An at-bat for Adam Greenberg that was seven years in the making lasted all of 33 seconds. That’s all the time it took for New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey to dispense of Greenberg on three wicked knuckleballs — seven years and 33 seconds for him to go down swinging.
But it didn’t diminish the “magical’’ moment for Greenberg, whose major-league career started and ended with one pitch in 2005, a pitch that struck him in the head and knocked him out of the big-league scene. His return to the game, if only for one day, was one he will long remember.
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“It’s going to last an eternity for me,’’ Greenberg said of Tuesday’s at-bat at Marlins Park. “That’s 33 more seconds than I could ever have asked for.’’
The crowd of 29,709 offered him a standing ovation, Jose Reyes gave him a bear hug, and he smiled inside the dugout long after the out was recorded. Though it wasn’t a perfect, fairy-tale ending, Greenberg was the feel-good story of the night for the Marlins.
Once again, Heath Bell was anything but.
Bell, the poster child for a Marlins season that has been nothing less than a full-blown catastrophe, blew yet another save opportunity before the Marlins won 4-3 in 11 innings.
Bell inherited a 3-0 lead when he took over with two outs in the eighth. By the time Ozzie Guillen removed the ball from hands, the Mets had tied it on a RBI single, a wild pitch and a high-hopper infield hit.
In stark contrast to the loud cheering they gave to Greenberg two innings before, fans rained boos on Bell as he made the slow walk back to the dugout, where he sat alone until A.J. Ramos was able to complete the inning. It was Bell’s eighth blown save of the season.
The night was symbolic of the wretched season itself, which will culminate Wednesday.
It was a night that was supposed to belong to Greenberg, the 31-year-old former player who had become an obscure footnote, but was stained somewhat by another Bell failure.
Until Tuesday, Greenberg and Fred Van Dusen shared the distinction of being the only two players in major-league history who were hit by a pitch in their only plate appearance without ever taking the field.
Because a player does not receive an official at-bat when hit by a pitch, a campaign was launched to help Greenberg a second chance to change that fact. The Marlins agreed and signed Greenberg to a one-day contract to give him that chance.
Van Dusen, who made his mark in 1955, was flown in for the occasion and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Guillen waited until the sixth inning before sending in Greenberg to hit for Bryan Petersen. Greenberg watched Dickey’s first pitch go for a called strike, then swung and missed at the next two.
“It was magical,’’ Greenberg said of the at-bat. “The energy that was in the stadium was something I have never experienced in my life, and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again.’’
Though he struck out, fans and teammates treated Greenberg as if he had done anything but.
“Getting high-fived after a strikeout by an entire team and having people cheer. ... It was different, to say the least,’’ Greenberg said. “But it just proved that it really was important to a lot of people.’’
Greenberg also could take some consolation in knowing that he was Dickey’s fourth victim in a string of five consecutive strikeouts. Dickey is a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award but failed to collect his 21st victory.
He left trailing 3-0 due to solo home runs by Gorkys Hernandez and Rob Brantly, and a RBI single by Carlos Lee.
Jacob Turner was in line for the win after taking a shutout into the eighth and turning the ball over to Mike Dunn with a man on second and two outs. But the meltdown began when Dunn gave up a single to Daniel Murphy and Bell couldn’t get the third out before the Mets were able to tie the score.
But the Marlins won in the 11th after Reyes tripled to start the inning and scored on Donovan Solano’s bases-loaded single off Collin McHugh. Greenberg raced onto the field with the rest of his Marlins teammates and was the first to congratulate Solano.
“This was cool,’’ he said. “Thirty-three seconds, however long, this was worth it.’’