Thanks to R.A. Dickey, Citi Field finally comes alive
Anthony RieberAnthony Rieber
Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998
Mets fans streamed through the No. 7 train turnstiles at the Willets Point station a little before 1 p.m. Thursdayin a way they haven't for months.
In great numbers. With great anticipation.
They were greeted by familiar sights as they descended the stairs to the Citi Field entrance plaza -- the old Home Run Apple, the team store, the Jackie Robinson entry gate -- and by a sight they probably haven't seen for a while.
It wasn't a full house -- the attendance was 31,506 -- but for a Thursday afternoon game to end a disappointing home season against a faceless opponent, it might as well have been a full house.
It certainly was a full-throated house. Mets fans didn't only want this. They needed it.
It proves once again that Mets fans, no matter how many times their hearts are broken, no matter how many times they vow to keep their ticket money in their pockets, no matter how many times they rail against the team's owners, will always come back when there's a reason to do so.
"This day was as much about the fans as it was for me," Dickey said. "Honestly. I wouldn't tell you that if it weren't true. We moved the start days around . . . and it ended up well."
Dickey is a very smart guy. Baseball smart and real-life smart. He proved that again when he chose to pitch against the lifeless Pirates at home rather than the playoff-bound Braves in Atlanta Friday night. And he gave the home fans a thrill to boot.
It certainly sounded like a big event from the moment Dickey popped out of the first-base dugout to begin his warm-ups.
The cheers followed him as he walked out and again as he walked back. When his name was announced in the lineup. When he took the mound. When he struck out Starling Marte for the first out. When he came to bat in the third inning. When he walked off the mound after the sixth and after the seventh.
When he came out of the dugout with a bat in the seventh. When he dribbled a single toward third base. When he tied his career high with his 13th strikeout for the second out of the eighth. When he was taken out by Terry Collins after walking the next batter, Travis Snider. When he waved his cap to the fans.
"I hope anybody doesn't take this wrong," Collins said. "This was about R.A. today. It was about him, it was about his connection with the fans, his connection with the city."
When Snider robbed Mike Baxter of a home run with an incredible catch while climbing the rightfield wall in the second inning, the fans gasped as one. They did it again when they saw the replay.
The Mets trailed 2-1 at the time. It would become 3-1 when Rod Barajas took Dickey deep in the fourth.
But the Mets -- just like their fans on this day -- came back.
Dickey took it from there and ran with it. Things got a little hairy thanks to Jon Rauch, who allowed a two-run homer to Alex Presley with one out in the ninth, but Bobby Parnell got Jose Tabata to line out to Queens kid Baxter in right to end it and set off a much-needed celebration.
The fans were into every pitch in a way they haven't been at a Citi Field game other than Opening Days, or the games against the Yankees, or Johan Santana's no-hitter.
"It was tremendous," Collins said. "That's why you hope to play with stuff on the line. I hope our players felt the energy today, because that's what you want to have. That's what you want this ballpark filled with."