“We needed to care more about each other if we're going to be the kind of team that wins a championship,” an unidentified Met told John Harper in today's Daily News. “I think we kind of took that for granted. The meeting made us realize that.”
So…can we safely assume Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado spent the boarding process of the charter flight to Atlanta unfailingly caring for each other?
“Take the window seat, Carlos.”
“No, Billy, I insist — you enjoy the view.”
“But you find the vistas so relaxing. Perhaps gazing out the window would replenish your soul and, as a result, your swing.”
“Why thank you, Billy. Can I at least grab you a pillow on which to nurture your valuable left arm before we settle in?”
“That is a most thoughtful gesture, Carlos. Muchas gracias, amigo.”
“No dear friend, thank you.”
Maybe that's not what One Met meant, but whatever it was about the most momentous meeting since Yalta that, to use Ryan Church's phrase, “relaxed” the team, well, keep it coming, loves. It's proved a more effective let alone more palatable solution to busting up a team slump than passing around a gold thong (brrr…).
Will the Era of Good Feeling Last? Do these eras of good feelings ever last? How many times last season were we reassured in deed or words that whatever was bugging the Mets last week was past them now? How many good weekends gave way to blues by Tuesday? How does beating a last-place team after getting beat by a last-place team reknight us a first-place team in waiting? How will we know if the Mets are going to stop being ungood and, by god, start being real good?
Atlanta would be a good place to start finding out for the positive. And Colorado would be a good place to continue. Then home for Florida and Los Angeles and so on. It's way too early to make over-the-hump assertions just as it was too early to decide Washington had buried our 2008 in irredeemable mediocrity (though, to be fair, mediocre would have been a step up from what we witnessed in three of our last four National League games).
The Mets for the past decade, maybe longer, have always struck me on some level as an exercise in unadmirable restraint. Even before Willie brought calm to a new state of placidity, the Mets tended to veer toward not panicking too much for my tastes; yours, too, probably. No one game is ever worth getting excited about. No one rival is ever worth getting overly amped for. No extended morass ever sets off alarm bells, not even for something as benign as a team meeting. Perhaps the fierce urgency of now finally tapped the Mets on the shoulder and shook them from their maddening complacency. Two good games don't change everything. But two wins are far better than two losses. Even the Zennest team of them all would have to cop to that much.
If you'd like a little precedent to hang your cap on, I've got something. It doesn't involve the same players, it doesn't even come from the same century, but let's assume there are some common bloodlines pumping between Mets then and Mets now.
Hark back with me to the beloved year of 1985, the year when we all cared about each other. Every Mets fan who was around in 1985 will, on substance if not bottom lines, take it as the year to remember over 1986. 1986 was awesome, but 1985 was beautiful. The success of those Mets, to paraphrase Joey “The Lips” Fagan in The Commitments, was irrelevant. The '85 Mets raised our expectations of life, lifted our horizons. Sure we could have won championships and had parades and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way — 98-64, unaided by Wild Card after a 162-game struggle to the death against the dreaded Redbirds — it was poetry.
What's generally forgotten about that unbannered year is that the Mets stumbled badly for an uncomfortable portion of it. Not long after a swift 8-1 start, the Mets, almost every damn one of them, stopped hitting. Speaking for himself in If At First…, Keith Hernandez referred to it as being lost in a dark forest. By the end of June, Darryl Strawberry had been out for more than a month-and-a-half and the whole lineup experienced a power shortage. Mike Lupica made his columnist bones with zingers like a Met rally is when one of them works a three-and-one count.
The joke was easy enough to construct. Keith was batting .251 through June 30. Gary Carter had sunk, after a brief surge, to .271 (with a paltry 33 RBI for nearly a half-season's work). Darryl, everybody's answer, came back and dipped immediately from .215 to .208.
Mookie Wilson — .263
Rafael Santana — .251
Wally Backman — 246
George Foster — .237
Howard Johnson — .186
Ray Knight — .171
After a flickering mid-June boost in which the Mets won five straight and jumped from 3-1/2 back to a first-place tie with the Cardinals, the forest darkened to pitch black. They finished the month with seven losses in eight games, scoring four in the ten-inning loss that started the slide and then not tallying more than three runs in any of their final seven contests…the last three of which were head-to-head defeats in St. Louis that put them five out. The Mets hung up exactly three runs on the Busch Stadium board in 29 torturous Missouri innings that weekend.
Could it get worse? Sure seemed to on the first night of July when the Mets returned to Shea and lost to the last-place Pirates, 1-0. This dropped the Mets to 38-35, or 30-34 since they sizzled out of the gate. All around New York, the Mets' 1985 chances were penciled in on the endangered species list. Would they ever break out? Would they ever start winning? Would they do anything at all?
In a word, yes.
Yes, they would break out: five runs on July 2, six on July 3, sixteen in the legendary July 4-5 game. Yes, they would start winning: nine in a row and ultimately thirty of thirty-seven into mid-August; a 30-7 mark to obliterate the 30-34 forest. Yes, they would do plenty. They would go toe to toe with St. Louis into September, through two bloodletting series versus their archrivals, right down to the final weekend when all of us stood and cheered the most valiant runners-up we could imagine and none of us uttered a disparaging word about what we just saw. The Mets finished three back and out of the playoffs. You couldn't have divined that from how good we felt about the season played out.
I thought of this last night after the Mets had won all of two in a row against the Yankees because it, too, came on the heels of a discouraging 1-0 loss to a last-place team and it, too, came after weeks of hand-wringing about the Mets seeming incapable of scoring or winning or doing anything at all. Granted, the '08 Mets don't have vintage Dr. K, but modern-day Johan Santana may just be warming up. They don't have late-prime Gary Carter, whose production (21 HR, 68 RBI) from July 2 on was Hall of Fame-worthy, but they do have guys who have been known to get seasonably hot for reasonably long stretches. They don't have Keith Hernandez except in the broadcast booth, but would you put it past a David, a Jose or at least one Carlos to enjoy a .392 month the way Mex did July '85?
“Four in a row,” Keith wrote in his diary after July 5, the win that followed the Independence Night marathon. “The mood on the team has turned completely around. A week ago I was worried. Worried. Now I have that old feeling again about this team and this season.”
It's just one potential precedent. I could probably dig up a 1-0 loss from 1962 that would show a perceived nadir can easily bottom out and bottom out again. But damned if I didn't think of the midsummer revival of 1985 after this truncated Subway Series sweep at Yankee Stadium.