“Never once in his eight seasons of cheering for the Mets has he felt so good. For the first time, he doesn’t miss Willie Mays quite so much.”
—Regarding Joseph Ignac, The Year The Mets Lost Last Place, July 8, 1969
You couldn’t miss the chip on Megan Draper’s scantily clad shoulder as she briefly took her marital frustrations out on her penthouse apartment’s unclean white carpet. “You don’t get to have this,” she snarled at her husband, referring to neither her cleaning supplies nor the carpet. “Go sit over there. All you get to do is watch.”
What Don Draper heard in the premiere episode of Mad Men’s fifth season must be what the San Francisco Giants felt Wednesday as they ogled at someone young, attractive and, for the balance of their regret-tinged afternoon, incredibly hot.
Of course the Giants once had Zack Wheeler, but they relegated themselves to you can look, but you can’t touch territory when they shipped the talent-laden lad, then all of 21, to the Mets in exchange for two months of Carlos Beltran. The Jints had won a World Series the year before and they’d win a World Series the year after, but neither had anything to do with Carlos’s 2011 contributions. Beltran’s gone from San Francisco. Wheeler’s ensconced in New York. The Mets own a better record than the Giants as we speak. The Mets seem to own better starting pitching at the moment. Shoot, the Mets may even have a better starting outfield than the defending world champions.
These are giddy days for small sample sizes, though in the interest of full disclosure, the sample sizes have continued to grow bit by bit. After sweeping San Fran, the Mets are 40-48, but it’s a robust 40-48. Since June 16, they’re 16-9. Since May 27, they’re 23-19. Both marks are the best in the National League East during those spans. For the entirety of 2013, even including their miserable 17-29 start and the lapse that dumped them to 24-39, the Mets have tiptoed into sixth place among Wild Card pretenders. This doesn’t really mean anything in that they’re 9½ behind the Reds for said second postseason slot, but y’know, it wasn’t long ago that the Mets had only the Marlins behind them in the National League. Now they’re better than five whole teams.
Only a deranged soul would read a ton into any of this, but it sure beats being worse than the Cubs, Padres, Brewers, Giants and Marlins. Being one game behind the Phillies in the loss column is of no particular competitive consequence, but it’s undeniably better than a multiple-defeat deficit (and the Mets wish to apologize to Philadelphia for having absentmindedly scheduled Good and Decent People Night for when the Phillies visit Citi Field this month and certainly hope no offense is taken from the obvious snafu). Receiving far better than replacement-level production out of everyday right fielder Marlon Byrd…well, he might wind up being no more than quasi-Beltranian trade bait should this Amazin’ ride run off its rails sooner than later, but let’s just say that where right field is concerned, for the first time in my last several seasons of cheering for the Mets, I don’t miss Carlos Beltran so much.
You know what might really mean something, though? Zack Wheeler, when paired with Matt Harvey; and Harvey, Wheeler and a few other live arms currently in development someday consistently frustrating opposing lineups. That’s day’s not here yet. Wheeler may not be all the way here yet. Zack’s had five starts. The one versus San Francisco — a single run surrendered over seven dominant innings — was easily the best of them to date. It’s a template for what he’s supposed to be. It’s what you theoretically get for giving up Carlos Beltran when you know your star right fielder’s not returning. It’s a marker, if nothing more, in 2013, but it’s also a glimpse for what the future might involve, provided the sample sizes expand and the outbreaks of giddiness turn epidemic.
In the meantime, we get to sit over here and watch. Considering what we’ve been subjected to as Mets fans in this decade, that, not unlike Beltran for Wheeler, looms as potentially not such a bad deal.