- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Other People’s Problems

It wasn’t long ago that I was a fan of a franchise that never had a batting champion but was saddled with the Worst Collapse Ever. Neither is my problem anymore.

The Mets still Collapsed with a capital C [1] in 2007, but it was a stumble in the park compared to what we as a baseball-loving people have just witnessed from the Braves and the Red Sox. THUD! THUD! And the way they thudded! Jesus…and I don’t mean Alou.

The series of events that had to unfold to dislodge two surefire playoff teams from the postseason before they could ever get there was mind-boggling enough before the final night of the schedule. Then the boggled mind rocketed into the stratosphere. Braves blow lead in ninth, lose in thirteen to Phillies [2] after Cardinals rout Astros [3]. They were up by 8½ on September 6. They’re behind by 1 now.

How did this happen? Easy: the Mets beat the Braves twice down the stretch while they chose to beat the Cardinals only once. We determined this Wild Card race, obviously. And good for us, for while I hate the thought of the Cardinals, I detest the sight of the Braves. Something to do with repeated exposure and Fredi Gonzalez.

The National League change of fortunes was incredible, yet it rather paled by comparison to what happened in the American League, certainly on the final night. You knew the Red Sox were tumbling and you figured the Rays could take advantage, but still…

• A six-run eighth to pull the Rays from 0-7 to 6-7.
• A two-out homer from Dan Johnson in the ninth off whoever was pitching for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to tie it at seven.
• Jonathan Papelbon having Omir Santos flashbacks [4] in the ninth at Baltimore.
• Carl Crawford proving Carl Crawford money can’t necessarily buy you glove.
• Evan Longoria. The twelfth inning. The Red Sox out [5]. The Rays in [6].

Holy crap.

There’s probably some very good reason to credit the Rays and the Cardinals for their late elevation into the playoffs, but as in 2007, this doesn’t feel like it’s about those who rose up. It’s about those who fell down.

Glad somebody else fell farther and faster than we did. I wouldn’t even say it’s the usual Sheadenfreude making me giddy. It’s nothing personal against the Red Sox (up 9 on September 3), and it’s not even about traditional antipathy for Atlanta. I’m not happy it happened to those teams. I’m just glad it happened to somebody else.

As for that batting championship [7], congratulations to Jose Reyes, no matter how unideal the denouement of his chase turned. When he bunted his way on to lead off Closing Day and ramp his average up to .337, I jumped in the air and clapped. My feet weren’t yet on the ground of Section 108 and my palms hadn’t yet fully separated before I saw Justin Turner trotting to first from the dugout.

They’re taking him out? Is something wrong with him? He looked fine beating out the bunt. Why is Terry doing this? What’s his bleeping problem? He had talked about not playing him at all, and now you give him only one at-bat in what might be his last game ever as a Met?

Wednesday marked my 17th consecutive Closing Day (a.k.a. final regularly scheduled home game of the year), my 19th overall. I hold Closing Day sacred. I can miss Opening Day. I can’t miss Closing Day, not if I can help it. A year ago [8] I stuck it out into the fourteenth Oliver Perez-riddled inning and would have stuck it out fourteen more if necessary. I don’t understand how anybody comes to the last baseball game of the year and leaves early.

But honestly, after Reyes left the field, I wanted to follow him. If I was at the game alone, I would have left. As it was, I sank into a snit that lasted the second, the third and the fourth. I had to get up and walk away from my seat and imbibe a Blue Point Toasted Lager to calm me down.

Eventually I got over how weird it was that Jose would be pulled, even if it was in the service of the batting crown, which I desperately wanted for him (and for us). The night before, the fella I was with asked me if I could have only one choice between a Mets win and Jose taking the collar, or a Mets loss in which Jose goes 5-for-5, which would it be? After remarking how this seemed like the kind of decision fans of certain other teams probably don’t mull, I didn’t hesitate with my answer: Jose, 5-for-5, batting title. On Tuesday night I was en route to losing “my” fifth in a row at Citi Field, and all I cared about was that Jose homered twice and gathered up three hits altogether. I’d gladly sacrifice Wednesday, too, if it meant my favorite player could do something no Met had ever done.

Calculations were made and Jose was removed. The calculations, however, didn’t seem to take into account that this was potentially Jose’s last game as a Met, and that the maybe 15,000 in the house were there primarily to see him. One of those joining me Wednesday had to arrive late. The last time Jose Reyes batted (whether in 2011 or forever in our colors), he had to watch it on the radio.

Then, after Mike Baxter made his childhood dreams come true by homering halfway to Whitestone and Miguel Batista turned back time with a two-hitter [9], word spread that it wasn’t Collins’s idea to take out Reyes. It was Reyes’s idea [10]to take out Reyes, though Collins signed off on it.

It was growing weirder, even as it was kind of understandable. That .337 wasn’t all crafted in one day, so why endanger a lead that probably would have been larger had Jose’s hamstrings not barked twice in midseason? Plus, baseball lore is chock full of these kinds of machinations [11]. These aren’t accumulative numbers; they’re averages. You play the percentages, assuming you have no compelling reason to play nine innings.

Did Jose? Depends on your priorities, I suppose. I suppose if your goal was to watch Jose bat as often as possible before he might not bat for you again — and why wouldn’t you want to see Jose bat again and again? — you feel somewhat betrayed. I suppose if your goal was the batting title, you could get with the math and say (as some businessman type who noticed my REYES 7 shirt at Jamaica did), “Smart.” Hike your average, make it challenging on Braun, play that percentage. Or you could still strive for that crown but want it to land on Jose’s head in a more sportsmanlike fashion. “Did I ever tell you the story of how in Two Thousand And Aught Eleven Jose Reyes insisted he be deducted three points from his batting average so as to give the rest of the league a fair chance to catch him? And then he played twenty innings even though the game wasn’t tied!”

Ultimately, these are the Mets, and few are their clear-cut triumphs. Three years earlier [12] to the day, they couldn’t kiss their stadium goodbye cleanly because they had to miss the playoffs just before the farewell. Five years ago [13] next month, they couldn’t fully enjoy arguably the greatest defensive play in their history because they had to be ousted from the playoffs shortly after that play was made. In some other year, something else went well, but it wasn’t unsullied because something else went awry. It just bleeping happens that way for us. This time it was Jose’s turn to not do everything right…except hit for a higher batting average than anybody else over the course of an entire National League season.

Which he did. If somebody wants to find a reason to not enjoy that, I welcome that person to his or her problem with it.

I’m inclined to let Jose off the hook (and won’t he be relieved?) because he’s Jose; and because he emerged from the Met dugout a good ten minutes after the game was won to greet the many who congregated behind it to wish him well; and because he partially gets how much the fans love him, even if maybe somebody should have told him the fans didn’t want him only to wave at them but to play for them. Above all — even above that batting crown — was the chill I felt watching him being replaced by a pinch-runner. That was a signature scene too often these past few seasons: Jose busts it down the line, Jose grabs something, Jose has to come out, we wait and wait for Jose to heal so we can watch him bust it down the line with no encumbrance.

It’s horrible enough when that sort of thing happens organically. Why court the image?

For now, Jose earns a line in the record books, and I’m happy. I’m happy I got to see him for nine seasons [14]. I’m happy I got to see his bunt single Wednesday. And I’m happy that Blue Point drank some sense into me and I stayed for the remainder of Closing Day. I’m happy I got to spend precious innings with a few good friends and happy I ran into several more over the course and the aftermath of the finale. Who would go to see the 77-85, fourth-place Mets take their last gasps as a bedraggled unit? Me and seemingly everybody I know.

I love that. I love this, the part where I get to write about the game I just attended. I will miss it all before long. I always do. I missed it when Shea shuttered annually for what we baseball fans prematurely call winter and I miss it now that Citi Field is our ballpark-in-residence. I wound up inside its overly precious walls on 29 separate occasions in 2011. I had, at the very least, a good time on 29 separate occasions, despite the wan 13-16 record the Mets gave me for my troubles. It took three seasons, but I’m at peace with Citi Field. It’s where the Mets play. It’s where I seemed to go more than anywhere else I technically didn’t have to be this spring, summer and early fall. It’s where I spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It used to be I’d go the final home game of the year. Now I take in the entire last series. I guess I’m chronic where the Mets are concerned.

To my enablers and friends who made those 29 occasions never worse than not bad, I thank you from a place much higher than fourth. To all who read this blog and occasionally seek us out to tell us what it means to you, I thank you, too. To my fellow Mets fans, with whom I anticipate sharing the otherwise barren months ahead in this space, I am moved to invoke the words of lyricist Phyllis Molinary [15]:

May all your storms be weathered.
And all that’s good get better.

One of those with whom I parted ways on Closing Day reassured me that it will be April soon enough. I sure hope so. After all, it became September awfully quick.