Reporters didn’t approach Aaron Heilman after the Mets victory in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, but dozens flocked to David Wright and Tom Glavine.
Heilman’s locker is in between both of theirs, so he stood to the side patiently.
While he waited, he chatted with the Observer about how cool it was to be in the playoffs.
“This is one of those things that you think about your whole time growing up and try to always prepare yourself for,” he said.
Nothing could go wrong, he said, unless he and his teammates forgot what got them there.
“You usually get in trouble when you try to do too much or make pitches that you don’t normally make,” he said.
Less than 24 hours later, it was Mr. Heilman’s locker that was the most popular with reporters: In Game 7, he’d just given up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to Yadier Molina. The Cardinals got the lead and eventually the pennant.
The home run came off an 83-m.p.h. change-up that barely moved. It seemed like a home run so improbable and dramatic that it only (rightly!) belonged to the Mets and their fans.
Instead, it was the Cardinals who won 3-1 at Shea Stadium and marched to the World Series.
A change-up is a perfectly routine pitch for Mr. Heilman to throw. But why he threw it first-pitch, to a hitter who has a tough time getting around on fastballs (Mr. Heilman was clocked at 96 last night on the Shea gun) will be one of those endless conversation pieces for Mets fans these coming decades.
After the game, Shawn Green was by himself reflecting on how the game got away. He threw his hands on his hips and shuffled through the warm-up jerseys and shirts in his locker.
“It really felt like we were going to win after Endy’s catch,” Green said. Everyone in the stadium thought that too.
He was referring to Endy Chavez’s miraculous leap-over-the-wall, snow-cone grab in the sixth inning that had the earmark of another historic Mets playoff play – the whimsy! The lunacy! And the double-play!
But the narrative arc of sports legends is written only in hindsight and never prematurely.
Bitter Mets fans learned that lesson last night. The Chavez catch and Oliver Perez’s inexplicably effective performance were not enough for the Mets to clinch their fifth National League pennant.
“As great as some of these moments have been it just makes it so hard to swallow when you have a moment like this,” said Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach, talking about the loss.
“I think I’m going to be on Prozac for the next month,” he said.
More than 56,000 rain-soaked fans felt the same way, especially after watching Carlos Beltran stare at a curveball for a called Strike 3 to finish the season (a pitch that evidently surprised Mr. Beltran, even though the Cardinals threw him a healthy diet of curves the entire series and Adam Wainwright, the reliever, had no command of his fastball with only his curve left as an out-pitch).
“I really didn’t want to watch them celebrate on our field,” Mr. Green said as he stood by his locker. “But for a couple minutes, it was hard to move.”
Even though the Mets clubhouse was crawling with more than 50 reporters, it looked somewhat empty since leather couches and tables were removed in anticipation of a champagne party afterwards. The flat-screen TVs were still wrapped in cellophane when the players returned from the field.
In fact, when Carlos Beltran addressed reporters after the game, a small piece of cellophane was stapled and hanging right next to his nameplate – a paltry and pathetic reminder of how close the Mets were.
The Mets were certainly frustrated – “Don’t mind me, I don’t have to get to my clothes,” was Paul Lo Duca’s way of telling reporters to clear the way so he could get to his locker while wearing only a towel – but to their credit, they talked about the game with cool.
Tom Glavine told reporters what time he would arrive at the ballpark on Friday so they could talk to him then. Cliff Floyd answered every last question about his pinch-hit strikeout in the 9th. David Wright’s endless congratulations of the Cardinals had all the graceless gracefulness of commending an ex-girlfriend on her marriage.
But as reporters talked to the Mets, several more reporters walked into the clubhouse soaked in liquor, returning from the visitors’ locker room just down the hall.
“I’m going to get naked in five minutes!” screamed Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals ace, who was doused in champagne and beer.
Once the Cardinals were finished with their Barefoot Bubbly Burt, they took to Buds and Bud lights out of a large trash bin. They said “nice!” a lot and did fratty things like pound their stomachs after chugging a beer.
“It makes it extra sweet,” said Braden Looper about clinching the final game at Shea. Mr. Looper was the Mets closer who blew up last year and was run out of town.
Now, with a heart-breaking loss to consider, Mets fans will look to new scapegoats.
An obvious pick is Billy Wagner, this year’s closer who lost Game 2 of the NLCS after getting shelled for three runs, which turned momentum to the Cardinals side.
Wagner gave up another two runs before closing out Game 6. That didn’t reassure Mets fans and caused one former Met closer, John Franco, to give a pep speech in what amounted into a lecture after the game.
“I mean these guys have seen you, what, three, four, five times?” Mr. Franco asked Mr. Wagner, rhetorically.
Franco was dressed in a dark suit for work he was doing for mlb.com. He stood at eye level with the 5’10 Wagner.
“So what do you do?” Mr. Franco asked, while Mr. Wagner offered an incredulous stare. “I mean, you got to fucking adjust, you know? Just fucking deliver. No thinking. Just pitch simple, okay?”
Mr. Wagner was looking carefully at the ground.
“Hey, no blood, no foul, right?”
There was no place for a lecture in the clubhouse after Game 7. The season was over.
And the two pitchers who would have been regaled as heroes had the Mets won, John Maine and Oliver Perez, were mostly alone after the game.
Mr. Maine talked about how he finally moved out of a Ramada Inn and into a nicer hotel in Queens – “It’s a secret which one,” he said – and how he was relieved that he finally got command of his change-up.
“This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball team,” he finally said. That’s a feat for a pitcher as hard on himself as he is.
Mr. Maine then went to go meet Chad Bradford in the parking lot, and, by this point, almost all of the reporters were gone from the clubhouse.
The Mets who were left and had stayed for nearly an hour to answer questions were finally finished and could get cleaned up. And just as David Wright began to walk to the showers to join some of his teammates, the fluorescent lights beaming in the Mets clubhouse suddenly flickered out and died.
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