Let's have some fun out here! This game's fun, OK? Fun, goddamnit.
Crash Davis is a good source of advice in most situations, but his desperate cajoling of the down-in-the-mouth Durham Bulls was never more apt than this week. The Mets — by which I mean the corporation that employs a fair number of people including baseball players — kept doing awful things, until a wise fan reflexively shied from WFAN, SNY, the papers, Facebook, Twitter and water-cooler conversation. Meanwhile, the Mets — by which I mean the uninjured baseball players drawing major-league paychecks from that corporation — kept doing wonderful things, prompting hopeful fans to check their watches and see if it was game time yet. It was fun. But at the same time, well, goddamnit.
Heck, a fan could even dream: Sure, there were a lot of teams to jump over in the wild-card race. But there was still time to do that, and no team ahead of us with anywhere like the firepower of the Phillies, even before they added Cliff Lee. And little by little, the injury news was getting better. Jose and the Carloses and Gary and J.J. and Billy weren't back in the starting lineup or out on a rehab assignment, but they kept being sighted doing baseball-like things. Even the bad news — John Maine seeing Dr. Andrews, talk of microfracture surgery for Beltran — could be summed up as either be more of the same or still too theoretical to fret about just yet. It wasn't realistic to think of the Mets jumping over the Brewers and then the Astros and then the Braves and then the Marlins and then the Cubs and then the Rockies and then finally the Giants, but it was no longer insane. You could imagine a 7:10 p.m. start in mid- to late August that featured the Opening Day lineup, and fantasize about that lineup making up, oh, a game or so a week and then, somehow, playing in October. It took a decent amount of imagination and a fair bit of optimism, granted, but it could be done.
And so it was that we came to what not so long ago was an unlikely reality: The Mets finished a matinee and you were excited — even a bit giddy — that they'd play again, not in 2010 or tomorrow but that very evening.
I was happy for another reason: After more than a week away from home, I'd be on my own couch, with SNY. I'd done OK while off on my various journeys, sneaking listens to MLB At Bat in San Diego and bringing in the game on the iPhone up in Maine and having it in my headphones during lunch today, but catch-as-catch-can is wearying and inevitably alienating. It was a relief to fall into the old rhythms of 7:10 p.m. at home. Just as it was a relief that Omar Minaya was done apologizing, today's steroids relevations had nothing to do with our team, and the only thing to be determined was whether the Mets could actually complete a four-game sweep of the recently high-flying Rockies.
That they couldn't was disappointing but not … well, you know. The finale of a four-game series that's gone your way so far is always a bit of an odd experience: You want to win, of course, but you've already booked a good result, and that fourth game feels like you're asking the baseball gods for some extra on the side. And at least it was an interesting little game: Two young pitchers whom you came to admire for their poise and stuff while knowing that one of them was fated to hit the kind of fatal bump in the road that young pitchers so often encounter. The Mets didn't lose by much — Angel Pagan got a little too frisky on the basepaths in the first and wound up with Yorvit Torrealba sitting on top of him, short-circuiting a potentially profitable first inning, and then took an awkward route to Jorge De La Rosa's double in the seventh. It was cruel watching Fernando Tatis battling the odds in that inning: Baseball being baseball, his spectacular catch of Seth Smith's potential go-ahead double was naturally followed by his helpless observation of Clint Barmes's drive into the left-field seats and a near-miss of a Troy Tulowitzki drive off the wall. Fernando could dive, but it's not his fault he couldn't fly.
Meanwhile, I'd sunk rather comfortably into my routine, struggling to stay awake during the top of the ninth. I was sleepy, but I was also optimistic. The Mets were playing well. What was two runs? They could make that up and take the Rockies in extra frames. I knew they could. I was pretty sure they knew they could, too.
Alas, I settled in for a bit of an extended blink and the next thing I knew Bob Ojeda and Chris Carlin were talking about something other than a miracle finish. Ah well. As a singer might have said in a somewhat longer song, three out of four ain't bad. Besides, there'll be baseball again tomorrow. And baseball's fun, OK? Maybe we won't even need a goddamnit.
It's always game time between the covers of 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.