Would Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam or any not-quite-doomed cartoon character who runs off a cliff stay aloft if his nemesis didn't point out he was no longer on solid ground but in fact trying to maintain his footing amid thin air? You don't want to think about the answer for too long because before you know it, the laws of physics will send you plunging.
In the cartoons, you take a mighty fall yet return good as new in the next scene. In baseball, you simply fall. And for a team that's supposed to outrun all nemeses, the Mets sure do get blown out a lot.
Technically, an 8-4 final like Friday night's doesn't scream blowout. My own rule of thumb is a seven-run margin equals a blowout, probably because seven sounds like a lot more than six (don't call me unexacting in my measurements). But when you trail by four runs after four batters and seven runs after six innings, the game, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
I can remember two or three instances in 1986 of the Mets being out of games early. I can remember scores going very much the wrong way fast and/or late against the 2006 Mets once in a while. It happens to the best of them and these two editions were most assuredly pillars of that group. But it's happened a little too often in 2007 to write it off as just one of those things that happens to the best of them. As the Mets have definitely proved since early June, they are not even close to being among the best of them.
Here's the first batch of evidence.
April 25: Down 11-0 after six, lose 11-5 to Rockies.
April 30: Down 8-1 after six, lose 9-6 to Marlins.
May 7: Down 9-1 after five, lose 9-4 to Giants.
May 12: Down 4-0 after four, lose 12-3 to Brewers.
May 15: Down 9-1 after six, lose 10-1 to Cubs.
After that last game — on the last night the Mets didn't get to the close of business in first place — I began to get suspicious that five losses in which the Mets trailed by at least seven runs at some point was characteristic of something horribly awry. In the first two, they made late charges that made me believe our boys never quit (I half expected rousing comebacks). The third was a little fluky if you remember San Francisco. The fourth got out of hand late. The fifth was essentially Scott Schoeneweis at his Scott Schoeneweisiest. Plus, the last three losses in this quintet were followed up by what one would have to call resilient wins. So maybe on five occasions in their first 38 contests the Mets were just having one of those days.
But five occasions of essentially being noncompetitive in the span of 19 contests…it troubled me a bit. Teams that are supposed to greet the October moon don't give up that many games. Again, these weren't just losses. These were beatings. It's one thing to get nipped or edged. It's another to be semi-regularly stomped.
The Mets got through May on something of a roll, concocting enough crazy wins in the second half of the month to make me forget the string of blowout losses. When June began to disintegrate, it wasn't really a matter of getting whacked as described above. The losses were listless yet not impossible (the Shea Phillies series excepted, choking away late-inning leads hasn't really happened this year — knock wood, not Wagner).
Then the blowing out recommenced.
June 10: Down 10-3 after five, lose 15-7 to Tigers.
June 13: Down 6-1 after six, lose 9-1 to Dodgers.
June 17: Down 6-0 after five, lose 8-2 to Yankees.
June 19: Down 9-0 after five, lose 9-0 to Twins.
Four ugly losses, all trailed by seven at some point (including the 8-2 loss to the Yankees in which it was 8-1 after eight), in a span of just nine games. This doesn't count two slugfest defeats (8-7 to the Tigers, 11-8 to the Yankees) that nearly got completely away. The Mets were playing all kinds of bad for three weeks in June. We know that. But they weren't just crappy 3-0 bad. In the above four games, played within close proximity of each other, they were, on average, 10-2 bad.
As the 2007 Mets tend to do, they got their act together just long enough to make us look past the unpleasant fact that not a single position player is having a career year or an impactful year or a year anything on a par with last year. They won seven of eight and the inclination was to say they've solved whatever was bothering them. They're gonna get going.
Then they made the mistake of going west.
July 3: Down 11-3 after five, lose 11-3 to Rockies.
July 4: Down 12-4 after five, lose 17-7 to Rockies.
July 8: Down 8-0 after four, lose 8-3 to Astros.
This doesn't even include the Rockies opener in which the Mets fell behind 6-0 (final 6-2) in the third and the Friday night game in Houston that was so lost at 4-0 in the eighth that the team's most dynamic and exciting player had to be benched for the ninth because even he had lost interest in the affair.
Now throw in…
July 13: Down 8-1 in the sixth, lose 8-4 to the Reds.
Friday night made it four of the last eight games that turned into anti-Met blowouts. One of them took place after an exhilarating 17-inning win built on the kind of resolve that should inspire a team the next day, not flatten them. Another, last night's to a last-place club, came on the heels of an uplifting start to the second half of the season. Two nights in, it's like they never revived or refreshed themselves whatsoever.
Since April 25 (which was also after one of the most brilliant wins of the season), a stretch that covers 70 games, the Mets have trailed by seven or more runs in 13 separate contests. That means the Mets have been in the process of being blown out at some point almost once every five games. They are 0-13 in those games, which figures since only twice in their entire 46-year history have the Mets overcome deficits as large as seven runs.
It's happened against good teams, bad teams, hot teams and cold teams. It's happened to good pitchers, bad pitchers, hot pitchers and cold pitchers. It's happened quite a bit.
I'm fond of referring to the old adage that you're going to lose a third of your games no matter what just as you're going to win a third of your games no matter what — and that it's the other third that decides your season. Fair enough. But there's nothing in the pithy statistical sayings of baseball that implies you're going to get blown out in a quarter of those unwinnable losses (assuming they're not the losses you collect in the decisive third of your season), especially by mid-July. And there is no logic whatsoever in a team that's blown out 13 separate times in its last 70 games spending, as we speak, 60 consecutive days in first place.
“Getting blown out a lot” is a symptom of what's wrong with the Mets, not the disease itself. If there were a pill that would prevent a team from falling behind by seven runs, from simultaneously not hitting, pitching, fielding and thinking well, I'm sure 25 of them would be distributed in the clubhouse at once. This pill does not exist and neither, I have begun to conclude, does the Mets' intestinal fortitude to remain elevated in their lofty National League East position. It's fine to oust Rick Down and designate Julio Franco and wait for Moises Alou and Endy Chavez and Pedro Martinez to heal. But something tells me something bigger is necessary before none of it matters.
If he promises to remove Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Maine, Perez (coming back Sunday) and Wagner to a holding pen for safe keeping, Omar can deal anybody he likes or anybody he can on the active roster with my blessing. All this season I've thought I've been watching a division champion, a first-place squad and a team capable of going all the way. I now mostly see a bunch of underachievers who have allowed themselves to be blown out 13 separate times in their last 70 games. There are guys I'd just as soon hold onto for the short term or nurture for the long term or keep on hand simply because I dig them, but the 2007 Mets are destined to fall out of first, to not repeat as champs of the East, to not even make the playoffs with this whole lot of uninspired, uninspiring fellows. So I'm no longer clinging to most of these Mets.
If you could somehow divine a way to replace the gritty incumbent catcher who rarely drives runners home, go ahead.
If you could upgrade over the accomplished first baseman who has shown zero consistency and less mobility than that, please do.
If you can find a rightfielder with an eensy bit of pop as opposed to what we're extracting from a stone, bring that person in.
If you can somehow find a second baseman or a leftfielder at all, that would be novel.
If one of the promising youngsters currently healthy has to go, have him go.
If the one or two spare parts with some value can be packaged and exchanged for something of greater worth, make the exchange.
If veterans on the cusp of grand milestones could bring us something, say goodbye to them and send them a Tiffany's bag when they reach their personal goal.
I'd sooner expect Shea Stadium to stand past 2008 than I would wholesale changes be made to our Major League personnel during the remainder of this season. But make no mistake about what we've been witnessing. The 2007 Mets are on top on borrowed time. Their lease of first place is close to expiring. They have almost no legitimate claim to the great position which they now barely grasp. They may be the first team in baseball history that will aim to make a run at respectability while leading the pack.
I'm concerned about the Braves and Phillies but I'm more worried about us. The Mets' give-up-and-get-out style of play, which has routed them 13 times, is their stiffest competition. And they're dangerously close to losing everything to it.