The 2010 Mets emerged from their hole in the ground one final time Sunday and I got as close to them as I could and looked hard to see their shadow. I sought the sight of the shadow of a doubt to which I’d been clinging through ever darkening times.
I kept searching for a sliver of a reason to continue to believe this Mets team’s season was not practicably over. If there was the thinnest shaft of light shining on them, any hint that implied they were still part of the conversation when it came to talking playoffs, I’d tell you to keep hope alive, keep your spirits up, keep the faith.
The shadow, however, completely disappeared over the course of nine innings on a brilliantly sunny afternoon in Philadelphia. By the end of the day I spent at Citizens Bank Park, I saw nothing — nothing that indicated any chance whatsoever that the 2010 Mets will play a meaningful game across their final 51 scheduled contests.
There is no shadow of a doubt for these Mets anymore. The last shred of it was overshadowed by a road trip during which they lost two of three to the first-place team in their division and two of three to the second-place team in their division. A third-place team that wants to be in the same league as the teams ahead of them has to win at least one of those series.
This third-place team did not . Thus, I can report with the certainty of Staten Island Chuck on Groundhog Day that the competitive aspirations of this Met season have been thoroughly eclipsed…eclipsed by the Braves, eclipsed by the Phillies, eclipsed by a Wild Card mob scene and eclipsed by six dreary weeks when these Mets played 36 baseball games and lost 24 of them.
The forecast: Seven additional weeks of winter, starting 7:10 Tuesday night at Citi Field.
Fifty-one games of baseball are still 51 games of baseball, and I will partake in as many of them as I can, just as I have the previous 111 — I’ll be at the first of them, in fact. But it’s different now. I won’t say there’s no sense of purpose, but the purpose has changed. The stakes have changed. The standings have changed. When the Mets began the road trip that nailed their 2010 coffin shut, they trailed Atlanta by 6½ games. They come home from their journey 9 games out. Not taking a series and losing ground? That’s not what a team that plans to make use of its August does.
The Mets have done nothing with their August. They did nothing with their July and they let a promising June curdle. They may have their shortcomings, but it wasn’t foretold they’d be a .333 ballclub for 22.2% of the season. That’s 12-24. Extrapolate that out to the whole year, and that’s 54-108. That’s not a contender. That’s a disaster.
Which is what they’ve been since June 28. Why I thought they’d pull decisively out of that state on August 2 or August 3 or clear up to the top of the ninth inning on August 8 I do not know, though I suspect it had something to do with their record prior to June 29: 43-32, a half-game from the division lead and two games in front of all comers for the Wild Card. This was after they’d taken four of six from Detroit and Minnesota, not long after they’d taken six of six from Baltimore and Cleveland.
The Mets should have put in for a transfer to the A.L. Central — for themselves and for the Orioles. It was the only way they weren’t going to become what they became in 2010: a disaster.
But they did have that one final shot in my mind Sunday. Sure it was against Roy Halladay, but I looked at it this way: the Phillies would have to do what they had to do against R.A. Dickey. And for a while there, both lineups were doing unto each other’s top-flight pitcher what seemed unlikely when the game began. The Mets got to Halladay early, and it was beautiful. Jose Reyes hadn’t heard Roy Halladay is unbeatable, because he hit him like he was using a fraternity paddle.
Sadly, Jose fielded his position like he was using a frying pan.
The defense let down R.A. Dickey once the Mets staked him to a 2-0 lead, but for the only time since he’s been a Met savior, it is accurate to say R.A. Dickey let the Mets down. The early margin was obliterated, the Phillies were up by four, Citizens Bank was in full yahoo mode — which doesn’t take much to achieve — and the countdown was on to end the Met season.
Strangely, they hung in there. After Dickey joined the ranks of the dearly departed (from the mound, that is), the Met pen stiffened and the mostly young, mostly homegrown Mets eventually went after Roy Halladay like he was Roy Lee Jackson. They took back one run in the sixth and what appeared to be a dead issue showed signs of life — we were only down by three. And then, the seventh…the last inning in which the 2010 Mets played for something and almost succeeded.
Five Mets in a row did something productive off one of the best pitchers in baseball, the theoretically immovable object in their path. Fernando Martinez (leadoff single); Josh Thole (double); Ruben Tejada (fielder’s choice RBI groundout to short); Chris Carter (pinch RBI double); and Reyes (walk) resisted the inevitability of Halladay. Their combined efforts left the Mets down by one run, with first and second, one out and the consistently clutch Angel Pagan up.
If the 2010 Mets were ever going to extend their season, this was going to be the moment. It is as much a comment on the progress of Pagan as it is on the offensive futility of his teammates — especially David Wright, who has driven more Lincolns than runners home — that there was nobody I wanted up there with everything on the line than Angel.
But Angel flied out to center. I wished it farther than it flew, but even in the Citizens Bank bandbox, wishes and fly balls can only travel so far.
The once great Carlos Beltran then struck out to allow Roy Halladay to escape with a lead. Pedro Feliciano and Manny Acosta followed up on the stellar work of Raul Valdes and Hisanori Takahashi and kept the Phillies from increasing their advantage. The notoriously mediocre Phillie bullpen appeared to give us a potential toe in the door in the eighth and ninth, but Ryan Madson was perfect in the eighth and Brad Lidge, despite Thole’s leadoff single and subsequent advancement to second and third, didn’t yield a run in the ninth.
We needed that run. We didn’t get it.
We needed this game. We didn’t get it.
We needed this series. We didn’t get it.
We needed a lot. We got very little.
And now it’s nine games out with 51 to play and two golden chances to not so much make a statement but just whisper “We’re not dead yet” gone by the wayside.
When those opportunities were tossed, there, too, went 2010, a surprisingly pleasant year until it became surprising how unpleasant it had grown…which was before it stopped being at all surprising that it was such a disaster.
The Mets are done except for 51 games they are slated to play. It’s exponentially better than nothing, but not nearly as good as we briefly dreamed it could be.
As for being in Philadelphia, I wasn’t there to personally certify the time of death for the last remote possibility of Met contention — 4:08 PM — but for a much happier occasion that my wife and I were tickled to be a part of. Sunday was the 14th birthday of FAFIF favorite Ross Chapman , and his parents threw him quite a party, taking over a slice of the lovely Hall of Fame Club Deck at Citizens Bank and making everything about the day absolutely wonderful, save for two details:
1) The outcome of the game as described above.
2) The presence in Philadelphia of Phillies fans, which is hardly the fault of Ross, Sharon or Kevin Chapman.
Citizens Bank Park is a whole other story from this particular contest, and I’m pretty certain we’ll get to it on a future Flashback Friday , but I will reiterate from previous trips that I am a fan of that ballpark and how it is operated. Except for attracting Phillies fans to Phillies games, they do everything right.
Speaking of the Citizens Bank customer base, my experience with multiple individuals Sunday indicates to me they lack the ability to enjoy good fortune in what one might quaintly refer to as a sportsmanlike fashion. Thus, I’d like to take a moment to answer a few questions that were thrown at me in the course of Stephanie’s and my visit to the City of Brotherly Love.
• No, I will not be looking for a new team.
• Yes, I am aware that six runs surrendered in two innings could be considered “pitiful”. Thank you, however, for volunteering to go to your Thesaurus and pass that assessment along while I was drying my hands.
• There were “so many Mets fans in Philadelphia” because that’s where the Mets happened to be on this day and geographic proximity made a visit feasible.
• My team indeed came up short against your team. The score speaks for itself in that regard.
• I do not agree it was “quite a game,” but I can understand your interpretation of the events as such.
• Your sentiment, if sincere, that it’s a “shame” the Mets are not playing well because you’d like to see the “rivalry” retain a certain level of intensity betrays, I believe, your unhealthy obsession with New York. We don’t particularly care about this matchup when we’re not playing your team. And except for pondering its historical significance every Fourth of July, we don’t think about your city whatsoever.
But I will admit, after spending an afternoon in your company, I do find myself, for the first time since the 1996 World Series, feeling kindly toward the Atlanta Braves. If it can’t be us for the division title — and I now know it can’t — I really and truly want it to be them.
Because I sure as hell don’t want it to be you.
Don’t be fooled by the headline on this fine Jesse Spector piece  in the News. It’s really about Doug Flynn and it includes a little perspective on the great Met defensive second baseman from yours truly.