I won't claim it's an original thought, but as the final outs ticked down today, I mused to myself: It's 2006's Game 7 in miniature.
There was Oliver Perez, a scarily unknown quantity, pitching on three days' rest and acquitting himself very ably indeed. There were the bats, not being heard from enough. There was Endy Chavez, saving the Mets' season with a sparkling defensive play in deep left. There was the much-maligned bullpen, turning Endy's deliverance into a mere stay of execution. And there were the Mets, going home.
It's not a perfect analogy, I know. This time, there was no furious comeback. (Though the game ended not with a called strike three but with a fly ball that looked long off the bat but wound up short, a la Mike Piazza — or Cody Ross.) But it was close enough. And an easy enough parallel to spot that members of the mainstream media have already offered the same comparison, as many more will tomorrow. Here's a relatively easy prediction: A lot of those writers will pair them only to invoke broken-hearted Met fans, and most of those writers will then offer snarky talk, with blaring headlines, of a second straight collapse.
Not me. Not on either count. Yes, Shea's final game reminded me of her final game in '06. But for a different reason. For a better reason. I remember them together because now as then, my head is held high. My team fought hard and fought honorably, and the only thing I wound up not liking was the outcome. That time, they struggled to make something out of a shotgunned starting rotation, and came up just short. This time, they escaped a choking malaise that had haunted them for a full year, then struggled to overcome a star-crossed bullpen, and came up just short. The finish line was different, but the bravery of the effort was similar.
Am I sad? You better believe it. I'm sad for the players and coaches. (Howard Johnson looked ashen as he took the field for the closing ceremonies.) I'm sad for my blog partner, the biggest Met fan and maybe the kindest man I know. I'm sad for Laurie and Charlie and Joe D. and Sharon and J M and Jeff and Kevin and Coop and Dennis and all our readers and all the rabid fans who cheered their hearts out at Shea and in front of their TVs and studying Gamecast somewhere far away. I'm sad for Emily and Joshua and even little old me, who sat in front of the TV and stood to sing the anthem and “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as if we were there, and even broke out the rally caps for the ninth. I'm sad for Shea, which deserved extra days and nights with banners and bunting and ceremonies and cheering and most of all crackling tension under October skies.
But if you'll excuse a familiar turn of phrase, I'm disappointed, not devastated. 2007 was a collapse, no doubt about it. (Though it really started on Memorial Day, with a lot more than 17 to play.) I was livid about it then; I'm still angry about it now. And I will be to my dying day. But 2008 was no collapse, no matter what the scribes say tomorrow. It was a comeback that fell short, and that's a very different thing.
It will be hard, this Met-free October. (Though not so hard that I'm not eager to know what will happen to the crawled-from-their-own-wreckage Brewers, or the scary but psychically burdened Cubs, or the counted-out Twins/White Sox, or the amazin' amazin' Tampa Bay Rays.) It will be hard, this winter of remembering the terror of seeing the bullpen door open, of thinking over and over again about Murphy at third and Wright at bat and none out and the Phillies having lost. It will be hard, figuring out what to do with myself during the vast empty nights of those impossibly bleak five baseball-free months on the calendar.
But I will remember other things too. Like watching Daniel Murphy work counts like Edgardo Alfonzo come back to professional life at a precocious age. Like seeing Mike Pelfrey burst into bloom when we thought he might be yet another prospect who'd wither away in his springtime. Like watching a ball streak toward the gap and knowing that Carlos Beltran, the best center fielder in the game, is already on a smooth course to intercept. Like the billion-watt smile of Carlos Delgado, resurrected and majestic in his baseball second coming. Like Johan Santana, standing against the storm and not only refusing to break but barely even bending.
I'll remember these things, and soon enough the days will be longer, there will be old and new Mets in Florida, and then they'll be here, once again, under warmer and warmer nighttime skies, in a place that's different but that we already know how to get to. And we'll have begun again.