When it was over, when the disaster was complete, Joshua began to cry. That's the thing about being four — up until the third strike on Castillo, he really believed the Mets were going to win. It didn't matter that the Nationals were down 6-1 with two out in the ninth. He believed in them, too. When both of those beliefs were revealed as fantasies, he was genuinely astonished and grief-stricken.
I scooped him up and patted the back of his WRIGHT 5 shirt and said fatherly things. I told him that there were little kids and Moms and Dads who are Phillie fans who are really happy right now. (There are. It's true. I even know some of them.) I told him that in order to have miracles, you have to accept the possibility of disasters. I told him that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to a team in September, which meant he'll probably go his entire lifetime without another death spiral like this one. I tried to tell him that there was still baseball to watch, that it might be fun to root the Phillies or the Cubs or the Indians on to a championship.
It occurred to me, halfway through, that I might really be trying to comfort myself. But that wasn't it. Because I was OK.
No, I'm serious. I really was.
And coming from someone as fanatical as me, that should stand as one of the ultimate indictments of the 2007 New York Mets.
This isn't to say I was happy. By 12:15 I was losing track of conversations and spacing out, aware that game time was near and I had to get myself home. As Glavine neared fatal impact, I was unmanned by rage and unleashed a torrent of words not acceptable in our household. (Joshua: “Daddy, please don't say bad words.” Followed, moments later, by “this is the worstest game ever!”) When Ramon Castro lowered his hand, triumph derailed, I let out a scream of torment.
But after that, I was calm. Unhappy, but calm. The Mets lost. I watched the fans stare at the field and listened to Gary and Ron and Keith prattle on about the crew until word came that the Nationals had lost. And then I got on with my day.
I never liked this team. Early on, when they were ahead of last year's pace, I was vaguely embarrassed by this. Like a lot of us, I found myself groping for explanations, and worrying about why they left me cold. Was this the ugly side of raised expectations? Of the first stages of hegemony? Was this how being a Yankee fan began? What wasn't to like?
But I struggled to warm to them during the spring, and when they stumbled through the summer I stopped fighting it. I let a bit of hard-earned cynicism take over, dissecting fandom like social scientists examine human attachment. I told myself that when they made the playoffs, I'd find myself liking them just fine. But then the second half of September came, with the second horrible body blow administered by the Phillies, the inept handling of the pitching staff, the idiotic displays of temper, and the repeated assheaded baseball. And finally, those horrifying quotes by Delgado and Glavine and Pedro, the astonishing admissions that yeah, the team was bored and complacent. That right there was the end of the pretending that I would change my mind.
And that, oddly, made the rest easier. I will always love the 1985, 1999 and 2006 teams, despite the fact that they never won titles. I was never going to like this one, even if it wound up rolling down the Canyon of Heroes. (Maybe that's a massive rationalization. I wouldn't know — until now, I hadn't had any experience analyzing my feelings after the worst collapse in major-league history.) The 2007 Mets were the smug, self-satisfied hare to the tortoises of Philadelphia and San Diego and Colorado. Badly constructed and badly led, in the end they got exactly what they deserved.
After it was over, Emily and I watched in bewilderment as a few stubborn fans remained behind the dugout. What could they possibly be waiting for? I actually hoped they wanted stuff to sell on eBay, because the alternative was so pathetic: At the conclusion of this self-inflicted disaster, who would want to lay eyes on a single member of this band of choking loafers or their bloodless, self-deluding leadership?
There were fans crying after that third out. I cried last year, but why would I shed a tear for this team? For whom, exactly? For Tom Glavine, now undressed and revealed as the Frank Viola of his Met generation? For Willie Randolph, who never stopped issuing pronouncements about winners from the mountaintop while his team died in the valley? For Jose Reyes, regressing before our eyes as a ballplayer? For Billy Wagner, running his mouth and then trying to weasel out of his own words? For Lastings Milledge, jogging after balls with the season hanging by a thread? Those crying fans had never been complacent or bored. They hadn't decided they were such good fans that they could start caring when they needed to. In the end, they cared far more than those to whom they'd entrusted their hopes.
There are 2007 Mets I never want to see again. There are others I'll forgive and find myself cheering for with all the wild hope of fandom. But I didn't want to see any of them after that final out. I didn't even want to think about them. I know that will change, but I can't tell you when it will be. And yet those fans waited behind the dugout, the stadium emptying around them, the season dead. Why would they possibly want these Mets to return?
And finally I thought of something.
“Maybe,” I said to Emily, “they've filled their pockets with rocks.”