Who are these guys? They can’t be the same players who barely managed to eke out three runs against the St. Louis Cardinals back in July. Those Mets needed 18 innings to amass that amount, but the meager margin proved just enough—for once. Averaging about 3.49 runs per game, their offense was ranked worse than the laughable 1962 Mets.
The six hours the game took out of our lives on that hot summer Sunday was especially hard to endure, because the Mets went 1-for-26 with runners in scoring position. But the victory was sweet relief indeed, since the memory of their 11-game winning streak when they set a franchise record just kept getting dimmer by the day.
As did our hopes that this year would be any different.
Now these guys who show up in Mets uniforms must be from another planet. They certainly are in a different place: a pennant race. I don’t know how much more of this I can take! The ups and downs of this season have been grueling, and it’s not even October! It’s already sent Howie Rose, the great Mets announcer, to the hospital for six days. Fortunately, he came back—and so have the Mets.
On Labor Day Mets pitcher Jon Niese, arguably pitching the game of his career, gave up a grand slam to their division rivals, the Washington Nationals. With one swing of Wilson Ramos’s bat, the score whipsawed from a 3-0 Mets’ lead to 4-3 in favor of the Nats. I’d just heard Rose and Josh Lewin, his radio sidekick on WOR, say how the Nationals’ catcher was a proverbial “Mets killer.”
Niese had gotten past the third inning—usually his meltdown point—but he had walked Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a bad sign of things to come. Niese needed to rise to the occasion, but he dropped the ball, figuratively speaking. Before the inning ended, the Nats were up 5-3.
And usually, a deficit of two or more runs would be enough to seal the Mets’ fate. But not this time.
They roared back in the seventh inning, with Mets captain David Wright, after being sidelined for months with spinal stenosis, drilling a single to left field to break a 5-5 tie. Before the inning was over, he slid ahead of the tag and gave the Mets a three-run cushion. His own safe sign, mirroring the umpire’s call, and his unabashed enthusiasm as he leaped in the air with his fist pumped at the plate seemed to make eight years, or perhaps a century, of despair and disappointment vanish in an instant. I’ll never forget the triumphant look on his face.
And then on Tuesday, the Mets’ dreaded Dark Knight Matt Harvey had a very bad night on the mound, giving the Nationals a six-run lead before leaving with one out left in the sixth. With the score a lopsided 7-to-1, how many Mets fans abandoned ship to watch the other big sporting event of the day, the U.S. Open quarter-finals match between professional tennis’s top sisters: Venus and Serena Williams? I know I did. I confess! But I couldn’t help flipping back to the game to see if the score had gotten any worse.
In fact, it had: for the Nationals. Who could have predicted that? Before the game the sports tabloids had been full of speculation on how many more innings Harvey would be allowed to pitch this season as he recovered from his Tommy John elbow surgery. Was there a 180-innings limit on him or not? The answer could determine whether he still gets to pitch in the playoffs—assuming the Mets make it that far. Harvey’s agent Scott Boras said one thing, his general manager Sandy Alderson said another, and his surgeon Dr. James Andrews tried to stay out of it.
It was a mess of “he said, he said.” When Harvey had a chance to put it all behind him on the mound, he blew it. In the sixth inning, he mishandled a sacrifice bunt, loading the bases. Then the Nats’ center fielder Michael Taylor ripped a grounder up the middle that the Mets newly acquired star center fielder Yoenis Cespedes misplayed, letting the ball roll all the way to the outfield wall and all four Nats cross home plate.
The damage was done. Manager Terry Collins, who has been nothing less than a miracle worker this season, given the tricks he’s had to pull out of his baseball cap to stay competitive, had no choice but to yank Harvey. The Dark Knight was staring at defeat, with his innings count now at 171 and two-thirds, and perhaps one last start before the post-season. In normal times, the game would have been over.
But for some reason that defies description—and makes America’s pastime the most inscrutable and inspiring sport (as SNY’s great Mets announcer Gary Cohen put it during the game, quoting a venerable scribe whose name I didn’t catch, “You can sum up baseball in one word: You never know!”), the guys in the Mets uniforms tied the game, with Cespedes himself clinching the rally. And the one who won the game 8-to-7 with a pinch-hit home run was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had been banished to the minor leagues earlier this summer.
This Mets team just amazes me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. If the aces can’t get the job done on the mound, the hitters come through at the plate. So in this most unlikely year Nieuwenhuis is the newest hero. The other day it was Michael Conforto, called up from the Mets’ Double-A farm team in Binghamton, who came through in the clutch.
How much longer will their season last? I have no freaking clue, but I do know this: The first game of the 2015 World Series starts on Tuesday, Oct. 27. I sure hope the Mets, whoever the hell they are in those blue and orange uniforms, are in it to win it.