Sunday, July 6, 2008

Lost Classics: July 15, 2004

This was part of a 3-way tie for the winner of the Choose the Lost Classic for 2004 poll.

In the interest of diverting attention from the current version of the Mets as they take on the Phillies in uninspired fashion, I offer the latest installment of The Ballclub's Lost Classics.

Today, I take you all the way back to a bygone era. Back to 2004, and a period of time we recently revisited just last week.

Following their sweep of the Yankees, the Mets continued to play solid baseball through to the All-Star break. At the Break, the Mets stood at 44-43, merely 2 games behind the division leading Phillies, who stood at 46-41. It would be the Phillies coming into Shea to play the Mets on this Thursday evening, July 15th, the first game after the All-Star Break.

As I've mentioned in the past, I've always been partial to the first game after the Break. It has a mini-opening day feel of sorts. I met El Guapo in Union Square as per usual, and we headed out to Shea for the game. It was a humid, cloudy Summer night, the kind of night reminiscent of the movie "Smoke," in which William Hurt, often dressed rather sharply, would sit in his small, sweltering, un-air conditioned New York apartment, wearing a Mets hat that looked all too out of place on him, and listen to the Mets game. These kinds of games, we deduced, could be referred to as "William Hurt Games," based on the opponent, the time of year, and the weather outside.

The weather being what it was, this was definitely a William Hurt Game.

It was a 7:10pm start on this evening, as Steve Trachsel took the mound for the Mets against Eric Milton for Philadelphia. We alighted to our seats, Upper deck, Section 9, Row C. The Guap and I had been to several games this season, and it seemed like, more often than not, Steve Trachsel was starting for the Mets. In actuality, it was only our 5th game of the year, but it was the 3rd time we'd seen Trachsel. The other two games were started by Jae Seo. Nonetheless, it was Trachsel starting and starting strong, zipping through the Phillies lineup in short order in the 1st, only allowing a walk to Bobby Abreu, who stole second and was stranded when Jim Thome (if you can remember that Jim Thome was actually on the Phillies—something I'd forgotten until I looked at my scorecard) struck out. In the 2nd, Trachsel was even more efficient, striking out Pat Burrell, Ricky Ledee and David Bell in order. He set down Philly in order in the 3rd and 4th as well, and appeared to be cruising along.

But Eric Milton was matching him. Through the first 3 innings, Milton didn't allow a Met to reach base at all. Neither team had a hit through 3 1/2. But the Mets finally broke through in the bottom of the 4th.

Jose Reyes, in the middle of his intermittent, injury-interrupted 2004 campaign, started off by working the count against Milton. And working the count. And fouling off pitches. And fouling off some more pitches. And working the count some more. Finally, after fouling off 6 straight 3-2 pitches, Jose poked a double, just inside the 3rd base line. Kaz Matsui followed, and it took him only 2 pitches to stroke a double of his own, past Abreu and off the wall in right, scoring Reyes with the game's first run. Piazza (starting at Catcher tonight, with Shane Spencer at 1st), Hidalgo and Floyd followed by doing very little.

In the 5th, it was the Phillies finally reaching Trachsel. After getting Burrell and Ledee, Trachsel allowed his first hit, just as the fans were beginning to get that No-Hitter murmur going, a David Bell single ground into left field. Mike Lieberthal followed with a double down the left field line, and all of a sudden, Philly had a decent threat...except that Milton was hitting next. He struck out on 4 pitches.

In the last of the 5th, the Mets would extend their lead, and Trachsel would be the one helping himself out. After Spencer led off with a groundout, Ty Wigginton hit a clean single to left. Mike Cameron, mysteriously hitting 8th in the order, followed by grounding out to Thome at 1st, with Wigginton moving up to 2nd. Trachsel was next, and Trachsel, using the trademark Pitcher's swing—Swing hard, you just might hit it!—lofted a single in front of Burrell in left, scoring Wigginton and giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.

But while Trachsel may have helped his cause at the plate, he couldn't maintain his pace on the mound. In the 6th, Trachsel got Rollins to fly out to center. Placido Polanco, however, followed by hitting a single to left. Bobby Abreu then jumped on Trachsel's first offering and launched it high and deep and out, into the bleachers in left-center for a 2-run Home Run to tie up the game. Trachsel continued to unravel after that, and very nearly cost himself the game. He would give up a single to Thome, and then, as Trachsel was apt to do when he allowed runners on base, he stalled. The game, to that point a quick affair, began to drag. You could see the infield grass grow as Trachsel stalled, and worked, and stalled, getting Burrell to pop out for the second out. But he went 3-0 on Ledee before walking him. Then, he slowed down even more in working a full count on Bell, then walking him to load the bases for Lieberthal. Finally, we'd had enough. The crowd, a hearty 36,803, had seen enough. Even Art How had seen enough. Mercifully, Trachsel was removed from the game after 5.2 innings and 110 pitches for Orber Moreno, who got Lieberthal to pound a comebacker to him for the 3rd out.

And from that point forward, the pitchers resumed their domination of the game. Milton departed after setting down the Mets in order in the 6th, allowing merely 2 runs and 4 hits over his 98 pitches. Moreno retired Philadelphia in order in the 7th. Rheal Cormier came on for Philly in the last of the 7th and got the Mets 1-2-3. Mike Stanton pitched the 8th for the Mets, and punctuated his inning with strikeouts of Abreu and Burrell.

But the Mets would mount a rally against Cormier in their half of the 8th. After Cameron flew out, Todd Zeile hit for Stanton and singled past Bell at 3rd. Joe McEwing came in to run for him, which proved to be a waste when Reyes slapped the ball back to Cormier, who wheeled and threw to 2nd in time to get McEwing, but Polanco's return throw was too late to get Reyes. Matsui then followed with a hard single to right, moving Reyes to 3rd. Mike Piazza was up, and so was the crowd. Larry Bowa, red-faced and pissed-off as always, stormed to the mound and removed Cormier in favor of Tim Worrell. Worrell came in and got Piazza to hit the ball hard, but in the air to center, not deep enough to get past Ledee, and the inning was over.

Braden Looper came on for the Mets in the 9th, as the stadium began to empty out. As this happened, a row of 4 or 5 Philly fans sitting a row or two behind us, began to make more and more noise. After retiring Ledee and Bell quickly, Mike Lieberthal came to the plate.

"COME ON, LIE-BEE, LET'S GET IT DONE!" yelled one of the Philly fans.

El Guapo and I looked at each other, dumbfounded.

"Did you hear what I heard?" he said to me.

I did.

Lieberthal drove a long double over Cameron's head in center.


This wasn't looking good.

Chase Utley followed by poking a pinch single to left, but Floyd charged the ball quickly and threw it back in, holding Lieberthal at 3rd. Jimmy Rollins was next.


Oh boy, here we go again.

Rollins, though, hit a comebacker to Looper for the final out. After dispatching of Lie-Bee and J-Rol, I turned around and tipped my hat to the Philly fans.

Ryan Madson came on for Philly in the last of the 9th. He walked Hidalgo, and then promptly wild pitched him to 2nd. Now, we were the ones standing and rooting for a hit with Floyd at the plate. But Madson intentionally walked Floyd, and promptly struck out Spencer, got Wigginton to fly out and Cameron to hit into a weak force play.


I didn't like where this was going.

Earlier that year, I had been dating a girl who was also a Phillies fan. In my younger, more wily days, I wasn't so discriminating. But the relationship ended rather badly, and left a particularly poor taste in my mouth, particularly towards the Phillies. I really wanted the Mets to win this game, and the more the group of Philly fans yelled, the more my ire towards the Phillies was raised. By the time we moved to the 10th inning, I was gritting my teeth. Looper worked the 10th and retired the Phillies quickly. Madson did the same to the Mets in the bottom half. Jose Parra came on for the Mets in the 11th, and walked Burrell to lead off (despite the obnoxious "PAT THE BAT!" chants that had me tearing my hear out). But Parra settled down, striking out Ledee, getting Bell to fly to left, and getting Lie-Bee to strike out to shut the Philly fans up. As Lieberthal struck out, I rose to my feet and cheered the Mets off the field. Time to get this game over with.

Roberto Hernandez came on to pitch for Philly in the 11th, and he began by walking Piazza. Art Howe responded by sending Vance Wilson in to run for Piazza. With a thin bench, was this the right move? El Guapo didn't think so. The move threw him into a John McEnroe fit. He looked at me. "Are they serious? He can't be serious," he said. Then he stood. "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!" he yelled.

Hidalgo followed by flying out to center. Cliff Floyd, however, nailed the first pitch he saw right back up the middle, moving Wilson to 2nd. Shane Spencer followed, and Hernandez quickly went 3-0 on him, before throwing a fat strike that Spencer watched.

"COME ON, MADSON, LET'S GET OUT OF IT!" yelled one of the Philly fans.

"Some fans," I say to El Guapo, "They're not even aware they changed pitchers."

Hernandez, not Madson, walked Spencer on the next pitch to load the bases. Ty Wigginton stepped to the plate as the infield and outfield crept in.

"LET'S GO, ROBERTO!" yelled another fan. Someone must have noticed.

Wiggy responded by drilling a hard shot right back at Hernandez. But instead of getting his glove on the ball, Hernandez could only manage a crude kick save of the ball, letting it dribble in front of him. Mets were flying around the bases as Hernandez desperately tried to pick the ball up. El Guapo and I were screaming for Wilson to "GO! GO! GO!" Hernandez made a desperate fling of the ball towards Lie-Bee at the plate, but could only manage a weak toss that bounced to the plate, arriving just as Wilson completed his slide across home with the winning run. With that, the vitriol that I'd been building up towards the Phillies poured out, as I raised my fist and screamed some unintelligible yells, partially directed at the field, partially directed at the quickly-departing Philly fans, who said nothing as they left. The Mets poured out of the dugout and gang-tackled Wigginton at first, his 60 foot single proving just enough to provide the Mets with a 3-2 victory to kick off the second half of the season, and move them to within one game of the 1st place Phillies.

The ride home is mirthful. The train is well air conditioned, fortunate as there was no breeze to speak of, and the haze was clearly visible in the Shea lights. The William Hurt Game ended up in the Mets favor on this night, but the joy would be short lived. The Phillies would win the next two games in the series, and the Mets, whose offensive struggles had held them back to this point, would only continue, and their desperate attempt at a Pennant race would fall short. Piazza would get injured in the midst of his failed experiment as a 1st baseman within the week. His trip to the DL would result in the arrival of a much-hyped 3rd Base prospect who would turn out to become pretty good as time would go on.

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