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

One in a Thousand

Like the names of Yoenis Cespedes [1] and Neil Walker [2], this won’t show up in Sunday’s box score, but the Mets’ 5-1 loss to the Phillies [3] was my thousandth game in a row. Not playing, but witnessing. I’ve watched, heard or attended at least some, usually all, of every regular-season Mets game dating back to July 30, 2010. (I also took in each of the fourteen postseason games from last year, but that should be implicit.)

This isn’t a boast, nor is it a cry for help. My streak is just one of those things I began to notice as it added unto itself. A lifetime enmeshed with baseball has cultivated a sixth sense for streaks and quirks. This is, as these things go, sort of a quirky streak. Baseball is played every day. Every day brings the unforeseen, making a thousand of anything in a row unlikely, yet every day that there is a Mets game, I find a way to see it, generally with my eyes, occasionally only with my ears. I missed the game of July 29, 2010 (but recapped it [4] anyway), then saw the game of July 30, and haven’t since had any slip by me. I’ve been able to catch them all, so I’ve caught them. It wouldn’t occur to me not to.

A few weeks ago, when I was on Twitter offering my observations on how lousily the Mets were plying their craft on that particular night, I was asked by a fellow fan if I’d still be watching game-in, game-out, if I wasn’t blogging about them. I told him I honestly had no idea anymore because I don’t think I know how to not watch or listen to Mets games. I’m hard-wired to tune in. At the low point of the recent road trip west, the Friday night when the Mets almost drifted out of the Playoff Picture graphic, I was miserable, I was sleepy and I was excited because, “ooh, tomorrow it’s a four o’clock start!”

Great broadcasters help immensely, not incidentally. I couldn’t have done this in the days of Fran Healy [5]. It was hard enough settling for Wayne Hagin when necessary. Great broadcasters make just another baseball game more than just another baseball game. They make it one episode after another you don’t want to miss, no matter what they wind up broadcasting [6] on a given night or in a given season.

Also, you don’t instinctively not miss a single game within a thousand if you possess a results-dependent personality. If you can’t see every Mets game, that’s the way it goes. There are myriad reasons a person can’t. The world won’t always cooperate. I’ve been lucky, in concert with obsessed, that I’ve reached a thousand straight and will almost certainly make it 1,001 Monday night. But if you willingly skip Mets games than you can catch because they’re not performing particularly well, I will nod and pretend to understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t. Not really.

You’re a Mets fan who doesn’t want to at least check in on how they’re doing for a batter or two? These are the Mets, our team, we’re talking about. You do know that when they stop playing, they won’t be back for months. You do know you’ll make noises about how you can’t wait for Pitchers and Catchers, yet there are pitchers pitching to catchers right now for keeps. How could you not want in on that by default?

In the thousand games of my streak, the Mets have won 487 and lost 513. It doesn’t sound great, and with 2015 serving as notable exception, it hasn’t been stupendous, but I’d rather have taken in 513 losses in 1,000 games than have missed 513 games. Or any.

Admittedly, the one-thousandth in a row, played quietly on August 28, 2016, wasn’t a great advertisement for never missing a Mets game. Robert Gsellman [7], 18th on the starting pitching depth chart, acquitted himself beautifully for six innings, encountered a rough patch in the seventh and was not picked up by his bullpen. Also, the Mets — minus an aching Cespedes, Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera [8] once he exited with an aggravated knee in the first — gave Gsellman one run of support. Few cylinders were firing and it showed on the scoreboard. The only saving graces arrived from St. Louis and Miami, where the Cardinals and Marlins each lost. The Pirates, however, were uncooperative.

So in that Second Wild Card race, it’s the Redbirds running a half-game ahead of the Buccos, with the Fish hanging back by a game-and-a-half, then us by two-and-a-half. Don’t mind me saying “us” — after a thousand consecutive games keeping close tabs (to say nothing of 48 seasons overall), it’s hard not to feel proprietary. Anyway, we were, not too long ago, five-and-a-half back and left for dead [9] by someone who observes us every chance he is provided, so progress has definitely been made. Winning series is key, and the Mets won this one, after winning the last one, after splitting the one before it. There’s not that much time left in 2016 for slow, but steady is always welcome.

The Marlins arrive Monday night for four games, with Rafael Montero [10], about a dozen notches down from Gsellman, coming up to face Jose Fernandez [11] in what is best thought of in advance as the You Never Know special. Is this set make or break? Losing all of them will probably break our nascent sense of pennant fever. Winning all of them won’t make our reservations guaranteed for October 5. That’s how cookies crumble and seasons disassemble when September is in sight. You can’t clinch anything by making up ground when you’re fourth of four with five weeks to go, but you can surely eliminate yourself from realistic consideration if you fall back from the pack.

Just to be in it clear to the last weekend of August, however, is quite a treat. Saturday, during my 999th game in a row, when the Mets were nailing down their series victory versus the Phillies, the fun was everywhere you looked, especially the out-of-town scoreboard at Citi Field, where I was doing my witnessing. Out-of-town scoreboards should be erected every fifty feet wherever you walk, which I guess would represent superfluous civic planning in the age of the apped-up smartphone, but the communal aspect of the OoTS is galvanizing. We all watched OAK hold off STL and we all cheered. Same for SDP taking care of MIA. We weren’t too thrilled by MIL refusing to lend us a hand vis-à-vis PIT, but sometimes — even on a night when you win by eleven runs — you can’t have everything.

Prevailing by the delightful margin of 12-1 speaks for itself funwise. To do it primarily via the little-known Home Run Cycle created an extra kick. From the near-perfect perspective of Section 513, I saw Kelly Johnson [12] finish off the Phillies in the seventh with his four-RBI four-bagger. I saw the eight-pitch Yo Blow for three runs in the fourth that you knew was coming if you’re schooled in how Cespedes ratchets up the pitch count alongside the probability that he will make a pitcher pay. Cespedes came through an inning after the then-presumed physically fit Asdrubal offered Noah Syndergaard [13] a cushion with a two-run homer. (Bon Jovi would tell us the reason we’re two-and-a-half from “there” is we’ve been we’ve been livin’ on Cabrera, so we really don’t want to live without him.) I saw that, and I saw the after-dinner solo mint new dad Neil passed out in lieu of cigars in the eighth.

I had no idea until a tweet mentioned it that I’d just seen every kind of home run, save for inside-the-park, in one game. I didn’t know until I got home and pieced together a few Baseball Reference Play Index clues that of the three times Elias said the Mets had executed the Home Run Cycle previously, twice it had happened in Flushing, and once I was there. On May 20, 1999, Robin Ventura [14] launched a grand slam that became enduringly famous because it came in the first game of a doubleheader, ultimately won over Milwaukee in tried-to-give-it-away fashion, 11-10. Robin also hit a grand slam in the second game. A salami sliced during each end of a twinbill? Nobody else had done that! Of course it became famous. Lost in the excitement, from the opener, was Benny Agbayani [15]’s solo and three-run jobs and Mike Piazza [16]’s two-run shot (how often did Piazza going deep wind up a footnote?). I was on hand for that doubleheader and I was on hand Saturday night. Two of three Home Run Cycles in home games for me. Crazy, right?

The third was chronologically the first, from July 20, 1985, a 16-4 socking of the Braves headlined by Darryl Strawberry [17] grand-slamming and three-run homering, and supported by Howard Johnson [18] belting a two-run home run and Danny Heep [19] and Clint Hurdle [20] each going solo. Craziness is embedded in this one, too, for the guy I was with on Saturday night in Promenade, my old pal Joe, was at that game 31 years before. Thus, between the two of us, we had now witnessed in person every Met Home Run Cycle ever rolled out at Shea/Citi.

The one on the road was four years ago at Wrigley, July 27, 2012, featuring Scott Hairston [21] with the grand slam, Ike Davis [22] with the three-runner and Daniel Murphy [23] on the solo and two-run tips. It accumulated into a 17-1 triumph, a game I heard through earbuds (making it No. 298 in a row for me) because it was a weekday afternoon, and sometimes you can’t watch every pitch but you can do your best to listen in, and I wouldn’t have thought of not doing my best where the Mets were concerned. On a foundation of such commitment are thousand-game streaks built.

Then again, much as you have to reluctantly rest your most vital players if their backs or quads or knees are balking, sometimes you have to do what’s best for the team, including yourself, yourself already having established yourself as a component of the enterprise. Take Friday night, Game 998 in my streak, the first of two consecutive games in which the Mets managed a grand slam. I was watching the bases load in the bottom of the fifth inning from my living room. The escalating tension of the moment (Bartolo Colon [24] had doubled and had been standing on third base for about 20 minutes, for gosh sake) was competing with my need, perhaps intensifying my need, to dash to the bathroom. With the Phillies in a mound conference, I decided to give my bladder the green light and run. At worst, I figured, I’ll miss one pitch, and who knows, maybe if I’m not dancing around anxiously in front of the screen, it will somehow bring Wilmer Flores [25] luck.

Luck showed up conditionally. “Hey,” Stephanie informed me when I returned from my incredibly brief pause for station identification, “there was a grand slam!” Mission accomplished, I suppose. I missed one pitch, but it was the pitch. Perhaps my voluntary absence karmically facilitated Wilmer’s big swing. More likely, the timing of my trip was immaterial because my bathroom-going decisions don’t honestly have a whit to do with the actions of two baseball teams one county away. I was 99.9% elated, for sure, maybe 0.1% dang, I couldn’t have waited? Instant replay and the rewind feature on the DVR certainly came in handy, but the thrill wasn’t quite the same.

There were still plenty of more pitches and innings to come in that game, then the next game, both of them walloping wins. That’s the beautiful thing about Mets baseball. If you miss a little, they eventually make more. And if they didn’t win today, they might win tomorrow. I can testify to that from vast personal experience.