My friend M. came in last weekend, and since we’re both huge baseball fans (although we’re on opposite sides most of the time), we decided to catch a Mets game. My plan was to buy the tickets at the stadium, but cooler heads (i.e. my friend D.) prevailed, so he was nice enough to take care of all the arrangements. We left early for Shea so we’d have plenty of time to pick up the tickets and get to our seats in the upper deck. One of the stadium’s distinguishing characteristics is its proximity to LaGuardia airport.
The planes fly really, really close to Shea Stadium. I have to admit that I find it all very unnerving.
We got to see the ending of Oakland’s batting practice, and then after the Mets presented a few awards it was time for things to get underway.
Mike Piazza, Oakland’s new DH handed in the lineup card. He got a really nice round of applause from the fans in the stadium.
The Mets organization seems to bring in more artists to perform the National Anthem than the Yankees do. That night it was the actor who played Uncle Junior on the Sopranos. I think. I have to confess that I only watched that show a couple of times, and I’m a little fuzzy on how they introduced him. His rendition was distinctly downtempo.
We were lucky enough to go to a game that was being pitched by one of my favorite former Yankees: Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. He’s getting up there in years, but he’s definitely still one of my favorite pitchers to watch. I mean, the man has an eephus in his arsenal. What’s more fun than that?
El Duque pitched very well, going 7 innings and shutting out Oakland. He made some of the batters look downright silly by following up a 55 mph curve with some 86 mph “heat”. Duque is in his 40s, so his velocity isn’t there any more (he may have hit 90 on the gun once), but he’s definitely a pitcher, rather than a thrower, and he still knows how to get guys out. I wish the Yankees had held onto him, but then I may be a bit biased–I’ve been fond of him for years.
The game was just cruising along (both Hernandez and Blanton worked into and out of a couple of jams each) until the bottom of the 6th inning, when the crowd at Shea learned that Mets starting catcher Paul Lo Duca has a little bit of a temper. He didn’t like a strike call that the umpire made, and turned around to argue about it. When the umpire ejected him–arguing balls and strikes is grounds for ejection–Lo Duca didn’t take that very well. While still holding his bat, Lo Duca really got into the ump’s face. At one point manager Willie Randolph was attempting to stand between the two men to defuse the situation, but Lo Duca just sort of pulled him out of the way. After a few minutes of having his say, Lo Duca stalked off the field, tossing his bat, his helmet and his gloves. I guess that wasn’t enough throwing stuff around, though, because a few seconds later, his shin guards came flying out of the dugout and onto the field. He got pretty good distance on those too.
According to the AP, Lo Duca also tried to throw his chest protector onto the field, but it got caught on the dugout railing. Backup catcher Ramon Castro had to come in to finish the at-bat and to catch for the rest of the game. He seemed to get his signals crossed up a bit, but they got out of the 7th inning just fine.
After that, the game was relatively uneventful until the 9th, save for blast-from-the-past Ricky Ledee getting himself thrown out at home plate. That’s when Billy Wagner, the Mets closer came in to attempt to finish out the game.
And then it was the bottom of the ninth, with 2-3-4 in the batting order coming up. Ramon Castro doubled, and then the Oakland manager made the bizarre, ultimately unwise decision to intentionally walk Carlos Beltran.
That brought up the Mets third baseman and NL heartthrob David Wright. He hit a walkoff double, plating Castro, and winning the game 1-0.
There was much rejoicing all around the stadium. Much less joyful was the hourlong trek back from Queens, but that’s another story for another day.