Hey, Mets! You've just put up a 5-2 homestand, playing the kind of baseball that makes even veteran fans and conspicuous doubters like us double-check that, yes, this was the same homestand that began with everyone wondering if Willie Randolph would emerge from his long-awaited meeting with the Wilpons and Omar still employed. So what's your reward? You get to fly all night and play in San Francisco tomorrow, of course! Thanks ESPN!
Willie Randolph, typically, said next to nothing after keeping his job. His actions were different, though: He played the rusty bench guys, sat down Carlos Delgado, gave His Boredness a rich southpaw compliment in cheering him for getting his uniform dirty, and saw Beltran and Wright and Reyes stop creaking and start humming. Suddenly the Mets look like the team they were before last Memorial Day — and as it always is in baseball, we've gone (or are rapidly going) from wondering if we'll ever win another game to being mildly surprised when we lose one.
Emily, Joshua and I overnighted in Philadelphia Saturday, exiting the car just after Easley made the second out of the seventh, which is to say we skipped out before the turning point of the game. Last night we were talking with friends of ours (Phillies fans but, I assure you, good people) about Willie, about what had happened to the Mets for a year and about how good they really are or aren't. The conversation came around to how what we do as baseball watchers can often be reduced to telling stories that fit the already-established facts, and how we forget that it doesn't take much to turn one story into a very different one. If Ray Knight had ended Game 6 with a drive caught at the wall by Dave Henderson, nobody would talk about the indomitable swagger of the '86 Mets — they'd be a bunch of irresponsible substance abusers who squandered their potential. If the '07 Mets had gotten something respectable from Tom Glavine in the final regular-seasong game and made a respectable showing in the playoffs, we might well have waxed rhapsodic about how they'd held off the valiant Phillies and everything they'd learned pulling themselves out of free-fall.
But what's the alternative? I'm not a stat guy, which has nothing to do with any distaste for sabermetrics. To the contrary, in fact: I love that stuff, but I struggle to internalize valuable metrics such as VORP and RCAA and BABIP to the point that I can assess their values the way I can dissect the traditional measures, limited though they are. And then there's the larger problem for me, which is that I can't fit a stats-minded understanding of a baseball season's ebb and flow into the narratives we naturally want to impose on it. If the Mets rebound and go to the playoffs, the truest explanation of what happened could be that key players like Reyes, Beltran and Heilman regressed to the mean. But that's not a satisfying narrative. No, if that scenario comes to pass, we'll say something along the lines of how singling out Delgado was the wake-up call for an underachieving clubhouse, shaking the players out of their lethargy and restoring the team's focus. Will that be true? Quite possibly not. But it'll feel true.
Anyway. The story of a season may be shaped in retrospect, but the story of tonight's game seems fairly clear. One day we'll stop feeling mildly disappointed that Johan Santana didn't pitch a complete game, strike out 15 and heal the sick in the field boxes and the front half of the loge with his aura. One day, we'll watch him coolly dig his way out of an early hole and hold a team at bay the way he did tonight and be very happy with that. Did you see that called third strike on poor Blake Dewitt to end the seventh? Mercy. Oh, and kudos to Johan for doing something pitchers rarely do these days — exiting to a warm hand from the crowd, he actually tipped his cap.
Johan's supporting cast? Jose Reyes's electricity/stupidity ratio has been good enough to make me tempted to discard that unhappy measure, David Wright's bat could melt lead right now, Carlos Beltran looks awake and alive, Luis Castillo is moving well around second, and how about Ryan Church? Though somebody tell Brian Schneider to lay off the congratulatory helmet slap. It's a long way to San Francisco, even if you don't feel nauseous.
With a week of West Coast games on tap, you're going to be sitting around at 7:10 fidgeting. Fill up some of that empty time by ordering the famous Faith and Fear Numbers shirt, available right here.