Sitting in Citi Field Monday night, I couldn't help but notice (and of course smile) over the wonderful realization that something different was in the air. No, it wasn't the reconfigured dimensions and shorter fences. True, the walls are now a warmer, bluer, friendlier reminder of Shea, and the 100 or so additional seats above the new left field wall add a very intriguing aesthetic to the already beautiful ballpark. But that wasn't it, either.
Although it was nice to see that eight of the nine starters that Terry Collins placed in his lineup were homegrown products, and that the Mets have embraced the classic cream pinstripe look once again, I knew that that wasn't what had everyone in the ballpark bristling with alacrity either.
What was it?
I even considered for a fleeting moment that it could have been the shorter lines at The Shake Shack.
Still not the answer.
However, as the game unfolded and Mike Pelfrey, despite a nine-strikeout performance, continued to struggle all night in typical fashion, somehow enduring a 10-hit barrage by the Nationals, I realized what it was.
Despite watching the Mets fall behind 3-1 and facing the end to a most enchanted start to the new season, Met fans were not worried. Amazingly, all was not lost.
There was still hope. That was it. Hope. It was hope that was in the air. Imagine? Hope. I guess it took me a while to identify the feeling because let's face it, it has been a while.
Yes. It was hope that was blowing around Citi Field Monday night with all the hot dog wrappers and napkins.
And that hope became more and more palpable when David Wright delivered a big two-out RBI in the third inning to put the Amazins on the board, and that hope fed off itself an inning later as rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis launched a prodigious two-run homer off the Modell's sign in right to tie the game at 3-3.
Although the offense sputtered here and there, leaving men on in virtually every inning, all was not lost. The bullpen continued its stellar start to the season, as Miguel Batista, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch held the Nationals scoreless the remainder of the game.
And then things really got interesting.
Pinch hitter Mike Baxter led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk against Henry Rodriguez. Ruben Tejada then put down a two-strike bunt that was mishandled by Rodriguez, resulting in the ball skipping down the right field line. This set up a second and third situation for the Mets with nobody out.
When Daniel Murphy delivered a line-drive, walk-off single, extending the Mets' perfect season one more day, hope took a few more steps toward becoming faith.
The celebration that ensued was inspiring. It included back slapping, laughing and of course a shaving cream pie for Murphy, courtesy of Justin Turner. But what made the jocularity really special was the way it all rose precipitously from the field and then spilled over into the stands and the parking lots.
Are The Mets for real in 2012?
The celebratory chants of "Lets Go Mets" and "4-0" resonated in the night air like the sweet song of angels. Met fans were delirious as they boarded the train and got into their cars for what was to be a glorious ride home. And while they must contend with naysayers, especially those who follow the other team in New York, and the admonitions that "it just wont last," this sweet taste of rapture and the unbridled exhilaration felt by those who don the blue and orange remains very real.
The Mets will certainly not win every game; that is not the point. Nobody expected that.
What Met fans have gained these last few days is not simply four victories and a place atop the National League East standings. No. We have procured something far more valuable, something to take us through the arduous grind of a 162-game season. It is something that we have not had in a very long time.
We have hope.