What a weird, wacky, wild game
During the top of the 18th, Johan Santana walked over to my broadcast position next to the Mets’ dugout and said, “It’s your fault. You were asking for something special.”
The day before, I had jokingly asked Santana if he could top the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, who had pitched 7-2/3 no-hit innings in our initial MLB on FOX broadcast.
But truth be told, I’m not the person most responsible for Saturday’s 20-inning marathon, won by the Mets, 2-1.
That honor goes to Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan, who asked manager Tony La Russa before the game, “If we go 25 today, am I getting the ball?”
La Russa, according to Ryan, replied, “I’ll give you the ball if we go 25.”
Well, the game didn’t last quite that long — the Cardinals’ final “pitcher,” utility man Joe Mather, lacked his best stuff — but Ryan was clamoring to take the mound, anyway.
“I got in trouble for being vocal about it,” he reported afterward.
It was that kind of day. And night.
Hitters pitched. Pitchers hit. And served as pinch-runners. And, in the case of Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse, played a mean left field.
Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey said he had a bat in his hand from the ninth inning on. He never got a chance to hit, which he said “kind of crushed my ego.”
But hey, Pelfrey earned the Mets’ first save of the season by working a scoreless 20th — after the Mets’ actual closer, Francisco Rodriguez, had blown a save in the 19th.
I’ll say this as gently as possible: If the Mets had lost — lost after two Cardinals position players, Felipe Lopez and Mather, pitched the final three innings — manager Jerry Manuel might have been fired on the spot.
Actually, Manuel might be dangling from the top of the Empire State Building this morning if he had made the move that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did in the 11th, removing left fielder Matt Holliday in a double-switch that left the pitcher’s spot behind Albert Pujols.
Holliday had missed the previous night’s game with flu-like symptoms and already gone 0-for-5. La Russa said it would have been “criminal” to ask him for more. Cardinals fans might say it was criminal that their team left the bases loaded three times in extra innings, each time after a walk to Pujols, twice with pitchers hitting.
But let’s not second-guess too much.
La Russa, who preaches playing a “hard nine,” could not have anticipated playing a hard 20. He gathered his players, coaches, trainers and equipment people afterward, and gave them a standing ovation for their effort.
The game lasted 6 hours, 53 minutes — but not to worry, Bud, the pace was good!
It was epic. It was zany. It was yet another example of why baseball is the best, most unpredictable sport of all.
Here’s what I will remember:
• Cardinals rookie lefty Jaime “CC” Garcia starting the game with five no-hit innings.
• The Mets getting four measly hits — all singles — in the first 15 innings.
• The Mets’ 4-5 hitters, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, each going 0-for-7, with Bay striking out four times.
• Mets shortstop Jose Reyes also going 0-for-7 — and becoming the team’s offensive “hero” by scoring the go-ahead run in the 19th and hitting the decisive sacrifice fly in the 20th.
•Talking with members of the Cardinals’ grounds crew, who I described on the air as the happiest people in the park — they get paid by the hour.
On the other hand, the crew’s day didn’t end at the end of the Mets-Cardinals game. A game between two local high schools — O’Fallon and Hillsboro — followed.
• Mets first baseman Alex Cora making a spectacular, Jeter-esque dive into the stands to catch a popup by Holliday and end a bases-loaded threat in the 10th.
“It’s only my second career appearance at first!” Cora shouted to me as he went to the on-deck circle in the 11th.
Actually, it was his third — our researchers in the production truck had just looked it up.
• Me jokingly promising a group of fans behind me that FOX would put them on camera if the game went 20 innings.
I told them that in the 15th or 16th. During the 20th I apologized, explaining that I had forgotten an old lesson: “Never make a promise you can’t keep.”
• The Mets failing to score in the 18th with Lopez, an infielder, on the mound and Lohse, a pitcher, in left field.
• Santana approaching me again after that inning, during which Mets pitcher Raul Valdes reached on an infield single off Lopez, then got thrown out at second after Pujols recovered an errant throw from Ryan at short.
“That ever happen before?” Santana asked. “A pitcher getting a hit off a position player?”
I replied, “I don’t know. But I doubt a pitcher has ever gotten a hit off a position player to whom he had allowed a grand slam the night before — as Valdes had done with Lopez.
• Lopez throwing 78 to 81 mph, then claiming afterward that he was “peeking” at the scoreboard and noticed that one pitch hit 86.
I texted a scout with Lopez’s gun readings while the game was in progress. He replied, “Better than Moyer tonight!”
• Ryan saying to Lohse as the pitcher-turned-outfielder spoke to reporters, “Talk about that catch down the line!”
“That was pretty sweet,” Lohse said, referring to his running grab on a ball hit by Luis Castillo in the 20th.
• Castillo sacrificing against Mather after a leadoff walk to Reyes in the 19th – yes, the Mets actually gave away an out against Mather, as if Reyes could not have stolen second on him! Mather threw 23 pitches that inning – and just six strikes.
• Mather saying of his mound effort, “It’s something you always wish you can do as a position player. Then you get out there and realize how hard it is. It was such a blur. I felt like I was out there only 30 seconds.”
• Mather making putouts at first base (as a pitcher), second base (as a third baseman) and center field.
• The teams combining for 35 strikeouts — nearly six full innings worth.
• The Mets using 24 players — everyone but lefty Oliver Perez, who had started the night before. The Cardinals using 22 players — everyone but starting pitchers Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Brad Penny.
Pelfrey, by the way, threw 18 pitches in the 20th after tossing 70 in a bullpen session earlier in the day. Lohse also threw a bullpen session Saturday, and La Russa was mindful of protecting him.
“I almost had a heart attack when he threw the ball in from left field,” La Russa said.
• Manuel making more efficient use of his bullpen than La Russa, the supposed master. Four Mets relievers threw at least two innings, while only two Cardinals relievers did. That’s why the Cardinals ran out of pitchers first.
• Mets closer Rodriguez saying afterward that he warmed up at least 10 times, starting in the eighth inning.
Mets coaches said K-Rod was exaggerating. When I asked bullpen coach Randy Niemann the actual number of times Rodriguez warmed, he smiled and said, “A few.”
• Mets right-hander John Maine, the team’s starting pitcher on Sunday, telling Cora, “I’ve got 150 (pitches) in me tomorrow” — and Cora replying, “You’d better.”
• Mets third base coach Razor Shines shouting after the final out, “Let’s go home, boys! Let’s go eat!”
• And finally, La Russa saying, “I’ll never forget this — ever. It was fun. And that’s something, to say that after you get beat.”