What happened on this date in Mets history? Or, at least, January 28th? Well, a number of things did.
On this date in 1972, Tsuyoshi Shinjo was born. In two seasons with the Mets, Shinjo would go on to bat .251 with 11 home runs.
On this date in 1967, the Mets drafted Ken Singleton. He played two seasons with the Mets, batting .252 with 18 home runs.
On this date in 2004, the Mets signed Todd Zeile. In the final season of his career, Zeile would bat .233 with nine home runs, before receiving one last well-deserved ovation, shaking hands with Angel Hernandez, and riding off into the sunset.
And finally, on this date in 2010, the Mets signed Valentino Pascucci to a minor league contract. He appeared in ten games with the Mets, all in 2011, and batted .273.
In the annals of Mets history, Valentino Pascucci, and indeed, all of 2011, is often overlooked. What is there to remember? David Wright batted .254. Carlos Beltran was okay in 98 games before being traded to the Giants. The Mets went 77-85, 4th in the N.L. East. But on September 24th of that year, it didn’t matter: R.A. Dickey was pitching, Jose Reyes was chasing a batting title, and I was in attendance. Everything was good.
That changed quite quickly, however, as it has a penchant to do around the Mets: Dickey was brilliant as usual – he carried a one-hitter into the 7th, and only gave up one run – but the Mets of the early Collins administration, as was their custom, were held scoreless by Cole Hamels as well. After the Phillies scored in the top of the 7th, the Mets came up, looking to tie the game with Willie Harris, Mike Nickeas, and Jason Pridie. The first two made outs, and Terry, apparently attempting to halt the somewhat negative trend, sent up Valentino Pascucci to pinch-hit.
I sat on the field level up the first-base side, and watching Pascucci in the on-deck circle, I was struck by the sight of the bat in his hand: Pascucci swung his club like a twig, with a violent, unapologetic uppercut. As we know now, this was nothing if not foreshadowing: Pascucci clubbed the 2nd pitch he saw from Hamels about a mile deep into the left field stands, and the game was tied.
The Mets would score the winning run on what was, for the time, a much more common sight, a David Wright RBI double. As Citi Field emptied, however, no one was talking about the slump-mired not-yet-captain. We were discussing Valentino Pascucci, and his unilateral unabashed awesomeness.
No one talks about the Valentino Pascucci home run anymore. I don’t know why. I suppose most people will chalk it up to the fact that 2011 was anything but a memorable season, but that doesn’t exclude single games from memory: just about no one remembers the intricacies of 1996, but we still talk about the Dave Mlicki game, don’t we? Some will also say that we don’t talk about 2011 because we didn’t win anything that year, but don’t we reminisce about Endy’s miraculous grab? We didn’t win anything in 2006 – in fact, Endy’s play came merely three innings before we were literally eliminated from winning anything – but the moment remains eternal. You might say that Pascucci’s blast – it deserves a name worthy of a legend, so that’s what I’m going to call it – is hardly special among Mets moments, but I would disagree: how many times can we remember that a 32-year-old journeyman pinch-hit against a rival ace, and at a key point in the game, tied the game with his first Major League home run in eight years? Can you look me in the eye and tell me that that falls short of the required criteria of “special?”
So I say let’s remember it: let’s remember Pascucci’s blast. As Mets fans, special moments, especially in recent years, are few and far between, and we’d be foolish to let one so worthy of being remembered go to waste.
So here’s to you, Val Pascucci. Five years ago you joined our team; and on September 24th, 2011, in the midst of a season to forget, you gave us a moment to remember.