Was it the lure of the Mets that crammed PNC Park’s third-largest crowd into the home of the Bucs the way only Greece, Ecuador and soccer draw throngs to Citi Field? Was it the promise of fireworks and Huey Lewis & The News postgame? (Can Huey Lewis really be considered “news” 27 summers after Sports?) Or is Pittsburgh turning on to its non-football, non-hockey, non-awful baseball team at last because, well, at last they’re not altogether awful?
Despite openly declaring them my doomsday team a couple of years ago, I tend to not consider the Pirates when they’re not on our dance card, but lately it’s been blacker and golder than usual, so learning that they’re both chasing mediocrity and not chasing away customers…that’s nice, I guess. When the Mets are at sublime PNC Park and the talk drifts to Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver, you can’t help but hope that once they fall off our schedule, the Pirates somehow fall into contention in the N.L. Central. At a game under .500 and four behind St. Louis in the loss column, maybe they already have.
And what about us, whom I consider continuously? Are the Mets in contention in the N.L. East? They’ve been playing like a team that wins a lot for a little while now. It’s not quite the same as winning a lot — Saturday reminded us of the difference — but it’s made this season of low expectations one of medium reward…at least.
Examine the pertinent numbers that go into determining the c-word: The Mets are two games below .500, which is extraordinarily ordinary until you connect it to its distance from a playoff spot, which is, as we speak, 5½ out, with 98 to play. That’s borderline contending if there’s anything to contend for when there are still 98 to play. The two teams that hold provisional claim to the National League Wild Card are the last two teams we played, Atlanta and Milwaukee. And we just beat them each two out of three.
So why not us?
Well, ’cause we’re not going to, that’s why. I mean, c’mon. Look at these Mets. They’re playing about the best they possibly can and the best they have to show for it is six wins in their last ten games. 6-4: not bad. 6-4: pretty good. 6-4: not extraordinary.
Which is what the Mets are. I chuckle when I hear mentioned that if not for some shabby bullpen work, the Mets would have been on some hellacious winning streak of late. As if the bullpen isn’t part and parcel of the whole package. When the bullpen was untouchable, the outlier was so-so starting. Or not enough hitting. Or uncertain fielding. Or injuries. We overcome something sometimes but it overcomes us just as often. We’re not that good, teamwise.
Yet that’s OK. Honestly, it really is. It’s not very much fun to watch the Mets not convert ten hits into more than two runs against Pittsburgh. It’s not very much fun to watch nine Pirates leaping (or however many made rally-killing catches in the course of Saturday evening). It’s not very much fun to watch Chip Hale choose caution over the last, best chance the Mets had to tie the score in the eighth. It’s not very much fun to watch Daniel Murphy test positive for Guinness Stout…or play third base as if he had.
But these Mets are fun on their own terms, in their own dosage. They’re an almost-.500 club playing in small spurts at a .600 pace. Maybe the spurts will extend themselves. I’m guessing they won’t. Right now the starting pitching, all of it, is superb. It can’t last. It could, but it probably won’t. There have been downpours of basehits, but few bolts of lightning to generate runs all at once. There is admirable stick-to-it-iveness where guys playing out of position in fact play as well as they can out of position, but that’s not the same as playing really well overall.
If this is it, as Huey Lewis suggested in 1984, this isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen as a Mets fan. I’ve seen worse in 2010 and 2009 and I could keep going. This is fun enough. This is a season whose medium reward surpasses what we could have reasonably anticipated, both from when we had the 18-game start that inspired one blogger to use some form of the word “atrocious” 15 times and from when we saw our first and third basemen trip over each other and onto the DL from there.
Maybe it gets even better. Maybe these five starters are the goods more than I’m believing. Maybe the bullpen is done blowing up. Maybe Murph becomes a master of one or more of his trades. Maybe Reyes is the object of no trades. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Or maybe not.
Beats the hell out of definitely not.