Mike Pelfrey, that ol' sonofagun, clear outpitched Brandon Webb Wednesday night. It was a performance to behold as I listened to much of the first eight innings on radio; the most explosive sound of the season had to be Howie Rose declaring “pitch count, shmitch count!” in lobbying Willie Randolph to leave him in to start the ninth.
Pelf earned it. You might even say he earned the chance to pitch out of trouble, if you consider a leadoff single when up by three runs a heap of trouble. Willie did and out went Pelfrey (8 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 8 SO) after 112 pitches/shmitches.
Billy Wagner is supposed to be able to collect three outs with a three-run lead more readily than Pelfrey. Except Pelfrey was pitching better than he ever has and Wagner's been pitching about as badly as possible. Conventional wisdom says call on the closer and Willie, after five straight losses, wasn't about to get unconventional.
While listening on the radio, I heard Wayne Hagin non sequitur one of Howie's points by noting Frank Robinson was in the ballpark. I thought of that watching in the ninth when Wagner hit Mark Reynolds on the shoe and Jeff Nelson failed to find shoe polish on the ball. Frank Robinson's been around Shea for shoe polish incidents, you know. Reynolds was denied the base replays indicated he was entitled to. So what happens next?
Let's just say the Mets aren't always as lucky as they seem where shoe polish plays are concerned. Reynolds' having to stay at the plate didn't do Frank Robinson any good but it nearly sunk the home team to even deeper depths. Goodness knows the Billy Wagner Fan Club meeting broke up early, right around the second Reynolds' three-run bomb disrupted air traffic into LaGuardia. And boy did Shea go quiet. As Gary Cohen astutely pointed out, the Mets got runners on in the bottom of the ninth, potential winning runs, and the dugout was stone silent. The crowd, too. This might have been a good night to shut the automated cheerleading off. It was tacky.
It became one of those games after a fashion when somebody was going to have a worse relief pitcher than somebody else and for last night (with Jorge Sosa nowhere in sight), it was the Diamondbacks and Edgar Gonzalez, he who entered with a 6.87 ERA, served up a two-run game-losing homer to Carlos Beltran and left with his earned run average lowered.
Beltran circled the bases triumphantly and was met by crickets at home plate.
No, not really. There were a good three or four of his teammates waiting for him. All right, I'm exaggerating low. Jason tells me he TiVo'd it and counted a dozen Mets. That means a dozen Mets weren't there. That fact doesn't show up in the boxscore any more than half the roster didn't show up for the traditional plate jump, so it's probably a meaningless statistic. Still, only the 2008 Mets could bring us a thirteen-inning walkoff blast and have us groping around at how horsebleep they looked celebrating it.
Wonderful night for Pelfrey. Smashing night for Beltran. Winning continues to edge losing. But somehow, victory pried from the jaws of defeat pried from the jaws of victory notwithstanding, typical night for the 2008 Mets.
“Fuck this team,” my partner wrote to me minutes after they emerged atop what was technically a thriller. “One walkoff home run changes nothing.”
I tend to agree. I raised a fist for Carlos and churned acid for Pelf — it was probably as into a game as I'd been all season — but it was one grain of smooth sand against a tidal wave of tepidness. The Mets have been sucking for a long time and they're going to need more than thirteen innings to turn that tide.
Sometimes, said Freud, a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, we find, a fantastic finish is not a prelude to a monster winning streak. Sometimes it's just a fantastic finish. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but sometimes you need to see a lot more to not believe the Mets are through sucking.
Until further notice, the Mets do not appear to be done sucking. Yet you know what I don't completely mind about it? The clarity it has wrought for me.
I have to admit that while I do by instinct still spout a stray curse word and occasionally pound a couch cushion when things go wrong for the Mets (which is almost invariably), it's really not eating away at my insides as bad stretches did in almost every other season I can remember.
For example, when the Mets dipped below .500 in June 1999, I was morose. I'd assumed we'd never win another game once our losing streak reached eight. I'm not kidding. I couldn't see a way out and I was miserable.
The Mets are below .500 in June 2008. I'm not morose. I assumed we'd win another game even though we'd lost five in a row and Billy Wagner pushed the envelope ridiculously close to a sixth. When they and we do break losing streaks, I'm less thrilled than relieved to the extent that I emote at all. I'm more like unmoved.
Don't take this as some sort of white flag of latent maturity on my part. I'm not going to tell you that I've suddenly discovered there are more important things than baseball, more pressing matters than the Mets. Screw that; there aren't. But in 1999, to continue with that example, I believed…Believed…the Mets were better than their Ralph Wiggum of a record. How could my team not be playing to its capabilities? Mets fail baseball? That's unpossible!
Pick another year and I'll tell you a similar story. The Mets were down and I couldn't and wouldn't accept it. That's been my M.O., my Metus Operandi since I was six.
It isn't at the moment, even a moment that includes a 5-3 win a little while ago and Johan Santana in fewer than a dozen hours.
The Mets suck. And I know it. And not only doesn't it really bother me in a transcendent way, I almost — almost — find comfort in knowing it.
This is not one of those 1979 scenarios in which I understand completely the Mets suck but I hate living in an epoch that is defined by hopelessness. This is not one of those 1993 situations from which the bottom has not only fallen out of the Mets but conked a polar bear when said bottom hit Antarctica. I hated having to be a fan of the 1993 Mets, but I never questioned that I had to cheer them on to each and every one of their 59 stirring victories. This isn't even a 2003 doppelgänger, the kind of year when I don't feel too terribly bad that they're losing a ton because it will mean the end of an arrogant general manager I don't want around and the dispatch of a malingering ballplayer I can't stand to watch. The best part of 2003 that didn't include Jose Reyes' promotion was the end of the tenures of Steve Phillips and Roberto Alomar. To maintain their dual elimination as sincere and abiding personal goals indicated I cared deeply about what happened to the Mets.
In 2008, I don't have that. I don't expressly want Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph dismissed, but I won't shed tears if they are. And while I'm not aching for any particular player to be released or traded, I don't particularly care if any particular player stays beyond tomorrow.
To be honest, no matter how bad I felt about Pelfrey's effort swirling down the Billy drain, I haven't cared with great conviction whether the Mets win or lose any given game this year.
There, I said it.
I'm not sure I understood until now that this is my 2008 Mets thought process. I've known something's been awry since Opening Day when my annual enthusiasm felt surprisingly forced, yet I've held back on taking this “Tastes Great!”/“Less Filling!” internal dialogue public. I'm aware that even as some of you are quite forthcoming about expressing your pointed dismay over the Mets' many shortcomings, there are others among you who prefer the positive be accentuated always. I don't think either camp is wrong in its approach to fandom. I'm often in both at the same time. I don't want to play Paulie Pollyanna and tell you I see great things in Mets baseball but I don't want to be Captain Bringdown either. My default position has always been “I just want the Mets to win.”
I still do…I guess.
Don't mistake this for “I've had it with baseball.” I haven't. Baseball's my thing. I wouldn't sit here and churn out however many words a week about baseball that I do, labor-of-love style, if it weren't. Trust me: I don't have anything better to do or anything I'd rather do. And don't mistake this for a resignation of my commission from the United States Mets Corps. It's not. I don't consider myself one bit less a Mets fan at this juncture of this season than I would say I was in any other season. God knows I'm not switching sides or doing anything repulsive like that. I can't even say that I'm giving up on 2008 per se. The Rockies of '07 were no better in their June, the Astros of '05 measurably worse, and see where they wound up.
Then again, their respective rebounds were considered quite unlikely.
Last month, Steve Keane of the Eddie Kranepool Society, in one of the thousands of angst-ridden posts conceived within the Metsosphere to attempt to explain away what the hell is wrong with the Mets, hit on the head the Mets fan's attitude for eternity and how it's been tested of late:
The manager and his players can’t get it through their closed minds that WE REALLY, REALLY ADORE THE METS. Now I didn’t say we adore the players but it’s the team, the whole Blue and Orange universe, that comes with being a Mets fan that we all embrace. I get a sense from fans I talk to that there is a real disconnect between Mets players and management and the fans a/k/a the folks who pay the freight. That comes from mismanagement by the higher-ups in management.
Yes, exactly. You find yourself irritated by the Mets, annoyed by the Mets, at odds with the Mets, but you never stop loving the Mets. You don't stop caring about the Mets even as you — I, anyway — discover you — or I — have stopped being bothered by the Mets.
I'm just not that moved by what happens to the Mets, even if my daily actions would indicate otherwise. I genuinely look forward every day to first pitch; I turn on every game at the appointed hour; I watch the action; I listen to the announcers; I think about what to write; and I write it with much gusto…but the results of the games themselves are not penetrating my head or my heart or my soul in any way that is familiar to my system. I maintain a vague preference for the Mets' winning and I disdain, in theory, the idea that the Mets would lose. But the wins, certainly the ones I'm not in attendance for, don't crackle for me. I may walk away from the television relatively satisfied with the Mets victorious, but I hardly ever leave it overjoyed. And the losses…they only bother me in the sense that I'm a Mets fan and the Mets losing is antithetical to the crux of that identity.
Yet my identity in my eyes is solid. It's so solid that it's never depended on cumulative wins and losses to reinforce it. It's now apparently so solid that I'm not disturbed by losses nor elated by wins.
It's weird but it feels kind of normal.
It's not that I don't care. It's maybe that I've maxed out on caring until further notice, as if something has short-circuited in my Met receptor. I click it on and off but it's not connected to anything. Maybe it flickers for a pitch here or a hit there, maybe it hums if stimulated by enough aural and visual cues when at the ballpark — but it doesn't last. It just doesn't.
How did this happen?
I don't think the possible causes are all that difficult to divine:
1) Last year never ended, particularly last September.
In one of my 50 or so postmortems to The Collapse, I attempted to gauge how miserably 2007 rated in comparison to its hard-luck Met predecessors. I made a reasonable case as to why 2007, no matter the horrors of its final chapter, wasn't so bad: at least we contended; at least we were in first place a lot; at least it was noisy; at least there was much on the line. What I never considered was that none of the good stuff would resonate whatsoever and that all of the bad vibes would carry over. As poorly as 1987 and 1998 ended, they were history by the time the springs of '88 and '99 rolled around. As bad as '79 and '93 and '03 were, at least there was next year, and next year is sacred. But 2007 just would not and has not gone away. As much as I try to shoo it from my consciousness, as much as I try to buy into one season being a separate proposition from another, it clings like bubble gum to the soles of my shoes. As an outside political consultant told a key White House insider regarding President Bartlet's mishandling of a grave matter on The West Wing, “You guys are so pissed at him you don't even know it.” A month had gone by on the show when he said it. Time doesn't always fly when you're pissed.
2) Indifferent play elicits indifferent response.
Geez, if the Mets can't pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again, why should I? Why should I outcare them? The Mets are trying to motivate themselves through meetings and mottos. Their fightin' words are now “We B4 I”? I'd sooner they be hooked on winning than hooked on phonics, but whatever. Even if I don't subscribe to the notion that they don't care (they must) or that they're not trying (of course they are), they have a frustrating way of showing it. For how long can one be expected to accept the idea that they're just trying so darn hard that none of them — none of them — is delivering? Somebody in the chain of command by now should have told somebody down the line to stop gripping the bat handles into sawdust, to stop squeezing the baseballs until they squirt yolk. Somebody has to be better than they've shown. One player has played above his head in 2008 and now his head has finally been decreed off-limits from the playing field. While I now realize adding an acelike pitcher to an uncomfortably elderly and thin roster did not guarantee the comeback of the century for which I fervently hoped in February, I am still miffed at the stubborn mediocrity in our midst. This is the perfect sub-.500 team, if a sub-.500 team could ever be categorized as perfect. It is perfectly impossible to become energized or even enraged by that sort of packaging. No wonder so many of them didn't bother to greet Carlos Beltran at home. They suck too much to do well something so associated with winning.
3) A wrecking ball is aimed straight at my memories.
I fucking hate Citi Field. Perhaps one year from today I will be enjoying a Shake Shack burger and all the sparkling amenities the new world-class home of the Mets has to offer and I will wonder what I ever could have dreaded because this place is faaaabulous! I wouldn't necessarily bet against my adoring it on merit once I'm inside it. But right now, in 2008, with a proliferation of logos telling me that there will not be a 2009 where I've sat since 1973, I fucking hate Citi Field. I hate it and I resent it and I wish I didn't have to face it every time a fly ball is hit in its direction. I don't argue with the economic model that suggests a sports franchise will compete more effectively with a modern facility. I don't carry a brief that insists, even on its deathbed, that Shea Stadium is ideal for any activity other than freezing, shvitzing and standing in line for the men's room. I understand why it was deemed necessary to supplant a 1960s multipurpose stadium with a 2000s baseball throwback. But I fucking hate Citi Field for infringing on my psychic and Shea's physical space in the here and now. Why couldn't have they thrown a tarp over the damn thing 'til it's done? I don't like it staring down Shea. I don't like that for all its ballyhooed “intimacy,” its light stanchions are taller than Shea. I don't like that it's nudging Shea ever closer to its fate as Parking Lot A and concomitantly attempting to fray the bond I've shared with my team since the first time I saw my team on TV nearly 40 summers ago. By extension, I suppose I'm not happy with the people who are doing this clearly for their own interests first and foremost. Again, check back in a year. I may be 180'ing and loving it. Right now, I'm not.
Mad at the Mets for last year. Mad at the Mets for this year. Mad at the Mets for next year. Add 'em up and maybe it's just too overwhelming to overcome. But I'm not sold the answer's that easy because, even when enduring all the finished-basement basement finishes I lived through, I could at least throw my hands up forcefully and blurt “I've had it with them!” This doesn't feel like that. I'm unable to get my full Met on. It isn't really anger and it's not exactly apathy. I can't pin down why I've become so numb to the Mets' fortunes even as I don't for a second believe my fervor for the Mets has diminished.
Thus, while I'm confused to find myself wandering through a spiritual desert where the Mets are concerned, I also find myself having arrived upon an eerily calming oasis of clarity. I don't completely understand why I'm not spectacularly upset by a 31-33 enterprise, but I do understand that I'm not upset. I'm not really waiting for the big turnaround, the 2008 equivalent of the 40-15 revival that followed the 27-28 stutterstep in 1999, my favorite year of them all. I'll take it if it comes, sure. It may even snap me out of whatever funk I'm in. But I'm neither counting on it nor secularly praying for it. Actually, it seems kind of an insult to 1999 to even mention 2008 in the same breath.
Perhaps the clarity comes from knowing this is going on, knowing that another loss isn't going to make things materially worse, knowing that another win isn't going to make things materially better, knowing that I'm getting by either way, knowing that I still love the Mets even as I am compelled to confess that I don't really give a damn what happens to them next.
I don't know who should play here the rest of the season and who shouldn't. Despite my impulse to slot into the lineup every Nick Evans and Fernando Tatis who blows by like tumbleweed, the short-term solutions are ultimately unpleasing and ineffective. I couldn't tell you who to trade and who to keep. I don't feel much attached to anyone anymore.
The best I can come up with for next year is replace everything and everybody. It'll be just like starting over.
New ballpark next year? I've resisted its allure, but fine. New ballpark. The old one is obviously haunted by failure. Let's get moving on disappearing Shea Stadium.
But let's not stop there.
Fire the manager. We've been itchy to detach the pink slip from the pad for weeks, maybe months, so bye-bye Willie, Willie bye-bye.
Omar? You can't let Omar Minaya stick around. Adam Rubin broke down the GM's failings in damning detail the other day:
“You are watching the painfully slow demise of The New Mets, the vision Omar Minaya articulated four years ago but built as a house of cards.”
Omar's gone. Who else, then? Surely a team in this kind of mess rots from the head down. Lousy management ascends to ownership, so Messrs. Wilpon and Wilpon, please sell the team. Put in a deposit on seats at world-class Citi Field on your way out if you like, but next time you come to a Mets game, please use the rotunda.
You too, Saul Katz.
Tony Bernazard ain't stayin'. Nor is the crackerjack medical staff. Whoever decided black uniform tops were a grand idea can fold them up for good. The scouts haven't scouted so hot either. Scout out a new employer, fellas. You're yesterday's news, just like everybody in the front office, everybody in stadium operations, everybody who's ever run his hands up and down my sides at Gate E.
It's an epidemic. No one can be spared.
The players? In the name of Moises Alou's uncle Jesus (yes, he is that old), why would the players get a pass? They all go. David Wright…go be the face of another franchise. Jose Reyes…keep running so the door doesn't tag you on the way out. Johan Santana…use your J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment elsewhere. Billy Wagner…exit, sad man.
If we're gonna off the stars, the scrubs must surely follow. Pretty much everybody is a scrub on the 2008 Mets, so it's been nice knowing them (it hasn't; I'm being sarcastic). The whole 40-man is now no-man's land.
Empty roster? Oh well. We'll work with the commissioner on restocking. The White Sox overcame eight men out. We'll start even fresher.
So let's see…new ballpark, new management, new ownership, new players, new vendors, new ushers, new everything…am I leaving anybody out?
How about a new name? Mets isn't gitting-r-done anymore. Mets isn't Amazin', isn't Magic, isn't Miraculous. The new owners can hold a contest. Given that this organization has sponsorship deals with not one, not two, but three different banking institutions, I'm sure naming rights can be sold to a highest bidder. The Capital One Citi Sovereigns has as nice a ring to it as anything else — and only one fewer ring than the New York Mets (1962-2008) earned as the result of world championships.
Done and done. Let's Go Sovereigns!
But let's assume that won't happen. What then?
Ideally, the Mets will remain competitive through 2008. Did I say “remain”? I meant become. If they can avoid a 1993-style plunge through the earth's surface and achieve a level of plausibility for playoff contention — say five games out of the Wild Card on August 1 — I might be satisfied. The 2001 Mets pissed me off something awful clear into the middle of August, but when they began to pat themselves on the back for digging themselves out of the hole of their own slothful making (the Shea PA blared “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” after wins began, at last, to be strung together convincingly), I didn't scoff for too long at their gall for pretending to be scrappy underdogs one year after landing in the World Series. I patted them, too, and urged them on some more.
I doubt I have another round of Met backpatting in me, but who knows? Maybe I'll be that easy. Maybe I just want a little taste of plausibility before moving day arrives. Don't totally embarrass Shea. Don't totally embarrass me. Let us leave on a high note if I can't leave on the highest note. Don't send Shea into history with a chorus of Smashing Pumpkins: “Shakedown…1979.” Shake us down as you will, suck if you must, but ease up on the Hebnerian dismalness at some point, OK? I'm not asking for a pennant. I'm not even asking for a genuine pennant race. Just seem interested when you're tied in the ninth, exuberant when you win in the thirteenth, professional the rest of the time.