Once upon a time, we lost to the Marlins and were left hoping that a Nationals comeback against the Phillies might save us from second place.
It didn't work then. It didn't work tonight.
But — setting aside the Well Durr facts that a) the season isn't over and b) T#m Gl@vine isn't around to lecture us — it doesn't hurt right now. Doesn't feel bad at all, in fact. Because that team that once relied on the Nats for rescue — the Mets of smug and sloth and sulk — ceased to exist this month, when the new manager flipped on the lights, opened the closet door, rooted around under the bed and frog-marched out the things that had gone bump in so many sleepless nights. July 2008's 18-8 exorcism might be the pivotal stretch in a season that returns us to the playoffs. Or it might just be the best part of an also-ran year. But either way, it was the end of the Anti-Mets who'd haunted us since Memorial Day '07. Ultimately, it wasn't Gl@vine's departure or Santana's arrival that broke the spell, though we tried to convince ourselves of both. No, it was Jerry Manuel being Jerry Manuel. Thank the baseball gods for him, and for our deliverance.
Oh, tonight's loss hurt. You knew Mike Pelfrey wasn't going to be Cy Young for the rest of his days, but it was no fun watching him stare into the outfield as flares and rockets alike found grass and dirt instead of gloves. Carlos Delgado's depth charge, coming on the heels of Damion Easley's heroics, looked like it might tie the game, but instead it was only good for supplying a very accurate sounding of the deepest cranny of Soilmaster Stadium. And then minutes later Joe Smith was a portrait of misery, looking fixedly plateward lest the mere sight of Dan Uggla's screamer into the mid-Atlantic turn him into a baseball pillar of salt.
But it wasn't it for the Mets, not hardly. A third hit with two outs from a one-legged batter, the kind of countdown you'd like to see from the oft-lamented Marlon Anderson. A little floater from Brian Schneider. A high-velocity liner by Ramon Castro. And the tying run on first with José José José at the platé platé platé.
And that was it? It didn't work? We're in second place? Well, hell. We'll give the Astros everything they can handle and then some this weekend. The Phillies better enjoy it while they can — and who knows, maybe the Nats will have something to say about this race tomorrow night. I'm disappointed, but I'm sure not devastated. And I'm sure as hell not looking back to that dark time when these four teams had standings to sort out between them. Not for fear that something might be gaining on us, but because that infuriating version of our team is finally dead and gone, and the one that's taken its place is very much alive.