It's an unqualified good day when your tenth starting pitcher of the season acquits himself satisfactorily for a win while your ace in exile kicks ass in an ad hoc intramural scrimmage.
Brian Lawrence had a good day. Pedro Martinez made sure we had a great one.
Lawrence was solid for five innings. Chris Capuano was harassed for six. Damion Easley ran like the wind — or at least a stiff breeze — in becoming the third current Met, alongside Marlon '05 and Jose '06, to have homered for the Mets while not wasting a baseball in the process (doesn't it always surprise you that an inside-the-park home run counts the same as a Prince Fielder moonshot?). Everybody but Luis Castillo got on base and everybody but Luis Castillo hit with everybody but Luis Castillo on base.
The Mets pounded the squabbling Brewers, yet that was only the co-best news of the day. In Port St. Lucie, Pedro threw 67 simulated-game pitches, the vast majority of them strikes. He left feeling good, which should leave us feeling very good as it contributes, at the statistical two-thirds mark of the year, to a tentative up-arrow on our team's Conventional Wisdom watch.
It oughta be indisputably up. We head into Chicago to face the first-place Cubs as the first-place Mets (first time those two statuses have coincided as far as I know). Regardless of what happens at Wrigley, we'll be the first-place Mets when the Terrible Teixeiras tote their annoyningness to Shea on Tuesday. We've been in first place every single day since May 16. The idea is to be there on September 30, but it helps to maintain it early and often.
Yet our worldview as Mets fans seems mostly informed by the 47 losses, not the 61 wins thus far found in the '07 collection. We're spooked by that horrend-o stretch when we dropped 13 of 16 in June. We remember losing three in Colorado and two more in Houston. We can't let loose of the shame attached to splitting four with the Nationals.
We took two of three from the Brewers? What you mean is we lost a chance to sweep.
I think I understand why we look at our first-place Mets as such a severe disappointment. I'm spooked by the losing, too. Hence, I'll take it upon myself to be our spooksperson and try to figure out why we think the way we do, though ultimately I suppose I can only spook for myself.
This is me, 2007, the long view on my team:
How can you be so pessimistic about these Mets? They're in first place. They've got two still-rising stars on the left side of their infield who are beginning to regain their consistency. They've got one of the best all-around players in the game, when healthy, in center. They've got a closer pitching up to his notices in a way no Mets closer has in ages. They've got solid starting plus a surefire Hall of Famer who's supposed to be back by September. They've got a lineup capable of getting hot all at once — in fact, they're due for a hot streak and maybe they're on it already. They've got an ownership that's far more willing to pay for a winner than most teams. They're good. They really are.
This is me, 2007, in the moment with my team:
AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! SHUT UP WITH YOUR OPTIMISM! YOU'RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING! AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!
That's my eternal internal conflict. I Gotta Believe. We all do. But I can't believe anybody can expect anything specific that's going on in real time to go well. I can't believe anybody would even suggest the next pitch or the next swing will result in a positive development. I can't believe anybody would pencil in wins against lesser opponents or count on a couple of runs in the bottom of an inning. I can't believe everybody doesn't believe what I believe when it comes to rooting very, very carefully.
Maybe it's devout adherence to the “don't offend the baseball gods” rule, as if a celestial committee comprised of Nino Espinosa, Clem Labine and Hot Rod Kanehl — chaired by Uncle Bill Robinson — is Upstairs deciding our fate based on how deep I dare to assume Carlos Delgado will belt the next delivery from Tim Hudson. (Greg's thinking a little cocky tonight. That settles it. Delgado's grounding out.)
Maybe the entrance — call it the Exit 6986 off-ramp — to the nook of my brain where I've stashed away all the thousands of instances in which things went well is hopelessly blocked by heavy traffic at the intersecting cranny (Exit 777879…) of my brain where all the things that ever went wrong always seem to be speeding straight into a spinout.
Or maybe I'm just a muffinhead and don't know how to be overwhelmingly happy or reasonably rational between first pitch and final out.
I'm not sure what it is. I just know that I have, to date, ingested 108 Metropolitan cocktails this year.
How do you make a Metropolitan cocktail?
Easy. You mix one part long-term calm assurance with one part constant nagging anxiety and you shake like the upper deck during an NLDS.
Two-thirds of the 2007 season complete, I'm drinking Metropolitans as if I'm from another era. I resemble those ad guys in Mad Men, except I don't smoke cigarettes, wear suits or chase skirts. But I do insist on having my cocktail. Sipping a well-mixed Metropolitan is the only way I can unwind and get through the stress of this year's Mets.
It's different from drinking the Kool-Aid, but not wholly.
In years not nearly as good as this one, when there is only remote promise of progress, I can still picture success. Even in the sad campaigns, I see some improvement materializing somewhere down the road. That's the Gotta Believe part. That's living The Principle, as Bill Henrickson might say if he were one of us. You can't be a Mets fan if you don't think you're eventually going to receive your heavenly reward. But I contend you can't be a Mets fan — or a baseball fan — if you're sure it's due you right away.
It's a tangled web I've weaved, but it truly works for me. I'd like it to work for everybody.
Tuesday night, when Glavine was going for 300, I whiled away possible history in an IGT — an in-game thread for you non-board types. Geographically dispersed Mets fans watch or listen or monitor the game online and weigh in with an observation here or there. I've rarely made more than a token appearance in an IGT, but on Tuesday I just kind of got hooked. The back-and-forth typing pretty accurately reflected any group of Mets fans of which I've ever been part, whether at Shea, at play or at my computer. In broad strokes, I detected three kinds of people in this thread:
• Those who stuck strictly to describing the action (“Milledge caught it!”), posting a reaction (“WOW!”) or unleashing entertaining tangents (“Does anybody really name their dog Fido?”).
• Those who projected that what could go wrong would go wrong.
• Those who were offended by what one IGTer called the prevailing “'woe is us' vibe”.
I was in more or less in that middle group even though I saw the point of the third. For example, I didn't really believe the sight of Scott Schoeneweis warming up elevated the Brewers to new levels of overconfidence even if I said so. And I didn't really think Moises Alou had forgotten how “I got it!” works when he snatched a catch away from Lastings even if I said so. I wasn't even willing to write off the entire season because Geoff Jenkins walked off all over Aaron Sele even if I felt as beaten as our bullpen.
One of the other IGTers, meanwhile, threw his hands in the air and dismissed the result with “that was predictable,” a blurt that led to a literal response about how it wasn't predictable which, in turn, led to one of those ugly “no, you're a horse's patoot!” spats that killed whatever buzz might have lingered after 13 innings of baseball camaraderie (the moderator stepped in and all lived virtually ever after). No epithets needed to be hurled, but I was on the side of whoever berated whoever thought a Mets loss was fait accompli. In my code of ethics, it's OK to tell yourself the Mets are going to lose, yet it's completely out of line to act as if you were expecting it.
Does that make sense? If you're a Mets fan, it should.
I wouldn't hold what is said or typed in the heat of battle against anybody; emotions run as high as a Luis Castillo pop fly during Mets games. There are no casual Mets fans. You either care like hell or you don't care at all. And if you really care, you will keep your head up conceptually and tamp your enthusiasm down anecdotally.
What else are you going to do? Walk around with that dratted “woe is me” vibe? No, don't do that. It's repellent, especially when your team is the first-place Mets. We're not long-suffering fans — we bleed buckets' worth and wail in legitimately searing pain, but we're not long-suffering fans. The fans of the first-place team we play this weekend…they're long-suffering fans. Royals fans and Reds fans and, assuming such a species exists, Devil Rays fans are long-suffering.
We're short-suffering fans. We're not doomed. We're never doomed. We should never look at life (life = Mets) as we're always going to lose/we're always going to blow it/we're always going to feel humiliated. We're not, not always. We could lose. We could blow it. We could feel humiliation. But it's not a done deal. What we have isn't chronic. It's acute. It hurts like Hebner when it flares up, but it usually subsides.
If we were as long-suffering as we thought we were as recently as 2004, we wouldn't have been in the playoffs in 2006 and be as likely as anyone in our league to be there again in two months.
Yet don't go whistling past the ballyard either. It doesn't help matters to be a supreme situational optimist, a cock of the walk as it were. Has it ever worked? Have you ever known it to work? How many times have you decided “it's in the bag” only to find the bag has broken and the cling peaches have rolled into the gutter? How many times has the otherwise lordly Gary Cohen told you something encouraging like “the one thing unlikely to happen here is Jose Reyes bouncing into a double play with Carlos Gomez on first” only to watch Jose Reyes bounce into a double play with Carlos Gomez on first? Heck, I've twice in the last week listened to Diamondbacks announcers puff up the invincibility of Jose Valverde just before the Arizona closer gave up a game-tying run in the ninth.
It's not just announcers either. A fine fellow I know recently calculated for me what the Mets' July record projected to based on the “good chance” of winning three of four from the Nationals and the first game in Milwaukee. Only because I really like the guy did I not explicitly tell him:
AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! SHUT UP WITH YOUR OPTIMISM! YOU'RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING! AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!
The Mets did not win three of four from the Nationals, nor the first game in Milwaukee.
It didn't have to be predictable.
But it was.
One third of this season remains. It looks good, except when it's going on. Then it's a disaster in the making. Until it's not. Y'know?
Well, I guess what I'm saying is I've figured out nothing and probably communicated to you even less. But I will take that cocktail now.