You know who this was a big game to? Kris Benson. Only one man in North America circles starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is he. On the pregame, Howie warned that Benson would have to control his emotions in these circumstances. I doubt anybody's gotten terribly worked up over facing Pittsburgh since Orel Hershiser. So Benson'll probably remember Tuesday night, and good for him if beating his old team fires him up.
By the by, am I the ONLY person in all of Metsopotamia who remembers that Hershiser's very worthy foe on that tense afternoon of October 3, 1999 was a rookie named Kris Benson? Before he became ours, that's almost all I knew about the guy, that he pitched brilliantly against us at the worst possible time but that it was a beautiful thing, in a dispassionate sense — the eager pup taking on the grizzled vet with everything on the line. It was beautiful because it eventually worked to our favor, of course, but it was a happening no matter how it came out. When the Mets acquired Kris Benson, I assumed that his featured role one of the great days in one of the great stretches of Mets history, the 1999 run to redemption, would be at least a sidebar to somebody's story. But I didn't see it mentioned anywhere and I've yet to hear a thing out of Kris's mouth about it. I suppose nobody's asked him.
Can't get down on Gerald Williams for being less than adept in center. The Post Tuesday ran a picture of him saving Dwight Gooden's no-hitter with another team on a play sort of like the one he didn't make in L.A. Sunday (except that he, you know, made it for Gooden). I was going to fume at him for suddenly forgetting how to leap and grab except that was more than nine years ago. Pressed into unforeseen service, Williams has batted better than any of us could have anticipated. And yeah, there has to be a slightly warmer body on the depth chart to take it from here, but being mad at Gerald Williams after he's delivered four hits in nine at-bats over the last three games seems particularly Sheavian in its harshness.
This was one of those nights that has lulled me all season. I guess there have been just enough of them so it felt familiar: a relatively easy win over a not particularly daunting opponent (not that we take anybody for granted around here), ground picked up at every turn, a GB for the WC that doesn't look too bad. It's the kind of night that sends me to the magnetic schedule to start considering possibilities. And that's always the wrong thing to do because no good ever comes of “well, if we win these two and take two of three from them and then we go to…” Play 'em one game at a time. Hope for the best. Check the schedule only for start times and bobblehead dates.
While I try not to look ahead too optimistically (and thus inadvertently wish the Mets into the proverbial cornfield with my sensational if undiagnosed extra-sensory impact on their on-field fortunes) and attempt to avoid unhelpful projections, I do notice a trend of sorts.
A trend? Why didn't you say so? Do dish!
Here are the National League Central and West teams we've played on the road this year:
Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles.
Here are the National League Central and West teams we've played on the road this year and lost series to in their parks:
Cincinnati, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles.
We took two out of three in Milwaukee.
From that subset, we've played our full complement of home games against Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston, San Diego and Los Angeles, winning each of those Shea season series.
We lost two out of three to Milwaukee.
Total reckoning from these games, including Benson's Bucfest: 25-22; a horrid 8-17 on the road, a luminescent 17-5 at home. For a team that's done no better than float just a bit over .500 now and again, I suppose this figures.
Does it mean anything? Well, we have six out-of-division home games left with teams we've finished our road work against: two versus Pittsburgh, four at the very end with Colorado. You want to be so bold as to make inferences from those, be my guest. But don't tell me about it. I don't wanna know.
It gets tricky looking at the out-of-division teams we've played at Shea but not yet elsewhere:
Arizona 2-1 (4 remaining)
San Francisco 2-1 (3 remaining)
St. Louis 1-2 (4 remaining)
That's eleven road games, all — can't pound at this enough — west of the Mississippi, which is where the flight gets brutally bumpy. When they returned from Los Angeles battered, bruised and down two outfielders, their W-of-the-M mark had festered to a futile 5-14. Consider the 14 losses included three straight to the maudlin Mariners and two to the risible Rockies. The Dodgers weren't such hot stuff either but we were in no position, post-collision, to look down our fractured noses at anybody.
Bottom line: 5-14 is ugly regardless of longitude.
The past isn't necessarily prologue. The Diamondbacks and Giants, both with losing records, don't have to loom eerily next week. Need I remind us that the Mariners and the Rockies looked like soft touches, too, and we went 1-5 on their respective turfs? I'd like to go the brain-dead sportstalk route and tell you “the Mets are at a soft spot in their schedule so pencil them in for X wins,” but such thinking is evidence of a soft spot in the head. Like I said, play 'em one game at a time and hope like hell that everybody who needs to lose loses and everybody who needs to lose who plays each other splits.
Now some glad tidings from New York. You may recall a few weeks ago, after we swept the San Diegans, I put together a pennant-pooper chart, a cautionary-tale table tracking the peak positions of some neocontender years of reasonably recent vintage. Instead of linking, I reprint:
Through 107 games in 1991, the Mets were 57-50, 5-1/2 out of first in the N.L. East.
Final record: 77-84.
Through 96 games in 1992, the Mets were 48-48, 4 out of first in the N.L. East.
Final record: 72-90.
Through 94 games in 1996, the Mets were 46-48, 4-1/2 out of the Wild Card.
Final record: 71-91.
Through 106 games in 2002, the Mets were 55-51, 4-1/2 out of the Wild Card.
Final record: 75-86.
Through 94 games in 2004, the Mets were 47-47, 3 out of first in the N.L. East.
Final record: 71-91.
Here's the good news for us, albeit at the expense of us in campaigns gone by: We've outlasted all of those losers. We are through Game 118 now and the Mets are 60-58, 3-1/2 out of the Wild Card. At a stage where five of our pretender-predecessors shrunk from the task at hand, we continue to live and kick. The grim reaper, the one who buries seasons before school starts, has yet to be invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. We're not kicking ass and taking names the way we were after 118 decisions in 1986 (77-41) or 1999 (71-47), but we're still in this thing.
What's more, barring another even uglier episode of smashmouth baseball — this one with Wright crashing into Reyes and the two of them landing with a thunderous thud onto both of Floyd's legs (in a driving hail storm for good measure) — we're about to separate ourselves from 2004 by more than chronology. All season, it's been an easy out for lazy beat writers and lazier columnists who want to criticize the Mets to write something like, “For all the money/commotion/hype, the Mets have basically the same record as they did a year ago.” Indeed, at this stage in '04, the Mets were 57-61, closer to our record now than the 2005 Mets are at the moment to the Wild Card-leading Astros. Fair enough. But those Mets would keep it up exactly three games longer, maintaining marginal respectability through 121 contests. From 59-62, however, they'd plummet off the face of .500 like nobody's business.
I don't expect a 1-16 bender lurks around the corner. We may not shake off the win-one-or-two then lose-two-or-one syndrome that's plagued us and we may be beyond assistance if somebody else in this competition gets irreversibly hot, but we're having fun and having hope approximately three-quarters in. We can worry about the schedule and, in my case, worry that I'm worrying about the schedule too much. Feels pretty good to have that much to brood over.
We're 3-1/2 back of a playoff spot with 44 to play. Trachsel's returning. Beltran's returning. Neither is to be viewed as a lock contributor (I don't necessarily know Carlos strapping it on so soon is particularly wise), but Norfolk and Bingo reinforcements are two weeks away. If we can be just a little better than we've been for just a little while, there may actually be something to reinforce. There may be a September that isn't strictly academic.
Honestly, who could ask for anything more?
Miserable human being, absolutely remarkable pitcher…that can only mean there's some historical perspective on why Roger Clemens is a big, fat liar at Gotham Baseball.