Growing up in the late aughts, I was never really indoctrinated with winning Mets baseball. The 2006 team is the one that really got me hooked on baseball, but my actual memories of that season are fairly scattered and faded. As a 9-year-old, I was too young to grasp what was really happening, and most of those playoff games ended way past my bedtime.
By 2015, though, I was a college student with a light schedule and an undeclared major, so I had plenty of time to follow that Mets season beginning to end. It was the first time I had ever really experienced winning baseball. When that team made the playoffs, I did not know that I was actually going to attend a playoff game until a few days before the playoffs started. My dad used some of his connections to get us tickets to Game 3 of the NLDS, the only guaranteed Mets home game of the series and the first ever playoff game in the history of Citi Field.
I had been to about 50 baseball games in my life to that point. I had seen Opening Days and Subway Series games. I had seen Matt Harvey’s first home start after Tommy John surgery, and I was there when Citi Field chanted “Harvey’s Better.” I had seen games started by the likes of Johan Santana to R.A. Dickey to Fernando Nieve. But I had never been to a playoff game before. This was going to be a whole new experience for me.
We got the tickets before the NLDS even started, so I could not anticipate the added meaning this game would eventually take on after what happened in Game 2, when Chase Utley intentionally barrel-rolled into Ruben Tejada, breaking up the double play but also breaking Tejada’s leg. Utley had instantly instilled himself as Public Enemy No. 1. The players were angry, the fans were even angrier, and it felt like the Citi Field could very easily become a riot scene by the time Game 3 came around.
The game was on a Monday, and I remember skipping my last class of the day because I was too excited for the game to focus on school (I was not a very committed student). With first pitch scheduled for 8:38PM local time, we left for the park at about 5:30, despite the fact that it only takes about an hour or so from where we live to get to Citi Field. However, any Mets fan knows that Flushing Meadows Corona Park is an absolute nightmare anytime the Mets draw more than about 35,000 people for a game, so we gave ourselves ample time to beat the crowd. We didn’t beat the crowd. The parking lot was still a mess two hours before first pitch. We barely found a narrow little parking spot in the Southfield lot to squeeze our car into, otherwise we might’ve had to park off in the fields and take a shuttle bus. I was expecting there to be a lot of early tailgaters, but seeing the lots being packed so early was still a little shocking.
Everyone was either psyched to get to this game, or showed up early specifically to boo Utley in the player intros. Before the players even started lining up, everyone was already in their seat, chanting “Utley Sucks” and flinging various other obscenities in the Dodgers’ general direction.
Once the player intros began, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be any normal baseball game. This was a stadium full of 45,000 righteously pissed off people who wanted to see the Dodgers, and specifically Utley, get crushed just as much as they wanted to see the Mets win. It created a remarkable, dichotomous atmosphere of anger over the Utley play, but giddy anticipation for the extremely important playoff game about to be played.
Obviously, the game was thrilling, but the intros always stand out in my memory. When PA Announcer Alex Anthony read Utley’s name, Mets fans let out about 48 hours of frustrations all in unison.
I’m not a particularly emotional or animated person, but it was hard not to get emotional in the moment and participate in the jeering. After the Mets got introduced, Tejada emerged from the Mets dugout with a crutch and I once again could not contain myself, and neither could all of Citi Field.
I still go back and watch the video of the intros from this game every so often. It just brings back the feeling in the ballpark that evening.
The game started, and the Mets were in trouble early. Harvey gave up three runs in the top of the second to fall down 3-0. The raucous stadium was overcome with silence for the first time, and a wave of angst poured over the fans and replaced the enthusiasm from earlier. This was not going well. I was starting to worry if the player intros were going to be the extent of my playoff baseball experience that evening, which I had waited years for.
But then the Mets came to bat in the bottom of the second. Three consecutive hits to start the inning scored a run, and got the crowd back into it. Then Wilmer Flores reached on an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. This was about as excited as the crowd got in anticipation all night. Everyone was standing, and waving the orange towels. We were in the very last row of the upper deck, and we were standing. We sat right under the speakers and could barely hear Juan Lagares’s walk up music as he came up. It felt like something big was about to happen.
But Lagares stuck out. Harvey was up next and struck out as well. Suddenly the atmosphere dampened again. Some people sat down. Worry started setting in; were the Mets gonna blow this chance?
No, they were not.
This was the first Big Postseason Hit that I had ever experienced in person. I can still remember looking down at the field level seats while the runners were coming around and seeing everyone jump up and down and waving their arms like third base coaches. I had pretty much waited my whole life to see something as awesome as that.
Harvey settled down on the mound, and Travis d’Arnaud later added a two-run homer to put the Mets up 6-3. A Daniel Murphy single in the fourth made it 7-3. The Mets were fighting back, and each run was like a body punch setting up for the pivotal knockout blow. Yoenis Cespedes came to bat with two runners on.
Have you ever had a feeling a player is going to homer? Not even a wild prediction you make for fun, but a feeling in your gut during an at bat, where you almost get a sixth sense and you realize “wait, he’s about to homer here, isn’t he?” Well, I had that feeling here. I think it came after Cespedes fouled off a 2-0 fastball with an absolutely hellacious swing. Alex Wood was on the mound and struggling, and Cespedes was swinging for the downs, ready to vaporize the first mistake Wood made.
Citi Field exploded. Cespedes ascended us all to a higher plane of existence. People were jumping around, high-fiving and hugging people they didn’t even know. I just remember looking at the scene around me, and just laughing uncontrollably as the theme from “The Natural” blared over the loud speakers.
That really was the perfect song to play, too. The song is one of triumph, and that was a near-cinematic moment of triumph. That was the knockout blow. The statement was made. The Mets had come out and absolutely stuck it to the Dodgers in just four innings. We weren’t just celebrating likely victory at this point; we were celebrating poetic justice. The song tied the whole moment together.
TBS really illustrated the moment so well in their broadcast as well, with the combination of the fan shots, the shot of Cespedes rounding the bases with fireworks in the background, and the silence of the broadcasters allowing the images to speak for itself. If this was a movie, that would be the closing scene. It’s as picturesque of a baseball moment as you could ever want as a fan. Those are the moments that we watch for.
Unfortunately this is not a movie, and it was only the fourth inning, so the game continued for several hours afterward. But it had become a formality; the Mets had run away with it. The cheering and celebrating just evolved into pointed hazing of Utley for the rest of the night, with chants of “Utley sucks” and “we want Utley” dominating throughout.
There was a lot of anti-Utley imagery in the stadium too. The most famous image of that evening is probably this little girl:
I actually saw her carrying that sign around at one point. She came to our section and got a big cheer. This was the most unified I had ever seen a baseball stadium against an individual person. Of course, some of the stuff being yelled was way over-the-line and a little uncomfortable to hear, but it didn’t subtract from the overall experience.
The Mets won 13-7. It was never as close as even the six-run deficit makes it seem, because the Dodgers pushed four runs across in the ninth. Since the game went well past midnight local time on a Monday night, most people had left by the 9th inning. This at least meant there was no traffic when leaving the stadium, which was a pleasant surprise.
I still have my orange rally towel from that night. I’ve kept every memento that I could from that game, because it was such a special night. I went to Game 3 of the World Series that year, and that was great, but it still wasn’t as special or memorable as this game. I will hopefully go to another playoff game someday, but this game will always stick out for me. It was just such a specific set of circumstances to create such a unique atmosphere, and I’m not sure it can ever be replicated again.