It should be hard. I like that it's hard.
—Matt Kelley to Toby Ziegler, “Twenty Hours in America,” The West Wing
The brand spankin' new vibe around the Mets after months of stick-in-the-muddiness is because their lead quietly ballooned to seven satisfying games over the weekend, the race is over and won. I've seen columns that have all but placed the “x” next to our name in the standings. I've heard TV commentators who haven't given us all that much respect for months pencil the Mets in as division champs. There's way less worry in the air than there was a few weeks ago.
Since we were unofficially declared to have accomplished our mission, the lead has inched downward to five. I'd prefer it be nine, but y'know what? Fine that it's five if it has to be five.
It's a division title. It should be hard. I like that it's hard.
I'm going to remember this season, by gum. I'm going to remember how hard it was. I'm going to remember that August bumped up against September and we were still getting all our Pedro Martinez updates from the Florida State League. I'm going to remember that heretofore barely known and lightly considered quantities like Chan Ho Park and Jason Vargas and Lawrence of Oblivion took Pedro Martinez's starts when nobody else would.
I'm going to remember the struggle. I don't want to overdo the pathos, but it's been a task-and-a-half maintaining the same position atop the East day after day since the middle of May. It's been done without Endy Chavez and without Carlos Gomez and without Paul Lo Duca and without Ramon Castro and without Carlos Beltran and without Lastings Milledge and without Duaner Sanchez and without Moises Alou and without Shawn Green and without Dave Williams and without Jose Valentin and without Oliver Perez and without Orlando Hernandez for at least 15 days apiece, usually more. That's in addition to doing it without Pedro Martinez.
I'm going to remember the shortcomings. I'm going to remember that Carlos Delgado didn't come through far more than he did, but I will remember the times he came through because there were several. I'm going to remember the slow burn up the charts by David Wright and the cartoon running start of Jose Reyes and how once he went whoosh! he really went whoosh!. I'm going to remember Beltran up a hill and Chip Ambres out of nowhere and Ruben Gotay crossing home plate on a Thursday and Luis Castillo all asprawl and Ollie in mid-leap and Glavine's wife and Glavine's speech and Glavine's round number and Endy bunting and Gomez bunting and Marlon Anderson picking up right where he left off and Shawn Green tickling the scoreboard and Armando Benitez shaken to his core like the rookie he will never stop being.
I'm going to remember Billy Wagner's fistfuls of sand, thrown with almost perfect precision from the middle of April to the beginning of August. I'm going to remember slugger John Maine. I'm going to remember El Duque's failure to obey the minimum speed limit. I'm going to remember the sidearming of Joe Smith and the resiliency of Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano and Jorge Sosa. I'm going to remember Damion Easley running 360 feet without stopping. I'm going to remember Sandy Alomar and Mike DiFelice catching like pros and Ricky Ledee and David Newhan trying their darndest and even this Brian Lawrence fellow who can hit better than he can pitch, but at least he does something well.
I'm going to remember a horrible Fourth of July in Denver and a listless checkout before the All-Star break in Houston and desperate nights in L.A. and sorry afternoons in Detroit and frightful endings against an assortment of Marlins and Nationals. I'm going to remember Willie Harris and a 5-0 lead in Pittsburgh and pitiful performances versus everyone from Tyler Clippard to Johan Santana to David Wells to J.D. Durbin. Because I remember this stuff, too, I can't automatically forget how hard this has been and pretend that suddenly it's easy, not with a month and change to go.
I'm going to remember, whatever the outcome, 2007. It has been a very different animal from 2006. We won't know 'til it's over whether it was better or worse. That's part of the fun, you know — finding out. I'd like a nice big lead like the one we had a year ago at this time. I'd like Philadelphia and Atlanta buried once and for all. I'd like to join the growing murmur that the Mets are surely on their way to October. I will if and when I know for certain it is merited.
Right now I don't. But that's OK. It's not supposed to be as easy as it was in 2006 and I think we all knew that then as now. It should be hard.