By Michael Mandelkern
Keith Hernandez, legendary former New York Mets first baseman and Mets broadcast analyst, shaved off his iconic mustache outside of Citi Field last Thursday afternoon. Kristina DeBarge’s “Goodbye” blared through speakers on the partly cloudy day as fans attended the last home game of the 2012 Mets.
Mr. Met, the team mascot, bobbled with swagger past the food stands even though the team stood 13 games under .500 without any postseason hope. Nevertheless, the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates held some significance. Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey aimed to become the first Mets starter since 1990 to reach 20wins in one season. He is also a strong contender for the National League Cy Young Award.
Regardless of where the team stands in their division I always enjoy my time at Citi Field. It is a healthy and homely place to de-stress for a few hours. The stadium is spacious and full of senior citizens, adults, young adults and children donning the blue and orange gear that I seldom see on NYU’s campus.
At noon, 70 minutes before the first pitch, the parking lot was mostly empty and there was barely a line for tickets. Thirty minutes later there were more empty seats than fans. Despite an early omen of a half-filled stadium, 31,506 were in attendance.
Third baseman David Wright became the all-time Mets hits leader the night before. Starting pitcher Johan Santana threw the first Mets no-hitter on June 1. The fans expected a strong performance from Dickey and he exceeded all expectations.
Dickey sent the top of the Pirates lineup down 1-2-3 in the first inning. He allowed two runs on four hits in the second inning, but aside from that and a solo home run in the fourth inning all the Pirates did was swing and miss at his fluttering and dancing knuckleball. He lasted 7 2/3 innings and the crowd roared exponentially louder after each of his 13 strikeouts.
The crowd murmured, however, at the bottom of the fourth inning when the Mets were down 3-2 and catcher Josh Thole weakly grounded out with two outs and runners on second and third. After watching a pathetic offense from July through September I wasn’t surprised, but Dickey deserved better. He ended the top of the fifth inning in a nine-strikeout groove; the offense had to back him up this time. I came straight from class to watch Dickey get his 20th win.
Wright stepped to the plate with two on base and the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.The ball sailed in the air and the crowd was buzzing. I jolted up with my arms raised and fists clenched. Once it landed over the right-center field wall I bawled in euphoria. I gave a stranger next to me multiple high-fives and clapped so hard that I blistered my hands red. The score was 6-3 with four innings left.
Dickey was lights out through the 6th, 7th and most of the 8th inning. The three-run lead put him at ease and the crowd roared behind him for every pitch. After 128 pitches he stepped off the mound slowly and soaked in a thunderous standing ovation.
I was nervous when the bullpen became responsible for the last four outs of the eighth and ninth innings. Surely enough the Pirates hit a two-run homer to make the game 6-5. Luckily, reliever Bobby Parnell came in for Jon Rauch to save the day.
“This season hasn’t gone like we wanted, but this is a special moment and I’m happy to share it with all of you guys,” said Dickey on the field after the game. “I feel like I’ve done all I can do.”
After the excitement died down and I was Manhattan bound on the 7 train, I was saddened to realize that I would have to wait until next April to return to Citi Field. Whether the Mets are winning or losing, even if Dickey is no longer on the team, I will be back.