Dear Luis Castillo,
You poor, poor man. Thanks.
-The New York Yankees
You poor, poor man. Thanks.
-The New York Yankees
Ridiculous, absurd, improbable. I could spend the next eighty years watching professional baseball and never see a game end that way again. For those who missed it, on Friday night the Yanks and Mets played the first game of an inter-league series. It was a vacillating affair, and the Yanks blew about seven different leads along the way. In the bottom of the ninth, down one, we had guys on first and second with two outs. A-Rod waltzed to the plate, inspiring zero confidence. Nobody at the stadium or watching on tv thought he'd do anything other than hit an infield fly or a weak grounder. Not one to buck expectations, our favorite choke artist delivered, skying one toward second base and smashing his bat in frustration.
But as our hero, the venerable Mr. Castillo, faded to his right, a wicked wind swept through the Metropolitan orbit. The ball made its precarious descent, rattled both sides of the second baseman's glove like a pinball, and dropped safely to the earth. Castillo compounded the error by throwing to second, and Mark Teixeira mounted his horse and scored from first. Game over.
I was watching with my new roommate, a Red Sox fan, and her friend. Both females. When the ball went in the air, I felt a surge of sullen bad feeling toward A-Rod, but since the outcome of that particular at-bat was so expected, and I felt so drained by the disastrous Red Sox series, there was also a streak of comic apathy at play. "Jinx jinx jinx!" I yelled at Castillo, not thinking for a moment that he'd make such a decisive error. Then he took his fateful, awkward stumble. I sprung from my couch, watched Teixeira score, started shouting (I think "holy fuck" was the exclamation of choice), sprinted into my bedroom and jumped onto the mattress.
Then I undertook another circle of the apartment, ignoring the fact that the two girls barely knew me, one of them was the lease-holder, and that I might have to start looking for a new apartment the next day. But their reaction? They smiled tolerantly at my theatrics, but felt sorry for Luis Castillo. Of course they did.
It's probably a credit to them, as people. But my whole being hummed with glee. I pointed at his face on the tv and said "you dumb bastard!" Then I jumped on my bed again.
(I also tried to convince them that A-Rod was actually clutch, because the best players can use the bat to put a tricky spin on their pop-ups, making it really hard for the fielder to catch. They were not buying it. I was, of course, joking, but when my stepfather called the next day and said it should have been scored a hit since A-Rod hit the ball extremely high, I think he was serious. There will never be a better A-Rod apologist in the universe.)
There are thirty teams in major league baseball, but Friday's ending could have happened to just one: The New York Mets. For a team with real talent and a high payroll, they have the most amazing combination of bad luck, ineptitude, and collapse potential of any sporting organization in America. It's really something to see. At night, I'll sometimes turn on WFAN 660AM, New York's sports talk radio station, and when I went to sleep Friday the discourse was fantastic. Disgruntled Mets fans called in by the hundreds, and the ones who made the air with Steve Somers all sang the same hysterical tune: "This is it. This is absolutely it. I'm never watching this team again. I've given them too much of my time, Steve, waited too long for these morons to get things together, but this is the last straw. They are pathetic."
And the rest of the series couldn't have been more heartbreaking for the Metropolitans. On Saturday, a minor league talent named Fernando Nieve gave them a moment of hope by shutting the Yankees down for seven innings, and the Mets came away with a preserving win.
(By the way, this always happens to the Yankees...Nieve was waived by the Houston Astros, which means he wasn't even good enough to make their starting rotation. But when the Yanks face an unknown quantity, the game follows the same formula: the pitcher throws mostly fastballs, our guys think we can chase him early with pure hitting, don't bother working the count, and end up looking totally befuddled. The announcers wait until the third inning before they start raving about the pitcher like he's the second coming of Walter Johnson, and the bad mojo builds into a loss. Three starts later, the pitcher's inevitably back in Triple-A.)
That set up the series rubber match on Sunday, with the Yanks sending AJ Burnett to mound against Johan Santana. AJ, for his part, has faced the ace of an opposing staff at least five times this year, and looked awful in each start. He's consistently out-duelled, owing largely to a predilection for losing focus in costly one inning chunks. Meanwhile, Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball, a legitimate Cy Young contender. Mets fans had to like their chance for a series win, and in terms of psychological recovery it was almost a necessity. So what happens? AJ goes lights out, and the Yanks hang 9 earned runs on Santana (his worst result ever) en route to a 15-0 mauling.
Empirical conclusion: it sucks to be a fan of New York's second team. Happy Monday, Metropolitans. Don't ever change.