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House Money

On our last morning on LBI, we had a final breakfast, for which we were joined by longtime Faith and Fear commentor Charlie Hangley and his wife Sarah, who were arriving as we were departing.

Outside the pancake house, a Yankee fan had scoped out Charlie and me and our Met shirts and decided we must know whether the Yankees had won or lost the previous night. As it happens I did know, but I sent a text message to Google via my phone so the Yankee fan would have to wait for ill tidings. (Yes, I'm a bad person.) And then, having told him that the Yankees lost, I jauntily volunteered to find the Red Sox and Rays scores for him as well. (Which I also already knew. OK, so I'm a really bad person.) This took a little while; settled at our table, Charlie and I chatted briefly and fairly amiably with the Yankee fan, who didn't seem like such a bad sort. (Did I feel bad then? Yes. A little.) He was realistic about his own team's bleak forecast, but seemed oddly confident in ours: The Mets, he said with no-big-whoop certainty, were going to the playoffs.

Charlie and I immediately fell over ourselves appending qualifiers and hypotheticals to that, and apparently we did so with the kind of well-rehearsed ceremony generally seen in religious rituals — because a day later Emily was still chuckling about the scene. This show of backpedaling and poor-mouthing amused her, but it must have confused the hell out of the Yankee fan, because Yankee fans don't bother with qualifiers — they chest-thump and bray about their inevitable postseason triumph until silenced by mathematics. (And then they blink for a second and start woofing about rings, baby. This is why I only felt a little bad.)

But while Charlie and I did everything but throw salt over our shoulders at the prediction of a September to remember, at least for me the ceremony was largely unconscious. I'm strangely serene, given that Labor Day has arrived with us holding a lead of a wafer-thin single game.

I'm sure part of it is that last year we were up seven with 17 to play (will that combination of numbers ever not rattle around in our brains?), so I know even more than I normally would that a one-game lead can portend any number of reversals before the final judgment. But still — how am I not gripped by panic? Or at least more worried?

I think it's that this strangest of baseball campaigns has turned weirdly sweet. The first half was one of the more maddening stretches I've ever endured as a baseball fan, a continuation of 2007's lethargic mediocrity which was inexcusable coming as it did after the Collapse. But then Willie got axed (awkwardly but deservedly) and Jerry arrived, and he blew away the gloom and doubt that had hovered over the Mets for a year. And with that change in the metaphysical weather, strange things started happening. The left-field wormhole that swallowed Moises Alou and Brady Clark and Angel Pagan and Marlon Anderson and Trot Nixon and Chris Aguila inexplicably spat out Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans, Double-A roommates who have formed the best platoon of out-of-position rookies one could possibly imagine. Ryan Church endured a second concussion, strange medical advice and forced inactivity, but that allowed the unlikely resurrection of Fernando Tatis, living a “Blues Brothers” plot come to life. (Seriously. Like Jake and Elwood, he's on a mission from God [1].) El Duque never came off the shelf, but Mike Pelfrey reclaimed his curve ball and found himself. Luis Castillo hit the DL with his bad knees and unfathomably stupid contract for company, but up stepped a revived Damion Easley and Cleveland castoff Argenis Reyes, who shared not just a last name but also a boyhood friendship with his double-play partner. And of course Carlos Delgado, proclaimed by most any judge of horseflesh as ready for the glue factory, turned out to have some thoroughbred left in him.

Put all these unlikely events together and you got a team that not only won again but was fun to watch doing so — in a gleefully improvised, by turns terrifying and thrilling hell-for-leather way. Given how many times the 2008 Mets have already cheated the hangman, why start in now with worrying about John Maine's shoulder, or Billy Wagner's elbow, or the entire bullpen's hideousness, or that sliver of a lead? It feels like we'll think of something — and if that something doesn't work, well, who'd have dreamed we'd get this far? It's Labor Day and our stack is just a single chip higher than what the Phillies have brought to the table, but we're playing with house money. So what the heck — let's double down and see what happens.