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Flashback Friday: 2010

Welcome to Flashback Friday, a dormant Faith and Fear in Flushing tradition [1] revived this particular Friday in recognition of where we are now and how far we’ve come to get here.

If you have been to Citi Field in 2015 and been at your seat just before the home team’s lineup is formally introduced, perhaps you’ve noticed the slick trip through Mets history presented on the 62% Larger Videoboard. It starts with Bob Murphy’s voice and Casey Stengel’s face and it takes the attentive viewer on a journey through Met space and time, hitting most of the high points in franchise lore while gliding skillfully over most of the lesser moments.

That’s typical of how this team tells its story. It’s acceptable to acknowledge the losing years at the start. They’re colorful and they’re redeemed quickly enough. But then there are gaps. Eleven years are invisible between the clips of 1973 and the clips of 1984. The ’90s are absent until 1999. Mike Piazza’s September 2001 swing for the ages directly precedes the 2006 oasis of excellence as if they occurred during the same weekend. Then, save for evidence of a no-hitter in 2012, we’re on to basking in the accomplishments of our present-day Mets.

The spaces between make for curious voids. Unless you’re committed to telling a lovingly detailed story [2], you choose your spots. Grand Slam Singles and leaps at the left field wall are first-round draft choices for these sorts of productions. The seasons that yield little in the way of inarguably indelible images are left to fend for themselves in the collective memory.

On August 13, 2015, the New York Mets defeated the Colorado Rockies, 12-3, noteworthy enough in contemporary context [3]given the Mets’ suddenly serious pursuit of a divisional title. From a historical perspective, we’ll find out in relatively short order if Thursday’s win represented one more step on a gilded path to greater glories or if it will stand an unwanted test of time akin to what happened the previous instance when Met wins outnumbered Met losses by precisely so many.

By sweeping the Rockies, the Mets moved to eleven games over .500 for the first time since June 27, 2010. Eleven games over .500 implies a good team is at work. If eleven games over .500 wasn’t emblematic of quality, it wouldn’t have proved an elusive milestone for more than five years of Mets baseball.

Yet the Met club that last moved that far above the break-even point doesn’t make so much as a cameo appearance in that Citi Field montage. With the exception of a couple of run-into-the-ground Mets Classics on SNY, you don’t see much evidence of the 2010 Mets a half-decade after the fact. No wonder, really. Nobody builds monuments to 79-83 campaigns.

The Mets don’t build literal monuments to much of their history (don’t try to meet me by the Tom Seaver statue tonight), but you know what I mean. 2010 lasted 162 games, and when it was over, it was done with. The Mets couldn’t have been any more definitive about putting it behind them when they justifiably dismissed their general manager and manager about two minutes after the season’s final out.

If 2015 is going to live on as “2015” — if it’s going to be a brand-name staple of video montages yet to come — maybe it’s not too early to mine a touch of vaguely wistful, reflexively self-effacing nostalgia for the years that made its emergence such a blessed event. Years like 2010. Credentials-enhancing years we maintained our Metsdom during while waiting to live and die in the middle of August, not just find our hopes dead. Character-building years we’ll look back on fuzzily, perhaps gauzily, and say, “I was here in the lean years. I was here in 2010. You wouldn’t believe what that was like.”

What was that like? Is too soon to remember? Is it too soon to have forgotten?

I’m not looking to make a case for 2010 as overly underappreciated, exactly. And I’m in too good a mood these days to shame the Mets’ generally amnesiac ways (plus the montage is a really well-produced video, regardless of omissions). But I am curious as to how seasons we lived in for six months at a time are allowed to slip away from our consciousness so easily.

Make no mistake about it: we lived in 2010. Of course we did. We live in every season as if it’s our permanent residence. We inhabit them fully. Each one is the most important season of our lives while it is in progress. Across the entirety of 2010, I sat at this very spot and, in concert with my blogging partner sitting in whatever spot he was in, set in type that entire April-to-October effort. It mattered to me. It mattered to you.

Then it mattered no more.

Weird how that happens. OK, maybe it’s not weird — 79-83, fourth place, all downhill from late June onward — but it happened…y’know? It happened to us. Every day of 2010, the Mets of 2010 were our cause, our concern, our pride, our bane. It feels fickle to not easily recall its highlights, to not substantively retain its content, to not willingly share its legends and lessons, such as they are.

Yet the montages go on without contributions from years like 1981 and 1995 and 2010, the last of which has aged just long enough to turn into the perennially neglected five-year-old who asks, as the franchise flips through the pages of its family album, “Hey, how come there are no pictures of me in there?”

Seems wrong somehow. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to unspool my own reel. (For what it’s worth, I’m working here strictly from memory; no archives, no Baseball-Reference.)

It’s Opening Day. Citi Field’s dimensions are still too expansive and its outfield walls are still too charcoal, but over in the Rotunda, there’s now a neat little team museum. The weather outside is unseasonably warm. The sun beats down on the Pepsi Porch. The Mets beat down on the Florida Marlins. Mike Jacobs, Gary Matthews and Frank Catalanotto dot the roster. The training and medical personnel are booed in a mostly good-natured vein. We were hurt in 2009. We’re reasonably healthy as 2010 gets going.

Ruben Tejada, 20, and Jenrry Mejia, 20, are among the newcomers. Jose Reyes, 26, returns a little late, but he’s back from his endless injuries at last and, for at least a few games, bats third.

There’s a Saturday in St. Louis that threatens to plod into Sunday. It goes 20 innings. Tony LaRussa employs position players as pitchers. The Mets win. It’s not impressive.

Two days later, Ike Davis appears. He is the future. He and Tejada and Reyes and David Wright hint that they will hold down the infield together for years to come.

Reyes is spotted tripling and leading off. Wright is homering consistently after doing no such thing in ’09. Big-ticket acquisition Jason Bay is off to kind of a slow start, but he’s a pro, he’ll get it together. Daniel Murphy, last year’s home run leader (12), isn’t around at all. He got hurt in Spring Training, went to the minors to learn second base and got hurt again. Good thing Tejada’s getting a shot, lest we be forced to get by solely with Alex Cora and Luis Castillo.

The Mets are suddenly unbeatable at home. Johan Santana is, as ever, The Man. Rod Barajas pours on the power. He and fellow grizzled backstop Henry Blanco end consecutive games with walkoff home runs. Ike is hitting and fielding. He flips over railings in pursuit of foul balls and he catches them as if by second-nature.

Catalanotto, Jacobs and Matthews disappear. Bay struggles. Oliver Perez and John Maine frustrate. Maine goes on the DL and never materializes again. He’s replaced by an itinerant knuckleballer named R.A. Dickey. Dickey impresses. So does Angel Pagan, blossoming after several seasons on the big league fringes. Pagan, playing plenty in place of an injured Carlos Beltran, runs out an inside-the-park home run one night in Washington, the same night he starts a triple play in the field behind Dickey. The Mets lose anyway.

Perez expends everybody’s patience. He belongs in Buffalo, but won’t accept a demotion. Jerry Manuel sentences him to the back of the bullpen. The rotation is now populated by Santana, Dickey, young Jon Niese (who tosses a one-hitter at the Padres), maturing Mike Pelfrey and import Hisanori Takahashi. Francisco Rodriguez is saving games. Pedro Feliciano is perpetually on call. The Mets are up and down, but definitely more up than down as the first half proceeds.

They hold big, bad Philadelphia scoreless for an entire series at Citi Field; Gary Cohen labels it the Goose Egg Sweep. They put on a gaudy, ultimately successful push to elect Wright to the All-Star team. They welcome Jerry Seinfeld to their TV booth. They sweep an Interleague road trip to the lesser precincts of the junior circuit. For a few hours one early evening, after Atlanta is beaten by the White Sox and before the Mets take on the Tigers, New York slides into first place. When Detroit prevails, New York slides right out.

Nevertheless, on June 27, they rise eleven games above .500 for the fourth time in 2010. Despite Bay never quite finding his footing, despite the money pit Perez has transformed into, despite Jeff Francoeur never having met a base he liked being on, it’s hard to not take the Mets seriously. They’re kind of contending for the playoffs.

Then they’re not. Their detachment from the pennant race is gradual, but the cracks surface. They lose three of four in Puerto Rico to the lousy Marlins. Tejada receives a game-ending pickoff throw at second to seal a victory over the lousy Nats on a Friday night, and Dickey outlasts phenomenal Stephen Strasburg in D.C. the next day, but K-Rod blows that one in the end. Johan hits a home run against Cincinnati, but the Reds take two of three in that series. The “buts” are beginning to have it.

After the All-Star Game — Jose accompanies David but doesn’t play as precaution against aggravating yet another nagging pain — the descent accelerates. Tim Lincecum beats Dickey at Phone Company Park (though not for postgame quotes). Bay’s head hits a wall at Dodger Stadium and it (and he) are done for the year. The Mets limp home from the West Coast barely standing straight. On the first night the Mets communications staff welcomes bloggers as media, they lose in thirteen innings. On the first day in eight years that the Mets induct new members into their Hall of Fame (Gooden, Strawberry, Cashen, D. Johnson), they lose by thirteen runs. Oliver Perez pitches in that one and is greeted accordingly.

As August unfolds, the Mets unravel. Whoever can be moved is moved. Barajas is sent to L.A. Frenchy Francoeur joins the Texas Rangers. Cora wanders off to the American League as well. K-Rod is provoked into throwing a punch at his de facto father-in-law. He’s arrested. Then he comes back. Then he gets hurt and is, like Bay, out for the year. So, by early September, is Santana, followed soon after by Mejia, who bounced from reliever to starter to good luck, kid, get better soon.

Youth is getting served now. Josh Thole starts behind the plate. Lucas Duda gets a look in the outfield. Dillon Gee is one of the starters, and a pretty promising one. Feliciano is still warming up in the pen. Beltran, aching but playing, takes an anonymous but public hit from management when he doesn’t show up at Walter Reed to greet veterans (he had another commitment). Yet it’s Beltran who slides hard against Philadelphia when no other Met wishes to retaliate for a cheap takeout slide against Tejada.

The final weeks of the season arrive. The Mets miss .500. They shuffle through the likes of Chris “The Animal” Carter, Joaquin Arias (no known nickname) and Mike Hessman, who hit a slew of home runs in the minors but exactly one as a Met. They continue to intermittently trot out Luis Castillo long past his best-used-by date. They give a shot to Luis Hernandez, a middle infielder of little renown. This Luis fouls a ball off his foot, then blasts a homer off the Braves. He limps around the bases and never hits in the majors again. The Mets lose.

Thole becomes their third catcher this year to slug a walkoff homer. Feliciano pitches in his 92nd game, breaking all his own crazy durability records. Dickey earns a three-year contract and approaches cult status. It takes fourteen increasingly chilly innings (accented by the unwanted presence of Oliver Perez when nobody else is available) to send these Mets into winter with a Closing Day loss. Our permanent residence reverts to the summer rental it was destined to be. The Mets improve by nine games over the previous season, but it’s not processed as momentum. Omar Minaya is replaced by Sandy Alderson. Jerry Manuel is replaced by Terry Collins. Inevitably, 2010 is replaced by 2011.

No doubt we’re in a better place now. Still, where we were then…it wasn’t all bad all the time. Surely there’s a picture around here somewhere.