At least I was there for the last win.
As most of us sit here punch drunk, wondering how the hell the Florida Marlins left the New York Mets flat on their backs for the second year in a row, bounced out of a postseason we were sure they were meant to play in, I’m still thinking about Saturday. Because that afternoon, in the rain and cold, we all saw the last heroic performance there will ever be at Shea Stadium.
Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Marlins ended the Mets postseason bid on the last day of the season, but that’s not what the Marlins killed. The story of that day was the end of Shea Stadium.
Last week, we waved goodbye to Yankee Stadium. A parade of Bronx legends rolled into New York and ESPN ran specials all day recounting everything that ever happened in the House That Ruth Built. A friend told me Yankee Stadium deserved the praise and adoration, saying it bred a culture of champions and legends to which Shea just couldn’t measure up, that Shea deserved to go quietly in the massive, pinstriped shadow of the Yankee legend.
Yankees fan and fellow Around the Dorm contributor Pat Lavery wrote last week: “For 85 years, we were the luckiest fans on earth.” Well Pat, for 45 years we Mets faithful were the greatest fans on earth, hanging around through some of the most infuriating and spectacular moments in National League history.
Johan Santana’s gem Saturday was the last in a long line of terrific performances in Shea history. So, with all due respect to Yankees fans everywhere, I’m going to sing Shea’s swan song and remind everyone Yankee Stadium wasn’t the only ballpark in New York with a storied past.
In 1969, Shea was host to one of the greatest underdog stories in baseball history. Just prior to the advent of the “You Gotta Believe” years, the “Miracle Mets” won 38 of their last 49 games to stun the Cubs and claim their first NL East pennant. Dismissed as an afterthought in the National League Championship Series, they upended a Hank Aaron-led Atlanta Braves squad and found a way into the World Series where they shocked the Orioles in five games to give Shea its first world title.
Bill Buckner came into town 17 years later in one of the most infamous moments in MLB history. Down 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning and 3-2 in the World Series, the Mets cut the lead to one, but Mookie Wilson found himself behind 0-2 in the count. One strike away from elimination, Wilson stepped out of the way as a wild pitch allowed the tying run to score. Three pitches later, Wilson tapped a ground ball up the first-base line and – in the words of fabled sports announcer Vin Scully – “It gets through Buckner! And the Mets win it.”
But history came during our lifetimes, too. Only at Shea could we have something called the “Grand Slam Single.” During the high point of a series the Amazins’ would go on to lose, third baseman Robin Ventura rocketed a 2-1 pitch out of the park, shattering a 3-3 tie. The huge hit kept the Mets’ comeback alive (they were trailing the Braves in the NLCS 3-1), but in one of those wacky early autumn Queens instances, a mob of Ventura’s teammates stopped him from rounding first, and the homer was ruled a single.
And what about “The Catch?” Not the David Tyree Patriot-killing-trap-it-against-your-helmet catch. I’m talking about Endy Chavez throwing 75 percent of his body over the left field wall in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS to rob Scott Rolen of a two-run shot. The play longtime Met broadcaster Gary Cohen called “the play of the year, maybe the play of the franchise’s history.”
You can say Shea’s history doesn’t “stack up” to that place in the Bronx, but you can’t doubt its soul. You can’t doubt the slew of guys and gals in the literal cheap seats with me Saturday afternoon, ignoring the rain as Santana finished a marvelous outing on three days’ rest, blanking the Marlins to keep the Mets’ playoff pulse alive. There’s no place else where a slow-moving parade of sweaty, tired New Yorkers would shamble toward the 7 train screaming “Let’s Go Mets” a half-hour after Santana threw his last pitch, no place else where complete strangers would huddle around a few cell phones to check up on the Cubs-Brewers game as the 7 snaked its way back toward Times Square, dueling chants of “Let’s Go Mets/Let’s Go Cubs.”
At least I saw the last win. I saw the last group of Mets fans leave Shea excited, crazed and hopeful. I saw everything Shea ever was over 45 years come together in about 45 seconds.
James Queally can be reached at