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The Usually Suspect Turn Trustworthy

“I don’t know. I’m open to new ideas.”
Mets fan Josh Lyman [1], “Stirred,” The West Wing

Of course I grew antsy as Eric O’Flaherty [2] made his case for being Eric D’FAherty (I’ve also heard Eric D’OH!Flaherty and a less family-friendly version of Eric O’Dear.) Eric, who may be the salt of the earth in real life, has absolutely no currency with us. During our relatively brief exposure to his advertised skill set, he has shown himself to be the kind of pitcher who, when handed a six-run lead against a last-place team, you instinctively hold on for dear life.

Those instincts weren’t off Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Dude’s here to get out lefties and dude wasn’t getting out lefties. Thanks to his core competency being completely overstated, a snowball commenced to rolling downhill at the intersection of 11th and Pattison. 6-0 became 6-1, then 6-3 (the remaining Tsuris Brother, Carlos, carrying on in the spirit of his not-so-dear departed spiritual sibling, Hattie), then 6-4 (Wilmer Flores [3] made an error, but who has the heart to blame Wilmer Flores for anything?). Meanwhile, in our nation’s capital, the Padres had just allowed their hosts to scooch comfortably back into their game, turning what had been a 6-2 cruise into a 6-5 frightfest.

Five-and-half, which was so close to expanding to 6½, was threatening to contract instead to 4½, and if the second-place Nationals could pick up ground on the first-place Mets, then who knew what might tumble down should the earth move under our feet?

The O’Flaherty inning — a.k.a. the jackpot frame as it’s known in bowling — was an unnerving disaster.

And then, with little more than a pause for station identification on the WOR Mets radio network, driven by your TriHonda dealer, everything was jam up and jelly tight. 6-4 became 7-, 8- and 9-4…and down in D.C. 6-5 stayed 6-5, permitting the Mets’ divisional lead to go up an entire shoe size. Tyler Clippard [4]’s right arm may soon be long enough to unlace his spikes without him having to bend over, but on Wednesday night, it was exactly the proper length to finish what Bartolo Colon [5] started and Michael Cuddyer [6] (among others) bolstered [7].

Despite the benefits inherent in facing off against the old gray mares of the National League East — those Phillies ain’t what they used to be, ain’t what they used to be, ain’t what they used to be — Citizens Bank Park remains a Binkley-size closet of anxieties [8] for any Mets fan with mental muscle memory, particularly at this time of year. It’s late August in Philadelphia. An entire era of Met dismay and disgust was foreshadowed in late August in Philadelphia eight late Augusts in Philadelphia ago [9]. Back then, Mets were Mets until they all of a sudden weren’t. Then came the September that followed, followed by the year that followed that September, and down a hole we went. So you can understand the inclination to clutch your steering wheel, your rosary, your vintage Lady Met figurine or whatever it is that gives you comfort when you find yourself in times of trouble.

Except there’s this: We’re well out of the hole as this September approaches. It’s taking a stream of positive reinforcement to pound that message home for me. It’s taking a 6-0 lead in the middle of the eighth inning and a 9-4 decision [10] after nine innings. It’s taking a lump or two with a lefty specialist whose specialness has failed to materialize and keeping calm/carrying on because he’s not alone out there.

These Mets take leads and proceed to insure them, which would explain the surfeit of Geico commercials. These Mets, at least not of late, don’t let their fate boil down to their obviously weakest link. And these Mets are loaded with players who’ve looked terrible for months only to turn it on when needed. I wouldn’t bet on Eric O’Flaherty making himself super useful (or making any roster that would need to be submitted for use after October 4), but I wouldn’t rule it out. Baseball players with track records have an odd way of eventually or at least occasionally living up to them.

How many days ago had we dismissed Cuddyer as dismal? How many hours ago did we decide Colon could be eased to the curb? Now we recognize them as charter members of the vaunted C&C Club, an elite organization whose ranks include Cespedes, Clippard, Conforto and, because we’re not sticklers, Curtis. Remember when this team was defined by its M&M&M Boys of Mayberry, Muno and Monell?

You do, don’t you? You remember believing the worst would inevitably trump the best the Mets could conjure. The foundational tenets of your convictions were strong. You experienced everything from a four-game sweep at the hands of Jimmy Rollins [11] this week in 2007 to what happened at the end of the succeeding two Septembers to all the indignities foisted upon your franchise once its home ballpark changed but its bottom line barely budged. All that institutional memory certainly conditioned me to consider most any Met lead (in the standings, on the scoreboard) suspect until proven trustworthy.

I’m working on instilling some new memories into my consciousness. The ones generated by the Mets taking full advantage of the kindnesses offered them by the 2015 schedulemakers seem like they’ll be worth reflexively revisiting in the late Augusts ahead; I might as well enjoy them right now. Therefore, I’m going to try to see if these new memories condition me to adjust my instincts and point me on a path of confidence and assuredness and not expecting figurative roofs to metaphorically cave in just because that’s what figurative roofs used to do all over actual Mets. It may take a while for me to match my worldview to the world around us.

Nevertheless, I’ll let you in on something I had to admit to myself while the worst possible outcome loomed as a legitimate possibility. I was worried when O’Flaherty was no more death on lefthanders than Gene Walter [12] ever was. I was worried when the Mets saw their edge temporarily shrink from six runs to two in Philadelphia. I was worried when the Nationals were forging a comeback in Washington. Because I’ve been a Mets fan for so long, I was definitely worried.

But because I’m a Mets fan at the present time, I wasn’t that worried.