Sunday, September 30, 2007

TerMET Art: Amazin', but not in the way I'd like

This is the view from my seats at last year's National League Divisional Playoffs. I had tickets to this year's playoffs too, but I'll never know what glorious Shea Stadium would look like from those seats. Because this year, there are no playoffs for the New York Mets, thanks to a historic collapse for the ages. There is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Luis has struck out.

With seventeen games left to play, the Mets had a seven game lead in the National League East and until today, no team had ever had a lead that large with that few games left to play and not made the playoffs. Night after night this wretched September, the Mets let the Philadelphia Phillies inch closer, and when they played head-to-head, the Phils swept on two separate occasions.

The team's problems lately have been pretty fundamental: no one could pitch a lick. Just look at these scores in recent weeks: 13-4, 12-4, 9-8, 8-7, 10-6. Today they lost 8-1 after Tom Glavine, their most dependendable starter all year and team's alleged stopper gave up 7 runs in less than an inning. When your best pitcher gives that kind of performance in the biggest game of the year, what do you expect to happen?

For those who watched closely, the warning signs were there all year — particularly the team's poor play at home (they finished with a winning percentage of just .500 at Shea) coupled with their surprisingly bad record against the N.L. East — but they were easy to overlook with an offense as dominant as the Mets'. That is until the pitching finally got so bad that no lead was safe. In the final week of the season, the Mets lost 6 games out of 7, and they held leads in most of them.

You'd think I'd be mad, and I was for a while. But by Friday I'd decided: I wanted the Mets to lose. Why? Two reasons: first, they were playing so unbelievably poorly they didn't deserve to make the playoffs, and I had no interest in watching the team limp in and then get slaughtered by the Arizona Diamondbacks (a far better team than most people realize). Second: holding a record as ignoble as this one feel so very right for a franchise so very inept.

Granted, the Mets have had more success than other teams. Being a Mets fan has rarely been as painful as being a Red Sox fan before 2004, or as being a Cubs fan at any point in the last century (which is why I'm rooting hard for the Cubbies throughout the postseason). But the Mets have a remarkable knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They blow leads. They can't hit in the clutch. They make dumb trades. Even some of their greatest moments are emblamatic of their eternal failures: utility outfielder Endy Chavez has become a Mets folk hero for his remarkable catch during Game 7 of the NLCS last year against the St. Louis Cardinals. After making a catch like that, most teams would ride the momentum to a decisive victory. Not the Mets; they ultimately lost the game 3-1 to the eventual World Champs.

Last year, when the Mets steamrolled the entire National League (right up until running into the red-hot Cards in the NLCS), I began to forget the agony of rooting for the lovable losers of the New York Mets. With the additions of young stars like Jose Reyes and David Wright and talented veterans like Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, I'd begun to forget the way the Mets have typically played for most of my adult life: tentatively with the expectation that at any moment something could go wrong. I think a true Mets fan expects the Mets to lose and this week showed exactly why.

And so it's time to fire up the hot stove and hope for the best while expecting the worst. It's what Mets fans like me do. And judging from the way this team played out the end of the 2007 season, I'll be doing it for a long time to come.



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