[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s Mets’ losses go, you could put this one in the history books. San Francisco Giants rookie pitcher Chris Heston (who dat?) won his 13th start in the Major Leagues with a stellar performance that had fans at Citi Field, despite their conflicted loyalty, actually rooting him on in the ninth inning, standing up and clapping in anticipation for that final strike.

In all, three Mets players got hit, but none got a hit. The last time they’d been “no-hit” was 1993.

The night started off strangely in Queens because the attendance was sparse and those in the stands with any energy seemed to be San Francisco fans. And yet here was a battle between two National League teams leading their respective divisions, both in first place, the Mets in the East, the Giants in the West. But those on hand with any demonstrable enthusiasm really seemed to be wearing the Giants’ tell-tale orange. Was it because they’d won the World Series last year?

At one point in the game, with the Giants up 4-zip, an elderly man wearing an orange and blue Mets jacket got up in my row to leave, and with hardly any prompting, said in his New York accent, “I’m rooting for the Giants! I can’t stand the Mets management. Look at that infield. They’ve got guys playing positions they’ve hardly played before. And their hitters are terrible. It’s all because of Madoff.”

We nodded in agreement. It’s not a good sign when the Mets player with the best average is the pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, who came in with a fearsome .400—more than a hundred points than his nearest teammate. By the time he was pulled, his average had sunk to .350. And the poor Mets catcher Anthony Recker finished the game getting plunked and seeing his average sink to .150. How did the lineup get so thin and their hitting get so anemic? Unlike some fans, I don’t blame General Manager Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins. I believe they’re working with the best they’ve got.

But I don’t let the Mets ownership off the hook for putting this “product” on the field. Certainly, Fred Wilpon and his Sterling Equities dodged a bullet after Bernie Madoff’s millions went up in smoke. Instead of facing SEC litigation, they were able to hold onto the team they’d acquired from Nelson Doubleday in 2002. These were the kinds of thoughts racing through my head as I watched Tuesday night’s game unfold with a mixture of anger and awe.

The 27-year-old Heston was reportedly just a “stopgap starter”—the Giants best-known aces are still to come—but despite his 4.29 ERA he was masterful, flummoxing Mets’ batters with devilish pitches down and in and down and away. His change-up and his sinker were, apparently, unhittable. Occasionally our guys would think they’d worked out four balls and would start toward first base only to be punched out by the plate umpire and sent to the dugout. Heston actually walked no one. Also to his credit, he threw the first no-hitter of the 2015 Major League season.

But we Mets fans on hand didn’t begin to appreciate his progress or his prowess until the seventh inning when we foolishly still clung to false hope.

 

Citi Field’s between innings distractions did seem lamer than usual. Trivial contests blared from the big screen in center field, featuring the bogus and the bored. We saw a kid out-stack plastic cups faster than a Mets shortstop; we watched another fan ride a stationary bike slower than our centerfielder. At one point, Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinosa came into view larger than life to urge us all to yell, “Let’s go, Mets!” Obviously he’d recorded his appearance long before the game. As far as I could tell, he drew some half-hearted cheers, but more out of respect for his historic Belmont Stakes ride than anything going on in this Queens ballpark.

You could say the kiss-cam was the hottest action of the night. But that would be unfair, really, because players on both teams made some outstanding plays. Great leaping catches. Some heads-up double plays, such as when Mets’ second baseman Ruben Tejada snagged a line drive, swirled and tagged out a Giant base-runner caught between first and second for a double play.

And let us note that the Mets did win a challenge at first base. We all could see that Lucas Duda did indeed have his toe barely touching the bag when the throw came in. We started shouting in unison, “Out! Out! Out!” We yelled, “Challenge!” And, dutiful manager that he is, Collins emerged from the dugout and told the umps he wanted a do-over. Surprisingly, for once he was rewarded—the call was reversed!

But that was the only time anything Collins tried worked out. He did pull an interesting stunt late in the game, making a meaningless pitching change just to keep Heston on first base longer so he might cool off. Yes, in this game, even the Giants pitcher had gotten a hit (two, in fact).

The Mets’ hapless Dillon Gee had just come in to relieve Syndergaard. He had essentially thrown batting practice for the Giants—giving up a whopping home run that bounced off the Pepsi Porch on the upper deck. When Collins replaced Gee, that move didn’t play out, either. Heston came back out on the mound even stronger.

Meanwhile, across town, the Yankees were predictably beating the Washington Nationals, 6-1, giving the Mets a false sense of superiority by letting them share first place in their division with the equally mediocre Nats. Comparing official attendance figures is revealing: 23,155 people came to Citi Field but 36,613 showed up at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t regret watching a no-hitter in person. How many times can you say that? Every out, every pitch, counted. Indeed, the mood of the people leaving Citi Field seemed remarkably upbeat for a Mets defeat. Maybe it really was a Giants’ hometown crowd and the Mets were the away team. That’s what I felt, anyway.

Afterwards, at the Port Washington train station, I noticed three late-middle-aged ladies chatting happily as they slowly strolled down the platform toward the parking lot. They’d clearly been to Citi Field because one clutched a Mets paraphernalia bag—she hadn’t come from Macy’s. She gladly told me they’d all seen the Giants win, but they were actually Yankees supporters! She asked me if I was a Mets fan. I said, “I think so.”

They laughed. For baseball fans it was a great night to enjoy the sport because the final result was so rare.

As for this season, that Giants team certainly looks like a well-rounded winning machine. Wish I could say the same about mine. I go to Citi Field and see Bernie Madoff’s smiling face floating over right field. And when I drive home, I have to hear the unhappy recap broadcast on Rush Limbaugh’s radio station, WOR. I think Mets announcers Howie Rose and Josh Lewin deserve better. So do we all.

 

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