Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dying Like It Oughta Be

Sometime during the Montreal series last week, I began to think that watching the Mets was like dying. Or so I hoped, because the pain was past. Having messed up on a road not taken or two (doubting Darryl, wasting Darling and Ojeda), failed to correct harmful habits (Sasser's pump, McReynolds's stroke, the pigheaded bunting), and suffered bad luck and grave errors in the late going (seeing-eye hits, Julio Valera, fielding and running gaffes by the invaluable Charlie O'Brien), we could taste the inevitable. But suddenly the most frustrating of the Gooden teams--invincible on its June roll and in sweet flashes thereafter, pathetic against slow-pitch lefthanders and in endless numbing late-inning flops that coexisted incomprehensibly with impossible comebacks--had found itself again. In the irresistible truism, they were having fun out there--I even observed Gregg Jefferies smile while benched. And that's how I want it to be for me. Having seen the dark at the end of the tunnel, I want to gaze at my loved ones, savor my meals, enjoy a few jokes, maybe even write a wry essay or two--without kidding myself about whether I'll get to see the grandchildren graduate or dance on capital's grave.

All September we'd slumped when we needed to surge. McReynolds was so far within himself he seemed about to implode, Boston/Miller lapsing toward normal, Herr merely professional, Johnson merely dogged, Sasser a cripple, Franco mortal, Fernandez tragic, Viola .500, Magadan somehow out of synch, and poor fucked-up Jefferies so desperate to please he couldn't stand to look at strike one. But after the Rosh Hashanah doubleheader with the Expos put the Pirates a miracle away and the subsequent split in Chicago--two romps, two one-run losses--made the miracle unbelievable, they began to play like what they are, the only ballclub in creation with more than a miracle's chance in a seven-game series with Oakland.

If I keep slipping from third person to first, well, that's a fan's lot--not just Dwight Gooden c'est moi, but Frank Cashen c'est moi, Lord help me. I know I'm too old for this stuff, but from rap to the five-year-old on the back of my bike, I'm too old for a lot of things I like, and consider myself lucky. So just as I learned about failure when the Yankees lost a Labor Day doubleheader to the Indians in 1954, I learned about acceptance when I took my daughter to Shea on her first school holiday for Franco's third blow of the month. Nine innings was her limit, and I was happy for the excuse. Being there made it hurt more. It's said the second game, where the same losing lineup was one-hit by the mysterious [sp?] Chris Nabholz, was like a funeral; so was the IRT, though carmates nattered on about "only" two back and Darryl's treacherous oh-fer [??] (some fools booed Franco for being so self-indulgent as to get a ball up, too). It was grim. I've given enough to this team, I told myself. I'm not listening tomorrow. But I had to drive somewhere so I did, and they lost in the eighth after tying in the eighth, and that night I had bad dreams about ground balls, which surprised me because I'm too old for this stuff.

They regained a game over the weekend before Viola lost the big lockout makeup with the Cubs, the decisive hit a comebacker Darling or Ojeda or Gooden would have snagged. But though I saw only a few innings on TV, they'd played so gamely in Chicago that when they moved on to Montreal I couldn't bear not to say goodbye. And there they were stealing, sacrificing, clutch-hitting, beating jams, and--when injuries put Pat Tabler, the most spiritually advanced of Cashen's three blond trading-deadline pickups, in the outfield--transcending themselves like they deserved to be champions, even though they knew they wouldn't be. They played like their chances were more than mathematical--like they wanted to die with their eyes open.

As I might have figured, death itself was shit. Not so much the way it came, with the obviously deserving Pirates completing a sweep of the Cardinals after Darren Reed had somehow led us past the mysterious Steve Wilson, but its immediate aftermath. Hojo committed his first two bobbles in almost two months at shortstop and Franco got the ball so far up to Dwight Smith that might-have-been fantasies about shutting the Pirates down in Pittsburgh seemed fantastic indeed, and suddenly one of the differences between losing and dying came clear: you have to keep playing after you lose. As the air went out of them and they handed yet another one-run shortfall to the bullpenless Cubs, you could see that they'd been deriving more solace from mathematics than right reason dictated. Which made their recovery less remarkable.

Writing Monday morning, though, I still hope they whip the Pirates this week. Those games aren't meaningless. Few games are.

Village Voice, 1990