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

Those Times You Don’t Know

Sometimes you just have a feeling. Sometimes you just know — no matter how long the odds, how deep the deficit, how frustrating the evening has been — that when it’s all over, your team is going to come through for you.

I knew no such thing Tuesday night. I can’t even say I had a feeling, because feeling fell victim to the brutal right field corner cold. The last feeling I’d had came before I left for the game, and that feeling was I could probably get away without extreme winter-style layering, that it’s late April and it’s not gonna be that bad.

It was. It was that bad. It’s late April on the shores of Flushing Bay. It’s always that bad. So I got that wrong and I shivered in service to cheering on the Mets. Actually, I didn’t do much cheering for six-and-a-half innings. It was more like I sat in severe judgment, arms folded, staring bullets at the futile proceedings in front of me. I wasn’t being judgmental. I was just trying to stay warm.

I was failing. As were the Mets. They were losing to the Reds, 3-0, in ways that told you it wasn’t going to happen for them. One fly ball after another went nowhere except into the gloves of Cincinnati outfielders. There was a surfeit of drifting back and making the catch, except for that one instant when Spiteful Billy Hamilton [1] flew through the air with the greatest of unease [2] to rob Kevin Plawecki [3]. It was the most difficult of five putouts for Hamilton, who definitively transformed center field into the room where Met hits didn’t happen [4].

The tone may have been set in the bottom of the first when Curtis Granderson [5]’s leadoff HBP morphed into a two-out pickoff with cleanup hitter Michael Conforto [6] at the plate. Or perhaps my buddy Rob and I should have known what we were in for when we were caught in a veritable rundown at the turnstiles as our print-at-home tickets, perilously light on ink, refused to scan.

It’s true: there’s no more difficult ticket in New York right now than one that will get you in to see Hamilton.

Dutifully and politely, one green-jacketed specialist after another attempted to register our respective 12-digit bar codes. I know they’re 12 digits because we spent several minutes squinting and cooperatively reading the characters aloud to a person who attempted to enter them into a handheld device (worst…Verizon…promotion…ever). Was that an ‘8’ or a ‘9’ between the ‘J’ and the ‘E’? It didn’t matter, since neither one of them computed. When nothing would produce a satisfying BEEP!, uncommon common sense eventually and blessedly prevailed.

“Ah, just go ahead.”

It was the same thing the Mets said to the Reds in the third when ad hoc first baseman Wilmer Flores [7] couldn’t make a play on Hamilton and it led to a run off Bartolo Colon [8]. It was emphasized in the fourth when, despite new starting catcher Plawecki gunning down a baserunner (a feat the since-DL’d d’Arnaud [9] couldn’t accomplish the night before), the Reds added two more runs on Ivan DeJesus [10]’s two-run homer into the candy-coated left-center field deck. De Jesus was batting .083 prior to that swing off of Colon, or .083 higher than Colon. It was that kind of night.

The Mets stayed three runs behind, a manageable margin in theory, an impossible distance in the reality we were experiencing. The Reds had the most runs, the cold had the iciest grip and the Mets were generators of exactly one hit through five innings, a harmless three through six. Brandon Finnegan [11], except for being robbed of an RBI on a nifty Walker-to-Cabrera double play that saved yeoman reliever Logan Verrett [12]’s frigid bacon, could do no wrong.

The kid southpaw (nearly as junior to Bartolo as De Jesus, Jr., is to Ivan, Sr.) began to lose his grip on the game with one out in the seventh. Juan Lagares [13] walked. Plawecki singled. You couldn’t exactly blame young Brandon. I don’t know how anybody gripped anything in those conditions.

With the two runners on, Bryan Price trudged out to the mound [14] and called to order a conference that lasted approximately as long as the one attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in 1945 [15]. OK, maybe it didn’t go on for a week, but when the temperature is dropping, the wind is whipping and you’re secretly counting the outs until you can head for warmth, managers really need to stop strategizing between the white lines as if the fate of the postwar world rests on their gravest of decisions.

Price decided to leave Finnegan in for a 107th pitch, his last as it happened. Not so coincidentally, it was the first to be seen by Yoenis Cespedes [16] since last week. Cespedes, nursing his bruised right leg and not necessarily anticipated to participate, appeared as a pinch-hitter and no worse for his bruise.

That 107th pitch of Finnegan’s, however, was maliciously battered.

Yo produced a laser of a line drive that…what’d it do? It slammed off of something. The blue left field wall for a double to score Lagares and make it 3-1? That would have been terrific. But, no, it did more than that. It rose high enough to crash into the black backdrop above it — the notorious Great Wall of Flushing — confirming it was, in fact, a three-run homer that tied the game.

The Mets had tied the game! For six-and-a-half innings it was incredibly cold and the Mets had absolutely no chance, according to holders of tickets that held not nearly enough ink. Now?

Now we weren’t really that cold. It could have been mistaken for just as warm as that June night in 2000 when Mike Piazza [17] did something similarly striking to a first pitch. That game felt hopeless for hours on end, too. Then, with one crushing blow, it couldn’t have been any more hopeful [18]. Mike had finished rallying the Mets from down 8-1 to lead 11-8 against their archrivals the Braves that night. This wasn’t precisely that, but what Yoenis did, emerging from the deep freeze of injured inactivity and unfolding all the arms in the vicinity until they were raised high in the chill air…it was crowd-pleasing enough to have been conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda [19].

Finnegan could begin again in his next start. His immediate successor, Tony Cingrani [20], enjoyed far less success than Brandon had prior to his having gotten undressed by Cespedes. Cingrani gave up a triple to the ever-hustlin’ Granderson and, one out later, the decisive single to David Wright [21], who works what’s left of his back off for every base hit at this achy stage of his distinguished career. “Every day it sucks getting ready for the game,” one of our town’s clutchest [22] Captains would testify [23] later. “But I enjoy playing the game.” One assumes he enjoyed playing this game more than most.

I didn’t enjoy sitting through it whatsoever, not until I did, at which point arctic had given way to cathartic. By then, the Mets were up, 4-3, with Addison Reed [24] and Jeurys Familia [25] handling the lead efficiently and permanently. The last out came at the expense of Reds right fielder Tyler Holt [26], an unknown quantity to Rob and me, but an apparently notorious figure to our sectionmates dozens of rows below, for they had started a “HOLT YOU SUCK!” chant that was as mysterious as it was unrelenting. The whole stadium picked up on it with two out in the ninth. Holt, whatever his perceived crime, couldn’t possibly suck any more than what David has to go through in order to persevere through spinal stenosis, but we all do what we have to do in order to stay warm until we can contribute to victory.

It was a triumph [27] I did not see coming. That scanner was better at making out our digits than I was at discerning our chances. Even preternaturally wise diehard Rob admitted, through the icicles dangling from his extremities, “I was ready to bag it” before Cespedes turned the night around. We had no sense that the Mets were going to come back and dramatically win their fifth game in a row. The sensation we received as a result (augmented in parking lot traffic when we listened to Bryce Harper [28] make the last out versus Philadelphia via MLB At Bat) is one of those moments that does not show up in the box score.

Whenever I come across an article that endeavors to project with as much certainty as can be legitimately garnered what is going to happen in baseball — a season, a series, a game, a potential encounter between a particular pitcher and hitter — I make like a squirrelly baserunner and do my best to evade its contents, lest it tag me with too much speculative data. I like information in advance as much as the next fan, but there’s something to be said for never knowing before you can possibly know…and not pretending that you can.

So, yes, sometimes you do just have a feeling. Sometimes you do just know — no matter how long the odds, how deep the deficit, how frustrating the evening has been — that when it’s all over, your team is going to come through for you. Yet I knew no such thing Tuesday night. All I had in the way of knowledge was knowing that once in a while something you don’t see coming arrives regardless of your lack of vision. In this case, the element of surprise made what the Mets delivered quite the unforeseen delight.