I figure it's gonna take 32 more victories to win this thing. Every time we win, we peel a square.
—Lou Brown, manager, Cleveland Indians, Major League
This one was a specialty from the Mets playbook. We're reasonably hot. We leave town. We alight in some city where the local team is dreadful. We're facing some two-bit emergency starter. We're sending out somebody who's been going pretty to very well lately. We know that our divisional competition has already lost. We can move past them and reach a high point for the season. All we have to do is win.
But we don't. It is such an obvious setup, yet we fall for it over and over and over again. The rain was the first tipoff. We wanted it to stop because we couldn't wait to take advantage of Coors Field and its famously whispering upper deck. No doubt the extended delay was the heavens' way of warning us that last place or not, the Rockies are exactly the kind of team that trips us up when we're looking past them. Like the Astros at Shea in June. Like the A's in Oakland a week after that. Like the Pirates in Pittsburgh before the break. (Only the Bucs did not use us for a springboard for immediate and lasting success.)
Ted Robinson, affecting a supersavvy attitude from all his time broadcasting Barry Bonds' exploits there, was practically salivating over the Mets' chances to score ten, twelve, fourteen runs; ever get the feeling Ted Robinson misses doing Giants games? Between Robinson and the rain, I could feel what would come next.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A first three innings like we had Monday night — nine up, nine down — are not easily overcome, even in Colorado. Whatever magic we made in the top of the fourth went poof in the bottom of the fourth. And that was essentially that. Of course DeJean had no problem with us. Of course Relaford threw out Reyes from an impossible angle. That's how one of these games works: the ex-Mets are inscrutable, while the allegedly lousy team's actual good players excel. Of course Helton got hit after hit (and watch him feel fine by tonight) and of course Fuentes baffled Beltran and Floyd. And in the final of course, of course Mike just got under a 2-0 pitch to end our last, undeserved hope.
This game reaffirmed the ol' you're gonna lose a third of your games rule and you're gonna lose a segment of those in predictable if irritating ways. The trick is to minimize the damage and not lose too many of the third that decides your fate.
The Mets have, at last, played against every National League team in 2005. I feel safe in asserting that the Senior Circuit breaks down as such:
• Crappy Teams
• Less Crappy Teams
• St. Louis
We're not trying to be world-beaters here. We're just trying to be of the least crappy teams going. We have a lot of competition, but our fiercest rivals are ourselves.
More good news: We're 1-6 in contests conducted west of the Mississippi, or what I've been fearing as the Dirty Thirty since I got a good look at the schedule. Keep in mind that the rest of this trip is two games in deceptive Denver and four in hot, hot Houston. August wraps SD-LA (6) and AZ-SF (7) around a week at home. Each of those teams rather sucks, but when has that been of any comfort to us?
That's 24 of the Dirty Thirty. The final four, it bears repeating, come at Busch, September 8-11. The Cardinals decidedly do not suck. They could very well be preparing to clinch a playoff spot by the time we show our struggling faces. How much do you suppose St. Louis would relish doing it against us? It's their last season in that stadium and what better way to mark the countdown to its destruction than to participate in ours? It would be a throwback weekend. Whitey Herzog, Tommy Herr, Cesar Cedeño and Vince F. Coleman could be called on to peel off the Bye-Bye Busch panels in the middle of every game just to remind us of what's happened to us there before. Think LaRussa, whose 2000 was ruined by us, wouldn't mind returning the favor?
At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, we cannot afford to have these three western swings reveal themselves as Kryptonite the way they usually do — the way the Oakland-Seattle leg did, the way the first game in Colorado has. Salvation does not await in St. Louis. Thus, between tonight and September 8, we face nineteen absolutely critical tests far from Shea.
We cannot be shaken by time changes and unnatural altitudes and lengthy flights if we are serious about being less crappy than the other less crappy teams in this league. If the New Mets are, in the end, any different from their predecessors, they will strap it on and win games they would normally lose.
I never quite figured out how Lou Brown knew the Tribe would need exactly 32 more victories to make it to the finish line, but I'm gonna give his style of strategizing a shot. Here goes…
The Mets need to win at least ten of the nineteen road games they have remaining against the Rockies, the Astros, the Padres, the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks and the Giants. They will have to fly home from San Francisco on August 28 with a Dirty Thirty mark of 11-15. Call it a hunch, but if they can do that, they will have proven that they are a contender for September. If they cannot, that St. Louis series and the rest of the season will be a moot and bleak point.
Peel the first square tonight.