Justin Arnold knows how to dress for a Mets playoff game. He and his dad know how to bring their team luck, too.
Wanted to thank one of the 44,000 fans who made Citi Field a special place to be for Game Three, Justin Arnold. That’s him, between me on the right and his dad, Larry, a faithful reader of Faith and Fear, on the left. Justin came all the way up from the Washington area (where there’s no baseball at the moment) to bring good luck to his Metsies Monday night. His pop’s not such a bad guy, either. Jason and I and the other 44,000 or so on hand tonight will do our best to keep the luck going.
Let’s Go Mets, as if you didn’t already know.
“Hello? Anyone still up?”
“I’m not coming by too late, am I?”
“No, it’s fine. Come in. Sit down. There’s some old pretzels in the fridge if you want. Might be a little hard, so be careful.”
“I’m not hungry. They’ve got great food at work. I’m still wired, though. I just had to drop by and tell somebody who would understand.”
“You had a good night it sounds like.”
“A good night? Did you see it?”
“I couldn’t stay up. These games are on too late for me these days.”
“Oh, you should have seen it. You should have heard it!”
“It was loud, huh?”
“Loud doesn’t begin to describe it. You said it would be loud if something like this ever happened.”
“Yes, it could get loud in my day.”
“I don’t know if you ever heard it like it was tonight, though. I mean it was crazy.”
“Big win, huh?”
“Not just a big win, but a wild scene. The fans were so into it.”
“Those fans can definitely get excited.”
“Excited isn’t the word for it. It was…”
“Yes, Amazin! I’d been hearing about Amazin’ as long as I can remember, ever since I started in 2009, but I never really got it.”
“You have to experience it for yourself. Took me, what, maybe six years to feel it.”
“When you were doing it, were the fans nonstop?”
“They could definitely keep it up.”
“But when the other team was introduced. Did the fans just give it to them? I mean the Dodgers knew they were in for it. And Utley…”
“Utley. Chase Utley. You should remember Utley. He was with the Phillies back when you were around.”
“I saw a lot of ballplayers in 45 years. Who can keep track?”
“The noise directed against Utley…wow! The fans would not let up on him. He probably wishes had taken that suspension.”
“Any whiskey bottles?”
“Whiskey bottles? What are you talking about?”
“When I was doing the playoffs, the fans didn’t just make noise. They made trouble for the bastards on the other team. Like Rose.”
“Howie Rose? Why would anybody make trouble for Howie Rose?”
“Not Howie, for Pete’s sake. Pete Rose. Had the most hits ever. Took out Buddy Harrelson with a dirty slide.”
“I don’t know who those names are.”
“You don’t know Pete Rose or Buddy Harrelson? I thought they gave you a museum at some point.”
“Anyway, when I thought it couldn’t get any louder from booing Utley, you should have heard the cheers for Ruben Tejada.”
“Tejada…Tejada…is he the one who cries when he’s traded?”
“No, that’s Flores.”
“Ah, Gil Flores. He was a nice boy.”
“I said Wilmer Flores, but that was something else. See, after all the Met reserves were introduced, they surprised everybody by bringing out Ruben, who hobbled out with a cane. The place went nuts.”
“The place went nuts when Willie and Yogi and Rusty went out to left field to stop the crowd from throwing whiskey bottles at Rose.”
“Rusty — he was there!”
“I thought Rusty was retired. They don’t have the DH now, do they?”
“No, Rusty threw out the first pitch. Then Harvey took the mound.”
“Haddix? He was Tom Seaver’s first pitching coach. No Rube Walker, but a nice fella.”
“This was Matt Harvey, you know, the Dark Knight?”
“It was a dark night when my lights went out in 1977. Have you ever seen the pictures where the players brought their cars on the field, turned their brights on and pantomimed a game of catch?”
“Uh, so Harvey throws a great first inning, but he’s not so good in the second. The Dodgers score three runs and for the first time everybody’s a little quiet.”
“Everybody was a lot quiet in 1977. Not one of my happier years. Not much company then. Not in ’78 or ’79, either, though that Gil Flores was a very nice boy. Did you say he was there tonight?”
“I think you mean Wilmer, and yes, he was the starting shortstop because Ruben was out. The second inning could have been worse, except David made a great jumping catch at third.”
“David…third…that sounds familiar.”
“David! Him, I remember! He must’ve been 23 when I last saw him. What is he now, 24?”
“Nah, you’re kidding. Little David Wright? The kid from Virginia who was all golly shucks and carried Cliff Floyd’s bags?”
“I don’t know. David’s the captain.”
“He is? Good for him. How’s Jose?”
“He’s not there anymore.”
“He must be 24, too.”
“I don’t know. Anyway, we were down, 3-0, but the Mets didn’t quit.”
“The Mets never quit. Have I ever told you about 1986?”
“You have. We got three singles in a row, scored a run and then the most amazing…”
“Amazin’. It’s pronounced Amazin’.”
“Then the most Amazin’ thing happened. Wilmer Flores was up…”
“Gil Flores has a son? Give him my regards.”
“I keep telling you, I don’t know who Gil Flo…just listen, old man. You’ll want to hear this part.”
“I’m listening, I’m listening already. I listened to the Beatles, you little pisher. The girls were screaming and you could barely make out that they were even singing.”
“I’ve heard this story! Can I tell you mine? I finally have one of my own.”
“So who’s stopping you?”
“Wilmer Flores was up, with men on first and second and he beats out an infield hit.”
“Nice? It was more than nice. The fans went crazy.”
“Yes, crazy. You said that before.”
“You don’t understand. I vibrated.”
“I vibrated? Out in left field, I could feel it.”
“You vibrated? That’s…that’s Amazin’!”
“I know! You used to tell me about the times you shook…”
“Oy, did I shake. It was against the Cardinals in 2000…or was it the Dodgers in 2006? Either way, yes, I shook. My Upper Deck almost came off from shaking. Are you all right? Did your Upper Deck come off?”
“I don’t have an Upper Deck. I have a Promenade.”
“Fancy with the euphemisms you are.”
“The important thing, the thing I’m trying to tell you, is I really got to feel what you always felt. The people came and they made noise all night and they were into it from the beginning to the end. They made the visiting team uncomfortable and they supported the Mets. And the Mets fed off it and won big.”
“Oh, they won? All from an infield hit by Gil Flores’s son?”
“That was just the beginning. Curtis Granderson hit a three-run double to put the Mets ahead, 4-3. In the next inning, Travis d’Arnaud homered to make it 6-3, and in the inning after that, Yoenis Cespedes…”
“Orlando Cepeda? The Baby Bull? He’s a Met now? No, that can’t be right. He’d be older than I am.”
“Yoenis Cespedes hit maybe the longest, definitely the most majestic, probably the most important home run a Met has hit since I’ve been around. I mean, the arc…wow!”
“Did you shake then?”
“You know, it was so loud, I couldn’t even feel myself at that point. It was like I just stood there with my mouth open in awe of what Cespedes had done and what the Mets were doing. It was 10-3 and everybody knew they were going to win and take a series lead.”
“This Harvey — he gave up three runs in nine innings?”
“No, he only lasted five.”
“He left with an injury? I mean a starting pitcher in a playoff game who’s ahead by seven runs would only come out after five if his arm was falling off. Did I tell you about the time Rob Gardner pitched 15 scoreless innings and it was declared a tie?”
“It’s different these days. Harvey went five, Bartolo Colon went two…”
“Colon…he sounds familiar from my out-of-town scoreboard. He’s a Met now? No, that can’t be right. He’d be older than Orlando Cepeda.”
“There was a little bullpen sloppiness later, but the Mets won easily enough, 13-7.”
“That’s a strange score.”
“I know. Some guy who keeps track of these things says the Mets have won by 13-7 only once before, at Wrigley Field.”
“Wrigley! My old friend! Is he still active? Give him my regards if you see him.”
“The Mets just might. There’s still one more game for the Mets to win.”
“Oh, that’s important. You’ve gotta keep the momentum going. Did I teach you that?”
“I think you said something about that.”
“Listen to me, this is crucial. It sounds like you had a good night.”
“I had the best night. There was spontaneous chanting and there was bunting hung everywhere and orange towels waving and one high-five after another and 44,000 fans…”
“Forty-four thousand? What, was the Upper Deck under renovation? Forty-four thousand’s pretty low for a playoff game.”
“Forty-four thousand’s my record for any Mets game.”
“I keep forgetting you’re so much smaller than I was.”
“I may be smaller, but I get the job done.”
“You make sure you get the job done! Don’t just sit back and think it’s over. The Dodgers, they always have good pitching. They have a good pitcher going tomorrow night?”
“Uh, yeah — Clayton Kershaw.”
“Oh, Don Shaw’s boy? Or is he Bob Shaw’s boy? I could never keep those two straight.”
“Clayton Kershaw was Cy Young and MVP last year.”
“A regular Koufax, huh? Well, then you’ve gotta bear down even more. You got a taste of the playoffs. But you can’t stop there. You’ve gotta keep going. You and those 44,000 fans and these Mets of yours — you like how tonight felt?”
“I loved how tonight felt. It was what I was waiting seven seasons for. I thought a night like tonight would never come for me. But when it came, I finally felt like a real ballpark.”
“Well, you keep going, because you have no idea how much better it can be. Brush this Clayton Shaw and this Chase Ugly aside while you’ve got them down. Win this series. Move on to the next round. You feel like a real ballpark now? You’ll feel like something you’ve never imagined if you keep going.”
“I’ll feel Amazin’?”
“Ah, I’m not worried about you anymore, kid. You know how to be a ballpark in the playoffs.”
“And you’re not the dump everybody said you were, old man.”
“Lemme let you in on a secret. When they told me I could stay open in October, I was never a dump. I was a home field advantage. Now make me proud and go keep being one yourself.”
I thought I’d be excited to be going to the first Mets’ postseason game ever at Citi Field. I am, but I have to confess that element of this Met October journey — our ballpark’s first BIG moment — is not quite registering with me.
Utleygate is all I’ve been thinking about Metwise since Saturday night. Since we last spoke, the vile one has been suspended for two games; he has appealed (though he appeals to none of us); his appeal will have to wait until his conflict-of-interest representatives at the MLBPA can get their act together (because there’s no compelling interest in expediting the process ASAP?); he will be disgustingly eligible for Game Three (which means he has to stand in the batter’s box, probably); and Matt Reynolds has replaced Ruben Tejada on the roster if not yet in our hearts.
Matt Reynolds has never played in a major league baseball game, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. And he did a hit home run last March to win an exhibition game started by Matt Harvey. So having him around from a karma perspective can’t hurt. Whether it helps from a baseball perspective, we’ll see.
Of Matts who will be cheered when the Mets are introduced tonight (after the Dodgers are reminded of their shortcomings as people and players), it’s not Matt Reynolds who be carrying the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. This Gotham-Dark Night stuff has a chance to actually be activated tonight. Matt Harvey: you, baby, you. We were so pumped when you came back that afternoon in Port St. Lucie, then that gray day in Washington, then on the first night of 2015 in Flushing. It was all leading here.
Matt Harvey. The playoffs. The Mets. Citi Field. Just like we drew it up in our dreams, save for the little matter of Utley breaking Tejada’s fibula and 43,000 of us preferring to eschew rally towels for bloody shirts. That was a twist we didn’t anticipate.
But anticipate is what we do hours ahead of Harvey’s first pitch, which hopefully comes in high and tight at somebody. And then a lot of swings and misses in the tops of innings, with a ton of contact in their bottoms.
Which is to say let’s kick the Dodgers’ asses tonight in every way imaginable.
Also, good luck later today to R.A. Dickey, starting his first postseason game at Arlington for Toronto. Not how we dreamt or drew it up circa 2012, but times change. Time for tonight’s game at Citi Field changed to 8:37 from 8:07 because the Blue Jays beat the Rangers yesterday (go make sense of that sentence if you’re not attuned to the strange ways of Major League Baseball), but if it gives R.A. a shot at a long-awaited moment, we’ll put up with the extra half-hour wait.
Not that I can wait one minute more.
Good news for all you kids out there. You can now play baseball any way you like. The rules don’t apply. Just slam into middle infielders at will. You don’t even need to be on your way to second base. You do this, and you and your team shall be rewarded handsomely.
That’s my takeaway after a playoff game roving bands of baserunners and umpires conspired to take away from the New York Mets. The Mets might have given it away themselves, but the dirtiest of Dodgers and his de facto co-conspirators couldn’t depend on that to happen.
In the seventh inning of the second game of the National League Division Series Saturday night in Los Angeles — with the Mets leading the Dodgers 2-1 — Chase Utley slid into Ruben Tejada without a base being close to his body or his thoughts. The slide transpired in the midst of Tejada attempting to turn a double play. It probably wouldn’t have been a double play on its own merit even had Utley not essentially tackled Tejada. It might not have been technically been a single play, given that Tejada did not step on the bag. Second base umpire Chris Guccione called Utley out initially because umpires make mistakes. Replay review exists to correct them. Replay showed that Tejada, in taking an imperfect feed from Daniel Murphy on Howie Kendrick’s sharp one-out chopper up the middle of what had been a first-and-third situation, missed the bag by a hair before attempting to set and fire to first.
On the other hand, it could have been called a neighborhood play, in which case Guccione wasn’t off base, even though Tejada was. A neighborhood play is the one play on the diamond for which everybody agrees to overlook the basic rule about feet touching bases in order to record putouts. It is too dangerous, it is agreed, to penalize a shortstop or second baseman for protecting his life and limb from onrushing baserunners. We all know the runner’s gonna be out, let’s just call him out. That’s the gentlemen’s agreement.
Chase Utley is no gentleman, which is his business, except when his business becomes the maiming of Ruben Tejada or any middle infielder he takes out as he doesn’t much attempt to reach second base. Utley said he wasn’t trying to break Tejada’s leg, even though he did. He said he was trying to break up a double play. That’s fine. Except — and we learned this first-hand eight years ago when Marlon Anderson was our baserunner trying to do the same thing — you can’t break up double plays without making second base your reasonably realistic destination.
You watched this game. You saw Utley slid exceedingly late into Tejada with zero intention of sliding into second. In fact, wherever Tejada’s foot had been an instant earlier, Utley never reached second, not even as a matter of follow-through. He broke up a double play and, incidentally, the fielder’s fibula. Utley may very well have wished no harm come from his action, but he did act and there was harm.
That’s cause enough to declare an inning-ending double play. It was a double play when Anderson was ruled to have slid away from second base in order to interfere with an opposition fielder (Utley’s then-Phillie teammate Tad Iguchi) and it should have been a double play Saturday night.
Instead, because baseball’s officiating infrastructure is the envy of Swiss cheese producers the world over, somehow Utley — who never touched second; who never really tried to touch second; who sacked Tejada as if Ruben was scrambling behind the line of scrimmage — was told he was not out. He was allowed to stand at second base, a spot that was never on his itinerary. Meanwhile, the runner on third, Kike Hernandez, had scored to make it 2-2 and Kendrick was on first. There was still only one out and nothing good was going to come of any of this.
It didn’t. Noah Syndergaard’s breathtaking six-and-a-third innings of starting pitching went for naught. The solo home runs blasted off Zack Greinke in the second inning by Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto (the latter a laser that smacked the right field foul pole) were matched and surpassed as Adrian Gonzalez at last woke up (a two-run double to right) and Justin Turner continued dishing out cold revenge (an RBI double) against Addison Reed.
To back up from the moment of impact, you could question any number of elements of the Mets’ approach to the seventh, which was going to be Syndergaard’s final inning regardless.
Maybe Terry Collins takes Thor out after Hernandez walks with one out.
Maybe Collins calls on Jon Niese to face pinch-hitter Utley, given that Utley has only three hits in 32 career at-bats versus the lefty, and why do the Mets need a lefty in the bullpen if he’s not going to face a potentially lethal lefty off the L.A. bench?
Maybe Collins doesn’t turn to Bartolo Colon all of a sudden to face Kendrick, though Kendrick — in Colon’s vast younger days — was 2-for-22 against Bartolo.
Maybe Murphy fields Kendrick’s chopper a bit more cleanly, feeds Tejada a bit more gracefully…but this is Murph we’re talking about.
There was also a stolen base from Hernandez on which Travis d’Arnaud made an ineffectual throw, along with the whole issue of Reed not being a solid bet to come in with runners on base. He flied out Corey Seager after the whole Utley mess, but then was filleted by Gonzalez and Turner.
Worth mentioning, too: the Mets couldn’t touch Greinke after their solo shots in the second. Two runs in seven innings is better than most teams did against the possible N.L. Cy Young winner in any given game, but it wasn’t enough to translate to victory on Saturday.
Some or all of the seventh-inning damage could have been avoided had a valid judgment call been made that Utley slid dangerously and illegally. Deem it “hard-nosed” or brand it with some other charming euphemism, the inference that could be drawn from any angle is that Utley wasn’t trying to reach second base. He wasn’t coming close to second base. He went after Tejada. He didn’t remotely disguise his real target.
How that was overlooked, I have no idea. Explanations so shaky they could have rumbled up from the San Andreas Fault were proffered later — MLB Secretary of Explaining Stuff Joe Torre was at a loss to delineate how a runner called out should have been precautionarily tagged by a broken-legged fielder just in case he wasn’t actually out — but they solved nothing…just as Met hitters didn’t solve Greinke and two Dodgers relievers…just as Reed didn’t solve two of the three hitters he was tasked with retiring.
So the Mets lost the second game of the NLDS, 5-2, and they lost their shortstop. Since he first made the team as 20-year-old in 2010, Tejada has proven himself an uncommonly resilient cat. The number of lives he’s had as a Met stalwart is displayed on the back of his jersey. Hell, he was getting clobbered on dubious slides by Chase Utley back when he was a rookie under Jerry Manuel. How many times have we dismissed Ruben’s potential contributions only to find him back in the lineup, working counts, tiring pitchers and subtly creating offense? How many times have we looked for another shortstop only to find us looking to good ol’ No. 11 to get us the out we needed? We finally wind up in the playoffs and who was starting ahead of folk hero Wilmer Flores?
Was, but no longer. With Tejada’s fractured right fibula knocking him out of the postseason for good, Flores is the shortstop again (his backup to be determined). That’s not bad news for hitting purposes — the Mets have scored seven runs in their past 61 innings, dating to September 30 and could thus use all the muscle they can muster — though it adds intrigue to the concept of strength up the middle. Maybe Flores, like Murphy, will hit enough to make a person glance away politely on challenging ground balls and the like. Or maybe Flores, like Murphy, will hang in there on defense because the Mets didn’t get this far by letting obstacles overcome them.
We’ll miss Tejada on principle, and not just for the way he went down. He’s one of ours and he should be playing a part in our finest hour. Make no mistake, we’re still in the midst of that hour. Saturday night was a blow — both the loss of the shortstop and the loss of the game — but we went to L.A. and beat one of the two great Dodger moundsmen. Now it’s back to Flushing, one more ace up our sleeve for Game Three.
Monday night. Matt Harvey, you know where to be, you (hopefully) know when to be there, you know what to do, you know who to do it to.
Heal up, Ruben. Watch out, Dodgers.
A while back I declared that we’d already won, and anything else that came our way would be lagniappe — games stolen from wintertime. That wasn’t an attempted reverse jinx (though I’m far from above such things) — I meant it. The postseason’s a crapshoot but gets all the attention; the regular season’s the prize, but the narrative turns it into a participant trophy unless the finale is a parade. It’s a shame, and we should resist the pressure to think that way.
But that’s not to say that this month of glorified exhibition games isn’t electric, exciting, joyous and terrifying. It’s all of the above, and Friday night I realized that nine empty years have left me sorely out of practice. I was pretty calm during the day, watching the Blue Jays and Rangers try to defeat each other and the Strike Zone of Mystery and then seeing a slice of Astros-Royals. But by midway through the Cards-Cubs tilt I had tunnel vision and was reduced to fidgeting and checking the time. And by first pitch I was a disaster, sitting rigid on the couch and reminding myself to breathe.
The game wasn’t exactly one to encourage relaxation, either. It was fascinating and riveting, a duel between two pitchers throwing a baseball about as well as it can be done. There were only two questions:
- Which ace pitcher would make a mistake?
- Which ace pitcher would get tired first?
The answer, in both cases, was Kershaw. The mistake came in the fourth, facing Daniel Murphy — the same Daniel Murphy I’d just been grousing on Twitter shouldn’t have been starting. That’s another marvelous thing about baseball — sometimes you’re over the moon to be wrong. Murph crushed a 2-0 fastball to the back of the right-field bullpen, one of those bolts he delivers now and again. Seriously — the ball wound up with DANIEL imprinted on it, like a 105 MPH iron-on. I am not kidding. Having connected, Murph cocked his bat like a sword, then discarded it and floated around the bases having given the Mets a 1-0 lead. (Oh, and this is adorable.)
It looked like that was all the Mets would get, though, because Kershaw was spectacular, carving up hitter after hitter with evil sliders and curves that looked hittable at the 59-foot point but then dived through the bottom of the strike zone. Or, on occasion, veered around it to check in at the point at the back of the plate — witness the backdoor slider that erased David Wright in the top of the third, followed by an impossible curve that bagged Yoenis Cespedes. (The pitch that got Wright was a strike, though you’d never know it by TBS’s tire fire of a strike-zone widget, which seemed calibrated to the back of the plate rather than the front.)
Anyway, Kershaw was spectacular, but Jacob deGrom — he of the shaggy hair and sheepish grin — was a little bit better. DeGrom got there via a harder road, relying on high-90s heat at the beginning and then finding consistency with his slider and change-up late, but he wound up in a better place: 121 pitches, seven scoreless innings and 13 strikeouts, the last claiming old nemesis Chase Utley. The list of Mets to fan 10 or more in a postseason game is a short one: Dwight Gooden (in ’88) and Tom Seaver (twice in ’73), and now deGrom. And only Tom Terrific joined him in fanning 13. You don’t have to be as historically minded as this blog to know that’s pretty good company.
DeGrom’s final inning came after the Mets had broken through against Kershaw and Pedro Baez. The Mets were hunting fastballs early in counts, but the rest of their plan was to wear Kershaw down on a bizarrely hot night. Witness Wright’s terrific first-inning AB, a 13-pitch walk, and the group effort in the seventh. Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Curtis Granderson all walked, sending Don Mattingly out to get his ace and bringing Baez in to face Wright with two out.
It’s been gratifying — to say the least — to see Wright return and contribute, but that seventh-inning at-bat was even more heartening than the first-pitch home run in Philly. The David Wright of his first years in Shea reminded me of Edgardo Alfonzo with his knack for taking a pitcher’s count and grinding his way to a neutral count or an advantage, then getting his pitch and hitting it hard. The David Wright of Citi Field looked different, too often expanding the strike zone and doing the enemy’s work for him. The Wright we saw in Game 1? That was Shea David. Facing Baez for the first time, armed only with a Michael Cuddyer scouting report, Wright worked his way to 3-2 and then rifled a fastball over the infield, making a terrifyingly slim 1-0 Met lead into a merely nerve-wracking 3-0 Met lead. Tyler Clippard hit a bump in the eighth, as he has too often of late, but Jeurys Familia collected four outs and the good guys had won.
We’ve survived Clayton Kershaw. Now here comes Zack Greinke, who’s as frightening as Kerhsaw, if not more so. But Noah Syndergaard‘s pretty capable too — and he’ll only be followed by Matt Harvey and Steven Matz.
Saturday night will be terrifying, of course — but after nearly a decade of spending October as a spectator in search of temporary loyalty, it’s a good kind of terrifying. And I’m looking forward to whatever these games bring, joyous outcome or not. We’ve had our cake, but I’ll take all the icing I can get.
Every day between October 20, 2006, and October 8, 2015, had something in common. For those 3,276 consecutive days spanning exactly 468 weeks, the New York Mets did not play a postseason baseball game. The total is a little misleading since the vast majority of those days featured no postseason baseball games, but enough of them did so that — at least to us — the Mets’ absence from them was as noticeable as it was vexing.
Vex no longer, calendar. On the 3,277th day, we have a Mets postseason baseball game. For the 75th time in franchise history. For the first time since October 19, 2006, which is a date that is about to stop taunting us from its perch in the ever-more distant past.
In case you’ve forgotten (it rarely gets mentioned anywhere), the most recent pitch a Met saw in postseason competition was taken for a strike. The next pitch a Met sees in postseason competition will probably be taken, too. Curtis Granderson almost always leads off and Curtis Granderson almost always takes the first pitch. Ball or strike, we will be underway in our eighth postseason.
Can you believe it?
Of course you can. You know the Mets won a division title this year. You saw it for yourself less than two weeks ago. You maybe fretted in its aftermath. And then you were inundated with reminders that it was real. The Mets logo pops up here and there within listings of postseason games to be played. It’s right there among the perennials and the similarly unfamiliars. You keep running across dispatches about who will and won’t be on the roster for games about to be played. You grasp that it’s October 9, 2015, and there is a Mets game to be played tonight in Los Angeles, then another there tomorrow, and then another on Monday, that one at Citi Field. The other day the Mets sent out a press release announcing cricket will be coming to their ballpark in November. Usually in the fall, the only sound you hear at Citi Field is crickets.
It will sound different Monday night. It will feel different all weekend. It feels different already and the feeling just keeps intensifying. My god, every baseball game that remains this year will go toward determining the world champion. Only eight teams are playing in them. And ours is one of them.
Can you believe it?
Thursday night I watched the Royals and Astros begin their Division Series. That would have sounded half-ridiculous a year ago, completely absurd a year before that. But things change in baseball. The Royals stand as defending American League champs and the Astros have definitively turned their fortunes around. On the mound after a rain delay at Kauffman Stadium were Collin McHugh for Houston, Chris Young for Kansas City. It made for an ad hoc 2012 Mets rotation reunion, bringing together two pitchers I saw start Met losses two days apart three years ago, two pitchers in whom the Mets saw no future, two pitchers now flourishing on the October stage for somebody else.
In an October as recent as 2014, that would have stung. On October 8, 2015, the last of those 3,276 days when the Mets weren’t playing a postseason game, it was fine. It was more than fine. It was evidence that the Mets have such an excess of talent that they can be generous in spreading it around.
No recriminations for trading Collin McHugh for Eric Young. No thoughts that Chris Young might have been handy to have kept around. No second thoughts that Carlos Gomez, who entered for the Astros as a pinch-runner in the top of the eighth, should have been a Met again as he was heavily rumored to already be this past July, no revisionist reconsideration that he never should have been traded in the first place in 2008. No hard feelings that when the Astros’ lefty specialist Oliver Perez — starting pitcher for the Mets in their last postseason game prior to tonight; immense implosion for the Mets somewhere in the middle of these past nine years — came on and retired his only batter in the bottom of the eighth.
As advertised, even if a little later than planned, David Wright will be a part of TBS’s postseason coverage. (Image courtesy of Deadspin.)
Live and let live when you’re a part of October. You might have forgotten, since it’s been so long. It wasn’t supposed to go on for nine years like this. TBS took on postseason baseball in 2007. They were excited to hype certain stars who they knew would be intrinsic to the action they were paying to broadcast. One of them was David Wright of the N.L. East-leading New York Mets. Somewhere I have a brochure with his picture on the cover touting TBS’s coming coverage. Somewhere a billboard was erected with his picture, signifying that he was going to be a key player on their air.
He will be. It just took a little longer than expected.
The Mets’ postseason highlights — despite what MLB erroneously advertised that November — were not embellished in 2007. They were not added to in 2008, either, despite the trade that sent Gomez and three others to Minnesota for Johan Santana, another pitcher from those 2012 Mets. Santana made 2012 worthwhile one June night in particular, but couldn’t singlehandedly shove the Mets into October in 2008. R.A. Dickey, the Most Valuable Met of 2012, is on a postseason roster of his own. He’ll start if-necessary Game Four against the Rangers on Monday for the Blue Jays, a team that’s waited about two-and-a-half times longer than the Mets to be in one of these series. R.A.’s been waiting his whole life for a moment like this. It will come two days after the pitching prospect for whom he was traded, Noah Syndergaard, makes his first postseason start.
There’s something for everybody this October. There’s something for select 2007 Mets, a handful of 2012 Mets and, most gloriously, all of the 2015 Mets. Granderson Wright, Syndergaard, as many as 22 of their teammates, depending on how benches and bullpens are deployed — they’re here. They’re a part of this. Check your schedules. It’s October 9 and the Mets are still indelibly inked onto them.
With that first pitch from Clayton Kershaw to Curtis Granderson, we’ll pass the “here” stage and the happy-to-be-ness that accompanies it. Ball one or called strike one will mean it’s all business. Just the thought that Curtis might be down oh-and-one to Clayton makes me exceedingly nervous, and first pitch is twelve hours away as I write this.
But that’s all right. We’re supposed to be nervous when the Mets are in the postseason.
These games will go by far too fast and far too slow. If the Mets grab a lead, we’ll wish there was a clock to run out. If the Mets fall behind, we’ll be shaking trees for extra outs just to keep the whole thing going. If it’s tied, all bets are off. All bets are off anyway. Maybe you’ve read previews that the Mets are a sure thing to win or not win. I glance at them but don’t take them seriously. We are in true Nobody Knows Anything territory here. When the season commenced, nobody knew Kansas City would be back or that Houston and Toronto would arrive or that our Metsies would be snapping a string of 3,276 days without a postseason appearance. If forecasts were that easily translated to fact, Bryce Harper would be a bigger topic of conversation in Washington today than Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was yesterday.
There’ll be a new Speaker of the House before the Nationals are in the playoffs, and the Speaker of the House situation is in utter turmoil. McCarthy was a lock to get the gig on the Hill, almost as much as the Nats were guaranteed to win the division. Now his party has no clear successor to John Boehner and the Nationals have no party whatsoever. Like we said, nobody knows anything.
There are no 1-seeds vs. 8-seeds in baseball. There is no 7-9 fluke qualifier offered up as sacrificial snack for the 14-2 behemoth. Everybody who gets here after 162 games has a chance. Everybody who gets here is for real. We are for real. We are in the playoffs for real. Just like the Dodgers. Just like the Cubs and the Cardinals. Just like Dickey and Young and McHugh and Gomez and Oliver Freaking Perez.
Can you believe it? I can.
While you stand by (and hopefully stay fully awake) for first pitch, here are a few other items to occupy your stray attention.
• Andrew Wyeth produces a neat article in the Record of North Jersey about the wonders of #MetsTwitter. I’m quoted for more than 140 characters.
• W.M. Akers reflects wistfully on how the regular season ended last Sunday at Citi Field for Vice Sports. Something I wrote here is graciously mentioned in passing.
• Pete McCarthy had Mets fan and minority-owner Bill Maher on the WOR Sports Zone a couple of nights ago. You should listen to their conversation. Maher gives some pretty good insight on what it’s like to have a literal stake in the team he loves. (McCarthy, by the way, gives sports talk radio a good name and I recommend enjoying his show nightly on 710 AM or the iHeart radio app.)
• Michael Garry takes his Game Of My Life: New York Mets book tour to the beautiful Bergino Baseball Clubhouse (67 E. 11th St., in Manhattan, between Broadway and University Place) on Wednesday night, 7 o’clock, October 14. It’s an off night for potential NLDS activities, so your priorities are safe. Michael will be bringing Ed Charles with him. Any night spent in the company of the Glider is a championship experience. RSVP info is here.
• If you relish the journey as much as the destination, check out a book focused on what it’s like when the Mets don’t have an October appointments. It’s called The Seventh Year Stretch: New York Mets, 1977-1983 by Greg Prato. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read one of Prato’s previous works, Sack Exchange: The Definitive Oral History of the 1980s New York Jets, and devoured it like Joe Klecko used to devour quarterbacks.
• And, oh yeah, Let’s Go Mets! Can’t say that enough.
Regardless of what the Trade Winds told us in the mid-1960s regarding the plight of displaced Southern California surfer boys, New York’s an awesome town when you’re the only baseball team around.
Welcome to the autumn of our municipal content, the one featuring the Mets and, as of the completion of the Houston Astros’ shutout victory in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card game, only the Mets. As some of the sanctioned t-shirts declare, the postseason is ours…and nobody else’s in the Metropolitan Area.
And as some other official MLB t-shirts might be amended to suggest, Take October Off, Yankees.
This will be a brief gloat, for there are substantial accomplishments to be nailed down, but a gloat is in order. The Mets, you see, did something they hadn’t done in a quarter-century. They finished with a better record and higher in the standings than their neighbors to the slightly north. That didn’t used to be an achievement worth noting. It was just the way it was: four times in five seasons between 1969 and 1973; six times in seven seasons between 1984 and 1990.
Then a period we shall refer to as an aberration set in and wouldn’t easily budge. But that’s over, at least for now. Just like the Yankees’ presence on your playoff calendar.
While we indulge our Sheadenfreudic impulses and enjoy a quick, low-key Elimination Day celebration (because, despite this occasion having occurred 14 times in the past 15 years, it never gets old), we turn our attention fully, as the rest of New York does, to what the Mets can and should do now that they’ve got the autumnal stage to themselves.
They can and should do big things.
Yet they can’t do big things until they take care of every little thing along the way. I’m reluctant to set a near-term long-term goal for them since I’m a firm believer in taking everything one game/day at a time. We know they’ve finally arrived at the entrance to the rainbow after laboring under only clouds for a veritable eternity. We know what the goal at the end of the rainbow is, but they need only concern themselves for the moment with Game One of the National League Division Series. Actually, they should just concern themselves with preparing for Game One since the game doesn’t start until rather late Friday night. In the interim, just have the best workout possible. Or, failing that, just show up to the workout as soon as possible. That would be a start.
As for the near-term long-term goal, let’s put it this way: New York needs the Mets. New York needs the Mets to go as far as a New York team can possibly go (and I don’t meant the way the Dodgers went as far as they possibly could from Flatbush).
New York needs a world championship. The Mets need to be the ones to give it to us. Not just us, as in the Mets fans, but we who live in these environs. We who have been aching to live in a Mets town, a shared Mets state of mind, an ADI with a capital M-E-T-S.
Finishing with a better record than the Yankees is nice (very nice). Remaining on the field longer than the Yankees is nice (very nice). But now that we’ve outwon them and outlasted them, it’s time to give New York what it deserves.
This is the greatest city in the world, we are continually told and love to tell ourselves. You’d figure there’d be a world championship banner flying somewhere around here. Yet there isn’t. There hasn’t been for quite a while.
How long? Long enough.
Let’s set our parameters. Let’s look at this through the prism of the traditional Big Four professional sports — baseball, football, basketball and hockey (sorry, soccer) — and the local franchises that represent the greater New York City area. Those would be the Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, Nets, Knicks, Islanders, Devils and Rangers. Yes, one of those teams calls itself New Jersey; one used to; and two others play there, but our rule of thumb is if they win a championship, it would be covered giddily by local New York television newscasts and generally treated in enthusiastic bandwagon fashion by other local New York media.
Mind you, the idea of a “New York” world championship doesn’t necessarily hold universal appeal in these parts. For example, there have been 27 I can immediately think of that I wish had never occurred. I doubt there’s anybody who isn’t paid to who roots or even pretends to root for all nine of the aforementioned teams. That brand of sentiment might work where there’s one franchise per league in a given city. We, on the other hand, compose a gorgeous mosaic of diverse and contrary interests. We love New York, even if we probably can’t stand at least half of the teams that play here.
Then again, there’s always gonna be somebody who sees a bandwagon, any bandwagon, and will hop on board toward its finish line without being weighed down by the morals and ethics attached to crafting fleeting loyalties on the fly. Call them “New York” fans. Or anything you like.
The last time New York had a bandwagon to ride successfully all the way to its logical conclusion was February 5, 2012, when the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. That was 1,340 days ago. Given that there is no professional sports championship to be captured on October 7, 2015, that exact total is provisional. The real number of days to keep in mind lies somewhere between 1,364 and 1,368, which would take the New York championship drought up to somewhere between October 31 and November 4. That encompasses the soonest (Game Four) and the latest (Game Seven) the 2015 World Series can be won.
That’s when the Mets can end the drought. That’s when the Mets can be New York’s world champion. That would be very nice (very, very nice). But would it mark the end of a particularly or historically long New York championship drought? For some, who need a good bandwagon ride every few months, of course. Put up against other championship droughts, it’s not close to being the worst it’s ever been, but we are in danger of verging on feeling unusually arid.
The longest New York has ever had to wait between big-time professional sports championships goes back to the dawn of big-time professional sports in New York. The Giants — the baseball Giants, that is — won the World Series on October 14, 1905. They won it again on October 3, 1921, with nobody else (meaning the Robins/Dodgers and Highlanders/Yankees) winning one in between. That was a stretch of 5,843 days in the championship desert for New York. There were no local television newscasts to bemoan our shortcomings in those days, attributable entirely to the total lack of television. It’s probably not fair to compare those days to these days.
A semblance of these days didn’t really get rolling until the 1920s, when you had the three baseball teams, the football Giants and the earliest Rangers. The baseball Giants repeated as world champions in 1922, a mere 360 days following their 1921 triumph. Thereafter, though, mostly you had the Yankees. They won their first World Series on October 15, 1923, and then began breaking most of the resulting relatively short New York droughts themselves. Quite often it was a matter of the Yankees winning New York a championship on some October afternoon and then winning New York its next championship roughly 365 days later.
Now and then, New York was awash in champagne, albeit the bootleg variety during Prohibition. On October 8, 1927, the Yankees of Murderers Row fame won the World Series; 57 days later, the Giants won their first NFL championship (clinched in the regular season, as there was no playoff system yet in place); 132 days after that, the Rangers skated off with their first Stanley Cup; and 178 days after that, the Yankees won the World Series again. In just over a year, New York raised four banners in three sports.
Other than a pair of four-year droughts (1928-1932; 1943-1947) and one lasting three years (1958-1961), New York never had to go without for more than approximately ten minutes. That four-decade bounty came to an end with the last Yankee world championship of its dynasty epoch, won on October 16, 1962.
Then came a drought worthy of the name. The 1960s may have been a good time for surf music, but New York sports teams were collectively wiping out. Even though we had seven entries playing four sports in six professional leagues, there was no strength in numbers. The baseball Giants and Dodgers vamoosed west in 1957, but we had already gained the Knicks (founded 1946) and were about to add the Titans/Jets (1960), the Mets (1962) and the New Jersey Americans (1967), a basketball bunch that bounced to Long Island and became the Nets a year later. Yet even with all those new franchises joining the Yankees, the NFL Giants and the Rangers, we couldn’t win a single championship as a metropolis. It took until January 12, 1969 — a span of 2,280 days — for the AFL Jets to trump the NFL Colts and end the drought that had been so deeply entrenched during sports’ expansion boom.
Once the championship boom hit New York, it exploded in earnest. Only 277 days after Joe Namath made good on his Super Bowl III guarantee, the Mets won the World Series. And only 204 days beyond that blue-and-orange letter date of October 16, 1969, the Knicks were crowned NBA champions, on May 8, 1970. Another Knick title was registered just over three years later. A year after that, it was the Nets’ turn to make New York proud. Dr. J and his teammates turned the ABA trick again two years later.
Then the New York Nets (like their league) ceased to exist as such and no New York or New York-ish professional basketball championship has been secured since May 13, 1976 — not in Northern New Jersey, not in Manhattan and not in Brooklyn. But the sports championships kept coming to New York in the late 1970s, as the Yankees won a pair of World Series in back-to-back fashion in ’77 and ’78 (while the Cosmos were winning the briefly big-time Soccer Bowl in the same two seasons). As the 1980s dawned, the Islanders, formed in 1972, kept New York’s championship thirst slaked with four consecutive Stanley Cups.
After the last of those ice hockey chalices was hoisted in good old Uniondale, New York went dry for 1,259 days, which represented the longest drought to date of the post-Namath period. Who came to New York’s rescue while the Islanders, Rangers, Devils (who showed up in East Rutherford in 1982), Knicks, Nets, Jets, Giants and Yankees came up perennially short after May 17, 1983?
Why, the New York Mets! They won the World Series on October 27, 1986, and they provided such an inspirational example, the Giants went out and won Super Bowl XXI on January 25, 1987, exactly 90 days later. It made for the fourth-shortest championship drought in New York sports history, the briefest since 1956.
Things dried up again from there, though. The Giants had to pick up where they left off 1,463 days earlier by taking Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991. The Rangers kicked in a Cup 1,234 days after that, with the Devils matching their feat another 370 days hence. New York/New Jersey didn’t have to do a lot of waiting in the years ahead, with four baseball and two hockey championships falling the area’s way between 1996 and 2003.
Then it grew dry again, as there’d be a 1,700-day void between the Devils’ third cup (June 9, 2003) and the Giants’ third Super Bowl (February 3, 2008); New York had not waited that long for a championship since Broadway Joe’s signature moment. There’d be a World Series won by somebody local on November 4, 2009, then that fourth Giants Super Bowl on February 5, 2012, snapping a champless stretch of 1,157 days, a figure we’ve since surpassed as we wait and wait and wait for another…as we wait for the one we really want.
All told, there were 59 major professional sports championships won by eleven franchises situated in the New York City area between 1905 and 2012. New York needs a 60th in 2015. There’s only one New York team that can bring it home this calendar year.
There’s nobody else to whom we’d rather assign this vital task.
Maybe all the Mets needed was a little sunshine. The sun makes living things grow. The Mets appeared to be the opposite of a living thing since departing Cincinnati with a division title stuffed in their luggage. Perhaps they were under the impression they had entered the afterlife.
Not quite. They had only qualified for it. There was a little business left to be taken care of back on earth, a little pulse to be shown. They proceeded to play five games under cover of either darkness or clouds. The results reflected the gloom.
Sunday the sun came out. And so did the Mets, who did just enough to make the rest of us shine. Heaven no longer waits. It arrives unencumbered, at a time to be announced, this Friday at Dodger Stadium.
Funny thing about depositing yourself at a sun-kissed ballpark for the last few hours it was supposed to be open for the year. You forget your problems. You forget your team’s problems. You forget the total lack of scoring from the several games before. You forget the total lack of hits from the game directly before. You remember that even though the game you’re at was slated to mark the end of yet another season, this year it serves as a gateway to something potentially divine.
Under the Sunday sun at Citi Field, in Game 162, the Mets beat the Nationals, 1-0. One run more than their opponent — any opponent at this point — was all we needed to burnish our brightness. We got it. We got it against the Nationals, which was a nice and I’d say necessary boost for our collective self-esteem. The Nationals lost and went home. That’s where they were headed anyway, but it was better to send them away emptyhanded. Their disappearance from October before October really gets going provided a healthy reminder that it is the Mets who are sticking around to take a bite out of the meat of the month.
The Mets are going on to play more baseball. They start the new fall season Friday. They were the breakout hit of the summer. We’ll see how their act plays in prime time. Right now just knowing that they’ll be there to tune in to is pretty special. It was special knowing that on Sunday.
Ah, Sunday. Closing Day. It’s my thing every year at the end of the baseball year. I’ve come to cherish it more than Opening Day. It’s when I reflect a lot and mourn a little and appreciate a ton. But what about the rare year like this one when the Day in question is less about Closing and more about keeping the gate ajar?
What one sacrifices in sense of closure is more than made up for by the sensation of anticipation. My gosh, knowing the Mets and Citi Field will remain open for a while longer, maybe a significant while longer, doesn’t detract from Closing Day at all. It adds a whole savory dimension to the experience.
Thus, I wasn’t my usual melancholy self on the train ride in Sunday. I wasn’t kissing, hugging or heartily handshaking the season and its inhabitants goodbye. I wasn’t slumped into my seat at the end as I tend to be when the last out is recorded. I was light on my toes in my head all Closing Day long.
There was still the pageantry I arrange for myself on the occasion of the final regularly scheduled home game, a date I have now kept with the Mets for 21 consecutive seasons, 23 in all. There was the Chapman tailgate extraordinaire, this year with a Seaver Vineyards-supplied toast to a division title just won and a division series just ahead. There was a dime (or more) dropped on a t-shirt, a pennant and a pin that confirms the Mets really are champions of something. Usually Stephanie and I search the team store for clearance items. This year the shelves were stocked with new merchandise. It was no bargain, but I can’t question the value.
We walked the field level one more time. We said hi to people we see mostly at Citi Field. People who see us mostly at Citi Field said hi to us. We stopped in our tracks when the PA gave me what I’d been wanting to hear since April: Bobby Darin welcoming us to “Sunday In New York,” a song that had been a Sunday staple in Flushing dating back to early in the century. I thought they stopped playing it, the way they stopped playing “Takin’ Care Of Business” after Mets wins. I was willing to move on from BTO to Ace Frehley in the name of changing our luck, but I’d been missing Bobby Darin something awful.
“If you’ve got troubles/Just take them out for a walk/They’ll burst like bubbles/In the fun of a Sunday in New York.” I’ve got troubles. We’ve all got troubles. The Mets aren’t one of them. Sometimes we act as if they are. Even when we’ve had an appointment with the Dodgers guaranteed for more than a week we could, amid the clouds and the darkness, convince ourselves the sky was if not falling, then drifting dangerously downward.
On Closing Day, with the sun prominent and friends along the trail and postseason logos in evidence, there was no trouble at Citi Field. There were no hits for the Nationals for most of seven innings, albeit without the drama Max Scherzer provided Saturday night. Terry Collins was changing pitchers like a neurotic foot changes socks, yet no arm — not deGrom’s, not Colon’s, not Verrett’s and, until it finally did so a little flukily, not Niese’s — gave up a Washington base knock. Then the regular bullpen guys Reed and Clippard resumed keeping the Nats hit out of luck.
The Mets who hadn’t scored since Cincinnati (or so it seemed) didn’t score until the eighth, when Curtis Granderson hit a ball over a fence. But they did score and they had an entire run more than the Nats. See? No trouble. It was 1-0, Jeurys Familia coming on for the save that would tie Armando Benitez’s single-season mark of 43. Two outs were quickly recorded.
Finally, it was Familia versus Bryce Harper to end it. Or not end it. Harper stroked the first pristine hit of the day, a double to left. Or was it a single and he was out on Michael Conforto’s bullet of a throw to second? Harper was called safe. Collins challenged. Good move, aesthetics notwithstanding. Let Terry get tactical. It’s not like those challenges can be saved for another day.
A replay was watched from a thousand angles. Harper was ruled safe again. Harper is a superb player. I hope someday the relationship between his excellence and our distaste for it has some edge taken off of it. I didn’t like that after he was hit by a pitch Saturday afternoon and briefly writhed in pain that he was hooted on his way to first. Karma doesn’t care for that reaction. Karma was disgusted when Mets fans cheered Kirk Gibson pulling up lame at second base in the 1988 NLCS. See where that got us. Saturday Harper, writhing shaken off, hit the home run that won the day game. I wasn’t surprised. Boo Bryce, but hold the malice. Trust me. It will work better for us in the long run.
Anyway, Bryce was on second and I guess he’s technically if not physically still there. Jeurys left him on base when he flied Jayson Werth to center to end the regular season. A Met had notched a 43rd save for the first time since 2001, which was when “Sunday in New York” entered my consciousness. The Mets, sporting a spiffy 90-72 record, won a 1-0 game for the first time in 2015, a veritable unicorn-style event for a season that featured back-to-back 14-9 affairs at the offense-fueled height of August. Better late than never to make with the pitching, defense and one-run homer.
The last time the Mets won, 1-0, on Closing Day was 1995, the year I began my current last scheduled home game attendance streak. They beat the Braves that Sunday in New York. Bobby Cox started John Smoltz and pulled him after five the way Collins removed Jacob deGrom after four. It was just a tuneup for the N.L. East champs. Their ticket to the postseason indelibly stamped, they were swept by the Mets that weekend. Those same Braves were so burdened by those three straight losses that they went out and won the World Series four weekends later.
You never know how these things will unfold, but I’ll happily take the 1-0 win in 2015 just as I happily took the 1-0 win in 1995. Strange habit I’ve developed. When I go to see the Mets play, I leave happier if I’ve seen the Mets win.
Connoisseurs of Closing Day know the day isn’t done just because the game is over. You stand and you applaud and you wait to see what will happen next. It used to be the best you could hope for was a montage of video clips from the season we’d just persevered through and maybe a cluster of Mets gathering outside their dugout and tossing a few wristbands and well wishes to the fans nearby.
This time we got something more. We got something I’d never previously seen a Mets team do.
The Mets, every wonderful one of ’em, transformed themselves into a human highlight film. They came out en masse and they waved, but they didn’t stop there. They jogged the circumference of the field. They greeted every segment of the stadium. It would have been easy enough to make a beeline to the 7 Line Army out in center and then a beeline right back into their clubhouse. The 7 Liners are the most visible cluster of fans at any game they hold down seats and they can’t help but attract the most attention.
These Mets, though, symbolically recognized everybody who came out to recognize them. It was such a simple gesture, yet it ran so deep. The manager circled the field. The captain circled the field (and later grabbed a microphone in order to share a few gratitude-laced sentiments with us before encouraging all of us, “Let’s go beat L.A.”). Everybody from Yoenis Cespedes to everybody who isn’t Yoenis Cespedes circled the field. The effect was electric. It was like they, the players, knew who we were and how much we care; like they knew we show up to see them across 81 home games plus however many times some of us hit the road to lend them support. All we ask for in the course of the season is that the hitters pile up runs and the pitchers allow almost none. We wouldn’t have thought of asking for this.
Yet they thought to give it to us. It was a splendid moment, maybe never to be repeated again in my lifetime. Or it will be repeated following another few clinchings and become Met tradition, like the video montage used to be, like “Sunday In New York” used to be. Who knows? I know I won’t forget it.
That’s my leitmotif every Closing Day, not forgetting because there’s so much to remember, so much to tie up and take into winter. This Closing Day, however, winter was nowhere in sight, ballpark chill notwithstanding. This Closing Day we bundled and stacked only so many memories. We are privileged to be able to add to them beginning this Friday in Los Angeles. It’s a shame Games One and Two and potentially Five won’t take place at Citi Field. It’s a blessing that our number of games remaining isn’t down to zero.
Here’s to the 2015 that’s happened. Here’s to the 2015 still to come.
Back in June, Emily and I decided that a lovely summer night would be made even better by our attending a ballgame. So we did … and watched the Mets get no-hit by Chris Heston and the San Francisco Giants.
I grumbled and groaned for competitive and aesthetic reasons. The competitive reasons for not wanting my team to be no-hit and lose are, I’ll assume, obvious. The aesthetic reasons? From our perch in the Promenade we couldn’t see how well Heston was mixing or locating his pitches. All we saw was Met after Met after Met arriving at the plate, doing nothing of offensive note and departing — until the Giants were whooping it up.
Last night, Emily and I decided that though it was not a lovely night — in fact, it was windy, cold and thoroughly vile — the best way for us to spend our evening was by attending a ballgame. So we did … and watched the Mets get no-hit by Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals.
Yes really. I don’t go that often — I think I attended around eight games this year. The Mets don’t get no-hit that often — I know that was the eighth time it’s happened to them. And yet there my wife and I were, stranded once again at the intersection of You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me and What the Hell?
If this is luck, someone else can have it.
At least there were some differences between the two nights. Our vantage point for Scherzer’s outing wasn’t that much better than it was for Heston’s — they were perfectly nice seats but unless you’re in the padded Shake Shack area you can’t really speak with authority about movement on pitches or working hitters or any of the stuff you can geek out about if you’re in front of an HDTV. (This is probably one reason I don’t go to Citi Field as often as I should.) But even from where we were, we could see the life on Scherzer’s pitches, and the Met hitters trying to steel themselves in the batter’s box, and we could tell that no one in orange and blue could catch up to what he was bringing. You needed a close-up view to appreciate how Heston was succeeding, but Scherzer’s performance was amazing to witness from any seat in the house.
Competitively it came with a silver lining too. Believe it or not, being no-hit does not mean you immediately surrender 10 games in the standings. The Mets are still National League East champs, as their new flag accurately states — a fact that will come as news to the hysterical wing of Mets Twitter, and that was lost on the dopey, dyspeptic fans surrounding me and my wife last night.
Our section suggested the Mets got the promos wrong and Saturday was actually Wet Blanket Night. The guy in front of us was outraged at watching the Mets’ JV get throttled by one of the best pitchers in baseball on one of the most dominant nights of his life. The guy behind us was merely irritated, but perhaps that’s because he was busily mansplaining the game of baseball to his female companions, whose air of weary patience suggested this wasn’t a new experience. (Most of what he told them was wrong, which I think would surprise only him.) As for the guy at the end of our row screeching in outrage whenever Harvey threw a ball off the plate on an 0-2 count, I can’t even. I alternated wanting to throttle the lot of them with wanting to scream DUDES WE ARE GOING TO THE POSTSEASON, WE BEAT MAX SCHERZER WHEN IT MATTERED, SO CALM THE FUCK DOWN ALREADY.
The Mets are playing flat? I’ve noticed. Heck, it’s been impossible to miss. I’m not that concerned — one hallmark of the 2015 team has been routinely defying whatever it is we think we know about them. The Mets looked befuddled and tired against the Marlins ahead of their showdown with the Nats — and then effectively ended Washington’s season. They followed a grumble-inducing 3-6 homestand with annihilating the Reds. After Sunday’s game they’ll have four days off. It’s plenty of time to reset. And think of it this way: If the Met bats were hot, fans would be starting cars in garages while scribbling notes explaining that the layoff will obviously cause those bats to go cold.
(By the way, another team suffered the indignity of being no-hit twice this year. That’s right, it was the Dodgers.)
When the NLDS begins on Friday, the Dodgers will have home-field advantage. Eh, so what? If you want me to worry, bring up Juan Uribe‘s sternum and Steven Matz‘s back and Jon Niese‘s learning curve as a reliever. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are no picnic whether the shadows are between the hitter and the mound or on the other side of the planet. But our starters aren’t exactly a day at the beach either — give me today’s pitching performances from Harvey and Noah Syndergaard and I’ll take my chances with the Dodgers.
And let’s not forget the bigger picture. I wrote this a couple of days back, but it can’t be emphasized enough: The postseason is a crapshoot, a trio of exhibition series. Billy Beane famously remarked that “my shit doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs.”
Well, job done — and oh what a joyous mission accomplished. On Sunday that ends and we’ll wait for baseball’s autumn exhibition games to begin. I don’t know if we’ll get an ecstatic month that brings sweet memories for a lifetime or a few days of extra baseball followed by disappointment and winter. Either’s possible. If you’re tempted to make any prediction more specific than that, stop and remember the less-famous second half of Beane’s quote about getting to the playoffs: “What happens after that is fucking luck.”
“2015 is over as far contending for a postseason spot goes, and we should just admit it.”
—A post on a blog about a team, June 24
The Mets lost their fourth consecutive game Saturday afternoon. They’re still invited to the playoffs. That doesn’t get revoked on account of style points. But the style they are finishing the regular season in should have gone out of style in June.
June was the last time they lost as many as four in a row. June was when we had to remind ourselves, once the losing streak reached seven, that the Mets would someday win a game again. It seemed worth mentioning because it didn’t seem like a sure thing.
The Mets then went out and commenced to win a whole lot. From a nadir of 36-37, they roared to 89-67. If the “89” looks familiar, that’s the number of wins they’ve been stuck at since last Sunday, which was the day after they clinched that invitation to the playoffs. Again, it’s still valid. Hard to believe, based on the activities of the past six days. These games count, but they count differently from the games that preceded last Sunday. They’re in the standings and they help determine where future games will be played, but their outcome won’t prevent those future games from being played.
The invitation is still valid.
We’re clear on that, right? The Mets are still playing as of October 9. The Mets are still 0-0 as of October 9, regardless that they’re 0-4 since September 29. The Mets hoisted a divisional championship flag Saturday afternoon prior to their fourth consecutive loss. Long may it wave…and soon may it be embellished to reflect further accomplishment.
OK. That said, this is mostly lifeless baseball the Mets are playing and they should stop it. Just stop it. We can be only so sophisticated about it for only so long. We’d like to stop being sophisticated about it tonight. Use the second half of this day-night doubleheader to humor us with a 90th win. That would look better than 89. Keeping pace with the Dodgers for home field would look better, too, whether it actually matters or not. Let’s pretend it does. Warm your patrons with something more than a fleece blanket.
Make double plays. Hit with runners on base. Confound the winds. Everybody be as much of a credit to your uniform as Noah Syndergaard (7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 10 SO) was to his during the day portion. Embarrass the Nationals, if just for recent old time’s sake. Go on Mets, play like champions. That’s what you are.
Fill your between-games void by listening to me join Mike Silva on Weekend Watchdogs. About an hour-twenty in, Mike asks me about the Mets going to the postseason and I tell him…hell, hear it for yourself.