Before the advent of Retrosheet, I mostly depended on my memory which is reasonably reliable. Once the Braves lost to the Phillies Wednesday night, the Mets opened up a three-game lead in the National League East — and I had no problem remembering the last time the Mets were in first place by this much.
It was October 2, 1988, the end of that season. We led the Pirates by 15 that day, and I was all but certain we hadn't held an upper hand even 20% as large over the field from then until April 12, 2006.
Just in case you were wondering why last night was different from all other nights, this was why. It may not be 40 years in the desert, but it's been far too long since we've passed over the divisional aggregate of the Braves, Phillies, Nationals and Marlins (and/or Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Expos for that matter) by so much.
Thanks to Retrosheet (and a handy stash of Mets media guides), I was able to confirm my memory. We've barely been in first place by ourselves at all over the past 17 seasons; a day here, two days there, the Braves everywhere. Since we don't hang out in the penthouse, we never seem to get comfortable enough to kick off our shoes and kick up our lead.
We really should. Maintaining a first-place margin that's unassailable from one night to the next is as sweet as I remember it being 18 years ago. Shoot, as a fan whose first sip of Metsoh ball soup was 1969, this is where I came in…I'm home.
Going into Pedro's cagey mastery of the Nationals, which continued our best start ever (shared with '84 and '85, which is okey-dokey company to keep), we held our first two-game lead since August 4, 1999. And that had been our biggest gap to the good since 1988.
So if this doesn't feel familiar to some of you youngsters, hope that it will soon. Hope — don't assume. To assume makes A Second-place-or-worSe team out of yoU and ME. On Wednesday, the marketing department thought it was actually doing somebody some good by sending out e-vites to “see the first-place Mets” while we were clinging to our flimsy two-game advantage. How we ever got it to three with kamikaze karma like that, I'll never know. You wanna sell tickets? Sit back, shut up and we'll find ya.
It'll be easy. We'll just look at the top of the standings and follow the Mets' lead.