Friday, September 26, 2008

The Unusual Suspects

I spent most of late last night and into this morning thinking of some way to adequately sum up the game I witnessed last night at Shea, and I just can't come up with one good enough. I don't know that there's any good way to describe it.

Falling behind early and again late, the Mets never quit, never rolled over and somehow managed to shake off the failures from Wednesday night and post a harrowing, rousing victory that could prove to be the turning point for the season if the Mets can rally from the momentum.

It wasn't an easy game to watch. I arrived around 6:45 and El Guapo shortly thereafter for the final game on our Power Pack, the final Regular Season night game we'll attend at Shea, and immediately questioned why we were here. Already, things seemed grim. It started while I was riding out on the 7 train. The train pulled into Junction Blvd, on the middle track. Standing on the Manhattan-bound platform was a rather skinny, dorky, rather spastic-looking nebbish wearing a Cubs hat and Cubs shirt. He looked at me, through the train window. He caught my eye. Immediately, he started screeching at me and doing some horrendous, maniacal dance, making throat-slashing gestures at me and screaming "LET'S GO CUBS!"

This is the picture of Cubs fans?

A Braves fan, A Yankees fan or especially a Phillies fan, I might have responded with something vulgar, perhaps a bird or some choice words. You expect that sort of behavior out of those folks. But for some reason, I felt sorry for this poor schmuck. Why pick on me? The Cubs have already wrapped up what they need to wrap up. I was so taken aback that I responded simply by laughing and tipping my cap as the train pulled away.

Wednesday's game had already taken a lot out of me, and early on, it seemed like it had taken its toll on the Mets as well. Pedro, who's clearly just pitching on fumes and trying to will his way through games on pure heart, didn't have it early. After being victimized by a string of ringing, 2-out hits from the B-lineup that the Cubs had thrown out there, the Mets were down, the crowd, which was small due to an ominous forecast, but hearty considering the impact of the game, had a noticibly tense mood. It was enough to give one the feeling that things were already over for the Mets, or that there wasn't much of a chance to try to will the Mets to a victory. The Mets lineup seemed to have a festering black hole at the bottom, consisting of Ryan Church, Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel. It wasn't inspiring any confidence, and as Rich Harden motored through the early innings, it didn't make anyone feel any better.

El Guapo and I seemed to be discussing a wide variety of things that pertained little to the Mets, or Baseball in general. The game had become more or less scenery to a conversation that could have easily been had someplace else. This is why Ryan Church's tying 2-run double in the 4th inning seemed so monumentally jarring. Church has been playing in a fog for the past several weeks. It's difficult to be too hard on him, considering that he was so good early in the season, but has had to overcome two concussions in three months, sitting out the better part of three months of the season, and now is thrust into a frenetic Pennant Race. But he's in the Keith Hernandez Dark Forest, and he's killing the team, and nowhere was that more evident than in the 9th inning Wednesday. I certainly didn't expect Church to come through in that particular spot, but he did, and it was certainly welcome, as the rain began to fall and the game became official.

Pedro also settled himself down after his early struggles. I don't think it was an especially sparkling outing for Pedro, but let's face it. If someone told you that Pedro would pitch into the 7th inning, give up 3 runs and strike out 9, leaving a 3-3 tie, any Mets fan would have signed for it. Without question. And knowing that this was most likely the last start he would make with the Mets, the fans acknowledged his exit, and he acknowledged the fans, responding with some rather classy quotes following the game.

Things seemed to be OK for the moment, which is why it was again rather jarring when Micah Hoffpauir (you know, the great Micah Hoffpauir) launched a 3-run HR on Rincon's first pitch.

And we're right back where we started.

Now, it's getting desperate. In the 7th, Robinson Cancel, looking every bit like Rich "El Guapo" Garces' long-lost twin brother, hit a double to kick off the 7th. Somehow, he scooted to 3rd on a Marlon Anderson groundout (prompting a minor argument between The Guap and myself as to whether Anderson should be lauded for a "productive out (his side)" or bashed for not getting a productive hit (my side)). Somehow, he scooted home on a Jose Reyes groundout. 6-4 as we moved to the 8th.

And the desperation and tension and rain continued to build. How fortunate that our seats in MR4 were well covered. It would have made things worse if we were tense and soaked. David Wright singled, and we were standing. But the wind was immediately taken out of our sails when Delgado grounded into that rarely seen 5-6-3 double play. With hope about to die, Carlos Beltran singled deep in the hole at short.

And that would be when the Unusual Suspects would emerge.

I've only mentioned the Unusual Suspects in passing. But it's always those guys you least expect who come through with big plays at key moments that seem to be the trademark of a winning team, a team with Championship Aspirations. We weren't confident in Ryan Church's ability to come through, certainly not after he'd already done so earlier. But here he was, taking a pitch the other way for his 3rd hit of the game. We weren't even sure who Ramon Martinez was, except that we knew he wasn't the Ramon Martinez who was also Pedro's brother. Some fans behind me assumed he was a rookie. El Guapo thought he was still on the Dodgers. All of us leapt to our feet when he pulled a single through the hole to left to score Beltran. Robinson Cancel followed by putting forth the kind of at-bat that some of his teammates ought to emulate (hear that, David Wright?). After falling behind 1-2, Cancel pretty much stuck his bat out and poked a liner that just barely snuck into right field.

I have no adequate explanation for the ensuing play.
As I saw Fukudome throwing home and Church racing for the plate, I could see it would be close, and probably not in a good way. The throw was clearly going to beat Church. I had this brief moment of sheer panic as I realized what was unfolding. Ball, Koyie Hill and Church seemed to converge slightly to the 3rd base side of home, and before I knew what was happening, Church had somehow sidestepped Hill. Hill slipped on the dirt. Church, in an attempt to change his course to touch home, slipped on the dirt. Both men lay on the ground for a split second that could have been 10 minutes long. Church dove for the plate. Hill dove for Church. Church smacked his hand on the plate, just barely safe.

The Dive. How else could you describe it? If this is going to launch the Mets on to bigger and better things, this is where we have to look back to. The Dive. One final addition to the endless library of Shea Stadium Lore.

But the game was still only tied, and when Damion Easley looked rather foolish in striking out (after almost belting a 3-run HR), we moved to the 9th, and the continuation of the Bullpen Parade that bears no more discussion. Feliciano came in to face the lefty Mike Fontenot (and a big Bad Job to the Cubs clubbies for giving mediocre Mike Fontenot jersey #17. I'm sorry, Mark Grace may not be a Hall of Famer, but he was an exemplary player for a long time, and a grizzled, chain-smoking SOB who was always a joy to watch.). Feliciano gave up a hit to Fontenot. This prompted El Guapo to say the following: "Remember last year, when Feliciano was the best guy we had in the bullpen?"

I had no response. A brief pause. Then, he said, "Then again, he might still be the best guy we have in the bullpen."

Joe Smith came in, made things complicated and then got out of the jam. With 2 on and 2 out, Piniella sent up Daryle Ward to hit for the pitcher. I suppose it could have been worse, he could have been a dick and sent up Ramirez, Lee or Soriano. But then again, it was a lefty against Smith. But Smith got Ward to tap back to the box and end the threat. Phew. Now, can they do tonight what they couldn't do last night? Jose Reyes got things kicked off with a single. But in typical Mets fashion, they seemed to try their damndest to screw that up. Rather than just having Reyes run, which is probably what they should have done, Daniel Murphy tried to bunt. I didn't know if Murphy could bunt. El Guapo didn't know if Murphy could bunt. I don't even know if Murphy thinks he can bunt. He took 2 balls, then made a couple of stabs at a bunt and didn't look good doing so. Reyes didn't run. Finally, on 2-2, Reyes ran and had a great jump, which was especially helpful when Murphy mysteriously made another bunt attempt and fouled the ball straight back.

Here we go again. The Great Mets Offense is about to strike.

David Wright followed and looked like he was about to squeeze his bat into sawdust. He quickly fell behind 0-2, took two balls, and swung miserably through strike 3 as Reyes finally stole 2nd. Delgado was intentionally walked. Beltran followed, and I figured that the Cubs would walk him, too, and take their chances with Church, who looked stellar in a similar situation last night. Instead, they pitched to Beltran, who rewarded my faith, and rewarded everyone else's faith by hitting a shot that might well have gone through Hoffpauir's glove, down the right field line, sending Reyes home and sending the fans into a wet, happy frenzy! We're Still Alive!
All this to barely beat the Cubs B-team. Jesus. We jumped and screamed and high-fived and all of a sudden found ourselves immediately exhausted. We stood, briefly, with raised fists before quickly getting the hell out of there.

I don't really know what the hell to think, or what the hell will happen with this team anymore. These last two games have absolutely killed me. If they make the Playoffs, I might grind my teeth to dust or have a stroke or something similar. Milwaukee won shortly thereafter, just to keep things interesting. It's still eerily similar to last year. 3 games left, still in some semblance of control as far as our own destiny, with the Marlins coming in. Those Fucking Marlins who came in and kicked us in the nuts last year. And I'm sure they'd love to come in and kick us all in the nuts again. All this talk about last year being done, and being picked to run away with the division this year, and the problems with the bullpen, and the problems with the offense, and the problems with Willie or Jerry or Omar and everything else, and it's all just coming back to where we were exactly one year ago. Nothing's assured, not even the game tonight, with the weather looking ominous. Today's going to be a very tense day.

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