Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guns Of April

I found myself right back at Citi Field with George on Tuesday night for my second game in as many days. The first, last and only reason I and about 37,000 other Mets fans chose this night was, of course, to welcome Matt Harvey back to Citi Field. What I was treated to was the kind of game and the kind of crowd intensity that felt more appropriate for a Mets/Phillies game from 2008, not so much from a random ragtag Tuesday night in April. Though Harvey was slightly touched up by the Phillies and the game dissolved into about 44 different kinds of weird, things still ended up in the Mets favor as they got ahead early and held on late to beat the Phillies 6-5.

But oh, what a path it was to reach that final result.

The crowd, apparently, was bouncing off the walls before the first pitch of the game was even thrown. I say "apparently," because I wasn't in the stadium yet. I'm not sure if it was just the 7pm rush of things or they're being extra thorough these days, but the checkpoint lines to get in the stadium were longer than I'd ever seen, pretty much ever. I've been to Opening Days, I've been to sold out games, I was at the first game after the Boston Marathon attacks, but I'd never seen the security lines stretching out basically to the stairs to the Subway like they were at around 7:00 last night. So, yeah. By time I was inside the building, I'd missed Harvey go charging out to the mound with the entire stadium screaming in approval, and I'd missed Harvey whipping 97 MPH fastballs to strike out Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis, and by time I'd crossed to the escalator to go upstairs, he was about to do the same to Chase Utley. But Utley, who's about as well liked as Saddam Hussein by Mets fans, had other ideas, and jerked a 1-2 curveball down the right field line and tucked it into the seats for a buzzkill of a Home Run. Granted, things like this will happen. Utley, though old and often hurt, is still a pro and can still get it done. But for a nearly packed house of Mets fans that expected Matt Harvey to throw a perfect game and win the World Series all at once, it was jarring. I guess it meant that this shit was on. Harvey rebounded to strike out Ryan Howard's carcass, though, and the crowd came to life once again.

On the other side, the Mets were facing the relative non-entity known as David Buchanan (whom I can only assume is a long-lost descendant of our 15th President), and the fired up Harvey crowd seemed to spur on the bats, as they immediately tied the game thanks to singles from Curtis Granderson, David Wright and (by this time I'd finally reached my seat in section 418) Michael Cuddyer. In the second, Buchanan unraveled some more. He hit Wilmer Flores in the hands, got victimized by a 35-foot single by Granderson and ultimately Lucas Duda cleared the bases for a 3-run Double. Buchanan followed by hitting Cuddyer in the hands. Unlike Flores, Cuddy was forced from the game, which sort of set the stage for the bizarre portion of the game later on.

In the 3rd, Harvey was reached for a Ben Revere single. He looked to be well on his way to getting out of the inning, but a pitch in on the hands of Galvis was ruled to have hit him. From where I was sitting it certainly looked close, but whatever. Get the next guy. But Terry Collins, after some delay, came out and challenged the call. This, then, turned into some discussions going on between the umpires, then a discussion with Ryne Sandberg, then more discussions, then more discussion with the Managers, and then a safe ruling while the crowd chanted for Harvey some more. Finally, after about 4 minutes of crotch-grabbing, it was back to the game and the delay probably threw Harvey off because Utley singled on the first pitch to score Revere. One inning later, Cody Asche belted a Harvey fastball into the Pepsi Porch to cut the Mets lead to 4-3, and this was turning into one of those nights that looked like it might get away from the Mets.

Perhaps in another era, that might have happened to the Mets in the 5th inning, when things started to get really screwed up. I'd picked the bottom of the 4th as the moment to attempt to find food, but the Harvey-inspired crowd created longer-than-usual lines at just about every concession stand, so the top of the 5th inning unfolded while I was still standing on line. Fortunately, I was in front of a TV, so I could see what was going on just fine. Buchanan, who managed to settle himself down after the first two innings, led off by taking a whac-a-mole swing at a Harvey fastball and somehow poking it down the right field line for a double. But Harvey managed to rebound by getting Herrera to fly out and was helped out when Galvis decided to bunt and fouled out to d'Arnaud. This brought up Utley, who to that point was the only Philly batter who displayed any aptitude to hit Harvey, followed by Howard, who looked like a statue. Dan Warthen waddled out to the mound and a discussion was held, the end result of which I can only assume was a decision to put Utley on base. After watching two of his teammates get drilled by Buchanan and given the obvious decision to put the batter aboard, I can only assume Harvey decided to spare everyone the suspense of throwing 4 balls and instead decided to drill Utley in the back, to the delight of Keith, Ron and pretty much everyone in attendance. I guess the pitch got away from him. At least that's what he said. He then proceeded to stare daggers through Utley, just in case Utley had any wise ideas. This strategy nearly paid off as Harvey followed by gassing Howard with fastballs, but on a pitch that Howard caught up with only enough to foul off, the home plate umpire ruled Catcher's Interference. Replays proved to be inconclusive, although from where I was standing (and remember, I'm still on line at the concession stand), it looked to be a BS call. George, via text, told me "this game is stupid." Terry Collins clearly felt the same, since he argued enough to get himself thrown out of the game. After the dust settled, Carlos Ruiz popped out, I got my burger (and after a condiment discussion with George too long to go into here, I'll only say that pushcart onions on a burger is a really good, underrated idea), and finally got back to my seat.

In the bottom of the 5th, the Mets scored when Duda doubled and Travis d'Arnaud singled him home, the play unfolding in such a way that Duda had to score twice, once when he slid past Ruiz the first time, and again when the plate umpire Alphonso Marquez, who was having a hard day, didn't make a call and forced Duda to make a rather ungraceful swan dive back to touch the plate.

Harvey departed the game after an uneventful 6th inning. This was one of those games where he had to make his way through on guile and grit as opposed to just blowing people out of there. He was pitching fine, but the Phillies hit some of his better pitches and he gave up a few runs. Again, he's bound to have more than a few days like this this season. But if his bad day involves pitching 6 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, with no walks and 8 strikeouts and putting the Mets in position to win, well, I have no complaints.

There was still a rest of the game to be played, and it appeared it might come off without incident. Daniel Murphy became the first Met to challenge the re-reconfigured Outfield fence when he sailed a first pitch Home Run into the bullpens in the 7th inning. Sean Gilmartin pitched the 8th, clearly with the job of getting Utley and Howard out. Utley led off with his second Home Run of the game. Howard grounded back to Gilmartin. That pretty much sums up the Phillies. Gilmartin then departed in favor of Rafael Montero, who came out throwing strikes, getting two-strike counts, and then giving up multitudes of foul balls, prompting me to anoint him with a case of John Maine-itis. This led to a discussion between George and I about how many Mets we've hung our hats on that are now viewed as punchlines. Nobody seems to exemplify this more than John Maine, who was my main man way back in '07, now lost to the annals of time. George invoked the name of Jason Phillips as another such player. By this point, Montero had figured himself out and finished the inning.

In the last of the 8th, however, more strange happenings occurred when David Wright led off with a single and stole second as Duda struck out. It looked to me like he must have jammed his hand, but Wright's usually one to shake these things off. This was fortunate, because thanks to Terry Collins' short bench and Cuddyer's earlier injury, the Mets had burned through all their reserve players not named Anthony Recker, who's usually saved for specific emergencies. If Wright had to exit, then what? Who plays 3rd? Recker? Murphy? Then who plays 2nd? Juan Lagares? Jacob deGrom? Then, of course, Wright walked off and the hypothetical became reality. Recker trotted out to pinch run. As the 9th inning began, and Jeurys Familia (and his trance-club inspired entrance music) entered the game, we waited. Finally, Recker emerged with a borrowed fielder's glove to raucous cheers. Fortunately, things were done quickly; Familia was aided by a slick fielding play from Duda (!), which was fortunate because Jeff Francoeur (who for whatever reason elicits a hearty ovation from Mets fans who I guess remember his year or so here fondly) followed with the Phillies' 4th Home Run of the night to cut the Mets lead to 6-5. But Familia rebounded to strike out Herrera and Galvis and finish off the game, finally, and give the Mets their 3rd win in a row.

This was the kind of game that will probably be the norm once the Mets establish themselves as a good team again. I'd like to think, though, that some of the in-stadium issues, like the security lines and concession stand lines, will suss themselves out. Concession stand lines are inevitable, I know, but in the early going, with a pair of nearly-full or over-full houses, it seems like every stand boasts a line to rival Shake Shack. It's probably the only thing I'll miss about the Tuesday night special, when there's 15,000 people and nobody gives a shit. But so long as there's Harvey day, there will be hordes of people populating the stadium because something interesting is probably going to happen.

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