Monday, November 2, 2015

Remember The Feeling

Losing hurts worse than winning feels good.
-Lewis Grizzard

That pretty much summed up what I was feeling as the clock struck midnight both literally and figuratively on the 2015 Mets season. Though the Mets nearly closed out Game 5 of the World Series behind a Heroic effort by Matt Harvey, the Kansas City Royals once again proved to be far too relentless, too determined to let the Mets keep that door open. The Royals broke our hearts when they tied the game and ultimately won in an absolutely gut-wrenching 12th inning explosion, forcing Mets fans to flee and Royals fans to take over our building as they closed out their first World Series Championship in 30 years

I was, once again at Citi Field on Sunday night, fortunate enough to have been a ticket plan holder, prescient enough to go all in on a full package of Postseason tickets and wind up in possession of seats for all 3 World Series Home Games. Sure, I'd batted around the idea of selling some of these tickets and running to the bank, but my heart won out. How often do the Mets make the World Series period, let alone how often does a schmuck like me end up with tickets basically dropped in my lap? I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sure, ultimately, it's just a game. But a game at this level of the Playoffs, on November 1st of all days is pretty intense without the teams even setting foot on the field. This would have been the final game of the year at Citi Field regardless. I and the other 45-some-odd-thousand people there were just hoping it wasn't the final game of the year period.

And it started off good, it really did. We all know what happened. Curtis Granderson homered in the 1st. Matt Harvey set out intent on pitching the game of games. Some games, Harvey pitches angry and you can tell from the moment he sets foot on the field. I don't know if pitching angry really does enough to justify how he was pitching. His intensity was palpable throughout the entire stadium. Or maybe everyone was just so anxious because the entire season was on the line. He knew that runs were going to be at a premium. He had to be as close to perfect as the circumstances would allow him to be. Yes, the Royals nicked him early, but they only nicked him, not cut him. Three early baserunners never made it past 2nd base. In the 4th, he struck out the side, something he didn't accomplish in his Game 1 start when he struck out two batters in total. After finishing off the inning by whiffing Mike Moustakas, Harvey pumped his fist and started screaming as he ran off the mound. The further he went, the more intense he got, feeding off the energy of the crowd. Three more strikeouts in the 5th. Worked around a 1-out single in the 6th. The Mets got him a second run off of Edinson Volquez in the bottom of that inning, in a rally where it seemed like they had to do an awful lot of work to just scrape out one run. A third run would have been enormous, but it never materialized.

All this mattered little to Harvey. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single, but then coolly set down the Royals, expending all of 9 pitches, and when Alex Rios grounded out to finish the inning, there was more yelling, more pumping of fists, more "LET'S GO!"s. By now, pitch count was immaterial. This was his last shot. He had all winter to rest, so just leave it on the field. Conventional wisdom, I suppose, would have said let him go until he ran into trouble in the 8th, and then bring in Jeurys Familia. But I wasn't thinking that. When he ran off the mound in the 7th, I turned to my friend and said, "He's finishing this shit."

Harvey cruised through the 8th again on only 9 pitches. Ben Zobrist finished by flying out and the crowd was roaring with approval. Then, of course, there was that half inning of trepidation, where we in the stands had no idea whether or not he'd finish what he started. We wanted him to, of course. I felt he should. Harvey obviously felt he should too, and of course when Dan Warthen came and told him he was out, he flatly said "No Way," and ran down the dugout to state his case to Terry Collins.

Obviously, Harvey was persuasive enough, and perhaps had Collins not relented Harvey likely would have taken his Manager's head off, but that set the stage for what would be a legendary finish to a legendary performance. It was sort of an odd scene. After the last of the 8th inning ended, none of the Mets came out on to the field. The song "Seven Nation Army" began playing over the PA. One by one, the Mets position players came out of the dugout from one end. As they entered, an absolutely deafening roar began to rise from the 3rd base side of the stadium as Harvey ran up the steps and charged on to the field, still screaming, still pumping his fists, and Citi Field shook like Shea. He had this. He Had This.

And then he didn't. Instead of crafting the kind of game reminiscent of Jack Morris in '91, or Curt Schilling in '93, or Josh Beckett in '03, Harvey's game melted away into an ending closer to Al Leiter in 2000. Though he was ahead in the count against Lorenzo Cain, he lost him to a walk. It seemed like that was all the Royals needed. Like clockwork. Stolen base, RBI double, lead cut to 2-1, Harvey out of the game and instead of the roaring hero's sendoff, it was more of a horrified murmur. Jeurys Familia came in the game and, of course, things went from bad to worse. The Royals continued to push buttons and cajole the Mets into careless mistakes. Familia got Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to 3rd with 1 out. Salvador Perez followed and with the infield in, hit a ground ball to David Wright. Wright looked the runner back, but Hosmer broke for home as Wright threw to 1st. Lucas Duda secured one out, wheeled and threw towards the plate. A good throw and Eric Hosmer is out by 20 feet.

A good throw is what Lucas Duda didn't make. The ball sailed to the backstop, Hosmer scored, Royals players were skipping all over the place and the game was tied.

More appropriately, the game was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

It really was only a matter of time before the Royals figured out a way to force home the winning run. The Mets had been able to muster 3 hits to that point, and the way the Royals bullpen had been performing, anything beyond that didn't seem especially likely. Meanwhile, the Royals kept grinding. You could probably say this about any At Bat they had in the series. Mets pitchers would get ahead 0-2 or 1-2, and then the sequence of pitches would go something like this: Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Ball somewhere in play. Watching the Royals at bats in the top of each Extra Inning was a study in pure torture. Familia set them down in the 10th and Jon Niese, who did yeoman's work out of the bullpen this series, worked the 11th. By the 12th, sitting around, catatonically shaking my legs and chomping on my fingernails became too much. I had to get up and move around somewhere, and my friend did as well. At that late hour, with things playing out as they were, I was doing myself no favors staying where I was. So we got up and moved around, down towards 3rd base. And, of course, that's when the Royals struck.

When that first run scored, a few people started to get up and leave.

When the second run scored, more Mets fans headed for the exits.

When Lorenzo Cain cleared the bases, turning the inning from a debacle to a total bloodletting, the mass exodus occurred. Could you blame them? This seemed to be an almost predictable finish. Just to expedite our exit, which had become a painful process during this Postseason run, we moved down to the Field Level. Unfortunately, we found ourselves directly behind a mass of Royals fans, ready to kick off the celebration of a lifetime in our house. With two outs, I could see Royals players literally hanging over the dugout railing.

I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't watch them celebrate on our field.

I had to leave.

Oh, I heard that final roar as I reached the plaza. It seemed as though many Mets fans had left before me, perhaps wisely. For as loud as the Royals fans were inside, that's how quiet it was outside.

The ride back from Citi Field on the 7 train can either be a long ride or a short one depending on the circumstances. This night was a particularly long ride. I spent most of the time reflecting on this 2015 Mets season, and really, it's hard to not consider the season among the most memorable in the history of the team. I mean, who the hell though that this was even a Playoff team, let alone a World Series team? I picked the Mets to go as far as the NLCS before the season, but I can be overly optimistic at times. Usually, when that happens, the Mets end up falling flat on their faces. And they did plenty of that this season, but man, when they got it together, they really got it together and for once, the Mets actually overachieved. This wasn't supposed to happen this year, but it did. Somehow, the Mets caught that lightning in a bottle and rode it all the way down to the World Series.

Yeah, things ended up badly, and the Mets ultimately turned to mush at some key moments, but the Royals really forced the Mets into making these mistakes. The Royals played every game as though it were their last. They took the horrible bitterness that came from losing the 7th game of the World Series last year and used that to fuel them through to a World Series Championship this year. And perhaps the Mets could learn from that. Remember this feeling. Remember how awful it was to watch those guys celebrating on our field. Remember how they ran all over us, stealing bases, working pitchers, picking up cheap hits and pressuring the Mets into mistakes. The Royals played like Champions and they earned their Championship. The Mets still have to do that yet.

Remember this feeling, because it's hard to get to this point. But getting back isn't quite in the forefront of my thoughts right now. It's sort of hard to articulate, perhaps because the sting of losing, and losing the last two games the way they did is still fresh. Time passes, though, and the losses fade, or at least I hope they will, and I'll begin to reflect on this 176-game wild ride the 2015 Mets took us on, and how I made it to 27 games this year—my highest total since 1999—and how I made it to 6 Postseason games, and how the Mets Actually Made It To The World Series This Year! I went to a Mets game in Freaking November!

It actually happened this year! Who the hell saw this coming? Sure, there's a lot of bitterness right now. But I'm awfully proud to be a Mets fan.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Horror Story

I've probably been sitting, staring at my computer screen and staring at that photo above and wondering how the hell to explain what the hell I sat through last night at Citi Field. I should say that I've gone into every Postseason game this year feeling some amount of trepidation. Some nights, it's worse than others. My worst night was probably Game 4 of the NLDS, but Friday night's Game 3 topped it. Fortunately, the Mets won. But for some reason, when I walked into Citi Field on Saturday night, I had this odd sense of calm. I was with my other half on this evening, which could have been a reason, or perhaps it was because it was early and I didn't feel rushed, or because the Mets had won last night and somehow had inspired me enough to not be so worried. But in the Postseason and as I'm discovering even moreso in the World Series, there is tension simply by showing up. It will fluctuate depending on how the game ebbs and flows and on Friday, the tension kind of evaporated when the Mets took a big lead. Last night, however, was a much different story.

The game started out well enough. Steven Matz took the ball for the Mets, in one of those "Dreams come true" kind of games for him. I've always been a little leery of Matz's games this postseason, not so much because I think he'll pitch poorly but because he's still so green. He didn't even make 10 starts in the regular season, but here he is, making his 3rd start in the Postseason, and in the World Series no less. But where Matz had been in the habit of coming out and being a little too cranked up early in games, that didn't happen. Matz had, probably, the best of his 3 Postseason outings on this night. He was mixing speeds and pitches, he was throwing off the Royals timing, he was getting into and out of jams, it was some truly beautiful stuff.

Offensively, the Mets still had a hard time figuring out Chris Young, except for Michael Conforto, who led off the 3rd inning by absolutely blasting a Home Run up into the Pepsi Porch. Wilmer Flores followed with a single, moved up on a Wild Pitch and a Matz sacrifice and then scored on a Curtis Granderson Sac Fly which was aided by Alex Rios forgetting how many outs there were and not throwing the ball back in. In the 5th, it was Conforto again, getting a hold of a Danny Duffy pitch and sailing it into the Mets bullpen. That put the Mets ahead 3-1 and Conforto was ready to jump out of his uniform from excitement.

But these Royals make any lead seem perilous. Though they didn't push much across the plate against Matz, they were still dinging him. Mostly, it was their uncanny and wholly irritating ability to waste every single two-strike pitch before putting something in play. They broke through in the 5th on a play that seemed more fluky than anything, Cespedes kicking Perez's line drive that turned into a double, and Alex Gordon singled him home. But that's just how the Royals have been doing it. 6th inning, same thing. Zobrist double, Cain single, Matz's evening finished right there.

It was, of course, at this point when the game started to get really, really tense. 3-2 lead with a spotty bullpen and a relentless opponent seemed to be a recipe for disaster. But still, so long as the Mets had the lead, everyone felt confident. Jon Niese came in to face Hosmer and Moustakas and got them both. Bartolo Colon followed to face Perez and after a horrifying 10-pitch battle, struck him out. In the 7th, Addison Reed, who's been quite solid, got the Royals in order. The Mets bats, at this point, had gone quiet, however, and so the game stayed at 3-2 going into the 8th.

And it was in that 8th inning that the clock struck midnight and Daniel Murphy turned back into a Pumpkin.

Murphy will be the leading culprit in the utter catastrophe that ensued, but he had some conspirators. Tyler Clippard, for one, was simply awful. Yes, he got Escobar to start the inning, but he got ahead of Ben Zobrist 0-2 and walked him, and he got ahead of Lorenzo Cain 0-2 and then threw him nothing close. Handing a team that consistently makes contact and wastes pitches and drives everyone crazy free baserunners is just asking for trouble. Still, with Jeurys Familia coming in, you had to feel, I don't want to say confident, but you had to feel less nervous. Even if he had to get through Sabermetric Murderers' Row. And he got what he needed out of Eric Hosmer, which was a chopper to 2nd base. It would have been too slow for a Double Play, but certainly one out would have been fine here. But it was one of those balls that bounced and bounced and bounced and then stopped bouncing, and of course that was where Daniel Murphy was playing for a bounce...

There is a certain kind of noise that comes from a crowd of people when something really bad happens. I wouldn't categorize it as an "Aww.." or a "Booo..." It's a truly awful, gut-wrenching sound that sounds sort of like an entire stadium getting ready to vomit in unison. And when the ball skipped under Daniel Murphy's glove and trickled far enough away for the Royals to score the tying run and get the lead run to 3rd, well, it was as if we all knew we were totally fucked.

From that point forward, it was the Royals that were playing fast and loose and fancy free, and the Mets were the team that just saw their assholes collectively tense up. Familia was totally rattled and subsequently gave up a pair of RBI singles to Perez and Gordon before finally getting Rios to hit into a DP, but the damage had already been done. The crowd, which had gone through this roller coaster of tension, broke after Salvador Perez singled in the lead run, I heard some loud banging coming from somewhere in the stadium and it sounded like a bomb was going off. The crowd was running the gamut of emotion from stunned to murderous and some people started to leave outright. Most stayed, though, hoping that the Mets would have something left in them to mount a comeback against their closer, Wade Davis.

It wasn't the 8th. Though Collins had double-switched Juan Lagares in for the 8th, for some reason Kelly Johnson was sent up to pinch hit in the bottom of the inning, which to me was a total panic move. Lagares had at least been playing and hitting reasonably well. Why not let him take a shot? But I was, by this point, totally deflated and through trying to figure out Collins' moves. Hansel Robles got through the 9th just fine. In the last of the 9th, the Mets tried to mount something. Daniel Murphy hit with one out, and didn't get booed. Didn't get cheered, but also didn't get booed and got some sort of a murmured reception. But he singled, which if nothing else allowed the Mets to get the tying run to the plate in Yoenis Cespedes, and then Cespedes singled, and Lucas Duda followed, and maybe Lucas Duda could fire that miracle blast and save victory from the jaws of defeat, but in a play that probably was more horrible than the Murphy error, Duda floated a soft line drive to 3rd that Mike Moustakas caught, and everyone then turned their heads in abject horror to see that Cespedes was standing nowhere near 1st base.

This was, to put it as kindly as possible, a total gut-punch defeat. The loss in Game 1 was pretty bad, but that was at least on the road. When it happens at home, well, it can just take the starch out of everything. Daniel Murphy probably undid the month's worth of goodwill he'd built up with his hot streak in about 5 seconds. Cespedes continued a lousy World Series performance with a totally unconscionable mental error. The Mets lost to a Royals team that once again proved to be relentless in their approach at the plate and their ability to come back in any game, and now they stand but one win from a World Series Championship with a chance to close it out tonight on our turf.

It doesn't look good right now for the Mets. The Royals have beaten the Mets best starters and the Mets Closer and basically everyone in between, and gotten them playing tight and out of sorts. But as I keep saying, while you're in this thing, it's really hard to look at it and put things in their proper perspective. It's amazing, in and of itself, that the Mets have gotten to this point this year. And for as bad as two of these losses have been, they're not done yet. Yes, they're down 3 games to 1 and they'd need to win two games on the road in order to pull this miracle off. Not impossible. Not especially likely, but not impossible. They just have to follow the tenet that this franchise was built on and Believe. We, as fans have to to the same, we've just got to keep on Believing. Tonight is the last game at Citi Field this season, whether the Mets win or not, Matt Harvey will take the ball and try to keep the fire burning at least for one more day, and people are going to be there rooting them on, no matter what happens.