Back before NFL Sunday Ticket and MLB Extra Innings and NHL Center Ice, etc, etc, etc, watching a championship series or an All-Star game held a special allure because you got to see players you’d only read about in box scores or maybe your local paper’s Sunday edition where a columnist would get a good amount of papyrus to do (what felt like) a complete league round-up.
Being a fan of a team that only rarely makes the postseason, I was able to appreciate those players and those moments without rooting interest and just register how awesome these feats and these games were. We probably overuse the term (as with everything else nowadays), but you always wanted to be in front of the TV and see a “classic”.
For me, my classic was the 1991 World Series between the Braves and Twins. I had just turned 10 and, admittedly, I was a baseball fanatic. I read any book I could get my hand on if it had to do with the game. Memorized the backs of baseball cards. Played Baseball Stars on NES (the absolute greatest baseball game of the generation) where I had a notebook and pencil nearby so I could score the game and collate stats so as to be able to put together my own “league leaders” scoreboard like I’d see in the Sunday Daily News.
I was not a normal kid.
What all of that did was make me able to appreciate and understand what I was watching when Kirby Puckett hit a walk-off home run in game six and when Jack Morris threw a 10 inning shutout in game seven to lock up the Twins second ever World Series title.
To an extent.
Sure, the games were exciting. The players rose to occasion and gave the ghosts of legends past some company in hand-me-down stories to be told when the 10 year olds of 1991 became the fathers who passed on a memory of Danny Gladden crossing home plate. But when you’re not an invested fan of either team, one thing you’re not able to appreciate the joy or despair of winning or losing.
And last night, I got absolutely schooled in Classics 101.
After looking rusty after a long layoff, the Mets did just enough to take a one-run lead into the 9th inning and hand the ball to all-world closer, Jeurys Familia. Game over, right? We can all get to bed at a decent hour with visions of being up 2-0 in the Series in our head since deGrom is pitching tomorrow. Perfect. I even blasted “Danza Kuduro” way too loud which caused my neighbor to knock on the wall. Whoops.
But one flat fastball to Alex Gordon later, Familia had effectively blown game one and replaced my old vision with a recurring nightmare of Jose Vizcaino taking Armando Benitez down the LF line in the first game of the 2000 Series. That did not end well for the Mets. This one wouldn’t either.
This game featured a little of everything. Baseball oddities (first pitch inside the park homer that really was an error), stalwart players coming up small at big times (David Wright and Eric Hosmer errors), unlikely heroes (Jonathon Niese, Chris Young) and, finally, redemption (Hosmer, again).
After the Gordon bomb, you start going through all the familiar Mets-fan feelings. The disappointment, the despair, the “same old Mets”. But once you get through that, you begin telling yourself that that’s the old Mets. This team is new. They’re going to get this done.
But it was not to be. Not this night anyway. After outlasting the vaunted Royals bullpen, the Mets caught a huge break when Ned Yost turned to probably game four starter, Chris Young to try to give him some innings. What, on paper, looked like a mismatch in the Mets favor went total 180 and Young held the Mets down for three innings with little resistance.
After a few innings, some hours and a horrible David Wright error, the Mets were heading into the clubhouse down 1-0 in their first World Series appearance in fifteen years.
It was a kick in the balls.
It was Scrooge McDuck getting the Hidden Lamp pulled from his grasp by Flinthart Glomgold.
It was, in a word, classic. And I’ve never felt worse when turning off a baseball game in my life.