The Mets lost last night because of a top of the ninth that featured a single that beat the shift, a blooper that dropped in front of an outfielder who was hugging the fence, a passed ball, a run scoring grounder, an RBI single, and an absurd catch in the bottom of the ninth that robbed them of a game tying and potentially game winning hit. I was there, and the ending was brutal.
July 22, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets right fielder Marlon Byrd (6) runs to third base with the triple in the 4th inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t a “LOLMets” moment, it was a set of unfortunate circumstances that unfolded on an otherwise great night at the ballpark. Instead of focusing on how the Mets lost, and hysterically blaming Bobby Parnell (who was the victim of horrendous luck), I’ll choose to examine my main takeaway from last night: the vibe at Citi Field is changing.
The Mets are 43-52, certainly nothing for fans or the club to puff their chests over. Still, the team has played some of the best baseball in the majors since mid-June, and has been energized by contributions from Eric Young, Jr., Juan Lagares, Marlon Byrd, and others. Most importantly, the fanbase is starting to see “the plan” come together. As Matt Harvey has set the baseball World on fire and Zack Wheeler has shown flashes of brilliance over his first six big league starts, the atmosphere at the ballpark has started to tilt in a more exuberant, celebratory direction.
2009 was an injury riddled disaster, but in 2010, 2011, and 2012, the Mets had strong starts that should’ve given the fans hope. Still, it was as if the diehards knew that they were dealing with fool’s gold. Despite the Mets playing solid ball into July during those three seasons, there was never a buzz in the crowd. Fans were more intent on exploring the ballpark and/or losing themselves in their phones.
If the Mets scored, a smattering of people would stand and cheer. If you clapped when there were two strikes on an opposing batter, you were likely to receive a glare from someone in front of you whose eardrums you were apparently violating. Simply put, a trip to the ballpark wasn’t what it was supposed to be.
This season, and more specifically over the last month or so, Citi Field has started to feel like Shea used to. Yes, the team’s record is less than mediocre, but I get the impression that the fans feel that the franchise has finally turned the corner. Instead of awaiting the shedding of contracts and watching players who are about to be ushered out of town, Mets fans are getting a glimpse of what is hopefully a bright future.
I was there for Matt Harvey’s start on Sunday, and there was a palpable electricity at Citi Field. The fans were engaged, the volume was raised, and clapping and/or standing in anticipation of another Harvey strikeout was the norm. Instead of fans turning around with quizzical looks on their faces as people roared, fans were standing up and waving their arms for others to do the same. It was Shea-like. And it was great to see.
Through the raindrops last night, Dillon Gee had a no-hitter going as the game entered the seventh inning with the Mets up 1-0. To that point, there was a nervous energy in the ballpark. After Gee loaded the bases with just one out, the crowd took over. Gee got Chris Johnson to ground to third, and David Wright forced the runner at home to keep the game tied. It was then, that the energy of Sunday began to be replicated.
With pinch hitter Joey Terdoslavich up with two outs, two strikes, and the bases still loaded, the crowd stood as one in anticipation of an inning ending strikeout. When Gee got Terdoslavich swinging, the place went nuts. The same thing happened in the top of the eighth, when LaTroy Hawkins struck out Freddie Freeman to end that frame and Atlanta’s threat.
We all know what happened in the ninth. However, that doesn’t erase the brand of ball the Mets have been playing for the better part of a month. And it doesn’t mean that the recent energy at Citi Field has been for naught. Matt Harvey has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Zack Wheeler is attempting to do the same, and Noah Syndergaard is next in line.
The fans have noticed this thing starting to turn around, and their response at the ballpark (both in terms of their investment in each game and the atmosphere they’ve been producing) has been great to see. The Mets are 43-52, and are 9 losses back in both the Wild Card and Division races. Stranger things have happened, but the team winding up in the Postseason is clearly a long shot. However, it’s appearing more and more as if this season will be a bridge to bigger and better things. You can feel it in the crowd, and see it on the faces of those who are thirsting for the team’s return to prominence.