It sure gets orange early out beyond center field on the Met home dates The 7 Line Army comes to play. It’s looked that way from a distance. I can report it’s even more orange up close, radiating brightly from all those personalized jerseys sporting all those last names, nicknames and inside jokes. Good. Citi Field can always use a splash of color.
Also, more runs from its home team, fewer supporters for its visitors and, to shake up mundanity, another ball hit at its resident starting catcher turned third baseman/second baseman/third baseman/second baseman…and so on.
A Mets fan needed as much novelty as he could get his mitts on when the Mets were otherwise losing another awful game to the Yankees. I mean, I guess it was an awful game. Who can tell anymore? With Wednesday night’s third consecutive loss to this particular opponent, the Mets have fallen 12 games under .500 for the first time since 2013. Twenty Thirteen was briefly leavened by the Mets’ four-game sweep of the Yankees. The immediate goal of the 2017 Mets is to not be on the wrong end of a four-game sweep in the current edition of the Subway Series. I never thought we’d be so soon in the midst of a year that makes relentlessly hopeless 2013 look not so wretched by comparison.
Hence, we require all the sunniness we can gather as August descends to depths not recently plumbed. Let us thus drape ourselves in orange. Let us pound a pair of ThunderStix. Let us party like it’s 1999 in the standings, ignoring for the moment how deep No. 99 from the other side of town drove a ball into our stands. Let us high-five while our palms are free of calluses, for it’s not like we’ve had much to high-five about this week or this year.
The 7 Line Army as “a thing ” picked up momentum in 2015 and 2016 when there was a plethora of Metsiness to be cheery about. When the Mets aren’t winning, The 7 Line Army seems a celebration in search of a reason. My night as an embed — arranged by a longtime Faith and Fear reader and full-time gentleman named Marc — revealed its devoted Met-loving troops don’t have to look hard. They’re at a baseball game with each other and almost all of them are decked out in the most primary of Met hues. How can you not effect ebullience when you turn Big Apple Reserved into a veritable orange grove? Besides, Marc and I agree we miss when you could identify specific ballpark levels by their distinct color schemes.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I miss the days of scorching Subway Series fever, those afternoons and evenings when Shea Stadium was a cauldron of genuine baseball hostility between neighbors, roiling from the orange seats downstairs to the red ones upstairs, but it sure is different at Citi Field. Have we all mellowed that much? That is, when we’re not chanting for chanting’s sake in center field because chanting makes for more fun than silence does? We chanted for as much as we could think of on Wednesday night. Hell, we chanted for a praying mantis (quickly dubbed “the Rally Mantis”). It didn’t get us a win , but it got us out of the house and in a reasonably good mood for a few hours.
It’s plenty different from the high summer drama of Matt Franco flipping an 8-7 loss to a 9-8 triumph , but it’s also different — for the better — from my last direct exposure to the once-ballyhooed intracity rivalry on which we instinctively staked our core identity. From 1998 to 2008, nothing mattered to me quite as much as the Mets beating the Yankees at Shea Stadium. I vowed to quit attending the Subway Series in 2009, Citi Field’s inaugural year, after Frankie Rodriguez walked Mariano Rivera with the bases loaded and I couldn’t tell whose spanking new ballpark I was in by the crowd reaction. The fact that Rivera was batting at all indicates it was the Mets’, but otherwise the game might as well have been played at a neutral site. That was probably the low point of my wherefore art thou, Shea? separation pangs. Whatever was wrong with Shea, at least I knew it was the home of the Mets. Every Subway Series game at Shea, regardless of outcome, made visceral sense to me. I didn’t see any purpose to it post-Shea.
Citi Field has since grown to fine and dandy status by me, but I’d felt no urgency to test its efficacy for Mets vs. Yankees maneuvers. Once Marc graciously got in touch, though, I figured, why not? Conclusion based on my first NYY@NYM night in eight years: there’s still too many of Them on the premises, but the vibe isn’t as holy war as it was at the turn of the century. I suppose that’s better from a civilization standpoint. We allow too many issues to divide us as human beings— why get hung up on who’s resplendent in orange and who’s obviously a creep in navy blue? My T7LA comrades and I certainly expressed antipathy for those whose existence we have conditioned ourselves to not care for, but it felt a bit like going through the motions. Of course Yankees Suck; of course Aaron Judge derives his power from an illicit substance; of course if you’re obnoxious enough to parade around in the wrong cap and the wrong jersey, your cup of beer deserves to meet an unfortunate fate.
Y’know, not really or should I say wholly, to any of the above, but some traditions need to be kept going in lean times. Gotta keep those emotions sharp for when these sets of games are fully competitive again.
Wednesday’s game was technically close, but inevitability hung over it from the outset, and no amount of chanting or ThunderStixing could drown it out. It’s not that the Yankees seemed unbeatable. It’s that the Mets seemed incapable. It didn’t help that the Mets lost two of their projected starting infielders, Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes, to sore rib cages. How in the name of Ray Ramirez does that happen? With Neil Walker making friends and influencing people in the Cream City, Terry Collins was forced to improvise. Little did we know he’d been waiting more than four decades for the opportunity.
Because of the injuries to Flores and Reyes and the utter lack of infield alternatives, Travis d’Arnaud joined the ranks of Jerry Grote, Gary Carter and Anthony Recker among catchers serving as unlikely Met third basemen. Chicken salad out of chicken Salas for those of us who track the perpetually intriguing Mets Third Base Merry-Go-Round . In July, Asdrubal Cabrera became the 163rd Met to play the position (yet somehow resisted the impulse to demand a trade). Last week, Walker showcased his versatility by taking a spin at third, earned the “164” designation, and suddenly found himself a playoff-contending Brewer. Travis did not wake up Wednesday anticipating he’d be the 165th Met third baseman ever, but it was either him or an old Manhattan White Pages holding down the hot corner.
Collins wasn’t gonna totally hang d’Arnaud out to dry, however. Against batters more likely to hit in that direction, Terry shifted Asdrubal to third and attempted to hide Travis at second. Against the other kind of batters, the players reverted to the positions where they started the game. This went on for nine innings, just as Terry remembered it working when he was a minor league infielder scurrying back and forth with a similarly put-upon catcher in 1976. Elias had to build an annex to house all the 2B-3B-2Bs and 3B-2B-3Bs attached to d’Arnaud’s and Cabrera’s names in the box score, but the constant movement paid off. Or, at any rate, it didn’t directly cost the Mets anything on defense. And when d’Arnaud, stationed behind second base, reeled in a ninth-inning pop fly, it rated a standing ovation from those of us out in center. We’d been looking for a while for anything to applaud, even if it was semi-ironic. Td’A notching a simple “F 4” in the scorebook wasn’t quite the sensation as that praying mantis, but it definitely generated a buzz.
Judge’s home run to Promenade in the fourth, on the other hand, created a kind of hush not heard since Herman’s Hermits were in their heyday. There was genuine awe to be had not only in seeing where the eventual speck landed, but also in watching thousands of heads following the flight of the ball. One massive thought bubble floated above Citi Field: How far is that thing gonna go? It went where even Yoenis Cespedes’s mightiest blow dared not tread. Nobody was on base, so its impact was no greater than René Rivera’s relatively gravity-restrained home run in the fifth…except nobody years from now will be talking about that time they saw René Rivera homer off Jaime Garcia of the Yankees, while everybody will remember that time they saw Aaron Judge homer off Robert Gsellman of the Mets.
They might also remember Erik Goeddel striking out Judge in the ninth, not because it was critical to how the game turned out, but because Judge had just set a record for striking out in consecutive games; a million, I think. Small comfort to those of us in the orange grove (though we surely applauded when he whiffed). Hammerin’ Yank Aaron notwithstanding, the game was lost ultimately by Mets relief pitching being Mets relief pitching. Gsellman’s rust, the Mets’ indifferent hitting, and generally lousy calling of balls and strikes surely contributed to the 5-3 defeat, but the bullpen void glared as it so often does. Two separate conversations, conducted during and after the decisive seventh inning — Paul Sewald’s seasonlong tribute to Dale Murray continues unabated — led me to decide Met relief pitching has always been not healthy for children and other living things, save maybe for a few weeks in 1983 when Carlos Diaz, Doug Sisk and Jesse Orosco were simultaneously golden. The fine print on the tickets should include a warning to observe late innings at your own risk.
Yet we cheer, we chant and we take our chances that it will all be worth it. Orange-clad Army induction is optional, but it certainly adds a little flair.