There is something in the air around Citi Field, other than Flushing Bay at low tide. The atmosphere has lightened, almost imperceptibly. The gloom and black clouds that permeated the place are slowly, surely being dispersed. The dust of the previous three seasons is being blown out over the sea. Citi Field is starting to feel like home. I mentioned the feeling that this was starting back in April and it’s become more and more real as the months have gone by.
I went to two games last week, the pre-Independence Day blowout of the Phillies and the oh-so-close Friday night loss to the Cubs. Both games ended with palpable, organic electricity in the stands: in neither was a scoreboard exhortation to “MAKE SOME NOISE!” necessary. Oh, it was there, of course, but it was superfluous. We were all doing just fine on our own, thank you. On Tuesday, I was gratified to note that the parking lots, Roosevelt Avenue and Corona Park were not the Philly red sea as they had become the last couple of years. There was no effort or movement to “take over Citi.” As I can tell you from long, painful experience, last place breeds disinterest. A few Brotherly Lovers came out and brayed loudly when a Carlos Ruiz homer tied things briefly, but they retreated post haste when the onslaught began in earnest in the second. Everybody hung out and watched the post-game fireworks and generally dug each other. A good ol’ big, friendly crowd.
Friday, it was a little different. As Reed Johnson – who rapidly ascended to personal public enemy status this weekend – Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Baker drove Johan Santana to cover, as the Cubbies erased a 2-1 deficit to stroll to a commanding 7-2 lead, the stands fell into its own form of disinterest. After Baker’s home run, the fans in the left field stands threw the ball back. Down the end of my row, a young woman in Cubs mufti disgustedly threw “the finger” toward left. I could not let this pass without comment. “Hey,” I yelled. “Don’t be flippin’ ‘em off: you guys invented that move!” Her boyfriend in a Mets hat howled with laughter, and she kind of chuckled and nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, you’re right…”
But the general tone overall was, “Well, whaddayagonnado?” You get games like this over the course of the year, right? Ramon Ramirez came in and held the fort for a couple of quality innings. The good guys got one back in the sixth on an error/double/sac fly combo. That stirred us slightly. What did not make any of us feel better was the fact that Miguel Batista had been brought in to relieve Ramirez. Miguel Batista: the obvious option when winning isn’t an option. We kind of knew Terry Collins was tossing in the towel, right there. There was surprisingly minimal grumbling in the eighth when Lucas Duda galloped in, slid and ended up butchering Alfonso Soriano’s weak pop to tack one on for the Chicagos. Justin Turner got that right back in the bottom half, following David Wright’s double with a base knock of his own. Under the Batista cloud, this was barely noticed or noteworthy.
Fast-forward to the ninth. Yelling, pleading, bleating from the stands – it was an old “Let’s Go METS!” moment. Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out to lead it off. Jordany Valdespin – brought in on the double-switch when the unfortunate Batista joined the game – launched a rocket to dead center on the first pitch he saw from Cubs closer Carlos Marmol. After that, I remembered the Cubs’ closer was Carlos Marmol – he who makes Frank Francisco look like Goose Gossage. Marmol is known for a fragile arm and an even more fragile psyche. I could feel we were all about to be treated to a Marmol special. After Valdespin’s ICBM, Ruben Tejada delivered his specialty: a nine-pitch walk. Daniel Murphy, hitting for Batista, worked out a more conventional BB, on only four pitches. The stands were howling. My Cubbie friend at the end had her hands over her eyes. Wright stood in and it took five pitches to work out his walk. Bases loaded, one out and the very metal and concrete were screeching. You couldn’t even hear the stupid scoreboard. Ike Davis pinch hit for Scott Hairston and ripped a single to right center, plating two and making it 8-7 and making everyone’s head spin. Duda came up next and ripped one – POW! — right back to the mound. Almost in self-defense, Marmol threw his glove in front of his face. To his, Duda’s, Davis’s and 28,000 other souls’ amazement, the ball stuck there. Davis was a dead duck off first. Ballgame.
Leaving, the Cub fans looked shaken and subdued. They looked like they had just seen a car catch fire. They looked like they’d seen one of those phony ghosts from Scooby-Doo. None of them whooped or woofed or brayed. The Met fans exchanged “Wows!” and “Almosts!” and “Great games!” I can’t remember leaving the park feeling so exhilarated after a loss.
The rest of the city might be catching up to the team, after all.
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