New York Mets legendary, retired first baseman and current broadcast analyst Keith Hernandez shaved off his iconic mustache outside of Citi Field last Thursday afternoon. Kristina DeBarge’s “Goodbye” blared through speakers on the partly cloudy day as Met fans attended the last home game of the 2012 season.
The game against the Pittsburgh Pirates held some significance. Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, a strong contender for the National League Cy Young Award, aimed to become the first Mets starter since 1990 to reach 20 wins in one season.
At noon, 70 minutes before the first pitch, the parking lot was mostly empty and there was barely a line for tickets. And 30 minutes later, there were still more empty seats than fans. Despite an early omen of a half-filled stadium, 31,506 came into attendance.
Third baseman David Wright became the Mets’ all-time hits leader the previous night. Starting pitcher Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter of the season on June 1. The fans expected a strong performance from Dickey, and he exceeded all expectations. Dickey struck out the top of the Pirates lineup in the first inning. He allowed two runs off of four hits in the second inning. But aside from that and a solo home run in the fourth inning, all the Pirates did was swing and miss at his fluttering and dancing knuckleball. He lasted a little more than seven innings, and the crowd roared exponentially louder after each of his 13 strikeouts.
The crowd murmured, however, at the bottom of the fourth inning when the Mets were down 3-2 and catcher Josh Thole weakly grounded out with two outs and runners on second and third. After watching a pathetic offense from July through September, I wasn’t surprised, but Dickey deserved better. He ended the top of the fifth inning in a nine-strikeout groove; the offense had to back him up this time. Wright stepped to the plate with two on base and the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The ball sailed in the air and the crowd was buzzing. I stood up with my arms raised and fists clenched. Once it landed over the right-center field wall, I bawled because of my euphoria. I gave a stranger next to me multiple high-fives and clapped so hard that I blistered my hands. The score was 6-3 with four innings left.
Dickey was solid throughout the sixth, seventh and most of the eighth inning. The three-run lead put him at ease, and the crowd roared for every pitch. After 128 pitches he stepped off the mound slowly and soaked in a thunderous standing ovation.
I was nervous when the bullpen became responsible for the last four outs of the eighth and ninth innings. Sure enough, the Pirates hit a two-run homer to make the game 6-5. Luckily, reliever Bobby Parnell came in to save the day.
“This season hasn’t gone like we wanted, but this is a special moment and I’m happy to share it with all of you guys,” Dickey said after the game. “I feel like I’ve done all I can do.”
After the excitement died down and I was Manhattan-bound on the 7 train, I was saddened to realize that I would have to wait until next April to return to Citi Field.
Whether the Mets are winning or losing, and even if Dickey is no longer on the team, I will be back.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Michael Mandelkern is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.