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That Old Time Religion

“Is this heaven?”
“It’s Iowa.”
“I could have sworn this was heaven.”
—The Kinsellas, father and son, Field of Dreams

The Saturday game was a matinee. Planes could be heard rumbling overhead on TV. Rusty Staub was in evidence. High and deep fly balls hit by the home team left the home park for home runs. So-called scrubs excelled. A masterful pitching performance was completed by the ace who started it. A romp became a rout. The whole thing took 2:18. And Banner Day was at hand.

Was this Shea, circa 1973?

It was close enough.

I got a very good feeling watching the Mets overwhelm the Padres this afternoon [1]. Not just a 9-0 feeling, but a feeling that this was a throwback game, the kind of game I could’ve watched on Channel 9…the kind of game when Rusty Staub wasn’t a bobblehead [2], but a 3-for-5 right fielder robbing Johnny Grubb of a double. Alas, the real Rusty was confined to the SNY booth, but we were OK on the field anyway.

After all, we had Vinny Rottino.

Vinny from Racine (by way of Buffalo) was filling in as we might have had George “The Stork” Theodore do once, and Rottino inked himself in the Met annals with his very first home run. The Stork’s very first home run, walloped off Balor Moore of the Expos on Independence Day 1973, was half of his career output, which is as many as have been hit by modernity’s yeoman catching answer to Duffy Dyer, Mike Nickeas. Nickeas’s second career home run, which put a lovely bow on things in the eighth, was a grand slam.

Of course it was. On a day like this, it would have to be.

Scott Hairston, a little more credentialed but not materially different from your Dave Schneck type, started the Met power trip with a three-run shot in the first, a blast good enough to go out of Shea in 1973 or Citi Field in 2012, if not the old Citi. Same for Vinny, same for Mike. That absurdly dimensioned Citi, however, is so 2011. Today was a hot day, so the ball jumped. When the ball jumps, it should have a chance to clear the outfield walls. Three of ours did.

Nothing the Padres hit was a threat to scale any wall (other than Kiddie Field’s), but to be fair to San Diego, they didn’t hit much of anything. They were facing this Met generation’s version of Tom Seaver, Johan Santana. Righty-lefty stuff notwithstanding, Seaver is the clearest antecedent for Santana in Mets history, especially on a day when Johan is so Terrific. Bob Murphy would have said Santana was wearing the Padres hitters on his watch chain, and indeed our robust ace dealt as if he had early supper reservations in the Diamond Club and was in no way planning on dining late.

The Johan line: 96 pitches, 74 strikes, zero walks, seven punchouts, four hits, no runs obviously, no relievers obviously, nobody like him when he’s this much in command obviously.

I’ve often thought if something’s obvious, there’s no need to say “obviously,” but why not be sure to call attention to how obviously untouchable Johan Santana was during as much of the afternoon as he needed to go the distance (which wasn’t a big chunk of it)? His performance was strongly reminiscent of the way Seaver used to handle the Padres. From 1969 through 1975, encompassing 21 starts, Tom’s record against San Diego ran to 18-1, his ERA was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow, polka-dot 1.57, and in 183 innings, he struck out 189 Padres while walking only 42 of them. In one game, he fanned 19 Friars, including the last ten in a row; in another, he prevented them from collecting a base hit until the ninth inning.

In an era when complete games by ace pitchers were the rule, Tom Seaver threw 14 in those 21 starts. Johan being 1-for-1 versus the Pads since returning to apparently full health will do for now.

All that’s left to make the nostalgic element of this weekend resonate that much more sweetly would be for thousands to have their bedsheets festooned Sunday morning [3] and for tens of thousands to turn out well before gametime to watch them as Banner Day rises from the ashes. I will be there, not judging the results (I’ll leave that to the likes of Rusty, Doc and Howie [4]) but appreciating that the most Metsian promotion ever is on the march again.

My friend Shannon at Mets Police will be happy to cajole you into showing up tomorrow [5]. And I’ll throw in another link to my Banner Day retrospective [6] that ran in Saturday’s Times to provide a little context as to what this is all about on the off chance that not everybody reading here was a kid at Shea in 1973.

But if you watched the game today, you might as well have been.