Thursday, May 31, 2007

Balkoff Walkoff

I know I'm a day late in posting this, but Tuesday Night's game does indeed bear special mention, and not only because El Guapo and I were in the stands for this one. Tuesday night's game was one of those games that simply defies all explanation, harrowing at times, miserable at others, but scintillating at the end.

And it was indeed the end that everyone will remember. What Benitez did can't simply be described as a Blown Save. El Guapo and I were discussing this on the way down the ramps following the game. This was a full scale Nuclear Meltdown (and not as in Nuke LaLoosh). I mean, this is the kind of blown save that you might actually have to sit awake in bed for a few nights and plan out (Note: And subsequently, it would be Benitez's final indignity in a Giants uniform, he was dealt to Florida Thursday Night). It was bad enough that he committed two balks to allow the tying run to score. No, that wasn't good enough. Armando then subsequently grooved a meatball to Delgado on 2-2 and Carlos absolutely unloaded on it, deep into the night, off the base of the scoreboard and ensuring that I would not have a voice for the next day.

This was the kind of game that I'd been missing this season, after seeing so many like it in 2006. That championship-quality, logic defying game that you look back on in 5 years or so and write a blog about it because everyone forgot it except the diehards.

It was another good outing for Perez, despite his rocky start. A leadoff HR from Randy Winn and a subsequent HR by one of the accursed Molina brothers put the Mets in an early hole. But unlike in previous starts, where Oliver might have become unglued and melted down, he instead buckled down and persevered. Following Molina's HR, Oliver would retire 14 batters in a row, and 18 of 19, not allowing another run until a solo HR by Daniel Ortmeier in the 7th inning.

And it's fortunate that Perez was on top of his game, because apparently all the talk surrounding Giants Phenom Tim Lincecum is well justified. Lincecum came out throwing darts at the Mets, who, the first time through the order, looked thoroughly baffled. Not to belabor the point, this guy is GOOD. He came out throwing 96 MPH, and got his fastball cranking up to 99 at times, mixed in with a hard curve and a Low-80s change. And his delivery is such that the ball can be tough to pick up. And, as per usual, the Mets tend to struggle against pitchers like this (Earlier in the afternoon, a co-worker asked me "So how many hits will the Mets get tonight? 2? 3? You know they're not scoring any runs!).

Lincecum retired the first 11 Mets in a row, and there didn't seem to be any reason to think that would change, but he suddenly walked Beltran with 2 out and nobody on in the 4th. He threw over to first a couple of times, and I mused that he was probably paying too much attention to Beltran and not enough to Delgado at the plate. Sure enough, Delgado whacked the next pitch way out, off the Pepsi sign on the scoreboard. Tie game, just like that. But Lincecum settled right back down after that and struck out the side in the 5th. A Reyes single and a Beltran double in the corner gave the Mets a temporary lead in the 6th, before the aforementioned Ortmeier HR in the 7th re-tied the game.

And so it went, into the 8th, into the night, and into the bullpens. The Mets kept mounting opportunities. Wright hit a shot to right in the 9th that looked for all the world to be out of the park. But no. It hit the top of the wall, and just bounced back. Fortunate for the Giants, because with 2 out, Franco hit a smash up the middle that Vizquel (who still gets the job done despite being as old as Franco) just barely was able to knock down and toss to second to get the force and end the inning.

And into extra innings we went. El Guapo was half asleep by this point. I was beside myself because, once again, Willie went and brought in Schoeneweis, who did just about everything he possibly could to blow the game. First, throwing four wide to Bonds, who was pinch-hitting (and it was truly lovely listening to the "BARRY SUCKS! BARRY SUCKS!" chant echoing throughout the stadium), and then allowing a ringing double by Frandsen that fortunately hopped into the stands, because even Bonds on his no knees could have scored on it. Heilman came in and mercifully stopped the rally.

The 11th was quiet. The 12th was anything but.

Joe Smith came on for the Mets. Finally, a decent reliever, I think. But Smith walked Vizquel and wild pitched him to 2nd. Then a sacrifice. Then he hit Sweeney. Meltdown. Winn chopped one to Delgado, who, I believe, made the right play by stepping on first, then throwing home. Given the position of where the ball was hit, and where Delgado was, Delgado barely even had to move to step on the base. And his throw home was true, but LoDuca didn't quite get the tag down. I say that after having seen the replay; from where I was sitting, he was out, dammit! Look at LoDuca's face! Would you want to argue with him?

But we knew what was coming up. And for as loudly as Bonds was booed, Armando was booed even louder when he came in for the last of the 12th. You could see him sweating, even from the upper deck. He went 3-0 on Reyes, and the crowd was all over him. But he rebounded, getting Reyes to foul off a couple of fastballs, before finally walking him. And you knew at that moment that he was screwed. But he was just getting started.

First, with Chavez squaring around, Benitez balked. And then he got upset. He started yelling and pointing, and gesticulating. The crowd was screaming. Chavez got the bunt down, moving Reyes to 3rd. But Armando, amazingly, held firm. He got Beltran to chop one right at his 2nd baseman, and with the infield drawn in, Reyes had to hold 3rd. And he was one out away. And with Delgado up, the infield pulled into their overshift.

But that just invited more trouble with Reyes on third. As Delgado dug in, you could see Reyes inching further and further down the line. By the time anyone noticed, Reyes was halfway home. And then Benitez flinched, looked up, and the crowd went berserk as the second balk was called and Reyes trotted home with the tying run.

And yet, the Meltdown still wasn't complete. But it was. Everyone in the stadium knew it. Armando did it again. He dug his own hole. Totally screwed. And it was only a matter of time before he finally threw that last fastball into his own coffin.

The crowd at the game was announced at 47,940. I would have to guess that most of the tickets sold were the residuals from all the Opener Packs that had been bought. I don't think there were 47,940 at the game, and by the time the game ended, there didn't look to be much more than 20,000 people in the stadium. But somehow, fans seemed to materialize after the game. The Subway ride back into the city was jammed and mirthful following a scintillating win, one that I'd been waiting for all season.

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