Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No. 583 – Flight Response / The Real

Performer: Days of the New
Songwriter: Travis Meeks
Original Release: Days of the New (II)
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

As I write this, the World Series just wrapped up. My team didn’t win it, which makes 22 straight years that my team—the Cincinnati Reds—didn’t win it.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that the team that beat my Reds—the San Francisco Giants—won it all. In other words, the Reds lost to the best. That the Reds blew a 2-0 lead, however, tends to lessen any good feelings.

I wasn’t around for the playoff debacle, and being in Italy definitely lessened the blow, but even so, any disappointment quickly turned to disinterest. This probably has more to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully emotionally invested in this team this year even given its success.

I mean, it wasn’t like 1999. That year was easily the most involved I ever was in a pennant race—more so than in 1995, even more so than in 1990, the last time the Reds last won it all. Why? Living in Columbus at the time and being close enough to get to games regularly had something to do with it, sure. But more important, the 1999 Reds were just a fun team to follow.

The 1999 Reds weren’t supposed to do anything that year, and they started out playing like that. But they starting winning in May and got hot in June, and before anyone knew what was happening, the Reds were in first place. From then on, the Reds almost never led or trailed the way more heavily favored Houston Astros by more than 2 games at any one time. So every game was crucial—and many of them were nail-biters that the Reds pulled out in spectacular fashion.

It was easy for me to get roped in, but the bandwagon that I was driving wasn’t very full. Oh sure, Debbie was on board, and Scott had completely committed to the Reds—the first time the team was any good since he had moved to the city at the end of 1995.

But the lack of support reached the point that when playoff tickets went on sale in September, I got right in for the first game at Riverfront Stadium with no trouble. It was as though most Cincinnatians were saying, I don’t believe this, so I’m not buying into it. I bought into it and drove the bandwagon all the way to the end.

The second to last weekend before the season ended, I was planning to drive to Flint. Dave had scored tickets to the final game at Tiger Stadium, and, well, after all the time we spent there, we HAD to be at the last game.

But I couldn’t leave that Saturday until the Reds game was over. I had been watching since the beginning—the Reds needed a win to pull a half-game back of the Astros, who were being routed—and the game was going into extra innings. The Reds loaded the bases in the 11th and got nothing. ARGH! Then in the 12th, the Cardinals took a lead only to have the Reds rally … again, winning on a home run. Incredible! I called Dave and told him I was on my way.

But then, right at the very cusp of winning the division and completing a dream season, the Reds woke up. The backbreaker was a Friday night game at Milwaukee.

The Astros had already lost, and the Brewers were so-so. A win would give the Reds the division lead and all but assure them of a playoff spot. The Reds had Denny Neagle pitching. Neagle, who had been hurt earlier in the season, had won six in a row while pitching great and quickly was staked to a 3-0 lead. Things were looking good.

Neagle gave up a run in the sixth to make it 3-1 but still seemed to be in control. However, manager Jack McKeon pulled him in the seventh for a pinch hitter. To this day, I still remember watching the game at The Dispatch going no, no, NO!!!

This meant the Reds were going to Scott Williamson. Williamson had pitched brilliantly all season but was struggling down the stretch and seemed to be unreliable for two innings of work, which is what he would have to deliver that night.

It all depended on the first batter. If Williamson got him out, he’d roll through the inning, no problem. If he didn’t, you might as well pull him right then and there, because he was going to cave in. I’ve never researched to see whether that was really true, but it sure seemed to be true at the time.

Williamson allowed the first runner to get on base in the seventh and somehow got through a very rocky inning. OK, the Reds survived; come get him, Jack. Bring in Graves now. He didn’t. In the eighth, Williamson walked the leadoff batter and this time there was no rescue: Williamson blew up. When McKeon finally summoned Graves, the score was tied 3-3.

At that point, I saw the handwriting on the wall: The Reds were going to blow it. The Astros and Mets had refused to lose, so now the team that was going to falter was going to be my beloved Reds. I fell into a deep funk, and nothing could console me. After the wild and merry chase the whole year had been, this was how it was to end, in bitter defeat in Milwaukee?

Unfortunately, yes. The Reds lost that game 4-3 in 11 innings, lost the next day to lose the division and then won Sunday with their best pitcher to force a one-game playoff for the wild card, which was a very anticlimactic loss to the Mets. I say it was anticlimactic because I knew the Reds were going to lose. Two batters into the game, the Mets had all the runs they’d need.

I didn't even care about the playoffs. Just getting there would have painted the season an unquestioned success, but, of course, they didn't make it. The 1999 Reds remain the only team since the advent of the wild card in 1995 to have won 95 games—in fact, they won 96—and not made the playoffs.

As far I was concerned, the Reds missed out on the playoffs not against the Mets in their one-game showdown, but the previous Friday in Milwaukee. They had the game in their hands and let it go. It’s a game to which Scott and I now refer to only as “a certain Friday night,” and I don’t feel like talking about it any more …

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