A month of critical games is a fun time, but it really kept me busy. There’s lots to think about and analyze, without getting too nit-picky about individual mistakes. I’m sure these thoughts will trickle in as I decompress over the next few weeks, but for now it’s time to catch up on some sleep and relish what was a great season.
I’m not sure I’m ready. I’m not sure it’s really fully sunk in that the Mets are one series away from perhaps a World Championship. Being a tiny child during the last one the idea of winning it all is this mythical beast suddenly very much real. Dragons are alive and well in
In roughly a week the Mets will either be planning a parade or adding a new mortal enemy to the list of teams that we don’t like. There will be players that will be revered as much as Keith Hernandez or perhaps vilified as much as Mike Scioscia and Yadier Molina. The stakes are high.
No matter what you believed about this team, a World Series appearance requires all sorts of things to break right. Just a few months ago we were pondering what it would take to fend off the Washington Nationals, not wondering how the Mets match up against an American League champion.
The World Series has a certain level of awe to it above that of the NLCS. There are only two teams left in all of baseball, just four to seven games left in the entire season. For the first time in 15 years no team will play baseball after the Mets have gone home. The final quest for a third championship begins now.
Ready or not, here we go.
THIS IS FUN!
Time sure does fly. It feels like just yesterday we were enjoying the magical 2006 season, but it was truly nine years ago. It was a fun season right up until the bitter end, but that end was so bitter that it took a while for me to make peace with it. With the Mets headed back to the playoffs it’s time to really delve into the last time the Mets were in the playoffs.
It was a good time for me personally; I’d recently started my first ‘real’ job, but was still living with my parents.I had time and money and ultimately ended up at five of the six Mets home playoff games, missing only the first one. At the very last regular season game the Mets gave out a promo called a Fandini, a cross SNY-WFAN item that was part bandana part..weird. I carried it with me for all the games despite not having any idea what to really do with it besides twist it around in my hands nervously during tense moments. When I arrived home after game 7 it ended up tossed in a corner with my rally towel and didn’t move for months. Now I think it’s a drawer labeled “DON’T TOUCH, VOODOO CURSE” with my 2007 and 2008 playoff tickets still in their DHL envelopes.
I was at the end with two friends and we walked out in silence. You may remember it was not that easy to stay together in the crush of jostling fans exiting Shea Stadium, so it won’t surprise you to know that we ended up separated. Somehow the way I went led me past a guy trying to sell me a Cardinals cap. Whether a bum or a Cardinals fan I have no idea. Thanks to the Citi Field construction, we’d parked in Flushing and had to take the subway in silence before taking the car ride home in silence.
I forgot about the Mets for a while and left my stuff where I dropped it. I didn’t hear the replay of Endy’s catch until it was a menu clip on MLB The Show 2007. I’d taken a few pictures but didn’t even look at them as I backed them up and erased the memory card. I really didn’t think back to that playoff series much over the years. It’s probably time to heal and move on. The Mets are going to the playoffs again, and the last time they went was certainly memorable so I want to exorcise any last demons so I can really enjoy this run.
The Mets disposed of the Dodgers so easily that it seemed like they were just going to let all the pitching injuries roll of their back. The most memorable thing from that series was two Dodgers getting thrown out at the plate in one inning in the first game. We were riding high and feeling undefeatable despite some troubling warning signs.
The Mets owned New York too. October 7th 2006 featured a rare event; two NY postseason games on the same day at different times. I was attending a Jeopardy screening at Radio City Music Hall in the afternoon, and the start was actually delayed 10 minutes because the Jeopardy crew was in the back watching the Yankees be eliminated by the Tigers. Alex Trebek came out to tell us the good news about the Yankees elimination, and that we’d have to stick to rooting the Mets. It was the Mets time.
That was a Saturday, and what followed was an extended burial of the Yankees on talk radio and the primitive excuses for social media back in the day. The Mets wouldn’t play again until Thursday thanks to weird scheduling, a sweep, and a rain out. What was actually ticketed as NLCS game 2 became NLCS game 1 on Thursday with game 1 tickets being pushed from Wednesday to Friday.
Game 1 became the Beltran game. The Mets offense that would mostly struggle through the series was held to just six hits by Jeff Weaver and cast, but was outpitched by Tom Glavine. Billy Wagner notched his third save. Not only did Beltran absolutely crush a home run in the 6th off the scoreboard to drive in the only two runs of the game, he had an outfield assist to double Albert Pujols off first in the 4th. This was the coldest I’ve ever been at a ballgame. We were up in the last row of the Upper Deck, with the frigid wind blowing on us the entire game. I didn’t watch a clip of that home run until just now, when writing this paragraph nine years later.
Game two was a slugfest, and one I can’t help but remember as the first round of the So Taguchi vs Billy Wagner war. Taguchi’s 9th inning home run broke the tie and was the deciding run in the game.
The Cardinals won two of the three games in St. Louis, one of which was Steve Trachsel throwing his last game for the Mets as a preview to Tom Glavine throwing his last game for the Mets.
Heading out to Shea for game six was the weirdest feeling. I knew logically that winning two games could be tough, that any little mistake or struggle and the Mets would be going home. We were up against it, and in a tough spot. Most seasons end in crushing disappointment and I knew this was no different. The Mets had had a good season, and if they got bounced in six it wouldn’t be the end of the world. They’d fought hard. It’d be a good learning experience.
I remember almost nothing from this game. I remember all the nervous energy and edge of elimination tension. This wasn’t my first game like this; Ventura’s Grand Slam Single had been a similar feel. The Mets tacked on enough runs to hold off yet another So Taguchi hit off Billy Wagner, and off we were to game seven. That was my main takeaway, “Okay, now we get to come back tomorrow for winner takes all. deep breath.”
Game seven. Where the demons live.. All the talk was about how Oliver Perez had the highest regular season ERA of any game seven starter ever. The Mets had been boxed into a corner with the injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, but for the most part the fill-ins held their own. The Mets struck first, thanks to Beltran, Delgado, and Wright, but Oliver Perez gave it right back. Then no one scored until the 9th. It was a tense game, but not especially in the top of the 6th when Perez issues a one-out walk to Jim Edmonds. It was the first pitch to Rolen that was blasted in the air to left that made the entire park suddenly go, “Oh crap.”
Endy made the catch, as you know, and then doubled off Edmonds who was understandably halfway to third. That moment was Shea Stadium’s final exaltation. The unbelievable catch has everyone as fired up as they’d been since Mike Hampton’s clinching complete game over the same Cardinals back in 2000. It was hard not to get swept up in that joy, in that belief that hey, this Mets team really could do anything. It was hard to believe they could lose after a catch like that, after a moment like that.
That feeling lasted maybe a half inning. The Mets mounted a rally against Jeff Suppan in the bottom of the 6th, with none other than Endy Chavez coming up with two outs and the bases loaded. The moment was perfect, how could Endy not come through again, this time with the bat? Greatest catch of all-time, clutchest player in Mets history. There would’ve been no end to the superlatives.
He didn’t come through of course. No matter how many times I see highlights from that game, he never does. Baseball stories don’t always fall in with those seemingly perfectly scripted moments. The game would go differently if the Mets scratched a run across there. Instead of Aaron Heilman in the 9th, it’s Wagner for the save. Perhaps Wagner would blow it too, as he hadn’t been great all series, but we’ll never know.
The season ended, and it was a few days before I was right again. Eventually I looked forward to 2007 and thought of 2006 as a stepping stone. I started writing about the Mets more, and they bounced back by sweeping the Cardinals in the first series of the season, making them 6-4 against them over the last 10. The Mets were 34-18 after May ended, surely 2006 was just a stumble.
We suffered a lot as Mets fans during that time. Looking back with the cold clarity of nearly a decade reminds me to be thankful for what we have right now; a legitimate chance at a championship and also a very real possibility that this might be the best Mets team for a decade. I don’t expect either to be true, but knowing that either might be helps to give me the proper perspective on 2015. Enjoy what’s already happened, enjoy what’s going to happen, and don’t pretend it won’t suck if they don’t go all the way.
The Mets are now officially going to the playoffs, something very few people expected them to seriously do, especially as division champs. You may be telling yourself everything from here on out is gravy, that you’re just happy they made it.
You’d be wrong. It won’t be as big a failure if the Mets lose in the NLDS, but it’ll still be failure. It’ll still be gut-wrenching and horrible, and you still won’t be able to sleep for a week afterwards. You’re not going to just shrug your shoulders and say “It was a fun ride, happy with what they gave us.” Maybe in a few months, after rationally thinking about it, you’ll feel that way, but half the enjoyment of sports is the visceral in-the-moment emotional roller coaster. I still hear people bemoaning things that happened decades ago, and a first round exit won’t happen without creating a few ghosts for us to carry with us. 2006 stung, despite it being a fun ride and despite it seemingly like a stepping stone to long term success.
Fandom requires a certain amount of emotional buy-in, and this team is an exciting one to buy into. It’s not just that we’re invested though, they’re a quality team. These Mets are not squeaking into the playoffs in a way that makes us thankful just to make it; they’ve legitimately got the horses to make a run at the whole World Championship. The Mets have a team that CAN win this year, and if they fail to do so it will undoubtedly be crushing. Yes, the journey has been fun and crazy and magical.
Of course, it WILL probably all come crashing down. The Mets would have to get through three rounds against three quality teams and there are absolutely no guarantees in a short series. There’s no shame in losing early, but it’d still be pretty disappointing. The ride has been fun, and it’s that possibility of gut-wrenching defeat that makes the highs so high.
Let’s all enjoy the ride. Just don’t pretend you’ve got nothing to lose and it’s all house money. When October 9th rolls around, we’re all going to be on the edge of our seat fretting every pitch. A crushing defeat does not invalidate the stunning season despite being a disappointment in it’s own right. That great season just bought us a ticket to a higher-limit table is all.
There is no collapse, stop it. Baseball is surely an emotional sport to follow, but let’s be realistic here; the Mets are going to the playoffs. Their lead is insurmountable, and the Nationals just might lose 10 games on their own.
Of course, the Mets might win 10 on their own too. This team has a depth to it that they haven’t had in a long time. I hate to even broach this subject, because it feels as silly as pointing out that David Wright is a great hitter, or Yoenis Cespedes has been tearing the cover off the ball. They’re just things that happen. People seem legitimately worried though, which is pointless. Embrace a little logic and realize there’s really no way the Mets lose enough games to not clinch.
edit: After writing this, the Nationals went out and lost. Magic Number is down to 9. Really, nothing to worry about.
It was the first real series the Mets had played in years. Into September with the division on the line and a chance to nearly put it away but also a chance to let the Nats back in the door. Nervous excitement fluttered up from that inner sanctum that connects us all in our love for the Mets. That great feeling of a series really mattering, of having the division on the line. The same feeling you get putting in a large sum of money into a poker hand at a casino. You’re confident, you like your odds, but there’s a chance you walk away devastated.
The Mets did not walk away devastated. They sauntered off after sweeping the Nats and grasping the division firmly in front of them, and they will not release it. With a seven game lead and a well-rounded team, that exciting feeling won’t likely return until the playoffs. Oh sure we’ve got a Subway Series match up that means a lot more to them than to us, and an outside shot at beating out the Dodgers for that third potential NLDS game, but those things aren’t the same as the journey towards an eventual clinch.
It’s funny, the Mets have played so well in September that the remaining games are actually becoming less meaningful. We’re subject to endless discussions of rest, innings limits, skipped starts and tune-up appearances in order to have everyone raring to go for the playoffs. Still, this team makes every game exciting and it’s going to be a fun month.
A poor weekend has led to the Nationals gaining a little ground in the NL East race going into what might be the biggest series of the year. The Mets would do well to put their foot down and not let the Nationals chip away at the lead and gain confidence.
This series will define how the rest of the season goes. If the Nats win it could start to be become a real race, but if the Mets win it’ll continue to be a ‘tread water and get games off the schedule’ month for the Mets. A 5+ game lead with only three more head to head is pretty substantial.
The Mets have struggled a little lately, but they’re also due to settle in again; especially the pitching. The Nationals got fat on Atlanta Braves pitching, but that’s almost the polar opposite of what they’ll face in this series. Cool those bats off and find ways to hit the Nationals pitchers. Mostly the Mets offense has been able to do that; capitalize on opportunity by putting up a lot of runs at once, and then hammering away at bullpens if they get the shot there.
The Washington Nationals are not that good. Winning this series keeps them with a big enough cushion that would make it nearly impossible to lose.
The Mets acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Yoenis Cespedes to help a struggling offense, and shortly after they started winning more games and scoring more runs. However, this was largely in part to players the Mets already had as the new guys haven’t really been pulling their weight.
Including Michael Conforto, the new guys have hit .198/.260/.333 going into yesterday’s game. That’s a 64 wRC+, significantly below average. During that time Lucas Duda has hit nine home runs and has a wRC+ of 234. He’s the main reason the Mets are where they are. Other players have contributed too, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy particularly. The Mets were always due to hit better than they were leading into the trades, dealing with some hard luck and some injuries. That they’re doing so now is not surprising.
This isn’t to rag on the new guys. The new guys are very good baseball players who won’t stay down long. THAT is the biggest thing about the trades in that it gives the Mets flexibility and eliminates holes in the lineup and allows everyone to find a way to contribute. It’s not that the Mets got some solid players, it’s that they stopped giving plate appearances to guys that weren’t hitting. John Mayberry Jr and Eric Campbell are gone, and Collins is picking his spots for Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores, the two guys who were making the most outs on the team. If someone starts to hit more, they’ll get to play more.
Things look to get better offensively–maybe much better. Cespedes, Uribe, and Johnson will definitely hit more. Michael Cuddyer so far looks much better, and if he can stay away from that knee pain, there’s little doubt that he’ll continue to contribute.
The biggest thing of all, the one that makes me most giddy, is the potential return of David Wright. Nobody added a better hitter than Wright at the trading deadline. Adding in a legitimate top hitter in baseball to a lineup like the Mets is going to make it scary. Even if Wright has to take a chunk of days off to ease back into not playing baseball for months. Even if he’s not vintage Wright. He knows how to play baseball. I can’t help but bet on David. I can’t help but look forward to him returning.
Mets enter the biggest series they’ve played in years a mere three games out of first place. It would take a sweep to tie, but two of three would get them to two back. Is that enough? The Mets have been lingering around two back for weeks now, and while there are still a lot of games left, they’re dwindling fast and there are only six against the Nationals after this.
So while getting back to two back would be a good start, at one point the Mets need to rattle off a stretch of wins that gets them back into first place rather than a stone’s throw away. No better time than when you’re actually playing your competition head to head.
On the flip side however, it’d be terrible to actually lose this series. To fall four back or worse, while not critical, is particularly worrying. Much like the second time the Mets played them this season, the Nats have been struggling but very recently have gotten healthy and won a few games. Keeping the pressure on and not letting them get any momentum could be key.
So while two of three doesn’t solve any problems, it prevents new ones. With Travis d’Arnaud back, perhaps some trade help, and a glimmer of hope on the David Wright front things are possibly looking up for the Mets down the stretch. Keep the Nationals off balance and be prepared to strike.
Remember, the Nationals visit Citi Field for the final three games of the season. It’s certainly be nice to get into first before that and clinch, but something tells me that’s going to be a monumental series.