Saturday, October 31, 2015

Well Worth The Wait

It had been 387 games spread over 29 seasons before I attended my first World Series game and based on the results, it was worth the wait. In spite of some truly horrifying early struggles, the Mets got a clutch pitching performance out of Noah Syndergaard, warming everyone up on a frigid evening at Citi Field and setting the Mets on the way to a 9-3 victory and putting them on the board in the 2015 World Series.

This game was, of course, Citi Field's time to shine on that national stage. You knew as soon as you got on the 7 train that the stadium would be packed, loud and over-the-top intense. They had to be; just given the circumstances of the first two games of the series and how deflating a loss would be, perhaps a lot of the noise was generated by nerves more than anything else.

I was late getting in, not so much because I was late, but because George was late, and while I was waiting outside on the plaza, the energy really was palpable. I found myself jogging in place just to calm down at multiple points. Gone was the Budweiser Beer Garden that had sprung up during the NLCS, replaced by a football field-sized World Series Merch tent, multiple media stages and some other stuff I couldn't quite make out since it was buried among a mass of humanity. Regardless, I hardly, if ever, show up to a game looking for merchandise outside of a program, and so when George arrived and we went inside (and I received my 4th Rally Towel of the season), I got mine from my usual vendor inside the Rotunda before heading upstairs. It was a bit of a mad dash to get up there; by this point the rosters were being announced and we really wanted to be in our seats by time the Mets starters were introduced. It's not the game, nor does it have anything to do with the game, but in terms of tradition, well, you have to be there. That's part of the point of going to the World Series. Though we were ambushed by a broken escalator, somehow we managed to make it just as Terry Collins was taking the field. So we caught that, we caught Billy Joel's National Anthem (whither Glenn Close?), Mike Piazza was there throwing out the first pitch and spurring several "Get Him in the Lineup" comments, and then it was time for a game, oh by the way.

After the Royals had handled Harvey and deGrom in the first two games, everyone knew Syndergaard had to make a statement. Whether he or someone in the media department made the call, it seemed rather fitting that he would come out to the "Halloween" theme song as opposed to his usual entrance music. Not so much because it's Halloween and the Mets are still playing, but because Syndergaard clearly went out there with the intent to intimidate the Royals. To some extent, he did. Alcides Escobar had been looking awfully comfortable at the plate in the first two games of the series and had hacked away at the first pitch both times. So, Syndergaard sent a message by sailing his first pitch high and inside and clear to the backstop at 98mph. This put Escobar on his seat (although the pitch had no chance of hitting him), got the Royals all pissy and got the crowd good and riled up. Syndergaard then blew Escobar out of the box and actually got a swing and a miss from him.

Then, there was trouble. Ben Zobrist, who probably could use a little brushing back too, doubled over Cespedes' head, Lorenzo Cain reached on an infield hit that Syndergaard for some reason didn't field, and then the Royals were on the board when Eric Hosmer hit into a Fielder's Choice that should have been a Double Play if Syndergaard and Duda weren't busy wondering who would catch the ball. This was exactly what the Royals had been doing over the first to games and here they were at it again.

However, the Royals sent Yordano Ventura, who is quite a headcase in his own right, to the mound and he didn't have a particularly good time at all. Curtis Granderson hit a ball into the shift that Zobrist managed to field, but couldn't throw Granderson out. David Wright followed and, with the crowd imploring him to do something, he did, drilling a 0-1 pitch into the Left Field seats for his first Home Run of the Postseason, the first World Series Home Run at Citi Field and basically exactly what the Mets needed at that particular moment. They hadn't been getting the big hits and finally they got one.

But the Royals were just relentless. In the 2nd, they came right back, ringing out a conga line of singles, circling the bases and making my head spin. If this kept up, there was no possible way the Mets were going to do anything, and was this really how it was going to go down? They started out with singles from Perez, Gordon and Rios, tied the game and only by some sheer stroke of luck was Gordon called out at 3rd after a well-advised challenge by Collins. Ventura sacrificed and then Escobar was up again. Syndergaard this time went after him and got ahead in the count, but d'Arnaud couldn't handle a low pitch, the ball got past him, Rios scored and everything was once again horrible. For as well as the Mets pitchers had been throwing, the Royals were continuing to fight off every 2-strike pitch, get every line drive to fall and when they weren't making line drives fall, they were getting bloop hits to fall. It was truly sickening and by that point I was having a hard time seeing where the worm would turn.

It turned when Syndergaard settled down, got his bearings and basically used his right arm to deliver the message "Enough of this fuckery." After Escobar singled and stole 2nd with 2 out in the 2nd, Syndergaard retired 12 in a row and basically restored order to a game that was starting to get out of hand. And by keeping the Royals in check, he also gave his team time to come back.

Come back they did, with a vengeance. Syndergaard served as his own rally in the 3rd by leading off with a single, and Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a pitch straight down the Right Field line and into the seats for his 2nd Home Run of the Series. This, of course, set off the fireworks and set off the noise and put the Mets ahead for good. In the 4th, the Mets chased Ventura thanks to a Lucas Duda single, a double from Travis d'Arnaud and a well-placed grounder from Michael Conforto that turned into an Infield Hit when both Zobrist and Hosmer decided to field the ball instead of cover 1st base. Yes, the Mets wasted an opportunity that inning with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but they got a run and extended their lead, which was an accomplishment by itself.

With Ventura exiting in the 4th, the Royals then went to a succession of their lesser relievers. Danny Duffy escaped the 4th inning jam, before departing in favor of Raul Mondesi Jr, who simultaneously made history and made me feel really old by making his Major League debut in the World Series. Luke Hochevar took the 5th, and Franklin Morales started the 6th, but the Mets lit Morales up completely and put the game out of reach in the process. Following Syndergaard's final great escape of the evening, getting Alexis Rios to ground out with the bases loaded, the Mets went on the attack again. Juan Lagares, who's quietly had a great Postseason, hit for Conforto and singled. Wilmer Flores was hit by a pitch, and then Juan Uribe came up to hit for Syndergaard. And if you wanted a welcome sight, well, Juan Uribe was it. Marc Anthony was blaring, fans were screaming and really, this was just what the Mets needed. Juan Uribe has made a career out of being Playoff Chosen and it wouldn't have surprised me if he put one in the seats right there. He didn't, but his RBI single to score Lagares was similarly effective; it extended the Mets lead and the Mets rally. Curtis Granderson followed by hitting a comebacker to Morales and Morales basically didn't know what the hell to do, because in the process of looking Flores back to 3rd, he lost the play at 2nd on Uribe and was fortunate to not simply heave the ball into the Outfield. That was it for Morales, he departed in favor of Kelvin Herrera, in a desperate attempt by Yost to keep the game in reach, but David Wright attacked his first pitch, nailing a 2-run single, Cespedes followed with a Sac Fly, the Mets had gone ahead 9-3 and could coast home from there. Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia had drama-free innings and the Mets got themselves their first win in the 2015 World Series.

This was about as must-win a game as the Mets could have and maybe that took some of the "Holy Shit I'm At The World Series" out of me before the game, but once the Mets won, I think I started to appreciate the magnitude of the moment more. George did as well. The scope of our discussion afterward, while trying to make our way downstairs amid the mass of humanity, was something to the effect of "Hey, remember how the Mets were in the World Series in 2015 and we went and they won?" That's sort of what it felt like. 29 years, 387 games and finally my first World Series game and I know people say it's an experience to remember so much that it sounds kind of cliche, but it's true. It's hard to get to the World Series. You tend not to recognize it while you're in the midst of it happening, but it is. And it's even harder to get back which is why you want to take advantage of your opportunities. Well, after falling behind 0-2, the Mets have managed to get themselves back in it. Now, they have to keep it going tonight. I'll be back, by the way.

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