The Mets collected one hit . The Nationals hit five home runs. You do the math. Don’t let the Mets do the math. They welcomed perhaps 3,000 of us to Citi Field, yet reported a paid attendance of 20,174. Those are tickets sold. Some 17,000 humans purchased or had purchased on their behalf a ticket for the game of Monday night, September 9, 2013, and didn’t use it, according to this mathematical methodology.
The rest of us, the 3,000 of us who used a ticket somebody somewhere purchased — and I surely didn’t purchase mine — we went to the trouble of showing up, which puts us in the intimate company of Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Tyler Moore and Wilson Ramos. Those guys showed up all over the box score. Gonzalez is the guy who gave up the one hit to the Mets over nine innings. The others mentioned hit the five home runs that accounted for the nine runs scored by the Nationals.
A sore temptation beckons to suggest the Mets didn’t show up, but no, unlike 17,000 phantoms of the Promenade, I saw ’em with my own eyes. I saw Carlos Torres, generally hyperuseful swingman, allow home runs to his first two batters and decompose from there. I saw Greg Burke, who might be more tolerable if he were Australian or a beet farmer in the offseason, pick up where he left off the last time he was around, which is to say wondering where that damn thing just landed. I saw Zach Lutz (barely) prevent a no-hitter in the seventh inning and a string of Zach Lutz’s teammates conspire to prevent saddling Gonzalez with a two-hitter.
I found Cuppy, too, but who doesn’t?
Welcome to the September of the Metropolitan soul. It’s the ninth month of every year, the sixth month of every season and, dating back to 2009, the stone from which not another drop of blood can possibly be tapped. It’s when there is no hope and no reason for any. It’s when griping is pointless because the Mets traditionally carry plastic butter knives to every gunfight every September. They’re outnumbered. They’re outweighed. They’re outpunched. They’re out of it. They’re 27 outs waiting to be registered and notarized.
It’s only sickening if you decide to be sickened by it. The Mets fan who accepts a free ticket because, darn it all to heck, he’s addicted to baseball and ballparks, shouldn’t be sickened by it. He should avoid using phrases like, “This is a disgrace.” What disgrace? The Mets entered this season with no chance to do anything and they’ve lived up to those expectations. They’ve brought it home in style by shedding themselves of able bodies and trustworthy reputations in advance of September, thereby guaranteeing that this September would proceed much as the one before it and the one before that and so on. Check the lease on the stadium. There must be a provision about hope being prohibited on the premises from September 1 forward.
And the fire code must have something to say about barring 17,000 ticketholders from entering through any gate.
But I did volunteer for this assignment. I volunteered enthusiastically. You say “Citi Field,” and I ask, “What time?” I was there well before 7:10. I listened to our starting lineup announced while walking the field level. I walked and I clapped like I meant it.
Leading off, the left fielder, Eric Young, Jr.
Batting second, the second baseman, Daniel Murphy.
Batting third, the right fielder, Andrew Brown.
Clapped for every one of them. Exuded excitement without irony as I walked. I heard nobody else clapping or exuding, not those along the concourse, not those at their seats (plenty of which were still available as the clock pushed toward seven).
Batting fourth, the first baseman, Lucas Duda.
Batting fifth, the shortstop, Justin Turner.
Batting sixth, the center fielder, Juan Lagares.
I was losing steam, but I felt if I gave my best to Andrew Brown, I couldn’t withhold it from Justin Turner. And why should I? Turner hit two home runs in Cleveland. Brown’s a really adequate fourth/fifth outfielder. I could watch Lagares throw out opposing baserunners all night…if only the baserunners weren’t legally allowed to run around the bases unimpeded once the balls they hit cleared the fence.
Batting seventh, the third baseman, Wilmer Flores.
Batting eighth, the catcher, Travis d’Arnaud.
Batting ninth and pitching, Carlos Torres.
You know how the applause swells for a Harvey or a Dickey or a Santana when they’re announced as batting ninth and pitching? It does no such thing for a Carlos Torres. That’s a shame most nights. It’s a shame the ritual of introducing the home team elicits less engagement than the finding of Cuppy. But there’s a lot of anonymity going around unless you’re hardcore. Being at a Mets-Nationals game on Monday night, September 9, 2013, doesn’t necessarily make you hardcore. Being at a Mets-Nationals game on Monday night, September 9, 2013, probably makes you the acquaintance of somebody who was looking to get rid of a ticket to that Mets-Nationals game. As the lineup’s composition was announced in full, I couldn’t get down on the 3,000/“20,174″ in attendance for not cheering and stomping and letting these Mets know we’re behind them.
You have to be hardcore to know who these guys are or what they’ve done or to have an inkling as to what they might do. Of these nine men who took the field wearing Mets uniforms in the service of keeping the Nationals’ faint playoff hopes alive, three were familiar in April. Three more are playing as part of a process intended to make them familiar in the Aprils ahead. And in between, you have guys being announced as starting for the New York Mets because the rules require nine guys start for every big league team. Even in the month of the expanded roster, deploying a competitive unit that size night after night is a daunting challenge in Flushing.
This is where I dance on the edge of disgust and dismay. This is where I reflexively caterwauler about how bad this team gets this time of year. This is where I could do without the lecture that everything is going along almost exactly as it should for the long term, save for a partially torn something-or-other, a strained thingamajig, somebody else’s strained whozits and a bad neck . Everybody’s hurt. Everybody who isn’t hurt is fragile. The future’s not now . It never was. Shame on me for flirting with disgust and dismay and sort of expecting something a little better than my Mets can give me for my non-money. Bad Mets fan! Leave the flirting to Gio Gonzalez! Shame on me as well for thinking five home runs surrendered versus one hit collected is somehow not a shining testament to how brilliantly progress is progressing for this organization. Somebody toss me a prospect lis t, would ya?
So as not to spiral further into darkness, I’ll close with my favorite moment of the evening, courtesy of a gentleman named Eli, which despite the spelling, is pronounced “Ellie” (short for Eliezer, I believe). Eli works in the same office as my wife, who secured us two tickets from the batch that was distributed among several of her lovely co-workers. I’ve met Eli on numerous occasions like this one and he always leaves me thinking that if I had to choose a team of Mets fans at the ballpark the way we used to choose up sides for sports in the playground, I’d choose Eli no later than second to have on my side. He’s just good at being at a Mets game, y’know? In August, I watched in awe as Eli systematically took apart a Yankees fan’s blather, ring by ring, never once not charming the pinstripes off the blowhard as he shut him up. The beauty part is by the end of every half-inning, Eli converts no fewer than five total strangers into fellow travelers on his quest to have the best time anybody can have at Citi Field.
Only problem for the usually happy-go-lucky Eli on Monday night was even his sunny Metsian disposition was taking a beating from Gio and his grisly band of sluggers. We’ve barely said hello when eight pitches have been thrown and two home runs have been blasted. Hard to maintain a boisterous vibe when Span and Zimmerman are swimming in high-fives.
Eli’s not as happy as he could be. None of us is as happy as we could be. It gets worse in the third when Werth makes it 5-0. It descends into full-out ludicrous leading off the fourth when Moore makes it 6-0. By now all we’ve got left is the Bark in the Park pups howling from the Poochie Porch and a wave that struggles around the grandstand. Nobody’s even sure if it’s going in the right direction. (That I paused to contemplate whether the wretched pox that is the wave should ripple clockwise or counter-clockwise indicates how deeply this game had swirled down the drain.)
Burke comes on in the fifth to shove a wadded-up washcloth into the six-run void. He gets the first two outs but then issues walks to Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche. Ramos takes a strike, then two balls. A dude in our section, unaffiliated with our little group, is fed up to here (my hand is under my chin) with Nationals working counts. I can see his point. They’re up six-love and the Mets are clearly not going to return serve.
“JUST SWING!” he screams.
Ramos swings. The result is the fifth National home run of the night. Washington increases its lead to the eventual forfeit-style final of 9-0. And Eli reads the dude two rows behind us the riot act:
“That’s your fault! That’s you! You told him to swing! You told him and he listened! You gave up that home run! You gave up a three-run homer!”
If only Dan Warthen were jogging to the mound pronto to tell Greg Burke the same thing in the same tone.