On July 4, 1914, the Boston Braves languished in eighth place in the eight-team National League with a record of 26-40, which left them 15 games out of first place. They won 68 of their next 87, took the pennant by 10½ games and then swept the defending world champion Philadelphia A’s in the World Series. Of all the improbable comeback stories baseball has known, it’s hard to imagine one more startling than that of the team that became known as the Miracle Braves — 14 games under, 7 teams to climb over, a swing of 25½ games anyway. They did all that after experiencing 11 consecutive losing seasons and second-division finishes.
How did they do it?
They didn’t have a runner from second stop at third on singles to right in the first inning.
They didn’t have a stolen base attempt end their biggest inning against the best-throwing catcher in the game.
They didn’t have their offense stop scoring after that big fifth inning.
They didn’t have their ace starter give up five earned runs in eight innings.
They didn’t have their closer give up a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
They didn’t have their manager bring in a reliever to replace a reliever who just retired his first batter in the tenth inning on one pitch.
They didn’t have their second baseman, who started the game as the fill-in shortstop, throw away an easy out at first base when that second reliever came in.
They didn’t have that shortstop/second baseman at second base because their regular second baseman didn’t fall down the dugout steps and sprain his ankle in the seventh inning.
They didn’t have their regular second baseman fall down the dugout steps and sprain his ankle.
They didn’t have their regular shortstop in a perpetual limbo of misdiagnoses and magnetic resonance imagery.
They didn’t have that second reliever load the bases in the tenth on a single and a walk following the outl the fill-in second baseman who started the game as the fill-in shortstop threw away.
They didn’t have their manager bring in, with the bases loaded, a reliever who lost his last decision by hitting one batter and walking another before eventually uncorking a wild pitch.
They didn’t have that reliever hit his first batter with his first pitch, forcing in the go-ahead run.
They didn’t have that same reliever give up a grand slam to the next hitter — the best hitter in the game, the same hitter who earlier doubled, singled and homered off their ace starter.
They didn’t have the best hitter in the game snap an 0-for-13 slump against them.
They didn’t have a three-run lead entering the eighth turn into a five-run loss in the tenth.
They didn’t have the momentum of a 5-0 spurt negated by the malaise of a 1-5 skid.
They didn’t have a record, after 106 games, of 6 under .500, leaving them 9 out of a playoff spot with 7 teams to climb over.
The 1914 Boston Braves, by the time they played as many games as the 2009 New York Mets, were in second place, two games from the league lead, a position they secured for good 15 games later.
As of July 4, 1914, the Boston Braves had a chance in hell.
As of August 4, 2009, the New York Mets have none.
• Thanks to those of you who forwarded pictures illustrating how you’ve allowed Mets fandom to infect your offspring. We should be sending Child Protective Services to your home, but instead will send you and yours the fun and attractive Mets Coloring & Activity Book from Hawk’s Nest Publishing.
• If you’d like to take the field where the New York Mets do, just wait and they’ll call you soon enough. (Hey, it worked for Angel Berroa.) But if you’re the impatient type, tickets remain available to the big end-of-season Gary, Keith & Ron shindig October 3. For $120, you get a seat in the Big Apple section, you get a buffet, you get a concessions gift card and you get to enter the playing surface of Citi Field before the game to sing the National Anthem en masse. The proceeds, as ever, benefit the Pitch In For A Good Cause Foundation.
• Since you won’t need to waste time studying the standings for the rest of the year, you can put your reading abilities to good use with a copy 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.
• Enjoy the next 56 games as best you can. It’s Mets baseball. Fresh evidence notwithstanding, it’s better than nothing.