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Clairvoyance, Prognostication, and Walk-Offs

One of my cousins, a young, Brooklyn-based chap named Matthew Sunday, thinks that my choice of vocabulary during conversation is too complex. He's not going to like this essay on clairvoyance and prognostication. Perhaps you will.

Clairvoyance is a skill that millions of sports fans think they have, but only a select few do.That's one of the reasons that prognosticating for money is so popular, because so many have a clouded belief of expertise in a subject matter that is as unpredictable as any in the world.

I have experienced moments of clairvoyance and take pride in my ability to selectively prognosticate with great accuracy. For example, moments after the New York Rangers lost Game 6 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, I told my friends Daniel Gordon and David Cooper "Game 7 will be won by a captain." Let the record reflect that Vancouver captain Trevor Linden scored two goals in a losing effort and Rangers captain Mark Messier was credited (admittedly incorrectly) with the game-winning goal (Besides the fact that it was really Brian Noonan's goal, in hockey, they give the game-winning goal, for some reason, to the player that scored the goal that gives his team one more than the opponent's goal total).

But our subject is baseball, and on the subject of clairvoyance and prognostication, we turn to the Mets. When I think of Mets prognostication, I think of a pair of managers. Jeff Torborg, in a moment of what some might call delusional clairvoyance once uttered the phrase: "New York fans are going to love Bill Pecota!" That was poor prognostication. In 2001, about a month before the season ended, Bobby Valentine was asked how many wins it would take to win the NL East. His answer was 88. That was a pretty good prognostication.

Walk-off clairvoyance is something with which I have familiarity. It was sometime after midnight, in late October, 1986, when an 11-year-old turned to his father's friends and said "Wouldn't it be funny if this guy throws a wild pitch or balks here?" In May, 1988, with two outs and nobody on with the Mets down a run to the Reds in the 10th, an adolescent interrupted his dad's phone call to let him know that "Strawberry's gonna come up..." as Keith Hernandez stood at the plate, in what appeared to be a lost cause of a game. He did, and the Mets won (we'll save the story of that game for another day). In September, 1990, a loud-mouth sitting behind a pair of Mets fans let them know that after Dave Magadan's failed bunt, that Strawberry was going to launch a walk-off shot ("accurately called" as a colleague of mine would say).

My favorite walk-off clairvoyant story deals with July 29, 2001, with the Mets staggering along at 48-57. This was at a time in which we had a Sunday ticket plan, and this was a game my father and I went to without the enthusiam that accompanied trips to Shea Stadium the previous three years. Turned out, we got to see one heck of a game between the Mets and Phillies.

The Mets had an early 2-0 lead, but Kevin Appier couldn't hold it, and the game was even after four innings. Both teams had chances to go back ahead, but the Phillies left a combined five men on base in the fifth and sixth, and the Mets had a runner thrown out at the plate in the fifth.

New York went ahead in the seventh on an RBI groundout by Mike Piazza in which Desi Relaford's takeout slide prevented a double play, but the Phillies snatched the advantage away in the top of the eighth when Scott Rolen hit a two-run homer off John Franco. The game went topsy-turvy in the bottom of the eighth, when with a man on, Tsuyoshi Shinjo put the Mets back in front, 5-4, with a two-run home run off Jose Santiago.

Armando Benitez tried for the save in the top of the ninth, but that immediately went awry when he walked the leadoff batter (if you ever read me referring to something as being "Benitezian," it means, "walked the leadoff man"), who subsequently advanced to third on a single and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Proof that clairvoyance is an inherited trait came from the person sitting next to me, who decided aloud that as the Mets were ambling back to the dugout that "We'll be going home after Piazza's at-bat."

Now, my father has good prognosticative skills (hence his success at poker), so I listened, but still took those words with a grain of salt. My facial expression showed that. This was 2001 and things like that weren't happening for the Mets that season (at least not yet). So when Relaford grounded out to start the inning, that left only one way for the moment of clairvoyance to be correct.

For dramatic purposes, I'll say here that the prognostication was repeated as Piazza stepped to the plate, but I don't remember whether it was or not. What I do remember was the tap on the knee, and the words "Let's go!" a millisecond after Piazza's swing. He launched Rheal Cormier's second pitch over the left-center field fence for a no-doubt, walk-off home run (Phillies announcer Harry Kalas had a good home run call too, muttering "Oh brother!" as the ball left the bat). Afterwards, we lamented how this game wasn't going to make much of a dent in the standings. The cool thing about it is that, if you're familiar with how that season concluded, it almost did.

Anyway, for the last four years, I've had to endure the question "Was that a call, or was that a call????" any time that game is brought up in our household. In fact, I have a feeling I'm going to see it again in an e-mail or instant message from a certain family member at some point this evening. I don't have to be clairvoyant to prognosticate that.

True Metsicators know...Mike Piazza's first four walk-off hits for the Mets have all been home runs.


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