toward immortality. People will line up for your ceramic likeness. People will line up for your autograph once they’ve received your likeness (and there was a long line for it at the top of the Rotunda escalators). A person who answers an on-camera trivia question in which you are the answer will meet you as the “surprise” guest and appear to nearly faint from joy. A crowd that witnesses you coming out to greet the trivia-answerer will jump to its feet and applaud you in appreciation for doing what you did 29 years earlier, something nobody has done for them since.

You, Jesse Orosco, became the symbol of the franchise at its finest hour, winning the seventh game of the last World Series it won. You could go 3-9 with a 4.44 ERA the next year; give up the home run to Luis Aguayo [13] that absolutely buried the last chance the Mets had of repeating as world champions; get traded to Los Angeles, help them beat the Mets for the 1988 pennant; and keep pitching for seemingly everybody but the Mets through 2003; and you’ll still forever be that symbol of when everything was perfect.

The Mets nesting in first place by a comfortable margin as the Red Sox of all possible opponents came to town was a nice coincidence as the promotional calendar flipped to August 29. The 1986 overtones are stronger when there’s a reason to believe 1986 won’t always be awaiting its endlessly overdue sequel. (Kudos to whoever decided to set Kiss Cam to a medley of 1986 love songs — nice touch!) The current standings probably had more to do with the buzz and the lines and the people than the chance to stare at Jesse Orosco in all possible forms. But the image of Jesse and what he represents is magnetic enough to attract you to thoughts that transcend a ho-hum 3-1 defeat. It made me think that I look forward to Joe and I returning to Citi Field on some future Saturday to pick up our Jeurys Familia [14] bobbleheads, the ones which capture the exact pose Jeurys struck upon recording the final out of the 2015 World Series.

Maybe it won’t take 29 years to schedule that promotion.

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Thanks to all of you who expressed such lovely and heartfelt sentiments regarding my dad’s situation [15]. You’re wonderful readers and even better listeners.