• HaroldHecuba: Mike Mussina is EASTERN EUROPEAN, not Italian....

Yesterday, I wrote about what I had seen and felt at Shea last Thursday when the Mets came from behind against the Cubs and won it in the bottom of the ninth. This post is going to cover my second-to-last time at Shea, which also was the second-to-last game ever at the Stadium. September 27th against the Marlins. The Johan Santana game.

I was in my usual seat – Mezzanine level, Section 19, Row L, Seat 2. Thanks to my brother, I’ve had this seat every Saturday home game for the past two seasons, and he usually occupied Seat 1 right beside me. But like I mentioned in my previous post, he was unfortunately unable to come so I brought a friend to join me. I really enjoyed sitting there, as I was surrounded by the same faces week-in week-out. There was the father-son duo just a few seats down. The three seats to my right were always occupied by guys who appeared to have grown up together, and their snide comments always made the game that much more fun. Right in front was a young dad who had just had his first child prior to last season, so over these two years, I’ve seen the kid get bigger and bigger. And there are others who I used to see on Saturdays but with whom I never interacted. Yet, I think I’m going to miss them too just because I knew that they loved this team just as much as, if not more than, I did. And baseball is just better when you feel you’re part of a group.

The night before, the Mets had put themselves down one game in the Wild Card standings. Having lost 6-1 to the Marlins, the Brewers were now ahead. However, the crowd was surprisingly upbeat. Perhaps it was because we all knew that playing the blame game at this stage was a useless exercise. Maybe Mets fans actually enjoy being underdogs. Or it could have just been because we knew that Johan Santana was taking the mound.

It wasn’t his turn in the rotation as he was scheduled to pitch in the final game. But according to manager Jerry Manuel, Santana asked for the ball one day early since tomorrow may not even matter. I hadn’t realized how rare this was for Johan. This would only be the second time in his career that he’s starting on three days’ rest (the first was back in 2004). However, he was Johan Santana, the best bet to guarantee that the Mets would be alive for at least one more day.

While I don’t think that he’s the most deserving candidate for Cy Young this year, I still wholeheartedly believe that the Mets have the #1 pitcher in all of baseball. And best of all, he pitched like one.

Lefty, righty, patient, hack, power, scrap, lowball, fastball. It didn’t matter what type of hitter you were on September 27th, 2008. Johan was going to beat you, and that’s exactly what he did. 117 pitches. Nine innings pitched. Zero runs. Six base runners. Nine strikeouts. And all of us there were loving every second of it. Was it the most dominant pitching performance in Mets history? Not remotely. That probably belongs to David Cone for his outing against the Phillies on October 6, 1991. But it felt like we were witnessing something special.

To his credit, Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco was nearly as good, racking up 10Ks over seven. But the Mets were able to score two runs – in the first via sac fly from Delgado and in the fourth off a Ramon Martinez double – which was one more than we needed.

And as the game progressed, we all took glances at the scoreboard in right field to check on the score of the Brewers-Cubs game. And every time those numbers changed, a loud roar would arise from the crowd. 2-0 Cubs. Then 4-0. It was going to happen. The Mets would get one more chance tomorrow to at least force a tie in the Wild Card standings for that one game playoff at Shea. And although we knew that Santana would be unavailable after this gem, our confidence was riding high.

The Mets had won 2-0, and as I gathered my belongings to leave, I said goodbye to those with whom I sat in the same section the last two years. One of the three guys to my right handed me his business card asking me to contact him when I’m buying Citi Field tickets next year. I think I’m going to take him up on it and hope he did the same for others too.

Walking down the ramp towards the subway after the game, I got a phone call from my brother who asked the simple question: “Could we have asked for any more out of Johan today?” Well no, we couldn’t.

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