My mind was set on tomorrow night’s game as I made my way down to the field level, preparing to watch Familia seal the win in the top of the ninth and then catch the train home, get to bed, and wake up tomorrow for the biggest day of the year, Mets wise — the ’86 reunion. But then Familia had to throw a wrench in my plans.
It started with two cheap hits. Familia rallied for a strikeout, then Yasiel Puig hit a grounder.
“That’s two!” shouted a fan standing behind me, in the crowd gathered four or five deep in the concourse behind first base.
It wasn’t. It went into left, and the bases were loaded. And then Yasmani Grandal came up. And a few pitches later, he’d walked, and the tying run was on base.
Familia struck out Trayce Thompson — who I was convinced was going to burn us with a home run, the way he had in L.A. — and Chase Utley came up.
What demon force, what devil’s breath, has reanimated Chase Utley? By what means is he hitting like a leadoff man, driving the ball, knocking in runs and getting on base, aggravating opposing fans like a 39 year old spawn of satan has no business doing? Quite simply, why him, and why now?
Well, regardless of how he’s doing it, he drove a ball to the wall in right, the bases cleared, the game was tied — “that’s going to tie the game,” I said to myself in the concourse, mostly to break the monotony of groans of disbelief around me — and Chase Utley had done it again.
I can’t stress enough how well I understand the virtues behind being the bigger men, not sinking to Utley’s level, and seeking our revenge in the form of beating Utley’s team. But I must say, it seems like until we drill Utley, and put all this nonsense in the rearview, he’s going to keep killing us. He shouldn’t be comfortable in the box; instead, he clearly is, and far too much so. We drill him; he loses his sense of superiority based in his conviction that he’s tougher than we are because we haven’t retaliated; he loses the spark of his ridiculous rejuvenation and turns back a 39 year old utility man.
Maybe Thor will get it done tomorrow in front of the entire ’86 team, but probably not, seeing as we’ve passed up every opportunity so far to put Utley in the dirt. But one way or another, Chase Utley is entirely too comfortable in a batter’s box he has no business occupying, and someone, somehow, has to change that. Thor? Let’s hope so.
But either way, Utley had tied the game, which — after Familia buckled down and struck out Corey Seager — now went to the bottom of the ninth, the inning we never thought we’d see. In the sixth, hoping to see the captain hit again following his home run, I’d dismissed the possibility out of hand.
“Wright’s got one at-bat left,” I’d thought to myself. “He’ll hit in the seventh, but we won’t bat in the bottom of the ninth.”
Familia and Utley had conspired to prove me wrong.
The dismayed fans gathered around me, most of whom had remained only reluctantly, jostled for position, looking through a sea of heads down to the field.
“How about a walk-off here?” someone said.
It doesn’t hold much meaning afterwards: anyone can call walk-off at any point, and just by sheer luck, they’ll be right eventually. But it makes a nice little story nonetheless, seeing what happened next.
Granderson hit the second pitch he saw down the right field line. We watching from the concourse immediately lost sight of it, blocked out by the overhang of the second deck. Half of us craned our necks, looking towards the outfield; half of us looked the other way, towards the TV.
That’s right: I was reduced to watching the game’s essential moment on a badly positioned TV, as if my ticket, price inflated by the knockoff jersey giveaway, had been for a sports bar instead of a ballgame.
I watched Puig going back — that I saw in person. On the screen, I saw the right field corner. And then as the crowd erupted, I saw the ball land fair.
And then I, and the crowd around me, joined in the celebration.
Curtis Granderson isn’t a flashy player. He’s been commended mightily; usually for his professionalism, demeanor, and work ethic. But tonight, he earned his praise for a simple baseball reason: he blasted a ball out of the park.
It hasn’t quite been his year so far: he’s barely peeking over the Mendoza line, albeit with an OBP about 100 points higher than his average. But still, you can tell he’s working hard — he’s Curtis Granderson. And he was due for something like this.
He was due, as was David Wright, who homered in the fourth, and Juan Lagares, who did the same in the fifth. They were due for big nights, as was Neil Walker, who doubled home a run in the first, as was Jacob deGrom, who, despite not getting the win — and eliciting sympathy that quickly turned into anger from two women in front of me, irked beyond belief that Familia couldn’t save the win for Jacob — was, how you say, pretty deGrominant.
They were all due, and they all — besides Familia, and it all worked out fine, so let’s let this one slide — came through, and now it’s our turn. Our turn, the fans’ turn, to prepare for a big night. The ’86 reunion, the 30th anniversary celebration of the greatest team in Mets history.
Seriously, how great will this be? Several times during tonight’s game, when it didn’t seem as close as it would eventually get, I was overcome by thoughts of how absolutely cool the reunion would be. Everyone will be there — HoJo and Nails and Wally and Doc and Darryl and Mazz and Mookie and Sid and Bobby O, not to mention the more obscure names; Foster and Niemann and Santana, Ed Hearn and Terry Leach. And, of course, the essential pair, Keith and Ron. MC’ed, in all likelihood, by Howie Rose, it’s a celebration I just can’t wait to attend.
August 19th, 2006: the 20th anniversary of the 2006 team. I was there that night, sitting in the rain at Shea, Dave Williams pitching against the Rockies, Mets coming from behind to win late. Now, ten years minus a few months later, I’m back.
It’s a reminder — another reminder — that Mets fandom doesn’t stop. The faces age; the players on the field change; but really, there’s not much that changes, in terms of just what it is that we’re celebrating.
We’re celebrating hard work, sportsmanship, and leaving it all out on the field. And those were in abundance on the 1986 Mets, just as we saw all of them tonight, as Curtis Granderson took one big swing and brought us home a win.