In order to get from my home to Shea Stadium, one must travel over a byzantine collection of connecting roads, bridges and tunnels, seemingly headed in each of the four available directions for mere moments before shifting with the landscape and trafficked highways over what really amounts to no more than thirty-six miles or so each way, though the trip often stretches to over an hour and a half or more in duration of commute.
"It's about eighteen miles...as the crow flies," the Boss states. The Boss is a friend and unfortunately, a Mets fan, who often allows me, a lowly Washington booster, to travel along to what he considers hallowed ground in Flushing, Queens, NY as we do tonight for the finale of the 2007 inter-divisional rivalry between his Mets and my favorite, and yours, the Washington Nationals.
I can't imagine he thought, several months ago when the ticket offer was first made, that the Nationals would be in the position to not only sweep the Mets in this September series, but also, in the process, possibly send New York reeling out of first in the East and potentially out of the Playoffs, while tying the season series at nine a piece if Washington won.
But that's where it stood as we made our way to Shea. We were meeting two of his friends, Frank, who I knew from previous games, and Julio, a dag-blasted Yankee fan. We arrived at the stadium in just under two hours, and just as the top of the first was getting underway.
The Boss called Frank. Frank was at "our seats" already. Our tickets were in row "J" of the Mezzanine, section 22, seats 8-11. We headed into our seats in the Loge, twenty-five to thirty rows behind home plate. Frank was nowhere to be found. The Boss and I made our way to the top of the section.
"I'll call him," the Boss said..."Frank, we're in the section you said, but you're not? Where?"
"Right here," I heard Frank yell from his seats right in the middle of the section to the left of where we stood. "Can't you see me, I told you I'd be wearing my 'Strawberry' shirt," Frank yells at us and still into his phone.
We'd only missed the top of the first. The Mets right-hander Philip Humber had pitched a scoreless frame in his first Major League start. The Mets headed in to bat against Nationals lefty Mike Bacsik. "I forgot to tell you," the Boss said to Frank and Julio, "...this guy (pointing at me) is a Nationals fan!"
"OOOhhh," Frank, Julio, and the people in the rows in front and behind me jeer in unison. "Thanks for outing me," I say to the Boss. "OHHHH," the entire crowd erupts...
David Wright singles off Bacsik with two down in the bottom of the first, and Carlos Beltran follows with a line drive two-run home run to left. 2-0 Mets. "Great," I mumble to myself. Moises Alou goes deeeep to right center and GONE!! 3-0 Mets in the first. Shea Stadium is rocking. The Mets are back.
"So how are the Nationals gonna be next year?" Frank asks. "Funny," I say, "I think a third place finish next season," I joke. Frank laughs, "How's Zimmerman this year," Frank continues. "Good, after a bad start, he's hitting like... .260, 24 home runs, 90 RBI..."
"You're just reading that off the scoreboard," the Boss interrupts. "I'm not really a stat guy," I admit. "How many home runs does Church have," the Boss quizzes me. "Ten or so," I guess. "He has 14!" the Boss says, pointing to the scoreboard, "You write a Nationals blog, you should know these things. "I don't memorize numbers...I just wa...you're right I should," I concede.
The Mets add a run in the second on Luis Castillo's RBI single. 4-0 Mets. Washington shortstop Felipe Lopez triples to start the third, but is stranded there by Humber who throws three scoreless. The Mets add to the lead in the bottom of the frame. Carlos Beltran takes the first pitch of the frame from Bacsik to left and almost over the bleachers, "Did you see how far he hit that?" the Boss asks, "Did you?" "I did, yes," I utter under my breath. 5-0 NY.
Philip Humber walks Austin Kearns to start the fourth. "Second time around," I warn the Boss, Frank and Julio, "...the Nationals will get to Humber." Ryan Church turns around on an inside fastball and drills it to right and off the small useless scoreboard that's there. 5-2 Mets, "On Church's 15th!!" I tell the Boss. Joel Hanrahan's back in the fourth for his second inning of relief. Moises Alou singles in David Wright after Hanrahan issues Wright a two-out walk in the fourth. 6-2 NY.
The Nationals knock Humber around in the fifth. Ryan Langerhans walks to start things. Felipe Lopez singles to right. Ronnie "Met-Killer" Belliard, as the Boss dubs him, doubles to left, Langerhans scores, Lopez to third. 6-3 Mets. Humber out. "Generic" Joe Smith comes on in relief. "Ahhh...," I exaggerate it, "...The Mets bullpen." "SHUT UP!" the Boss and Frank say in unison as Julio laughs...
...Ryan Zimmerman single to right off Smith. Lopez scores. 6-4 New York, and the fans are grumbling. Austin Kearns singles to center. Belliard scores. Zimmerman to third. 6-5 Mets still lead. Wily Mo MO MO MO MO!! Wily Mo Pena doubles in Zimmerman and Kearns. 7-6 Nationals after five.
"You're not actually worried that the Mets won't make the Playoffs," Frank asks the Boss who has his hands on his head after the fifth, pulling his hair back in frustation. "I'm worried they're gonna lose this game, and miss the Playoffs," the Boss replies.
Scott Schoeneweis throws a scoreless sixth for the Mets. Big John Albaladejo does the same for the Nationals half. "That's the guy I told you about," I say to the Boss. "Who?" he asks. "Albaladejo," I say slowly. "Alba-lal-...Albaladalo...Albalalado," the Boss jokes. "Don't worry," I say, "Gary Cohen (Mets announcer) couldn't say it either, and he gets paid to know these things."
"Don't you think they'd ask for pronunciations, before the game," the Boss jokes.
"They must have press kits," I note, "That's why every announcer says the same thing about each player, like Jon Rauch..." I offer. "The Tallest Pitcher in MLB History," Frank yells. "See," I confirm the proof. No more scoring through eight innings of play. (Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez thrilled and perplexed Mets fans with a relief appearance in the seventh).
The Nationals add two insurance runs off Billy Wagner in the top of the ninth. Ronnie Belliard singles to start it. One out later, Wagner walks Kearns. The Mets fans are furious with Wagner. Ryan Church vs Billy Wagner. Lefty vs Lefty. Church doubles to left, finding the gap for his 43rd two-bagger, Belliard scores, Kearns crosses. 9-6 Nationals. Shea Stadium empties.
"The starters stink. The bullpen's worse. They score seven or eight runs a night and can't win. Fire Randolph! Fire Minaya!" an extremely drunk and disgruntled fan yells.
There's someone with a bent brim on the mound in the bottom of the ninth. It's Luis Ayala. Ayala comes on to close it out and gets Castillo, Wright and Beltran in order to end it. The Boss and Frank are stunned. "The Yankees clinched a spot," Julio celebrates. No one joins him.
As we walk out of the Stadium, Frank turns to the Boss and I, "Do you remember Opening Day in 1969?" Frank asks us. "No, I wasn't even born," I say. "I think I do," the Boss says. "Opening Day 1969..." Frank holds court, "...I remember it clearly, the Mets lost to the Montreal Expos in the first game of the Expos first season, 11-10 final, and one of Montreal's relief pitchers...uhh...Dan McGinn!! McGinn homered off Seaver," Frank says, "Alright see you guys next time."
Montreal Expos vs New York Mets August 8th, 1969 box score:
CBC coverage of the Montreal Expos debut in Shea:
See, they did love their Expos in Montreal at one time.
Nationals now 72-87.