Sunday, September 28, 2008

One More Time for Oliver's Army

It was an intense, restless night for me last night, waiting for today to come around. I'm getting ready to head out to Shea now, but to witness what?

The setting is frighteningly similar to the one I set out to for Game 162 one year ago. That didn't exactly end well. The opponent is the same. The playoff scenario is the same. The sense of urgency is the same. The sellout crowd will be the same. Many of the names are the same, but one difference is today's starting pitcher for the Mets, where the only similarity is that he's another lefty pitcher.

Following Johan Santana's start on three-days' rest, Oliver Perez heads to the mound on short rest to close out the season, with a shot to send the Mets on, be it to a one-game playoff or to the NLDS.

Are you as nervous as I am? Oliver Perez has been, well, Oliver Perez all season long. Slow start, hot middle, up and down at the end. Three days after a pretty bad start against the Cubs, where, after being handed a big lead, he couldn't hold it and the Mets eventually got themselves into a battle they couldn't win.

And, yet, I keep thinking about the last time Oliver Perez was asked to take the mound on three days' rest.

We remember this night well. October 19, 2006.

Oh, we didn't think much of Perez then. He was middling when he pitched on October 15th, but backed by an offensive explosion, he was able to minimize the damage against him and gave up most of his runs when the game was already out of reach. But, oh, how he pitched on that wet Thursday night. He navigated his way through the Cardinals lineup, kept them off the bases, kept his team in the game. He was aided by a magical, memorable play that overshadowed the effort he gave that night, but you can't forget the job Perez did in the spotlight.

Since that time, it's been...interesting.

Oliver Perez has been known to look like an ace one night and a journeyman the next. There's no consistency or rhythm to the way he pitches. When he's on, he can dominate, and there have been several instances where he's done just that this season. Then, he can turn right around and throw up a stinker the next time out.

I guess that's what makes us so nervous. Perez does have a solid record against today's opponent this season. He also has a strong track record in big games. That's all fine and good, but it's really no guarantee as to which Oliver Perez will show up today.

You also have to consider the magnitude of the situation, and how he's going to respond.

Today's game is no ordinary game. Today, if things don't go well, is Goodbye. Today, if it works out, could be a party of the highest order. Today is history coming together with the present one final time in Shea Stadium.

I'll be there. It'll be my 264th Regular Season game and my 269th overall. I knew this day was coming for some time, and I hoped that somehow it might be a day to sit back and reflect, but that's not going to happen. Last year, I wrote that I showed up at a rocking House Party and left a Morgue. Today, I'll be showing up to that same House Party. I'm afraid I might be leaving a morgue. The postgame ceremony might not be so much fun. But if Oliver Perez comes through, if the Mets bats can wake up and knock around sweaty, drunken Scott Olsen like they should, if they can erase the ghosts and the tension from last season, and if they can do what's required of them to win the damn ballgame, then, we'll party. Shea will rock, and it won't be for the last time.

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