It was overcast and a little damp in Connecticut yesterday. Same thing in New York. So I had my doubts as I looked at the tickets for last night's game at Shea Stadium between the Mets and their great rivals, the Atlanta Braves.
"Who'll be pitching?," I wondered. With the Mets out of the hunt for the wildcard, maybe the names of two mediocre pitchers would help me decide against the risk of rain. But in a couple of clicks I knew, rain or shine, Ben and I would make it to that game. The likely starters? John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez.
I picked Ben up just as school was letting out. We made it to Queens by late afternoon, just in time to get a quick bite and get ourselves into the stadium.
As expected, both Smoltz and Martinez sat down most of the batters in short order (the game lasted barely 2 hours). But this was Pedro's night. Martinez completed eight shutout innings by striking out the side.
Then, with a pitch count over 100, Pedro returned to the mound for the top of the ninth. I could only imagine how his conversation had gone with Mets' manager Willie Randolph. Whatever was said, two thoughts prevailed: one, Martinez wanted to go the distance, especially in a shutout and, two, with a four-run lead, he should be given the chance.
In the ninth, a lead-off hit by the Braves' Rafael Furcal raised my fears. While trying to prove something, I thought, Pedro was running out of gas. The next batter, Marcus Giles also singled, sending Furcal to third. It was getting worse.
Next, with runners at the corners, the Braves' Chipper Jones came to the plate. Now, for folks who haven't followed the Mets through the years, Jones' appearance would seem daunting enough. But both the legend and the fact is that Chipper Jones stands out as the dasher of hope, many times the deciding difference in a victory over the Mets. This was high drama.
Martinez, clearly recognizing the stakes, threw a mix of pitches that culminated with a fastball in the low 90s. Jones struck out looking.
Just as I was sighing relief, I remembered that the next batter was the other Jones of the Braves: Andruw . . . with one of the best batting percentages in the National League . . . who's hit 50 homeruns so far this year. Pedro's solution? Again, a brilliant array of pitches that concluded with a 77 mph curveball that puzzled the power hitter. Andruw went down with a half swing. The word "magnificent" was invented for just such a performance. But it wasn't over.
Things got tense moments later when Adam LaRoche--whose three previous plate appearances accounted for 3 of Pedro's 10 strikeouts on the night--walked to load the bases. But with his 122nd pitch of the game, Martinez managed to get Jeff Francouer to fly out to left. Just like that, it was over.
We had watched as Pedro Martinez racked up his 17th career shutout, surpassed 200 strikeouts on the season, and moved into 14th place among all-time strikeout leaders. And it didn't rain a drop.