About a month ago (or so it seems), the Mets headed off for the West Coast, not knowing that what lay ahead was the baseball equivalent of the Donner Pass. Delgado. Reyes. Putz. K-Rod. Cora. Sheffield. Church. Beltran. All either went on the DL, missed games or had their contributions hindered by injuries. (And now Ramon Martinez — Plan C when it comes to finding someone to play shortstop — is hurt, too.)
Given all that, returning to Citi Field 5-5 isn't a bad accomplishment. But what a way to go 5-5! The Mets started off by taking three in a row from the Giants with apparent ease, leaving us all slavering with comparisons to the epic 9-1 road trip that served as formal notice that the 2006 squad was going to win the division in a walk. They then got edged in the San Francisco finale and got swept in L.A., including a slapstick affair that has to rank as one of the most appalling, humiliating losses in franchise history. So then, of course, they came in and took the first two from the mighty Red Sox, with Johan Santana willing them to win the first game and Omar Santos playing hero for the kind of once-in-a-blue-moon win that ensures you'll watch blowouts to the bitter end for the next two years — because, in the word of Joaquin Andujar, youneverknow.
A three-game sweep in Boston, with the lyric little bandbox hosting a substantial and vocal minority of Mets fans, was a lot to ask, and even with the Mets ahead in the middle innings, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: Tim Redding kept falling behind hitters and giving up loud fly balls, and you figured that the middle of the Red Sox order would see its luck even out before Redding could escape. The Bosox may have their problems, but that lineup is deadly, from the more-Eckstein-than-Eckstein Dustin Pedroia to the overcaffeinated Kevin Youkilis to the bland but deadly Jason Bay and J.D. Drew to the sad-eyed, wise Mike Lowell. All except David Ortiz — I felt for Big Papi, who looked absolutely helpless all series and was verbally scorched by fans who not so long ago would have sworn he had a lifetime pass for his past heroics. Ortiz hit exactly one ball hard, and it rocketed straight into Daniel Murphy's glove, leaving Papi to yowl and then offer a death's head grin at just how unfair the game can be.
(If you'll allow me a parental interlude, can I address whatever person at WPIX let an afternoon game be sponsored by “Drag Me to Hell?” I have nothing against horror movies and am a Sam Raimi fan, but that ad is way too intense for young kids, and anyone with a modicum of decency or common sense would understand that parents shouldn't be put in the position of shooing their children away from a baseball game every 40 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.)
The rest was enjoying the observations and memories and questions that any baseball game will yield if carefully attended to. Like wondering at how smooth Gary Sheffield looked in left field, and remembering how utterly discombobulated Lastings Milledge had been three years before. Or watching Murphy at first, still not entirely sure of himself but handling even the hard plays with a calm he's never exhibited in left on easy chances. Or (from the sublime to the ridiculous) wondering, in a particularly idle moment, where Murphy got his sunglasses. Ramon Castro was wearing the modern baseball standard Intergalactic Warrior iridescent shades, as was Sheffield, with Castillo opting for the classic flip-down glasses. But Murphy's sunglasses looked like he'd fetched them from a Dollar Store in Woburn. These are the things you wonder about when the game's out of hand and the only reason you keep watching is … well, because it's baseball, and how could you even ask that question?
We lost, and it seems like everybody's hurt, and who knows what that will mean. But we're right here in it, and tomorrow we start again. That's the whole point, ain't it?
The Mets will have to play the next two without me — I'm headed for Denver. (And yes, going to Coors Field. Like you had to ask.) Greg will keep you faithful or fearful, as the case may be. Speaking of which, Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.