We now live in a world in which we actually find ourselves thinking, “I feel much better now that we have Alex Cora back.”
Welcome to the unexpected summer of the 2009 New York Mets. Stalwarts are now sidelined: No Carlos Delgado and no Jose Reyes. Offseason acquisitions and reacquisitions are now idle: No J.J. Putz and no Oliver Perez. Temps are now past-tenses: See you around, Ramon Martinez. Heck, we have health concerns about guys we didn't concern ourselves with in March: Has any player gone from shocking arrival to unknown quantity to pleasant surprise to relied-upon regular to dreaded absence faster than Gary Sheffield has?
We've got prospects who aren't old enough for a legal beer expected to do a large part in keeping an anxious fan base from hitting the bottle. We've got old men expected to be regulars in the summer heat. We've got Emil Brown, whoever the hell he is. We've got hopeful visions of reuniting with guys we'd figured were forever departed. (Billy Wagner should face live batters by the end of June.) We've got problems and worries and uncertainties and a whole mess of trouble. It's enough to make you dizzy, even if you're not a right fielder left to the tender mercies of the various Dr. Nick Rivieras who apparently make up the Mets' medical staff. (Anybody believe Jose's tendon tear is actually new? Me neither. Oh, and now he'll undergo an “innovative medical procedure” in an effort to come back more quickly. If memory serves, the last time Reyes and innovative medicine were combined, he came back trying to run like a shotgunned gazelle.)
We've got a lot of issues. But happily, we've also got baseball.
No, seriously. Time will tell what close encounters with the Phillies and Yankees and Rays and Cardinals and Brewers and Dodgers will do to the odd collection of Mets and Bisons and waiver-wire pluckees and God knows what else that will take the field until the All-Star Break, when maybe we'll have a better sense of when the shelved might return. I can imagine the Mets hopelessly buried by then. I can also imagine them scuffling along thanks to strong pitching and occasional offense. And now and again I can even imagine them showing surprising pluck and fortitude. Stranger things have happened, after all.
The fortunate thing right now? In a weird way, it's that we're lifers. No sane newly minted fan would hitch their wagon to the rather uncertain New York Mets on June 6, 2009. But we left sanity behind long ago so we don't have to agonize over the big picture, just a nightly procession of little ones. We're here for the duration and we'll see how it turns out. We might even relax a bit, feeling that keeping the Phillies in sight is victory enough.
And of course we do get to play the Nats. (Though a lot of us recently thought the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates.) The Mets were a bit uncertain out there tonight, what with David Wright remembering how to hit but forgetting to run the bases and Carlos Beltran lazing himself into an out and Razor Shines doing his best to reduce the number of baserunners. But then there were the Nationals making the Mets look good, whether it was Adam Dunn doing his best Billy Loes impression by losing a ground ball in the lights or Cristian Guzman playing shortstop like a Teamster on a cigarette break. (And once again I'll ask: When does Manny Acta get blamed for veterans playing half-hearted baseball?)
Maybe everybody should have been graded on the curve tonight, considering all involved looked like they were playing in an aquarium. Great pitching, one more burst of hitting than the other guys managed, three baserunners who managed to get past third without being thrown out there or missing that wiliest of bases, and no immediate reports that another Met had something broken, dislocated, torn, strained, ruptured, impacted, concussed or severed. Right now, that's almost a victory in its own right.