Saturday night was the night I remembered that I picked the Mets to finish fourth. If you check the standings after 37 games, that’s where they are.
It was the night I remembered that the Mets are composed of players who have their upsides and strengths, but that none of them is the type of player who displays mostly upsides and strengths. A few upsides and a little strength were evident Saturday, but most of it went untapped.
It was the night, too, when I realized that for as likable as these fellows are as inidividuals and a unit, and how unlike 2009 this 2010 season has felt, that 2010 is only one season removed from 2009.
The Mets are a terrible ballclub again. A different kind of terrible than they were last year, but terrible just the same.
I don’t get hung up on preseason predictions, even during preseason, but in a noodling session among friends, I said the Mets would wind up in fourth place and win 78 games. They have, after exciting us a bit in late April, locked in at that level. They way they looked last night, I’d be thrilled if they didn’t win fewer.
How quickly we turn on our team, I’m thinking. I wasn’t exactly blocking out all of October on their account before last night, but I had been feeling pretty good about the 2010 Mets until last night . I still feel good about them in the sense that I don’t silently hate them, that I’m not on some level feeling justified in my lack of faith toward them. I feel bad for these guys more than I did those guys of 2009, overlap of personnel notwithstanding. When they fell apart Saturday — and kept falling apart — I could see they were dissolving not out of apathy or idiocy, but out of true commitment…and maybe some idiocy.
Rod Barajas, for example, touched second base in the process of leading off the ninth inning. He’s no Ryan Church missing third in that regard. It’s just that he touched it about ten minutes after being tagged out in front of it as he tried to stretch what looked very much like a double into a double. Alas, it was only a double for non-glacial catchers. Chris Coghlan made a lovely play on his ball in the corner and quite the professional throw, but most baseball players are surefire safe at second in that situation. Barajas, however, is markedly slower than most baseball players.
Rod tried but it wasn’t enough.
Jeff Francoeur, having gone completely to seed as a hitter, did not stumble around and embarrass himself in the Whatchamacallit Stadium outfield in the fifth inning. He’s no Daniel Murphy dropping a fly ball in that regard. It’s just that once he picked up Hanley’s hit, he got ambitious and sought to limit Ramirez to a single. Nobody can stand Francoeur’s bat right now, but everybody loves his arm. Jeff’s arm loves the admiration so much that it apparently wanted to justify the praise. It made a helluva throw, and if Hanley Ramirez had been sliding into shallow left field, he would have been out by a mile. Instead, Ramirez was safe at second, secure at third and on his way home in a matter of moments.
Jeff tried but it wasn’t enough.
John Maine isn’t the John Maine of 2009, neither in the sense of being disabled or being somewhat dependable when he wasn’t disabled. John Maine put it in reverse last night, backed up past Oliver Perez territory, even, in the first inning. He backed all the way up to September 28, 1971. That was the last time a Mets pitcher walked the first three batters of a game. That the pitcher 39 years ago was Nolan Ryan (who walked the first four Cardinals he saw and was summarily removed from what became his final Met start) does not make Maine a stealth Hall of Fame candidate. He’d get one out before walking his fourth Marlin, and a three-run first was underway.
Maine did not pull a Perez. He did not instantly and inexorably implode. His second, third and fourth innings were fine. But he did eventually come back for more, and once the fifth inning was over, John was throwing exactly what Oliver was doing the night before: his glove, in the dugout. Perez gave up seven runs and the Mets were done Friday. Maine gave up six runs and the Mets were as good as done Saturday. They had tied it at three while Maine was briefly finding himself. Despite Barajas contracting his double into a single, they made it all the way to two out in the ninth with the tying run at the plate. But that only made Saturday night more exasperating because even with the Marlin lead cut to 7-5, I knew it was hopeless. I knew Angel Pagan was not going to keep the last-ditch rally going. And he didn’t.
I didn’t want to know that. For weeks I haven’t known that. For weeks I’ve been pretty sure the Mets could come back from any circumstance. When Big Pelf finally proved human in Philadelphia  and Doc Halladay was operating and the eight-game winning streak of late April was about to turn into the 4-10 (and counting) of May, I heard myself think, “C’mon, let’s get it back.” We were losing 6-0 that Saturday, but I believed anything was possible, even against one of the best starters in baseball. Two weeks later, against the undistinguished Florida bullpen, I just assumed we were doomed.
It’s a different kind of doom than 2009’s thus far. I am empathetic toward it. I’m fed up with Maine yet I maintain some empathy for him. He reminds me of Matt Saracen , onetime starting QB of the Dillon Panthers on Friday Night Lights. Matt is a forlorn character. John is a forlorn character. Not necessarily sad sack like Ollie, but at this point, with gloves flying through the dugout by the fifth inning, it’s hard to discern much difference.
I’d be fuming as much as John as I was at Ollie  except we’re running out of starters  at whom to fume, so Maine’s gotta get back on the horse and all that. I’d fume at these Mets but they’re generally not fumeable. I root for Barajas’s legs to have a little more oomph and Francoeur’s arm to maybe have a little less of it. I root for Maine to not worry and be happy. I’d root for Ollie, too, if he wasn’t being a jerk about not going to the minors .
They’re still the same guys from the 10-1 fun run . They still have the ability to win more than 78 games and finish above fourth. They have Jose Reyes as a leadoff hitter again , for example. They have Jason Bay on a nine-game hitting streak. They have David Wright hitting hellacious home runs again when not striking out all the time. They don’t win on the road very much, but they’re giving us a show at home (no matter how Charlie Manuel claims  they’re achieving it). There was even a Carlos Beltran sighting  at Whatchamacallit Stadium Saturday night. He lives and is said to perhaps jog . Someday he may play. Someday he may be up in that third slot in the lineup as the tying run in the ninth.
For today, however, it’s the guys we’ve got. And the guys we’ve got are very much a fourth place team. They’re quite likable, but their immediate prospects are not.
Were you wondering about Bill Simmons’ future plans? I wasn’t, but I found myself interested after reading Jason’s piece at Deadspin .
Two days away: the Two Boots Grand Central debut of AMAZIN’ TUESDAY. Your hosts are Jon Springer of Mets By The Numbers  and me. Our very special guests are Taryn Cooper of My Summer Family , Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods  and, hopefully, you. We convene at 7 PM. Details here .