save the best for last

Thursday morning I was talking with my friend Stan, who kept shouting (via IM): “ALL YOU NEED IS A DAMN FLY BALL!” Yes, he’d been to Wednesday’s game, called me after Daniel Murphy’s triple (I got home just in time to hear it) and we both thought, “Game over.” I screamed in delight. I yelled “DO IT NOWWWWW” to David Wright through the radio.

And of course it didn’t happen.

So Stan yesterday morning asked if I wanted to go to the game. “Yes. Maybe,” I replied.

“Maybe as in you might have something else going on or maybe as in you might not be able to stomach it?”

“Latter,” I said.

And so he bought two tickets, and we wondered the worth of sitting in the rain, and deduced that yes, it was worth it.

Getting on the crowded 7 Express from Times Square, I put on some Irma Thomas and looked at everyone on the train in Mets garb. As what happens when I see someone in a Mets shirt or jersey on the street, I checked the name and number on their back. Reyes 7. Wright 5. Beltran 15. Delgado 21. Santana 57. Wagner 13. A devilishly handsome man in Martinez 45. A tow-headed kid in Murphy 28 (note to the Mets: please make those in adult sizes, thank you). And as the 7 rumbled over Queens I looked out at the dreary day, hoping for something magical at what was likely to be my last game ever in Shea Stadium. (“Unless there’s a tiebreaker,” Stan said. “We have to go to that.” Pouty, sometime during a Mets deficit, I said, “I don’t want a tiebreaker.” And I still don’t. I’d rather them take care of business this weekend, goddammit, weather permitting).

And then the big blue of Shea Stadium broke the expanse of gloomy gray, and I stared, turning off my iPod, wanting to soak it in. Walked around it before Stan showed up. My last time ever there, and I never knew it well enough, being a Californian, being a NY transplant, having only roughly 20 live games or so to my credit.

We settled into our Upper Box seats, Pedro being requisite early-innings-runs Pedro. (“Who the fuck is Micah Hoffpauir?!”) And as the rain began to fall I began to feel elegaic, for this stadium I love even if I didn’t know it well, for this team I became devoted to by default and then by adoration, and for Pedro, one of the greats, as he steps off the mound, points up to the sky (God? Dad?), we raise in response and applaud, he salutes with a pumped fist and points to the crowd. Amid the angst this team has put us through, amid Pedro’s own corporeal shortcomings, I remember this, and say to Stan, “We could have seen his last ever appearance.”

We moved for shelter way WAY WAYYYYY upper deck, and Ricardo Rincon serves up a meatball to…WHO THE FUCK IS MICAH HOFFPAUIR?! “Of course!” I yell. “Of course.” And the idiots behind us are screaming and cursing and booing, and I understand the impulse if I didn’t completely abhor the practice. These same idiots would later be arrested in the bottom of the ninth (including one sixteen year old who tried to get away from security, as his plump drunk sister screamed “RUNNNN!!!!”) for attempting to dislodge and steal seats in the upper deck (they were in the last row). I would’ve felt sorry that the group of them missed out on such an ending were it not for the superfluous use of “faggots” to describe various Cubs as well as the “big nose” Jewish jokes aimed at Scott Schoeneweis in the eighth. Sometimes you get exactly what you deserve, and more so.

And I think I got what I deserved. At 6-3, feeling cynical and sad, bitching to Stan that I’ve seen too many seventh inning stretches at Shea where something horrible happened just prior, making me not jolly enough to stand and sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” But everything I did last night, I reminded myself, “This is my Last Ever ________ at Shea.” So I stood up. And I looked at the score. “All they need is at least three runs with nine outs. That’s a run every inning. They can do that. Right?” Stan agreed. “And the bullpen has to not allow anymore outs. They can do that. Right?” I asked. “Now that,” Stan said, “I can’t guarantee.”

But it happened. It happened in ways that encapsulate this season. It happened after terrible relief pitching (Rincon). It happened with big hits from unlikely sources (Ramon Martinez, Robinson Cancel). It happened with bad jokes (Stan: “Robinson! You better cancel your postseason tickets if you don’t come up with a hit!” Me: [glares]). It happened with miraculous, “How did that happen?!” plays (Ryan Church evading the tag…Cancel’s hit made me jump, and Fukudome’s throw made my heart sink, and I groaned “Oh no, he’s out…wait…HE’S SAFE?! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” and everyone around me thought the same thing, and we erupted together, high-fiving and hugging and screaming).

And I knew it had to be ours. And after Joe Smith, my beautiful Joe Smith, recorded the last three outs of the ninth (dealing with lefties along the way), I knew it had to be. I knew it couldn’t be a repeat of the previous night, even if the score was the same. Because Josex4 was up and singled. And even if Daniel Murphy was ludicrously asked to bunt (he can’t bunt, he can hit, especially in late innings, let him swing!), and even if David Wright again couldn’t get it done, and even if Carlos Delgado was treated like Carlos Delgado again and intentionally walked, they weren’t going to lose. And when Beltran smoked one past Hoffpauir, I knew I witnessed something special.

Cubs fan Michael texted me afterwards, “Happy to know that your finale at Shea was a good one.” I responded, “Best game I’ve ever seen live, esp considering the circumstances.” The circumstances being: a big comeback in a crucial game, the Mets fighting for a place in the playoffs, the last game I’ll ever see at Shea, and my first walk-off. I remember my previous games at Shea, none as memorable or important as this one. I remember various Sundays at Chavez Ravine, but they exist as hazy nostalgia with not much tangibility. I vaguely recall some at Anaheim, just there for the hell of it. But they can’t top this:

So thanks, Mets, I’ll always remember it. And thank you, Shea, it’s been a pleasure.

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7 Responses to save the best for last

  1. Bill W says:

    Hurrah, but I could never have gone to that game; I purposefully arrived home at 10pm in the hopes of missing the whole thing.

  2. The Coop says:

    will this was absolutely beautiful. Although I am going to all games *weather-permitting* this weekend, I got sad on Tues, when my friend said that this was the last time he was walking out of Shea. I have no idea how i’ll feel on sunday…

  3. jarf says:

    shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit

  4. Bill W says:

    “You don’t see a lot of guys that have statistical numbers play well in these Championship Series. What you see is usually the little second baseman or somebody like that carries off the MVP trophy that nobody expected him to do. That’s because he’s comfortable in playing that form of baseball, so therefore when the stage comes, it’s not a struggle for him.”
    —Mets manager Jerry Manuel, with a pretzel-logic argument of some sort about post-season performance.

    WE ARE DOOMED.

  5. will says:

    when i read that, LITERALLY the first thing i thought was “bill’s head is going to explode.”

  6. Bill W says:

    No, it just swelled.

    Hopefully Minaya feels (slightly) differently and they don’t sign David f**kin’ Eckstein.

    Believe it or not, the closing ceremony was actually somewhat cathartic after being kicked in the nuts for the second year in a row. But maybe you had to remember seeing Cleon Jones and George (The Stork) Theodore to think so.

    And the last Met I ever booed at Shea: Dave Kingman.

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