It's long been my contention (though not my co-blogger's) that Mets fans have never been comfortable with hegemony. Our history is one of miracles and belief; our flirtations with dynasty have generally ended with the amassed firepower aimed at our own feet. Even the '86 team needed a miracle a whole lot bigger than 1969's to become the bad guys who won. And this, I maintain (again, amid Greg's dissent) is why we don't entirely mind sharing our city with that baseball colossus up in the Bronx, the one that soaks up sportswriter attention and back pages and free-agent dollars and the loyalties of the soulless and the misguided. Compared with the Yankees, we look like what we truly were in the days of our founding myths and haven't been for some time: underdogs. St. Anthony's team. The little guys who'd win a World Series once men walked on the moon, whose names Frank Robinson couldn't bother to remember, who'd rise up from the cellar behind a goofy reliever and take a punch from Pete Rose and fight off final strike after final strike until finding salvation in a little roller … trickling …
Tonight franchise myth finally became rude reality. Carlos Beltran is off to the DL with a “bone bruise,” which my copy of Rosetta Stone for Met Front-Office Spin translates as “compound fracture with sepsis, possible gangrene.” He joins Jose Reyes (hamstring tendon), Carlos Delgado (hip surgery), J.J. Putz (bum elbow), John Maine (bad shoulder) and Oliver Perez (absence of cerebellum) on an awfully expensive shelf. Left behind are David Wright, who can look like Hank Aaron or Tommie Aaron depending what kind of streak he's on; Johan Santana, who only materializes in the world of mortals every fifth day; and Frankie Rodriguez, whose presence must be prefaced by having a lead in the ninth inning. Surrounding them are Cora's Irregulars — raw rookies and possibly overcooked veterans, fourth outfielders and apprentice first basemen, fifth starters and spaghetti-thrown-at-the-wall middle relievers. Underdogs, in other words. (And underdogs just 1.5 out of first place, thanks to our membership in the Axis of Feeble, a.k.a. the National League East.)
And that's just fine.
We've waited forever for the Mets to somehow recover from the hangover of Yadier Molina's blast off Aaron Heilman. Tonight it felt like they had, even if it was only by excising important player after important player from the active roster, with Beltran's removal somehow feeling like the death knell for our latest wanna-be dynasty. Not exactly the hangover cure any of would have chosen, but damn if tonight didn't feel free and easy and downright fun. What chance did we have against El Hombre and Tony La Russa's relentless button-pushing, after all? You really thought we could beat the Cardinals with Fernando Tatis as our cleanup hitter and Jeremy Reed in center and Tim Redding — he of the lumberjack beard and the zero wins — on the hill?
Well, who says we can't?
Sure, this one had the look of recent Met exercises in futility: surprisingly competent early pitching, a lead in the early innings, then the teeth-gnashing spectacle of the Mets getting sleepy as the other team crept back into it and waited to pounce. Except this time the Mets kept scoring, with Cora lashing line drives and corralling balls like a stuntman and Omir Santos continuing to spit in the eye of statistical expectations and Daniel Murphy looking relaxed at the plate and first base. When Brian Stokes leapt to snag Albert Pujols's bouncer up the middle and convert it into a double play, the Mets fairly streaked off the field with joy and relief. Whether we were out at Citi Field (merely misty for once) or snug on our couches, we all did the same.
I'm not saying losing Jose and the Carloses and our setup guy and the third and fourth starters is addition by subtraction or anything ridiculous like that — should the wounded troop back into the clubhouse tomorrow night magically cured and accompanied for lagniappe by a repaired Billy Wagner, I will whoop like a fool and high-five everyone in sight. But I am saying that ever since Carlos Beltran trudged away from home plate in disbelief, there's been something slightly sour about the Mets, a sense of curdled expectations that's frequently made contemplating them frustrating and rooting for them aggravating. And somehow it feels like that's lifted. Watching the Jon Switzers and Omir Santoses of the world out there for the foreseeable future means not rationally expecting anything at all. And maybe that will work where higher expectations have not.
None of this will matter a century from now — but some things still will. Here's a Brooklyn tale that's taken 310 years to tell, and that includes everything from the American Revolution to Casey Stengel and the 78th Precinct Little League.
Don't wait a century to have Mets history beamed into your brain in its wired-up vat jar — it's much more comfortable to read Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.