Even though the Mets lost the night before (4-3, due in large part to Jerry Manuel's curious decision to use Raul Valdes in the 7th inning), I still found myself counting down the hours and minutes to yesterday's game against the Cardinals. It's what a Met fan does. We come back for more, no matter what the latest result was - joyous or painful.
And so it began yesterday at 4PM with a beer - a Peroni to be exact. The Mets were 3-7 and were getting it from all angles. By the 2nd inning, McCarver and baby Albert had become unbearable, so I turned to the radio. When Howie Rose gave way to Wayne Hagin, the radio broadcast also became unbearable. It was then that I turned all the sound off and simply enjoyed the game in silence.
Watching the game in silence is an interesting thing to do. You don't have to shake your head at what the announcers are saying, you're not forced to listen to irritating commercials that become even more irritating on the heels of a bad inning. There's no crowd noise (not that the Cards fans generated much anyway), and it makes your thoughts bounce back and forth in your head as the game goes on.
After Johan recovered brilliantly from his arduous first few innings, and put to rest all of the chatter about his diminishing stuff and velocity (9 strikeouts and closing the game with a 92 MPH fastball will do that), the silence became too much. When the 8th inning began, I kept the game muted and turned to The Lovin' Spoonful and a host of other groups from the 60's to get me through the rest of the game. The optimistic and sunny tunes of the Spoonful acted as the perfect counter to Tim McCarver's biting words.
By the time my girlfriend arrived in the Top of the 13th inning, the game had started to spin out of control. I gave up sitting in the 13th, and put my road grey jersey on for good luck. For the next 8 innings, I was a ball of nerves. I kept moving until I found a spot that I thought worked. When I found myself standing in the same place I was standing last year when Luis Castillo dropped the pop-up, I retreated and stood against the wall. When Hisanori Takahashi put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out, I started muttering to myself that the game was over. In an effort to re-assure me and to silence my ramblings, my girlfriend told me to stay positive. She insisted that "she had heard" that each Cardinal that was about to come up "sucked" or "was crap." And she was right. Takahashi K'd the side and the game went on.
I continued to pace back and forth, nearly pulling my hair out...layed down on the floor at some points, stood with one leg up, peeked out from behind my hands, sat on the floor by my couch, and crouched down like a catcher...among other things. And the game went on and on. All the way through Jenrry Mejia's dazzling display and Raul Valdes' tightrope walking. When Felipe Lopez - the infielder - was inserted to pitch in the 18th inning, the game got out of control. Valdes was called out at 2nd base after trying to move up on an error - even though he was clearly safe. CB Bucknor's strike zone was absurd - one of the worst strike zones I've ever seen. It's as if he wanted someone to have to groove something so the game would end - and that's probably exactly what he was going for.
When the Mets finally took the lead in the Top of the 19th, it just didn't seem like the game was destined to end there. Not with Albert Pujols coming up, and not with Francisco Rodriguez (who had thrown over 100 warm up pitches) coming in. And when Yadier Molina arrogantly strode to the plate with Pujols on 3rd and 2 outs, I was suddenly transplanted back to my Seats in Section 22, Row Q of the Upper Deck at Shea. That's where I sat for Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006. Any time Yadier Molina comes up in an important spot, Game 7 is what I think of. And I suddenly felt uncomfortable. When Molina tied the game with a liner that went over the outstretched glove of Luis Castillo, I sunk down in despair.
Of course, the Mets would retake the lead in the Top of the 20th and turn it over to Mike Pelfrey. Mike Pelfrey, who had thrown a 70 pitch side session earlier in the day, had demanded the ball from Jerry Manuel. When Pelfrey induced a soft roller to 2nd base with 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd, I didn't have the energy in me to scream. I instead assured myself that the game was indeed over. I knelt down, smiled like a raving lunatic, and immediately began to reflect on the incredible game that I'd just witnessed.
The Mets are 4-7. Last night's unbelievably gutsy and hard fought win doesn't change that fact. What it does, though, is offer hope. Johan Santana was again untouchable. The bullpen, that's been incredible all year, was incredible again last night. Jason Bay looked horrible, and so did David Wright...but who cares? Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday looked just as bad. It was just that type of day/night.
Games like yesterday are what separates National League Baseball from every other sport. Everything else is timed...it has to end or pause at a specific time. Even NHL Playoff games that go to overtime have breaks every 20 minutes. Yesterday's game had no breaks. Just an endless string of tense moments and unreal plays. When the game ended, and the Mets were exchanging high fives near the mound, I simply smiled. There was nothing to say. And the season is 11 games old. It's hard to imagine a game like that in October, but if the Mets continue to get pitching like they've gotten lately, we just may. Their 4-7 record be damned.