There are some days of baseball that you enjoy. And there are some days of baseball that wipe you out. Normally the baseball days that wipe you out happen in October, with real consequences. But on the latest version of Closing Day, it certainly wasn't your older brother's Closing Day. I was at Closing Day 2011. I bought that ticket in July with the small chance that it would mean something. By the time the day got there, it meant nothing. And it was downright depressing. Sure, Jose Reyes was going for a batting title that day. But his early exit took the air out of whatever balloons were left over from whatever soccer game or private function the Wilpons were holding on all those off days to bring extra income into their bank accounts. And though it didn't make me hate Jose like many have, Miguel Batista's pursuit of a complete game shutout didn't exactly fill me with warm, or fuzzies.
Closing Day 2012 was different. I bought tickets for this game on Tuesday, knowing full well this game doesn't mean anything in the standings. But I hadn't been to a game since the last nail in the Rockie Debacle, and felt it was time to say good-bye, figuring it would be a product of the usual ... a melancholy good-bye to a season that had long since fell by the wayside. But this was different. Surprisingly and satisfyingly different. R.A. Dickey's pursuit of his 20th victory brought out a pretty decent sized crowd that exceeded their numbers in the levels of sound, fury and timing. This was a true baseball crowd that we had on Thursday, ladies and gentlemen.
It was preceded by a tailgate where I met up with old friends, made new ones, met some twitter legends for the first time, and overindulged a bit. Hot dogs, followed by chicken, followed by Shake Shack (which was followed by indigestion). Then, a $40 All Star Game t-shirt. Hell, it was Closing Day. I rationalized it with "Well, not like I'll be spending any money on hockey this season."
I also witnessed history before the history:
Yup. Keith Hernandez, in the name of charity, is hair covered no more. Look at the picture. Poor guy. First off, he looks here like he's frozen in the moment where he realizes that his life sans facial hair has no meaning. Second, Ron Darling was right. The guy's got a Sag Harbor Tan on his upper lip. Perhaps a season-ending road trip to Atlanta and Miami might do the trick there.
Or perhaps the thing will just be back in time for Opening Day 2013.
The tailgate resumed with plenty of cars arriving for the final ride for Citi Field in 2012. And at those moments after the shaving of the stache and before the walk to the Stengel Gate, the cars warmed my heart a bit. Not quite like the long line of cars going to see ghosts play baseball in Iowa that only they could see, but hey ... that was a movie. This was real life. Real life as a Met fan has been a little too real in the last four years. Watching R.A. Dickey go for his 20th victory had a slight tinge of Field of Dreams to it. It would certainly be a great ending to a heartwarming movie.
Dickey struggled early, but the Mets came back in the second inning on a home run by Ike Davis. Mike Baxter threatened to make it two in the inning, but then Travis Snider made probably the best catch that Citi Field has ever seen, and perhaps the best catch I've seen in person that didn't result in two outfielders smashing their faces together. Snider pulled a Spiderman, caught the ball, then collapsed back on to the field where the ball gave us a little snow cone. One the one hand, it was a hell of a catch for which Snider deserves all the credit in the world. On the other hand, that catch was created by bringing the fences in.
And on the third hand, that catch had the potential to be the difference between 20 and 19.
The crowd was jacked for a Citi Field crowd in September. The 500 or so people in center field for the big 7 Line end of season event provided a boost. They reminded me of the section they set aside for the MLS Red Bulls games, where if you sit in this designated section, you have to act the part. They're called Supporters Sections, and you have to stand the whold time and sing the songs and chant the chants ... all that good stuff. It always struck me as odd. After all, shouldn't everybody get to be ... supporters? The centerfielders decked out all in blue were into it, and for the most part the entire crowd was too. But (cranky old man tangent alert), I can remember a time when everybody in the park was into the game like the 7 liners were on Thursday.
Take for example Josh Thole ending the inning with one of his patented ground balls to the right side with runners on second and third and down by a run. I yelled the requisite "you stink Thole!" And somebody who was a few rows ahead of me actually turned to me and gave me the "shush" sign. The shush sign? Thole kills our souls with runners in scoring position, and I'm the bad guy? Have we gotten to the point in this Stadium that free expression is dead? Dead I tell you??? I get shushed for "you stink Thole"? Now if I had called Josh Thole a scum sucking pedophile, for example, then yes ... shush me. Eject me from the park. Beat me to within an inch of my life. Then, I would deserve it. "You stink Thole" and I'm being judged? Other fans are attempting to censor me for "you stink Thole!" And to make matters worse, Thole murdering the inning was followed immediately by Kiss Cam! How's that for a 1-2 punch?
Okay, tangent over. The Mets had tied it in the fifth inning with David Wright up at the plate with two men on.
Wright dinger. Here it comes.— Metstradamus (@Metstradamus) September 27, 2012
Now, I'd like to say that the ghost of Dave Kingman came to me in an out-of-body experience and pointed towards the future which caused me to tweet it. But two problems with that: First, Dave Kingman is still alive. Second, Wright came into the game with a .786 lifetime average against Kevin Correia, and had already had another hit. So honestly, it was simple math. And thus, the "prophecy" came true. Less seance, more science. Nevertheless, I was pumped. Pumped because I got one right. And pumped because it would most likely be just enough to get R.A. through to the magic number, as he had righted himself from the early innings and was all of a sudden striking out everyone in sight. Thirteen Bucs went down on third strikes, a career high for Dickey, who was pretty much solely responsible for bringing in such a raucous and savvy crowd. He led the disciples down the path of righteousness, and they came in droves to witness the ascension to the mountain top.
Then Jon Rauch gave up a two run homer to Rod Barajas (Editor's note: It was actually Alex Presley ... it just seemed like Rod Barajas was up 27 times) and the disciples became rats ... and the mountain top became the river. And the pied piper almost had to delete his twitter account. But even in disaster there was passion. Dickey was cheered coming off the mound. Rauch was booed. As he was supposed to be. The Mets had turned the crowds a little too blasé in the last few years. To hear Jon Rauch be booed off the mound was strangely refreshing. A Mets crowd actually paying attention to a baseball game. Go figure.
But Bobby Parnell, yes Bobby Parnell, came in and slammed the door shut and got R.A. Dickey the first 20th win by a Met in 22 years. The last time a Met had done it was Frank Viola in 1990. Viola's story was one we all saw coming when he was traded to the Mets: the New York boy returning home to bring to the city what he brought to Minnesota. After twenty wins though, the end of the tale didn't quite work out. Dickey's story was one we never saw coming. If you had told me the day that he was first rumored to be a Met that we would gather at Citi Field chanting his name at the end of the 2012 season, I would have wondered why you weren't sharing what you were smoking. But here we are, at the end of a great day and the end of a season where it was pretty much everything else that had gone to hell, while heaven was brought to us in the form of a knuckleballer trying to save his career. And now Viola and Dickey will be next to each other on the chronological list forever.
Sometimes the stories you don't see coming are the ones with the best endings. And yes, that's endings ... plural ... as in hopefully there will be more to come in future seasons, and on future Closing Days. Will I expect more endings like that soon? No. But at least being fortunate enough to be at Dickey's 20th win can allow me a dream or two this winter. Dreams of full crowds and pennant races on days that will wipe me out.
(Now go get 21. I'm greedy.)