Where were you one year ago tonight? In a very good place, I imagine.
Can you believe twelve months have passed since the Mets clinched their first division title since 1988? It was exactly a year ago, September 18, 2006, that Cliff Floyd cradled a fly ball from Josh Willingham and turned the Mets into official champs of the East. They began playing championship baseball April 3 and didn't let up until the third out of the ninth inning of that 149th game. Clinching was a formality…a very happy formality.
You might recall the Mets played hung over for most of the two weeks that remained in 2006, with Pedro struggling and succumbing to his pain and Willie resting his battered regulars. They went an indifferent 6-7 while preparing for the playoffs, finishing '06 with a record of 97-65 — fifth-best in franchise history and very fine on its own merit, if just a touch disappointing since they were on track for 100 wins much of the season.
97-65 looks very good from here.
Monday night was significant historically because the 2007 Mets fell to 83-66. Besides the obvious and urgent matter of the current standings, that record means:
• The Mets will not equal or top their previous year's won-lost record, the first time a Mets team will say that since 2003. There was a time when I thought the 2007 Mets were a near lock to better their 2006 total. It didn't happen. They do, however, remain eligible to extend their postseason further than their immediate predecessors, of course, assuming they…well, you know.
• From the night after the 2006 clinching through Monday night's utter embarrassment in Washington, the Mets happen to have played the equivalent of a full season and have posted a 162-game record of 89-73. That's a mark that's borderline Wild Card at best most years, one that probably needs to be exceeded in calendar year 2007 to clinch a second consecutive division title.
At the risk of Lou Brown-ing an unknowable equation, can the Mets win seven of their final thirteen against three sorry-ass opponents (to reach 90-72) while hoping the rampaging Phillies don't go better than 8-4 (halting their progress at 89-73)? Should it have ever come to this? The answer to the first question is of course and the second is of course not.
When the Mets are in an awful way the way they have been since Friday, I find it impossible to envision they will win another game. They won't win tomorrow; they won't win next week, they won't win next year; they won't win ever. Thus far that recurring anxiety has never reached fruition; the Mets eventually win another game. But there is nothing to take from the previous two games — combined score of 22-10, combined error accumulation a team record ten — to quell those darkest fears on a rational level.
After watching the Mets garner four runs and give back three times as many to the Nationals, do you have any confidence they'll ever win again?
A little extreme, I grant you. This division, if it hasn't been already, won't be settled on the inadequate shoulders of Brian Lawrence, for whom a cozy unconditional release just has to be waiting. There's not much to recommend the cavalcade of inadequacy that followed him to the mound, but I guess you can't go clogging the waiver wire all at once.
You know who's been kicking ass on a regular basis for most of the past five-plus weeks? Besides the Phillies when they play the Mets? We have one player who's been on fire dating to August 10: 11 homers, 39 runs batted in, a .336 batting average and six steals along with Gold Glove defense across 35 games. And his name isn't David Wright (the Gold Glove part should have tipped you off). Ever since emerging from his abdominal miseries, Carlos Beltran has been every bit the Most Valuable Player candidate he was the summer before this one, before he ran into that fence in Houston in the service of a spectacular catch.
Does anyone even notice how good he is? After his blast in the first inning at RFK, he's tied with Wright for the team lead in homers (30) and has the most RBI (101). It's only news when he doesn't come up with a ball; I laughed in amazement after he misplayed Rollins' liner Saturday because one voice in 55,477 was heard to bellow “GO BACK TO HOUSTON!” Thank the good lord and Scott Boras that Carlos Beltran came here from Houston. When he isn't hurt (which it's easy to forget and insipid to dismiss that he was earlier this year), he is by far the best player this club has, the best everyday player this franchise has ever had.
We wouldn't have clinched a year ago tonight without a lot of contributions and if we are to clinch in the next two weeks, with whatever record we attain, the same will be said. To me, the undersung common denominator plays center, bats cleanup and doesn't say all that much.
In 2006: 41 homers, 116 runs batted in, 127 runs scored, 18 for 21 stealing. In 2007: he'll be a little short on the power side, but is running more now that he doesn't have a quad bugging him, and he'll probably earn another defensive award (earn it, not just accept it). With Delgado out, he has flourished in the cleanup spot for the most part. And he just does it so quietly, which, despite the Mets wallowing in one of their periodic dregs when they are said to need more holler from their main men, I find pleasing.
I couldn't prove it, but I believe Carlos Beltran to be the Met most like me in terms of temperament (to be fair, I could be a lot like Brian Lawrence, but as Crash Davis said about reincarnation, nobody wants to believe they were Joe Schmo). Remember when he showed up for his first Mets spring? He made this big point of inviting David and Jose along for his Gold's Gym workouts, the ones that earned him his 119 large. That was after standing up at his introductory press conference and christening his new workplace the New Mets (he wasn't wrong, incidentally). It's obvious after watching him for nearly three years that Carlos Beltran was trying really hard to be outgoing from the get-go and that it didn't fit him well, that it's his default mode to keep to himself.
That's something I would do, albeit without the grace and athleticism and the seven-year contract. I find myself at parties and the like where I don't know many people, and I'm determined to socialize my ass off precisely because it's something I hate to do (unless the party is a division-clinching), but maybe if I force myself, I'll get better at it or at least relax. I'll keep up the aggressive chatter for about five minutes before I realize what a fraud I am and then I alternately sip my soda and glance at my watch for an eternity. I'm like one of those speed horses at the track: I break out of the gate well but I know I'm going to finish well off the pace if I finish at all.
Wright or Reyes may reach Beltran's level on a consistent basis someday, but they're not there yet. Reyes, whether it's physical exhaustion or addlemindedness, has regressed. Wright is close, but you can just feel him pressing. I'd love to believe they're learning from their older, more accomplished teammate. I have no idea if they are. Delgado gave Beltran's shyness cover in 2006 if we are to believe the urban mythology of the Met clubhouse. With the other Carlos in a funk all year and unavailable of late, I don't know if Beltran is doing more than showering and dressing after games or if he's comparing batting stances with his younger teammates. The guy's emerging as a serious Hall of Fame candidate (seven 100-RBI seasons in the eight seasons in which he's played at least 86% of his team's games). It would be a shame if he kept it all to himself. But it may have to be good enough that he shares it with us day in, day out.