You’d have to be made of iron, or perhaps impaired by Iron City, to not feel absolutely overjoyed for Pittsburgh Pirates fans this morning. You know the figures. They’ve been drummed into you ever since they coalesced into a thing: not in the playoffs since 1992; not even a winning record since 1992; not much of anything since 1992.
Check your since-ing at the door (or darrgh!). The Pirates are in the now again. They’re now in the postseason, having had their ticket validated at Wrigley Field Monday night. Heartiest congratulations to those who’ve rooted unrelentingly for a team without receiving any kind of tangible reward for more than two decades. My short-term hope is that Pittsburgh somehow supercedes Cincinnati for home field in the Wild Card game if they can’t win the N.L. Central outright. This Buccaneer breakthrough won’t be nearly as sweet without PNC Park sparkling for, at minimum, one high holy night of nationally viewed baseball.
Not exactly helping to reserve a glimmering October evening along the banks of the Allegheny were the Mets, who spent Monday night 250-some miles west of Pittsburgh, where the mighty Ohio flows practically up to right field. In Cincy, the Mets — conscientious objectors to playoff participation since 2006 — succumbed to the Reds in ten innings, 3-2. The score and the length imply a competitive contest, which I suppose it was. Mostly the Reds found creative ways to not score (15 LOB) before ensuring their own postseason berth in extras, while the Mets dutifully marked time just long enough for their manager to be dissonantly self-congratulatory about it afterwards.
“I’ll tell you one thing you can’t ever say, and that is we don’t play hard. We come out and we play nine innings or ten innings or twelve innings or twenty innings, and we play hard. They care. The guys do the best they can.”
Remember Jerry Manuel’s occasionally infuriating cackles as he tried to explain away losses? Those weird little laughs tended to be taken as a manager finding something funny about his team suffering a defeat. I generally saw them as a nervous tic, a flummoxed skipper’s way of throwing up his hands and rhetorically asking, in essence, whaddayagonnado? I don’t miss it, or Manuel, but Terry Collins’s mantra of how hard his Mets played, how they don’t give up no matter how many innings it takes and how we ought to remember the guys on the other side are good major league players, too, is just as infuriating to listen to after a loss. He repeats these lines constantly as if the Mets are to be commended for not jogging into the dugout and forfeiting by 7:30 (though that would leave more time for wacky wedding picture planning, the one category in which the Mets seem to be blowing away the competition).
The Mets tried to beat a better team Monday night. They couldn’t. They loomed as a spoiler, but wound up serving as a freshener for the Reds’ autumnal intentions. But, no, they didn’t abandon the field in the process. I will not add, “good for them,” as their manager reflexively does, even if it’s probably just his version of the Manuel cackle. Whaddayagonnado? Sandy Alderson is gonna retain Terry Collins for 2014. Here’s hoping a decent guy who’s been a decent manager is granted better material with which to work and we get to hear him elaborate engagingly on how the Mets just won yet another ballgame. Or he can be boring as all get-out in victory. To paraphrase Al Davis, just win already yet, baby.
“We haven’t won and that’s always an issue,” Alderson added to an otherwise glowing non-confirmation of Collins’s return. I’d say it’s a glaring one, along with the Mets’ pre-existing condition when Sandy and Terry arrived three years ago to ever-so-slowly turn this hulking vessel of dismay around. Given the Minayan and Wilponian circumstances under which Alderson and Collins took their respective reins, patience and understanding are reasonable requests to make of a fan base that is only one-third as starved for tangible reward as the Pirates’ was until Monday night. I didn’t expect results in 2011 or 2012 or 2013, thus I haven’t been terribly disappointed when they’ve failed to materialize.
Still, I could do without the outward organizational satisfaction that things are going along swimmingly because everybody’s giving it their best. Their best adds up currently to a 71-85 record, which fits snugly with the preceding seasons’ 77-85 and 74-88. It may not be Terry’s fault. It may not be Sandy’s fault. It may turn out to be well-disguised progress when we are able to view these days with the benefit of hindsight. In the interim, however, I’d ask the fellas to please tone down the “we played hard” stuff, at least until MLB adds a Good-Natured Effort column to the official standings.