Friday, August 05, 2005

Thank You, Roberto Hernandez!

I don't think I'm a jinx. If I am, it's usually just to myself. The last two times I went to Shea Stadium, the Mets lost late in the game. On Memorial Day 2001, Mike Piazza hit a homer against the Phillies to tie the game in the ninth inning...then Armando Benitez gave up a homer in the tenth to lose it. On my last visit, the Mets took a lead into the ninth against the hated Braves, and guess what? Right...Benitez, again. This time, he blew a three-run lead, leading to a tie game. He got pulled out, and John Franco had to put out the fire. The Mets ended up losing in eleven innings, and I had to deal with a beligerant Braves fan. Who in their right mind roots for a team that folds every October? They don't even sell out Turner Field!

Anyway, I went to today's geme between the Brewers and the Mets. Should've known it would be a weird day when I missed the local train to the ferry station (oh, so it arrives at :57 past the hour and not :59? Thank you, outdated timetable!). I ended up spending $10 on a Metrocard, and paid $5 for a cozy express bus trip to Manhattan. One trip on the 4 and 7 trains, I was at Shea Stadium...dreary, outdated, worst in the N.L. East once the Nationals get their new digs Shea Stadium. For $23, I got a prime Mezzazine Reserved seat, right above home plate. The bad news? I couldn't access food joints on the lower levels, and my seat was piping hot. I also paid way too much for food ($5.50 for a giant slice of pizza? At least the cashier apologized when I got my hot dog and soda). Last week, I saw the Padres pull one out against the Cardinals in a crisp two and a half hours. It was a keen pitcher's duel, where I couldn't believe how fast the game was going. Today? Slugfest walking through the swamp. I used my cell phone to keep time. Length of game: four hours, nine minutes, 23.41 seconds. And that's a nine inning game, folks.

Of course, like in San Diego, this game was unique and entertaining. Once again: there's always going to be something you haven't seen before. For instance...Milwaukee leadoff hitter Brady Clark fouled off seven of Kris Benson's first eight offerings to start the game. Then he kept waving the bat over the plate, like he was in a film loop. Was it OCD, or a way to psyche out Benson? Probably the latter, as he led off with a single. Another moment...Mets had runners on the corners with two out in the fifth inning. Justin Lehr pulls the old "I'll fake a throw to third, now I fake to first" move. You know, perfectly legal and it's never called for a balk. Except this time, the pitcher actually threw to first. And this time, Miguel Cairo got caught napping and got picked off to end the inning. On the birhgt side, Mike Cameron got a fresh at-bat in the sixth inning...and promptly hit a solo home run. Whatever works, right?

The Brewers got three runs in the third inning, the first coming when Mike Piazza couldn't handle Chris Woodward's throw to the plate. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Beltran homered with two out (3-1), David Wright (the other phenom, I've heard) singled...and Piazza launched a ball to dead center. The sign said 410 feet, and the scoreboard told us he hit it 420. Everything was forgiven...the big apple poked from the giant hat (a nicer quirk of a drab stadium), the scoreboard showed up a cartoon Piazza wailing on a guitar, and the live-action version took a curtain call. In the twilight of his career in New York, where he runs hot and cold, he's held in the same class as Gary Carter. At least he doesn't pump his fist like the Kid did.

The Mets tacked on a three-spot in the fourth (6-3), but the Brewers responded with three in the fifth (6-6). Cameron got his homer in the sixth, and Piazza doubled in Wright for his fifth RBI (8-6). My scoreboad got messier with each passing inning. The only time either side went down in order: the Mets in the seventh. The Brewers put up a run in the eighth, but the Mets responded in kind. While this was going on, the weather went from hot to overcast to downpour. Looking back, maybe they should've put out the tarps. But at the time, I was gung ho. I paid money for my seat, and dammit, I'm staying until the bitter end. Of course, the lightning bolts in the distance did chase most fans away. I ended up climbing back a row in order not to get soaked too badly. I had my umbrella...if they played, I'd stay. If the tarps came on, I'd get a jump on going home.

Ninth inning. Mets up, 9-7. My big fear was that Branden Looper would come on to finish the job. He had blown the game the previous night. He had lost Opening Day to the Reds. He had blown a chance for the Mets to sweep the Yankees in the Bronx. That last one was unforgivable; I kept thinking that if the Mets pulled it off, all those obnoxious Bleacher Creatures would take swan dives off the Empire State Building rather than live with the shame. Nope...Looper was still in the bullpen. Whether manager Willie Randolph was saving him for a truly hairy situation, or was punishing Looper for last night, I don't know. On the mound: Roberto Hernandez. From what I heard, he had helped blow last night's game, but I figured he was a better choice than Armando Vanilla.

(Bill Hall hits a ground-rule double)

Okay, no problem...tying run at the plate, maybe it's not that big a-

(Brady Clark singles, driving in Hall. Mets up 9-8)

Uh-oh. For the record, I don't know when my Pessimism Sense started tingling. Might've been now. Might've been when the rain started pouring, and I told a neighbor that this wasn't going to end well.

(Rickie Weeks singles, Clark to second. Lee Overbay sacrifices runners to second and third. Carlos Lee intentionally walked)

Okay...I respect the need to set up a game-ending double play. But I'm looking at Geoff Jenkins' line on the scorecard, and he's reached base all five times (4-for-4 with a walk). Question for manager Willie Randolph: are you sure this is a good id-

(Jenkins singles, driving in Clark. Weeks gets nailed at the plate, while Lee goes to third. Tie game, 9-9)

Dammit!'s a tie game. How cool would it be to see walk-off hits in the ninth inning in the span of nine days? Yes...not stressing too much about how I can't see anybody warming up in the ol' bullp-

(Damian Miller beats out an infield hit to Jose Reyes; Lee scores, Jenkins to second. Brewers up, 10-9)

Okay, I'm guessing this is the turning point of the game. The crowd's gotten uglier than the premise of freakin' Rachel and Veronica getting their own show on MTV (more on that another time). How much worse can things-

(Wes Helms singles, scoring Jenkins)


(Oops, it's a double...Beltran totally misjudged the ball, and Miller scores. Brewers up, 12-9)

DOUBLE FUCK! To review: Mets come into the ninth up by two runs. They come out down by three. If Hernandez is sleeping in the locker room as I write this, I would not be surprised. Thanks, Roberto. Thanks a helluva lot.

Since these are the Mets we're talking about, they gave us some hope. And like the dog running into the invisible fence for the hundredth time, I let part of myself a miracle was possible. Reyes (the phenom) finally singles, but the basepaths are probably too damp for his magic. After Cairo flies out, Cameron singles. First and second with one out, tying run at the plate in Carlos Beltran. And naturally, he flies out. Hey, same thing happened with Sammy Sosa when I saw him in a similar spot in Wrigley back in 2001. Maybe I am a jinx! David Wright grounded to first to end the game, leaving the faithful to boo loudly at the series loss. Oh, and for Brewers fans to crow louder. Yes...there are Brewers fans. Who knew?

In the long view, it wasn't a total waste of time. At least the Mets are still in postseason contention, even with a .500 record. If there's a day game with cheap prices and Pedro Martinez pitching, I'll come back. And I've been meaning to hit ballparks in Brooklyn (mother talked me out of a family trip on a gameday), Staten Island (laziness on my part; freakin' ballpark is right near the ferry terminal) and Philadelphia (wanted to go before I found out about Greg Luzinski's barbeque pit). Of course, if the weirdness breaks out again, I'll write about it here.

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