Ignore the Birds

The woman sitting behind me at Citi Field this afternoon didn’t like birds, and wasn’t afraid to let the world know. Early in the game, some pigeons flapped past us, and she said, “Ooh, birds…I don’t like birds.” Then each time the pigeons flew past, which happened fairly often, she turned to the person next to her, and said, as if it was breaking news, “birds…I really don’t like birds.” By the seventh inning, when the pigeons flapped past again, I wanted to turn around and say, “so I’ve heard!”

The bird-talk was especially irksome since it was a distraction from the action on the field. The Mets were slugging. It was a game full of cracks of bats and wild cheers, and repeated announcements that the woman behind me was afraid of birds really didn’t fit the tone.

First, there were wild cheers for Steven Matz, who didn’t have his best stuff but fought through it anyway. This wasn’t a Jason Vargas fight through bad stuff either; this was a legitimate grind. Steven walked four and had thrown 100 pitches by the time he got the last out of the fifth, but despite clearly not being on point, he got through five scoreless, and struck out eight.

In the bottom of the fourth, meanwhile, J.D. Davis took Patrick Corbin over the fence on a frozen rope of a line drive that landed between the apple and the bullpen. Complaining about J.D. Davis seems to have become a pastime for Mets fans, which rankles me. Maybe he doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot, but it’s been eight games and Davis has committed no egregious wrong.

Today, in fact, he was emphatically right. Besides the homer in the fourth that was the Mets’ first run of the game, he walked in the first, then in the sixth, after the Nationals had tied it on an RBI groundout, hit a 2-1 pitch from Corbin out of sight. 446 feet, to be exact, a no-doubter in a stadium that makes doubt so difficult to avoid. Then, in the eighth, Davis singled to left. He was three for three on the day with a walk, and might just have shut down the critics for a few days, which, if you know Mets fans, is no easy task.

Two batters after Davis’ home run in the sixth, meanwhile, Michael Conforto did something to a baseball that I’m still struggling to understand. In left, Adam Eaton didn’t move. The ball hung in the air seconds, or minutes, then landed somewhere in Flushing, probably closer to the bay than to home plate. Conforto was on point. So was Davis. So were the Mets.

Well, besides the bullpen, which, unfortunately, is becoming a common refrain. Gsellman gave up his run on a double and an RBI groundout, not ideal but not apocalyptic either. Familia…well, who can say? It’s undeniable that Jeurys Familia is a good pitcher, but he’s been inducing heart attacks in Mets fans for years, and eventually one of them was going to be serious.

The run Familia allowed in the seventh, which came on a two-base passed ball after Wilson Ramos lost track of where exactly Familia’s pitch in the dirt had got to, was bad, but it wasn’t a gut punch. We still had the lead. By the end of the top of the eighth, though, three runs on two home runs later, there was a distinct and not unfair sentiment in the stands that Familia had blown it. As he left the field, Familia got booed. Not quite as loudly as he’d gotten cheered when Danza Kuduro had played for the first time at Citi Field since mid 2018, but yes, he was booed.

Leave it to the big boppers to bring the Mets back. Pete Alonso, who turned a swing that looked like a weak groundout to third into a line drive over the center field fence, and Robinson Cano, who hit a ball that must have gone as far as Conforto’s. Fans on their feet, stadium ready to explode…Wilson Ramos grounded into a double play, which killed the momentum just a bit, but we weren’t done.

A pitching change. Tony Sipp entering for the Nationals, a lefty to face Conforto. No chance. Michael, as I say, was on his game, and the double he mashed down the right field line almost seemed routine. Jeff McNeil pinch-hit, and Sipp hit him. Which meant that with two on and two out, our fate was in the hands of Keon Broxton.

Broxton hit .179 last year, which seems like something someone like him — Alejandro De Aza, cough cough — would usually do after they come to the Mets, and not before. But this year feels different. This team feels stronger. We’re not getting the .179 years. We’re getting the good years at the right times. The years that turn good teams into champions.

I could just feel it. This was a game we were going to win. Keon Broxton was going to win it for us, because this team is a special one.

I wasn’t wrong. Broxton lined a single to right-center. Conforto came home. Three Edwin Diaz outs later, the win was in the books.

I wasn’t the only one who could feel it, either. The entire stadium knew. These Mets are special, and if you watch them, you can tell. Just as Broxton was singling and Conforto was coming home to score the go-ahead run, the pigeons flapped past us again. I tensed, but didn’t hear anything. The exploits of the 2019 Mets had the woman behind me too excited to notice.

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