Sweeping the Phillies in Philadelphia sure is fun, isn’t it? Sweeping anybody anywhere is a fine half-week’s work, but taking it to this bunch — the portion of it presently standing, at any rate — in that place?
The Phillies aren’t quite what they’ve been in the era encompassing August 2007 and everything after. That, of course, is not our problem. Utley out? Howard out? Lee on a pitch count? The sound you hear in the distant southeastern sky, where the Mets charter has winged its way to its next date with potential destiny, is an orchestra comprised of our regular shortstop, our regular catcher, our regular left fielder and one-fifth of our starting rotation playing the world’s tiniest violins.
Boo-bleeping-hoo, in other well-chosen words. The schedule demands you show your depth. We showed Rob Johnson behind the plate, Vinny Rottino manning left, Scott Hairston around in right and second baseman Justin Turner playing short. We showed Ike Davis and the side of the barn he’d been toting around in perfectly pristine condition from not being able to hit it. Terry Collins presented to Ron Kulpa a lineup card as if it had been cobbled together on the bus trip to Clearwater.
We won anyway. We won despite Lee being Lee as long as he was medically permitted to be. We won despite a 4-2 deficit after six, not unlike how we won the night before despite trailing 4-1 after six and the night before that when we won after being down 2-0 through five.
The Mets are proving the season isn’t played by expectation or reputation. The Mets are proving themselves on the field of National League East play, sweeping three divisional rivals thus far, insinuating themselves a half-game from first place and at the head of the class for that perfectly viable if insultingly gimmicky second Wild Card berth. More proving remains ahead if this sublime sweep isn’t to be consigned to the broom closet of trivia (on the off chance the Mets wait another six years before they make like Dirt Devils at Citizens Bank Park). The 31-game season has been a smashing success, but those final 131 will count, too.
Maybe even a lot more.
But that’s OK. I love that the Mets approach every day — every inning, really — as another chance to prove they can play with anybody. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes they lose a doubleheader to the Giants or get swept themselves by Houston. Those unpleasant events occurred in the very same 31-game season we’re generally so giddy about, yet they haven’t defined it. Sweeps of the Braves and the Marlins and now the Phillies feel like a truer barometer of what the Mets have been and can be in 2012. Especially this Phillies series, probably a little because it was the Phillies, probably more because of all the coming from behind.
Wednesday night’s proof of the pudding, ladled out in the top of the seventh like a generous portion of Kozy Shack, took its place alongside the Nickeas-Valdespin Festival of the Unforeseen from Monday and the free skate portion of Tuesday’s competition, in which Pete Orr and Jimmy Rollins impressed judges with their daring interpretation of The Rundown. Let’s see, one minute it was 4-2, Phillies, the next minute, there was…
• One of those patented Met 97-pitch walks, this time worked by rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis appearing in a leadoff pinch-hitting role;
• Turner lining an apparent single to center that Shane Victorino’s Gold Glove judgment — which advised him to dive in front of the ball at such an angle so as to courteously ensure it a glide path to the expansive grass behind him — transformed into an RBI double, cutting the Phils’ lead to 4-3;
• Davis stroking a mighty fly to the base of the right field wall that fooled Hunter Pence a little and Turner a little more, providing Ike a desperately needed confidence-building double and Justin an absolutely unfathomable spot on third instead of a brisk trip across the plate;
• callup journeyman Johnson knowing enough not to swing at any of the four non-strikes Kyle Kendrick was dealing so he could load the bases;
• and Lucas Duda, another pinch-hitter, not getting out of the way even if he wanted to of yet another inaccurate Kendrick delivery, taking an RBI HBP in what Cole Hamels would laughably call the old-school way.
The Mets had just tied the game at four. It felt like they were ahead. They’d be in an instant, when incredibly valuable Andres Torres (sorry for kind of forgetting about you while you were out, amigo) made with the perfectly struck infield grounder to push the Mets ahead, 5-4. From there, it was a mix of competent relief pitching — envy it, crimson hordes — and cleverly tacked-on tallies (Ike and Andres each muscling up) en route to the 10-6 final.
It would be daft to declare I knew it was only a matter of time before the Mets broke through. While Lee was maintaining order, I was resigned to giving my team one of those reluctant dispensations a fan sometimes is forced to admit is due. You know, “well, they won the first two games in dramatic fashion and they’re up against a tough pitcher, and to go into that ballpark and just win the series is good enough — a sweep would have been asking an awful lot.” Reasonable, right?
Not to these Mets, baby.