In lost seasons — a subject about which we’re now experts — this is the toughest time. The dreams of contention are gone, and you’ve worked through the disbelief and the anger and come round to acceptance. Yet nobody’s moved on yet. The veterans who have shown themselves to be past their shelf life are still stumbling around out there, with the September call-ups yet to arrive and give you the distraction of hopeful maybes. Players who have had good years are trying to cement favorable impressions, while those who have had bad ones are waxing philosophical or insisting they’ve just found a hitch in their swing/shifted on the rubber/discovered a new regimen. Either way, minds are mostly made up. The exceptions are those few players in the middle, the ones whose seasons aren’t defined yet. (Take Ike Davis and his weird, weird year.) They’re the most frantic ones, hoping to claw success from the last few weeks. Elsewhere there are statistical goals to reach, most obviously 20 wins for R.A. Dickey, but mostly everybody’s getting ready to go home and we’re getting ready to let them.
It’s practically a Faith and Fear cliche for me to insist that in such days baseball does still have its pleasures — most notably that, hey, it’s baseball. Which is true, but can sound awfully hollow. The Mets got beat 16-1 and everybody booed and the place was empty but the ushers still enforced ticky-tack rules and Jason Bay struck out nine times and Lucas Duda fell down in the outfield and Ramon Ramirez gave up eight earned in a third of an inning and there was no 7 Super Express but hey, it’s baseball. See what I mean?
But then tonight was actually fun. One of the joys of this season turned sour has been the Mets giving the Phillies hell. We spanked them in April, swept them in May, and gave their crabby, violence-prone rooters ample evidence that their reign was over. The Phils have admitted as much, sending Shane Victorino this-a-way and Joe Blanton that-a-way (actually the same way, but hush) and playing out the string with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard returned from injuries and surrounded by fill-ins. They’re a third-place club, and we might still have something to say about that. Finishing third isn’t any great shakes, but finishing third in front of the Phils and Marlins really would make me happy.
The Mets certainly did their part tonight, coming back from a 4-1 deficit that saw poor Chris Young down a quartet of runs before he ever recorded an out. Young hung in there, and the Mets clawed back, raising the specter of some crazy 11-10 barn-burner that would be decided in extra innings. As it turned out the game did go extra innings, but not in that fashion: The Mets tied it on a two-run homer by Mike Baxter, evened things up on a David Wright sacrifice fly, lost the lead again on an Utley blast, then used a succession of effective relievers (???!!!) to hold the fort until they could draw even again on a Kelly Shoppach double that Domonic Brown played like a guy walking into a DMV. Then, in the top of the 10th, they ambushed the large, luckless B.J. Rosenberg, with Ike doubling in David, Lucas Duda driving Ike home despite Tim Teufel’s stop sign, and Shoppach paying tribute to the late Neil Armstrong with a blast halfway to the Sea of Tranquility. Mets 9, Phillies 5, thanks to their slugging catcher and effective relievers — the kind of statement that would have got you hauled to Bellevue for most of the 2012 season, but was true tonight. Crazy or not, didn’t it feel a whole lot better than that whole mess at home against the Rockies?
It’s not much — the Mets are 60-69, and a .500 season would be quite an accomplishment. But we’re resilient folk. Knock us down with a post-All-Star death spiral and after a little winning streak you catch us looking around and talking about how much fun it was. Because hey, it’s baseball.