- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Down at the Sunset Grill

You see a lot more meanness in the city
It’s the kind that eats you up inside
Hard to come away with anything
That feels like dignity
Hard to get home with any pride
Don Henley [1]

The sun is setting on our boys of summer. They’ll be sending their best from Atlanta and Miami for the next six days, and I’ll be in front of my TV and by my radio to receive whatever they care to transmit, but the baseball season as I choose to engage it is over.

The Mets have left Citi Field. You might say the Mets absented themselves from Citi Field for so long that it was impossible to make them out amid the literal and figurative emptiness. They were barely there in the latter half of July, the bulk of August and most of September until very recently. They won four times at home and lost infinitely.

You couldn’t find us, either. Sure, the numbers filed with the league office of fictitious figures claimed a solid-sounding 2,242,803 humans glided through the Citi Field turnstiles to spend time with their beloved Mets, but when was the last time you saw so many people who could be described as hard, green, plastic and unoccupied? And even if that number was remotely legit, it was still the worst official attendance registered in nine Met years.

And yet as stiff a wind as the prevailing trends presented, we all came back together one final time on Thursday. The Mets showed up. We showed up. A Mets game met a Mets crowd the way it almost never does anymore. It was something to see. It was something better to be a part of.

Why did we do it after avoiding the temptation for months or, let’s face it, not being all that tempted? I don’t think there’s a lot of mystery to discerning an answer.

We did it because we could.

We did it because we couldn’t anymore if we didn’t right away.

We did it because of R.A. Dickey.

There’s an old man there from
The Old World
To him it’s all the same
Calls all his customers by name

Every pitch mattered. Every ball’s flight was a story within a larger story. A desperately desired outcome hung in the balance all day, and when outcome met desire at the very end, it added up to — by far — the most exciting hours I’ve experienced in the four-year history of Citi Field.

And this saddened me a little even as it energized me a lot. The pennant race atmosphere we created together, us and R.A. Dickey, had no pennant race attached to it. If R.A. won, the Mets were going to be mired in fourth place. If R.A. lost, the Mets were going to be mired in fourth place. If R.A. was no-decisioned, the Mets were going to be mired in fourth place. The home season was over and the schedule is less than a week from following it into the past tense, and the Mets are definitively a team mired in fourth place and marooned miles from contention.

The pitches still mattered. The outcome was still fantastically gratifying. The individual and the milestone in question were absolutely worthy of our commitment. The thrill of being in on R.A. Dickey’s 20th win of 2012 [2], a first for him and a first for any Met in 22 years, was legitimate and it will likely endure in my memory for as long as I have a memory.

But I couldn’t help but wish there was something more on the line. For the first time since I became a habitual attendee of games at Citi Field, upon the facility’s opening in 2009, it really felt like something was going on around me. The urgency of an immensely popular player attaining his outsized goal was so palpable, that at stray moments I harked back to another Closing Day involving Mets, Pirates and genuine tension.


The stars come out for a 20th win. (Photo by Sharon Chapman)

Dickey’s quest leaned more to the joyfully festive than the unbearably tense: ringing chants of “CY YOUNG!”; recurring bouts of standing ovation; the blue-clad 7 Line Army [4] holding forth beyond center field for nine innings and then some. Nevertheless, it smacked just a little of Home Game 81 at Shea Stadium 13 years ago, when it was mandatory that the Mets beat back the Bucs in order to advance to a one-game playoff that would determine if they could then, and only then, enter the postseason for the first time in 11 years. The business of October 3, 1999 [5], was as pressing as any I’d ever been party to as a Mets fan. That R.A. Dickey’s attempt to capture himself a round number even remotely resembled the afternoon Melvin Mora dashed home on Brad Clontz’s wild pitch to ensure a trip to Cincinnati is a credit to how much R.A. means to a satisfaction-starved fan base that has had little of an enduring nature to cheer since Shea closed and Citi opened.

These days a man makes you somethin’
And you never see his face
But there is no hiding place

R.A. Dickey has been a Met to get behind since 2010, no matter the competitive environment that’s surrounded him. He invested in a pitch, transformed it into a growth industry, installed himself as its CEO and issued each of us a share of stock in his success. Our dividend was his pushing his regional manager to assure him the Closing Day starting assignment. Terry Collins’s six-man rotation was going to spin Dickey into Atlanta, where he’s not particularly effective and where the Mets fans who adore R.A. couldn’t easily support his effort to win a 20th game.

Glad R.A. is a hands-on CEO who gets it. He talked at various points along the way about sharing his big moment with us and us sharing his big moment with him. He understands that the team vs. individual equilibrium, in which the group’s priorities are normally framed as paramount, is pretty pointless when the team is 71-84 and the individual is 19-6. Now and then in the last few weeks, I got the impression the Mets existed mostly to pad R.A.’s stats and provide R.A. a forum to go after Win No. 20.

I’m fine with that. The Mets didn’t seem to exist to do anything else terribly interesting. Why not alter the rotation to get R.A. on the mound in front of us? Why not promote R.A.’s Cy Young candidacy? Why not recognize R.A. is making history when the 2012 Mets have been history since July? If R.A. wins, the Mets win. If R.A. doesn’t win…

I preferred not to consider that an option.

Respectable little murders pay
They get more respectable every day
Don’t worry girl
I’m gonna stick by you
And someday soon we’re gonna get in that car
And get outta here

It was a blast to be in R.A.’s ranks Thursday. I’d practically call it an honor to bear witness to the sixth Mets pitcher clinching the ninth 20-win season in franchise history. Every fifth or sixth day in the second half of 2012, R.A. lifted us from the benign disengagement you’d rightly infer a fourth-place team inspires to full-fledged immersion that seemed perfectly logical as Dickey’s knucklers rode their own private highway from his well-traveled fingertips to Josh Thole’s oversized mitt.

It’s a shame his 20th win didn’t come in service to a better Mets team, but it was enough, I suppose, that R.A. Dickey made the Mets a better team whenever it was his turn to try. And besides, as fans who are unshakeable in our affinity, we need these kinds of stories and these kinds of seasons when the overarching narrative is lacking. Dickey winning his 20th as a tuneup for his projected start in Game Two of the NLDS would be as sweet as that sounds, but given what we know as reality, what could be sweeter than a 72-84 club being redeemed regularly by the presence of a 20-6 savior?

Savior of our sanity if not our season.

So here’s to R.A. Dickey doing all kinds of unprecedented things with a knuckleball and aligning himself alongside Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Frank Viola in a roll call you didn’t think was ever going to require lengthening

Here’s to David Wright, newly coronated as all-time Met hit king and comfortingly familiar as striker of the big blow that was the three-run wind beneath R.A.’s 13-strikeout wings in the fifth inning.

Here’s to Ike Davis, the most productive .224 hitter in captivity, for getting us on the scoreboard, and here’s to Andres Torres, Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy for sparking the decisive rally.

Here’s to Thole, who can’t hit a lick and doesn’t seem like much of a catcher in general, but he’s behind the plate for R.A. all the time, and R.A. has won 20 games, so there must be something there.

Here’s to Bobby Parnell for being the best available option in a bullpen that has rarely provided many good options in support of any starting pitcher over the past half-dozen campaigns.

And what the hell, here’s to the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the benefit of hindsight, for making the whole thing that much more tense for nine innings. Rod Barajas’s RBI double and homer presented evidence to support my theory that catchers who used to catch a particular pitcher should be able to hit that pitcher like crazy (though Rod Barajas can sit and spin for having done so on this occasion). Travis Snider compelled me to offer grudging sportsmanlike applause while bearing the most gritted of teeth when he robbed — robbed — Mike Baxter of what was going to be the tying home run in the second. Geez, Snider’s climb of the right field fence and his outstretched lunge over it to make Baxter’s 380-foot blast fall one gloved hand shy of paying off out-Endy’d Endy just about. I’ve never seen a better catch in person, and because it wound up not costing R.A., I can ungrit my teeth now.

R.A.’s a 20-game winner. In a season to grimace from, this has surely been a pitcher to smile over.

Maybe we’ll leave come springtime
Meanwhile, have another beer
What would we do without all these jerks anyway?
Besides —
All our friends are here

I’m a maven for showing up on Closing Day, no matter the state of Met contention or lack thereof. I went to my first final scheduled home game of the Mets season in 1985, my second in 1988 and every one of them since 1995. That’s 18 in a row for a total of…hey, 20. I have the feeling I’ve seen that number somewhere.

Anyway, these days are the most special of all Mets days to me. I gravitated to them because of the finality of a season going in the books, but over the years I find another reason I love them: because I run into so many Mets fans who are intent on doing the same thing.

I’m sure R.A. was an added incentive this year — the anticipant vibe at Citi Field was closer to Opening Day II, sans Rodney Dangerfield [6] but including (just a fancy section away from me) Jerry Seinfeld and Matthew Broderick, than sad last day of summer — but even if it was some non-intellectual, non-knuckleballer toeing the rubber in search of something less than a 20th win, I’m certain I would’ve seen a lot of the same faces I’ve come to expect when the Mets are completing their home commitments. For the diehardest among us, attending Home Game 81 is tantamount to a Holy Day of Obligation. The Mets have one more game? We must help them finish it!

When things were going very badly for the Mets most of the time since the middle of the year, I’d now and then hear the question, “Why are you still a Mets fan if they make you so miserable?” Sometimes it would be a theoretical inquiry, sometimes I was queried directly. Here’s my answer:

I love being a Mets fan.

I may complain all day and all night about the Mets, because I want them to be better than they currently are, but you will never, ever hear me complain about being a Mets fan. The 2012 Mets are for six more road games a temporary condition. Mets fandom is forever. If I gripe about their performance or their positioning or any of dozens of off-field foibles, it’s because I know how incredible the Mets can be when more things are going right than wrong for them and how much more Amazin’ they can be beyond that when virtually everything is going right.

Trust me on this one: When it happens again, all the indignities of the current era will be dust in your subconscious. I don’t know when that will be, but I trust it will happen. Or I trust that I’ll continue to trust it will happen and I won’t regret living in that extended state of suspended disbelief.

Honestly, what are people like us going to be — not Mets fans?

There are worse things than rooting for a bad ballclub. There is nothing better than rooting for your ballclub, good or bad, especially when you know you’re not alone. I am reminded annually of how unalone I am in this endeavor on Closing Day. Thank you to those who kept such wonderful company with me yesterday, those who were thoughtful enough to introduce or reintroduce themselves to me in the course of the afternoon and those who make me feel remarkably good about what we do here all year ’round.

We write about a team mired in fourth place. And you read what we write. When I stop and think about that, it leaves me more awestruck than I was when I was staring at Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick and R.A. Dickey combined.