“War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” — Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
“Our goal coming in was to end their season.” — Paul Lo Duca.
Forget battling or moral victories or taking them one game at a time and the good Lord willing things working out. Like Sherman, Lo Duca came down to these parts intending to make Georgia howl. Like Sherman, he wasn't shy about saying so. Like Sherman, he and his comrades delivered on that promise.
The Atlanta Braves are now in fourth place in the NL East, 15 games out. When they began this star-crossed weekend, they had three teams to jump over to claim the NL wild card. Now there are nine teams to beat for that honor. On Friday morning, with the trade deadline looming, they were buyers. Now, they're sellers.
These 2006 Mets never held any particular fear of the Braves. No, that was for the unruly band of camp followers known as the Met beat writers (Sherman detested reporters as spies; I get the feeling Willie L. Randolph isn't too far removed from that position) and, of course, the vast mass of fans like us whose emotions the beat writers channel and focus. Only now there's no reason for any of us to be afraid, either.
Whatever happens the rest of 2006, this is unexplored territory for those of us outside the white lines. Consider: The last time the Braves didn't win a division title, it was 1990. Buddy Harrelson was our manager. Eight '86 Mets were still on the roster. There was still a Soviet Union. Nelson Mandela was freed. Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson. David Wright and Jose Reyes were seven. (Julio Franco was 32.) Faith and Fear? There wasn't even a World Wide Web.
Oh, yes, it was a long time ago. It was before they barged into the NL East, before Jay Payton was tagged out at third, before Bobby Cox decided Neagle and Millwood had to follow Glavine in a meaningless September game for Atlanta, before Steve Avery hit Jose Vizcaino “right in the fuckin' knee” (as Dallas Green was captured by shotgun mike explaining to the entire television audience) and Bobby Jones did fuckin' nothing about it, before Ryan Klesko and Eddie Perez and Bobby and Rickey playing cards and Kenny Rogers throwing ball four and Gerald Williams trotting home, before Maddux and Glavine got 115,847 slightly outside pitches called strikes (and the Braves still got caught cheating by setting down illegal dimensions for the catcher's box), before Angel Hernandez and Michael Fucker, before Benitez and Franco, before Brian Jordan, before John Rocker and his enemies list, before Chipper named his kid Shea, before Bobby Cox's first unconvincing protestation that he didn't hate Bobby Valentine or the Mets, before Cox thought it was cute to send a pitcher named Bong to pinch-hit against Grant Roberts, before Braden Looper managed to blow a save twice in one night, before Turner Field became a house of horrors, before there ever was a Turner Field. It was before all of these terrible, horrible things that I was able to cough up from some wounded place inside me inside of 10 seething minutes. It was before all the terrible, horrible things not on my list that you'd be able to cough up in that same period of time.
And now it's done.
I went into this series trying not to get too amped up. Ha. Even after taking two out of three, this afternoon I came off the subway shortly after the start and nearly dropped the kid in fumbling to get the radio on in the fewest possible number of nanoseconds. I tuned in just in time to hear “…and yet another grand slam for Carlos Beltran.” Jubilation on Jay Street! And then, when Glavine crumbled, you'd have thought it was the last day of 1998 and the Mets were lined up along the dugout rail watching the postseason vanish — I was apoplectic with rage. There was no way two out of three was good enough, not today, not in 2006, not after everything that's come before. Two out of three? After playing Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters for 12 years? After the humiliations of being Wile E. Coyote while they smirked and twitched their eyebrows through life as the Road Runner for 12 years?
Hell no it wouldn't be enough.
So maybe today wasn't quite as hegemonic as we would have liked, but it's done and they're done and the ghosts are exorcised. (And there were bonuses, such as every shot of Bobby Cox twisting in impotent rage on the bench, or Andruw Jones proving repeatedly that he's the worst great player in the game.) As we've gone speeding through the summer and more and more of us have gotten up the courage to whisper and then calmly say and then not-so-calmly shout that the Braves aren't going to catch us, some of us have gone a step further and expressed a certain guilty regret — wouldn't it have been more satisfying to throw them off the mountaintop in a showdown at the end of September?
Well, I suppose. But after 12 years of being tied to the tracks while the Braves twisted the end of their mustache, after 12 years of getting run over by the goddamn train every time, I'm not going to complain that the bad guy had lost his pistols and fallen in a ravine by the time we got there to administer the coup de grace. We've got the deed to the ranch now, and that's all that matters.
Mission accomplished. Atlanta's in smoking ruins at our back. This blue-and-orange army is marching to Miami.