I can't tell you with any great conviction that there's any good reason to invest your faith in our team this weekend. Of course I can't. I was at the same game Thursday night that you were or watched. There was nothing about the Mets' performance to suggest they ever held a seven-game lead in their division or, for that matter, that they were about to be tied for first. The Cardinals — Albert Pujols, David Eckstein and a flock of random Redbirds — played like contenders, not the washed-out world champions they are. Journeyman Joel Piñeiro may as well have been the lost Dean brother, so effective was this Cardinal pitcher against these Mets bats.
The only reason we were technically in the game for nearly two hours was that we had Hall of Famer and all-time legend Pedro Martinez giving again his all to this nearly lost cause. Pedro's made five September starts and has been exactly what the Mets needed five times. One unearned run in the first and two earned in the third, but unquantifiable guts and smarts otherwise. The best move Willie Randolph has made as Mets manager came in the seventh when he visited the mound after Pedro walked Rick Ankiel on four pitches to make it first and second with two out and Pujols looming. I may be crazy, but I thought Pedro wanted Albert. Pujols had doubled twice earlier. Pedro wasn't gonna let it happen again. The best move part was the manager leaving his starter in for one more batter.
Willie sat down. Two pitches later, so did Albert. Pedro was done at that point, though hopefully not for calendar year 2007.
As the ninth approached, I experienced the most horrible kind of déjà vu. It was 3-0 in the fourth-from-final game of the season, with the Mets' position in the playoff race tenuous, with the Mets having begun to lose alarmingly, with the Mets playing a team long out of it, with me sitting in the mezzanine hoping that somehow the Mets could get something going right here, right now.
Except it wasn't right here, right now. It was right here, Wednesday, September 23, 1998, the Mets, one inning removed from sliding into a tie for the Wild Card with the Chicago Cubs, down three runs to the Montreal Expos. I sat and watched in disbelief as Jay Payton, Jorge Fabregas and Todd Pratt lined, popped and struck out against Uggie Urbina. It was the second consecutive loss for those Mets who had been one up over the Cubs when the week began. They would go to Atlanta, lose three more and be one behind them and the Giants when the week and the season ended.
I tried to shake off the feeling that I was enduring 1998 again. We were sending up three legitimate hitters: Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo and David Wright. Unprompted by Kevin James or any other unwelcome recorded intrusions, about a third of the house drummed up a Let's Go Mets! It was sincere if short-lived. Reyes grounded out. Castillo grounded out. Wright flied out. It was another 3-0 loss, nine years removed from the same 3-0 loss.
We were beaten for the fourth consecutive game while the Phillies were topping the Braves, yet it wasn't a booing night in Flushing. Maybe because of Pedro. Maybe because this was a makeup date and you had to go a little out of your way to find it. Maybe some of the more sympathetic souls at Shea took “makeup date” literally and felt conciliatory toward their team on this, the last evening they would spend alone in first place. By night's end, we had a roommate.
Then there's the very real possibility that there wasn't a ton of derision because there wasn't a ton of concern or its sibling emotion, a ton of belief. You can't believe what you've seen since September 12: the Mets 4-10, the Phillies 11-3. After 140 quick minutes, we filed out like middle-schoolers from a mandatory assembly. It was cool to get out of class for a couple of periods, but that was pretty lame, wasn't it?
Yes, it was lame. Yes, the Mets are lame. Yes, the Mets are choking on their own vomit in historic fashion. At first it was disturbing to watch. Then it was sad. Now it's barely anything.
Except for this: There's a tie for first place in the National League East with three games to go. The Mets are one of the two teams in the tie. They didn't get here the way you'd want them to get here, the way the Phillies did. You'd rather rise than fall this or any time of year. But I've checked the rulebook and it turns out the Mets are still eligible to compete in and win the games they have remaining and the division as a whole.
And that's what I hope they do. I mean I really hope they do. You know how they've disappointed us by their actions? You know how it looks as if they're going through the motions instead of to the postseason? You know how most of us who are lifelong fans have said we can't stand them?
I don't care about that anymore. It may be as true as the drop has been precipitous, but I don't care about that anymore at all. I have rooted for this team since I was six years old. I'm forty-four. I've been at this nonstop for 39 seasons. I have lived — lived — to have my team be in a position to go to the playoffs every single one of those 39 seasons. It is all I ever wanted when it was unavailable to me. It has been unavailable to me almost every one of those 39 seasons by the time those seasons reached this juncture. There have been ten exceptions to the rule. There were the seven seasons when they made it; there was 1985, when they took it to the second-to-last day; there was 1998, when they took it to the last day; and there is 2007, when they are alive on the third-to-last day.
I can't do a blessed thing about 1985 or 1998 anymore. But I can do whatever a lifelong fan can do right here, right now. As my Thursday night companion AlbertsonMets put it in a very perceptive comment on this blog yesterday, I am going to root like hell.
I am going to be at Shea tonight, and I am going to root like hell.
I am going to be watching on SNY Saturday, and I am going to root like hell.
I am going to be back at Shea on Sunday, and whether there is still something on the line or not — and there may very well not — I am going to root like hell.
I am going to root like hell for the Mets. Not because these particular players who have whizzed away a formidable lead like nobody before them necessarily deserve my unqualified support, but because I deserve to give it. I don't wander through the winters thinking how great it will be for the baseball season to come along so I can ignore my team or dismiss my team or decide my team is pointless, hopeless or worthless. I haven't been at this for 39 seasons so that when I am presented with a two-way tie for first place with three games to play I will act like I am too good for it.
When the Mets clinched the 2006 National League East title, I told you this:
We look at the script Mets on those uniforms and that's our name. That's us. However it happened, we became Mets a forever ago. We don't get paid. Doesn't even occur to us how much being Mets costs us in dollar terms let alone man and woman hours devoted to this cause we've made our own across each and every one of our lifetimes. We bleed, we sweat, we cry because, c'mon — what else are we gonna do?
We can do everything for this team except hit, hit with power, run, throw, catch and pitch. So we do what we can. We wear them and we hope them and we yell them and we live them and we write them. We do it with only limited promise and no guarantee of success most years. We do it on the slightest chance that every now and then we can call ourselves the champion of something. It's not a dealbreaker when we can't, but it surely serves as a contract extension into perpetuity for us when we do.
Hey, fellow Mets — there is only limited promise and no guarantee of success this year, but the slightest chance still exists. Don't pass it up. Root like hell for us.