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

And The Mets Play On

Maybe all the Mets needed was a little sunshine. The sun makes living things grow. The Mets appeared to be the opposite of a living thing since departing Cincinnati with a division title stuffed in their luggage [1]. Perhaps they were under the impression they had entered the afterlife.

Not quite. They had only qualified for it. There was a little business left to be taken care of back on earth, a little pulse to be shown. They proceeded to play five games under cover of either darkness or clouds. The results reflected the gloom.

Sunday the sun came out. And so did the Mets, who did just enough to make the rest of us shine. Heaven no longer waits. It arrives unencumbered, at a time to be announced, this Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Funny thing about depositing yourself at a sun-kissed ballpark for the last few hours it was supposed to be open for the year. You forget your problems. You forget your team’s problems. You forget the total lack of scoring from the several games before. You forget the total lack of hits from the game directly before [2]. You remember that even though the game you’re at was slated to mark the end of yet another season, this year it serves as a gateway to something potentially divine.

Under the Sunday sun at Citi Field, in Game 162, the Mets beat the Nationals, 1-0 [3]. One run more than their opponent — any opponent at this point — was all we needed to burnish our brightness. We got it. We got it against the Nationals, which was a nice and I’d say necessary boost for our collective self-esteem. The Nationals lost and went home. That’s where they were headed anyway, but it was better to send them away emptyhanded. Their disappearance from October before October really gets going provided a healthy reminder that it is the Mets who are sticking around to take a bite out of the meat of the month.

The Mets are going on to play more baseball. They start the new fall season Friday. They were the breakout hit of the summer. We’ll see how their act plays in prime time. Right now just knowing that they’ll be there to tune in to is pretty special. It was special knowing that on Sunday.

Ah, Sunday. Closing Day. It’s my thing every year [4] at the end of the baseball year. I’ve come to cherish it more than Opening Day. It’s when I reflect a lot and mourn a little and appreciate a ton. But what about the rare year like this one when the Day in question is less about Closing and more about keeping the gate ajar?

What one sacrifices in sense of closure is more than made up for by the sensation of anticipation. My gosh, knowing the Mets and Citi Field will remain open for a while longer, maybe a significant while longer, doesn’t detract from Closing Day at all. It adds a whole savory dimension to the experience.

Thus, I wasn’t my usual melancholy self on the train ride in Sunday. I wasn’t kissing, hugging or heartily handshaking the season and its inhabitants goodbye. I wasn’t slumped into my seat at the end as I tend to be when the last out is recorded. I was light on my toes in my head all Closing Day long.

There was still the pageantry I arrange for myself on the occasion of the final regularly scheduled home game, a date I have now kept with the Mets for 21 consecutive seasons, 23 in all. There was the Chapman tailgate extraordinaire, this year with a Seaver Vineyards [5]-supplied toast to a division title just won and a division series just ahead. There was a dime (or more) dropped on a t-shirt, a pennant and a pin that confirms the Mets really are champions of something. Usually Stephanie and I search the team store for clearance items. This year the shelves were stocked with new merchandise. It was no bargain, but I can’t question the value.

We walked the field level one more time. We said hi to people we see mostly at Citi Field. People who see us mostly at Citi Field said hi to us. We stopped in our tracks when the PA gave me what I’d been wanting to hear since April: Bobby Darin welcoming us to “Sunday In New York,” a song that had been a Sunday staple in Flushing dating back to early in the century. I thought they stopped playing it [6], the way they stopped playing “Takin’ Care Of Business [7]” after Mets wins. I was willing to move on from BTO to Ace Frehley in the name of changing our luck, but I’d been missing Bobby Darin something awful.

“If you’ve got troubles/Just take them out for a walk/They’ll burst like bubbles/In the fun of a Sunday in New York.” I’ve got troubles. We’ve all got troubles. The Mets aren’t one of them. Sometimes we act as if they are. Even when we’ve had an appointment with the Dodgers guaranteed for more than a week we could, amid the clouds and the darkness, convince ourselves the sky was if not falling, then drifting dangerously downward.

On Closing Day, with the sun prominent and friends along the trail and postseason logos in evidence, there was no trouble at Citi Field. There were no hits for the Nationals for most of seven innings, albeit without the drama Max Scherzer [8] provided Saturday night. Terry Collins was changing pitchers like a neurotic foot changes socks, yet no arm — not deGrom’s, not Colon’s, not Verrett’s and, until it finally did so a little flukily, not Niese’s — gave up a Washington base knock. Then the regular bullpen guys Reed and Clippard resumed keeping the Nats hit out of luck.

The Mets who hadn’t scored since Cincinnati (or so it seemed) didn’t score until the eighth, when Curtis Granderson [9] hit a ball over a fence. But they did score and they had an entire run more than the Nats. See? No trouble. It was 1-0, Jeurys Familia [10] coming on for the save that would tie Armando Benitez [11]’s single-season mark of 43. Two outs were quickly recorded.

Finally, it was Familia versus Bryce Harper [12] to end it. Or not end it. Harper stroked the first pristine hit of the day, a double to left. Or was it a single and he was out on Michael Conforto [13]’s bullet of a throw to second? Harper was called safe. Collins challenged. Good move, aesthetics notwithstanding. Let Terry get tactical. It’s not like those challenges can be saved for another day.

A replay was watched from a thousand angles. Harper was ruled safe again. Harper is a superb player. I hope someday the relationship between his excellence and our distaste for it has some edge taken off of it. I didn’t like that after he was hit by a pitch Saturday afternoon and briefly writhed in pain that he was hooted on his way to first. Karma doesn’t care for that reaction. Karma was disgusted when Mets fans cheered Kirk Gibson [14] pulling up lame at second base in the 1988 NLCS. See where that got us. Saturday Harper, writhing shaken off, hit the home run that won the day game. I wasn’t surprised. Boo Bryce, but hold the malice. Trust me. It will work better for us in the long run.

Anyway, Bryce was on second and I guess he’s technically if not physically still there. Jeurys left him on base when he flied Jayson Werth [15] to center to end the regular season. A Met had notched a 43rd save for the first time since 2001, which was when “Sunday in New York” entered my consciousness. The Mets, sporting a spiffy 90-72 record, won a 1-0 game for the first time in 2015, a veritable unicorn-style event [16] for a season that featured back-to-back 14-9 affairs [17] at the offense-fueled height of August. Better late than never to make with the pitching, defense and one-run homer.

The last time the Mets won, 1-0, on Closing Day was 1995, the year I began my current last scheduled home game attendance streak. They beat the Braves that Sunday in New York [18]. Bobby Cox [19] started John Smoltz [20] and pulled him after five the way Collins removed Jacob deGrom [21] after four. It was just a tuneup for the N.L. East champs. Their ticket to the postseason indelibly stamped, they were swept by the Mets that weekend. Those same Braves were so burdened by those three straight losses that they went out and won the World Series four weekends later.

You never know how these things will unfold, but I’ll happily take the 1-0 win in 2015 just as I happily took the 1-0 win in 1995. Strange habit I’ve developed. When I go to see the Mets play, I leave happier if I’ve seen the Mets win.

Connoisseurs of Closing Day know the day isn’t done just because the game is over. You stand and you applaud and you wait to see what will happen next. It used to be the best you could hope for was a montage of video clips from the season we’d just persevered through and maybe a cluster of Mets gathering outside their dugout and tossing a few wristbands and well wishes to the fans nearby.

This time we got something more. We got something I’d never previously seen a Mets team do.

The Mets, every wonderful one of ’em, transformed themselves into a human highlight film. They came out en masse and they waved, but they didn’t stop there. They jogged the circumference of the field. They greeted every segment of the stadium. It would have been easy enough to make a beeline to the 7 Line Army out in center and then a beeline right back into their clubhouse. The 7 Liners are the most visible cluster of fans at any game they hold down seats and they can’t help but attract the most attention.

These Mets, though, symbolically recognized everybody who came out to recognize them. It was such a simple gesture, yet it ran so deep. The manager circled the field. The captain circled the field (and later grabbed a microphone in order to share a few gratitude-laced sentiments with us before encouraging all of us, “Let’s go beat L.A.”). Everybody from Yoenis Cespedes [22] to everybody who isn’t Yoenis Cespedes circled the field. The effect was electric. It was like they, the players, knew who we were and how much we care; like they knew we show up to see them across 81 home games plus however many times some of us hit the road to lend them support. All we ask for in the course of the season is that the hitters pile up runs and the pitchers allow almost none. We wouldn’t have thought of asking for this.

Yet they thought to give it to us. It was a splendid moment, maybe never to be repeated again in my lifetime. Or it will be repeated following another few clinchings and become Met tradition, like the video montage used to be, like “Sunday In New York” used to be. Who knows? I know I won’t forget it.

That’s my leitmotif every Closing Day, not forgetting because there’s so much to remember, so much to tie up and take into winter. This Closing Day, however, winter was nowhere in sight, ballpark chill notwithstanding. This Closing Day we bundled and stacked only so many memories. We are privileged to be able to add to them beginning this Friday in Los Angeles. It’s a shame Games One and Two and potentially Five won’t take place at Citi Field. It’s a blessing that our number of games remaining isn’t down to zero.

Here’s to the 2015 that’s happened. Here’s to the 2015 still to come.