Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ma Nuit Chez Mets

Despite what I might have indicated early in the day on Wednesday, my attendance at last night's game was never in much doubt. It might not have been the greatest idea in the world, but then again, it is, in my opinion, an even worse idea to plunk down money for tickets to a game that will then go unused. Even El Guapo wasn't sure whether or not I was serious about not going, but I was, and we did, and what we were treated to appeared to look like a baseball game, although it seemed to be something taken from the pages of Eugene Ionèsco by the way things played out over the course of the evening.

I should have known something was a little off when we arrived at our seats. We were somewhat earlier than usual, as I took an opportunity to slip out of my office early, and so when we arrived, the Diamondbacks were still taking BP. That's not what I noticed, though. What I did notice, was that while advertisements were running on Diamondvision and on the scoreboard, there was no noise. Everything was oddly silent. No music, no nothing, until the National Anthem, which was performed by a school group from Meatheadville Massapequa, which featured a Tuba player. I mused about how I, although not especially musically inclined, had wanted to play the Tuba, however it was never really taught at the schools I attended.

The 2008 Mets: Where Silence Happens.

Finally, music played and the game began. Predictably, Brandon Webb took his cue and promptly shut down the Mets, retiring the first nine batters in order. But on the other side, Mike Pelfrey unexpectedly matched him zero for zero, helped out by a pickoff of Chris Young in the first, in which Pelfrey appeared to lull Young to sleep before throwing to first, catching Young off guard so badly that he fell down before reaching first base. In the 2nd, a leadoff single by Conor Jackson was followed by an easy DP turned by the Birthday Boy, Jose Reyes. In the 4th, Pelfrey allowed a one-out double to Orlando Hudson before stranding him on 3rd. I mused to El Guapo before the game that the DBacks seem to have a coaching staff comprised of a random mishmash of horrible ex-Major Leaguers (Lee Tinsley? Chip Hale?), and Kirk Gibson. During the National Anthem, Gibson stood by himself, as if symbolically, far away from this motley crew of Major League Dreck. The DBacks lineup seems rather randomly put together as well; there's no real stars, they're all real young, and apparently just get by on pluckiness and Eric Byrnes, who's not even playing right now, so they're surviving on pluck. I don't know too much about guys like Mark Reynolds, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Jeff Salazar or whomever else they threw out there, but they somehow managed to win their division last year, and right now, they appear to be the only good team in the NL West. Go figure.

The 2008 Mets: Where the Unexpected happens.

More bizarre things happened in the 4th. Rather than the DBacks eventually exerting their will on the Mets and Webb continuing to mow them down, it was the Mets somehow forcing themselves into a rally, which began, more or less, with about 60 feet worth of singles, one on a brilliant drag bunt from Reyes (prompting a discussion as to whether or not the DBacks would throw at Reyes later on. Webb had, to that point, been throwing a perfect game, which Reyes dastardly broke up by bunting. However, it was only the 4th, and the game was scoreless), the other on what was tantamount to a swinging bunt from Castillo that Webb threw and Conor Jackson dropped at first, and while he was busy trying to pick it up, Reyes dashed to 3rd. At least, it appeared to us that Webb's throw was good, and Jackson dropped it. Turns out the error was charged to Webb, and only because Reyes went to 3rd. With speed on the bases and Wright at the plate, I begin to strategize. Delayed double steal, is my thought. Somehow get Castillo to 2nd base, distract the defense, and have Reyes steal home. This is probably the best opportunity they'll have against Webb, so they better capitalize. They don't run. Instead, Wright hits a high chopper to 3rd and got thrown out at 1st, with Castillo moving up. Beltran then followed with a clean single to center, scoring both Reyes and Castillo. So, like I was saying, as I turn to El Guapo, you have Wright move Castillo up to 2nd so that Beltran can drive them both in.

The 2008 Mets: Where strategy happens.

Beltran's single is followed by Delgado, the leader of the Clown Car, who hits what might have been the hardest ball he's hit in weeks right back up the box, off Webb's ass, and trickling just out of the reach of Stephen Drew at short and out in to left, allowing Beltran to go all the way to 3rd. It appeared to be a glancing blow, Webb had somehow turned himself so that the ball caught him flush on the backside and just bounced off into no man's land. Marlon Anderson then grounded into a fielder's choice to score Beltran. So now, not only have the Mets managed to scratch out a 3-run rally, they did it against Brandon Webb, against whom I'd seen the Mets score a grand total of 1 run against over 16 innings within the last two seasons.

The 2008 Mets: Where hits off the opposing pitcher's ass happen.

The game continued on in rather unexpected fashion. Where we had expected Pelfrey to implode, he instead got better as the game progressed. I don't know if it was the fact that Arizona's lineup is what it is, or if somehow Pelfrey just managed to put it all together, but he was simply dominant. He blew through the 5th and 6th innings with no trouble. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single to Hudson and walked Tracy with 1 out. Now, here we go. The fans, uneasy most of the night, were just about apoplectic. In the bullpen, Feliciano and Heilman were throwing. Pelfrey was nearing that magic 100 pitch mark. Here came the shoe.

Didn't happen. Rather than caving in, Pelfrey muscled up. He got ahead of Reynolds 0-2, and rather than nibbling and nibbling and working the count full, Pelfrey instead went upstairs with a hard slider and Reynolds waved at it. To that point, Pelfrey had made Reynolds look completely silly, striking him out 3 times. As an encore, Pelfrey followed by striking out Snyder as well, pumping his fist as he came off the mound, and exiting to a standing ovation. A job well done over 7 innings and 103 pitches.

Pelfrey came out into the on deck circle in the 7th, although the conventional wisdom, or at least the way the Mets seem to operate, would have dictated that he was finished for the night. I repeatedly told El Guapo that he needed to get the 8th inning. After his spot didn't come up, I watched for that bullpen door to swing open. Nobody had been throwing in the bottom of the 7th inning, though, and after a few seconds, Pelfrey came out to the mound. And his return to the game appeared to energize the entire stadium. And he responded by throwing perhaps his most dominant inning of the night, retiring the DBacks in order on 7 pitches, popping his fastball in at 95mph. Without question, I believed, he should get the 9th. El Guapo wasn't so sure. If the Mets scored a couple more runs, he felt, then Pelfrey should stay in. In the save situation, Wagner needs to come in.

"They need to make the decision fast, then," I said, "Pelfrey's spot leads off."

The 2008 Mets: Where debates happen.

There appeared to be some indecision as to what the Mets were going to do. I saw a #29 briefly step out of the dugout, only to be called back. When Pelfrey stepped onto the field, again, everyone stood and cheered. It was, I felt, the right call. Why not? He'd earned it. And now, if he wants a shot at his first career shutout, well, go and get it. Pelfrey struck out and got another standing ovation.

The Mets then had a chance at a rally sputter to a halt when yet another bizarre sequence happened. Reyes struck out, but reached first when the ball, clearly a wild pitch, sailed all the way to the backstop. With Castillo at the plate, Reyes took off for 2nd, but was thrown out. Castillo walked. With Wright at the plate, Castillo took off for 2nd, but was thrown out. Inning over.

The stadium had, for the most part, been relatively full, a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, particularly with the team struggling. The crowd in my section was fairly mixed. As this was one of my 7-pack games, I was treated to, more or less, the same crowd. A couple of Hispanic women with loud voices, a row of older gentlemen who seemed to be on the fringes of fandom, several office guys who liked to drink a lot, and in front of us, row upon row of dopey ex-frat guys and annoying, trashy, albeit cute girls who may or may not have been their girlfriends. And a few Yankee fans. There's always a few. I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a bunch of teenage girls in Mrs. Wright shirts screaming about how they want to be David Wright's girlfriend.

There was a particularly dopey looking Meathead sitting a couple of rows ahead of us, and he was there with his girlfriend, a particularly trashy-looking, albeit cute blond girl wearing a shirt that appeared to be of a rather excessively low cut. Not that El Guapo and I minded the show, particularly. But the guy and the girl sat and drank and ate peanuts and whatever, until at some point, another one of the dopey frat guys sitting in a row in between us and them began talking to her. What they were talking about, I don't know. El Guapo paid them some attention. I was more focused on the game. At some point, El Guapo elbowed me and clued me in to the proceedings. While this girl was talking to this guy, her boyfriend began to get progressively more and more upset, shooting dirty looks, first at the guy, then at the girl. This continued throughout the 8th inning, and into the 9th.

When things started to get really fucked up.

Wagner was, predictably, throwing in the bullpen, and Pelfrey was out on the mound, rallied on by the fans. I could taste it. I wanted to see him throw his shutout, and he'd earned every right to do so. He zipped his first pitch to Stephen Drew in at 93. His second pitch was looped towards second, and had Castillo been about 3 inches taller, he would have caught it. Instead, it fell in. No big deal. Worry when the tying run comes to the plate. He's in control. So, of course, here comes Willie, signaling to the bullpen. Of course. El Guapo was adamant in telling me that it was the right move. I wasn't so sure. I know that's why Wagner's here, but still, as dominant as Pelfrey had been, there was no good reason to take him out at that particular point. Willie was booed coming out of the dugout, Pelfrey got slaps from Wright and Delgado, another ovation as he trotted off, and Willie was booed again as he exited. Some gentle "Fire Willie!" chants began, but died out when Wagner struck out Hudson for the first out. Conor Jackson followed with a ringing double to left, which appeared primed to score Drew, but didn't. Wagner struck out Tracy. In the Mets dugout, I could see Pelfrey nervously pacing back and forth in the dugout, ranging from the bench to the rail, with a towel draped over his shoulders. This wasn't any easier for him than it was for us. Wagner went to 2-2 on Reynolds, who hadn't touched the ball all night. His 2-2 pitch was low and inside, and Reynolds appeared to skip away from it. He motioned as if it hit him. I didn't see it hit him. It didn't look like it had come close. Later, I heard that it had probably hit him. Either way, he was still at the plate, the crowd was on its feet, and I was ready to get out of there, a nice, tidy, 2 hour, 20 minute, 3-0 victory.

The sound that a crowd makes when something particularly bad happens on a continual basis to a team isn't so much booing. It almost sounds as though everyone has decided to vomit in unison. That was the sound that was made when Mark Reynolds took Wagner's 3-2 pitch and blasted, and I mean truly blasted it into a part of Shea Stadium where the only other player I'd ever seen hit a ball there was named Piazza. It was a truly sickening noise, followed by an incredibly rapid departure by about half of the crowd in attendance. It wasn't an "Oh, Shit" moment, it was more of a "WHAT THE FUCK!?!" moment. El Guapo silently put his hands on his head and held them there. I silently stood and shook my head. We remained silent for a few moments as the stands quickly emptied out, many people now screaming "FIRE WILLIE!" Finally, I turned to El Guapo.

"You were saying...?" was all I could muster.

Wagner got the 3rd out and was booed off the mound, and deservedly so.

The 2008 Mets: Where victories happen, just not necessarily to the Mets.

Still, all wasn't lost. At least not for the Mets. In front of us, however, things had turned downright nasty. After Reynolds' HR, the random guy who was talking to the girlfriend had left with his friends, leaving the girl and her boyfriend to themselves. Except that the guy was now only silently eating his peanuts, and not speaking to the girl, except to glare at her. The girl beseeched him to speak to her, or something, but he continued to ignore her. Even I now watched intently, half waiting to see what would happen next, half looking down her shirt. This continued. Every few minutes, she would say something to him, and he just wouldn't speak to her. He just sat and ate his peanuts.

The bottom of the 9th came and went. So much for getting home early. El Guapo, not really the night owl I am, was beginning to flag. I figured that the game was heading this way. El Guapo was chewing on nicotine gum. He'd quit smoking 2 years ago. I, on the other hand, was reduced to regular gum, which I'd been chewing all game, and was now chomping with such ferocity that my jaw was beginning to hurt.

The 2008 Mets: Where TMJ happens.

Chris Aguila, who had been inserted for defense in the 9th, putting a face on that mysterious #29, hit with 2 outs in the 9th. I knew I'd heard of him, he played for the Marlins a few years ago, but for some reason, the scoreboard read that this was his first Major League at bat. That couldn't be right. I thought I'd seen him before. Could it have been that it was only during Spring Training? Well, Aguila shot a single up the middle, and play was stopped, and the ball was tossed into the Mets dugout, in commemoration of his first Major League hit. I still wasn't convinced. I could have sworn I'd seen him before. And upon returning home, and checking Baseball Reference, I was right. Not only was this not his Major League debut, it wasn't even his first hit. The Mets and the umpires had just made a big stink and removed the ball from play in honor of Chris Aguila's 52nd Major League hit. Way to go.

The 2008 Mets: Where misinformation happens.

We were both getting a little punchy. With 2 out in the 9th, El Guapo popped a piece of gum into his mouth and said to me, "Bet you wish you had some of this right now, huh?" As the 3rd out was recorded, and I got up to use the bathroom, it was now me glaring at him. "Don't get me started," I snarled, "It figures that they'd blow this game. Just what I need, another stupid game that goes 12 innings!"

The stadium continued to empty out as we moved to the 10th. Arizona mounted a thinly veiled threat. Micah Owings, the power-hitting pitcher, was summoned to pinch hit. He squared to bunt on the first two pitches with Chris Burke on 1st. I wasn't fooled. He might have squared around, but why send him up to bunt? He bunted foul for strike 2. Now, he's not bunting. I was sure of it. He swung through strike 3 and looked like a pitcher doing so. Shows what I know.

In the middle of the 10th, the girl, finally tired of being ignored, got up and left. She shot her boyfriend, if he could be called such a thing by that point, one final, icy glare as she walked out. He sat there and continued to eat peanuts for another 10 minutes or so before leaving himself.

The 2008 Mets: Where relationships die.

The game stretched on, further and further into the night, testing our patience and our resolve. We hit the 11th, and El Guapo received a text message from Shirts vs. Blouses. He'd been out on what he termed, "A bad date." He was wondering what was going on. The Guap responded by saying that "It was too horrible to explain. Just put on Sportscenter." This was as Aaron Heilman trotted in from the bullpen. Shirts is, perhaps, among one of the most virulent Heilman Haters. I told El Guapo that he should tell Shirts that whatever he does, don't put the game on. Meanwhile, the random Yankee fans began to make noise. They were a particularly obnoxious bunch. It was a good thing we hadn't been drinking heavily, otherwise, bad things were sure to happen. There was a discarded aluminum bottle near me. I looked at it, while one of the Yankee guys was standing up and being an idiot.

"My aim is pretty good," I say to El Guapo, "You think I can hit him from here?"

I was dissuaded from doing so, for fear of injuring an ally, or, worse, attracting the attention of security. Moreover, we weren't needed to regulate the Yankee fans, as the group of office guys, who were holding stacks of empty beer cups 8 deep, were holding the court as their own. We were safe, so long as they remained. Fortunately, they were quite likely too drunk to move, let alone drive anywhere by that point in the evening. The jilted girlfriend poked her head back into the stands around the bottom of the 11th. She looked for the boyfriend, but he was nowhere to be seen. She was scanning the stands as Carlos Delgado fouled a pitch back towards our section that damn near hit her in the head. She disappeared off into the night after that.

Meanwhile, Heilman miraculously escaped the 11th and 12th. Not that it was easy to sit through. I was wishing for Scott Schoeneweis at one point. By this time, El Guapo was really beginning to fade. I still had a few good innings left in me. I was still pretty punchy. I mused that my father had probably been asleep, then woke up and put the game on in the 8th inning, and saw it was 3-0. He then did either one of two things. He turned the game off and went back to sleep, and is now waking up again and wondering where I am, or he got up, did his business, put the game back on in the top of the 11th, and laughed his ass off.

Finally, we hit the 13th. The longest game I'd been to in 2 seasons. Claudio Vargas came on and gave up a pair of 1-out hits. The Yankee fans were up. The office guys were firing back, not missing a beat. I figured this was where the axe was going to fall. But no. Somehow, Vargas got Jackson to hit into the DP to end the inning. The Yankee fans left, saluting us all in classy, Yankee fan fashion as they left; middle fingers extended.

By this point, even I was losing my patience. I've mentioned that, after a certain amount of innings, and a second helping of the kiss-cam, I just want someone to score so I can get out of there. At least the game had been relatively quick, still not quite at the 4 hour mark. Castillo reached on an error by Reynolds, who had gone from a Sombrero to a Golden Sombrero with his 4th K in the 11th. But Wright popped out and it appeared Castillo would remain at 1st. Beltran up, and working the count against Cheech McSchmendrick or whoever was pitching for Arizona. I'd forgotten at that point. The count went to 1-2.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, just hit a Home Run and get us the hell out of here," I said to El Guapo, or whoever was listening.

Sure enough, Beltran parked the next pitch off the base of the scoreboard.

"See!? Did I call it!? Did I call it!?" I yelled to El Guapo, as he chuckled and I leapt in the air as Beltran flung his helmet across the infield and leapt on home plate. Somehow, the Mets won the game that they seemed to have made their best efforts to lose. Somehow, this absolute farce of a ballgame ended in a way that El Guapo and I could deem satisfactory fashion.

Fitting that I was wearing my Beltran jersey on this particular night. I'd actually forgotten I was wearing it by the time the game ended. I think I'd also forgotten who'd started the game, as well. Pelfrey's masterful outing seemed a distant memory by the time the game finally ended.

Ended, that is, only about 95 minutes after it should have ended.

Walking to the subway, we tried to make sense of what we'd just seen. I don't think either of us could do it. This game really didn't make any discernable sense. People who watched it on TV were absolutely maddened. People at the game continued to call for Willie's head, long after the game had ended. Perhaps a Pyrrhic victory? I don't know what the hell to call it.

El Guapo summed it up best. "The highlight of the game," he said, "was watching that couple break up."

That seems a proper epitaph for a game like this. Things happened, people were affected, and there was a cost.

The 2008 Mets: Where whatever happens, happens.

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