The Mets would be better off continuing to lose — if they finish in the bottom third of teams record-wise, they can sign a free agent who’s received a qualifying offer without surrendering their first-round draft pick. (This is, of course, assuming the team will sign decent free agents this winter, which I’ll believe when I see somebody awkwardly button a jersey over a dress shirt.) Right now the Mets are in a three-way tie for the ninth-worst record with the Phillies and the Blue Jays, with the Padres and Giants within a game futility-wise. It’s gonna be close. We should be hoping for a string of Ls.
No, really — strip away the caveats about ownership and draft picks working out and everything else, and it’s simple: If we stay bad, we can spend money and still keep a high-value draft pick. That will do far more for the long-term interests of the ballclub and our sanity than the rosy afterglow of winning 75 games instead of 73.
I kept reminding myself of this during the afternoon, but it didn’t matter. Because there were the Phillies, before a packed house on their final home date of the year, and there we were poised to sweep them, take the season series by a skimpy 10-9 and move into a tie for third place. I wanted the Mets to win, and I wanted it badly.
The thing is, I’ve never really disliked the Phillies that much. This is mostly because I grew up being tortured by Yankees fans instead of Phillies rooters. (See this post before the World Series From Hell, still our recordholder for comments.) It’s also that for most of my life as a Mets fan, the Phils didn’t matter — as a team they could be relied upon to tune out their manager and fold every summer, and their stadium was hideous but accessible provided you didn’t rile up the surlier denizens, the ones for whom an on-site jail had been built. There wasn’t much point to wasting hate on the Phillies, because they were never really in our way — if we were good they were bad and vice versa.
Things changed with the coming of Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels and Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, and the change has been good — franchises a mere 100 miles apart should feel more for each other than a vague shrugging dislike. But I’m still getting used to it, just as the Phils are facing another long stretch of irrelevance. This is a rusted and broken team, locked into crummy long-term contracts — in 2015 the Phils will owe $25 million to Cliff Lee, $25 million to Ryan Howard, $23.5 million to Hamels and $13 million to Jonathan Papelbon. The Mets may be cash-strapped, but they should volunteer to pay Ruben Amaro Jr.’s salary as Phils GM for life.
Anyway, it was sweet denying Lee the win and denying those Phils fans a last hurrah. It was fun watching Carlos Torres battle his way past Rollins and Utley and Chooch Ruiz and other guys whom I haven’t managed to classify as Phillies quite yet. (Where did Roger Bernadina come from?) It was great watching Juan Lagares continue to hit, and give us some hope that the Great Outfield Puzzle might be solvable after all. It was heartening watching Anthony Recker soldier on with a season that’s quietly gone from a debacle to not really so bad. And best of all, it was a blast seeing Wilfredo Tovar — the first No. 70 in Mets history — collecting his first big-league hit with a liner over short that scored two runs, giving the Mets the lead back for keeps. (Though boo to SNY for missing the ritual of the precious ball being tracked down and removed for safekeeping — they apparently covered it entirely with replays.) Tovar would follow with another hit, steal a base, and he looks better than you’d expect when crammed into a little black dress.
Was that all worth a draft pick? In the chill of January I’m sure the answer will be no. But it’s not January — not quite yet. It’s still September, and winning was wonderful.
I’m off to California for a week — see you for Piazza Day. Will leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Prince. May all your recaps be happy … and if not, think of the draft pick.