Welcome to Rainout Recall, a precipitation-precipitated post from the past designed to help soak up the baseball void left behind by bad weather. Tonight we travel back in time to I'd Be A Real Mess If We Were 9-3, originally aired April 18, 2006, when the surging Mets were making us dizzy with success and, because we're Mets fans, uncertainty.
For about 30, 40, maybe 50 minutes after last night's game, I swear to you I was as baseball happy as I've been in 20 years. And baseball happy, given my short slate of priorities, pretty much means happy.
No kidding, though. When the enormity of our five-game lead over frigging Atlanta sunk in, I became almost overcome with joy. It was nothing like I remembered since 1986.
This isn't me falling into the hated trap known as the memory hole. I leave that to the know-nothing Kens and Barbies who deliver highlights on TV, blatherers who waste radio airspace and general assignment reporters who write those worthless metro section “baseball fever has gripped the city!” stories. We know different here. We're the institutional memory of this franchise. We know that the convenient storyline, “It's been a sad state of affairs for Mets fans since 1986,” is specious. We know there have been winning seasons and playoff seasons and even a pennant season, that there have been victories that have warmed the cockles and cockles that have warmed to victories.
We know that. You know that. I know that. But here's what else I know:
The last time I felt the way I did last night had to be 20 years ago. This takes into account the extended stretches of satisfaction, excitement and dreaminess that have made me the fan I am today, the ones from 1988 and 1990 and 1997 and 1999 and 2000 plus a few others from less successful campaigns. Those were good. A few were breathtaking. But they weren't this.
The way I felt last night in the wake of beating the Braves was something else altogether. This was first place as a matter of course. This was taking it to a team that had taken it to us. This was having a masterful power-hitting first baseman slugging a huge home run for us, not against us. This was a rightfielder acquired from some distant precinct flourishing, not shrinking. This was a catcher who runs the game and a middleman who stops the bleeding and a closer who ends opponents' evenings and 200-game-winner Pedro Martinez being 200-game-winner Pedro Martinez after all these years.
These are the Mets of 2006. They are ours. OURS! And first place is OURS! Theirs by achievement, but ours by rightful inheritance. We're the caretakers of the estate. We watched after it as the Howes and the Cedeños and the Wiggintons and the James Baldwins overran it and infested it with futility. We've watched the Braves ransack it so many times that we've lost count. Finally we have some real hard-ass types to scare them off with pitchforks.
We're ten and motherfucking two. We're five games ahead of the whole pack of National League Eastern Division jackals. We're No. 1! We're No. 1!
Just like the '51 Dodgers, the '64 Phillies, the '69 Cubs, the '78 Red Sox, the '95 Angels…you get my point. This is why the euphoria only lasted 30, 40, 50 minutes, because I have no concrete evidence that it will continue tonight or next week. Watching Floyd leave with a pulled rib cage muscle and seeing no sign of Beltran actually put me in mind of another great first-place team, the 1972 Mets. Remember them winning anything? They got off to a 25-7 start, had a six-game lead in May and then everybody got hurt. They finished 83-73 and way back in third place.
I don't want to be the 1972 Mets. I don't want to be the 1969 Cubs. The weird part is I don't want to be the 1999 Mets, and if you know me at all, you know that I consider the 1999 Mets representative of all that was worth living for. I was never so wrapped up in a baseball season as I was in 1999. I never cared so much about a Mets team as I did in 1999. No club — no thing — ever lifted me higher or threw me to the ground harder with impunity than the 1999 Mets. That was a year when fate itself hung on every single pitch.
I don't want that out of 2006. I'm too far gone after 10-2. To wind up in a dogfight with the Braves for the division or somebody else for the Wild Card would be to descend from the mountaintop. I like it too much up here to ever leave.
I fear I've been spoiled. 1999 was the best year of my baseball life and I now consider it beneath me, beneath us. It was fine for then, but I've tasted a record-setting five-game lead after 12 games and I don't want to go back. I want a six-game lead after tonight. I can't bring myself to throw out numbers beyond that, but I want great, big stuff out of this season. We can be scrappy as all get out in getting to it, but I want 1986-scrappy, not nearly blowing a playoff spot in the last two weeks of September-scrappy.
So now I've set myself up for disappointment. Anything less than first place will be crushing. Anything that isn't built to an impenetrable lead and soon will have me on more pins and needles than I need. Anything that follows the path of the recent St. Louis Cardinals — stupendous regular season, postseason failure — makes the whole thing an awful, unfair tease. And if we do scale the highest of heights and plant a few flags? If we do win everything there is to win in 2006 and are celebrated justly for it? Then I just know something will go wrong in 2007 and it will be 1987 all over again and I'll be sad.
OK, this is sick, as is this: guilt. Guilt?! Guilt from what? I'm watching last night as Pedro is wriggling out of jams and Andruw Jones just misses with one into the wind and there's no Chipper in sight and somehow I'm thinking, “Well, the Braves didn't get the breaks. The Braves are undermanned. This isn't a true test of the Braves.”
Just lock me up now before I do harm to someone with that kind of thinking. The Braves are at a disadvantage? The Braves have injuries? Like we weren't physically to say nothing of mentally challenged when playing them series after series, year after year? They came out on the short end of a bad bounce or two? All balls have done in a thousand Mets-Braves games is bounce their way. I hate the Braves, so I know I can't possibly feel sorry for the second-least sympathetic organization in baseball.
What is it then? Is it that the Mets don't deserve happiness? That some other baseball team deserves it more? The Red Sox got theirs. The White Sox got theirs. You don't have to wait 80-90 years to get yours. Cripes, it's been 20 years! Isn't that enough?
As I'm peeling back the layers on this onion, I'm finding my problem is a mash-up of expectation, perception and defensiveness. Though I came of age when the Mets were good, I never expect something like a 10-2, 5 GA start out of them at any time since. But I have always perceived them to be capable, and I'm extremely defensive when somebody — friend or foe — tries to paint us as some kind of perpetual, congenital loser. When I hear other Mets fans say things like, “Whaddaya expect? We're the Mets,” I bristle hard. I expect better than that. I perceive us as not long-suffering (even though I have, in fact, suffered for long periods of time because of the Mets). I guess I consider the Devil Rays the exemplar of übercrappiness and we generally haven't been them. It's almost as if it's been good enough for me not to be Tampa Bay.
But the rest of the world doesn't see it that way and, as much as I hate to admit it, I do care what the rest of the world thinks. When we finish with records like last year's 83-79, I want to sprint into the streets and do a jig that screams, “We had a winning record!” But nobody cares. Nobody cared when we finished 88-74 in 1997. It set my soul on fire, but by 1998, the memory hole beckoned. “Mike Piazza turned the Mets into winners.” The dickens he did! (Sorry, Mike; we loved having you, but we didn't all-out suck when you got here.) I could have lived with improving incrementally, auditioning Aaron Heilman as closer, enduring the fits and starts of Mike Jacobs at first, but then they go and drop Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado into our laps and I'm ebullient…until I wonder if that's somehow unfair because we spent money that a team like the Devil Rays doesn't have.
And my head goes round and round like this.
I worry that we won't win the next game. I worry that we'll win too many games. I worry that we won't win enough World Series. I worry that we've done something wrong to be doing everything so right. I worry about displaying an uncharacteristic sense of entitlement and then I worry that I don't think I deserve better and worry that that reveals something as self-destructive as excessive haughtiness would. I worry that my worrying will screw up a 10-2 start with 150 games to go.
Then I get down to worrying about the normal things a normal fan worries about, like injuries and age on the pitching staff and a thin bench and bullpen depth and whether hot starts by Lo Duca and Nady and Sanchez are going to last because if everything doesn't continue to be the festival of Our Lady of Perpetual Victory that it's been for all of two weeks, I just don't know what I'm going to do with myself.
Which is why I'm better off confining my thoughts to those 30, 40, 50 minutes after a big win when everything is perfect.
Mets Walkoffs picks up what has become a long-running cause (too long), lobbying for the Mets Hall of Fame to reopen its rusty figurative gates and make them literal.
When it comes to opening wax packs, Bluenatic is suddenly having a great summer of 1988.
And check out the all-around good work being done at Remembering Shea.