Season finales have their own unique feel, at least to me. 161 games have been played and a lot of passion has been spent. Second guessing the manager’s (and General Manager’s) decisions became a way of life but now, for one day at least, it becomes irrelevant. If Jerry Manuel wants to use Pedro Feliciano to face Adam Kennedy instead of saving him for Adam Dunn, well, who cares? What’s the point in getting worked up about it if this is the last game he’ll manage for the Mets?
Today’s game reminds me of a similar situation, not that long ago. I was at the final game of the 2004 season (also a Sunday, also October 3rd), when Art Howe was the resident “dead man walking”. GM Jim Duquette was planning on letting Howe finish the season, but word got out that he would be fired (sound familiar?). Duquette was forced to announce Howe’s dismissal on September 16th, and Howe had to manage the final two and a half weeks of the season knowing that he would be out of work.
It was a lost season: the Mets would finish 71-91. Though there were some positives (the Mets swept the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and had a winning record against their cross-town nemesis rival for the first time), it was mostly negative: there was the infamous Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano deal as well as the botched experiment with Mike Piazza at first base. By all rights, game 162 should have been a formality, one last exercise in futility. Maybe it was. Maybe I read too much into what I saw that afternoon, but it felt like more than that.
There was a new era on the horizon: the Mets were clearing the decks, preparing for a new beginning (Omar Minaya would be hired shortly). But there was also a lesson, a hidden message for us all…we’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, the game itself. Art Howe wasn’t the only Met who would be leaving: John Franco was appearing in his final game. The writing was on the wall: Franco was done with the Mets, and he knew it. Howe did the right thing: Franco entered the game after a nice video tribute in the top of the eighth, replacing Heath Bell. He pitched a third of an inning, gave up a single to Termel Sledge, and got Ryan Church to fly out to Todd Zeile, who was catching that day for the first time since 1990.
Zeile had announced his retirement earlier in the week and Howe chose to let him go out the way he came in. That was the day that I first heard that Zeile was a movie producer, and it was a day that he’d remember forever. Not only did he record the out on the final pitch that John Franco threw for the Mets, but he hit a three-run home run in his final at-bat in the bottom of the sixth. It really was a special moment, the future producer had a real Hollywood moment.
There were other nice moments for the Mets in that game, too. Joe Hietpas had his Moonlight Graham moment and rookie David Wright hit his 14th home run, a two-run shot off John Patterson in the bottom of the third. It was a generally uplifting game: a negative era in Mets history was ending and the future, though uncertain, looked bright. This was highlighted by the unfortunate fate awaiting their rivals that day: the Montreal Expos.
You see, that was the Expos’ final game. While the Mets were ending a lost season, Montreal fans were mourning the loss of their team. Those of us in attendance knew we were seeing a major league team’s death. The franchise’s fate was sealed: they were shortly to become the Washington Nationals (coincidentally, the Mets’ opponent in today’s finale). Really, we were watching the Expos being taken off of life support.
There was a decent contingent of Expos fans in attendance. They scattered a few “Let’s Go Expos!” chants throughout the game, but there was a moment in the top of the ninth where they rallied one last chant. I can’t speak for the other fans in attendance that day, but I found it a remarkably poignant moment. Here was a group of fans in a foreign stadium, watching the final moments of their favorite team, saluting them for the final time.
That moment remains fresh for me today. While we think about how poorly our team has played this year, we can look forward 133 days till pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie again. We’ll have a new General Manager, a new manager, new players. Our team, no matter how poorly managed, will get another chance to redeem itself. On February 13, 2011, the voluntary reporting date for pitchers and catchers, the Mets will once again take the field. Montreal fans can only wish they could say the same about the Expos.
Bad Mets baseball is better than no Mets baseball, and the 2010 season comes to an end today. Let’s enjoy what we have while we can while looking forward to new memories in the coming season. 2011 begins tonight, but today, let’s enjoy watching David Wright, Jose Reyes, Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Mike Pelfrey, and all the others write the final chapter of the 2010 Mets. Hopefully, they’ll send us off on a positive note.