Chez Mets – A Farwell to SHEA STADIUM
I’m supposed to hate the New York Mets and cringe at the very mention of Shea Stadium. You see, for Baltimore Orioles fans over a certain age, that team & that setting represent the most awful, fluky turn of events ever inflicted upon Earl Weaver’s juggernaut. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It all went down the year before I was born, so I have a built-in excuse, but I always kind of liked the Metropolitans and their much maligned ballpark where the Orioles proper respect went Flushing away.
In all honesty, I rooted for Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals against the Mets througout the 1980’s, and wished Oil Can Boyd and the Red Sox would prevail in 1986; but something about watching them 100+ times annually on WOR cable and the ex-Orioles conection of GM Frank Cashen and skipper Davey Johnson made me kind of dig the Mets all along.
The fact that I’m a sworn Yankees hater that moved to NYC later in life made it somewhat natural, I suppose, that I’d end up following the local NL squad. As a Dominican baseball afficianado, having Omar Minaya pulling the strings and the pitching perfection of Pedro Martinez under his employ sealed the deal.
And, oh yeah, I always had a blast at Shea. I’m going to miss it. No doubt. Here’s a look back at the ten times I was able to get there (Notice that the Mets went 8-2):
9/30/2000 – Mets 4, Expos 2 – What I’ll really always remember is seeing southpaw Smokin’ Joe Frazier bobbing and weaving his way out to the mound to throw out the first pitch. It was awesome! Once the game started, Montreal’s Jose Vidro took Mets lefty Glendon Rusch deep to help Les Expos build a 2-0 by the halfway point. Right-hander Javier Vazquez made it hold up until the bottom of the 8th when –after an intentional walk to Todd Pratt loaded the bases– ex-Cuban national teamer Jorge Toca lined a three-run double to left-center to put the Mets on top. Ex-Oriole Armando Benitez finished it up with a perfect 9th, striking out Vladimir Guerrero (1-4) along the way.
7/4/2001 – Mets 2, Cubs 1 – Glendon Rusch on the mound again. This time he went seven innings of five-hit ball and bunted in what proved to be the game-winning run off Chicago starter Kevin Tapani way back in the 2nd inning. Sammy Sosa, who I zeroed in on all day, walked once and struck out three times. Benitez got him in another three up, three down 9th to notch another save.
6/26/2003 – Marlins 6, Mets 1– Hyped as a showdown between rookie starters Dontrelle Willis (7-1 entering the game) and Aaron Heilman (making his major league debut), this one wasn’t much of a contest thanks to four Mets errors that cost their freshman four unearned runs. On the hottest night (91 degrees) in front of the smallest crowd (30,378) I was ever a part of at Shea, the D-Train lowered his ERA to 2.26 and even singled to drive in a run. I had no idea at the time, but Florida left-fielder Miguel Cabrera (playing his sixth big league game) flashed some of his flowering greatness with a bases-loaded double to open the scoring.
10/3/2004 – Mets 8, Expos 1 – Lots of memories. My wife’s first baseball game…Tom Glavine’s 262nd win…Jose Reyes stole three bases…rookie David Wright went deep…so did Todd Zeile in his last game. The main reason I went that Sunday afternoon though was to see the final major league game played by the Montreal Expos. Bartolome Fortunato got Endy Chavez to ground out to second base to end 36 years with Youppi and the crew.
6/7/2005 – Mets 3, Astros 1 – My most vivid Shea memory of all. Pedro Martinez had a no-hitter for 6 1/3 until Chris Burke took him deep, and outdueled Houston’s Roy Oswalt in a classic that was played in just 2:15. Pedro went the distance on a two-hitter, and made it 12 strikeouts on an 87-degree night with a trio of backwards K’s in the ninth. I also enjoyed watching Cliff Floyd nearly go to the mound to get Oswalt after a hit-by-pitch.
8/31/2005 – Phillies 8, Mets 2– New York built an early 2-0 lead versus Brett Myers, but the Phillies evened things up when Pedro Martinez got taken deep by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Then, in the 7th inning, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when Mike Lieberthal and Utley (again!) made it four longballs off the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen. Things got out of hand with a three-spot off reliever Heath Bell in the top of the 9th, then Billy Wagner came on with his 100 mph on the radar gun to finish things off.
8/23/2006 – Mets 10, Cardinals 8 – The longest game I ever attended at Shea (3:21) was marked by a few things in particular. With the “Jose-Jose-Jose” chant echoing throughout the ballpark, Senor Reyes (3 hits including a 3-run homer + 2 stolen bases) jumpstarted an offense that KO’d Mark Mulder and gave Steve Trachsel a 10-2 lead after four. Trachsel, irritated by a Beatles tribute band that played too long between innings, served up three dingers in a span of five hitters and got booed despite picking up the win. Billy Wagner –now pitching for the home team– wrapped up the save. Albert Pujols had a pair of hits and a couple RBI.
5/31/2007 – Mets 4, Giants 2– I went to this one because I realized that it was shaping up as the last appearance of Barry Bonds in New York, but what I’ll never forget is being awestruck by the speed, arm and athleticism of Carlos Gomez during batting practice. He signed as autograph for me, as did Pedro Feliciano and Giants lefty Barry Zito. Bonds put on a show…during BP…but during the game the star was Mets right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. After the first two San Francisco batters hit safely, El Duque held them hitless for the rest of his seven innings, and the Mets eeked out a 4-2 win over Matt Cain. Wagner again slammed the door, with Bonds (0-3) waiting in the on deck circle, as the Giants only got 30 men to the plate all game.
4/16/2008 – Mets 5, Nationals 2– Ashamed to admit I got there in the fourth inning, but this was a last minute invite from the family of my wife’s employer. Shortly after I sat down, Washington’s Austin Kearns took John Maine deep to make it 2-1 Nats, but Jose Reyes tied it with a leadoff blast off Matt Chico in the 5th, and Carlos Beltran ripped a three-run shot three batters later to finish the scoring. Another Wagner save, and boos so loud I can still hear them for ex-Met Lastings Milledge.
9/25/2008 – Mets 7, Cubs 6– In many ways saving the best for last. Got an impulsive urge to go when I realized it may be the end of the line for Pedro Martinez, and got to take it in with an old friend who knows baseball. After the Cubs struck for two runs in the top of the first, Martinez held them to a single tally over the next five-plus innings before leaving a 3-3 tie to a standing ovation after nine strikeouts to tie Bob Gibson (another #45) on the all-time list. Unfortunately, Pedro left a couple of runners aboard, and it took reliever Ricardo Rincon all of one pitch to serve up a three-run blast to someone named Micah Hoffpauir, who somehow managed to go 5-5 with 2 homers and 5 RBI. The Mets fought back though, evening things up on a how-the-hell-did-he-do-that slide by Ryan Church in the bottom of the 8th, and winning when Carlos Beltran singled home Jose Reyes (3 SB) with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. Hearing (and feeling) 51,174 chant “Let’s Go Mets” as they exited the ballpark is something I’ll always remember.
Citi Field looks great. Don’t get me wrong. But I’ll miss Shea, and in my mind it’ll always be a place I recall fondly…despite what unfolded there in October 1969.