Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sometimes the Mets can be pretty damn uplifting

I know, I'm as shocked to see those words in that particular order as you are, but sometimes it's nonetheless true. This is what I found around 10:07 p.m. tonight as I sat in my office watching the waning moments of the ninth inning after what had been a dour 36 hours. See I know I haven't written here in a while -- I had a visitor, sue me -- but much of my life since July 1st has involved the inherent anxiety that was Parise Watch 2012. For those of you not quite in the know, Zach Parise, light of the New Jersey Devils fan's life, was an unrestricted free agent and despite being sought after by well more than half of the League, it seemed that he was completely and totally serious when he had said that he was intending on re-signing with New Jersey, which is not exactly a major player on the NHL's free agent market.

Well, after four days of anxious waiting, he didn't sign. Instead Parise will spend the next 13 years playing for his hometown Minnesota Wild while the Devils attempt to pick up the pieces and scrape together another contender after what had been a miracle season. I won't go into all the salient details about my emotions here -- it would be too depressing and this seems to encapsulate most of what I've been feeling -- but the short of it is, I am extremely depressed and in many ways feel as if my team just lost the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three weeks -- only this time the pain will linger.

It's not a pretty sight.

For the uninitiated in the hockey world, I equated the loss of Parise, a singular two-way player with maturity, leadership skills, production and enthusiasm out the wazoo with the hypothetical loss of David Wright from the Mets. They are similarly mature and talented players with similar injury histories, similar production and a similarly received amount of adulation from the fan bases they play for. They are surprisingly strong parallels and so it might seem poetic that as I sat in the office mopey for most of the day, it would be Wright who played a significant role in making me remember why I love sports in the first place.

We watch sports to be happy. We watch sports for the exhilaration. And we watch them to be lifted when we need it. That those lifts happen so rarely is a part of the joy, and that those depressing moments whether they be losses of games or losses of players to closely identified with occur is not to make us feel drab but to make the great moments so much better by comparison. It is an effectively necessary yin to the desired yang that comes from sports, and tonight, a team perhaps more than any other that has given me so many moments of the yin delivered the yang in spades.

It's not news at this point that the Mets are in the middle of a surprisingly good season. Anyone who pays any attention to baseball is well-versed in the fact that the Amazins are somehow in the hunt for first place or a wild card berth while the long-antagonistic Phillies, source of so much pain for Mets fans everywhere, are suffering a surprisingly mediocre -- nay, awful -- campaign. Ok, this wasn't a surprise to everyone, but the lengths to which both of these things happened is somewhat of a shock.

That brings us to tonight, when the Mets and Phillies were concluding a three-game set at the outset of which we knew the Mets could either deal the final blow and lower the sword of Damocles on Philadelphia, or the Phils could find a bit of reassurance that breathed life into them just before the All-Star Break. After splitting the first two games of the series, tonight still left either of those possibilities in doubt, and in a game that felt almost as if there was a tinge of October in the atmosphere, each team played like it.

With two All-Stars facing off on the mound in R.A. Dickey and Cole Hamels, the Mets rallied from three separate deficits and the two teams traded three leads in a wildly entertaining affair. The night had featured, a sacrifice squeeze, a dazzling defensive stop and a collision at home plate. In the end, the Mets wound up on the short end of a 5-4 score with the bottom of the ninth inning and Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon looming. This isn't generally the type of wound salve sports fans like me have in mind, but after Ike Davis opened the ninth with a single, and after a sacrifice and a strike out the Mets were suddenly down to their last out. Then Jordany Valdespin worked a lengthy at bat before getting hit by a pitch and Ruben Tejada worked a walk to load the bases.

Up came Daniel Murphy, who slammed a game-tying single up the middle that bounced off Papelbon's leg and died in the infield. Ironically, this might have been one of the few instances of bad luck for the Mets tonight as had the hit gone straight up the middle where it was headed the game likely would have ended with two runs scoring, but with the game now tied and the sacks still full, up came Wright in a potential walk-off situation. Wright had already driven in three runs on the night, one on a game-tying RBI single in the third and another on a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth. The next pitch, given the game to that point, should have been obvious.

When I was in Israel two years ago, I learned a phrase: yihyeh b'seder. Supposedly it's a statement Israelis use to comfort themselves in the face of a tenuous and tense situation that always permeates through the middle east, and it means, quite simply, "It'll be ok."

Zach Parise will never again play for the New Jersey Devils. That is a tough pill to swallow. But occasionally, when we hit these sports-centric nadirs, not too long after we reach another peak. The Mets may not win the World Series this year -- in fact they almost certainly won't -- but they are damn fun to watch, and they are damn exciting, and tonight they just might have dealt the Phillies a deathblow that ends their season when half of it is still yet to be played. That's a special kind of satisfaction, and tonight was a reminder that there is always the chance when the chips are down, that in not too much time, we'll get to experience one of those moments that reminds us why we watch at all.

Tonight the Mets got an enormous win in thrilling fashion in what had been a fantastically entertaining game all the way through. There aren't many things that compare with that for a sports fan and Thursday night, I got proof of that once again. It may not always work out how you hoped it would -- in fact it almost certainly won't -- but sometimes it does. And when it does you remember that in the end, well, it'll be ok. In the end, the Devils will have work to do in the wake of arguably their best non-goalie leaving the team, but really, as long as David Wright and the Mets are there, eventually, it'll be ok.

At least until David Wright becomes a free agent. His contract expires in November 2013.

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