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17 For 17

Did you know eight teams are tied for the National League Wild Card and none has a winning percentage of over .350?

OK, I’m lying, but close enough. I just got finished watching the Wild Card leaders, the Reds, give up their lofty perch after 16 grueling innings at Dodger Stadium. I don’t know if it was grueling for them, but the portion I caught — after the Mets disposed of the Rockies — was rather difficult to watch from here. From here at the top, I mean. Mets games involve only one mediocre team. Tune in any other NL contest and you’ll find two.

(Oh, and fuck the American League and its superiority complex. Nobody has fewer losses than us there and only the Tigers have one more win. Of course we’re huge Tigers fans for the next couple of days; Kenny Rogers, what a gentleman [1].)

The Reds’ loss and the Padres’ win means that if our season were to end today and everybody else kept playing, we’d still have more wins than the rest of the league, combined, by October. Seriously though…the Padres? They’re the Wild Card leaders? Didn’t we just sweep them three weeks ago? That’s who’d we play in the playoffs?

Yeah, yeah, I know, Mike Scioscia, Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser, the whole bunch of ’em. But c’mon. The Padres? Hey Mike! You and what army?

ANYWAY, the Wild Card race is tight and the Nationals were no help in loosening it, meaning the Phillies didn’t lose, meaning our magic number only dropped by one Tuesday. 18 minus 1 equals 17. And if it’s 17, it must be time for Metsopotamia’s favorite new game show, 17 Fascinating Faith and Fear in Flushing Free-Association Facts About 17.

17.01: Mex, Who Was Great But Also Is Nuts. Keith hasn’t worn 17 in New York, except ceremonially, in 17 years. What else is there to say about the number that stubbornly defies retirement despite evidence that would suggest the contrary? Whatever else there is to say, Keith will say it if the hour is late enough and he hasn’t eaten. And, by the way, what’s a “humididor”?

17.02: Rey Ordoñez Best Keep His Yap Shut. Back when it was still surprising that anybody but Keith Hernandez would be issued No. 17, scrappy utility infielder and amateur team bus boxer Luis Lopez wore it and homered for the only run in a 1-0 shutout over the Expos on Keith Hernandez Mets Hall of Fame Induction Day in 1997. Dave Mlicki threw a gem but the shutout was only preserved when Todd Pratt pulled an acting job worthy of Paul Lo Duca after dropping the ball on a tag play at home. Montreal’s dugout was so incensed that their trainer was ejected for arguing. (I don’t suppose the delusional Braves would send us Tank as Castro insurance.)

17.03: An Embarrassment of Bitches. What in the name of Wilson Delgado goes through the mind of an equipment manager who throws around the number of the Second Greatest Met of the First Forty Years like it once belonged to Gil Flores? Wilson Delgado was actually serviceable in 17. What to make of Satoru Komiyama, Dae-Sung Koo and Jose Lima wearing the Hernandez imprimataur? Keith really should have tipped Charlie Samuels more generously in 1989.

17.04: I’m Sorry, But Who’s Gil Flores? A spare outfielder on the eternally damned 1979 Mets. If I didn’t have Keith Hernandez as my automatic answer during my occasional “name a number and a name” mental gymnastic, it would be Gil Flores for 17. And Bob Myrick is my instinctive response to 44.

17.05: Doc’s Other Habit. Dwight Gooden won 17 games as a fabulous rookie in 1984, won 17 more games as a slightly disappointing third-year ace in 1986 and wore No. 17 the last time he pitched at Shea Stadium in 2000. But he wasn’t a Met in 2000…how could that be possib…oh. Never mind.

17.06: Need a Clubhouse Lawyer? No Met pitcher has represented the 17th district in the House of Victories since Senator Al Leiter (R-NYY) went 17-6 in 1998. Does anybody still think he’ll run for office? Shouldn’t he be collecting babies and kissing signatures? Is every jock who can string three sentences together that don’t involve the cut fastball considered a potential candidate for something?

17.07: I Still Don’t Get It. In 1970, Topps put out a nice set of Sporting News All-Star Cards reflecting the Bible of Baseball’s 1969 choices. Jerry Koosman got one as LHP for going 17-9. His face burst through a front page. Cool! But the RHP selection was not 25-7, Cy Young, Hitchcock Belt, Sportsman of the Year Tom Seaver, but somebody named Marichal, a name I mangled as a 7-year-old. That was probably the moment The Sporting News stopped being the Bible of Baseball.

17.08: I Finally Got It. That same summer, I was in day camp at the Sands Beach Club in Lido. When it came time to gather our group for a class picture, so to speak, we posed in front of a sign suddenly identifying us as the Sinister 17. There were 17 of us and alliteration’s always a winner (as for being sinister, I don’t remember if any of us were lefties like Kooz). But then another kid joined the group and we didn’t become the Sinister 18. We became the Sinister 70. What was that all about? Probably that it was 1970, I just figured out. Admittedly, I hadn’t given it any thought in 36 years from that summer until last night groping for 17 tidbits. Nevertheless, a surprisingly slow grope on my part.

17.09: Janis Ian. At 17, she learned the truth.

17.10: The Late Rick James. She was only 17, 17…but she was sexy. Was he referring to Ms. Ian? We’ll never know.

17.11: Resilient Fishies. The Mets beat the Marlins 17-3 in the month previous to this one. Afterwards, rational owner Jeffrey Loria told his trusted manager Joe Girardi to forget about it, we’ll go get ’em tomorrow. They haven’t lost since.

17.12: A September to Remember. Your 1986 World Champion Mets became your 1986 National League East Champion Mets on September 17. If we ask real nice, maybe SNY will show an edited version of that game a hundred more times.

17.13: A Broadcast to Forget. Carlos Beltran tied the Met record for scoring in most consecutive games, 11. But the National League record of 17 belongs to Ted Kluszewski, per Gary Cohen or whoever handed him the note in Denver. By the way, have you ever heard Gary as unhinged during a telecast as he was Tuesday? The travel, the thin air, the time change and Keith must have gotten to him. Forget about it, go get ’em tomorrow.

17.14: Ted Turner, All Class. When his superstation was merely UHF WTBS in Atlanta, the Braves’ owner thought it would be a great idea to have Andy Messersmith, No. 17 on his baseball team, take the mound as CHANNEL, as in CHANNEL 17. If he owned a state road, I suppose Phil Niekro would have been HIGHWAY 35. Less remembered is he ordered the public address announcer at Fulton County Stadium in 1995 to introduce the Braves’ rookie third baseman as Chipper Sucks.

17.15: Save Our Place, We’ll Be Back in 88 Years. The Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series, four games to two. But nobody makes a movie about the 1917 White Sox, do they?

17.16: Happy St. Bernie’s Day. Every March 17 between 1993 and 2005, we would freak out our beloved first cat with a shrill HIIIII BERNIE! This year, on the day when the Ancient Order of Hibernians paraded without him in proximity, Stephanie and I poured shots of Bushmills Irish Cream and toasted heavenward. Bet we freaked him out again.

17.17: Magic Yes, But I Like It Too. My go-to number is 17. Any story I tell that requires exaggeration usually relies on 17, as in “I had to listen to him tell me 17 times” or “we must have gotten 17 phone calls today.” My mother liked 14. She wasn’t cooking 14 different meals, for example. I don’t know why 17 took hold with me. I didn’t even realize it until Stephanie pointed it out. I try to mix it up these days. Sometimes 8, sometimes 18. I probably have like 17 different numbers now.