15, 2001: Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets, Shea Stadium
By the standards
of the dyed-in-the-pinstriped-polyester Yankees fan I am a bandwagoneer,
having taken to the team only during the renaissance of the Torre Epoch
(four world championships in five years, remember?). It thus stands to reason
that my resentment of the crosstown Mets would be something less than the
genuine article, a relatively recent grudge for the sake of fashion and
the Subway Series. While it is true that I have been known to sympathize
with the Blue and Orange — especially with
regards to their struggles against a certain Turner Empire — any reports
of my pledging allegiance to the Metropolitan franchise are greatly exaggerated.
I spent two vivid Octobers back in the Eighties rooting for a stake to be driven
in their hearts, and old habits do not die hard. I cringe more than a little
at the thought of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson,
relentlessly fighting off pitch after pitch after pitch until the ball finally
dribbles through Bill Buckner's legs. Only warm thoughts of Orel Hershiser can
ward off the vampires.
So it is with less
than total enthusiasm that I mount an expedition to Shea Stadium, where banners
of some of these pinstriped heroes drape from the rafters of the spartan concourse.
I had been left a pair of tickets in my metaphorical Easter basket, to a Sunday
game in Queens against the Cincinnati Reds. With no plans to hunt for eggs, the
promise of a free game on a sunny day was too much to refuse.
Sitting in the
Mezzanine, section 16, just beyond 3rd base, I had as splendid a view of the parking
lot and the surrounding borough as a denizen of Shea could hope for. The airplane
exhaust provided a touch of spring to the moderate breeze, and with accompanying
sound effects, no less. Okay, okay, it still beats a day in the office, especially
if one focuses on the manicured grass and the 90 feet between bases. But as I've
found time and again, the Mets don't really move me unless the wolf is at their
door. Put them in a must-win situation against the Atlanta Braves and I'll stay
glued for 16 innings of taut playoff suspense, even with the Yankees coasting
on another channel. Put them in a game against the Reds, nemeses of my Dodger-Blue
youth, and I'll root for them even if I don't get to boo an injured Ken Griffey,
Jr. four times a game. But don't expect me to watch their $42 million pitcher
labor through five tedious innings without questioning the ways this franchise
spends its money.
Time was, Kevin
Appier was one of the best pitchers in the game, when he toiled for Kansas City.
Or so I'm told. But a shoulder injury cost him a year and a few feet off his fastball.
Despite something of a resurrection (sorry) last year in Oakland, where he won
15 games, there is no getting around the fact that Appier has become rather ordinary.
Watching him slog through games, one might never guess, if not for the occasional
patented Gritty Veteran herbs and spices, that he was much different from fifty
other middle-of-the-rotation starters around the league.
through five innings, allowing nine hits to the almost Griffey-less Reds (Junior,
still suffering from a torn hamstring, was limited to pinch-hitting, grounded
out weakly in his cameo). "Ape," as the scoreboard unflatteringly referred to
him before the game, also walked three, and departed trailing 3-1 (yes, I have
no banana joke to insert here). That was it for the scoring, though it took seven
relievers (yawn) to close out the game. Reds starter Jim Brower, making his National
League debut, pitched 5 2/3 effective innings, chalked up the win and got his
first major league hit as well, on a bunt single. The win meant a sweep of the
three game series for the Reds, while the meager Mets dropped to 4-8.
The Mets' best
chance to tie the game came in the 7th, when their Japanese import Tsuyoshi Shinjo
led off with a double down the leftfield line and went to third on a fly ball
to right. But the best the heart of the order could manage was a base on balls
before Mark Wohlers quashed the "rally".
The most noteworthy
aspect of the game for me was that it was my first trip to the ballpark with my
girlfriend. She had recently returned from Milwaukee, where she visited Brewers'
state-of-the-art Miller Park. In that context, Shea must have felt even more like
a parking lot to her than it did to me. How interesting is a big apple in a top
hat when you've got a retractable roof to admire? She has her share of anecdotes
from growing up in a baseball-infused family (ask her about the Jack Morris autograph
story some time), and she still has me beaten as far as major league ballparks
visited. She's also no small part of this site's inspiration. My kind of gal.
Reds 3, Mets 1. Zero beers, one lukewarm hot dog, zero Easter Eggs.