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As the Curtain Closes

For a from-the-seats perspective on Closing Day, I’ll bow to my partner, who was actually there [1].

I saw it on SNY, and like a lot of you wound up with emotional whiplash: My euphoria at Jose Reyes’s hit was followed in uncomfortably short order by bafflement that his day was done practically before it began, which curdled into fury. Those at the ballpark booed in confusion and then fell silent — for the next inning or two it sounded like the stadium had been evacuated. On TV, Gary and Keith and Ron were dumbfounded — struggling, for possibly the first time ever, to get their bearings. I vented my anger with a mildly embarrassing though undeniably cathartic Twitter meltdown.

Having tired myself out, my first thought was to get some work done and listen to the rest of the game on WFAN — with Reyes gone, Closing Day was devoid of interest to me. (At the end of a long season, even I have trouble working up much enthusiasm for watching Josh Satin try and solve Edinson Volquez.) But then I remembered that a) WFAN would soon have Mike Francesa in its booth; and b) in two more hours I’d be staring down the barrel of six months without the Mets. So I stuck around, and was grateful that I had. Mike Baxter hit his first home run for the hometown fans, Miguel Batista was terrific in what might have been his final big-league appearance, and baseball is a pleasure, period — on further review, watching Josh Satin try and solve Edinson Volquez is pretty cool. The Mets won, tossed their caps and we were done.

Regarding L’Affair Reyes, my anger was misplaced. As it turns out, Reyes had wanted to protect his lead in the batting race and make his final day a cameo, and Terry Collins was accommodating him — in his emotional postgame presser, Collins seemed to basically admit that it wasn’t the way he would have preferred to handle it, but he had been backing a request from one of his veteran stars.

Honestly, I have no particular gripe about Reyes protecting his lead. I know, I know, rather than sit on a .400 average, Ted Williams played both games of a doubleheader to close out the 1941 season, a feat that unfortunately came 70 years to the day before Jose’s cameo. But while that’s an ideal for how we’d like athletes to compete, the episode lives on in baseball lore because it’s exceptional — it was baseball practice even back then to sit on statistical leads, and leaders from Willie Wilson to Bernie Williams have not played or abbreviated closing days since then. (Shock your Yankee friends: Yes, Sainted Yankee Joe Torre aided and abetted such behavior before his current noble service as Bud Selig’s chief hat inspector [2].)¬†Reyes is so much fun to watch [3] on a baseball diamond that we imagine him playing the game on off-days, at night and possibly while he sleeps, but that isn’t true. It’s his vocation, and a long season of daily grinds, injuries and contract chatter had undoubtedly worn him down far more than we would guess.

I’ll put this one, reluctantly, on Terry. Looking ahead to next year, he needs to work on the pageantry of player exits. The shame of Reyes’s departure was that the Citi Field faithful got no chance to give him a proper farewell, a problem compounded by the fact that many of them were there primarily for that reason. Terry should have acceded to Jose’s wishes and given the fans the moment they craved by having Jose run the bases, take his position for the top of the second, and then sending Justin Turner in to replace him. The fans would have had time to realize what was happening and cheered Reyes off the field.¬†With the exception of his fetish for bunting, Terry’s done most everything right, so there’s no reason to make this A Thing. I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did, and the absence of Jose (hopefully for 18 weeks and not forever) and more Mets games to play dictates that we’re moving on, whether we like it or not.

We never really go dark around here, so there will be time to assess the 2011 Mets, and how they may shape the 2012 club. I head into the off-season quietly hopeful — yes, the Mets won two fewer games than the final team commanded by Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, but I still feel strongly that this group was better constructed and better led. (Honestly, two games is significant if it means the difference between the postseason or going home, but not so much in the dregs of the second division.)

Collins had to contend with a horrific run of injuries that rivaled what befell the 2009 team, and kept his charges focused and competitive far longer than I thought was possible. He arrived with a reputation as a Napoleon type who would burn his players out, but seemed to have outgrown whatever mistakes he made back in his Angel days. His guys played hard for him, and seemed to like and respect him.

A number of players — most of them, in fairness, brought in by Minaya — improved significantly this year, going from maybes to credible parts [4] of a much better team. Most guys Ruben Tejada’s age are Brooklyn Cyclones, but Tejada seems poised to become the spiritual successor to my beloved Edgardo Alfonzo. Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Manny Acosta all made strides. Ike Davis was having a promising sophomore season before being felled by an out-of-the-blue injury, while Daniel Murphy had a breakout campaign. Josh Thole had a curious year that might prove a learning experience. Statistics suggest Angel Pagan’s poor campaign was largely a product of bad luck. Stats all but shouted that the same was true for R.A. Dickey. And Johan Santana will be back.

Sandy Alderson was far better in choosing complementary players: Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, Scott Hairston and Willie Harris all had pretty good years. Sandy spared us final obligatory seasons from Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez, got free of Frankie Rodriguez’s horrid vesting option, brought back some value for Carlos Beltran, and yet opted to hold on to Reyes, which might prove short-sighted from a cold baseball perspective but I think was the right move for our sensibilities. It’s not a good thing if your best potential ticket buyers are jumping off New York City bridges; that might have happened if we’d been shorn of Jose along with everyone else.

The fences are coming in, which I think could help Jason Bay and David Wright more than we might realize. And it looks as if the Wilpons won’t be put out of business [5] by the Madoff scandal — while predicting such things is a fool’s business, it’s possible they’ll have to pay out somewhere around $80 million, which while a nasty check to write is a lot better than the alternative. (It’s also in line with what the Mets are expected to lose in 2011, meaning it can be fit into the framework of normal business.) If you’re disappointed because you wanted them to sell the team, I hear you. But look at it this way: The real enemy for 2012 and 2013 is uncertainty, and there’s a chance the next couple of months will end it. Or, to break it down another way, the chances of re-signing Reyes might now be a lot better. Perhaps we’ll get to give him the standing O that went missing yesterday against the Reds on April 5 against the Braves.

With winter upon us, that’s a comforting thought.