There’s no way to classify what happened at Shea Stadium on a mild, rainy October night. Willie Randolph replicated one of the most epic blunders by a manager in a seventh game. Endy Chavez replicated the dream he had the night before Game 7. Jeff Suppan replicated his performance from Game 3. And somehow Adam Wainwright (who?!?) found a way to protect a ninth inning lead without a fastball.
So how did all this happen? How is a team that just last night won its 90th game about to be playing for a ring? How is it that Game 7’s either end in a thrashing or a miracle? How many wagers did the baseball fates have on this contest? There must be some explanation for the seemingly inexplicable.
With the intention of cutting straight to the heart of this matter, jump to the top of the sixth inning. One out. Cardinals and Mets tied 1-1. Oliver Perez walks Jim Edmonds on his 87th pitch. Perez has just completed one of the most improbable treks from the fringes of the baseball world to its most cherished stage. He has clearly left every ounce of sweaty fortitude on that mound at Shea. Randolph trots out to the hill, as Chad Bradford finishes his warm up tosses, waiting for the imminent call.
As the skipper gets to the mound the entire infield convenes for a meeting. Randolph looks Perez square in the eye and asks him the one question you never ask a pitcher in a deciding playoff game, be it Pedro Martinez or, well Oliver Perez. Course coach, I got one more in me. That cliche could be uttered by one of the great pitchers of all time or by a character played by Kevin Costner. Unfortunately for viewers it’s all the same. We know baseball is too cruel and Hollywood is too unoriginal for the other shoe not to immediately drop.
Instead of Perez exiting stage right it’s Randolph. And before he can retake his post in the dugout Scott Rolen has launched the first meatball he sees deep into the dark and cloudy Flushing night. Mets fans lost their lunch. Red Sox fans shuddered. Yankees fans snickered. Then Endy Chavez, the role player that time and time again has defied the odds, decided to defy the fates. With one of the most majestic catches October will ever see, Chavez ascended over the fence, hauled in the ball, swung around and doubled up Edmonds at first base.
In the delirium that ensued Chavez could have levitated and flown back to the dugout and the Shea-faithful wouldn’t have noticed. In less than a heartbeat a mundane Game 7 between two-are-you-kidding-me-hurlers had transformed into a transcendent fall classic.
If destiny had called in the form of Willie Randolph pulling a Grady Little, Endy Chavez sure as hell refused to answer the phone.
Shea continued to bump, waiting in giddy anticipation for the other other shoe to drop; waiting for this new manifestation of destiny. Waiting for Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright. Waiting.
Somehow they were kept waiting all the way until the ninth inning. Then came Yadier Molina. Facing Aaron Heilman, Molina turned on a fastball left over the middle of the plate and connected. If everyone in Shea knew that Rolen’s ball was out of the park, they certainly knew that this fly ball had warning track written all over it. For some reason it just kept carrying. For all Shea knows a jumbo jet took off from nearby La Guardia Airport and gobbled that ball up into its jet stream. Didn’t really matter how it happened, though. It was 3-1 Cardinals heading into the last of the ninth inning.
If baseball fans are connected at the hip in one common way it is in the mutual hope they share; the hope that their marquee bats will find a way to come up in deciding-situations: If we’re gonna lose, least let us lose with [insert star] at the plate…
The Mets got that chance. Against a closer who had earned that designation merely for his work in the last two weeks, New York had to feel good about its chances. Sure, Wainwright had been effective in the series, but saving a playoff game and eliminating a team in its own house are two completely different things. Both Jose Valentin and Endy “Angels in the Outfield” jumped on fastballs for solid singles. First and second. Nobody out. Cliff Floyd, a pinch hitter, stepped to the plate, and got rung up on a breaking ball right over the heart of the plate. True knee-breaker, but also the kind of pitch that relies solely on deception.
Next up was Reyes, who managed to work the count against the visibly-fazed Wainwright. He got into a hitters count and smoked a frozen rope to right center field. Edmonds was in good position and made the play. Two outs. Paul Lo Duca up. Anybody rooting for the Mets knew that if only Lo Duca could find a way to get on base, that would be it. Sure enough, Wainwright, now really feeling the pressure, lost all command of his fastball. Five-pitch walk and Carlos “October” Beltran up.
Wainwright fooled Beltran with a first pitch curve. Then he fooled him again with a last pitch curve. And Game 7 was suddenly over, along with the Mets season. It was a season where the expectations were minted as soon as the Mets forcefully took the NL East away from the Braves. And that basically happened by May 1st. Unfortunately, lots can happen in seven months. And to the Mets, lots did.
However adversity doesn’t change expectations. Not to true competitors at least. Fact is, these Mets may not be champions this year, but no one can deny that they competed until the end. And with the way Game 7 unfolded, maybe merely competing wasn’t enough. Because on one stormy autumn night in Queens, it appears that for the Mets it simply wasn’t meant to be.