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It Goes to Show You Never Can Tell

Logic tells you one loss after six wins is no big deal, particularly when set against a field of 162 games. Good manners tell you that to complain about not getting everything you want once after getting all you could ask for over the course of a week is simply impolite. But watching the 2011 Mets since they commenced being the 2011 Mets tells you to take no single defeat altogether lightly considering how not so long ago, every victory was precious and being granted even one of them was turning unimaginable.

A winning streak ended Thursday night in Washington. It was bound to happen sooner or later. That’s always what I say in these circumstances given that a cursory combing of major league records indicates nobody wins ’em all. “You can’t win ’em all,” you say, so you pat your team on the back for winning as many as it did and you offer some variation on “go get ’em next time.”

It’s healthy and it’s decent to do that. It’s the pause we must all take from when we realize our greed for unimpeded perfection will not be validated. The Mets lost to the Nationals. They gave it a good try. The results didn’t bear out the effort. They’re 6-1 in their last seven, time to move on — tally ho, or whatever the royals say when not marrying off their young.

Still sucks to lose, though. Still sucks to lose a winnable game [1] and not make it seven straight. Still sucks that they lost the game before the winning streak so last night wasn’t the eighth win in a row if you follow the trail of greed retroactively. When the memories of a 5-13 start are still so fresh as to be pungent, it’s not easy to be magnanimous let alone logical.

And this is good because a week or so ago, losing one game after winning six wouldn’t have bothered me. To be honest, 5-13 didn’t bother me the way it should have. Oh, it bothered me that the team I was rooting for was an utter embarrassment — the kind of team I was compelled to refer to as “atrocious” fifteen separate times in one dismayed post [2] — but that meant any given loss was just spit in the ocean. It wasn’t going to matter if the Mets lost a game to the Nationals or whoever. They were going to lose oodles of games in 2011. “Another setback? For us? Oh, just put it over with the rest of them.”

But then came six consecutive wins, one more uplifting than the one preceding it — culminating in justice and karma aligning [3] and producing a baby that looked suspiciously like Daniel Murphy — and I was forced to reconsider the season in progress. The Mets were no longer an embarrassment. The Mets were no longer fifteen kinds of atrocious. The Mets were a genuine ballclub for a week, with the hitting and the pitching and the fielding and the making it fun to care about what they were up to. It was a 180-degree revelation. Every ounce of 5-13 cynicism melted away from last Thursday to this Wednesday. I truly loved being a Mets fan for the first time since…well, their last substantive winning streak [4] last year.

Yes, it’s true: loving your team is easier when they win. The dirty little secret of diehard loyalists is out. It isn’t nearly as much fun when they’re 5-13 as when they’re 6-0. Relentless winning indicates a complete lack of bad news. Everybody is your favorite player when your team is winning. You stop asking Chin-lung Why. You stop keeping track of how often a particular pitcher is on the mound at game’s end and the phrase “vesting option” exits your vocabulary. You laugh off the boneheaded plays because they were just one more obstacle overcome in your righteous charge to well-deserved victory.

Then it ends and you’re obliged to face an uncertain future all over again. You’re no longer 6-0. You’re 11-14. You’re inconveniently returned to fifth place after finally emerging from its depths and your next three dates are with the team at the other end of the standings, in their well-stocked lair, no less. You sort of see that as an opportunity for advancement but you also recognize the challenge it implies and you grit your teeth as you did when you were receiving your last tetanus shot [5].

We’re back to one game at a time territory, though I try never to leave it. If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that it’s counterproductive to attempt to set out your team’s course in advance. If winning ‘X’ of our next ‘Y’ games was as easy as we tend to make it sound, don’t you think the Mets would take us up on our math? I can’t live with “let’s take two out of three” or “let’s just win series” or “we should be able to win five of six from [insert two lousy upcoming opponents].” Baseball isn’t like that. It refuses to be. Mets baseball showed no signs of “we’ll win the last one from Houston, then sweep Arizona and then take the first two from Washington, the second of those after avenging the most galling bad call in the annals of humankind.” It just happened that way, and it was beautiful.

Now that part is over, at least for the moment. It left us, however, with a season. It left us with a ballclub that transcends our doubts and its potential soft underbelly. Just before the game that didn’t become our seventh consecutive win ended last night, I absorbed the circumstances at hand: Hu was on base, Harris was at bat, Hairston was on deck. A month before, they were each, in a Met sense, unknown quantities. Two weeks ago, they were part of the problem, new Mets who weren’t helping whatsoever. Now, though, they were Chin-lung and Willie and Scott, three of my guys, all of whom I fervently hoped would come through, keep the fun going, keep making me happy, keep the winning streak alive into eternity or at least the possibility of it.

Didn’t happen. Harris struck out. Mets lost. I minded. Of course I minded. But I didn’t fume at any one of them individually and I didn’t 180 back to calling the whole lot of them atrocious. They and the rest of the Mets had played too well for just long enough to fully win me over to their side. Those unfamiliar with our folkways and our recent past may wonder what the hell that’s all about. “You’re a Mets fan. You needed to be won over to the Mets’ side?”

We know better. We know what it’s been like. We know how too many seasons of late proceeded and how too many seasons ended. We know how this season started. And we know how liberating it was to shake off that start and begin to move ahead to its middle.

Philadelphia awaits. So Let’s Go Mets already.