October 8, 1999: The Mets, Game Three

There’s Rocktober, Oktoberfest, to name two cliches associated with this month. What to call what’s happening to the city with two baseball playoff teams? “Ball Fall”? “Balltober”?

The momentum is building, whatever it’s called. Shea was the mass equivalent of not knowing what to do with your hands; before the game, everyone was excited just to be there in the playoffs again, and no one was quite sure how to act. There was an improvised feeling to the extra seats for big shots, added to the stands next to the dugouts, and to the mood in general. When the game got going, cheers game in frenzies, tens of thousands of people moving like excited molecules, at a higher pace that the we-were-just-here-last-year tone of Yankees fans last night. They were loud, too, but practiced. Mets fans were thrilled to be back at the party.

Pre-game, Leroy Neiman, kitschy sports painter and famous mustache wearer, was prowling the Mets dugout, waiting to present Mike Piazza with a fresh portrait. Piazza was a little busy treating this mangled thumb, but Neiman was in a good mood. One way to tell he’s been around big New York events and personalities a very long time: “I knew Donald Trump when he was humble,” Neiman says.

Though he likes the Yankees too, Neiman is partial to the Mets because they’ve been so knowable over the years. “It all started in ‘69 – that team just took you in,” Neiman says. “Then Keith Hernandez, he became a friend. It’s easier here. The Mets are like a saloon; the Yankees are a cocktail lounge.”

Pondering the pressure a Subway Series would bring, though, Neiman remembers a Yankee moment. “I was standing on the field talking to ReggieJackson the night he hit three home runs in the Series against the Dodgers,” he says. “And he was looking around the stands, saying, ‘How manyof those people you think got Reggie bars?’ The he said, ‘I’m gonna hit some home runs tonight.’ He always said that. But he repeated it, with aseriousness, that he was going to will himself to do it. That’s what it takes in this town. You need a big personality, a sense of drama, to pullit off.”

–7:45 p.m., October 8, 1999

ine of the night: First he said it in front of about 50 reporters, cameras, tape recorders, then he pleaded, “Please don’t quote me.” So I won’t. But Mike Piazza discussed his thumb injury – or thumb injury maltreatment – after the game, in great detail. The thumb is grossly swollen and misshapen, roughly twice the size of his right thumb, thanks to a cortisone injection that was supposed to kill the pain from catching 90 m.p.h. fastballs and sliders for six months. Anyway, Piazza described his pain, the injection, the uncertainty of when he might play again; someone asked when he could tell there was a serious problem. Piazza says, “When I woke up this morning and couldn’t do the things you normally do with your hands.” So we won’t quote him on the bodily function he chose as an example of what he couldn’t do; Piazza then went on to say that in Japan, wrestlers have assistants just to perform this cleansing act. Mike clearly has been studying this subject for some time.

–1:30 a.m., October 9, 1999

October 8, 1999: The Mets, Game Three