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.

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