Friday, April 11, 2008

Midnight Angel

Some time after last night's game, as I was heading up the escalator at Grand Central, I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a different team."

For all the world, this looked like another game the Mets were destined to lose to Philadelphia. After a solid, if uneven, 6+ innings from John Maine, the bullpen—rather, Aaron Heilman—turned around and handed the lead right back. I wasn't even sure why Heilman remained in the game after allowing Howard to basically hit the ball into Citi Field, and walking Burrell on 5 pitches. I know pitchers go through rough spots, but this has been ridiculous. He hasn't held games when the Mets were behind, and tonight, he just blew the lead, and blew the game for Maine. And there I was, when he came into the game, thinking to myself, "Gee, this has been a relatively drama-free game so far." 4 batters later, 2 runs home, Philly fans getting rowdy, and all I can do is shake my head.

And with the Mets still struggling to plate runs and get key hits, and with a tie game heading into extra innings in the hands of the Mets bullpen, Neither I, nor any of the Mets fans sitting around me at the game, felt all that confident about the Mets chances.

But something funny happened. The Mets didn't blow it.

In the 10th, Joe Smith walked Geoff Jenkins, and looked bad in doing so. But he got Feliz to pop to Beltran, and Coste lined to Delgado.

In the 11th, Smith opened by allowing about 100' worth of singles to Jayson Werth (Spiezio from the right side) and Cole Hamels, two plays where it was the Mets poor luck rearing its ugly head. But Smith managed to get Bruntlett to foul off a bunt attempt with 2 strikes. Smith departed, and we all held our heads. Entering the game, Scott Schoeneweis, to face Utley and Howard.

We were apoplectic. A row of 5 Philly fans sitting directly in front of me (why this always seems to happen to me, I have no idea) were on their feet. Schoeneweis quickly ran the count to 2-0 on Utley, and I figured this would be the perfect time for the Mets to pack up their tents. Here comes the fastball on the outer half of the plate, and here comes the 3-run HR.

But it didn't happen. Utley fouled off a few pitches, before smacking liner right at Easley, who turned an easy 4-6-3 DP. Amazing.

I turned to a few fans behind me and asked, "Did I just die?"

In the 12th, Schoeneweis was a Damion Easley error away from a 1-2-3 inning, before departing to cheers. Cheers! Loud cheers for Schoeneweis. Even I cheered Schoeneweis. And he deserved it, too. Sosa came in, threw one pitch for the 3rd out, and it was back to the grind for the Mets, who at that point hadn't managed a hit since Reyes beat out a grounder to short in the 8th.

With Schneider, Brady Clark and Reyes due up, I didn't feel inclined to think that would change. Especially with Reyes sure to be swinging for the fences. That's exactly what he was doing, and for some reason, he'd been doing that most of the night, as evidenced by 3 fly ball outs and a strikeout in the 10th. But this time, Reyes got a pitch from Tom Gordon that he could handle, and promptly smoked it off the wall for a double. A sign of life!

Angel Pagan has been one of the few Mets who has actually shown a sign of life at the plate on a consistent basis. I'm not sure what, exactly to say about that, but he's been in the middle of everything, carrying his great Spring into April, and earning himself more playing time at that. Pagan cashed in with 3 hits last night, including the Game Winner, a comebacker that snuck through the infield, sending Reyes home and crashing into Chris Coste just ahead of the tag (Just ahead? Just barely. I was among a few fans who stuck around to watch the replay after the game. Another fan thought he was out. I said, "Well, he very well might have been out, but he was safe, so does it matter?") and somehow, someway, the Mets won this game. A game that they had blown, and probably could have lost about 30 different ways before it was over.

A game that, last year, they would have lost. Maybe the breaks are indeed turning for the Mets. This is now two games in a row that they've won against Philadelphia because Philadelphia has shown themselves to be just as vulnerable as the Mets. They could make the argument that the Mets have beaten Philly without Jimmy Rollins, sure. But the Mets are playing without Moises Alou, who only hit .340 last season. Alou wasn't the MVP last year, but .340 is .340. Rollins' replacement, Eric Bruntlett, made 2 errors on Wednesday night, and last night managed to go 0-for 6. Alou's replacement drove in the winning run. It's a cliché (at least I think it's a cliché), but You make the best with the pieces you can put out there each day.

Towels and Trains...
Last night was Rally Towel night, in which we were all handed these cute little hand towels before the game. Even the Philly fans got them, which really bothered me when they started waving them in our faces after Philly tied the score. Then again, they handed out these things almost every game down the stretch last year. But I digress. It seemed like it took a while for the Mets fans to get used to them. In the first few innings, hardly anyone was waving them. By the 6th inning, most of the crowd was twirling them, and at the end of the game, just about everyone who remained was spinning their towels as they walked down the ramps.

There were moments where they prompted us to wave our towels, showing a clip of Mets fans at a packed Shea waving towels, and a sign that read, "Rally Time."

The last time the Mets handed out towels was Game 7 of the NLCS 2 years ago. That was the video clip they were showing. I don't know if anyone else picked that up, but I was a little disturbed by it.

On a much cheerier note, the Postgame 7 Express service is indeed back. In fact, the MTA ran a special Nostalgia Train to Shea on Tuesday morning before the game, replete with the David Wright wax statue from Madame Tussaud's to hype this up. I've made no secret about the fact that I'm a subway fan. I wish I'd known about it. Apparently they were handing out Shea Stadium Metrocards. Did anybody ride out on this train on Tuesday?

At any rate, the Express service back into Manhattan after the games is indeed back in full force, and in fact, it's probably better this year than it has been. Rather than making all the Express stops on the way, the Express only stops at Woodside, Queensboro Plaza, and then Grand Central, skipping Junction Blvd, 45th Rd, Hunterspoint Ave & Vernon-Jackson. A 7-stop ride for me has now been cut to a 3-stop ride, and despite the fact that the game last night ended at 11:08, and I probably wasn't on the train until 11:20, I walked in the door at 11:50pm last night. Now, we're talking.

The Express service is even running after weekend games, too, which is a first for service on the 7 line altogether. If you're like me, and you really rued the long ride back after the game, well, the MTA listened to us.

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