For Howie Rose, 2015 Mets season trumps 1994 Rangers and 'Matteau!' call
Like everyone else with a passion for the Mets, Howie Rose has spent the week looking back and looking forward, but mostly decompressing as he returns to the humdrum of real life after an emotional crazy-quilt of a month.
In his case, that meant calling a Devils-Islanders game in Brooklyn for MSG Plus Tuesday night when he would rather have been calling Game 6 of the World Series in Kansas City for WOR radio.
"It's a bit of an adjustment, an adjustment that I'm not certain I'm ready to make," he said. "That's no disrespect at all to the other side of it. It's just human nature. You're riding this unbelievable wave, and then it's a regular-season Islanders game in November."
But what a wave it was. Rose, 61, called 2015 "the greatest damn season of broadcasting I've ever had."
"It was great," he said, growing increasingly emotional as he spoke about the experience while preparing for the Islanders' game at Barclays Center.
"I can't find the right words to tell you how much I loved this season, from the 11-game winning streak and even through the down periods, because even at their worst, they were in close enough proximity to first place. They lost that miserable game in the rain in July and were three games out, but then Washington comes in and they swept them and they're in a virtual tie.
"It was an honor -- an honor -- to do those games. I can't look at it any other way, man. Look, you want to take exception to this, or other media people want to, fine. But people know what I'm about. Cut me open and I have a Mets logo in there. I'm just so proud to have been there for this season. I can't say it any other way."
Nothing illustrates how much it meant more than this: He said it surpassed the 1994 Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup on his personal list.
Yes, that includes his famous "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" call when those Rangers won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals over the Devils.
"Up until now, I could say on one level, '94 with the Rangers was the biggest thrill of my career," he said. "But when those words, 'The Mets win the pennant!' came out of my mouth in Chicago, that beat everything. That was the trump.
"You have to understand, and I know this sounds contrived or hyperbole, but you have to trust me, it's the honest truth: I knew when I was 12 years old, maximum, at the oldest, that I wanted to broadcast for a living. And my two favorite teams growing up were the Mets and Rangers.
"Those were the two teams in my wildest, almost unimaginable dreams to work for, and somehow I was able to do that. So obviously '94 meant a lot.
"But there was a game the Mets played in '66 that I was at when Ron Swoboda hit a pinch-hit homer to beat the Giants in the bottom of the ninth inning and all the way home from Flushing to Bayside on the bus, all I could think of was: I wonder how Lindsey [Nelson] made it sound. I wonder how Bob [Murphy] made it sound.
"I would always put myself in their shoes in the biggest situations in my mind. So when I had those words spill out of my mouth, 'The Mets win the pennant!' everything came rushing back. I was literally getting images of being there in '69, and in '86, even though I was working.
"It was the most profound, deepest level of pride, satisfaction and, frankly, sheer joy I've ever had in the business."
Rose said the Matteau call and the Mets call were "totally different" in that the former was built on the suddenness of the overtime victory -- "I was shocked that they won, because they never won games like that" -- whereas the Mets swept the Cubs and won Game 4 in a rout.
And most of all, there was the chance to use the word "pennant," an iconic old baseball term that neither Murphy in '86 nor Gary Cohen in 2000 uttered in the seconds after the Mets won the NLCS in those years. Rose made sure to do so immediately.
"There's just something magical about it, especially when for me it dates back over 50 years, the words 'So and so win the pennant!' " he said. "It's that phrase. On that level alone, those words are just so steeped in the history and lexicon of baseball.
"I love looking back at old stuff wherever I can find it on the Internet, and you might come across a headline in a paper from 1906 where [Giants manager] John McGraw says this is the year his team wins the pennant. It's almost as profound to see it in print. Then to actually hear those words come out of your mouth, because they are steeped in a hundred-and-some years of history, when it's new and it's fresh and it's the team that you broadcast for and you rooted for and they're coming out of your mouth? I mean, seriously.
"And at Wrigley Field, in as iconic a setting as there is in the game. With each word, my mind just spun back through the decades and I could see myself delivering the words and they sort of came out in black and white, if that makes sense. Really, because it has spanned generations and generations of baseball culture and lore.
"That was just as good as it gets for me. I just never felt it the way I felt that."
Of course, after that victory in Chicago, the Mets still had "one more hill to climb, baby," as Rose said after that long-ago Rangers victory over the Devils. The Rangers climbed it. The Mets fell short.
"It's a shot to the solar plexus on one level," Rose said of the Mets' 12-inning loss to the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night. "But the reality of the situation, if you just step away from emotions and look at how the series played out, the better team, for now, won. That was one hell of a team. That's a better team than any I saw in the National League all year.
"Once you get past that initial disappointment, it doesn't take long. This is going to sound crazy, but by the time I woke up and got my wits about me Monday morning I was already thinking, man, I can't wait to get to spring training. This team is going to be so much fun. You're going to be running a great pitcher out there every night and they'll replace the guys who leave with something, hopefully of significance.
"Just step back and say, they're the National League champions. No one expected that in March, April or July."
The only silver lining, of sorts, about the World Series loss is that it left Rose and Mets fans with another rung on the ladder to look forward to.
"As satisfying as it was to say those words and feel the raw emotion as they left my mouth," he said, "at least there's still that opening for the one call that will be the granddaddy of them all for me. If it ever happens."