Oh won't you staaay-aaay-aaayve off elimination just a little bit longer?
As the National Repository of Every Little Detail of the Otherwise Forgotten and Criminally Undervalued 1997 Season, of course I recall that the Mets were smacked awake from their first sweet Wild Card dream in a span of five games, all losses, in mid-September. After clinching their first winning record since 1990 in the opener of a twinighter at the Vet (a moment of silence…to WRETCH), the Mets appeared ready to roll. Instead they went out in the nightcap and rolled over.
Your beverage of choice on Sunday if you can name the Phillie starter who allowed us one hit in seven innings to kick off Demise Week. You have five seconds…
We need an answer.
It was the only start of Darrin Winston's big league career. He would go on to pitch four seasons for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League.
Darrin Winston. Sorry.
Anyway, the next night we were almost no-hit by Schilling and then we lost back-to-back games in Turner Field (funny, we'd always played well in Atlanta; this sweep was just an aberration, I'm sure) and went to Miami for the scraps of a weekend showdown with the Marlins. We were 7-1/2 behind them with nine to play, but had four games against them. A sweep would put us 3-1/2 back and with them reeling and us surging…
We lost the first game to Al Leiter on Friday night. That was it. 8-1/2 back with eight to play. The only chance we had left — besides wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles — was mathematical. The Marlins had nine left. If we took the remaining three and then the last five against the nowheresville Pirates and comfortably clinched Braves, and the Fish lost whatever they had left to whoever they had left, well, then my head would explode. I wrote us off. We had zero chance. In fact, Florida could just get the whole thing over with by beating us one of the next three.
But they didn't. We beat them Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday. They didn't wrap up anything against us. We suddenly were surging and they were undeniably reeling. I couldn't take back my writeoff, but geez, ya think?
I called Chuck and before I could say hello, he had one word:
“Don't. Don't even think it.”
“I told you I'm not.”
“Yes you are.”
Maybe I was, just a touch. I mean why not? What's it hurt to imagine us winning every game and the team(s) in front of us losing every game?
Not that I'm doing that, mind you. It ended in 1997 the next night and it can end any second here and now. Until then, I'm less raging against the dying of the light than digging on Roll Redux. We've won eight of ten, practically exactly bracketing our nosedive with the same hot stretch that brought us to the cusp of September with such high hopes. Doesn't cost anything to dream.
Truthfully, even as we're left alive and twitching by one of the more unlikely victories of the year (I thought it would be called after five; by the sixth, Gary was doing borderline-respectful Don Adams shtick), my dreams are still: get to 81 wins; get to 82 wins; remain out of last place; climb into third place and, if at all possible, spiritually clinch the N.L. West. We're two up on the Padres (either they or the Giants seem a lock to break the '73 Mets out of Worst Ever purgatory). I'm still scoreboard watching, but the out-of-town game I was most concerned with Monday night was the Dodgers and Pirates. By beating Pittsburgh, L.A. earned its 70th win.
So? So, that means their TragiMagic Number for clinching fourth place in the Anemic Conference is two. So? So, that means the TMN to sap the Rockies of the slightest ounce of motivation for their four games here this weekend is also two. Clint Hurdle, last seen pacing the Coors Field dugout with a notebook, has apparently done a heckuva job because the Rockies looked like surefire 100-game losers in the middle of the season. They've already avoided that, and if there's anything lamer than being a spoiler like us trying to avoid the cellar, it's being the Rockies trying to avoid the cellar. I'm hoping the Dodgers will take care of business (the business of fourth place) and leave the Rockies all morose and homesick (and Clint Barmes with a taste for freshly killed venison that only an early October hunting trip can sate) when they come up here from Atlanta to finish out their suddenly even-more-meaningless season. I ain't asking the Braves for any favors, so go L.A. Beat your scheduled opponent tonight.
Obscured by the Mets' comeback in this morning's honorary West Coast affair (it ended at 12:48 AM local time), was a rather remarkable string of pitchers used by Willie Randolph:
No, it's not that the Mets used three of the most godforsaken relievers anywhere and lived to tell about it. For what has to be the first time in Major League history, a team sent to the mound four consecutive Asian-born pitchers: one from South Korea, one from Vietnam and two from Japan. Ten years ago, this would have been unimaginable. Ten years from now, it may very well be unremarkable. Though the only ethnicity that interests me is Metropolitan-American, I have to admit I found this, at the very least, intriguing.
Yet it's not nearly as satisfying as what happened in the bottom of the ninth when Roberto Hernandez was permitted to pitch a second inning. Could it be that Willie bothered to know that Rollins, Lofton and Burrell each carried significant career ohfers versus Bert? Or did he just figure Heilman needs a blow, I'll go with my other closer?
The monumental thing is there was no Looper in sight. He has become as invisible as Heath Bell. Bartolome Fortunato. Mike Draper. I know it's not a brand spankin' new development, but dang it was good to not see Loop again.
I suppose I hate the Phillies but I don't really put a lot of passion into it when they're not in our face. It's fine with me, if we are somehow (ahem) eliminated, that they win the Wild Card. But it was fine with me if the Pirates came back on the Phillies in '76 and '83 except that Pittsburgh would have had to have knocked us off to do so, and a Mets win always comes first. The Pirates didn't come back and I didn't lose any sleep over it.
If Houston holds on (and I don't despise that prospect nearly as much as I did a year ago), it will be a pretty good story, even though it will make Carlos Beltran look pretty bad. If the Phillies make it, they'll have waited a long time for it. If we make it…