’Cause it all begins again when it ends.
—Roxette, “Joyride ”
My December festival of retrospective introspection (or introspective retrospection) feels like it’s reached a logical endpoint here on the last day of the month, the last day of the year, and have I mentioned it’s the last day of the decade? Also, it’s my birthday — happy Johan to me! — and on my birthday, I should get to go to not just any game, but my favorite game.
My favorite game is Closing Day, for which I am either three months late or nine months early. Oh, the drawback of being born out of season. Ah, but what a bonus to be born on the closest thing the winter calendar has to Closing Day. It’s the closing day of the month, the year…of the whole darned decade! In honor of this moment that comes around no more often than every tenth year, I present to you my Connoisseur’s Guide to Closing Day, born of my experience attending every final regular-season home game of the past quarter-century. All Closing Days are good in their way, but some are better than others. Some, for that matter, are worse. If you’re a connoisseur, you can tell the difference.
I dare to consider myself a connoisseur, ergo I will tell right here…
THE AGGRESSIVELY ANTICLIMACTIC CLOSING DAY
(I went because I go but, honestly, I could have stayed home.)
GAME NO. 2 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 1996, Phillies 9 Mets 5
I convinced myself it was essential to pay in-person homage to Todd Hundley and Lance Johnson on the heels of their historic accomplishments. Hundley stayed stuck at 41 home runs. Johnson added one base hit to give himself 227. Bernard Gilkey was sitting after doing something to himself in Houston earlier in the week, so his 117 RBIs weren’t going anywhere. I thought the whole place would erupt with cheers when the power trio showed its faces. There was polite applause when they and John Franco came out to accept an award of some sort pre-game. The muted reaction was a bracing reminder that no matter how great Lance, Todd and Bernard had been, three do not make a team, as the Mets’ record was about to be 71-91. I’m surprised to relearn that this was a 9-5 game and that the Mets led it, 4-0, after two. I remember it as a desultory 2-1 kind of loss in which nothing happened. Usually I remember the score of Closing Day, but since Closing Day wasn’t yet indoctrinated in my mind, I let this one go. Based on my never having written about this game even in passing, this is the clear winner for My Most Obscure Closing Day.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Tim Bogar; Jerry DiPoto; Chris Jones; Paul Byrd; Alvaro Espinoza (he homered); Mike Fyhrie; Charlie Greene
NOTEWORTHY: Ryder Chasin was born to be a Mets fan on this very day somewhere in the Tri-State Area. I didn’t know him then, but I met him shortly after he turned 13 and we’ve been to one Tuesday night game together every August since. He’s currently 23.
GAME NO. 12 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2006, Nationals 7 Mets 3
Mets were still hungover from clinching a week earlier. Not a bad problem to have. Motions were gone through this humid, lifeless Monday evening. The main goal on Fandini Night — a head schmata giveaway sponsored by WFAN — was nobody getting hurt. Nobody got hurt, though in a few days, amidst the season-ending road swing through Atlanta, we learned that Pedro Martinez would not be well enough to pitch in the playoffs. Not a good problem to have.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. There were six games left to play.
NOTEWORTHY: In a clever nod to “Takin’ Care of Business,” the Mets victory song of 2006 (which couldn’t be played following a loss), the Shea A/V squad ended the home schedule by blasting BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.
THE TONALLY APPROPRIATE CLOSING DAY
(These seasons simply had to end.)
GAME NO. 8 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2002, Mets 6 Braves 1
Bobby Valentine deployed 21 players, Bobby Cox used 24, and it was nine-inning game The box score was a mess, which is appropriate because the season was a mess.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Edgardo Alfonzo; John Valentin; Mark Guthrie; Steve Reed; Brady Clark (until he came back in 2008); also Valentine’s final game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: Cox sent pitcher Jung Bong up to pinch-hit. It was widely thought this was a slap at Bobby V for how he handled the Met pot-smoking allegations weeks earlier (pantomiming some toking for reporters). I want to believe that was Cox’s reasoning, but I have a hard time buying the theory.
GAME NO. 23 IN THE STREAK
September 27, 2017, Mets 7 Braves 1
It was a Wednesday night. It belonged on a Wednesday night. The entire 2017 season should have been played on a Wednesday night. Better yet, 4 AM on a Thursday.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. The Mets were headed to Philadelphia that weekend, where a story would break that Terry Collins, long lauded for his communications skills, hadn’t communicated with most of his players all year. Collins would be replaced as manager by an affable doorstop.
NOTEWORTHY: Jamie Callahan notched his first and, to date, only major league hold.
GAME NO. 24 IN THE STREAK
September 30, 2018, Mets 1 Marlins 0
Time of game: 2:10 in a season that couldn’t have been gotten over with fast enough. Time of game the night before: 4:14. Probably not a coincidence that nobody had the energy to score. It was the second 1-0 win in a row for the Mets, also the second game that saw the end of a legendary Met’s career. Saturday night it was David Wright and a Citiwide embrace. Sunday afternoon it was Jose Reyes for anybody who wasn’t off looking for a fresh pretzel.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Reyes; Jay Bruce; Austin Jackson
NOTEWORTHY: Peter O’Brien, the Marlin who dared to catch the foul pop that resulted from David’s final swing the night before, was booed every time he so much as blinked. That’ll teach him to do his job.
THE NAGGINGLY UNSATISFYING CLOSING DAY
(I should have enjoyed these more than I did.)
GAME NO. 17 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2011, Mets 3 Reds 0
My favorite player clinched my favorite team’s first batting title. I should have wanted to have made an appointment to get a tattoo of “.337” applied to my back. But Jose, Jose, Jose…why did you have to scoot into the dugout one millisecond after reaching first base in the first inning? Would it have killed you to trot out to short to start the bottom of the inning? I mean it might have, given your injury history, but still.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Reyes (until he came back in 2016); Nick Evans; Willie Harris; Jason Pridie; Ronny Paulino
NOTEWORTHY: Pete Flynn officially retired this Wednesday afternoon. Can you name the current head groundskeeper? (I can’t.)
GAME NO. 19 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2013, Mets 3 Brewers 2
Mike Piazza went into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in a dazzling pregame ceremony that drew an actual sellout crowd. I think we all should have gone home right after, because nothing the Mets did was going to match the thrill of our all-time catcher, surrounded by legends from every Met generation, telling us we, Mets fans, were his true friends. Why don’t the Mets do more Hall of Fame ceremonies? Why don’t they have more Piazzas? The game was fine, but I was antsy to leave when it was over, which basically never happens on Closing Day.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Justin Turner; Mike Baxter; Frank Francisco
NOTEWORTHY: Juan Lagares threw out Sean Halton at home in the fourth, giving Juan the league lead for assists by a center fielder with 14. Juan was so excited he didn’t scoot into the dugout.
THE MALICIOUSLY METSIAN CLOSING DAY
(These give Mets a bad name.)
GAME NO. 4 IN THE STREAK
September 23, 1998, Expos 3 Mets 0
The Mets entered this week one game up for the Wild Card with five to play. They had an off day, two on Tuesday and Wednesday night against Montreal at home, another off day, then three in Atlanta. Essentially, all they had to do to make the playoffs for the first time in ten years was not lose all five. They lost all five. Closing Night was the second of the queasy quintet. I stuck around to watch the traditional postgame season-saluting video. I could have counted the others who did the same. Maybe it was that pair of off days that sapped the Mets of their concentration, but you somehow knew this wasn’t going to end well.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Jorge Fabregas
NOTEWORTHY: The video ended on a frame of Mike Piazza and Todd Hundley high-fiving at home plate after Hundley’s dramatic pinch-homer in Houston a week earlier. Hard to believe only a week had gone by.
GAME NO. 13 IN THE STREAK
September 30, 2007, Marlins 8 Mets 1
Aw, hell no.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: T#m Gl@v!ne; Paul Lo Duca; Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez; Lastings Milledge; Guillermo Mota; Ruben Gotay; Sandy Alomar, Jr.; Jeff Conine; Innocence
NOTEWORTHY: Dig my strategy: I brought a retro Washington Senators cap I’d bought years earlier so it would send good vibes to the Nationals, who adopted the Senators’ look as their own when they moved from Montreal. Once the Mets fell waaaaaaay behind, I switched from Mets to Senators on my head, hoping it would inspire the Nats in Philadelphia. It didn’t work.
GAME NO. 16 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 2010, Nationals 2 Mets 1 (14)
It’s difficult to fathom the Mets don’t end every season in front of a mostly empty and totally freezing stadium with Oliver Perez on the mound walking in the go-ahead run deep into extra innings. But it happened only this one time.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Perez; Luis Castillo; Sean Green; Hisanori Takahashi; Chris Carter; Jesus Feliciano; Mike Hessman; Joaquin Arias; also Jerry Manuel’s last game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: After four hours and fourteen minutes of frustration, the Mets deployed a phalanx of employees on the field level to blandly thank us for coming and unhelpfully point us to the Rotunda staircase.
THE PROVISIONALLY SATISFYING CLOSING DAY
(Swell, but more is coming…right?)
GAME NO. 6 IN THE STREAK
October 1, 2000, Mets 3 Expos 2 (13)
Momentum is the thing with a five-game winning streak, which is what we had headed to the playoffs after sweeping the Expos on top of taking the final two in a series from Atlanta, the first half of which we used to clinch our second consecutive Wild Card. By the time the regular season was done, you could forget we’d blown an excellent chance to win the division.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Pat Mahomes
NOTEWORTHY: Benny Agbayani scored the winning run in the Mets’ final regular-season victory 160 games after driving in the winning run in the Mets’ first regular-season victory. That was the grand slam in Tokyo the morning of March 30, which seemed like an absurdly early date (never mind time) to start a season. The Mets will start 2020 on March 26. You keep doing you, MLB!
GAME NO. 21 IN THE STREAK
October 4, 2015, Mets 1 Nationals 0
Twice in this century we’ve had this uptown problem wherein we’ve slumped after winning the division, and the online Mets world devolves into two camps: one fretting that the Mets suck and the other tut-tutting that these losses need not be taken seriously, for the clinching has occurred and it’s just a matter of tuning up for the playoffs now. I’ve toggled between the two stances. In my book, you get one or two hangover games, then you should get it the bleep in gear. But do the Mets read my book? During the final week of 2015, the Mets looked like they needed a nap. WAKE UP!!!!! YOU’VE GOT THE DODGERS NEXT WEEK!!!!! At last, the Mets won a game, with Jacob deGrom and six relievers shutting out the Nationals, and Curtis Granderson bopping an eighth-inning home run to give us peace of mind and a 1-0 win, necessarily in that order.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Johnny Monell
NOTEWORTHY: Jeurys Familia tied Armando Benitez’s club record for most saves in a season. Someday we have to be able to look at a sentence that includes “Jeurys Familia tied Armando Benitez” and feel free, clear and good about it.
GAME NO. 22 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2016, Mets 17 Phillies 0
Unicorn Score sighting! The Mets, front-running for first slot among Wild Card contenders, not only pounded the Phillies, they pummeled them via the biggest, baddest, broadest shutout in franchise history. We didn’t know for sure there’d be baseball again at Citi Field in 2016, but with six road games remaining, confidence was deep.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. Terry Collins would use everybody in the week ahead.
NOTEWORTHY: Jose Fernandez was reported dead that morning. A Mets 1986 throwback jersey, which was the Sunday outfit through 2016, hung in the home dugout with FERNANDEZ 16 stitched on the back.
THE MOURNFULLY LOADED CLOSING DAY
(Sad endings edge happy recaps.)
GAME NO. 7 IN THE STREAK
October 7, 2001, Expos 5 Mets 0
It had been 26 days since September 11; 16 days since Mike Piazza’s home run; 8 days since the second Brian Jordan game; 5 days since the Mets were eliminated from their unlikely run at the division title. It had been a lifetime in a short time that didn’t have all that much to do with baseball, yet baseball came back and went on, first with the Mets, soon without the Mets. Right before this game, America announced military action in Afghanistan. That’s still going on, you may or may not have noticed.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Jorge Toca; Glendon Rusch; Tsuyoshi Shinjo (until he came back in 2003); Desi Relaford; Alex Escobar
NOTEWORTHY: It was Notebook Day for kids. There was a surfeit of spiral notebooks and a paucity of kids. As this portion of the schedule had been bumped back a week, the attendance figures reflected reality as opposed to some nebulous tickets sold total, which is to say there really were no more than 15,540 people on hand. As a gesture of good will, the Mets could have given every child and every adult a notebook and had plenty left to distribute to local schools and fraternal organizations. They instead clutched tight to policy and inventory.
GAME NO. 9 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2003, Pirates 3 Mets 1
Bob Murphy Night on a dreary Thursday. It should have been Bob Murphy Day on a sunny Sunday. Shea Stadium was half-filled at best. It should have been packed. It was so sad. But what else could it be? The most optimistic broadcaster in the world was turning off his mic for good.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. The Mets had a weekend series ahead in Miami where they’d lay down for the Wild Card-clinching Marlins.
NOTEWORTHY: Mike Glavine started the game at first base, Mike Piazza finished the game at first base, so your announcer of 42 seasons leaving the air may have been only the third-most unusual event of the evening.
GAME NO. 14 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2008, Marlins 4 Mets 2
Shea Goodbye. Need we Shea more?
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Endy Chavez; Joe Smith; Scott Schoeneweis; Luis Ayala; Shea Stadium
NOTEWORTHY: Losing the last game at the ballpark was horrible. Losing the last game at the ballpark to be knocked out of the playoffs was horrible. Losing the last game at the ballpark to be knocked out of the playoffs for a second consecutive Closing Day was horrible. But the ceremonies to close the ballpark were beautiful.
THE HAPPILY HISTORIC CLOSING DAY
(This is the content I come here for.)
GAME NO. 10 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 2004, Mets 8 Expos 1
I do believe this is the game that made Closing Day an upper-case experience in my perception. Though the Mets were going nowhere except into winter, it had so much in store that there was no way I’d skip Shea this Sunday: the end of the Expos; the retirement of Todd Zeile; the sendoff for John Franco; the nudging aside of Art Howe. As a bonus, we got the one and only half-inning of catcher Joe Hietpas, making the latest major league debut any Met has ever made in a season (including Jed Lowrie). Mix poignancy with the kicking of an opponent’s ass — even if you feel bad that the opponent will no longer identify as they had for 36 years — and you have an event worthy of a title.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Franco; Zeile; Hietpas (first and last); Danny Garcia; Wilson Delgado; Craig Brazell; Jeff Keppinger; also Howe’s last game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: Mike Piazza started at first base and — like the Expos in Montreal — never played there again.
GAME NO. 11 IN THE STREAK
October 2, 2005, Rockies 11 Mets 3
This was all about Mike as no game I’ve ever been to was all about one Met. Every breath he’d take, every move he’d make, we were watching him. The hold Mike Piazza had on our imaginations was as all-encompassing as the grip on his bat was tight. He was an era unto himself. He had lots of help launching us to the near-stratosphere before and after the turn of the century, but he was The Man in an everyday way I’m convinced no other Met has been in his time. And remember: he wasn’t retiring on the last day of 2005; he was finishing his contract. Details, details. We inducted him into every Hall of Fame we had in our hearts that afternoon.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Piazza; Gerald Williams; Marlon Anderson (until he came back in 2007); Danny Graves; Mike Jacobs (until he came back in 2010); Shingo Takatsu
NOTEWORTHY: They ran a video montage of season highlights postgame, but nobody paid it mind because Matt Loughlin was on the field interviewing The Man of the hour. Pedro Martinez had been such a sensation at Shea when the season began, yet as it ended, his image was ignored because real life Piazza was talking in front of us. Either way, I don’t recall the Mets running a classic Closing Day montage on the video board after 2005.
GAME NO. 18 IN THE STREAK
September 27, 2012, Mets 6 Pirates 5
The fairy tale reached its final chapter, R.A. Dickey winning his 20th game in front of fans who bled, sweat and articulated every pitch with him. R.A. was a cause for everybody who came out that Thursday afternoon. “Mets fans in New York City chanted his name, waved giant R’s and A’s and loved him in a way that people love a child or a monk or a dying man who has shed all his armor and come before them in his truth,” Gary Smith wrote in Sports Illustrated without a whit of overstatement. R.A. got what he meant to us and struck out 13 in seven-and-two-thirds in response. We chanted “Cy Young!” for him and he got that, too.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody, as a six-game road trip beckoned.
NOTEWORTHY: Jon Rauch nearly blew the game. Mets bullpen, same as it ever was.
THE SURPRISINGLY ELEVATING CLOSING DAY
(How can you not love this team on days like these?)
GAME NO. 1 IN THE STREAK
October 1, 1995, Mets 1 Braves 0 (11)
This wasn’t my very first Closing Day (I was there in ’85 and ’88), but this is when the impulse began to become an obsession. I had to be at the last game of the year because the Mets’ record in games I’d been to in 1995 was 6-7 after starting at 0-6, and I had to take a shot at evening it up. Eleven innings and a bases-loaded walk to Tim Bogar later, I had .500, which is all a Mets fan in the mid-’90s could ask for. Hell, it was more than a Mets fan in the mid-’90s could ask for, and how often did we get that much?
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Joe Orsulak; Bill Spiers; Pete Walker (until he came back in 2001); Damon Buford
NOTEWORTHY: I saw somebody in Mariners gear when licensed apparel for a team from far away seemed unusual and wondered if that person came specifically to watch the out-of-town scoreboard because, if you think about it, what place was better during the pre-At Bat app era to follow your team’s progress from across the country as it strives for its first playoff spot? But I didn’t ask.
GAME NO. 15 IN THE STREAK
October 4, 2009, Mets 4 Astros 0
My thirty-sixth game at Citi Field was the day tensions thawed between me and it. I’d spent my first 35 games resenting its existence, but on Closing Day, with StubHub seats in 326 (still overpriced), I found a vibe I liked and, for the most part, made the spot my own once a year more years than not thereafter. Nelson Figueroa shut out the Astros, who were about to start tanking in earnest.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Figueroa; Anderson Hernandez; Jeremy Reed
NOTEWORTHY: I spent an inning at one of those Excelsior-level bars, the only time I ever did that. If I were more of a drinker — or a drinker at all — I’d probably do it again.
GAME NO. 20 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2014, Mets 8 Astros 3
While Closing Day was totally A Thing for me by now, this was the one that confirmed that I was doing it because I loved it, not just because it’s something I do. It was the end of another sub-.500 season, though September had been pretty decent. Yet it wasn’t about the Mets’ record or discernible progress. It was shall we say relaxing. Exciting (Lucas Duda swatted his thirtieth homer), but relaxing. Fulfilling, most of all. This is the game you should get to at the end of a long season if you don’t have anywhere else to go. I both didn’t want to go home for winter and didn’t need another wisp of baseball to get me to the following Spring. It was, within reason for a 79-83 club, perfect.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Eric Young, Jr. (until he came back late in 2015); Matt den Dekker (until he came back in 2018); Juan Centeno; Wilfredo Tovar; Bobby Abreu
NOTEWORTHY: Jake Marisnick started in center and batted fifth for Houston. He went 1-for-4. It’s unlikely I’d have considered this noteworthy until a few weeks ago.
THE EMOTIONALLY ASTOUNDING CLOSING DAY
(The best of end times.)
GAME NO. 3 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 1997, Mets 8 Braves 2
With one out in the top of the ninth, I started crying. Feeling a little silly, I looked around when there were two out and saw others crying. After three out, when they showed the video on DiamondVision, scored to Gloria Estefan’s “Reach,” Carlos Baerga started crying. We’d just finished with our first winning record in seven years. Tell me our souls aren’t constructed of the most appreciative DNA in the league.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Carl Everett; Alex Ochoa; Roberto Petagine; Jason Hardtke; Juan Acevedo; Carlos Mendoza
NOTEWORTHY: John Olerud whacked a three-run homer to pass the 100-RBI mark because you thought John Olerud would enter the final day of the season with 98 runs batted in and not get to a hundred?
GAME NO. 5 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 1999, Mets 2 Pirates 1
I went to 415 games that counted at Shea Stadium, regular-season and postseason, and this was, is and always will be my favorite. In a nutshell, everything was on the line and the Mets came through, with Melvin Mora scampering down the line to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth and Shea absolutely exploding with joy.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Shane Halter
NOTEWORTHY: That same day, in St. Petersburg, Fla., the same city where he used to report to Spring Training to stir our hopes that every day would have stakes like this first Sunday in October did, Darryl Strawberry played his final regular-season game.
GAME NO. 25 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2019, Mets 7 Braves 6 (11)
I’ve been to 281 games that counted at Citi Field, regular-season and postseason, and this is surely my favorite of the regular-season variety. In a nutshell, nothing was on the line and the Mets came through, with Dom Smith emerging from two months of inactivity to bop the come-from-behind, game-winning home run in the eleventh inning and have his shirt torn off by his teammates at home plate. It wasn’t quite Shea on Melvin Mora’s day of jubilee, but I absolutely exploded with joy and it’s quite possible I’m not done exploding. I’m still pretty joyous over Mora, and that was twenty years ago.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: We can’t yet say for sure, given the machinations of the hot stove, but I’d put the over/under at five guys. We do know that Mickey Callaway would soon be directed to stop trying to manage.
NOTEWORTHY: I’m sitting here on my birthday, on New Year’s Eve, writing about Closing Day because of games like these. May your new year, new decade and next game be that good.