Was it the cruel Willingham slam off Mota? No, I still had hope then. The criminal bullshit out call on the expertly sliding Reyes? No, because we had at least efficiently tied it that inning. Heilman loading the bases on a walk, a hit by pitch and another walk? It was coming, but it hadn't arrived. Cabrera singling in two runs? That was it.
That was the moment. Right there. Marlins go up 7-5 in the eighth inning on the Mets. The goodwill of Glavine's homecoming and Wright's home runs and three defensive outs at home plate completely dissipated…and I could feel something snap.
By snap, I don't mean with rage the way I felt Thursday after Willie Harris' catch or the way I wanted to feel Friday but didn't quite after Miguel Olivo and Hanley Ramirez cast their teal magic on us. I didn't snap and go ballistic. I snapped and went placid.
I was OK with it.
Not with the score, which would soon enough be final. Not with the losing streak, which had reached three. Not with any of the key indicators either. I'm not OK with the division lead that keeps diminishing, nor the municipal lead which is completely gone, nor the vast and discouraging array of injuries that continue to hamstring the roster, nor, of course, the bullpen, whose most effective inning of late has been delivered by Scott Schoeneweis of all people.
I'm OK with the idea that this isn't the season we've been waiting for. Not happy about it. Not satisfied with it. Not necessarily resigned to the notion that it won't be, because it's August 12 and 46 games remain and we are in first and I still believe we are capable of staying in first, at least as capable as anybody else is of replacing us there. But as Miguel Cabrera drove home Cody Ross and Hanley Ramirez in the top of the eighth Saturday night, as I watched from an upper deck box another late-inning score turn away from the Mets' favor, as I considered how most of the past ten weeks have played out, as I took in the width, depth and breadth of the 2007 season to date, I realized that the Mets truly and really might not make the playoffs.
Not just might not win the World Series. Not just might not win the pennant. Not just might not win the first round. Not just might not win the division. Not just might not win the Wild Card.
The Mets might not make the playoffs in 2007.
I've probably mentioned the statistical possibility of that nonoccurrence somewhere in here since June, but that was just to cover my bases. I didn't really accept it as an option let alone a likelihood. As recently as Thursday, I was willing to engage in a Rocky vs. Rambo debate, one of those undecidable hypotheticals about whether it was legitimate to win a division title without taking it to the Braves or whether winning a division title mattered much in the big picture of winning the championship we all thought we were going to win last year.
Thursday was a long time ago. I no longer take anything about the Mets for granted. I thought I could take their elite status as a given for 2007 at least, but I can't. I thought I could go to Shea on a night like Saturday as I have so many other times this year and continue to feed off the residual 2006 vibe that has filled the place since April. I can't do that either. The default mood of Shea all season has been one of expectation, expectation that 2007 will not just live up to 2006 but exceed it.
I no longer know what to expect. A winning streak of epic proportions could begin at 1:10 today. Matching sets of wins and losses could await and befuddle us further. Or we could lose our fourth straight and be swept by the Marlins. We could never fall out of first — just as we haven't since occupying it on May 16 — or we could be in second or worse by the middle of the week. I honestly don't know.
I also honestly don't think it will kill me if we don't succeed. I will be disappointed, I will be frustrated, I will be barren for a time. But come some day yet to be determined, I will move past it. It might gnaw at me for years the way other seasons' disappointments, frustrations and big empties have gnawed at me, but it won't kill me. That surprises me.
The subtext of this season for me (and, I would bet, for you) has been to beat back the ghost of Game Seven, to capture the flag that eluded us by a single vile inning, to build on that victory and go one better and find ourselves brushing confetti from our hair some early evening in late October. That was the plan. In April and May, the plan seemed to be working well enough. In June the plan began to curl at the edges. We've been smoothing it out as best we can ever since but it won't take. The plan doesn't look anything like it was supposed to.
In April, especially in the heady first days of the first month when we swept the Cardinals and won our first game against the Braves, I had visions of blogging us to a championship. I don't mean blogging a championship as in recording the instant drafts of history. I mean helping it along any way I could through this medium. I thought all of us collectively, through our words and our faith, were going to will this season up the hill. I'm not sure how that was supposed to be put into action, but I couldn't believe after Game Seven and how determined we all seemed to make it better that we weren't capable of pitching in for the greater good, of making the Mets that much more formidable, of giving them that little extra edge they were going to need to overcome Game Seven. I may not have thought of a way we were literally going to do it, but I had confidence we — Mets fans everywhere — would figure it out. The Mets would more or less replicate the excellent parts of 2006 and we would take care of that last tiny bit of business for them. We would win this thing together, them and us.
That part of the plan doesn't seem to be working either. Not yet.
Approximately every two series since June started slipping away, I've tried, in my own way, to save this season. I've tried to rationalize the Mets when they've been less than we expected. I've tried to forgive their foibles, ignore their shortcomings, read them the riot act, damn them with faint praise and praise them amid loud damns. I've tried to go overboard, I've tried to demonstrate reserve, I've tried to pretend nothing unusual is going on here.
I've tried everything. Maybe they have, too. Maybe they have something else that will work. Me, I'm out of answers. I'm just going to let them play. If they win, I will be happy. If they lose, I will be anything from murderous to morose, as ever, but I won't be surprised anymore. I want them to be those 2006 Mets-plus, still. I love that Shea Stadium is filled with that kind of expectation every time I go there. But I understand there's an aspect of cognitive dissonance to those expectations as we near the middle of August in 2007. It still feels like 2006 in the stands, which is neat. Long live the emotion and the vocalization of 2006. But down there, on the field? It's another year. It's another epoch, practically.
2006 may very well have been the exception, not the new rule. Maybe we go back to being a crapshoot of a franchise, not the gathering juggernaut we've sensed we've been watching since 2005. Maybe we don't just keep improving until we're rewarded with a parade and a better burger. Maybe we had one decent year then one awesome year and are now having one so-so year. Maybe we don't know what will be next. Maybe instead of the last game of last year ending a beautiful season, maybe Game Seven was really just the first game of this year.
Most of this entire season, actually, has been one long Game Seven. We get nice pitching. We get a memorable moment. We get the bases left loaded with nobody scoring and the other team winning. We get dismay that things don't turn out as well as they should and could. We don't get it once, however. We just keep getting it.
If that's 2007 in a nutshell when all is said and done, I'm OK with it. If this is my lot as a Mets fan, then it's no different from what it's ever been. I'm not suggesting we are doomed for all eternity. We'll have other 2006s and 1999s and 1973s. We'll have another 1969 and another 1986 in whatever incarnation they reveal themselves, I swear we will. We'll probably have loads of 1976s and 1989s when we're a little above average and a few too many 1982s and 2003s when we scrape bottom. We'll come around, we'll fall back, we'll cycle. We'll triumph. We'll fail. We'll play ball.
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
I'm OK with it. I'd prefer success and I'd prefer it immediately. I'd prefer invincibility along the lines that I'd anticipated all winter and spring and that I hadn't fully given up on as the summer developed. I just don't see it anymore. The Mets are in first place? That's what surprises me now.
The Mets don't get to win just because I think they should. I'm OK with it because it's finally hit me that I don't have a choice in the matter.