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Working Overtime

Takin’ care of business for the 97th time in 162 attempts [1], the Mets ended their regular season.

Their next assignment is to turn the season into something extraordinary.

Even more so than it already is.

The television overlords have granted us a comfy interregnum, until Wednesday at 4:09 PM, to find out what awaits. For now, we know we disdain the Dodgers more than mosquitoes. They are our opponent, no thanks to the Diamondbacks whose comeback from down 7-1 stalled at 7-6 against Trevor Hoffman and the Padres. Yes, I’ll admit it now — I wanted San Diego in the first round, or at least I didn’t want Los Angeles. It’s no longer relevant, though. The Dodgers it is, the Dodgers, they will have to be beaten starting late Wednesday afternoon. The Padres will now go to St. Louis, where the Cardinals fans were shamelessly chopping their arms off to thank the Braves for eliminating the Astros and saving the Redbirds from themselves.

I guess we’ve seen Roger Clemens’ final start again…not counting when he takes the ball in the California Penal League.

Meanwhile, a moment to reflect on what ended today.

The New York Mets finished the regulation portion of their schedule with a 97-65 mark, the fifth-best in their history, trailing only 1986, 1988, 1969 and 1985 (whose dollar-short end Ron and Keith were Snighfully ruing Sunday, 21 years after the fact). The 2006 version of us outdid our 1999 predecessors by a half-game. These editions struck me as clearly the two best of the past 18 years, which tells you a couple of things:

1) The 1999 Mets really collapsed with a thud! before their amazin’, amazin’, amazin’ turnaround, because that was a wonderful team and it didn’t get to 100 wins.

2) 100 wins is hard to reach, especially if the 2006 Mets couldn’t get there. We were so good all year long, but all it took was two limp weeks to confine us to double-digits.

Doesn’t matter, I guess. Every team is 0-0 now. Twenty-two of them are 0-0 in 2007. Eight of us are 0-0, best of five. Still, I like that we have the best record in baseball. Perversely, I don’t mind that we share that distinction with the New York Yankees, partly because we were two down with two to go in that department but mostly because we don’t have to shoulder the “the team with the best record never wins the World Series” burden.

Was not thrilled with what I watched from Detroit, where the Tigers hissed away their divisional crown to Jeff Keppinger and the Royals. No great attachment to the Tigers here (none at all, actually), but I wanted Minnesota to take on the Skanks because I thought the Twins had a good shot in five games to take them out. Oh well, go Tigers, even Kenny Rogers [2] (who walked in the other team’s tenth run in extra innings, geez Louise.)

This has nothing to do with me not wanting Us to play Them. Rooting against the Yankees is an independent pursuit. In our universe, they do not interest me. I simply don’t like them on merit, whereas the only team I have in it for in the context of what counts is the Dodgers. That’s the business to be taken care of next. Something tells me the American League playoffs will escape most of my notice as of Wednesday at 4:09 PM.

Watching and listening to out-of-town baseball over the last weekend of the season produces a window into the soul of clubs you don’t otherwise think about. Did you realize Tim Salmon was retiring from the Angels? That Geoff Jenkins will be leaving the Brewers? That Luis Gonzalez’s imminent departure from the Diamondbacks rated the painting of a purple “20” in left field in Phoenix? That there are still fans in this world who give Barry Bonds a curtain call without benefit of a home run?

That kind of private celebrating and mourning shouldn’t be surprising, particular to a devotee of Met finales. Last year [3] at this time, it was us and Mike [4]. The year before it was us and St. Todd Zeile (and to a lesser extent John Franco, Art Howe and the Montreal Expos). We were also the fans on last-Sundays-past to go koo-koo for the guy who collected his hundredth ribby or topped .280, stuff that followers of contenders would roll their eyes toward.

I suppose I’m too new at haught and arrogance to do that. The Nationals’ goodbye to Frank Robinson moved me beyond anything I thought possible. Good for the Washingtonians who have had only two years with him and good for Frank, whose hardwired crankiness and surliness, it turns out, was just a façade. He’s a sweetheart! I’ve always admired him (what’s not to admire?) without being particularly fond of him; he was a ’69 Oriole, for cryin’ out loud. Maybe it was the enormity of his career or his thoughtfulness in congratulating the Mets, but I was touched by his pregame remarks. I can’t think of another immortal in his position — taking off the uniform long after stopping playing — embracing the game so lovingly upon his farewell from it.

Finally, there were the Mets, the first-place Mets on the last day of the season, scoring six in the second and winning one more. We clinched our division [5] 13 days ago. Since then we’ve had the slump, the calf, the cuff, the personal reasons and another dozen distractions and/or pressing questions. But y’know what? We just won four in a row and we have at least three games ahead of us. To borrow from Steve Zabriskie, this particular dream season is not over.

Just one more note. There’s something I like to say every chance I get, but at this particular juncture in the calendar, it almost never comes up. Huzzah, it does this year:

Let’s Go Mets.