Tonight didn't matter. This string of flat, lifeless baseball games doesn't matter. Unless it does, of course.
It shouldn't. This is a well-rounded club with the right mix of wily, experienced vets, happy-go-lucky kids and hungry guys in between, led by an experienced coaching staff and an even-keeled manager whom guys respect and play hard for. One might expect the Mets to be resting up and not getting hurt, and a charitable person might say that's all they're doing right now. One would also expect that when the bunting's unfurled and the band's assembled and the blimp's aloft, they'll flip the switch and administer a licking to whatever team is unlucky enough to arrive at Shea for October baseball. An optimistic person would say it's a guarantee.
And yet. The long season can turn short awfully fast, and in a five-game series there is definitely such a thing as waking up too late. This team needs to play well to avoid its first sub-.500 month, which would be another one of those things that doesn't mean anything unless it means everything. And then it needs to play well lest this charmed season be revealed as a cruel illusion.
One of my baseball cliches is that I've grown old enough to realize my team can't go to the playoffs every year. All you can ask is to get to play games that mean something during the last week of the season. (OK, it's different if you're a Yankee fan. But then you have to deal with having a howling vacuum where the rest of us have a soul.)
2006 is the loophole in the rule: These games don't mean anything. Or rather, they better not mean anything.
Emily came home shortly before 10, as the lackluster baseball was nearing its dreary conclusion. At 10, TiVo inserted itself into the conversation, saying that it had something to record and asking to change the channel. Emily volunteered to cancel whatever it was, but I waved her off. I don't need to see the rest of this, I said. By the time we were settled downstairs it was over, and we wound up watching the Saints' triumphant return to New Orleans, the city where we met. (Officially met, anyway.) Come eat and spend some money, Harry Connick Jr. entreated us and everybody else watching. Hmmm. Next year the New Orleans Zephyrs will be a Met affiliate, and we discussed that we should go, see the parts of the city that seem much as they were and also see the parts that will never be as they were again.
Everybody knows the Mets wanted no part of New Orleans — at a time when the fashion is to group the minor-league affiliates more closely together, ours somehow got farther away. And despite the Crescent City's putting on its best face for ESPN (which did a good job balancing sports and the rest of life, I thought), in recent days the Zephyrs-turned-Nats have expressed relief at not being there any longer. I doubt the Mets will stay long, but here's hoping we aren't indifferent tenants. Here's hoping some of that post-9/11, Shea parking-lot spirit can be summoned for a city that desperately needs it. Here's hoping Ron Swoboda has some happy tales to tell.
But that's for next year. For now, another lousy game, import of which TBD.
Sigh. This weird logic, this conditional defeatism, has had me chasing my tail for days, not sure what to think but tired of thinking it. The Mets left Shea for the last time in the regular season playing lousy ball. When they return, it'll be to standing ovations. Normally I savor the merest inning of the most-meaningless game, but I'm having a hard time with that right now. Would anyone mind if we just fast-forwarded a bit? Let the good times roll already.