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

The Sum Also Rises

I love being a Mets fan.

It hasn't been fully fashionable to enjoy our lot in life of late, and I've certainly done my part in leading the charge toward self-analysis of our existential meltdown [1]. Well, I'm done. No more therapy. No more Prozac posts [2]. I've spent enough of my summer on The Couch. Since shedding expectations of what my team is supposed to do, I find myself gathering enthusiasm for what they are actually doing.

They're winning, six of the last seven — and the single loss was a game that probably didn't happen [3]…though if it did, I'm willing to file it away with the Kazmir trade under something that needed to happen in order for better times to start rolling. I can't prove it, but I have a gut feeling the Mets took a collective look in the mirror after blowing a 5-0 lead and asked themselves, in one way or another, “what the fudge?” They played like a first-place team in Washington, a first-place team that had no business not beating a last-place team. And lest you say, “oh, it was just the Nationals,” these are the same Nationals who have been playing above expectations all season, including in the split they earned at Shea a few weeks ago.

They're winning with the people they need to win with. Reyes is the manchild running wild. Castillo is his Florida's natural self all over again. Wright is delivering runners home like he's the Budweiser designated driver of the game. Beltran is the motherflippin' power plant. Alou won't take “no ribbies” for an answer. Hey, that's the first five guys in the lineup, all of whom are clicking. Add in a recovered Delgado and dashes of Milledge, Green (his two-RBI single Sunday showed he can, too, differentiate shit from Shawnola), Anderson and the catcher du jour, it's not bad. It's not bad at all. We're down a solid benchman in Easley [4] but soon enough we're due to return Lo Duca, Castro and even Endy (Endy!) to action.

They're winning by getting the other guys out. El Duque hasn't made a bad start in six weeks. Glavine is still chasing history. Perez responded to a “challenge” (oh that word [5]) from Willie Saturday and quit screwing around. Maine needs to unkink and Pedro needs to come home (though Lawrence has been fifth-starter adequate), but this pitching can get us to September. The bullpen will be pitch-as-pitch-can, maybe, but I've seen worse. Sosa has found his calling. Schoeneweis hasn't altogether sucked of late. You know Billy Wagner. The others? Ah, somebody'll come through. That's not a copout, it's a probability. Every bullpen has its saggy spots across a year. Heilman, Feliciano, the dreaded master run-allower Mota are all due for good streaks just as they were all due for bad streaks. It's the nature of the business, it's the smuggler's blues.

They're outlasting the competition. For all our collective (and individual [6]) caterwauling over the powerhouse Braves and Phillies pounding our undermanned UnderAmazins into the ground, that's nothing more than a Metropolitan myth. Dudes and dudettes, if the Atlantas and the Philadelphias were going to do us in, don't you think they would have made a serious move by now? Gosh, Sunday [7] was The Heights — 17 games over for the first time in 2007. We played a bland 31-35 since the last time the Mets and part of my building were on fire [8] and we gave back to the pack nothing of value in the standings. Nothing. After Delgado blasted Benitez [9] out of San Francisco on May 29, we led the N.L. East by five games. Our margin is exactly that again. Somebody should have taken advantage of us by now. They didn't. Whatever didn't kill us made us, if not stronger, at least not dead.

They're not the Pirates. I mean they're not a perpetually crappy franchise with no immediate hope of improvement and no remotely reliable long-term prospects. Yes, the Buccos gave us all we could handle earlier in the week and no, Gary Cohen never, ever should have pointed out over and over how pathetic they were as long as they were on the same field with us, but big picture, being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan is incredibly heavy lifting. Deprived of a satellite signal on the Extra Innings channel airing the Phillies-Pirates game, I turned on the Buc broadcast on XM. When rain delayed the action, their announcers, Greg Brown and Steve Blass, morphed into hosts of Pirate Talk, a call-in show (not to be confused with Talk Like A Pirate [10] Day). All at once, I was reminded what life is like to root for a truly fecal team. The calls alternated between “I'm so fed up with this losing” and “I really think we're going to turn this around soon, I just know it.” Not one focused on the frustration of being in first place for more than three months but not really feeling like it was a great season.

Now that we're done with the Pirates — and as long as I was waiting around for them to go out and complete their praiseworthy [11] work on the Phils — my heart ached for these poor saps. We've been there: ownership doesn't spend the money; the minor leaguers can't get called up soon enough; every trade has backfired; the dead wood is rotting; the divisions, like the stars, are aligned all wrong (a caller wanted Houston in the A.L. West while one of the announcers suggested too many Central time zone games were holding back the Bucs).

Blessed art thou, O God, for not making me a Pirates fan. At least from 1993 on. I suppose if I had been in born in Western Pennsylvania, I'd make the best of it. I'd have a glorious ballpark, a surfeit of seating options, a periodically proud heritage, a standing footrace among Slavic dumplings [12], a tendency to annoy the big, bad Mets and a surge of adrenaline every time I heard my team's announcer exult (as Greg Brown did Sunday) “Raise the Jolly Roger!”

But that's not a birthright you can imagine walking the plank for if you managed to be born outside Western Pennsylvania.

On Flashback [13] patrol recently, my mind was exploring 1983. I remembered the night Mike Torrez walked ten Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium in less than four innings. I had my sister and her husband in the car with me. They were oblivious to the broadcast and that I was trying hard to listen to it. In addition to whatever my brother-in-law was complaining long and loud about, it was hailing. I had them both hocking me to be careful driving in the hail as if I didn't know the heavens were unleashing frozen peas on my windshield. Torrez just keeps walking batters. Bob Murphy is telling me no Met has ever walked as many batters in one game as Mike Torrez has. Nick Esasky homers. The Mets are losing 6-1. I'm being backseat-driven in stereo. It's hailing. Frank Howard removes Torrez after he has walked ten in three-and-a-third. Charlie Puleo, traded by the Mets to the Reds so we can have Tom Seaver back, walks six in six-and-a-third, but we only score the one run. We lose 6-1. The Mets' record falls to 34-59. I'm almost certainly seeking solace in Craig Swan and Scott Holman holding Cincinnati scoreless over the final 5-2/3.

When your team sucks…when your team really and truly sucks…you don't have to think about it. You know it.