The final live baseball of the Dodgers season was falling along the foul line, nearest the people who had taken the most interest in the lanky right fielder, who had lauded him when he wore Dodgers whites, and who heckled him in New York Mets gray.
Shawn Green had three hits Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, helping the Mets to a 9-5 victory and leading a band of former Dodgers into the National League Championship Series. Paul Lo Duca (two hits, two runs batted in, dozens of fist pumps) will be there. So will Guillermo Mota (two scoreless innings, several gallons of postgame champagne). And Jose Valentin.
Other than Lo Duca, they do not make up the core of the Mets. They are bit players, late add-ons, smaller pieces of a larger team whose design is to slug its way into the World Series.
But on a cooling evening at Chavez Ravine, in patches of dirt and grass they found familiar after all these years, the former Dodgers, surrounded by bigger bats and grander personalities, were better than the current ones. Again.
So they partied where the St. Louis Cardinals had two years before, the long narrow clubhouse on the first base side becoming a routine host.
Green caught that final foul ball a few feet from the stands, then loped to the infield. The mob of Mets shook and vibrated, like an old electric football game, shimmying from the mound to second base and then in tight circles.
"It's crazy," Green said. "I got the ball in my pocket right now. If nobody wants it, I'm going to keep it. Because it means something to me."
The baseball season is a terrible grind for even the powerful. The Mets won 97 games, settled the National League East by the All-Star game, won it officially in mid-September, tried to maintain their health, and failed in several key roster spots. The division series are fraught with peril, and the Mets entered theirs without starting pitchers Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, and may have lost left fielder Cliff Floyd.
So, even though they walked through the season and swept the Dodgers in three games, it seemed to be one, long pull. Beating back the Dodgers brought small smiles to those who had been traded away. The Mets will play the winner of the St. Louis-San Diego series, which the Cardinals lead, two games to one, with their Cy Young Award hopeful, Chris Carpenter, pitching today in St. Louis.
"This is a great example of what this team is all about," Mets General Manager Omar Minaya said. "These guys find a way to get that extra. They just keep on going."
In a way, it made sense to Green that he was here, soaked in something good. He'd occasionally wondered how he'd suddenly become the disposable player, tossed aside to the Arizona Diamondbacks, dropped into the Mets' little red bucket. He assumed it was leading somewhere, though the NLCS seemed too fantastic a place.
"I think like that," he said. "I feel like it all had to happen for a reason. It's been a winding path for sure. But, right here, it's not about me. It's about this team and trying to win a championship."
Indeed, at least from the National League side, the rest of the postseason does not shape up as a taut affair. Mets starters threw 13 2/3 innings, exactly as many as the Dodgers bled from theirs.
Asked afterward if he had enough starting pitching to continue well, Manager Willie Randolph said, "Oh, yeah. No doubt. We'll just piece everything together and go out and play.
"That's what's so special," he added. "All year long we haven't worried about what we don't have."
Hours after their more famous and more wealthy neighbors had been punked by the Detroit Tigers, after the richest ballplayer in their city slinked into another off-season, the second-citizen Mets gathered in a sticky, clamorous clump in the visitors' clubhouse.
"It's a shame the Yankees went down," third baseman David Wright said. "But, we're not going to concern ourselves with the Yankees."