9:31 am Sep. 28, 2012
In what has been a difficult season for the New York Mets, the two constants have been R.A. Dickey and David Wright.
And yet, with both players entering the final year of their current contracts (assuming that the Mets will pick up both of their options for 2013), the two players entered Thursday's home finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates with real questions about whether they'll play for the home fans again.
Accordingly, the number of people in the stands actually resembled the official announced attendance (the number of tickets sold) of 31,506, while the atmosphere resembled a pre-Madoff one for the Mets and their fans.
Those fans were treated to the very best the 2012 Mets offered; R.A. Dickey won his 20th game of the season, and the Mets beat the Pirates, 6-5. In return, Dickey and Wright received at least a plausible counter to how Citi Field felt for most of the summer to take with them as they weigh their futures this winter.
That's not to say the win came easily for anyone. Dickey struggled to locate his knuckleball early; a Rod Barajas home run put the Pirates ahead, 3-1 in the fourth. Still, the crowd didn't, as it so often has, grow restless and start lustily booing outs, or as has been the case more frequently, fail to betray any emotion whatsoever.
Instead, as Dickey came off the mound to end the fourth inning, there was polite applause, as a man in the next section to mine shouted, "Go get him some runs!"
The Mets did. A rally in the fourth brought them to within 3-2. And the groundout by Josh Thole to strand a pair of runners and end the innings was treated not as the team's last, best chance, but as merely a pause in the comeback.
It is hard to overstate this change in attitude from the denizens of Citi Field. Really, since the collapse of 2007 was in full stride, there's been an expectation of the worst that has permeated the mood of those attending Mets games for years. Deficits are treated as insurmountable; relievers are sometimes booed for going to a two-ball count. If Mets fans had been similarly negative throughout the team's history, they'd have offed themselves long ago.
This throwback crowd was rewarded in the fifth inning. The Mets tied the game, put two runners on, and up came Wright, the adored star who paired with Dickey for most of the best 2012 Mets moments this year. Wright has struggled for much of the second half, but his first half was so dominant that he's been one of the most valuable players in the National League, anyway. And he's managed to return to his first half ways late in the season, collecting eleven hits and three home runs over his past five games.
That home run, which put the Mets ahead, 6-3, was greeted as more than just a home run. Mets fans rose to their feet, and didn't stop cheering. The home run drove Pirates' starter Kevin Correia from the game. Nobody sat down or stopped applauding. A new pitcher warmed up, the scoreboard delivered another message. Nobody sat down.
Wright, finally knowing he had no choice, came out for a curtain call, the individual acknowledgement he tends to avoid at all costs, and one popularized by the Mets themselves back in the 1980s.
It was as if the whole stadium was determined not to let Wright leave without a final goodbye, unlike Jose Reyes, whose final game ended abruptly, unexpectedly, with a pinch-runner after his first at-bat on the final day of the 2011 season. If this was goodbye, the fans intended to make the most of it.
Dickey, with twenty wins now in sight, wasn't going to let it slip away. A scoreless sixth and seventh kept the Mets ahead. And Dickey came back out for the eighth, even though he'd already thrown well over 100 pitches, and struck out the first two hitters of the eighth inning, the crowd's excitement rising with each out.
But when Dickey walked Travis Snider with two outs in the eighth, on his 128th pitch, out he came. And like Wright, Dickey bathed in a standing ovation from the crowd. If ownership had walked around the stadium taking collections for Dickey's contract extension right then, the numbers might have added up.
The day was not without some final drama, however. Reliever Jon Rauch, on his 34th birthday, escaped the eighth, but walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth before giving up a long home run to outfielder Alex Presley to reduce the Mets' lead to 6-5. A crowd used to disappointment seemed to revolt at the thought that this one day, at least, would be taken away from them. This wasn't dispirited booing; this was rage.
No one really cared if the Mets won the game; if the Pirates simply tied the score in the ninth, but the Mets won in the bottom of the inning, the Mets would bag a meaningless victory, but Dickey wouldn't have been the pitcher of record. So as Rauch gave way to Bobby Parnell, Rauch was treated like he was Aaron Heilman or Scott Schoeneweis; a Mets reliever giving up runs in a situation that mattered, rather than the relievers of the last four seasons, simply aiding and abetting an already hopeless cause.
But Bobby Parnell, whose outstanding season in 2012 hasn't garnered much attention, recorded the final two outs. R.A. Dickey was interviewed by S.N.Y.'s Kevin Burkhardt, the interaction played on the scoreboard.
In a season when few came to Citi Field--the lowest attendance for the Mets since 2003--and fewer cared, almost no one left, even though the game was over. They know the drill by now; they were cheering their remaining heroes as much as they could in case they, too, disappeared.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
A 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays left the Yankees just a game up on the idle Orioles.
Mark Teixeira played in a simulated game.
Antrel Rolle, who has a broken hand, didn't practice Thursday, and may not play against the Eagles Sunday night.