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

Dead First-Place Team Walking

It was a team of Cuddyers versus a team of cadavers [1] Tuesday night. Who would your money be on?

I suppose there's no shame in losing to one of the pitchers if not the pitcher of our generation, but there is a mighty-Mississippi-wide difference between taking a few collars and tipping a few caps and meekly grounding, flying, popping and lining out 26 times — with one late K mixed in to keep the whole thing on the up and up. The Mets lost for the millionth time in their last million and three games. As has been the case for almost all of these losses, they looked pathetic, impotent and beaten from the start.

We were stymied on offense by the magnificent Johan Santana and overrun on defense by, if I'm reading the boxscore [2] correctly, everybody who wore a Twins uniform, save perhaps for Ron Gardenhire. The four errors didn't help. The dreadful pitching by returned-to-Earth Jorge Sosa didn't help. Actually, nobody helped. Everybody hurt. This loss, much like just about every loss since June 3 when the current chain of pain began, was a total and complete Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York effort.

Go team.

Tuesday it was the Twins who were massively better than the Mets. Over the weekend it was the Yankees. Before them it was the Dodgers and the Tigers and the Phillies and the Diamondbacks. True enough that each of these units is a quality outfit. Many of them, as has been tirelessly documented, were 2006 playoff participants and every one of them owns a winning record in 2007. Oddly enough, so do we. We're still in first freaking place after not quite three of the most rancid weeks I've ever seen a Mets team compile. Gil help us once the Braves, Phillies and Marlins are no longer subject to American League opponents.

Can you believe it's not even three weeks that this has been going on? Three weeks ago at this moment I had drifted off on the couch to the blissful images [3] provided by Jose Reyes bouncing, Armando Benitez balking and Carlos Delgado blasting. That was three weeks ago. May as well have been another lifetime. The next night Barry Zito dropped a Santana on us. Not quite as complete, but we tipped our caps [4] and won the night after. Then in came the Diamondbacks and by the end of that series, the slide was in progress.

Well, that's not telling you anything you don't know. I wish I could pretend to have reliable sources and report the exact cure, but I don't and I can't. In lieu of certainty, any suggestions? I dunno. Turn over a buffet table? Reinstate kangaroo court? Hold extra fielding practice in the midday sun? Punish every miscue with a mandatory slice of that awful Sbarro pizza? Trade for…oh damn it, I don't want to talk about trade rumors in June. I hate trade rumors. Trade rumors are what fans of teams who are thread-hangingly in it or hopelessly out of it cling to for the balance of the summer — who we must trade for…and which Quadruple-A stat monster none of us has seen must come up…and who we must sign in the next class of free agents.

I hate that stuff. I'd rather join a fantasy league than feel compelled to think in those terms midyear. I loved last summer because I barely heard a peep of trade or minor league or December chatter. I'm sure it was there but I didn't listen to it. I tried not to indulge it anyway.

Now? For now I'm answerless. There's the occasional evening's peace when the Mets play like what we thought we could safely assume the Mets would be, but it doesn't last. The Mets haven't won a game directly following a previous win since May 29, since the Reyes-Benitez-Delgado bounce/balk/blast game. Monday night was the first game since June 2 to feature hitting, pitching and defense acting in concert. If it wasn't a can of whoopass, it was close enough, and if we could open anything approaching a can of whoopass on the Minnesota Twins for one night, you'd figure we could at least gather a collective pulse for the challenge of facing Santana the second night. But you'd have figured wrong.

The only saving grace I can find, other than Johan Santana will not be pitching Wednesday night, is we are not the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. This isn't a gratuitious shot at (youthful potential and Oriole chaos notwithstanding) the sport's worst franchise either. I fell into the Devil Rays-Diamondbacks game in Phoenix after our fleeting attempt at professionalism, and the Devil Rays have not grown one inch in their decade on the planet. Arizona fell behind 8-2 in the fifth, but Tampa Bay couldn't hold the large lead. Tony Clark hit a two-run pinch-homer in the ninth off previously unblemished closer Al Reyes to tie matters at eight in the ninth and Chris Young launched a two-run job off Reyes' 44th and final pitch in the tenth to make it Arizona 10 Tampa Bay 8, arrive home safely.

The Diamondbacks did to the fourth-place Devil Rays what we did to the Diamondbacks that first Thursday night at Chase Field [5] when we were the team for whom no deficit was too big, no hurler too daunting, no circumstance too impossible. I was actually getting nostalgic for the 2007 Mets of April and May. I can't imagine our current crop of June bugs being any more than mere pests to a team of middling or better caliber. It's the same guys, mostly, but their hearts or their guts or their souls or their ability to play decent baseball for as many as two consecutive nights…let's just say that at this moment we're a first-place version of the Devil Rays. But just barely.

We're actually only seven games better than they are. And I wasn't planning [6] on using them as our yardstick this season.