I just looked at the Wild Card standings.
Colorado and San Francisco are tied for first.
Chicago and Houston are 2 behind.
Atlanta and Florida are 2½ behind.
Milwaukee is 4 behind.
And then you have the Mets, tied for eighth with the Reds, 7½ back.
In other seasons, maybe even this season not that long ago, I would have processed this information and divined a path for progress. The Mets, I would have thought, have an opportunity to pick up ground on the Astros this weekend. Then they have four with the Rockies. if the Rockies and Giants split the next two and the Mets win both remaining games from the Astros, we go in 6½ out of first, provided the Cubs don’t win their next two from the Reds. Then we have a clear shot at the co-leaders in our own ballpark. If we win three of four, we could finish that series 4½ back. Maybe the Cubs or one of the other teams would pass Colorado in there, but the point is we’d be closer to the top and gathering momentum. Then Friday is the trade deadline, and Reyes is supposed to be getting closer, and two months would remain, and…
The fact that I can roll out this fantasy scenario means I was thinking like this in spite of overwhelming reality very recently. But it is a fantasy. I understand that. I haven’t taken these Mets seriously in form or function for weeks. Yet I see 7½ and I see the first-place team in our ad hoc division having to make the trip to Flushing, and I don’t see where the Rockies or any of those ahead of us for the Wild Card seem all that imposing, and the instinct kicks in: Here’s our chance.
We have no chance. We all know that. I know that. We know it because we have mostly bad players who don’t play up to their limited abilities. I’m pretty sure I’ve known it in my considerable gut since that series in April at St. Louis, back when we had Delgado, Reyes and Beltran but were playing like Moe, Larry and Curly anyway. I knew it, I’m pretty sure, even in the halcyon days of May when we went 19-9, 8-1 of that against then pitiful Pittsburgh, Washington and Florida and 11-8 versus quality opponents.
I’ve never been one to throw back wins for lack of verve and panache, but it struck me even when we were pouring it on against the Giants and pulling two straight out of thin air at Fenway that we seemed far less than crisp despite being repeatedly victorious. I kept thinking of the Mets in terms of what Lorraine Bracco said in Goodfellas regarding the appearance of the mob wives she met.
They had bad skin and wore too much makeup. They didn’t look very good.
That was us, thrown together and cheap. Wright, Beltran and Sheffield were hot for a spell. Santos had some magic in his bat. Liván Hernandez’s tank was full. Johan was often Johan and nothing was wrong with K-Rod. But it wasn’t really clicking. We needed copious helpings of luck, like with the instant replays on the home runs (not that they were wrong) or a terrible call to go our way as they did the one game we won against the Braves at Citi Field (not they we aren’t cosmically owed a few). We basically fell on top of the lousy teams in May and held serve against the better ones — except for the Dodgers in L.A., where we embarrassed ourselves as we did in St. Louis the month before. The Dodgers, like the Cardinals, were a good team that didn’t seem that great. Yet we looked dreadful by comparison.
A lot of pantsuits and double-knits.
We ended May 28-21, a half-game out of first in the East, yet I didn’t believe it was going to last, injuries or no injuries. Since then, in a span of almost exactly as many games, we have gone 16-30. That’s the team we are now, no matter who we play. We’re as close as we are to Colorado and San Francisco only because we overcame our early and ongoing ineptitude by bonking the Nats, Bucs and Fish over the head as we did in May. We shouldn’t be 7½ out of the Wild Card lead in late July. We shouldn’t be within 15 games of a playoff spot.
But at this relatively late date, we are within what is usually at the very least dreaming if not exactly striking distance of contention. Give me the team we were in April and May, glaring flaws and all, and I’d look at the schedule ahead and find a way with a semi-straight face. I’ve studied viability (having a real chance) and plausibility (clinging to the notion that if everything goes right for us and wrong for everybody else we may very well have a real chance) where this team sits in historical Met context. We had a worse record at this juncture in 2001 and were further back yet made a spirited race of it. We had a worse record at this juncture in 1973 and were further back yet crafted of the one the great finishes of all time.
Well, in 2009, we ceased being viable once we were swept by the Yankees. We lost a ton of plausibility when we were swept a week later by the Phillies. We’ve been reeling ever since. If we seem remotely plausible — and given our alternately inept and lifeless motion-going, we don’t — it’s because we’re behind by a not altogether daunting amount that’s been scaled before with this much time left on the clock and there’s no obvious powerhouse among the legitimate Wild Card contenders. At the moment, we’re not actually one of them. But one can always dream.
As demonstrated definitively yet again Friday night in Houston, that’s the only way these Mets are going anywhere besides down the rest of this year.
Better seasons and a few that were worse, somehow, than this one get their due in 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.