- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

As Good As You Look When You Win

I have a strong suspicion that the Mets we have seen through 14 games represent the new normal. These are the 2007 Mets. Our team. Our time.
Totally this time.
Granted, it's a small sample, a mere 8.64% of the season accounted for, but have you seen anything from these Mets that worries you to any great extent? I don't mean the ding to Lo Duca or the nursing of Heilman or the continuing education of Ambiorix Burgos or that every time the camera picks up Damion Easley, he seems to be wishing he took that repairman's job with Maytag. Of course there are going to be physical limitations and mental blocks and moss that gathers on those rarely called on to roll. That's normal stuff to worry about. You're crazy if you don't dwell on something.
But the big picture…it's pretty reassuring, isn't it? We're 14 games through '07 and save maybe for a couple of uncomfortable innings by a starting pitcher here and there, one or two vapor locks in the field and a few too many LOBs a week or so ago, have the Mets done anything wrong?
Not really. They've looked great without actually looking their best. I'm willing to bet they can play better than they have even if it will be tough to improve on 10 wins in 14 games, which happens to be the best mark in all of baseball right now.
Tim McCarver liked to say and Rob Emproto likes to remind me that you're never as good or as bad as you look. But sometimes, I gotta believe, you are what you appear to be. The Mets appear to be awesome, even more so than they appeared at this time one year ago.
Our record in 2006, when first place was freshly painted, was the same, 10-4. Given the newness of our occupation and the floundering of the former N.L. East penthouse [1] tenant, the vibe was heady and novel. After 14 games a year ago, we winged our way west to San Diego and San Francisco and back this way for a changing of planes in Atlanta. It was one of those death-knell trips we'd been programmed to expect, except the bell never tolled. I was pretty sure we were for real before that trip and the 6-4 run through those erstwhile killing fields confirmed it. I wouldn't necessarily say the rest of last season was a victory lap, but we knew we were good by the end of that very first month.
Now? I have a sense we're more than that. There has been no letdown by these guys after not scooping it all up in '06, the key words here being these guys. In this era of piping hot personnel turnover, the '07 Mets have remained relatively stable. Most nights seven of the eight position players are Met vets. The rotation is composed of familiar faces. Only Alou, a couple of guys at the end of the bench and a jumble of middle relievers are new in town.
There's significance in that, I think, on several counts.
1) After two seasons of mixing and matching and dutifully filling the recycling bin to the rim with Tides and pink slips every Monday morning, Omar has got the team he wants out there, at least as close as he can get to it for now. His eye for talent along with Willie's talent for drawing out performance are on display daily. It's nearly impossible to fathom anybody filled their roles directly before them because I can't envision anybody filling their shoes.
2) I really get the sense the players themselves are on a mission. It's a very fan-projecting way to think, I admit, but do you imagine that any of the vast core of this team is satisfied with the way '06 ended? They didn't care what flags and rings were being distributed in St. Louis. They didn't give a damn what Jimmy Rollins said about anything. They're still the loosey-goosey, mile-smile fun bunch we fell in love with last year, but there's just that little extra edge to them now. They're good and they know it and they're intent on letting everybody they come up against understand it.
3) For us, the base, there is a comfort level I haven't felt in years. The getting-acquainted maneuvers this spring were minimal. We know our guys now. We trust them. They did it before and, heck, they can do it again. As much as I loved acquiring the big names we now call Mets, I cringed just a tiny bit the previous couple of winters over the mercenary factor. The Beltrans, Wagners and Delgados no longer have that rented-stranger feel to them. They're Mets. They're us. They're still here a year later. And they're kicking ass up and down the East Coast.
They continued to do so [2] Thursday night in a dozen pleasing ways large and small. John Maine needed extra rest? OK, he got it and he cruised. El Duque needed to go in regular rotation? OK, he did and he cruised. One troubling inning and everything else fell into place. It was as if his last shaky start never happened.
When I found out we were facing a pitcher of whom most of the western world had never heard, I shuddered. The Mets can't handle obscure rookies. Even the 2006 Mets could be blindsided by unknown quantities, and this one seemed to have an excellent curveball. But these are the 2007 Mets and the 2007 Mets just know what they're doing. They sized up Rick Vanden Hurk and they battered him as if he were Chris Carpenter.
Lo Duca out? Willie moved some pieces around. Beltran bats in the two-hole and pretends it's the three-hole: 4 for 6, homer, two ribs. Castro takes Paulie's position and he homers and knocks in three. Delgado still not quite there? Maybe not, but he sure has a knack for big doubles. Wright got a hit 'cause he always does. Alou got two 'cause it's April. Reyes was Reyes and all that implies. Jose Valentin is ungodly hot (and incredibly competent afield) and even the often stiff and awkward Shawn Green is swinging with ease and yielding contributory results.
I think that's everybody. Everybody chipped in and the Mets stepped all over the Marlins. What was the final score again? 11-3. What was it the night before? 9-2. Night before that? 8-1 over somebody else. It's almost as if it doesn't matter who they play or when they play them. Earlier this season — and this season couldn't be much earlier than it already is — the Mets won 10-0, 11-1 and 11-5.
This is Met baseball. They pound people and they don't give them much of a chance to respond. And they're not even playing perfectly. The cold spell up north sapped them of power. The pitchers couldn't get their feel and threw too many balls. Wright and Delgado haven't truly broken out by any means.
Yet we're 10 and 4, ahead of the world. We may not be as good as we look. We may be better.
I don't want to hear that we've played some fallow siblings. Were the world champion Cardinals an easy assignment? The revamped Phillies? The Nats I'll give you but the Marlins? They're not terrible and even if they were, since when has that ever mattered during crunch time between the sacks of Soilmaster?
As for the Braves, yes, we're 1-2 against our closest competition, having blown them off the map once and lost tight ones to them twice. Now that the Phillies have retreated to an undisclosed location for group therapy, it appears it will be us and the Atlantans for a while. Even that, though, is different from the version to which we became accustomed circa 1998. We're not looking up at any Braves this time around. They want to compete in this division? They have to go through Shea. Whatever they accomplish this weekend, if in fact they accomplish anything, they'll have to keep it up at a pace commensurate to the one we set. We are quite capable of setting a demanding pace.
I respect the Braves, if not for their pre-2006 accomplishments then for the excellent start they themselves have enjoyed in 2007. I respect every team, every square on the schedule, every possible exigency, every fateful detail that can swat a year awry. I respect the baseball season and thus take none of its potential whims lightly.
But as a Mets fan in 2007, I fear nothing and nobody.