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The Tradition Continues

What used to be trivia is now widely disseminated fact, so there’ll be no wowing you with the historical nugget that the Mets have never won the first game of a World Series. Don Buford [1], Ken Holtzman [2], Bruce Hurst [3], Jose Vizcaino [4] and Alex Gordon [5] — among others — have seen to that. And if the first game of the World Series is truly the Super Bowl of baseball, then it’s no wonder that each of those Met opponents has gone down in franchise lore as the ultimate knife in the back of Metsian destiny.

Ah, but wait a second. The first game of the World Series truly isn’t the Super Bowl. Despite the multiple days of advance hype, despite the relative (for baseball) overload of pageantry, despite the unfortunate involvement of Joe Buck, there is no comparison between Big Events where the Super Bowl and the World Series are concerned. George Carlin can rest easy.

The Super Bowl would be over by now. The World Series is just getting started. Yes, there’s more, though Tuesday night’s opener would have seemed to have had everything for everybody, save for a Mets win for Mets fans. I’m surprised Game One isn’t still going on, Chris Young [6] tossing his one-hundred thirty-seventh hitless inning.

Or are the Royals saving that for Game Two?

In a sport whose guiding principle after its actions didn’t go the way you wanted them to is “whaddayagonnado,” well, what are you going to do? The Mets lost their first World Series game in fifteen years in fourteen innings [7], 5-4. They led Kansas City by scores of 3-1 and 4-3, the latter in the ninth inning, which is definitely the inning during which four out of five dentists who watch baseball games recommend leading. That really happened.

It also happened that at various turns in Game One, the Mets did not look like much of a World Series team. They appeared neither sharp, crisp, fluid, ship-shape nor Bristol fashion. Yet they led twice and remained very much eligible for victory as of the fourteenth inning, which concluded at, I think, a quarter after eternity. They weren’t dead, merely comatose.

And they still lost by only one run. They could have pulled the damn thing out.

• Despite a first pitch from Matt Harvey [8] to Alcides Escobar [9] that confounded the combined outfield wits of Michael Conforto [10] and Yoenis Cespedes [11] and evolved at the speed of light from a 7 or 8 on your scorecard to a leadoff inside-the-park home run, as if you see one of those every day.

• Despite Harvey’s six innings of Dark Knightness looking more twilighty than pitch black.

• Despite immortal slugging Daniel Murphy [12] reverting to regular singles-hitting Daniel Murphy (like Fox [13], he must’ve opted out of his satellite feed).

• Despite Michael Cuddyer [14], which rhymes with retire, which if you’re thinking that’s what he should do — three DH ABs, three Ks — then it’s confidence his continued participation positively does not inspire.

• Despite a collective 1-for-10 with RISP and 11 LOB, not all of which can be pinned on K-K-Kuddyer.

• Despite the enormous GDMF!!!! when Gordon took Jeurys Familia [15] to the deepest part of Kauffman Stadium, or practically onto the entrance ramp for I-70 two outs from a 4-3 Mets win. That NSFW reaction, which rang out all over Metsopotamia, won’t show up in the box score, but it sure spilled oodles of India Ink across the agate type of your morning newspaper (and ultimately kept your blogger up so late that he eventually slept through his self-imposed pre-dawn deadline; sorry ’bout that).

• Despite Young, the epitome of “serviceable” during his two-year Met tenure, revealing his given first and middle names are Denton and True as he shut down the Mets in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth innings, frames which are great to be playing in but frightful not to be hitting during.

With the reincarnation of Denton T. “Chris” Young towering above them from the Kauffman mound as the clock struck It’s Still On?, it was clear the Mets would have to dig deep and be perfect to somehow win a game that stayed tied forever. It was clear the Mets weren’t in their perfection mode let alone their most Amazin’ mode. Mostly they were in Mets mode. They played all night, they sprinkled moments of delight amid hours of frustration, and after getting all they could have asked for out of the likes of Addison Reed [16], Jon Niese [17] and Bartolo Colon [18], they were at last bound to give out if they couldn’t take what was there for the snatching.

So they gave. Colon, in his third inning of doing what he doesn’t normally do, was undone from jump in the bottom of the fourteenth as valiant Captain David Wright [19] first misplayed and then flung indiscriminately a hot leadoff grounder from Escobar. Escobar was safe and doom hung heavy in the night air. Ben Zobrist [20], who the Mets really should have picked up at the trading deadline just to avoid confronting him repeatedly and futilely in their first World Series game in fifteen years, singled Escobar to third. Runners on the corners, nobody out…this would have been the ideal moment to have Fox’s picture and sound disappear.

Anytime Fox’s sound disappears is ideal, actually.

Terry Collins went to his intentional walk tactics, moves that twice allowed Colon to wriggle out of the twelfth (and if Bartolo can wriggle, there’s hope for us all). When your only reasonable answer to first and third is to make it first, second and third, you’re not playing to your strong suit. The Mets had their strongest suit, Familia, fold for the first time in three months in the ninth. Maybe it just wasn’t going to be their night.

And it wasn’t. After walking Lorenzo Cain [21] to load the bases, Eric Hosmer [22] lofted a deep fly ball to right that Curtis Granderson [23] — who’d already homered and made a superb leaping catch — threw home as if imbued by the spirit of Ellis Valentine [24]. Curtis has no arm to speak of, so it was a phenomenal sight to see the ball arrive only a little to the first base side of the plate and only a little too late to be of any use whatsoever.

The Royals, who filled their own barrel with a mess of despites and drawbacks, prevailed, 5-4. They got to bounce around like silly schoolkids who’d inhaled one too many Pixy Stix past their bedtime. Once they pulled themselves apart from their glorious embrace, they were invited to relax and pull up a chair on all the postgame gabfests. The Mets, who lost their fifth World Series Game One (but the only one that counts this year), were assigned the unenviable role of other team. Their interrogations were 180 degrees removed from giddy, grimly conducted among tight spaces and sullen faces. Just one game, they probably said. It was too late to pay a whole lot of attention.

Yet they were probably right. Just one game. Just as it was in those first games of those other World Series, none of which was decided because of just one game. The Mets won two of those World Series, took another to its maximum capacity and didn’t easily give up on the other. Just one game.

And some good things were embedded somewhere in there, paramount among them is that they have become a full-fledged experienced World Series team. Eighteen Mets besides Juan Uribe [25] can now say they’ve taken part in a Fall Classic, some initially doing more with it than others, but the unfamiliarity factor (not to be confused with the unFamilialike factor) is gone. If they were nervous about being in a World Series, there’s no longer cause for it. They withstood fourteen innings, five hours and nine minutes of prime-time intensity. Perhaps not as well as the Royals did, but better than most regular people could. Definitely better than Fox did. They’re still in this thing. They have to win four out of six instead of four out of seven is all.

As for how one fan watched his team’s first World Series appearance in fifteen years…

My car that’s been my car so long that it could have been used to ferry baby Noah Syndergaard [26] from the hospital chose the other night to make the kind of noise the lot of us did when Gordon homered off Familia. Like our reaction, it was not good. That car is presently in repair, which is relevant to this portion of my Game One account because some of you will recall my goal was to drive to my father’s current residence, a nursing and rehabilitation facility not particularly convenient to where I live, and watch the World Series with him. It is not easily reached by means other than automobile (never mind that I’d usually rather watch replays of Michael Cuddyer flailing and missing than get behind the wheel of anything).

But a promise is a promise and a plan is a plan, no matter mechanical issues that skew the plan. So off I went on the Long Island Rail Road, west to Jamaica, east to somewhere else, into a cab at a mostly foreign station and I made it to his room before first pitch and stayed until after final pitch. A kinder script would have given my dad and me a World Series triumph (to say nothing of a less expensive 1:30 in the morning cab ride back to my neck of the Long Island woods), but a kinder script would have had Dad at home without the problems that have landed him where he is.

Like the Mets, the important thing is we got to the World Series together. The setting won’t be confused with your sports bar of choice, but every TV in the joint seemed to have the Mets game on…which, come to think of it, makes it nothing like a sports bar before the Mets became big-time enough to capture all of New York’s attention. Those stories you hear about walking down the street in Flatbush and never missing a pitch because every radio in every window carried forth the voice of Red Barber? It was kind of like that every time I had reason to step into the hallway so my father could be attended to by some selfless soul who chose a most unglamorous profession. The World Series provides some unlikely scenarios, even less projectable than Familia serving up that lifeless fastball to Gordon. For example, one male nurse didn’t mind at all the chance to linger in Dad’s room and complain to us about the lousy umpiring.

In no baseball preview that I read last spring did I see that mentioned as a potential late-October development.

True, my father slept through a good bit of the evening’s festivities (emulating, perhaps, his favorite team’s offense), but he was impatient for the game to start at the beginning — his yelling at the TV was about as effective as any of Fox’s technological wizardry — and plotting along with Terry Collins at the end. (“Strategy!” he summarized when Cain was put on to bring up Hosmer.) With his permission, I tacked one of those orange towels from Citi Field to his bulletin board, which brightened the scenery exponentially and, I think, increased his propensity to chant “Let’s Go Mets!” now and again. If only they had listened.

He also authored the line of the night when he woke from his slumber to find me and the Mets continuing to hang around:

“This is still Game One, right?”

My first World Series memory is Game One from 1969, a Saturday afternoon. Why I, six years old and already hooked, wasn’t planted in front of a television mystifies me, but I clearly recall sitting alongside my twelve-year-old sister in the back seat of our old light blue Chrysler, a car that predated even the manufacture of my currently inactive light blue Corolla. Dad, whose patience for baseball was limited, turned the radio, likely at my request, to the Mets and Orioles as we pulled into the TSS parking lot. It was there that I heard Don Buford hit a home run off Tom Seaver [27] to give Baltimore a painfully quick 1-0 lead. First enemy batter in the first Mets World Series game and already they were losing. I was prepared to fret as a neophyte would, but my dad told me not to worry, there was still a long way to go.

It was a message that echoed 46 Octobers later in the aftermath of Escobar scoring what for us was the losing run. Dad and I told each other we had to Believe. At first I wasn’t in the mood to say it or hear it, just like I wasn’t when Buford’s fly ball eluded Ron Swoboda [28]’s outstretched glove. Then it sunk in: yes, of course, it was just one game in 1969 and we won the next four. It’s just one game in 2015 and we’ll see what happens starting tonight in Game Two. Hell, even my traditionally baseball-disengaged sister, for whom our National Pastime has always been a vague rumor at best, chimed in with text after text of encouragement as the eleventh became the twelfth became the thirteenth. Jesus, I thought, it’s like we’re all in the Chrysler going to TSS again.

If the Mets can make that feeling happen, they can do anything. Maybe even win.