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Party On, Phils! (In Washington)

Let’s not mistake this for a triumph. A triumph is clinching your division. The Phillies will know triumph very soon.

But they don’t know it yet [1].

You can only win what’s in front of you on a given day. The Mets won a ballgame they didn’t want to lose, one I’m pretty sure none of us wanted them to lose. We can create our own unflattering Met narratives, thus we didn’t need an obvious storyline hitting us over the head like so many flying corks in somebody else’s clubhouse. METS WATCH PHILLIES CLINCH was one to be avoided at all costs.

So now what? The Mets will return to desolate Citi Field Monday night, probably play with less passion and purpose against the Brewers and Nationals than they generated against the Phillies, and we’ll find reasons to feel less than impressed. Should they somehow sweep the next two homestands, finish above .500, finish ahead of the Marlins (they’re one game behind in the largely ignored race for third place), all that will do is irk us into asking where this was when it might have done us some real good. Either way, ten minutes later, the manager will be fired — unless a season-ending hot streak somehow saves his job, in which case we’ll scream bloody murder because we’ll know it’s all a mirage.

Yet Sunday at Citizens Bank Park wasn’t a figment of our imagination or speculation. It was a baseball game between two baseball teams: no Davids, no Goliaths, nobody vocally scrounging for pride [2] or revenge [3]. Just a baseball game conducted by professional baseball clubs. Both sides seemed a little tight, they both made some mistakes, but one recovered its poise and did enough good things to outlast the other. Most notably, Carlos Beltran truly returned to Carlos Beltran form (3-for-5, 2 home runs, mobility in the field)¬†for the first time since early 2009. Was that a mirage? Or have the past 15 months been the outlier? Dude was a pretty great ballplayer for a decade before his knees kicked him in the groin, so to speak. We won’t find out for sure if his form is permanent in the final week of 2010, but gosh, for one afternoon in Philadelphia, he was a grand spectacle like that we once knew and generally cherished.

Other sweet sights: the enduring rebirth of Nick Evans; the surprising stinginess of our bullpen (Green, Acosta, Feliciano, Dessens and Takahashi gave up nothing, aided in no small part by Nick and Carlos’s infinite play list); and a line of Mets slapping hands when it was done. When we were the about-to-clinch club in 1986, I rolled my eyes a lot at Mike Schmidt’s declaration that nobody was going to drink champagne in his also-ran face. Those Mets traveled to the Vet needing to win one game to officially secure their division title. With three weeks remaining and a 22-game lead in their back pockets, there was never a more foregone conclusion [4] than the outcome of the 1986 regular season. But the Mets went 0-3, and while it didn’t matter once the Mets were in the heart of October, I still remember being annoyed about it [5]. I’m annoyed about it still. I’m annoyed, still, that the Mets were swept in Pittsburgh [6] in 2006 with a crown waiting to be worn. That it meant I could go to Shea and witness the coronation [7] first-hand never lessened the transient frustration of not getting it done when it could get done.

These Mets today saw to it that the eventual N.L. East champion Phillies couldn’t get it done. They’ll schlep their t-shirts and their bubbly to D.C., and their pleasant and gracious fans will have to make an extra trip on a school/work night. In the end, they’ll have what they came for. But not at our expense, not today.

It’s not a triumph. But it will have to do.