Jules, y'know, honey…this isn't real. You know what it is? It's St. Elmo's Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them…there was no fire. There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you're making up all of this. We're all going through this. It's our time on the edge.
—Billy Hicks, 1985
SUB-.500 PLAUSIBILITY TRACKER
Through 104 Games Played
1973: 47-57, 6th of 6, 9½ GB
2001: 47-57, 4th of 5, 11½ GB
2009: 50-54, 8th of 8, 7½ GB
One hopes that whoever cuddles up beside various Met faces these nights likes beards. I don't think the No Shave 'Til .500 charge toward statistical mediocrity is about to cause a run on razors at anybody's local CVS.
It's tough to revert to cynicism so soon after you felt pangs of hopefulness, but that's what a sub-.500 team will do for your outlook more often than not. We may have forgotten what schlepping around rooting for a team that loses more games than it wins is like. We've had quite a bit of practice in 2009, having gurgled below sea level now for an entire month.
I reckon we're in for some more practice.
Oh, it's not over 'til it's over and stranger things have happened, but sometimes proximity to “over” is an accurate barometer — and there's a reason ordinary things happen so much more frequently than strange things. I don't believe the Last Chance Cafe has booted us out just yet, but closing time is closing in, even when one accounts for the presence of tomorrow, which, with two months to go, still remains only a day away.
Yes, sufficient tomorrows have been stockpiled for that which is highly improbable, yet there are only nine more Sundays in this season. I counted them up after this Sunday's not quite horrific but not at all encouraging defeat was Jon Garland-complete. I had switched to TBS to check out the Giants and Phillies. I was rooting, good taste aside, for the Phillies. Back when we competed in the National League East, I never would have done that. But the National League East no longer exists for our purposes. We are a member in tenuous standing of the National League Ad Hoc Division. We are eighth in that eight-team circuit — less invested observers would say we are eighth of seven.
It was a familiar reflex, flipping from SNY to wherever I could find news on the other game that matters most to us. I've done it every September these last few years. Except this wasn't September. It was barely August. But because rain drove the Mets' finish toward 6:30, and because the Giants were in San Francisco, and because shadows do late September things in early August to baseball diamonds when it's 6:30 on the East Coast and 3:30 on the West Coast, it felt unseasonably late there on TBS. It felt like it did those final weekends the last two years, tracking the Phillies versus Washington or the Brewers against the Cubs.
But it felt that way only in the worst and most fleeting regard. The Giants were about to win. The Rockies had already won. All the other entanglements of the N.L. Ad Hoc were too messy to decipher. I just knew we had fallen 7½ behind the co-leaders and were still eighth among eight. Our plausibility as a Wild Card contender, despite a week twice flecked with Grand Illusion — first almost incidentally from Tatis, then more emphatically from Pagan — had not budged a whit in seven days' time. We were 7½ back when we began this thus far 4-3 homestand, and we're 7½ back now.
We haven't lost ground but we didn't gain any. A week went by. One more Sunday fell away. We have only nine left. Nine weeks, starting tonight. In the past two years the final Sunday marked our baseball-tragic downfall. There appears little chance that the ninth of our nine 2009 Sundays will threaten nearly that much angst.
The reason I've been doggedly attempting to track the fluctuations of the Wild Card market isn't out of some steadfast belief that the Mets will prevail. You Gotta Believe, sure, but you also have to have your head examined if you believe a team whose .500-or-bust beards are likely to serve as throw rugs before they touch one single blade from Gillette is headed for that ninth Sunday with a playoff spot squarely on the line. At this point, it's not about the destination. It's about defending the journey from cancellation. It's about experiencing undeniable plausibility until every single indicator says Absolutely Not. It's about maintaining a shred of the sense of purpose that has provided the ballast of our baseball seasons since 2005.
We're down to scraps of hope now. Like the grand slams. Like the balls that bounced through and over the Rockies. Like the undermanned World War II movie battalion of Fighting Metfish* Sgt. Cora has led into battle — Murphy! Frenchy! Sully! Brooklyn! Oh no, Misch just took one right in the heart! Boys…we're gonna have to go on without Misch, but if he were here, I know he'd want you to go down swinging against Dan Haren. Like the precious few fifth inning moments Sunday when, with the Fighting Metfish down three, Frenchy homered, Sully tripled, Sgt. Cora doubled and Ol' Sheff, he hit a screaming liner that…
…Chad Tracy caught, all but ending the inning, the rally, the threat and, I don't know, maybe the Mets' chances in 2009.
The Mets had more ups coming and 58 games beyond that. Yet by their last up Sunday, even when Frenchy reached base with two out, it wasn't feeling like this was a Wild Card chase any longer. It wasn't even feeling like an improbable Wild Card chase, not like it did in the fifth, certainly not like it did on Saturday night when I came home on the wings of Angel Pagan's grand slam sensing something was truly cooking, and humming what I instantly adopted as this playoff chase's theme song.
It seems the Mets A/V squad has chosen Bruce Springsteen's “The Rising” to describe what the Mets are trying to do vis-à-vis the Wild Card pack. “Come on up for the rising,” I heard play at least twice at game's onset this week. Nice thought, but given Perez's and Pelfrey's outings, this would seem to refer mostly to the rising pitch counts of Mets starters. In the context of Mets playoff chase themes, “The Rising” seems destined to go the obscure way of “Ain't No Mountain High Enough,” which is what the Mets began to play after the victories that vaulted them into their unlikely 2001 plausibility, at least in the early portion of that particular rising (before circumstances demanded all musical cues revolve around America and New York).
By winning five in a row over Houston and Colorado, the Motown classic most appropriate to the Mets' longshot quest might have been “You Keep Me Hangin' On,” but my playoff theme song was less familiar, a number I'd only stumbled into last week.
Pretty soon we were takin' it serious
Me and you underneath a mysterious spell
Nothin' I could do
And it suddenly felt
Like a bolt out of hell
I'm tellin' you
I know Neil Diamond has been discredited in the ears of Mets fans thanks to the miscasting of “Sweet Caroline” as a Citi Field favorite, but don't let that stop you from enjoying “Delirious Love,” particularly the version in which Brian Wilson offers harmonies. It's from the 12 Songs CD, produced in 2005 by the most successful alumnus of the Long Beach High School Class of 1981, which is neither here nor there (except to say I loaned Rick Rubin my copy of Kosher Comics long before he ever took Communion with Johnny Cash). I heard it in the midst of the Mets' five-game winning streak and it struck me as most appropriate for what may or may not have been on the brink of happening with our ballclub.
To the sound of the beat
I was hanging on
Like a powerful truth
It was banging on me
Wouldn't let me go
Like a shot in the dark
She was hot like a spark
I only know
Neither one of us trying to hold it down
Neither one of us taking the middle ground
Wasn't how to make sense we were thinkin' of
Just the two of us bent on delirious love
Me and you being spent on delirious love
And then Angel Pagan launches a grand slam over the heretofore forbidden left field wall and maybe it was delirium taking over, but could this be real? Could these Mets, with injured troops reportedly mending, with enough guts and gumption to cover their absences just a little longer, with 6½ games between us and the Wild Card lead — 6 in the all-important loss column — could these Mets actually be onto something beyond keeping us hanging on?
Like a ride on a rocket it took us up
Didn't want it to stop and it shook us up good
We were moving fast
Just ahead of the law
We were beggin' for more
And what a blast
Comin' 'round to a new kind of view of it
Never did it before we were doin' it now
And I gotta say it was easy to give
Was a reason to live another day
There's a great little refrain in “Delirious Love,” in which Neil repeats the phrase “I Can Feel It” thrice. That's perfect for this kind of thing. I could feel it when we took it to the Rockies Thursday afternoon. I could feel it when Pagan went deep. But on Sunday, once Sheffield didn't drive home Sullivan despite smoking Garland's delivery toward right, I couldn't feel it any longer.
We had been a Wild Card contender for a week. It didn't feel like we were anymore. As the next thirteen Mets outs passed almost without interruption, we felt less and less plausible. We felt the way I remember us last feeling in the last few weeks of 2005, the way I last felt August feeling in 2004. The Mets of 2009 had rarely played on a par with where they competed, collapses notwithstanding, in 2008, 2007, 2006 and most of 2005, yet this season felt of a piece with the era those seasons represented. Expectations were high, enthusiasm was resilient and the Mets were almost always reaching for something more. As Sunday's game ended, it felt almost as if all that had reached the end of the line.
Maybe it has. Maybe it hasn't quite yet. When it inevitably does, it will be unfortunate because baseball seasons are always better when you're sure you're rooting for something to happen, not something to end. Pretty soon it seems very likely what the Giants, the Rockies and five other teams are doing won't be of any real concern to us. Pretty soon the Mets are going to have to clear the forestry from their faces and we shouldn't begrudge them their shaves, no matter how far they and their best-intention beards may fall from triumphant.
I don't like our chances. But I sure like having them.