Warehouse Windows

The Pendleton Moment

In “Bottom of the Sixth: Pendulum of Baseball”, the character Abigail’s first experience with the moment that momentum changes and swings the other way. I think most baseball fans, or fans of every sport, experience this type of moment, what I call the Pendleton Moment. It is a point in a game or a season when everything seems to be going great for your team; they have the lead and/or momentum, all the breaks are going their way and they just seem unbeatable. And then the Pendleton Moment happens, where something goes wrong, sometimes subtle, sometimes huge, and everything changes. Everything has swung back in the other direction and never returns.

You may be reading this and thinking that I have the wrong word and I mean to say “pendulum moment”. I am not. I intentionally call it the “Pendleton Moment”…Let me explain.

I fell in love with the New York Mets in 1986 when they won the World Series in such dramatic fashion. I had not followed them for a full season, however, until 1987 (yes, initially, I was a bandwagoner). And 1987 was a rollercoaster that started with Dwight Gooden in drug rehab and not pitching until June, saw the Mets drop to 10.5 games behind the Cardinals by July 10, rallying and chasing through the late Summer to find themselves 1.5 games behind St. Louis on September 11 with a three game series against them at Shea Stadium.

And just as I remember the details around the moment that I fell in love with the New York Mets, I remember the moment I experienced my first baseball heartbreak. While there were still 20 games after this set for the Mets to catch the Cards, this series was huge and held a playoff like atmosphere to it. A sweep puts them up 1.5 games up and a simple win of the series puts them just a half game behind.

I had a Youth Group gathering the night of the first game, but someone had a radio that we would listen to from time to time. We heard the Mets get a 4-1 lead early in the game and it felt like they were assured of a win. It got to the 9th inning and Roger McDowell walked the first guy but then got the next two outs. The Mets were one out away from getting within a half game of the Cards with Dwight Gooden (who had a strong season after rehab) pitching the next day with the possibility of putting them in first place for the first time since April 25th. That scenario almost seemed poetic and would quickly become a fantasy.

Willie McGee singled in a run bringing up Terry Pendleton, the pendulum.

The radio was sitting on a chair next to an open side door of the St. Jude Parish Center where we had been playing basketball. It was a nice fall evening and we took a break to listen to the 9th inning and cool off. I remember the color of the carpet around the edge of the wood floor. I remember the color of the door frame. I can even picture the cars sitting in the parking lot just beyond the open door. I remember all of it as the voice of Bob Murphy broke my heart calling the home run to deep center that Pendleton would hit.

I felt the air escape my lungs. I felt my heart drop into my stomach. I felt hope fighting to leave my young baseball soul. The momentum of the game and the season, in that instant, swung the other way. In some ways, you could argue, it was the moment the whole franchise changed and swung in a direction that they have yet to recover from..

The Mets managed to get a bit of a rally in the bottom of the ninth, putting two runners on, but Keith Hernandez would ground out to end the rally. The Cards scored twice in the tenth to nail down the game and, for all intents and purposes, the NL East.

The Mets were 2-1/2 games out when Gooden took the mound the next afternoon and promptly gave up five runs in the first and they dropped to 3-½ games back. They won on Sunday, but you could feel the team had just lost all their momentum…they had given it to the Cardinals.

They would get back to 1.5 games, but they went 11-9 in the final 20 games to finish 3 games behind. I don’t remember when they actually got eliminated (I looked it up…September 30 with a loss just before a final three game set in St. Louis), but it felt like they got eliminated with Pendleton’s home run. I held out hope as all good fans of the game do. I’ve always been an ultra-optimistic fan(born in the forge of the greatest World Series comeback in history will do that), but deep down inside me, I knew they were done that Friday night.

Since then, those moments when everything swings back the other way have been known as Pendelton moments to me and it might be 20/20 hindsight, but I feel like I always know it the moment it happens. Like one of those pendulum rides at an amusement park when it hits that highest point and then stops for a second. You know exactly what is about to happen next and in that next second, the air rushes out of your lungs.

Mike Scioscia’s 9th inning home run in game 4 of the 1988 NLCS. Jeffrey Maier’s interference in game 1 of the 1996 ALCS. Marquis Grissom’s three run home run in the 8th inning of game 1 of the 1997 ALCS. Timo Perez being thrown out at home in the 6th inning of game 1 of the 2000 World Series. Greg Dobb’s sixth-inning grand slam in the middle game of the September Phillies series at Shea Stadium in 2007. Alcides Escobar’s leadoff inside the park home run of game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

These are all moments that did not immediately decide games or season’s. Some Pendleton moments don’t even change the score. However, they are moments when you feel like everything has changed, momentum is lost and the wind is taken out of the sails of a team. They are key moments, sometimes huge, sometimes subtle, that seem to remove a team from contention.

I imagine for a player, there is a psychological factor that is involved. In the case of the Mets and Cardinals, the Mets were ready to celebrate and they were knocked to the ground while the Cardinals were filled with elation. As a fan, I know that mentally you just get crushed by some of these moments. For a player who is in the thick of it and has worked so hard to get to that point and have one moment hit you like that, it can be nearly devastating to you mentally, making it difficult to recover in time.

And you don’t always feel it right away, but in all those moments listed above, I remember them bringing a strong sense of foreboding…somewhere, deep down inside me, despite my unending optimism, I knew my team was done in that moment. I still held out hope. I still rooted and even prayed, but somehow, I just knew that the pendulum of momentum had just swung the other way. These Pendelton moment’s are painful for fans and sometimes hang with you for the lifetime of your fandom to recover.

As I contemplate all the Pendelton moments I have encountered in my life as a Mets fan, I wonder if they all go away if and when the Mets win the World Series again. I hope it doesn’t take too long to find out.

And the more I think about all of this, I can’t help but wonder if it was the wild pitch or Bill Buckner’s error that was the Pendelton moment for the 1986 Red Sox.

And I remember that the pendulum swings both ways.