TOP OF THE NINTH: METS 5 – (1) 4 DODGERS
The ghosts of the 1986 Mets are alive and well tonight at Shea Stadium Citi Field, with a big home run from what looks to be Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden on the mound to close things out.
The digits 1 9 8 6 are printed in blue and orange on the infield grass, ahead of both dugouts, so that must be right.
The big Mets apple is half-asleep just beyond the outfield wall, tucked away in a center-field cupboard, ready to pop out at the right moment. Planes are flying overhead into LaGuardia Airport, and a double-thick stripe of blue and orange is running down the sides of the uniforms, from collar to ankle.
I see Adrian Gonzalez step up to the plate for the Dodgers, run the name through my head, recognize the face, and the time-travel dream starts to crumble, Inception-ed back to 2016. Birthyear: 1982. There’s a fan in the front row behind him holding up a cell phone at least ten times smaller than the brick Michael Douglas lugged around in Wall Street, the live TV stream is sharp, clear as day, and on a laptop—not TV at all.
Gonzalez floats an opposite-field single into left, and the camera zooms back to the mound. “Familia” stitched on the jersey back of who I thought was Dwight Gooden, as I snap into the reality of some sort of promotional, commemorative night of nostalgia for the ’86 Mets (30th year since).
Jeurys Familia. 2.01 ERA. 2016. Turn back the clock.
— New York Mets (@Mets) May 28, 2016
And Familia’s in a virtual tie for best kinship-esque baseball name with Tommy Pham, up against a Dodgers lineup still reeling from the five-game loss in last year’s NLDS.
The Mets’ starter was Jacob deGrom, leaving with a 5-1 lead and a win on the way—his flowing locks by now a harbinger of baseball anxiety for Dodgers nation.
Gonzalez trots to first, Familia exhales, paces around the mound, and sets up again.
Howie Kendrick hits a chopper to third, on a line to David Wright, who lets it roll, roll, roll its way to his feet without a pick-up, without a throw. It’s first and second, no outs, as Wright finally snatches it, as if putting down a ball marker on a golf putt left short.
“Nothing to do but pick it up, and put it in your pocket,” says one of the Mets’ TV guys.
Up comes Joc Pederson, fresh off the revelation of this week’s saddest baseball story—admitting to FS1 he’d just been snubbed by former-hero Barry Bonds. Pour one out for childhood nostalgia gone sour, for
young Yung Joc.
— FSLive: #JayAndDan (@foxsportslive) May 25, 2016
Familia delivers home, a slider for a strike and an 0-2 count. The camera zooms way in before the next pitch, his upper lip bent into the double-arched shape of the McDonald’s logo, his eyes darting around waiting for the sign, looking at the runners, his forehead sweaty, and he delivers again.
Strikeout, nasty slider, again. One out. 5-1 lead still intact.
Now, up to the plate: Yasiel Puig. ManBearPuig. Notorious PUIG.
He opens his eyes wide, waiting for a hittable pitch, and he drives the next one from Familia onto the ground between third and short. Bases loaded.
Familia’s glove now covers his mouth like a balaclava, any mics nearby now muted for the the audience’s sake.
Mets still up 5-1, the tying run at the plate in Yasmani Grandal. A lone man behind the backstop fist-pumps to the beat of “Let’s go Mets!” echoing out from the upper decks.
Familia flings a fastball in to the mitt of Kevin Plawecki, his name stitched in blue and orange across the catching gear. High strike, above the letters, a 2-2 count to Grandal. Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts steps out onto the edge of the dugout with a dumbfounded look, bordering on irate.
Ball from Familia. Another ball. Grandal trots to first and a run walks in. 5-2 now.
Grandal draws a bases loaded walk! It’s now 5-2, Dodgers within 3, keep this rally going.
— Reuben Hernandez (@reuben81691) May 28, 2016
The Mets’ pitching coach jogs out to chat, the bullpen readies, the fans’ nerves activate.
Trayce Thompson comes in now to pinch-hit, riding the good vibes from his brother’s record-setting NBA season, and the recent memory of a game-winner against this very Mets team.
And Chase Utley on deck, enemy of state in Queens, N.Y.
“STRUCK him OUT!!!” shouts the Mets’ TV guy, “High heat from Familia!!!”
Now it’s got to be over. That’s it. Ballgame. Two outs. Just one more.
And with Utley striding up to the plate, his silvering, slicked-back hair peeking out from beneath his Dodger-blue helmet, the boos come out like a hall of halloween ghosts, from the upper decks to the lower, a staunch vocal rage against a man whose infamy bred an entire change to the baseball rulebooks.
Anybody but this guy.
Familia comes in cocky, with a fastball down the middle. Utley swings at it, the first pitch, and it’s frozen-roped to deep left-center field. Within seconds we go from three-run deficit to all-tied ballgame. The ball rolls to the outfield wall, Granderson runs after it, and three Dodgers dash home to score as Utley slides safe into third. 5-5.
The Mets fans put their hands on hips, Familia doing the same, thinking “What just happened??”
I think Chase Utley’s scoreboard photo is smirking at Mets fans pic.twitter.com/pXXEQ02Wyt
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) May 27, 2016
Corey Seager comes up and Familia strikes out the side, if that phrase can even count here. The win is lost for deGrom, as Citi Field groans with the prospect of a sure win gone south.
BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: METS 6 (5) – 5 DODGERS
Curtis Granderson up first for the Mets. He’s 0-3, three strikeouts. Crouching low with knees bent. Grandal is behind him, the Dodgers’ catcher, squatting and giving signs to Pedro Baez on the mound. There’s a pun somewhere in this, something about the “two grand,” the grandiose, all lost as the TV volume takes off and all wordplay fails.
Second pitch. Fastball trailing in. Granderson reaches low. Hits it high. Down the line. Going, going. Upper deck? Foul? Holy sh*t!!!
WALK IT OFF @cgrand3!
— New York Mets (@Mets) May 28, 2016
The N.Y. Mets have won it. The ball rockets way up high, then sails down into the lower deck, a few rows behind the wall, just in from the orange right-field foul pole.
Granderson wills it fair like Carl Yastrzemski from the other side of the plate. It’s gone. Mets win. Not a minute after the commercial break ended, and it’s a 6-5 New York celebration.
The big apple rises up for a peek of the home run, hoping, praying, and shoots up into the air with the arms of the Citi Field faithful, the airline pilots overhead seeing a bright red fruit over Flushing, Queens—the annual summer symbol of a Mets team in the playoff hunt.