Newly liberated from school, with the summer laid out before me, I returned home, and almost immediately, hopped the train to Citi Field, as the Mets began a critical series against the Nationals.
It wasn’t just any other game, although I would have been there if it had been: it was a great deal more than that. It was numbers one and two in the division, duking it out. It was the homecoming of Thor, after a two home-run game on the road. It was Max Scherzer’s first start since his 20-strikeout effort. It was Daniel Murphy’s return to Citi Field.
I arrived at the stadium, the sky threatening but the weather report reassuring, and made my way in through the crowd. Joined shortly thereafter by two friends, neither Mets fans but both fans of a thrilling duel of aces, I settled back in my seat to watch my first unencumbered game of the summer.
But before the action began, we were treated to a video tribute to former Met, Daniel Murphy. Murph stood on the field directly below me, the camera on him, while clips of him played on the screen, showing one home runs and diving stops, one after the other. None of Murph’s various imperfections were on display; his Mets tenure, in the video, was reduced to the positive.
I didn’t have a problem with it. When Murph waved to the crowd after the video, I stood, along with the majority of the stands, and applauded him. He never asked to leave; we showed him the door, not that most of us wanted to. He wanted to be a Met; as his tenure here ended, he gave us some of the greatest moments we’d ever seen. Murph was a great Met; the history books will tell you. It’s not his fault he plays for an odious division rival.
Then the game began, and bigger concerns took over. Thor was dealing: from the beginning, that much was obvious. A soft groundout, a strikeout, and a tapper up the first-base line from Bryce Harper ended a scoreless first.
Then Max Scherzer took the mound. And one pitch later, he’d given up more runs than Thor would surrender all game. Granderson got ahold of one, really got all of it, and put it where even Bryce Harper couldn’t bring it back.
It was a fine moment for Granderson, who’s due for a hot streak, and sure enough, was 2/2 with two walks. Before one of those walks, one of my Yankee-sympathizing friends turned to me.
“I hate Granderson,” he said. “He used to strike out every other at-bat for us. The one thing he’s gotten better at is knowing how to walk.” One pitch later, Granderson walked.
Two innings later, Michael Conforto came to bat. Conforto’s hit a cold spell — “isn’t his average down?” one of my friends asked me — but there have been positive signs, of late. He’d walked in the first, and had been hitting the ball hard for the past few games.
He smoked one, towards Harper again. Harper went back. Not far enough. Gone.
“In Yankee Stadium,” my friend told me as Conforto rounded the bases, “that might have hit the edge of the upper deck.”
We had the lead, and now we’d extended it. Meanwhile, Thor was still dealing; he’d been good, but not quite superb, and was due for a dominating, unhittable start. And today, he had it.
The Nationals put a man on third in the second inning. A double play ended that threat. That was as far as they got. Thor’s final line: seven innings, ten strikeouts, no runs allowed. 4-2 record, 2.19 E.R.A. An ofer for Bryce Harper, who was damn sure due for one. Completely unhittable, poised and controlled, not so much as a rustle of discomfort or uncertainty. The slider snapping in, the fastball blazing past confused bats, the sinker — “he throws a 97 M.P.H. SINKER??” my friend asked at one point — completely befuddling the Nationals’ hapless batsmen.
And what was that, amid the tightly played 2-0 win? What was that inconsequential strike-out in the second inning, some new guy batting in the nine spot? Why, that was Matt Reynolds.
Yes, Matt Reynolds — whose arrival I’ve waited for since 2013, with, until now, unsuccessful results — finally getting his shot. Reynolds, who had just arrived from Vegas to fill the slot vacated by Sean Gilmartin’s demotion — he just never seems to stick around, does he? — was a late addition to the lineup, taking David Wright’s spot at third after Wright was scratched. He complained of back pain, but he still wanted to play. Terry Collins said no. “He may have saved me a trip to the D.L.,” Wright said after the game.
So Reynolds played third and batted ninth, and although he didn’t have a hit, making one’s debut is an achievement in itself. Reynolds has been playing a steady shortstop in Las Vegas for a few years now, and finally being rewarded for his hard work is something he wholeheartedly deserves. And watching from the stands, his success at joining that most exclusive group of baseball players — major leaguers — is, at its core, what baseball is all about.
Reed came in for a perfect eighth, and in the ninth, Familia faced the top of the Nationals’ order. Working hard against Ben Revere, he struck him out after a few foul balls. Jason Werth lined a ball to Lagares, in center field as a defensive replacement. Bryce Harper came to bat, with Daniel Murphy onn deck.
I couldn’t help be reminded of a 2014 game against the Nationals, Mets down 5-2 in the ninth. Murphy was due up fifth that inning.
“If he comes up,” I thought to myself, considering the possibility with absolute certainty, “he’ll hit a three run homer.”
Sure enough, two runners reached base. Murph came up, representing the tying run. And sure enough, he lined a pitch to deep right field. It had the distance to clear the wall. But Jayson Werth interfered. He leapt, reached a few feet above the top of the fence, and pulled it back.
I’d been furious then. And as sure as I’d been that Murph would tie the game, I knew it today. If Murphy came up, the Nationals would tie it.
No reason to let Murph tie it up then.
Bryce Harper hit a sharp grounder to — who else? — Matt Reynolds. Reynolds scooped it and fired to first. Bryce Harper was 0-4. And with that, the win was in the books.
I did a lot of thinking on the subway ride home — I had ample time, as the express train had, mid trip, started making local stops due to “train traffic.” I thought about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. I thought about my growing appreciation for Taylor Swift’s vocals, and whether that conflicted with my avowed preference for classic rock. I thought about the young — by which I mean, “maybe a year or two older than me” — couple next to me, who were living a scenario — the Mets date — that I, so far, have only dreamed about.
But mostly, I thought about what a great win it had been. I thought about Thor and Conforto and Matt Reynolds, all young guys finally living the dream of major league baseball. I thought about Bartolo Colón, honored pregame by the Guinness Book of World Records and slated to start tomorrow in what will be a massive homecoming. I thought about David Wright and Lucas Duda and Steven Matz, laid low by injury but ready to return soon.
And most of all, I thought about how lucky I was to be a Mets fan. And how great it was to be back.