September 4, 2014

CHIUSANO | Heartbreak Ball

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I can remember so distinctly exactly where I was eight years ago when Carlos Beltran’s knees buckled with the impact of an Adam Wainwright curveball. It looked as though some invisible force had come up behind Beltran and kicked him in the back of the knee, making him fold like a cheap beach chair. Bases loaded, game seven, NLCS, the best hitter in the Mets lineup at the plate and he could not even foul that pitch off. I was watching the game with my mom (my father had gone to sleep hours before, muttering something about how he couldn’t wait until baseball season was over so he could watch real television again) and I threw a pillow at the TV, somehow expecting it to all go away. Instead I had to watch the Cardinals players dog pile Adam Wainwright, shielding my eyes until my mom finally got up to shut it off.

Since then, I have not had the pleasure of watching many Mets games without continually feeling the urge to chuck a pillow (or sometimes a brick) at the screen. Since 2006, the Mets have not made the playoffs and have only finished over .500 twice — one of those being the 2007 collapse of which we shall not speak. Beltran, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana have come and gone. David Wright’s contract extension gave us fans some momentary solace, but with a .265 batting average right now and only eight home runs, it seems that Wright is floundering alongside the rest of the franchise he is trying to help build — a franchise that is destined to continue its eternal run on the hamster wheel unless the youth in the organization finally pan out.

I went to my first Mets game of the season towards the end of the summer. My friend had tickets two rows behind the Mets batter’s box, where the food is free and Jimmy the ball boy can hear every one of your desperate ploys for a foul ball. They were playing the Nationals (so a win was not looking likely), but the grand (or should I say round) Bartolo Colon was pitching and my excitement over seeing him in person was probably on par with the prospect of free Buffalo chicken rolls in the clubhouse.

He lumbered out to the mound in the first inning as he always does, shorter and more rotund than even I expected, but with a heavy swagger that only a man of his girth could carry. And I respect the hell out of him (steroid suspension aside), because he is 41 years old, 5’11”, 285 pounds, massively out of shape, and I do not think there is a player in the league with more confidence. It may at times be unwarranted, but you cannot fault the 19-year veteran when he gives you seven solid innings of work without breaking a sweat.

In this game he did, in fact, go seven innings, allowing just one earned run before handing the ball over to a bullpen that can only be characterized as falling somewhere between a circus act and a horror movie. Of course Vic Black gave up a solo home run that turned out to be the deciding factor.

The Mets put together a rare late-inning rally, spurred by a Travis d’Arnaud home run in the ninth that got them within one. I am going to give a quick real time recap of this inning, just to try, even microcosmically, to explain the anguish that comes with being a Mets fan.

Matt Den Dekker follows up with a single to center and things are looking up. The few fans in the stadium are starting to get excited, and my friends and I stop torturing Jimmy. Juan Lagares then attempts a bunt and pops it up. One out. Wilmer Flores hits a single that would have scored Den Dekker, had he been moved over on the bunt, but we’ll take what we can get considering there are runners on first and third and one out. Eric Young pinch runs and steals second. Wow. This is a baseball team. Second and third with one out, a sac fly ties it, a single wins it and we can go home satisfied that the Mets won a virtually meaningless game.

But wait.

Eric Campbell hits a ground ball to third base. Rule number one in baseball. Do not leave third on a ground ball to the left of the shortstop. Den Dekker decides to toss that rule into the first row of the stands and gets thrown out at home. Two outs.

Curtis Granderson comes to the plate. He has been chatty with us the whole game, coming up to the netting at the edge of the batter’s box, even taking a selfie with my friend. What better storyline than the amicable Grandy coming through in the ninth.

Rule number two in baseball. Do not swing at a first pitch off speed unless you are going to crush it. Granderson swings. Maybe the flash of the camera from that selfie messed with his vision, or maybe he just chose to ignore rule number two. Either way, the result was a weak ground ball to the pitcher. Game over.

I do not carry a couch pillow with me to Citi Field, but it was certainly a pillow-throwing moment. I left the game with no stray foul balls, with a ketchup stain on my shorts and a picture of us in the first row with Jimmy hovering in the background. When the seven train pulled out of the station that night, the lights of the stadium were dimming, the street lights in Flushing were just turning on and the hordes of people packed so tightly together that their elbows brushing up against one another talked Bartolo, baseball and nothing more. The Mets might not be amazin’, but the game still is.