After a couple of frustrating losses early on, I think I have settled into a nice Citi Field M.O. of bizarre things happening just about every time I go to a game. At least the Mets end up winning in the end. Last night was true to that form.
For my 5th trip to Citi Field, I drew the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, the final game of a 3 game series in which the Mets were going for the sweep with Johan Santana on the mound. I try not to get too presumptuous about these things before I even get to the stadium, but given the nature of the Nationals and given the record of the Mets starter, I had to feel optimistic. El Guapo seemed optimistic as well.
We should have known better.
It's become the new tradition at Citi Field to enter through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, as I'd mentioned, simply for ease. There's an awful lot of people that go in that way, but there's also plenty of places to pick up a program, and generally, we make our way down the 3rd base side and go up the escalator. It's a fine trip upstairs, but I still think there really needs to be another escalator, perhaps closer to Home Plate. One that lands in the Promenade right around section 518 would be great.
Nonetheless, we went up, spent a good 15 minutes wandering around wondering what to eat, I ended up spending another 10 minutes waiting for Sausage and Peppers because the guys at the stand had no concept of taking the orders of the people standing on line, and away we went.
Things started off fairly normal. We sat down and looked at the Mets lineup. "I think calling this a makeshift lineup would be kind," El Guapo mused. I looked at the Nationals lineup and said something similar. El Guapo pointed out that most of the Nationals lineup was comprised of their regular players. Such is the sign of a last-place team.
Santana struck out the side in the 1st, around an infield single by Nick Johnson that featured a great up-the-middle dive by Ramon Martinez and a not-so-great missed scoop on a low throw by Daniel Murphy. Murphy would redeem himself later on, but when Sheffield cracked a 2-run double in the bottom of the 1st, things seemed well on their way. The Mets pushed across another run in the 3rd on a seeing-eye single from Murphy (this followed a particularly interesting play in which Castillo attempted a sacrifice bunt and reached first when the Nationals failed to cover 1st Base). Santana appeared to be cruising. He wasn't 100% sharp, but there was no indication that he wasn't on the way to yet another virtuoso performance. We could just sit back and enjoy the ride, and probably be out of here by 9:30.
Then came the 4th inning.
Even the best pitchers have off days, and Johan Santana is no exception. But I don't know that Santana particularly had an off day last night as opposed to just having an off inning. In the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th, he had guys on base, and he was running some deep counts, but he was basically finishing guys off either by striking them out or getting them to make some paltry contact. In the 4th, none of this seemed to work. I don't know whether or not it was the weather (a heavy fog seemed to be creeping in), the wind (it was windy and fairly cold, in fact I think it's safe to say I was colder last night than I was on Opening Day) or whatever, but that top of the 4th inning just slowed the game down to a crawl. Santana was missing, Nationals weren't swinging, Adam Dunn hit a HR clear to the bridge, Santana was walking guys, all of a sudden he's walking the pitcher and the bases are loaded...And he walks in a run! Now, the game is tied, Santana looks completely befuddled, and people are beginning to clear out of my section in droves. Santana gets the 3rd out and mercifully ends this madness. It had gotten to the point where nobody was quite sure if he could make it out of the inning.
Sometime around the 5th, a young-ish girl, probably in her mid 20s, who was sitting somewhere in the middle of my section, with two other girls about the same age, maybe 8 or so rows down, bolts up and starts down the stairs. Near the bottom, she took a header and landed on her ass. I didn't really notice it until El Guapo told me. According to him, she was fairly drunk. This was in said pocket of the section that seemed to have cleared out rather quickly. All of a sudden, a number of security people came up to the section and started looking around. I figured that someone was going to get thrown out, but there was nobody around to get thrown out. Everyone had left. One of the security guys was yelling about an unattended jacket. I didn't pay it much mind.
Sometime around the 6th, El Guapo went downstairs for a beer. When he returned, he told me why Alcohol Control and security were walking around the section. Turns out the 3 girls were not only completely drunk, but had apparently vomited all over the place before running downstairs.
Right around this time, Daniel Murphy was batting with Sheffield on 1st and hit a towering smash to right, that looked to be headed for the Pepsi Porch until it clanged off the Subway sign and bounced down. Clearly, a Home Run from where I was sitting, and just about everyone else seemed to think so as well. Which is why it was kind of surprising when, after things slowed down, Murphy and Sheffield were still running, and Sheffield was making a horrible dive for Home Plate and getting tagged out. Wait a second...Wait a second! We gotta see that one again. We've seen the replay a bazillion times by now, but it seemed pretty clear to me that the ball hit the Subway sign. El Guapo was telling me about the vomit covered seats as this happened, so he didn't quite see it. Manuel came out to argue, the Umpires gathered in the middle of the field and then ran off to review the play. It seemed like a foregone conclusion to me that the call would be reversed. I don't see how it couldn't be.
So, we stood around. El Guapo and I talked about how it was possible for those girls to get as drunk as they did by the 5th inning. Couldn't be beer alone. Unless they were excessive lightweights. El Guapo's guess was that they were hanging out at the bar in the Promenade Club before stumbling up to the seats and getting sick. By this time, the cleaning crew had come in with a variety of mops and brooms and cleaned up the mess.
The umpires returned with their verdict, a Home Run, to the delight of everyone, or at least everyone on or rooting for the Mets.
The oddities continued for the Mets. Ramon Castro followed Murphy hitting a shot that tailed down the left field line. It kept hooking down into the corner, down into that sliver of the Left Field line that I can't see. Both the ball and Josh Willingham disappeared from view. Everyone goes silent for that split second. I figured either the ball is caught, or it's foul. Turns out Willingham ended up overunning the ball and crashing into the corner as the ball landed...fair. Castro is on 2nd for Fernando Martinez.
Martinez, to this point, clearly looked like he wasn't ready for the Majors. He's been anxious and raw at the plate, and obviously needs a full season in AAA to get himself more prepared. You can't be too hard on him. He's only 20. On the 3-1 pitch, we all know what happened. Martinez hits a high popup on the infield. It was sort of tricky, and it looked like Zimmerman and Wil Nieves had some confusion. Sure enough, it clanks off of Nieves' chest and lands on the ground. Problem was, Martinez had vapor-locked at Home Plate and didn't run. He was easily thrown out at 1st and was subsequently booed off the field, and then back onto the field the following inning.
While such a lack of hustle is inexcusable, and while the culture of the Media instinctually would like to run the kid out of town and blame the attitude of the rest of the team, let's be somewhat reasonable. This kid has looked totally starstruck for two games. He's not ready and, clearly, he's a bit overwhelmed. The kid vapor-locked. It happens. Leave him alone, leave everyone else alone. You don't make the same stupid mistake twice and I'd like to think that he won't. Yes, we'll remember it, but let's not crush his spirit before he's even got his feet wet. If he does it again, then we can let him have it. Then, Manuel can sit him down and let him think about it. But the whole point of him even getting called up was that he was going to come here and play, so why then go completely against that now?
The game continued to move along at a snail's pace. Santana managed to grit his way through 6 innings, and then departed. With a fresh bullpen after Livan's complete game of Tuesday night, Manuel was going to trot out just about everyone in this game, and it seems like he did. Parnell came in for the 7th and sandwiched a Nick Johnson single between a pair of strikeouts. Feliciano came in and struck out Dunn to end the inning, on a filthy selection of pitches.
Murphy hit a 2-run double in the last of the 7th, driving in his 4th and 5th runs of the night, capping a game in which he looked vastly better than he has in weeks, picking up the slack for David Wright, who got into his bad "swing for the fences" habit and responded with his 1st career 4-strikeout game. The 7 runs the Mets scored for Santana tonight were probably more than they've scored for him in his previous 3 starts combined, which has to be good for his morale. Putz and Rodriguez got through the 8th and 9th, and the Mets finished off a nice, long, drawn-out and somewhat sloppy 3 hour and 21 minute victory.
The evening was capped off by walking down to the lone ramp down the Left Field line and followed by an argument over how good the ramp actually was. I think the ramp is great, and much preferred to the myriad staircases going down. El Guapo felt the ramps weren't steep enough and the back and forth repetitveness was annoying. I felt it was no worse than walking down flight after flight of stairs, risking either falling or getting fallen into by someone else. Plus, it reminds me of the good old days at Shea.