Seven Days in Shea

Why do the Mets keep torturing us?

Tuesday, October 10: Workout Day

The Mets were, as usual, in good spirits the day before the NLCS, relaxed and either deeply confident or very good at faking it. Carlos Delgado seemed physically unable to stop smiling, Jose Reyes remained Jose Reyes, and Cliff Floyd, though gimpy, was hopeful that he could play. Anderson Hernandez was added to the roster, which was good news: His elaborate handshakes with Reyes are like miniature master- pieces of performance art ("I get nervous just watching them," said a clearly impressed Shawn Green), and seeing him and Endy Chavez pal around should warm even Tony La Russa's suicide-squeezing heart. Chavez—listed as six feet and 165 pounds but obviously neither, unless he was wearing heels and many layers of wet winter clothing on weigh-in day—had a breakout year, which he attributed to finally feeling comfortable: "Because I feel myself, I don't feel that they want me to be another player. . . . I play for Willie, he just asks me to play hard and lets me do my things." Last week a Venezuelan reporter, after interviewing him in Spanish, turned away from his locker grinning and told me, "His head is on the ninth cloud."

The big question everyone was asking the Mets today was, though not in these precise words, "What the fuck are you going to do about Albert Pujols?" And the answer, though again the phrasing varied, seemed to be "Uh . . . not sure." Meanwhile, Pujols in person is, surprisingly, less than eight feet tall and does not appear to pick his teeth with the bones of relief pitchers, as I'd expected. In fact, he's balding. This is not enough to convince me that he's a mere human being, but it's a start.

photo: Anthony J. Causi

Wednesday, October 11: Rainout

I first heard about the plane crash on the Upper East Side from a reporter who'd offered me a ride to the stadium but now had to rush to 72nd Street. When I got to Shea I couldn't figure out why everyone was talking about Thurman Munson, until finally I saw Cory Lidle's picture on TV. It's probably for the best that the game was rained out; the players, many of whom knew Lidle, seemed shaken.

Thursday, October 12: Game 1

Mets 2, Cardinals 0

During batting practice, Ron Darling, Darryl Strawberry, and Mookie Wilson stood in the Met dugout and reminisced about the old days. If ever a conversation was worthy of eavesdropping, it's this one, but sadly I could only catch snippets: "We get to Rusty's and [inaudible] . . . ran out in the [inaudible] . . . two or nothing! [raucous laughter]."

Whatever Kenny Rogers has is catching. I'm referring here to pitchers who flopped in New York suddenly morphing into Walter Johnson for other teams in the playoffs. Jeff Weaver is just the latest example; this is someone who has been described as "having potential" for the last seven years but apparently chose this particular month to start pitching well. I'm convinced that a rotation of Rogers, Weaver, Jose Contreras, and Javy Vazquez would absolutely guarantee a World Series ring for any non–East Coast team. Weaver did, however, make one mistake, and after Carlos Beltran's two-run homer, the crowd smelled blood and jumped all over him.

Cliff Floyd's achilles didn't even make it through three innings. You have to feel for him; he went through some bleak seasons at Shea and wants very, very badly to be playing. And how could you help but root for a guy who comes to bat to the theme from Sanford and Son?

The crowd tonight was both incredibly loud and extremely anxious. Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, the fans went to 11 on two-strike counts, but balls were greeted with the appalled silence normally reserved for go-ahead home runs. The "Jose, Jose Jose Jose" chant, an adaptation of the venerable "olé" soccer riff ("I figured that out just about a week ago," said Floyd, who admits to humming it himself now and then), has been a great gift to Shea, though—after a win, it pours through the walls, even in the bowels of the press area.

Friday, October 13: Game 2

Cardinals 9, Mets 6

This was a rough loss—a game the Mets had no right to win on the face of it (Maine versus Carpenter?), but would have pulled off if not for an uncharacteristic slip by their bullpen.

Most relievers enter the game to songs designed to pump them up or energize the crowd—Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner's "Enter Sandman" being the most famous example. Guillermo Mota uses "I Like to Move It," and classic-rock fan Aaron Heilman picked "London Calling" ("I thought it was kind of fitting—calling the bullpen or whatever," he says, a bit sheepishly). So I was thrown when Chad Bradford, a quiet right-hander known for his startling but extremely effective underhand motion, entered to a plaintive emo number by the Fray, featuring the chorus "Everybody knows I'm in over my head, over my head." I can't imagine this is inspiring a ton of fear in opposing batters, but I find it kind of endearing.

Bradford delivered, but Mota and Wagner couldn't this time. Wagner had an excellent year, but his arrival on the mound quickly turned the crowd pale and sweaty, even before the trouble started. Met fans have never known the joy of a Mariano Rivera; years of dysfunctional relationships with the likes of John Franco, Armando Benitez, and Braden Looper have left them shaken and emotionally scarred. No matter how good Wagner is, it will be a long time before the crowd at Shea learns how to trust again.

Saturday, October 14: Game 3
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