There haven't been that many really good games we've lost this year, but one of them was a contest in St. Louis between the two best teams in the National League. It was just over three months ago, a classic pitchers' duel between Mark Mulder and Steve Trachsel. We got beat 1-0 when Scott Rolen lifted a seemingly impossible pitch off the ground and drove it for the deciding run. It was the kind of night that made you tip your cap and order another round because at a brisk 2:32, there were plenty of hours to closing time and lots of season to go.
It's just over three months later and almost everything's changed.
THEN: The Mets (24-15) weren't hitting.
NOW: They are (77-49).
THEN: The Cardinals (25-15) were imposing.
NOW: They're barely hanging on (66-59).
THEN: Mulder (5-1) was daunting.
NOW: He's slowly recuperating (6-6).
THEN: Trachsel (2-4) got no support.
NOW: He's offensively pampered (13-5).
THEN: 2-1/2 hours to play 8-1/2 innings.
NOW: Is the game over yet?
Granted, at 3:21, the Mets' Wednesday night 10-8 triumph of attrition would beat the shortest Yankee-Red Sox game in the last 50 years for brevity. And wouldn't you stay up all night for a Met victory?
Sure you would. But when you jump out to a 10-2 lead, you could be forgiven for wondering when the hell your starter will stop giving up home runs to Jose Vizcaino and put the opposition away. It never quite happened, but five relievers — right up through sudden Cy Young candidate Billy Wagner (quick, name a starting pitcher who's a prohibitive favorite…and Trachsel doesn't count) — wriggled and jiggled and got the job done. First a laugher, then just nervous laughter. It takes all kinds.
We haven't won a bad game all year. When you win, there's no such thing as a bad game.
The only substantive factor that hasn't changed since May 17 is that the Mets and Cardinals remain the two best teams in the National League. Then we were neck-and-neck. Now we're the giraffe and they're Walt Williams. All NL Game Ones featuring the Mets will take place here. The Cards can consult with the Reds, Dodgers, Padres and any ambitious Central or West stragglers to determine all other hosting duties.
There's no way we should lose to anybody in the National League in October. That's not to say that it can't happen or it won't happen. But between you and me, there's no way we should lose to anybody in the National League in late August or the remainder of the season. At the risk of angering the gods when I'm due at Shea in 16-odd hours, if the Cardinals are the other best team in the league, then…nah, I'm not gonna say anything. Respect all opponents, especially with Pujols and Rolen and freaking Vizcaino and other assorted ex-Mets zipping around in red.
I'm of two broad minds on potential post-Yom Kippur matchups. One is I don't care who we're playing as long as we're playing. The other is I don't want to play anybody because anybody can beat anybody in the tenth month. We've been on both sides of that equation in our illustrious history. It's only fun when it comes out in our favor.
Still, I'm beginning to think that the team I actually don't want to see down the road is the Wild Card team if it's the Phillies, ridiculously hot since pawning off Abreu and Lidle on the Yankees (say, whatever happened to those guys?) and only 1-1/2 behind Cincinnati, which is only 1 behind St. Louis. We play the Phillies for about the hundredth time in August this weekend. We have the Dodgers — the previously ridiculously hot club in our circuit, now decidedly cooled off — in for four in a couple of weeks. And tonight one more with the Cardinals. Those are the only eight games we have left with serious potential pennant opponents, so get out your clipboards and radar guns and start scouting.
Gathering intelligence and not getting hurt are what it's all about now. That and continuing winning. However unappealingly we go may about it now and then, it's a good habit to stay in.