Saturday, October 21, 2006

Meet the Mets, Message By Message

By Greg Wyshynski

Thursday night was one of the most surreal fan experiences I've ever had, and I was nowhere near a stadium or a television.

I have a habit of scheduling important moments in my life in direct competition with the sports I love. My senior prom in high school came during a crucial Stanley Cup Playoff game for the New Jersey Devils, leaving my date (a Rangers fan, no less) and I pressing a transistor radio against the door of the ballroom in order to hear the static-filled play-by-play.

When the Devils defeated Dallas for the Cup years later, I was on a three-hour drive back home after covering a high-school championship soccer match. I listed to the game on my car radio, the sound coming and going, and I arrived in my apartment just in time to watch Jason Arnott score the game-winner. I remember using a pillow to muffle my screams of euphoria so I didn't wake up my now-ex-wife.

During this entire National League Championship Series between my Mets and the Cardinals, I had a sneaking suspicion that Game 7 — if necessary — would fall on the only night I wouldn't be able watch the game: Thursday night, a night on which I had tickets to see Wilco in concert at the quaint 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.

If you're a baseball fan, you're obviously thinking, "Well, just don't go to the show." If you're a Wilco fan, you're thinking, "Yeah, just don't go to the show ... and then give me your ticket, sucker!"

I had to go; they're one of the greatest live bands in the world, and I had yet to see them live. Plus, it was a win-win situation for me: if the Mets took Game 7, I leave the gig a happy boy; if they lose Game 7 ... well, at least I drank myself numb with Jeff Tweedy instead of drinking myself numb on a postgame phone call with my father, eulogizing another heartbreaking defeat (which happens way too often ... we're both Jets fans, you know).

But I wasn't going to be able to enjoy this show without knowing what was happening at Shea. Bringing a radio was out of the question, both because I was at a rock show and because if Tweedy saw it he'd run off the stage and punch me in the face for my desecration of his art.

The cell phone, however, was still an option.

It used to be that checking your phone at a concert was poor etiquette; but since every other douchebag in the audience now thinks they're Annie Leibowitz with their stupid camera phones, it's as accepted a part of the club experience as some idiot plowing through 300 people in the middle of the set just to get another Stella Artois for him and his frat brother.

I organized a small army of friends to give me the blow-by-blow of Game 7. I literally received 60 text messages during the concert, updating me on everything from scoring to pitching changes to the weather in Flushing. Sometimes the bass from the speakers would overwhelm the vibrations of the phone, so I was constantly checking it for updates.

It was during the encore that I received word that Yadier Molina, who looks like a 9-year-old dressed up as a catcher for Halloween, had just hit a two-run homer off of Aaron Heilman in the top of the ninth to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. I don't know if I was more stunned by the sudden scoring change or the fact that Billy Wagner no longer had ownership over ninth inning non-save choke jobs.

Of course, since the Mets are the biggest C-teases in New York not named the Jets, they open the bottom of the ninth with some hope. My phone was buzzing like Tweedy's guitar: Valentin gets on with a hit, followed by Chavez. Cliff Floyd's coming up, and I'm thinking this is Kirk Gibson 2006, although no one's confusing Adam Wainwright for Dennis Eckersley.

Bzzzzzzz... "floyd goes down looking like an acheles (sp) ass bitch ... reyes up."

Bzzzzzzz... "reyes pops out 2 on 2 out lo ‘dropping a' duca up last chance."

Bzzzzzzz... "lo duca walked beltran up bases loaded."

Then, just a few seconds later.

Bzzzzzzz... "beltran goes down looking 3-1 cards final sorry dude maybe next year."

I look up at the rafters and shake my head in disbelief before turning to my concert mates and saying "It's over and they lost."

Bzzzzzzz... "Game over :( drive safe I love you!"

Bzzzzzzz... "{expletive deleted} ... sorry dude."

The epic show ended just past midnight. The lights came up and the sellout crowd turned away from the stage and began its impression of a cattle drive towards to the two exits. As I shuffled ahead, I noticed a dude in a dark blue Mets hat standing by the bar, downing a beer. I walked from the middle of the hall over to him.

"Did ya hear?

"Yeah," he replied, clearly soused by ultimately sobered by the defeat, "I heard."

Turns out he was doing the text messaging thing, too. Once he heard the Mets started to rally in the ninth, he actually left the Wilco show for a pub down the block.

"I got there just in time to see Beltran take strike three," he said.

We both lamented what could have been, cracked a few jokes about being Mets fans, and shared a sweaty, drunken hug.

Like me, this was a guy who was grateful for Wilco's anesthesia on an otherwise painful, painful night.

***

This loss doesn't hurt like 1998 against the Dodgers. If that team goes to the World Series and beats Oakland, then we're talking about a Mets dynasty of the late-1980s instead of concentrating nostalgia on Buckner's five-hole.

In fact, there's a small amount of miracle in these 2006 Mets, considering the fact that Pedro Martinez and El Duque — both starters, both with more than a smidgen of postseason experience — were on the shelf for the postseason. This team pushed the Cardinals to the brink with a rookie in Game 6 and Oliver Perez in Game 7.

I mean, c'mon: Oliver Perez ... that's starting a batting cage pitching machine in the biggest game of the season.

And yet the Mets were right there, thanks to Perez, who deserves nothing but respect for pitching the game of his life.

They didn't lose the series in Game 7. They lost it in Game 2, when Wagner crapped the bed in the ninth inning, blowing a tie game with Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Shawn Green due up in the bottom of the frame at home.

And they lost it in Game 3, when Steve Trachsel gave up five runs in the first two innings. Trachsel has always been a workhorse, but he's also been a pitcher that polarizes fans. Even his champions have to agree that his gutless performance in the postseason means he's played his last game as a Met.

Notice I haven't said much about the Cardinals. Really, what is there to say? Beyond a tip of the cap to some of their role players like Molina and Scott Spiezio, who should really shave before a Penthouse photographer mistakenly starts shooting his chin, there's nothing good I can say about St. Louis. The Tigers are going to roast these birds in the World Series.

Okay, there is someone I'd like to mention, and its name is Braden Looper.

The New York Daily News reported that the Cardinals reliever, a former Mets "closer," led his teammates in a chant of "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!", mocking the "Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose" cheer the Mets fans lavish on Jose Reyes.

I'm not surprised: Looper obviously has no love for these New York fans that paid good money to see him blow saves like they were performance incentives in his contract. Maybe he's also a little jealous of Reyes, who is an undrafted player that's gone on to become a popular superstar while Looper is a No. 3 overall pick who's gone on to become an anonymous middle reliever.

Like I said, I'm not surprised that Looper mimicked the Mets fans. He's pretty good at impersonations, having impersonated a major leaguer since 1998.

But hey, I'm just a bitter Mets fans, as if there's any other kind.

And whether it's at the end of September or in the middle of October, it remains our battle cry: "Wait 'till next year."


SportsFan MagazineGreg Wyshynski is the Features Editor for SportsFan Magazine in Washington, DC, and the Senior Sports Editor for The Connection Newspapers of Northern Virginia. His book is "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History." His columns appear every Saturday on Sports Central. You can e-mail Greg at [email protected].

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