Thursday, October 6, 2016

Static and Silence

Sometimes, all the superstitions, and good karma, and good omens and signs that you try to build up prior to a Baseball game can be no match for the irrepressible talent of the participants in the game itself. We got a bitter taste of this first hand last night as the Mets fell to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants 3-0, losing the Wildcard game and rather abruptly ending their season for 2016.

I've been to more than plenty Postseason games over my years with the team, but I'm not sure I'd ever been to a game quite like this. I am, generally, nervous before these games, and I know I'm not the only one. But going in to Citi Field last night, I was a different kind of nervous. Generally, it's more like the need to jump around and release energy and scream a lot. Like last season against the Dodgers. Last night...I'm not sure. It was pretty close to legitimate fear, and probably because the Mets were going into a win-or-go-home game against a guy whose raison d'ĂȘtre is coming up big in these kind of games.

That was the mood in the audience all night. At introductions, they were roaring. As the game progressed and Noah Syndergaard matched Bumgarner zero for zero, everyone was with it. Fans were standing and jumping from the player introductions straight through the middle of the 1st inning. Up on every 2-strike pitch. Up for entire innings. I know. I have the knots in my calves to prove it.

This was a crowd of 44,747 that literally had their assholes tighten up every time a pitch was delivered, and I mean this was legitimate. Whether it was Syndergaard or Bumgarner, each time they wound up, 44,000 sphincters collectively went SHOONK! The entire stadium would go silent to the point where you could hear Noah's heat crack into Rene Rivera's glove all the way up in Section 509, row 16.

There is no shame in how this game played out. Bumgarner's track record speaks for itself and while the Mets approach early in the game—to be aggressive and try to attack him early—was well-intentioned, in execution it ultimately spelled disaster. Bumgarner sliced through the Mets on a paltry 21 pitches through the first 3 innings, and though the Mets did what they could to wait him out from there, they'd already played into his hands.

I'm not sure I could properly put into words just how good Noah Syndergaard was in this game. You can anoint guys, and give them a persona just based on potential, but as a capper to his first full season in the Majors, I'm not sure you could throw a much better game than Syndergaard did short of going the full 9 innings. There were days I'd watched Harvey go out and pitch like he had smoke coming out of his ears, and that's how Syndergaard looked in this game. Everything was working from the 1st inning. By the 6th, he still hadn't allowed a hit, but I don't know if anyone was cognizant or even cared about that—we just wanted him to keep striking guys out and keep the Giants scoreless. Only when Denard Span singled with 2 out in the 6th did the Giants notch one in the H column, and that went nowhere as Brandon Belt's horrifically scary-looking fly ball was run down by Curtis Granderson at the Center Field fence, sending everyone into a frenzy and eliciting screams of "Endy Chavez, JR!" from me, among others.

Syndergaard ended up with 10 strikeouts against a lineup that doesn't strike out all that much, which only illustrates just how on he was...but also illustrates the fragility of Pitching in this day and age, because by time he hit the 7th inning—and cracked 100 pitches—he was out of steam, and it wasn't really up for much debate. We'd already gone through sending the guy back out there and the ensuing chaos, but there wasn't any particular good use in sending Syndergaard back out there if he was starting to tire out. Particularly when you have Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia specifically to work these innings. Reed did his job, in spite of getting hosed by Mike Winters' erratic strike zone. Familia came in for the 9th and there was no reason to think he wouldn't do his job as well...

And that, of course, is where the clock struck midnight on the Mets for 2016. The Mets normally reliable closer had a bad night where he couldn't find the plate. He left a pitch up to a 8th-place hitting journeyman. The air was sucked right out of the building. Bumgarner came back out and finished what he started. And that, my friends, was that.

These Postseason games at Citi Field have sort of turned into a total Shit Show as far as egress is concerned, but maybe that's not a bad thing. It is helpful for me, at least, and George as well, to slowly exit the stadium after a game like this, process it all, and then start to get over it. Most people, I'd like to think, used this time to do that, but I think a game like this brought out some of the best, but also some of the worst in Mets fans. Some were anointing Familia as the new Benitez. Some blamed Terry Collins for not leaving Syndergaard in, or not taking Familia out, or using Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly as pinch hitters in the 8th inning. Or because they stepped in gum. Or Yoenis Cespedes for not hitting. Or whatever. I can understand that just making it to this Postseason Arena is enough to make you greedy, because if the Mets could overcome what they had to overcome just to get to this point, well, hell, let's see how far we can go. Especially on the heels of 2015. It makes it very easy to lose the perspective of just how miraculous it was to get her altogether. If 2015 was amazing because the team had a young core that gelled really quickly and sort of overachieved, I think 2016 is just as amazing because all the young core guys (and several other not-so-young guys) got hurt and the team basically had to rebuild itself on the fly...and still managed to make it to a Wildcard game. Blame blame whoever you want, everyone involved deserves some credit for keeping this thing going to this point.

But I am disappointed. By the 9th inning, I had visions of a walkoff, and pulling my hood over my head, wrinkling my face into a scowl and in my best Bill Belichick voice mutter "On to Chicago." And I was looking forward to having the opportunity to watch the Mets ruin the Cubs' Dream Season. But that's not going to happen, and that's really a shame. I know the Mets were undermanned and overmatched, but they managed to carry on.

There's ultimately a lot of pride that Mets fans should take away from a loss like this. First of all, as I said, the fact that they got to a Wildcard game in the first place is incredible given that they were trotting out 4th options in many places most games down the stretch. But these guys play, and more importantly they've now had that crucible. I said it before but the depth the Mets have developed in certain areas is pretty impressive all things considered. It's a privilege to be able to play in this Postseason arena and teams that make it every year might take this for granted, but this is only the second time the Mets have made it this far in consecutive years, and really, if you look at everything that's gone on this past season, between injuries and bad luck and more injuries, just think about what would have happened if the Mets were healthy all year. Hearsay, yes, but the way this roster is put together right now, is it so outlandish to think about 3 Postseason years in a row? Overly optimistic, perhaps, and it's very much a long way away from now, but that's how this team has been set up.

So, that's it for the Mets in 2016, about a month sooner than I would have liked. But, that's life on the Lower East Side. This year, I gave Citi Field my traditional farewell pound and said to the old joint that I'll see you again on April 3rd, 2017. When we'll start this story over. And hopefully, we'll get it right.

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