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If It Rains, It Might As Well Pour

Let’s get the part that made me mad out of the way: In the bottom of the first, Mike Baxter came to the plate for his first Citi Field at-bat since he was helped off the field on the night of June 1, after the amazing sprawling catch that preserved Johan Santana’s no-hit bid. In making that catch, Baxter displaced the sternoclavicular joint between his collarbone and breastbone and tore the cartilage attaching the ribs to his sternum. I assume there’s a sternoclavicular joint somewhere in my mouldering wreck of a body; should I ever do anything that displaces it, I will probably squeak that I must immediately be taken to an emergency room, after which I will lie in the fetal position in a dark room for several months.

Not Baxter. As I’ve written before [1], he made that catch for his teammate and inflicted that damage on himself when his career was at a potentially crucial crossroads: this way and in a few years you’re tell people at your job that you once played in the big leagues, that way and you spent 10 or 12 years in the bigs and then never have to work again. Baxter had a very good spring, pushing himself into the conversation as a Mets regular. No one would have blamed him if he’d come up short making that catch, if he’d shied a bit from contact with the wall. But he went all out, slamming into the wall and threatening everything he’d worked for. And in that moment he ensured another moment would soon happen — one that may be the only thing about the 2012 season that we regularly recall a few years from now.

Anyway, having done all that and paid the price, Baxter was back. And the reaction? I’d describe it as ambient noise. No standing ovation, not even a detectable acknowledgment. It was infuriating — at that moment, if I’d been given the authority to DFA 26,193 worthless fans, I gladly would have sent them all home.

There’s no possible alibi for such mass obliviousness — remember when people understood that as Mets fans we were too romantic and long-suffering but knew our baseball? But if pressed, I can think of two vaguely plausible excuses.

1. The fans were on line for the new Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich. I was out at Citi Field tonight because the Mets had invited a few bloggers — me, Greg and some other dwellers in mothers’ basements — out for the evening. We listened to Terry Collins’ pregame (or the others did — I was late) and watched BP and then repaired to the Pepsi Porch to chat with Chris Carlin and Bob Ojeda before they set up for pregame. (Ojeda, no surprise, is just like he is on TV — awfully smart about pitching and intense to the point of being slightly scary.) Then we went down to the left-field landing and tried the new steak sandwich, with Pat LaFrieda and Mark Pastore themselves in attendance. LaFrieda and Pastore are the reigning god-kings [2] of the New York City burger religion, of which I am a zealous adherent, so I have to confess that I was possibly more starry-eyed about meeting them than I’d been about quizzing an ’86 Met about pitching.

The sandwich? It’s great — pieces of tender, perfectly cooked filet mignon, with cheese and caramelized onions, on a bun robust enough that it holds together until you’re done, which is where a lot of sandwiches falter and become messes. (Here’s a more in-depth review [3] from Ted Berg, connoiseur of both words and sandwiches.) In fact, I’d put it up there with the carnitas at Verano and the fries at Box Frites as Citi Field must-haves — as proof, an hour after our free sample (which was by no means stingy), I was back in line. A tip, though: One sandwich will feed two, unless one of you is a linebacker or a yeti. Anyway, consider this a rave — and get yourself one before the lines get Shake Shackian.

What’s that? We were talking about fans not cheering for Mike Baxter? Oh yeah, we were — I got distracted thinking about steak sandwiches. Back to the other vaguely plausible excuse for being oblivious…

2. The fans could see the future. The Mets got beat. Oh boy did they get beat. Holy Sweet Mother of Jesus did they get beat. They got curb-stomped. Pasted. Atomized. Nullified. Carbonized. Annihilated. Taken out with the trash. Made extinct.

Chris Young got two outs, and then it was 1-zip thanks to Jose Reyes yanking one into the front row of the Pepsi Porch, a section over from where Gary, Keith and Ron had set up temporary quarters. (Long night for those gentlemen.) Two hitters later it was 3-zip thanks to Giancarlo Stanton knocking one into the party deck. Young hung around till the fifth, while the Mets did next to nothing against Nathan Eovaldi, and then Carlos Lee drove in two and Stanton hit another one. 7-zip, farewell Mr. Young.

7-zip is bad, but the Marlins were just getting started. They treated newcomer Garrett Olson roughly, making it 10-zip. Manny Acosta got nicked — 11-zip, and I was wondering how many times Keith had muttered “oh boy” or just sighed and/or groaned out there in the Pepsi Porch. Hello Frank Francisco, and then it was 13-zip. The Mets haven’t won a Citi Field game since before the All-Star break; they probably deserve two losses for whatever the hell it was they were doing out there tonight [4]. By the time it was over — and I stayed until the pathetic end — it looked like 1983, with a handful of ironists and die-nevers cackling at each misfortune.

But it was fine. Weird thing to say, but it was. Getting beat 5-4 when a comeback doesn’t quite make the grade stinks. Getting beat 2-0 stinks. But 13-0? Somewhere along the way to that you let go and let the baseball gods do what they will.

It’s like being caught in the rain: It happens to all of us at some point, and none of us like it. You turtle your head down into your collar as if that’s going to do anything, and try to go faster but wind up kind of scuttling because you don’t want to stomp in puddles, and when you finally get to wherever you’re going your clothes are spotted and blotted and you’re winded and unhappy. Sucks, right? But you’ve probably also been really caught in the rain a time or two — so thoroughly drenched that you’re soaked through to the skin and can’t even see for the water running down your face. When that happens you give up — your life has turned into an unexpected trip to the water park, and you’re half-drowned and it’s a disaster, but it’s too late, so what the hell. If it’s happened to you, you maybe even remember that eventually you just started laughing.

That’s the difference between getting beat 2-0 and getting beat 13-0.

I was in the press box when I realized that Jeff, an old baseball acquaintance, was in the park too. So we exchanged some messages and met up for that previously mentioned second go at a LaFrieda sandwich. Then we hung out for the rest of the game talking baseball, trading memories about great games at Shea and wincing about not-so-great games at Shea and talking baseball cards and autographs and everything else. Sure, down there on the field outfielders were falling down and relievers were trudging into the dugout and it seemed possible that Giancarlo Stanton might kill someone with his next line drive, but up in the stands we were reliving 1992 and 1999 and 2006 and June 1, 2012, and we were having a grand time.

Would we rather have been reminiscing with one eye on a crazily dramatic 7-6 Mets walkoff win? Well of course we would have. But baseball doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you get caught in the rain. You might as well laugh.