More than a few media outlets have let it be known they don’t plan to refer to Washington’s football team as “the Redskins” this fall. And in an unrelated development, it’s highly unlikely that the name “the Washington Nationals” will be mentioned in many baseball stories come October.
Let us enjoy this brief period of tangible Metropolitan achievement wherein we are helping to render the Nationals irrelevant to postseason coverage. Perhaps it’s more an anti-achievement. It’s whatever you want to call the Mets planting themselves between a nominal contender and its long-shot hopes of advancement. The traditional phrase is “spoiler,” though it may be a tad too early to anoint a couple of wins over Washington as devastating to National playoff aspirations, considering a) four weeks remain of this regular season and b) the heretofore hot-as-heck Nats were still pretty far off the pace as our boys arrived in D.C.
You want to know what spoiling looks like? Spoiling is what the 2007 Nationals did to the 2007 Mets in the last week of that besotted September. We get historically hung up on the Marlins and Game 162, but who could overlook Games 156, 157 and 158 when Manny Acta’s Los Natos showed up at Shea and swept the Mets by respective scores of 13-4, 10-9 and 9-6? A division lead of 2½ games with one week to go was reduced to a single length over three increasingly dark nights of the soul.
Now that’s some spoilin’. And though only Ryan Zimmerman remains among the opposition from that series, it did my grudge-bearing heart good to think Nationals fans were processing the Mets’ easy handling of their allegedly outstanding club Saturday with the same sense of disbelief we evinced a half-dozen years ago when their club was undoing our best-laid plans.
In other words, eat it Wily Mo Peña, wherever you are.
The Nationals aren’t dead yet, I suppose, but they ought to be discouraged. To put it in Met terms, they’re having themselves a 1987 kind of 2013. Two steps up, one step back and then another step back. All that talent generating what seems like solid momentum…and then some subpar team playing out its silly string reminds them they really should’ve won more games between April and two weeks ago. The Nationals were supposed to run away with the Eastern Division or at least stand their ground against the Braves. At the moment, the Mets are closer to catching the Nationals than the Nationals are to reaching the Wild Card.
Poor Nationals. Their pitchers allowed the Metsies 17 hits, every one them recorded using the bow from the world’s tiniest violin.
Gosh, I’m enjoying the Mets’ consecutive conquests of the Nationals all out of proportion to our traditional rivalry with them — which last I checked was essentially nonexistent. It probably still is. I think I was stirred to a resentful froth by my friend and perpetually reluctant Washington-area resident Jeff’s pregame report from Nationals Park Friday night. He told me that during BP their version of DiamondVision was airing the MLB Network and that one of MLBN’s talking heads referred to the Nationals having an “easy schedule,” one that explicitly included those powderpuff pushovers the Marlins, the Phillies and, yes, the Mets.
“The Mets were playing catch,” Jeff related, “but some turned around and looked at the board.”
They woke the sleeping giant! Or the groggy Lilliputians! Or the Mets just happen to be firing on most cylinders while the highest-profile National keeps running his team out of innings and into the ground. Friday night Bryce Harper couldn’t be bothered to run out a grounder Daniel Murphy bobbled and it cost them their best chance to tie. Saturday night Harper was either attempting to compensate or just being cocky when he opted to try to take third on right fielder Juan Lagares. Perhaps Harper guessed Lagares isn’t as good in the corner as he is in center. Perhaps Harper doesn’t waste his time on scouting reports. It was a meaningless play, given that the Mets led by about a million runs when young Bryce decided his leadoff double wasn’t sufficient, but oh how satisfying it was to watch him flick off his helmet, turn up his afterburners and be thrown out rather easily, 9-4-5.
Davey Johnson didn’t see Harper’s basepath negligence on Friday, having taken to his office with lightheadedness. Back in the managerial saddle Saturday, he had to watch his nascent superstar make the first out at third base, the sin of McCarver sins, not to mention Dan Haren surrender seven runs in less than three innings. Reflecting on the 11-3 pummeling the first franchise he managed had administered to the last team he’ll manage, he quarter-kidded, “That one put me back in the hospital.”
Davey should live and be well when he hangs them up at season’s end. Too bad for him he’s on course to go out with another 1987.
Not too bad for the Nats. Cue those tiny violins one more time!
The only thing unlovely among the exploits of Lagares, Murphy, Satin, Quintanilla, d’Arnaud, den Dekker, Young and, most thrillingly, Wheeler, was the apparent loss of Ike Davis for the rest of 2013 and perhaps all Met time. Ike strained an oblique as he drove in his 33rd run of the season on August 31. “I was eating some seeds on the bench and I coughed and it felt like someone stabbed me, so I don’t think that’s a good sign,” he recounted, painting a scenario that sounds straight out of 1962.
Ike should live and be well, too. Where he hopefully lives and is well is up for speculation. Davis was barely done clutching his side and coughing on his seeds when all of Metsopotamia wondered aloud if this was his last game as a Met. Wish-fulfillment in action? Our erstwhile First Baseman For The Next Ten Years has surely been playing his best ball of the season, yet it’s added up at this late date to 33 RBIs, a .205 batting average and a .660 OPS. Because he’s a nice person, we’ll miss Ike in September definitely and — pending the non-tendering that could be in his future — forever after. Because every time he attempts to turn a corner he falls down a manhole…hey, Ike, live and be well!
Replacing him in the interim will be mostly Lucas Duda, speaking of perfectly swell fellas who’ve done next to nothing in 2013, and partially Josh Satin, who hits a whole bunch when he plays enough, even if he’s not much with a glove and couldn’t beat Bryce Harper in a foot race if Bryce Harper spent the entire foot race sitting in the dugout pouting. Wilmer Flores might be a logical candidate to try at first, but Terry Collins is rarely a proponent of logic and has thus ruled out Wilmer at first for the time being. Then again, the Mets generally say one thing and do ten others when it comes to their ever-revolving personnel door, so maybe we will see Flores play first base. Or Satin. Or Duda. Or somebody else altogether in 2014 who’s not Davis. Or we will see Davis.
Idle thought on which to chew until ESPN2’s starry, starry start time of 8:05 PM on what is essentially summer’s final Sunday: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a power-hitting first baseman in his prime and stop stitching together carpet remnants? As uplifting as crimping the style of a division rival with something on the line is when there’s nothing much else for us out there, it would be so much better to have something truly tangible on the line for ourselves.