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Met-a Culpa

There are dumb quotes…

“Three-and-a-half-game lead and all, the key numbers are these: six games left against Atlanta and 42 against everybody else. The Mets are advised to kick the ever-lovin' spit out of everybody else in those other 42 in order to secure their second consecutive Eastern Division title and another shot at the belt because I have no confidence, none, that they'll handle the Braves in the other six. Not after four series comprised of one win and two losses every time. I thought we buried this bullshit last year. Apparently we have not.”

—Me, August 9, in a Willie Harris-inspired [1] snit

…and there are smart quotes:

“I've run out of things to say. We're not as good as them. They've won every game against us they had to win. That's why they're where they are. We have to find a way to win these close games, and I am talking about next year as well as the next couple of weeks.”

—John Smoltz, September 12, in a Met-inspired snit

Always use smart quotes.

Yeah, I would say I was pretty wrong about these Mets and their ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again following the fourth consecutive Braves series that they lost 2-1. I think I was in that Randy Quaid Major League II (not the good one) mode, where he plays the superloyal Indian fan who drowns out all mounting Tribe criticism with supportive, rationalizing blather until he finally reaches his breaking point and completely turns on his team. I didn't see 2007's Met-Brave dynamic as any more than a faint echo of its Coxian worst until Harris leapt and stole Delgado's ninth-inning, game-tying homer five long weeks ago and unleashed some seething demons of distress. Then and only then was I willing to give in to that old chestnut that we'll never beat the Braves when it counts, woe is us and that whole pile of self-pitying shaving cream Mets fans occasionally like to leap into.

Met-a culpa. I take it back. I take it back with a grin that reaches from here high atop the National League East to however far out Smoltz and his teammates sit and stew in the doughy middle of this division. I don't ever like to statistically dismiss any opponent who has enough games left with us to uncomfortably close a gap on us. The Braves have no games left with us. They're 9-1/2 back, primarily a function of their losing five of the six head-to-head chances they had to gain on us since August 31. I do believe I've washed the shaving cream off my face and my hands of them for another season.

Floss will take care of that delicious plate of crow I just enjoyed.

As we gloat, the Phillies are seven behind the Mets, which isn't just formidable, it's a hoot. Remember that when the Mets were going through one of their modestly competent stretches in their summer of stumbling around, they managed to boost their first-place margin to a surprising seven [2] on August 25. It was almost too soon [3] for this recurrently beleaguered cast of characters to pull away. Indeed, they lost the next night to David Wells and then hit the Turnpike for four more defeats.

Since then? A nicely done 10-2. The Phillies? Who cares? We're seven games in front, for the love of Pete Incaviglia. That means that even by sweeping us four — three of them with the force of a red-hot poker — the Philadelphians have picked up no ground on us. None! While we were ten-and-twoing, they've been five-and-sevening. What a waste of evil.

They have one left with the thunderous Rockies today and then come here for three. I like to run the worst-case scenarios before every series. Phillies win today and then find their inner pokers and brooms, they will sit 3-1/2 back with two weeks to go. That's a pretty unlikely worst-case scenario, but even if it were to come to pass, there would still be the matter of those 3-1/2.

I won't rest until we're not swept this weekend — and maybe with one eye open then — but we're in pretty good shape, according to the Metropolitan Department of Understatement.

Y'know what's been particularly gratifying about the recent spurt of quality New York Mets baseball? The way it's been achieved. The last four victories have been posted by scores of 3-1, 4-1, 3-2 and 4-3. It's just been so gosh darn sturdy, a bullpen hiccup here or LOB there notwithstanding. The starting's been solid. The defense, except for the occasional pop fly to deep short/shallow center, has been airtight. There have been just enough big hits to make these wins seem a lot wider than they appear. Nothing wrong with a sprawling victory (unless you're Keith Hernandez [4]), but these have been so…pleasant to watch.

Beltran Wednesday night in the eighth was a gunning, running clinic along the basepaths. He probably won't receive more than a token MVP point or two, but — due respect to the vitaminwater Kid — Carlos is by his presence the most valuable Met at any given moment. When he does his Beltran best, we win. Shawn Green (L'Shawn-ah Tovah! [5]) is treating September like it followed on the heels of May, like his dreadful post-foot problems didn't happen or at least healed; I do think a little competition for playing time did his soul good. Marlon Anderson is the best second-half spot player this team has picked up since, geez, maybe ever. Alou…Milledge…the revitalized Reyes…the undeniable David…everybody's been doing something helpful at least every couple of days. I'm almost willing to give Mota a pass because he battled Francoeur so gamely, but mostly I'm willing to give Mota a pass to sit in the stands come October.

At Shea. Where else, barring horrific circumstances even I'm having a hard time imagining, would the N.L. East champ be playing its home playoff games?