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Contemptible Familiarity

The last National League East team to advance in a postseason was the Philadelphia Phillies of 2010, who swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, the series that opened with Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter. The Phillies seemed on track to make their third consecutive World Series, but would be stopped cold by the San Francisco Giants.

In 2011, the Phillies lost their first-round set in a dramatic fifth game to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, the Atlanta Braves were bounced by the Cardinals in the new Wild Card game, after which St. Louis eliminated the Washington Nationals in a shocking NLDS finale. In 2013, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who did in the Braves in the opening round. Come 2014, the Nationals went down again in the LDS, this time to the Giants [1].

Of the last six instances in which an N.L. East team has appeared in the postseason, five were ended by either the Cardinals or the Giants. Thus, for their recurring roles as executioners of our most constant tormentors — recent Phillie, Brave and National regular-season success having been built in large part by stepping on the backs of the New York Mets — I thereby encourage a hearty round of congratulations to the teams from St. Louis and San Francisco for advancing to the 2014 National League Championship Series.

Huzzah!

Well, not so much “huzzah” for the Cardinals as “yeech” (residual thanks for those other years a little, but thanks for nothing vis-à-vis L.A. [2]), but in the scheme of not them again, it’s hard to cleanly pick a side. We spend 162 games with our ire focused most frequently against division rivals. By the time they’ve outlasted us into October, we’ve likely burnished our resentment toward them to a high shine. Once they are ousted, even if it’s through none of our team’s doing, we revel in the Sheadenfreude of it. Eff you, Phillies/Braves/Nationals. You stomped on us all year. How do you like being on the other end of the stomp?

We could look at it differently. We could send our divisional representatives into postseason battle with our best wishes, urging them to do us proud, for now we rally around our flag, all for one, one for all…but we don’t. I tried it once or twice myself. In 1983, when the N.L. East champs were the Phillies, a team that had finished ahead of us for ten consecutive seasons, I consciously went this route. I loathed those Phillies, but was down on the Dodgers and felt no particular affinity for the Orioles, so I got behind “our” champions. The Wheeze Kids, as they were known (featuring Rose, Morgan and Perez in their dotage), lost the World Series in five. I tried to feel bad about it.

The next year I threw my provisional support to the Cubs in the same N.L. East vein even though the 1984 Cubs (and Met inexperience) had torpedoed the latter portion of what had been an Amazin’ summer. The whole country was swept up in “Cubbie Love,” as one newspaper I read called it. Maybe I was trying to hitch a pinky to that bandwagon; maybe I liked the idea that if the Cubs kept going, announcers would have to mention how they had to pass the up-and-coming Mets to win their division.

My attempt to engage in Cubbie Love was short-lived. Once the Cubs began blowing their two-oh lead in their best of five NLCS versus the Padres, I could feel a smile develop. Once the Cubs totally blew it and missed what was supposed to be their first World Series date since 1945, I could hear laughter emanating from deep within my Cub-hating soul. HAW-HAW!

By 1985, I reverted to resentful form and rooted against the then-division rival Cardinals after they nosed out the Mets. That’s more or less the tack I’ve taken ever since. There’ve been exceptions over the years. I generally liked the early-’70s Pirates; badly wanted the 1981 Expos to succeed in their split-season shot; was caught up in the Dykstra Phillies of 1993; got sucked into the absurdity of the Marlins in their two October appearances; and was genuinely curious to see how far this Nationals thing could run two years ago. I reserve the right to season my Metless postseason to taste, usually with little forethought. I don’t choose a team to root for when the Mets aren’t around — a team chooses me.

I’m not sure one has yet. In the American League, how do you choose between two fresh faces like those of the Royals and the Orioles? They are, in terms of the current era, new and novel. It was exciting to see them vanquish the Angels and Tigers, respectively, and I have nothing against the Angels and Tigers. They were just more familiar was all. We’d seen more of them in recent memory than we had K.C. and Baltimore. Naturally, I wanted to see more of K.C. and Baltimore.

On the other hand, who wants to see more of the Cardinals and Giants? Except for Cardinals and Giants fans, I mean? Those of us who are unaligned are entitled to think the TV listings are wrong to post “NEW” alongside the program descriptions for the upcoming NLCS, for surely SFG at STL is a repeat telecast. Plus, the Cardinals and Mets have enough history between them to make St. Louis legitimate anathema. The Giants? The Giants took six of seven from the Mets in 2014. That’s enough to make any Mets fan pause before rushing over to LinkedIn and enthusiastically endorsing San Francisco for its “Postseason Success” skill.

You can have it all ways if you wish — free country — but I’m going to come down on the side of the enemy of my enemy is…well, they’re all our enemies in the National League. Our closer enemies are the ones who play in nearest proximity to us. I don’t love the Giants when we cross paths because I don’t like anybody when we cross paths, but the Giants took out the dad-blasted Washington Nationals in four games. The same dad-blasted Washington Nationals who won approximately 483 of 19 games against the Mets this season, including 6,000 of 6,000 at Citi Field. I appreciate the Giants doing that so much I can’t get on board with the Giant half of the prevailing “not the Giants and Cardinals again” meme. I thank the Giants in 2014 for taking out the Nats as I thanked the Giants in 2010 for removing the Phillies.

What’s that? The Giants have won enough lately? It’s not their fault they’re biennially consistent. We should be plagued by such consistency. Besides, if it isn’t the Giants in the N.L., it’s the Cardinals. We don’t want that. I was going to add, “…do we?” but I doubt that’s necessary.