Time for My Annual Baseball Post: Johan Santana’s No-Hitter Is First in Mets’ 51-Year History

I missed the game, darn it, but this compilation of all 27 of Johan Santana’s outs has given me a taste of the first Mets no-hitter.

If you care about the Mets, it’s well worth the 4-plus minutes it takes to watch.  Heck, if you care about baseball at all, it’s worth it.  I love how it starts out as a routine game and builds up into something where the announcers are first keeping quiet about the fact that Johan had not given up a hit… then the growing excitement, then the spectacular defensive plays to keep it going.  Then the celebration at the end.  Congrats, Johan… congrats, Mets fans everywhere

First Memories of Citi Field

Kirk at CitiWhat a perfect way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon — sitting in the shade at Citi Field, a beautiful blonde by my side, watching my Mets shut out the Atlanta Braves.  Seven scoreless innings by Johan Santana, a rare 1-2-3 ninth from K-Rod, a thundering home run to straightaway center by Ike Davis, a gutsy two-out, pinch-hit single by catcher-of-the-future Josh Thole.

It was my first trip to Citi Field — money was a little tight last year, when the Mets first moved in.  It’s a beautiful ballpark, and despite my tendency toward nostalgia, I’m not going to miss Shea at all.

The promotional giveaway was Jason Bay bobble-head dolls — and the slumping Bay sat the game out.  On the way out of the stadium I heard someone say “Jason Bay bobble-heads, ten dollars.”  I thought he was selling as a joke, turns out he was buying for real.  The Web Goddess and I handed over our unopened boxes and collected a twenty-dollar bill.  I’m baffled by the transaction, but it covered our parking.  Barely.

Oil spill, Afghanistan, recession, whatever.  Those things will matter tomorrow.  For today, I’ve been to a ball game, my team won, and now I’m safe at home.

An Off-Season of Renewal and Hope

My friend Dennis was wandering with his camera one day in late December and snapped this photo of Shea Stadium, in the process of being disassembled.

Gone already is the outfield fence, over which Kevin McReynolds hit a homer in the 14th inning to beat the Expos in August 1989. It was by far the most exciting game I’ve ever attended. Fabulous defensive play ended several scoring opportunities in extra innings, and a newspaper account the next day said that if it had been played in post-season, it might be considered one of the greatest games in baseball history. It was perfect baseball weather, and a friend and I had paid a scalper a surprisingly modest sum for field-level corporate seats, which ended up being in the second row along the left field line.

Construction of Citi Field continues next door. By all accounts the new stadium will be a huge upgrade, even if it is named after a struggling banking behemoth. But Kevin McReynolds will hit no homers there.

The Mets already have reconstructed their bullpen, and hope to put the finishing touches on their starting rotation soon. It’s only 39 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and the Mets will begin the season tied for first place, playing on a green field under the open sky.

McCain Swings for the Fences with October Surprise

The five-run homer gambit (the Palin selection) didn’t work. But now McCain may have hit on a winning strategy: exposing how Barack “Lefty” Obama’s rank hypocrisy may endanger the integrity of our National Pastime:

Standing just miles north of Philadelphia, whose Phillies will represent the National League starting Wednesday against the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, McCain noted Obama has identified himself with both teams while campaigning in their two politically important home states.

Obama said over the weekend in Philadelphia that while he was a Chicago fan, “Since the White Sox are out of it, I’ll root for the Phillies now.” On Monday in Tampa, Obama was introduced by a Rays pitcher and said, “I’ve said from the beginning that I am a unity candidate, bringing people together. So when you see a White Sox Fan showing love to the Rays — and the Rays showing some love back — you know we are on to something right here.”

McCain told employees at TCI Millwork Inc. in Bensalem: “Now, I’m not dumb enough to get mixed up in a World Series between swing states. But I think I may have detected a little pattern with Sen. Obama. It’s pretty simple really. When he’s campaigning in Philadelphia, he roots for the Phillies, and when he’s campaigning in Tampa Bay, he `shows love’ to the Rays.”

That’ll work. I’m still planning to vote for McCain, but man, I’m getting tired of him. And now it turns out that the RNC has spent $150,000 on clothing and accessories (presumably including lipstick) for his running mate.

Can we please just have the election already, so Mr. Obama can start planning his transition?

The Allure of Going Nuclear in the Late Innings

Losing the Presidential race has to be even worse than losing the World Series.

If you lose the World Series, you at least get to put up a banner proclaiming that you were the League Champion for the year. Your hometown throws you a consolation rally, and you start talking about the future (“hey, we’re tied for 1st place” in the coming season). There may be regrets about missed opportunities that could have produced World Series rings, but your own fans probably will not vilify you.

McCain, however, can already hear the long knives being sharpened on his own side of the aisle. (Oops, wrong metaphor.) McCain knows the throw is going to beat him to the bag, but he has to be seen running it out just as hard as he can. This is the big leagues.

Set aside ideology and partisanship for a moment and reflect on the momentous achievements of these two men, McCain and Obama. Think about how much they had to go through to get to where they are today. Neither one was given much of a chance coming out of Spring Training. From the Nov. 7, 2007 WSJ:

Democrats enter the 2008 presidential race with powerful political advantages, but face a tough and unpredictable battle because of the vulnerabilities of front-runner Hillary Clinton. … She’s locked in a dead heat against leading Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

(Wow… remember Rudy Giuliani? But I digress.)

Flash-forward to October 2008. Now it’s getting late in the World Series, and McCain is badly behind. Real Clear Politics shows eight states as tossups (CO, FL, IN, MO, NC, NV, OH, WV). Even if McCain wins every single one of them, he comes up short of the 270 electoral votes he needs, unless he also can turn a blue state red. In baseball terms, McCain has made it to Game Seven of the World Series, but he’s down by five runs and he’s got nobody on base. It’s not the 9th inning yet, but it’s getting late in the game.

So he tries to hit a five-run homer. “Hey, let’s pick that hot Alaska governess for VP.” (Note to the beautiful blonde I’m proud to call my wife: This isn’t me talking, Sweetie — I’m channeling McCain.) “That’ll shake things up and energize the base.” He knew Palin’s national credentials were thin (to put it charitably), but there was no way to predict she would become such a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

That move didn’t work out, and now it really is late in the game. He’s got his ace starter warming up in the bullpen on two days rest. He tries to bunt for a base hit with two outs, desperate to do something to get a base runner. Et cetera, et cetera — I don’t want to get overly tedious about matching baseball moves with specific McCain tactics, but I’m talking here about things like “suspending” the campaign, and announcing a half-baked, buy-individual-mortgages proposal in the second debate.

What do you do now, Mr. World Class Athlete who has come so far? This ain’t no basketball game, where the last few minutes turn into garbage time when the game is out of reach. It’s still theoretically possible to win until the final out.

“I know! Let’s go nuclear with Ayers, Rezko and Wright! Maybe that will take voters’ minds off of their 201Ks. It’s a long shot, but it’s all we’ve got.”

Now, let me be clear. I think Obama has made some appalling choices in associates over the years, and calling attention to those choices is a very legitimate campaign issue. As the indispensable Charles Krauthammer puts it, the most disturbing thing…

… is the window these associations give on Obama’s core beliefs. He doesn’t share Rev. Wright’s poisonous views of race nor Ayers’ views, past and present, about the evil that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale. For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond.

“Fetid pond” is a nice touch. But while this is a legitimate issue, it’s not a five-run homer — and meanwhile, McCain has his Keating Five baggage.

I fear that McCain and the Republicans, in their understandable desperation, are going to ratchet up the negativity at the very time that people like me, who favor McCain despite his flaws, are trying to reconcile ourselves to Obama, despite his flaws.

I’m trying to reconcile myself because it’s clear to me that McCain is toast. Yes, it’s theoretically possible to come back when you’re down by five runs with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. (Crude perhaps, but I gotta come up with something to compete with “fetid pond”.)

The economic crisis is driving votes to the Democrats. That may not be fair or logical, but it’s a fact. And the only thing that could possibly knock the financial crisis off the front page between now and Election Day would be an Unspeakable Event that I most fervently do not want, and that no loyal American wants. If such an event were to occur, it is not clear to me which way the votes would shift.

Going negative can be effective at the margins, but it will backfire if the Republicans take it too far. Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist, but Obama is not. Rezko is a criminal, but Obama is not. Wright is an anti-American racist, but Obama is not. Obama also is not a Muslim or a Marxist or a Manchurian Candidate, and however fervently some people may believe those things about him, the umpires are not going to be convinced.

Out of all the people who have any conceivable chance of winning the election next month, Obama to my mind is the second-best choice. I have serious qualms about him, but there is an upside as well, and I have no doubt the Republic will survive an Obama Presidency.

To paraphrase the best thing Al Gore ever said, during extra innings in December 2000, “if at the end of the day, [Obama] is sworn in as President, then he’ll be my President. He’ll be America’s President.” To which I would add, let’s treat the man with the respect the office deserves.

Ya Gotta Bereave

For the second straight year the Mets are eliminated by the Marlins on the final day of the season, after leading the division late in September. I was hoping they would make the playoffs, but I didn’t have high hopes for them IN the playoffs, where pitching is even more important than in the regular season. There’s some solace in the fact that it was the Mets’ bullpen woes and seasonful of injuries that did them in this year — it doesn’t have anything like the feel of the epic choke of 2007.

Today’s loss put a damper on the ceremonies marking the last game at Shea Stadium, but I watched anyway to see the old-timers come back. I was wondering how they were going to handle the absence of Doc Gooden, because the last I knew, he was in prison. But I had old information — he apparently only served a few months in 2006, and he was introduced today to respectful applause.

Doc and Darryl Strawberry (who was also back today) were supposed to anchor the team for a decade or two and then go into the Hall of Fame together, but their cocaine habits got in the way. I don’t typically remember a lot about athletes years later, but I can still see Gooden’s nasty curveball dropping from 12 to 6 as it crosses the plate. And Strawberry had the most beautiful, fluid swing I’ve ever seen. (Trivia note: Strawberry hit over 300 homers despite his drug-shortened career, and actually got a handful of votes in Hall of Fame ballotting in 2005.)

One quirky memory from today’s game: Announcer Howie Rose said that the first four players in today’s lineup — Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado — had all played in at least 159 of the 162 games this season. And this is one of the reasons I love baseball — somebody cranked up the massive databases that chronicle every pitch and out, and determined it had been 40 years since another team had four players who all played at least 159 games in the regular season.

So now the 2008 Mets have taken over from the 1968 Cubs as the reigning champions of having-four-guys-play-159-games. If only they could have gotten Billy Wagner to play in a few more games …

Let’s Go Mets

The whole post-every-day thing is already running out of steam. So far the blog seems to be mostly about Obama.

Today it’s about the Mets — game starts at 1:10, I need to head for the train in less than an hour, I’m meeting my son Harry at the ballpark. Johan Santana (8-7) vs. Kyle Lohse, who is, um… 12-2. Rubber game of the series against the Cardinals, who won in 14 last night after the Mets came from behind in the 9th to force extra innings. Mets still in first place by one game.