Those who aren't baseball fans…I don't get them. They can be polite about how it's just not their thing or they can be virulent to the point of obnoxious over “it's so boring” and “who cares about millionaires trying to hit a ball with a stick?” I generally pity them more than disdain them, for they don't know what they're missing.
Monday night they knew. And they weren't missing anything.
We who pride ourselves on our love of the game would, if given the choice, sign on the dotted line for a 2-1 game over almost any other kind of baseball. A 2-1 score implies tautness, tension and professionalism. Think of the great 2-1 games in Mets history:
• Jerry Koosman flirts with a no-hitter en route to evening the 1969 World Series at a game apiece. Mets win 2-1.
• Tom Seaver overwhelms the Big Red Machine all by himself (13 K, 1 RBI) until Pete Rose in the eighth and Johnny Bench in the ninth reach him for a solo homer apiece to take the first game of the 1973 NLCS. Mets lose 2-1.
• Nolan Ryan duels Doc Gooden. Darryl Strawberry outguns Nolan Ryan. Gary Carter avenges Charlie Kerfeld. Fifth game of the '86 NLCS goes to the Mets, 2-1.
• Melvin Mora and friends win the epic of must-win epics, October 3, 1999, 2-1.
Then there are 2-1 games between a crappy team and a crummy team, such as that played Monday night in Washington. The crappy team beat the crummy team 2-1. Each side lived up to its billing. It wasn't taut. It wasn't tense. It was barely professional. It was not a recruiting film for luring the uninitiated into our obsession. It was poor defense, anemic hitting, nonexistent fundamentals, idiotic strategy (YOU'RE BOTH A THOUSAND GAMES OUT OF FIRST, IT'S THE LAST WEEK OF THE SEASON AND YOU'RE BUNTING?) and pitching that was just decent enough not to get in the way of the ineptitude in its midst.
Jerry Koosman and Dave McNally engaged in a pitchers' duel. Tom Seaver and Jack Billingham engaged in a pitchers' duel. Nelson Figueroa and Ross Detwiler were simply fortunate enough to be facing each other's teammates.
Signature moment of this 2-1 exercise in playing out the string? Justin Maxwell singles to lead off the eighth. Ian Desmond bunts him to second (STOP IT! JUST STOP WITH THE BUNTING!). Ryan Zimmerman grounds routinely to short.
And Maxwell takes off for third.
The play is right in front of him, and he takes off for third anyway. Not only that, he waits to make sure the ball was hit in front of him so he could be certain that if he runs to third he'll be out by a mile. Well, he was playing against the Mets, so he was only out by a few meters, but it was perfect for this game. Nobody there could play it and there was no evidence anybody there was even familiar with it. Two teams richly deserving of their position in the standings (the Mets are in a hundred and twenty-seventh place; the Nationals are far behind them) displayed exactly the ability that got them where they are. From the look and sound of things, they attracted about 20 people to their dismal affair. I assume half of them were waiting for a bus.
For those who still keep track of such things, the Mets lost their 90th game of 2009 Monday night. With five games remaining, here's the history that's at stake.
• If they go 0-5, they will finish the season 67-95, which they've done once, in 1980. 1980 began and ended badly yet was way fun in the middle with the whole Magic Is Back theme coming to life via a surprising 47-39 stretch. 2009 has been no fun whatsoever and its only surprise is that these Mets have generated as many as 67 wins.
• If they go 1-4, they will finish the season 68-94, which they've done once, in 1983. 1983 had a very awful first two-thirds, but an incredibly respectable final third. For two months, the 1983 Mets played with joy and verve and poetry, even if it added up to a prosaic 31-29 finish. Would you accuse these Mets of producing joy? Verve? Poetry beyond the dirtiest of limericks? (“Luis Castillo once went to Nantucket…”) Would Annie Savoy want anything to do with any 2009 Met?
• If they go 4-1, they will finish the season 71-91, same as they did in 1974, 1996 and 2004. Those were all lame-ass seasons with almost nothing to recommend them (though the '04 Mets were mysteriously a game out of first in early July before Art Howe reminded them who was managing them). These Mets are lame-ass and have almost nothing — perhaps less — to recommend them, but who wants to have the same record you've had three times before, unless it's of the 108-54 variety?
• If they go 5-0…they're not gonna go 5-0. But for spits and giggles, let's say they do. They'll have matched the 1992 Mets as the only 72-90 club in Mets history. The 1992 Mets were loathsome. The 2009 Mets are just lame-ass. It figures a five-game winning streak would carry with it some kind guilt by statistical association.
Rah-rah, win all five and so on, but what we want is 3-2. Three wins puts us at 70-92. We've never been 70-92. Seventy wins is so much better than 69. We've never been 69-93 either, but gads that's an ugly ledger. And who wants to mark the fortieth anniversary of '69 by winning 69 games? How many lazy pile-on fuckers would run with that Hacky Hackerson angle? “Not only did they lose a zillion dollars to Bernie Madoff, but get THIS…”
No, don't go 2-3 to finish 69-93. Finish 70-92. Be original. Get a C instead of a D. They should probably get an F, but we want the 2009 Mets to pass their baseball finals and be advanced to the next grade. We don't want them left back for another year.
Social promotion is the way to go here, trust me.
As unrecommended as Mets baseball comes right now, watch tonight, and pay close attention, because at some point, Gary Cohen is destined to work a reference to the great state of Oklahoma into the conversation. How do I know? On Sunday, Gary mentioned the Marlins' total attendance for 2009 was larger than the population of Wyoming. Last night, he pointed out the Mets' 1986 World Series nemesis Bruce Hurst hailed from St. George, Utah. It thus follows — based on the Best evidence available — that we'll hear something about the humble beginnings of Bob Murphy, the hometown of Butch Huskey, the coaching acumen of Bud Wilkinson or maybe just a weather report that includes wind sweeping down the plains.
Oklahoma tonight, New Mexico tomorrow. Bank on it.
The Mets used to hit home runs. Mets Walkoffs offers proof that they've hit at least sixty by continuing its series on the Sixty Greatest Homers in Mets History here.
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