The rain stayed away. It might have been better if it had come.
If it were May or June, this would be one of those drab, no-show games that you immediately toss down the memory hole. Being late September, it was like having cinder block after cinder block piled on top of you. Chris Volstad keeps going 2-1 and 3-1 and the Mets keep letting him escape. Oof! Third time through the lineup and now Volstad can get that curveball over. Ugh! Mike Pelfrey arguably had Josh Willingham struck out, Bruce Dreckman didn't call it and now Willingham has banged one off the orange plywood-and-chicken-wire foul-pole extension that amused me when I was reading Paul Lukas's take on it but now makes me want to cry. Ouch! Oh goodie, the bullpen is here for its usual slow-motion car wreck. Pedro Feliciano is hitting guys and Aaron Heilman is walking them. Gasp! And now Hanley Ramirez is on the warpath again. Jesus, Hanley, I've always thought you were a great player, so cut it out. Auggh! And now we have too far to go. [Death rattle]
So, one game behind Milwaukee with two to go. Johan Santana will pitch one of them, but which one? It's like some psychotic variation of the Lady or the Tiger: If you get the Lady you have to immediately pick from another set of doors, only this time there are many more of them, lots of Tigers and possibly no Lady behind any of them. But if you get the Tiger the first time, the Lady's appearance doesn't matter. Hell, that doesn't make any sense, but what does in a world where we don't convert a runner on third and nobody out one night, then get a miracle from Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel the next? If Jon Niese or Brandon Knight starts tomorrow and loses, the season is quite possibly over and everyone will wail and gnash forevermore about how we needed to pitch Santana. If Santana pitches and wins tomorrow, the season comes down to Niese or Knight, with Johan watching helplessly from behind the dugout railing. If Santana goes tomorrow and loses on three days' rest, a lot of stupid people will say a lot of stupid things about him. And no matter what, we need help from a Cub team that has its feet up.
I know, I know, Santana has to go tomorrow. But there's a military acronym for this situation — AOS. It stands for All Options Suck. And it's decisions like this that make me glad that while I'm an insane fan, I'm not a manager.
The worst thing of all? It's that I can feel myself sliding beyond this next logical stage of grief and working my way toward acceptance. No bullpen, half of a starting rotation, no natural left fielder, a concussed right fielder, no second baseman, a carousel of beat-up and suspect catchers — there's no possible shame in falling short with that, and no collapse involved. It's a goddamn miracle the team got this far, seeing where they were in mid-June. I know nothing is decided, and I'll be out there cheering my guts out for a team that's spent the year surprising me in ways both good and bad, and praying that somehow old Shea gets a stay of execution. But the hangman is here, and defiance feels very hard to muster.