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I Don't Gotta Believe Anything

No doubt some tried and true sportswriter somewhere has referred to Thursday night’s apocalyptic meltdown as a heartbreaker for Mets fans.

Your heart broken? Mine isn’t. Not really.

I’m not gonna feed you some line that there are more important things in the world than your team blowing a 7-4 lead in the ninth [1] because your team’s manager is too fucking stupid or stubborn or something to not use Jorge Sosa one night after Sosa gave you two fantastic innings and there’s nothing about him to recommend rolling him out there again in a dire strait. There are more important things, but that’s neither here nor there. That’s not why my heart is not broken.

My heart is not broken because this 2007 Mets club seems incapable of breaking it. You have to be in love, or at least think you’re in love, to have your heart broken.

I’m not in love with this team. It’s strictly platonic between us. If they insist on standing me up for our October date, I won’t take it personally. If they want to tell me, after choking up and spitting out 3-run leads and 4-run leads and 7-game leads left and right that “it’s not you, it’s us,” I’ll believe them.

But I don’t gotta believe anything else.

The Mets fan mantra of You Gotta Believe is sacred text. It’s the mincha we say in the hours leading up to 7:10, a brucha we recite over every season’s rough spots. You Gotta Believe sums up for us everything being a Mets fan is supposed to be about. It’s about never giving up and ignoring the odds and showing faith, always faith. It would be sacrilege for the biggest Mets fan you will ever know to tell you he doesn’t believe he’s Gotta Believe at this juncture.

So excommunicate me. I don’t Gotta Believe anything right now. There is little to believe in where these Mets are concerned.

I’m going to believe in what exactly?

A 1-1/2 game lead? Fine, they’re in first place. I’ve clung to that like moss on a stoic stone for four months. That’s just a statistic at this point. There is nothing first-place about these Mets.

An MVP candidate? Oh please. How on earth David Wright became the alleged favorite for Most Valuable Player is beyond me. Not in the league where Jimmy Rollins plies his trade with deeds in support of words. Not in the league where Prince Fielder keeps a desperate playoff bid afloat. Not in the league where Matt Holiday has carried a team on his back. Not when David Wright can’t make a simple throw to first base to stanch apocalypse in the making.

An All-Star shortstop? Jose Reyes wouldn’t start for the last-place Marlins or the almost-first-place Phillies. Not even if they switched him back to second.

A 300-game winner? Tom Glavine has to get through the fifth inning without getting beat by Miguel Cabrera (somebody else, lousy attitude and all, who’s outshining Wright this season despite playing in a cave). He just has to.

The Sandman? I can’t jump on a guy who reports back spasms, I just can’t. Walk a mile in somebody’s back, y’know? But Billy Wagner was the one constant for this trampoline team for months. His not showing up to pitch in the biggest regular-season game of his tenure was a very bad sign. Not a character flaw, just a very bad sign.

The manager? For three seasons I’ve heard and read the touchy, the antsy and the hyperanxious rip into Willie Randolph at the first hint of trouble because, quite frankly, when somebody doesn’t have much constructive to contribute to the baseball dialogue, there is a tendency to take it all out on the manager. That’s OK, though; it happens in every town in every sport. I just don’t care for it as a rule.

Prior to the ten o’clock hour on the night of September 20, I had no particular beef with Willie Randolph. I wasn’t too concerned with how stolid or unfiery he appeared on camera because who the hell knows what that means? I even took some comfort in his reassuring, practically cocky assertion about how the Champagne would taste that much sweeter after the Mets overcame their premature hangover. Besides, I’d hate to think I took in every goddamn episode of The Bronx Is Burning for nothing. Wasn’t that when Willie was becoming a winner all his life, as he likes to remind everybody?

But watching Willie mismanage his bullpen Thursday night has put me on the other side of Randolph ridge. Strapped as he was for closers, how he could squander Feliciano on a single batter and then haul out Sosa after Sosa had been heroic for two innings the night before defied belief. When he was lucky enough to escape with only a tie, how he could expect Sosa to defy his own tired right arm and track record — Randolph had a front row seat for Brenly and Kim and the ’01 World Series — is unfathomable. It would strain credulity in May. To pull this move/nonmove on September 20 when it’s a 7-6 final in Washington and it’s no longer 7-4 in Miami…infuckingcredible. It was the worst move of Willie Randolph’s entire managerial reign, displacing the Legend of Shingo Takatsu [2] at the head of the disaster list (what is it about the Giant Sack of Soilmaster that perplexes Willie so)?

There were four relievers — Dave Williams, Aaron Sele, Willie Collazo and the mysteriously disregarded Philip Humber — in the pen. None was ideal (Bradford, Oliver and the ’06 support system aren’t here, deal with it already), but they were all a better bet than Sosa the kaput. So was Maine on what was presumably his throw day. Or Perez. This was fucking go time, this was September 20, the tenth inning with only ten games beyond this one. Other than Pelfrey from the night before and Pedro for the night after, there’s no sitting on your hands and watching Jorge Sosa disintegrate.

I could go on and continue enumerating the reasons not to believe in this team. With a handful of exceptions — Alou and his hitting streak (ties the record, woo-hoo), Lo Duca not letting injury or anger management slow him down, Anderson the PH machine, Wright (pretty darn good when he’s not challenged by what to do after the ball is in the glove) — no Met bathed himself in glory Thursday night. This has been a team crumble all the way. Maybe they don’t inspire much belief, but their September has been undeniably crumbelievable.

You can’t click two links in the Metsosphere tonight and not trip over a pile of retirement announcements by Mets fans who swear this was it, they’re out, no more rooting for this frick-a-frack-a team, et al. Whatever. I’m not resigning my commission in the Met army that easily. Too many clusters or stars or Gulden’s stains on this uniform. I was here long before David Wright and Jose Reyes and Tom Glavine and Willie Randolph and Jorge Sosa and, health willing, I’ll be here long after them.

I believe that.

I don’t know that I believe in this particular team’s future, though. The next 10 games? Who the fuck knows? We have entered genuine two-pitch-at-a-time territory: each pitch in our game, each pitch in the Phillies’ game (not to be too cute about it, but the Braves have won five in a row and are only 4-1/2 out). More disturbingly, I don’t know if I believe in the future of this era.

You’ve heard it and you’ve read it and you may very well have thought it: Was 2006 the big casino? Was that our once-in-generation shot at the jackpot? Conventional wisdom dictated it wasn’t, that this was a long-haul operation being built around us, with the two young studs on the left side and the studly centerfielder signed for quite a while (whom I’ve pretty much consigned to mediocrity having gone out of my way to shower praise on him [3] this week) and various talented and young rascals and that fantastic bricky ballpark to go along with this cash cow network of ours (on whose sportscast last night the word optimistic was spelled “optomistic”) and an ownership that’s been acting large-market and generally wise for a couple of years.

We had all that going on or at least in progress in 2007 and where did it get us? You can say first place with 10 games to go and I wouldn’t argue, but does this strike you as a powerhouse in the making? Isn’t that what we’ve been waiting 20 years, maybe forever for? I understand that you don’t get to win all the time. Lord, how I understand that. I’ve never considered us to be a long-suffering people; things just don’t go our way as frequently as we’d prefer. But we’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried being the lovable losers and the Miracle Mets and the M. Donald Grant bargain basement bin and the Magic Is Backs and the Oughta Be’s and the Worst Team Money Could Buy and the Generation K Kids and passengers on the Bobby V fake glasses-and-mustache ride and another awful team money could buy. And we’ve Believed, Believed, Believed our fucking heads off. It didn’t seem like asking too much to ask that we be truly top-notch for an extended period.

Or maybe it was.

Didn’t you think we were going to have a wee bit more payoff than one division title and one League Division Series in the now? Didn’t you think at the very least in 2007 we’d surpass Game Seven and see a World Series and one last flag fly from a Shea Stadium pole? Didn’t you think we had already started something big?

I did. Perhaps it corrupted me. It probably corrupted us all. It’s not our fault for divining that a team with ability and resources and, at last, a bit of a track record, should win again, but instead of being True Believers, we became expectant consumers. Where is our second consecutive National League East championship? We’re entitled!

Stinking thinking, even if it was logical enough on paper in March and reasonable enough with a 7-game lead 8 days ago. Of course you’d prefer to lead and maintain and clinch already yet. But still, the thrill of insurgency (before insurgency had such negative connotations) is hard to beat. Have you watched the Phillies when they score a run? They’re so happy. Picking up ground and maybe making the playoffs? They’re elated. They’re Catalina in My Name Is Earl. They are, with everything on the line, jumping for joy.

The weekend series with the Phillies brought me back to another sweep in another decade. It was late July 1989, the Mets battling the Cubs as part of a four-team scramble for first. The Cubs were closer than the Mets and it showed. Though we had the names and the experience, the Cubs had the heart. One game ended with Shawon Dunston making a sensational DP: an over-the-shoulder grab of a short fly ball to left from Howard Johnson and turning and firing to first to double off Juan Samuel. Another ended on a Mark Grace walkoff homer. Of course the young Cubs were euphoric. Afterwards, Howie Rose contrasted the zest of the Cubs with the expectations that hung around the morose Mets’ neck and said “good for them,” as if he couldn’t help but kind of root for the Cubs to win the division (which they eventually did).

I don’t need to turn on TBS or TNT in two weeks and see anything live from Citizens Bank Park, home of the National League Eastern Division Champion Phillies. Any postseason that could include us but doesn’t is a kick in the gut to watch. But geez, the Phillies and the way they’re playing? It’s hard to not detach from one’s loyalties and pronounce through ungritted teeth “good for them.”

We desperately chanted lots of derision at the Phillies fans if not the Phillies last Saturday. We chanted “NINE-TEEN-EIGHT-EE!” We chanted, gulp, “NINE-TEEN-SIXTY-FOUR!” We chanted “BEN CHAPMAN WAS A RACIST!” (though that probably required a reading list to bring them up to speed [4]). But the dumbest thing we chanted, even after losing the seventh of eight straight head-to-heads was “SEC-OND-PLAA-AACE!” as if there were shame in attempting to move on up, as if we had been deeded the penthouse [5] by the Braves for the next 15 years.

We’re not good at being haughty, arrogant and presumptuous. It’s just not us. We are, as one of the nasty Heathers put it, “another case of a geek trying to imitate the popular people of the school and failing miserably.”

We’re not a pack of Heathers. We are, at our best, Veronica Sawyer. Actually, we’re usually Martha Dumptruck. But she’s nice enough.

We’re not just potentially on the wrong end of choke history here. We’re going against our DNA. We’re the team that comes from behind, the team that conjures miracles — the Amazins. I’m reminded, unwillingly, of a scene from Red Dawn. The villainous Soviet and the moderately sympathetic Cuban officers are assessing the damage wrought by the valiant Patrick Swayze-led Wolverines in the wake of the communist invasion, the bastards.

“Children did this,” says the Soviet.

“It’s rebels,” counters the Cuban.

“What rebels? They’re bandits.”

“Every time they shoot, the revolution grows. I know,” the Cuban almost beams. “I was a partisan.”

“And what are you now?” asks the disgusted Soviet.

“Now I’m like you…a policeman.”

Not a perfect analogy, I grant you, but guarding the palace isn’t our thing. We storm it. We haven’t stormed it successfully all that often, but we’re supposed to be the Wolverines of our good vs. evil tales. We’re not supposed to be the calcified revolutionaries, dispassionately spouting Marx and oppressing innocent populations. No wonder the Nationals and Marlins are beating us with such glee.

I know the Mets are trying to win, just as I know they’re not trying to lose. They’re probably as distraught this restless dawn as we are. More so, actually. Maybe they’ll forget about it if they hold on to that one game and that half-game.

We won’t. We’re the fans. We don’t forget much. We won’t forget this game or this slide. We won’t forget the way the all-important loss column piled higher than we could have imagined while the all-important win column went perilously unattended. We won’t forget how we let two second-division teams come back on us multiple times in a four-night span and we won’t forget how the second-place team closed all sorts of daylight on us even if we don’t fully regurgitate the lead we’ve leased since May 16 to the Phillies by September 30.

And if the story ends with them putting us into the wall, then roll over Terry Pendleton [6] and tell Yadier Molina [7] the news.

My heart isn’t breaking. But my passion for these Mets has been chipped to the point of cracking altogether. So c’mon Mets. Make me care that you’re ruining my life. Then, if it’s not too much to ask, stop ruining my life. Unbreak my heart.