It was really cold at Citi Field on Saturday Night. It was the sort of weather you expected for a game in late October, a bit of that early April Night Game chill, combined with the fire that comes along with the Postseason. That is to say, of course, that it was really cold, but nobody cared. Put on an extra layer and enjoy the show.
The further you go into the Playoffs, the greater the level of intensity. That's not really saying much, but it's been a while since we've seen this in demonstration in these parts. There's a much more frenetic energy to the NLDS; I've seen that magnified this year by being at both home games, and I can tell you that I felt much more on edge prior to those two games. I suppose it has to do with the fact that both players and fans are still trying to feel their way through this thing, and also the 5-game Division Series seems to come and go in a bit of a blink. That being said, the 7 days that the NLDS encompassed felt like 2 or 3 weeks. Now that we're in the Championship Series, where there's 7 games scheduled over 9 days, these 9 days will probably feel like a month and the deeper into this we get, the intensity level will continue to rise.
There was a good amount of intensity at Game 1 of the NLCS last night. I'd call it less anxiety, which is what I was feeling last week, and more a general desire to scream really loud for an extended period of time. Game 1 isn't so much a "do-or-die" anxious feeling, it's more of a "Let's make a statement and get off on the right foot" feeling, and with that in mind, the Mets took advantage of a fired-up home crowd and a fired-up Matt Harvey and rolled to a 4-2 victory to give them a 1-0 lead in the series.
As it was a Saturday, I wasn't sitting at work bouncing my legs all day to get out to the stadium. I could move at my own pace, which was nice, although I still left for the game at around 5:15, a good 3 hours before game time. Part of this is because I don't know what the hell to do with myself, part of it is to beat the crowd and do whatever needs to be done before the game starts. I met George at around 6:30, in front of the portable Budweiser Beer garden that had sprung up outside the stadium, went in, collected my 3rd Rally Towel (quite a pile is developing) and went upstairs.
Citi Field this week has been a mass of humanity at every game. I know there's more open space to move around here than there was at Shea Stadium, but at capacity, Shea Stadium's 57,333 didn't feel quite as full as the 44,287 that were on hand last night. I'd noticed a smattering of Cubs fans on hand; it seemed inevitable that there would be a few, however unlike in July, when they kind of took over and talked a lot of trash, they were real quiet now. The specter of what's going on for them is probably about as overwhelming as it is for us Mets fans, so while they've probably got their own level of anxiety, it doesn't really read on a road game, particularly when you're outnumbered by about 100:1. To wit, while I saw a few Cubs fans on the train, and a few outside the stadium, and a few inside the stadium, they kind of blended in and faded away once everyone sat down and the game started.
Of course, once we got through the ceremonial stuff (which I've been kind enough to record for posterity, loyal readers can click through here as opposed to embedding), there was a game to be played, and if the Mets were looking to get off on the right foot in the series, they did a really good job of accomplishing this. For one, Matt Harvey came out with his A+ stuff, probably both determined to shut everyone up about innings and pitches and questions about his character and any other crap people want to say about him, and also fuming over his poor showing last week. I've mentioned a few times that Harvey often looks like he pitches with smoke coming out of his ears and last night certainly was one of those nights. With the spotlight on him, Harvey pitched the kind of game that you expect him to pitch, essentially stopping a red-hot Cubs lineup cold and holding them to 2 runs over 7.2 innings, allowing all of 4 hits and 9 strikeouts and let's face it, if Juan Lagares gets a better jump on Castro's fly ball in the 5th inning, that's 1 run and 3 hits. Harvey ruled the night, and were Baseball not such a genteel game with less of a war-like atmosphere than an NFL game, Harvey might have come storming off the mound at the end of the game and delivered an interview that sounds kind of like this.
While Harvey let his pitching shut up the non-believers, the Mets went out and tried to crack Jon Lester. Of course, it was Daniel Murphy who fired the first shot, taking a 1-1 pitch with 2 outs in the 1st and drilling it off the face of the Pepsi Porch, which of course got everyone alternately roaring and wondering what the fuck is going on with Daniel Murphy. I'd be more surprised by all this if he weren't Playoff Chosen, but if it wasn't clear that he was beforehand, after last night it must be. His HR in the 1st inning was not only his 4th of the Postseason and his 3rd in 3 games, but it was his 3rd off a Lefthanded pitcher. Go Figure.
It was, then, back to the pitchers for the next several innings. Harvey was just mowing the Cubs down and was actually perfect through 4 innings. Lester was good, too, weaving in and out of mini-jams in the 2nd and 4th. In the 5th, Harvey broke, and it was probably my fault. Following the end of the 4th, I needed a bathroom break and as the inning ended, I made a mad dash to try and beat the inevitable line, but I was unsuccessful. I was still on line with Howie Rose on the call when Harvey hit Anthony Rizzo on an 0-2 pitch, which I assume happened because of Rizzo's propensity to stand on the plate, and then Starlin Castro followed with a fly ball that Juan Lagares usually catches 99 times out of 100, except that this was the 100th time and he misjudged it and couldn't recover until the ball was over his head. Rizzo scored, the game was tied, and only then did I get back to my seat and George told me I couldn't leave my seat for the rest of the game. Quite honestly, I'm superstitious enough to buy into that, so I was planted for the duration. Harvey was mostly undaunted by this turn of events, and although Javier Baez singled through the hole with 1 out, Yoenis Cespedes came up with a clutch defensive play, throwing a strike home and nailing Castro at the plate by a good 10 feet, enough of a distance that Castro couldn't try some dopey trick slide to get around the tag.
The Mets offense was undaunted, too, and with 1 out in the 5th, they got back-to-back singles from Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares, and although Harvey couldn't get a proper bunt down and Flores was forced at 3rd, Curtis Granderson continued his solid postseason by flaring a single in front of Dexter Fowler to score Lagares and give the Mets the lead once again. In the 6th inning, Travis d'Arnaud lit the house on fire by blasting a majestic Home Run through the teeth of the wind and off the Home Run apple to extend the Mets lead to 3-1. The Mets finally knocked Lester out of the game in the 7th when Lagares singled, moved to 2nd on a sacrifice, and, with the Cubs infield shifted way over for Granderson, stole 3rd. This proved to be a key steal, because Granderson followed by lofting a fly ball to not-so-deep Left Field. Kyle Schwarber, the oafish Rookie Slugger with no position, made the catch and made a decent throw home, but Miguel Montero, who'd been inserted in the game that inning, failed to do a decent job of blocking the plate, and Lagares simply slid in under his attempted tag and the Mets opened up their lead to 4-1.
Harvey, meanwhile, kept the Cubs off the board in the 6th and 7th, shaking off some minor irritants like taking a Dexter Fowler line drive off his shoulder (and then demanding the trainers get the hell away from him) and a 2-on, 1-out jam in the 7th. Although there was some brief action in the bullpen, Harvey came out for the 8th inning as well, and why not? He'd kept his pitch count down the majority of the evening—the Cubs helped him out plenty by hacking away—and got the first two batters in the 8th inning before Schwarber reached him for a mammoth Home Run. That was mostly a minor irritant since it drew the Cubs closer, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't so bad. But Terry Collins came out to get him there, and while it was a sour ending, you can't argue with the end result of Harvey's outing. The Mets needed him to pitch a big game and he certainly did that, and the crowd responded with a rousing ovation as he left the mound.
Jeurys Familia then came in and although he walked Baseball Jesus, he then got Rizzo to ground out to finish the 8th, and then in the 9th, with everyone on their feet, he got the first two batters before allowing a single to Miguel Montero. That, of course, got everyone good and nervous, and Tommy LaStella followed by hitting a smash toward second that might have been ticketed for another hit, but Daniel Murphy again showed his magic touch by making a diving stop and throwing LaStella out to end the game and give the Mets a leg up in the NLCS with a 4-2 victory.
Harvey, of course, was the talk of the game afterward and deservedly so. I keep saying it, but Harvey's performance was of enormous importance for an infinite number of reasons. Most of the talk going in to the series was the fact that the Cubs were favored, and they had the hot hand, and sure, we can't know how the rest of the series will play out, but at least for this night, it was the Mets pitching that came up big time, and for the Mets to win, that's what needed to happen. And the massive human traffic jam that ensued following the game in the stairwells and on the Subway was much happier than the silent murmur that followed Game 4 of the NLDS.
So, the Mets now have one game in their pocket, which is helpful considering they'll be facing the hottest pitcher on the planet in Jake Arrieta tonight. But the Mets will counter with their own fireballer, Noah Syndergaard, and if he's up to snuff in this game, it won't be easy for the Cubs either.