I Was There When #1: Zambrano’s Impromptu Exit

Guest Post by: Ted Berg of Tedquarters.net

I was there for the Grand Slam single in 1999 and the 10-run comeback in 2000. I was there during the long summers in the mid-90s and for all the expectations of the late 80s. And I was there for the collapse of 2007 and the roller coaster finish of 2008, there when they tore down the last piece of Shea Stadium and there for way, way more than I’d like to remember of the 2009 season.

But for some reason, the Mets memory that strikes me today — maybe because of the way they’ve been playing or the trade deadline that recently passed — came on May 6, 2006.  Victor Zambrano was pitching. We booed him when he was introduced. Nearly everyone did. It certainly wasn’t fair — I mean, Zambrano didn’t ask to be traded for Scott Kazmir. But he frustrated us in 2005 and he stunk for his first handful of starts in 2006, and he made an easy target for a bunch of disgruntled Mets fans refusing to believe even after the Mets’ hot start that season.

Zambrano struck out two Braves and yielded no hits and — most shockingly — no walks in the first inning. My friends and I joked that maybe the 15 minutes were finally up and Zambrano would be awesome from then on out. All of us secretly hoped it might be true, I’m sure.  Andruw Jones led off the second inning against Zambrano. We were in the concourse on line to get food, but when I heard the crowd cheering for the strikeout after two strikes, I went out to one of Shea Stadium’s Upper Deck entranceways to watch the rest of the at-bat.

Sure enough, Zambrano got the strikeout. Then he bounced. Exit, stage right. It was one of the oddest sights I’ve seen in a baseball game, and I’ve seen a lot of baseball games. He just threw the pitch then jogged off the mound.

I thought Zambrano somehow didn’t know how many outs there were, even though Jones was the first batter of the inning. He seemed — from the Upper Deck in left field, at least — so nonchalant about it, just like the inning was over.

Turns out it was his Mets’ career that was over. The next day he went on the 60-day DL.

Zambrano’s whole career in Queens still seems to typify the Mets-fan experience of the last 20 years. He came thanks to a bad decision fueled by optimism and mired in all sorts of rumors and allegations. He disappointed fans just by being himself, by not living up to unrealistic expectations levied upon him by an organization that really seemed to believe a guy who couldn’t get the ball over the plate would be righted in 15 minutes. Then, just after teasing everyone by providing a tiny little sliver of real hope, he disappeared in bizarre fashion.

And I was there.

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