Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Game 111 – Mets

Mets 3, Padres 2
Record: 67-44

Somewhere between insulting the Philadelphia Phillies and chiding Rob Russell last night, I managed to drop a mild barb in the direction of the San Diego Padres regarding the series that began tonight. “Hard to get overly enthused” about the match-up, said the idiot, forgetting that the Pad Squad had conducted one transaction months ago that made tonight’s a must-see ballgame for Mets fans of any tenure whatsoever.

1/31/06 - The San Diego Padres agreed to terms with C Mike Piazza on a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007.

I mean, duh. Mike Piazza’s return to Shea for the first time was an obvious reason for excitement, but even if I’d pieced it together last night, the spectacle tonight would still have superseded my anticipation. So much for discounting any Mets game. (For the record, I still think the Nats series may well be underwhelming.)

The Mets fans in attendance, many sporting their not-quite-obsolete Piazza 31 jerseys, came out in droves to cheer on Mets old and new, and the scene couldn’t have been any better. Mike Cameron, last seen at Shea pre-face-smash, got a rousing round of rahs when he stepped to the plate, deservedly so. But it paled in comparison to what Piazza got. Deservedly so.

Mike Piazza came to bat to lead off the second inning, and he received a gracious, grateful, and far from gratuitous standing ovation. The place went nuts, there were signs galore, and they even played his old music on the PA (the familiar start of the tune that entitles this post) as he strode to the plate . . . and paused to take it in.

Then he struck out, and it seemed like nobody was too happy about that, oddly enough. (Some nights Steve Trachsel can do no right.) But it didn’t detract from the moment, and paired with the send-off Piazza was given last fall, the Mets fans have done right by one of the greatest Mets of my lifetime. He'd later single to another great hurrah.

Rob was understandably keyed up when Pedro came back to Fenway in June, and this felt similar to that night for me. They are vastly different players with vastly different personalities, and they’ve meant different things to the two of us over the years, but the tributes were much the same. The roar of a usually hostile crowd for an old friend in enemy colors just gets me, and this was the apex of that occurrence.

Well played, people.

Ron Darling has seen his fair share of “moments,” and said that he’s not one to feel the tingle at sporting events; then he admitted to having chills.

Piazza came up in the eighth with a chance to be the go-ahead run. Out of nowhere, Gary Cohen asked what the Mets fans really wanted to happen, deep down. Now, that was a bit over the top, thinking we’d rather see the hometown team go from winning to losing just to see Mike Piazza do it again in front of the Shea faithful. And it was exactly what I was thinking. Probably the first sign of my overconfidence in this club, but I was willing to give up the lead there to see that kind of exuberance. Didn’t happen, and it’s probably just as well. But that woulda been cool, dammit.

As it turns out, the apple of the Big Apple’s eye in 2006 – David Wright – made the difference in the game, rapping out a few hits, driving in the tying and winning runs, and making plays (all but one miss in the 9th) to remind people that there’s a Golden Boy of the future. Meanwhile, it was a nice juxtaposition to see the perennial fan favorite standing on third base on inning next to Wright. The baton has officially been passed, and Mike Piazza can now fade into the heroes of yesteryear.

And so I tuned in with far greater enthusiasm than I’d figured. It turned out to be a rare spark on an otherwise random Tuesday night of Mets ball against a non-division rival with the Mets up 13 games and throwing the most visually aggravating pitcher on the roster. How about that?

Just shut up and watch the games, Whitney. Live up to the extended title of this blog, hunker down, and watch baseball. It so rarely disappoints, even when it torments.

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