- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Our Team. Our Time.

Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this eighth of ten installments, we swing by a year that we hope the current season evokes comparisons to real soon.

They edged Washington to start their season. They lost in irritating fashion the next night. They finished off their opening series by sticking it but good to those pesky Nats.

Welcome to 2015, which has kicked off exactly as 2006 did, if you take your parameters narrow (and if it helps, know that the Mets finish this year against the Nationals, which they also did in 2006). More to the point of this particular stroll down Has It Really Been Ten Years? Avenue, though, is that the above paragraph also describes the first three games of 2006, the best season to date of the Faith and Fear Era.

I polled 30 Mets fans and bloggers — all of them me — and asked them to vote on which season was the most fun to root during and the most fun to write during. It was almost unanimous. 2006 received 29 of 30 first-place votes. The only dissenting ballot listed 2005 on top.

As you can imagine, a talk radio and social media uproar ensued that there was even a single outlier. “He should have his vote taken away!” “What kind of joke is that?” “Doesn’t he know how to count?” “He probably thinks RBIs are important, too!” I contacted the me who voted for 2005 and he explained his reasoning:

“I understand and appreciate that 2006 was a more successful Mets season, but taking into account the sense of discovery inherent in diving into near-daily blogging as well as the emergence of certain personalities and storylines that fueled the Mets’ rise into the ranks of Wild Card contenders…well, there’s something about 2005 that will always be near and dear to me [1]. Plus I knew 2006 would win in a walkover, so I didn’t mind throwing a little sentimental support to a year that gets overlooked as a matter of course.”

The GPWAA has been asked to begin proceedings that would strip that version of me of my vote. But I wouldn’t expect any punitive action. We’re all entitled to our opinions — even 1/30th of me.

What shouldn’t be obscured by all the noise of that manufactured controversy is how far 2006 stands above all other seasons in the FAFIF Era and how it is the only season we covered in our first decade that comes up in conversations that center on the best Met seasons ever.

That’s because it was among the best Mets seasons ever [2]. The 97-65 record of 2006 is the fifth-strongest in team history, topped only by 1986, 1969, 1988 and 1985. Given that 1985 brought no playoffs (despite much joy) to Flushing and 1988 didn’t contain a playoff series victory, you can argue that of all Mets teams that didn’t win a pennant, 2006’s was the best. Emotionally a majority of me would be inclined to vote for 1999, but 1999 — one-half game behind 2006 in the regular season — didn’t include a division title and it didn’t get quite as close to the World Series.

If one were to vet between the lines, one would detect a tap dance around the elephant in the room…the elephant that was last seen standing very still as an 0-2 curveball broke across home plate. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to treat the elephant as something of an illusion, like it’s pink and we had one too many, even if the Mets won one too few. Much of the foundation of my post-October 19, 2006 blogging has been built on revisiting how that night ended. I’ve grappled with it and I’ve analyzed it and I’ve surely bemoaned it.

Not today. I prefer to celebrate what preceded it.

There’s a reason 2006 was voted No. 1 by 29 of 30 of me. There are lots of reasons. The record and the division title and the League Division Series make most of the case, but unlike the cases presented by most of our seasons, there is serious delight to be mined from the details of this one.

So let’s mine away…

• The Mets blazed to their best 12-game start ever, going 10-2 and creating a ball of dust behind them. Left in it were the eternally defending National League East champion Atlanta Braves, five games back in second place with 150 to play. No team in the divisional era had buried its division so thoroughly so soon, not even the ’86 Mets.

• The Mets won April series in San Francisco, where they were rarely successful, and Atlanta, where they were legendarily cursed. They set a tone and they kept it in tune.

• The Mets kept coming up with contributors nobody had much considered before the year began, some more transient than others, but all of them part of what forges a formidable team. Anderson Hernandez [3]’s brief reign at second yielded a web gem for the ages. Brian Bannister [4] rose to the rotation and the occasion until (like Hernandez) an injury got the best of him. Jose Valentin [5] evolved from failed pinch-hitter to power-packing infielder. Xavier Nady [6] was one of those professional hitters you hear so much about. Julio Franco [7] wasn’t just old, he was hot. Endy Chavez [8] proved the world’s greatest fourth outfielder across seven breathtaking months. Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez parachuted in from Arizona to stabilize the starting pitching. Dave Williams [9] threw a few good games. Alay Soler [10] threw a shutout.

• The Mets made winning exciting. They established themselves as walkoff specialists in May. They demonstrated a knack for scoring early and often in June. They won behind players who were already stars and players who were becoming stars.

• The Mets essentially wrapped up the East in June on a road trip that remains quite possibly the best any Mets team ever played: two of three in Los Angeles, four of four in Arizona, three of three in Philadelphia. That last set, at Citizens Bank Park when it was still reliably Shea Stadium South, was the divisional dagger. With the Brave mini-empire was already in rubble, the Phillies’ aspirations were snuffed out accordingly. On June 15, following the Mets’ sweep, 9½ games separated the Jersey Turnpike neighbors. We were to the north and we were going to stay there.

• The Mets were laden with All-Stars: six, more than any Mets team before or since. David Wright [11], Jose Reyes [12], Carlos Beltran [13] and Paul Lo Duca [14] were voted in as starters. They shared the cover of Sports Illustrated with Carlos Delgado [15] who could have easily made the midsummer trip to Pittsburgh, too. Pedro Martinez [16] and T#m Gl@v!ne got ASG nods as well. No team in the big leagues was a bigger deal.

• The Mets scored eleven runs in one inning. It was the Sunday after the All-Star break, an early-evening start at Wrigley Field for the benefit of ESPN. The Cubs led, 5-2, through five. Then the Mets decided to tear their playhouse down. With one out, second baseman Todd Walker [17] erred on Beltran’s ground ball. He shouldn’t have done that. Delgado and Wright singled and Cliff Floyd [18] homered them all in. The Mets pulled ahead, 6-5. After a walk to Nady, a pitching change and an error that placed Ramon Castro [19] on first and Nady on third, Chavez pinch-singled in the fifth run of the inning, with the not particularly speedy Castro taking third. Endy stole second. Valentin beat out an infield hit. The bases were reloaded. Chris Woodward [20] — playing for a precautionarily sitting Reyes — accounted for his second out of the inning (he’d flied out to start the sixth) by grounding to third and allowing Castro to be cut down at home. The bases were then unloaded when Beltran hit one out. That made it two grand slams in the inning and nine runs overall, one short of the Met record that had been notched in 1979 and renotched dramatically in 2000. A Delgado double and a Wright homer broke the record. Eleven runs, for goodness sake. It was our scoringest inning ever, certainly my personal favorite offensive inning of the last ten years. Because it didn’t air on SNY, it doesn’t get any Mets Classic play, but nothing could have been more quintessentially 2006 than the Mets pounding an opponent into the gloaming.

• The Mets were usually on a network to call their own. The SNY announcers became rock stars [21]. A weekly program profiled the players and the fans. A monthly program was designed especially to indoctrinate the kids. Mr. Met got tons of play. Games were reaired. Never enough of them and never often enough (except for some old ones that would soon be run into the ground [22]), but this was, at least in theory, Mets TV. It was a good year to launch that sort of programming.

• The Mets had two songs produced in their honor before the season was two months old. Each of them could be termed charitably as energetic. First came “Our Team. Our Time. [23]” Sample lyric: Billy Wagner [24] comin’ through/he’s throwin’ heat, no doubt.” It had the blessing of higher-ups in the marketing department [25] who hoped “that fans catch on to ‘Our Team. Our Time’ as a rallying cry for the start of a thrilling season at Shea.” It wasn’t very good and they didn’t. Shortly thereafter, Lucas Prata retrofitted his dance hit, “And She Said…” into “And We Say…(Let’s Go Mets!) [26]”. Sample lyric: “Billy Wagner closes/throwing heat at you.” It wasn’t much more inspiring than the other song, but the Mets took their cue and indeed kept going atop the N.L. East. Most encouraging about the existence of each of these recordings? Only clubs on a roll get serenaded energetically let alone in multiplicity.

• The Mets pitched well in relief. They pitched very well. While injuries forced them patch their rotation over and over, the later innings were held down by long man Darren Oliver [27], submariner Chad Bradford [28], lefty deluxe Pedro Feliciano [29], seventh-inning stud Aaron Heilman [30], eighth-inning rock Duaner Sanchez [31] and aforementioned heat-throwing closer Wagner. Ultimately there’d be some shaking up of this classic corps when somebody ill-advisedly got into a cab in Miami, but we’re casting a warm glow on 2006 here, not a harsh glare. The Mets wouldn’t have such stellar relief pitching again until the final months of 2014 (and most of those guys are injured as we speak).

• The Mets had intriguing up-and-comers. Lastings Milledge [32], Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey [33], the club’s three previous first-round draft picks, all made their debuts. The most delectable impression was made by Milledge, who demonstrated a lightning bolt for a throwing arm and a bat intermittently inhabited by thunder. Lastings also high-fived the fans in right field right after he homered for the first time, drawing the ire of Floyd and skipper Willie Randolph [34] — plus he didn’t meet the veteran “know your place, rook” standards of Wagner — but he sure was fun to project dreams onto. Also making their first Met appearances were two talented righties, John Maine [35] and Oliver Perez [36], soon to be bulwarks of the Met postseason.

• The Mets were in the postseason. They timed one of their rare losing streaks perfectly so they could clinch their first division title in eighteen years at Shea, and clinch they did, on September 18, against the overmatched Marlins. Cigars were lit [37], champagne flowed, fans embraced fans [38]. Thirteen games remained, to be followed by playoffs during which the Mets — owners of the best record in the National League — would hold home-field advantage.

• The Mets began the playoffs with a flourish, taking both of their home games from the Dodgers, the first on an all-time defensive play (two runners tagged out literally one after the other when Shawn Green [39] relayed to Valentin who relayed to Lo Duca), the second on sound veteran pitching from Gl@v!ne. The Mets went west and swept the LDS in L.A., with Steve Trachsel [40] holding up under duress and Greg Maddux [41] beaten down by Met bats.

• The Mets yielded some spectacular numbers. Beltran tied Todd Hundley [42]’s single-season home run mark of 41 and knocked in 116 ribbies. Delgado drove in 114 runs and blasted 38 homers. Wright was a 25-116 man himself. Reyes owned the leadoff slot, with 17 homers, 19 triples and 64 steals. Lo Duca, asked to succeed the legend of Mike Piazza [43], hit .318. Sports Illustrated chose its cover boys well.

• The Mets hosted Piazza as a Padre, and Mike got hits and homers and standing ovations and the Mets won, so it was all good. That wasn’t long before the 1986 team came home and was lavished in love and provided a backdrop for the Mets to take three straight from the Rockies. That was just before Delgado hit the 400th homer of his career as part of a hopeless come-from-behind effort against the Cardinals, except it wasn’t hopeless because Beltran hit one off Jason Isringhausen [44] and the two Carloses trumped everything Albert Pujols [45] had been doing to us and the Mets won, 8-7, after trailing, 7-1. Not too many weeks later, Jose went around the bases for an inside-the-park job that he could file alongside his cycle and his three-homer night. And how about that time…

Yes, how about that time? It was the best of our times. Until we have better times.