Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Motor City adventures with Manny Acosta, our new favorite Met,

So Manny Acosta is one of my favorite Mets now. Yeah, it surprised me, too.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Caroline and I made the trip to Detroit last week to see our Mets battle the Tigers at Comerica Park. Now, any opportunity to see the Mets is a great and glorious one, but my last two Motor City-Mets meetings have not gone well for our boys.

The first was a 14-0 bengal beatdown in the Mets' first-ever game in Detroit. The second adventure, this time at Comerica in 2007 was a little better, though the Mets still lost 15-7 with Tom Glavine being disappointed but not devastated.

But those games were during the Streak of Shame. Since that was snapped in Cincinnati, I'm a Mets good luck charm, with a 9-0 victory at Citi Field and even a pair of spring training wins.

Detroit fans are a pretty mellow and humble bunch, so I never fear abuse for wearing Mets gear. The Tom Seaver 1969 flannel gets taken out for only the most formal occasions, so with the assistance of the friends in the Crane Pool Forum I opted to wear the 1992 Eddie Murray home jersey. With racing stripes and buttons, it's very tasteful.

We arrived before the gates opened – of course – and stood in line with another Long Island transplant, he wearing a black David Wright road jersey. He said he was surprised that he wasn't getting any abuse, adding that Phillies fans start abusing him even before he gets to the ballpark.

I wasn't too surprised – Phillies fans can be rough, as Rob will confirm. But I was even less surprised when my new friend mentioned that a pre-game ritual is driving through the streets of Philly with a Chase Utley jersey dragging behind the car. That's hardcore.

We made our way to the first row alongside the Mets dugout to watch batting practice. I brought the glorious Mets book on the off-chance that a player would come by and sign autographs. The Mets are notorious non-signers, and I'm usually very happy to get just a wave.

But third base coach Chip Hale came along, then Scott Hairston. That's two signatures added to the hundreds in the book, and one more than the 2007 encounter, when only Jorge Sosa was willing to be included in the tome.

Brother-in-law Jeff's advice about StubHub was spot-on, so much so that a Comerica usher thought we were seat-crashing in out spots in the aisle 25 rows behind Mets dugout. He was apologetic after I produced the tickets, and our new friend, offering two Tigers pocket schedules with Justin Verlander and much discussion throughout the game. He thought Jose Reyes would look good in a Tigers uniform.

And, as if his ears were burning, Jose led off with a hit, moved to second and scored on Daniel Murphy's double. The Murphy scored on Angel Pagan's double. The team already was ahead of the 1997 game.

But the best was to come in the fourth inning. Josh Thole launched an absolute bomb into the right field bleachers. Then Reyes tripled and came around on a Willie Harris hit.

My daughter was keeping score, and we discussed strategy amid the glorious scoring. With men on third and second and first base open and two out, I explained that Angel Pagan would get nothing to hit and probably walk because the Tigers would rather pitch to Jason Bay, who, I explained, is a bum.

Daddy looked wise when Pagan did, in fact, walk. And he looked like a dunce when Bay ripped one down the left field line, just around the foul pole and into the stands for a grand slam.

The Mets had not him a grannie since 2009, and have given up 18 of them since, mostly to the Phillies. So this historic moment was appreciated and apologies extended to Mr. Bay.

The next inning the Mets loaded the bases again, this time with Carlos Beltran at the dish. Beltran, I explained, is not a bum. But it would be too much to ask for another grand slam from a team seemingly allergic to them. Nobody told that to Beltran, and he smacked one over the left-centerfield wall for the second slam in as many innings.

There was only mild concern when the Tigers' Austin Jackson cracked a two-run homer in the bottom of that inning and when Andy Dirks send one deep in the seventh.

The Mets tacked on one more to make it 14, sending most of the Tigers fans packing. Caroline and I moved down a little closer so we could get photos of the post-game celebration, rare as they might be with me in attendance.

Now, I confess. I have said some unkind things about Mets pitcher Manny Acosta in the past. I was not entirely thrilled to see him take the hill in the ninth inning, even with a 14-3 game seemingly in hand.

But Brennan Boesch popped out to left, Dirks made an out to second, and Don Kelly swung and missed for a strike three, ending the game.

It was fun to see the Mets celebrating the big win, and I knew Acosta had the ball that was used for final out. As he walked to the dugout steps, we called out, “Nice game, Manny!” He looked up and must have seen Caroline and I in our Mets finest, because he smiled and threw us the ball. I had my camera in one hand and grabbed the ball in another, clutching it to my body.

Some kid next to me started pawing me, trying to wrest the ball from my grip.

Then, I heard a voice I had never heard before – coming from me, nonetheless. It was deep and scary.

Get. Your. Hands. Off. My. Ball.

The kid pulled his hands away, knowing what was good for him. I promptly gave the ball to my own kid to enjoy.

Manny Acosta. How about that.

A different usher asked to see the ball – he promised to give it back – and then offered to take a photo of me and Caroline. He then directed us to guest services, where the staff members would present us with a certificate proclaiming that we, in fact, had an official ball from a Major League Game.

On the way out I apologized for any unkind things I might or might not have said about Mr. Bay and Mr. Acosta, and we slipped off into the Detroit night for the long trip home, rewarded by the Mets for our devotion.