My Mets fandom does not run in a straight line. I was a very rabid fan when I was younger, then around the start of my teens—coinciding with the Mets’ downturn at the start of the last decade—I largely became a very casual fan, rooting for the team but not paying much attention, becoming focused on other interests. Then as I came into my 20s, my love of the game and the team returned with full force. As such, it was a little hard to choose a good game for my most memorable game. I had a few memorable ones when I was younger, but even the more memorable details are pretty hazy in my mind, with the details being filled in from what my dad has told me and not many memories of the actual games. The games I attended in my teens were nondescript and nothing in the way of impactful on my life. So I turned to the games I’ve gone to the last few years.
I could write about at least three or four games just from last season. I was at a couple of the walk-off games, the game where Pete Alonso broke the Mets single season record, and Wilmer Flores’s homecoming game. But to me, the most memorable game I’ve gone to was what seemed at the start a very nothing game. June 5, 2019, was a Wednesday evening game against the San Francisco Giants. Jason Vargas was the starting pitcher scheduled to take the mound. I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I knew the game with Vargas: he could give maybe five or six solid innings on a good night, and then maybe the bullpen would be able to patch it together. I was more excited about the cracker jack and hot dog I was going to eat than the actual game itself.
My dad and I took a little walk around the concourse waiting for it to get closer to game time. This has become something of a ritual for us, one that I’m pretty glad we did as I can remember Citi Field vividly right now, and every time I find myself missing it, I can close my eyes and I’m back there. Anyway, we were standing on the concourse looking out at the field when all of a sudden, I saw him.
Mr. Met is walking towards me. In that moment I was transported to being a little kid again. I had always wanted to meet Mr. Met, but I never got the chance. And here he is, in the plush. I stuck my hand out, and he high fived me. He HIGH FIVED me—or I guess high foured. I get shaky, fully starstruck over meeting essentially some man in a felt suit. But to me, he’s an icon, he’s the Mets, more so than most players. My dad was talking about something and he looks over and sees me in the middle of having an internal breakdown, and when I see the puzzled look on his face I squeak out, “I high fived Mr. Met.” I knew in that moment, the moment Mr. Met’s four fingers slapped mine, that this was going to be a magical night.
7:10 PM rolls around, and my dad and I have found our way to our seats on the right field line. The game starts off the way any fan would expect a Jason Vargas start in the middle of what would become the annual Mets June swoon to, with a leadoff double by (future Met) Joe Panik. My first thought was, “oh great, here we go again.” But Vargas got himself out of it, to my pleasant surprise. And the next few innings were pretty normal. The Mets scored a single run in the first three innings, on a Canó groundout. Vargas kept the Giants off the board. Then, in the fourth inning, things got interesting. Conforto and Rosario hit home runs, taking the score from a measly 1-0 to a sizable 5-0. Then in the fifth, Conforto drove in Alonso to make the game 6-0. The game was starting to feel as magical as my Mr. Met moment.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention that in the top of the fifth, Canó was pulled with an apparent injury while running out a ground out. This was literally hours after he had been taken off the injured list to start the game. Even when everything seems to be going right for the Mets, they have to remind you that they are still in fact the Mets, and joy doesn’t come without sorrow. Canó was replaced with Adeiny Hechavarría, who was good with the Mets for a short period, not good for a longer period with the Mets, and whose bat flip is so slick it might be my favorite.
By the middle of the sixth inning, Vargas was cruising, I had a hot dog, and things were looking pretty good. I glanced up at the scoreboard, and noticed that Vargas’ pitch count was much less than it usually would’ve been by that point in the game, having thrown only 82 pitches, with no sign of slowing down. I had the thought then that maybe Vargas could stick things out, maybe even throw a complete game. I, of course, shook this thought off as it was pure insanity, but it did stick around in the back of my head as a remote possibility.
In the bottom of the seventh, Hechavarría hit a home run, and by that point it felt pretty certain that we were going to leave the ballpark that night at least with a victory high (although if the bullpen had to be called in, who knows). Then, between the seventh and eighth, my dad turned to me and suggested that we leave after the eighth to beat traffic. I looked up at the scoreboard, saw Vargas’ pitch count was still abnormally low (only 91), and suggested that maybe we should stick it out to see what happens. Besides, how much traffic were we going to hit on a Wednesday night?
During the eighth inning was when you could feel it really start to sink in with the crowd that Vargas was going to do it. There was a buzz that started spreading around the stadium. It felt like a game during the middle of a playoff push, that’s how excited people were. Well, if a game in the middle of a playoff push had a half filled stadium. He got through the eighth no problem, and now it was real. I got myself one of those Home Run Apple ice creams to celebrate. Sure, I gorged myself a little too much and made myself sick, but there was a reason to celebrate and I needed to empty the bowl to be able to bring it home and add it to my collection of Citi Field dinnerware.
The ninth inning started and everyone was so excited. Every pitch got us one step closer to the insanity that would be a Vargas complete game shutout. He gave up a single, which put everyone a little bit on edge. But he put away the last two batters no problem, and it had happened. Vargas went a complete game, giving up only five hits, walking one and striking out a miraculous eight batters. We were all there, communally experiencing what absolutely none of us predicted would happen when we got there that night. The stadium gave Vargas a nice standing ovation, and the buzz continued as we all filed out of the stadium to begin the trek home. I was on a ridiculous high, from a ridiculous night.
On the drive home, my dad and I were in complete disbelief, listening to the post game show on 880 AM. Then we heard a little tidbit of information from Wayne Randazzo: since 2011, Jason Vargas has thrown the second most complete game shutouts in the majors. Only Clayton Kershaw has thrown more. I was even more astounded after hearing this. Of all the great pitchers to have pitched nearly the entire decade, guys like Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, the two guys best at going the distance and shutting down an entire lineup are Clayton Kershaw and Jason Vargas. Jason Vargas, the man whose Mets tenure is best known for meeting time traveling Revolutionary War men and threatening to knock out reporters. That was the icing on the cake.
I’ve experienced quite a few great Mets moments. I was on Diamond Vision on Opening Day when I was 7, and I was at Shea to welcome Mike Piazza back when he was with the Padres. I saw Alonso break the Mets single season home run record, I saw both Brandon Nimmo and Dom Smith hit walk-offs in the span of a week, and I saw Wilmer return to Citi Field to a hero’s welcome. But of all these wonderful experiences, the most fun and most insane one was watching a number five starter known for being less than reliable throw a complete game shutout in the midst of the Mets falling apart during yet another June.