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Classic Move

On Thanksgiving, SNY ran three of its most classic Mets Classics: the 1986, 1988 and 2006 division-clinchers. They’re all worthy choices and they’ve all been shown so often that I should know them by heart, but it never hurts to take a second (or second-hundredth) look at the Mets earning a playoff spot. Bud only knows when it will happen again.

I DVR’d the ’86 clincher with the intention of transferring it to a disc, which I haven’t gotten around to yet. So it’s been sitting on the recorded list for a month and last night I decided to visit it for an inning. Doc Gooden got through the top half of the first OK, though Ryne Sandberg punched a double down the right field line, thereby prompting a chant of “We Want Keith!” in the direction of first-time first base fill-in Dave Magadan, playing in place of an ailing Hernandez. The Mets came up in the bottom of the first, and after two quick outs, Magadan — batting in Mex’s spot, which seems pretty bold, now that I’m thinking about it — uncoiled and stroked a single to the outfield. That got him cheered.

Gary Carter was up next and lofted a fly ball to leftish-center. It appeared destined to be caught, at which point I heard myself thinking the following:

“Fuck, Carter’s gonna leave another runner on. He’s always doing this.”

The ball fell in and sent Magadan to third on what was ruled a double. Ralph Kiner admonished young Dave for initially stopping at second and thus not scoring, while Tim McCarver forgave the raw rookie, considering he’d never been on third base in the big leagues before…to which Ralph replied third base is in the same spot in the majors as it is in the minors. That exchange reminded me how good those two were together (and why McCarver was well on his way to the Ford C. Frick Award [1]). Still, I was more interested at this moment in what I was saying in 2011 than what they were saying in 1986.

Let’s review the facts:

• I know, as I watch this, that this is a clincher [2]. The Mets will win the game and the National League East by the end of the evening.
• I know the Mets will win much more than that in the weeks ahead.
• I know the Mets will win the biggest game of their collective life because Gary Carter will spark a two-out, tenth-inning rally with a base hit.
• I know Gary Carter drove in 100 runs on shaky knees in 1985 and would drive in 105 before 1986 would be over.
• I know future Hall of Famer Gary Carter was the reason the Mets stepped up in class [3] from spunky upstarts in 1984 to serious championship contenders over the next two years.
• I know, to bring it back to September 17, 1986, that the New York Mets have been the best they’ve ever been for nearly six months and have given me, in real time, no cause to be upset with anything about them.

Yet as there’s a runner on first and two out and I see Carter swing and it seems certain the ball will be caught and the Mets won’t score, I am absolutely in the moment of watching not the greatest Mets team ever comprised preparing to secure a milestone victory, but just some Met not driving some other Met in, just as Mets “always” do in my mind when fly balls hang up a second or two too long.

And this was somehow comforting. It reminded me, in living 1986 color, how embedded this stuff is within my soul. This wasn’t another off-the-field contretemps. This was a game in front of me, albeit on quarter-century tape delay. It mattered to me whether a 25-year-old fly ball might fall in. Seeing it take flight and start to descend awoke in me the ancient spirit of living and dying with my baseball team, an instinct stuck to my being from way before 1986. In the course of a season or a lifetime, I temper it, I moderate it, I don’t overdo my reaction to every ball hit in the air…but when I draw a bead on one, even via a contraption that didn’t exist when the ball was first struck, well, fuck, it better fall in.

This one did. Then Straw came up and flied out to end the first, and I was pissed off all over again.