TOP OF THE ELEVENTH: METS 6 – (6) 8 PHILLIES
It was that week of nationwide baseball migrations.
The late-September hour when contenders assemble in a neck-in-neck row, the losers into the last-gasp role of the spoiler, when the clinch flags fly and standings settle into their final arrangements, the first of the geese flocks soar in V-formations over the ballpark air, criss-crossing the flight paths of all airborne LaGuardia traffic.
And the New York Mets, on the ground beneath it all, stating their case and then unstating it. Restating it. Waffling between playoff lock and playoff outskirts, unsure whether the happy dream of 2015 will carry over in any way at all. One game back, a game ahead, tied up, back one game again, with a Wild Card berth an absurd mirage in the distance.
They’d thought they had it won, the night before, with a hopeful three-run shot from Yoenis Cespedes—robbed at the wall above the GEICO sign, Ender Inciarte in right-center. The game-Ender they’d been calling it, simultaneous around the baseball world. And a three-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Braves.
Just when Cespedes thinks he’s out, Inciarte drags him back in pic.twitter.com/hoBlwLF9lH
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 22, 2016
Then, tonight, Jose Reyes, a two-run shot in the ninth to tie things up. 6-6 and into extras with the Phillies. In the bottom of the tenth, two outs, the half-empty Citi Field gets up, and Lucas Duda hits a winner, they think, they think, they hope—and on the SNY call it’s “toward the Pooooooole…. foul.” A jinx in the air, an anti-Mets eddy swirling the winds the wrong direction for luck, with the homestand trending the wrong direction and no clear path back.
And so, they go on to the eleventh, with the Phillies on a down year playing spoiler to a rival.
Familia on the mound, Plawecki in to catch.
Freddy Galvis shoots a line drive deep into the left-center gap, the other way, with his helmet flying off between first and second, in safe with no slide—doing the sign of a cross on his chest, his dreads tucked in beneath a skullcap, bright and red.
Aaron Altherr comes up and strikes out, Tommy Joseph grounds out, and the Mets net two quick outs with Galvis dashing over to third.
Familia walks Hernandez to get to A.J. Ellis—former L.A. Dodger, current .280 slugger, the man who broke open a tie ballgame in the days after the move, sinking the surging Mets.
Familia looks in for the sign, his white rosary beads dangling around his neck, as he winds up and delivers.
Ellis lifts a bloop single in the air to right, Galvis trots home, and it’s a 7-6 Phillies lead. Again. Again. It’s happened, again. A.J. Ellis, agent of revenge for the 2015 Dodgers, hitting nothing all year but the desperate, fallible pitching of the New York Mets.
Mets miss a walkoff home run by like a foot and then AJ Ellis dunks an RBI single in front of Nimmo the next inning. Baseball blows.
— James Loney Fan Club (@_mistermet) September 23, 2016
The fans, whichever are still left, convert booze to boos, bray out the late-night whoops, head for the exits.
In the SNY broadcast booth: “Keith this is the point in the game where if one fan has a distate for ya, you’re gonna hear ‘em.”
“Well,” he says in reply, “a lot of people have left the ballpark—you’re gonna start hearing the…uh… borrachos.”
Odubel Herrera sets up, digs in, his legs spread as wide as they go and he’s hit, badly, on the wrist. Shaking in head in a deep grimace as he escorts himself to first.
Jim Henderson’s on the mound for the Mets, the rowdies getting rowdier. Maikel Franco stays alive and works a full count, and then a walk—as Henderson misses by a millimeter, doing the astounded disrespected dance around the mound, glaring at the umpire.
A two-run lead. 8-6, Phillies ahead. Stress the word around all of Queens.
And there’s a groundout, to Reyes, to end the top half of the eleventh, as he tags the base and the Mets trot in to hit.
BOTTOM OF THE ELEVENTH: METS 9 (6) – 8 PHILLIES
Eighteen pitchers have thrown in the game. Edubray Ramos comes in for number nineteen, setting up and dealing as Brandon Nimmo drills a sharp one-bouncer just wide of second base, snagged by Galvis and it’s the first out, with the throw whipped over to first.
Michael Conforto steps up. Some few dozen “Let’s Go Mets!!” calls echo around in the stands, linking up in a tattered quilt of diehard love for the pinstriped heroes, in blue and orange. A blond, bleached, Asdrubal Cabrera grips his bat in the dugout. Jose Reyes up from the on-deck circle. Conforto walks.
The crowd perks up: “Joséeee… José, José, Joséeeeeee…. José, Joséeeee…..”
Eye black on his cheeks. A bright yellow arm sleeve. The bleached tips of a goatee, gone orange with the grow-out—and he lines a base hit the other way, over the glove of Galvis, leaping up for it, dropping down onto outfield the grass with Conforto in to second.
Then: the hour of Asdrubal Cabrera. Triple-handedly keeping the team in contention, Reyes and Cespedes at his side.
The second pitch from Ramos comes. A hanging curveball up and away. Seventy-something miles per hour. Curling from mound to plate, hanging and fat over the sweet part of the zone.
Cabrera gives it a ride into sure-thing homerland. Crashing into the HONDA sign in right field, a three-run walkoff, the giant apple popping up in center-field, the helmet flying off, the bleached blond hair fluttering in the breeze between third and home, the camera lens blurring with the water-and-ice splash of a team brought back from the brink.
And the bat-flip, perhaps of the entire year—the king, for a night, of Queens.
Two hands on the hilt of the bat, down by his waist, his mouth cranked open into a scream of baseball bliss, and a dismissive, two-handed flip toward the dugout, high and both arms shot into the air, like the wild-rage flip of a table at a restaurant, the arms up high with the jetsam discarded, up into a V above his head—of a triumph, a comeback, an early morning walkoff win.
Think Asdrúbal knew it was gone?
— MLB (@MLB) September 23, 2016
“Well I don’t have to tell you Mets fans,” they say in the booth, “the importance of this game…”
They’re not yet out. Playoffs saved, if only for one more day.