By Dana Brand
I went to the ballgame on Sunday. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon! I wanted to see Pedro pitch. I wanted to welcome him back, and so since we still have, for a season and a month, a nice big stadium that welcomes anyone who is interested, even if on the spur of the moment, I went online and bought one ticket for me and one for my daughter Sonia. We drove down and entered the big stadium as soon as they opened it, two and a half hours before game time, on a slow, hot, and lazy Sunday morning.
First, we went down to the Mets dugout to see batting practice, but there was no batting practice because yesterday was a night game. A few people stood around, so close to the sacred earth, even though there were no Mets in sight. We could see Howie up in the WFAN booth, looking over some papers, stats? splits? Or who knows what before the game. Then we saw Ron and Gary and Keith, relaxed and looking out over the blue and orange seats from their perch in the press level. In the meantime, we heard an organ concert, just like Jane Jarvis used to give us back in the days before Diamond Vision. Where else can you spend a Sunday morning listening to an organ playing the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday?" or the Four Seasons' "Oh, What a Night?" followed by "Talking Baseball?" Nowhere else, I think. Nowhere but in this little American space on the edge of the American metropolis, in a big, old, historic stadium near the airports and the marshes.
Finally some Mets started running back and forth out by the bullpen in right field. But they weren't the regulars and they weren't today's pitcher. We were hot so we went and got chocolate ice cream in plastic baseball helmets. Then we went up to where we could look out over the Mets. Then we got our hot dog and knish lunch and just as we finished it and had our picture taken by one of those people who walk around the stadiums taking pictures for you to then buy on the web, Pedro appeared in right field.
There he was, back after a year, drawing everybody's attention from some girls in red banging drums for Taiwan Heritage day. We all looked at the broad, friendly, and familiar outline of number 45, gone for a year. We thought we had lost him forever, but he comes back to us on the wave of win streaks that have followed the humiliation in Philadelphia and that have turned our eyes once again to the postseason. Pedro is back. We are ready to be happy. We are calm and pleased unequivocally with the Mets, for the first time in three and a half months.
As he sort of runs back and forth a little (it's hot, he should conserve his energy) and chats with Rich Peterson, the girls in red dance and wave red scarves as tall, brooding, swaying god and monster puppets look on. Out in right, everyone sees Pedro doing his loosening up under the gaze of the Home Run Apple who, you suddenly notice, has just been given a new coat of paint. The paint is lighter, brighter. I don't like it. Apples aren't that color. When it finally sinks into the hat for the game to start, it looks for all the world like The Home Run Tomato.
We cheer and stand for Pedro when the lineup is announced. We do the same when the Mets take the field. There he is, and we watch as he stymies the Astros hitters with 69 mph curve balls, 81 mph sliders, 78 mph changeups, 80 mph cutters, and wham, 87 mph fastballs. They get some hits. But they don't score runs. And in one almost historic inning in which a passed ball allows a runner to reach first, we almost see Pedro tie the all-time record of four strikeouts in one inning. Lots of pop-ups. Lots of ground-outs. Lots of pitches, but he seems always ahead in the count. Carlos Beltran and Moises Alou give us some runs, nothing gaudy, no more than we need. Pedro is 2 for 2, with a double and an infield single, to the delight of the happy fans. Magical Mets Pedro is back, the Pedro who pitched so miraculously in 2005 and the first half of 2006. Not lightning perfection Red Sox Pedro. Mysterious slow pitch Pedro. They can't hit him any more than they could hit the other one. When his five shutout innings are up, we demand a curtain call and he gives it to us. All is right with the world.
We sit down to watch the relief pitchers, on a short fuse for Guillermo Mota. But Mota doesn't give Pedro's ballgame back to them. Feliciano, Wagner, and Heilman pitch beautifully to close it down. The ending is happy. We are even rewarded with the distraction of Julia Stiles sitting down two rows in front of us, right after Pedro leaves, in a blue Mets hat, with a friend, like a perfectly normal person in a sea of normal people.
Normal Mets fans are very happy now. We should coast to the clinching that will put an exclamation point on our current enthusiasm. We will start to forget the summer doldrums. And we will go into the postseason, this time with a starting pitching staff that is not crumbling and tearing. On this hot and perfect September afternoon, I dream of the bracing cool nights of October.
Dana Brand's book Mets Fan is out and available from Amazon and other booksellers as well. For more information, see metsfanbook.com.