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October Is Further Away Than You Think

Tuesday night’s game … oof.

Let’s rip this Band-Aid off quickly: Jonathon Niese was terrible. Despite that, the Mets turned a 6-0 Phillies lead into a 6-4 contest. Enter Bobby Parnell [1], who combined with Eric O’Flaherty [2] and Carlos Torres [3] to allow eight runs in the inning — “a snowman,” as Keith Hernandez [4] put it repeatedly. And that was pretty much it — just an absolute stinker [5], an avert-your-eyes disaster.

So here’s the question: Was it one of those games that even the best teams suffer now and again, or a sign of the end times? Should Jon Niese [6] be dropped from the rotation? Should Parnell, O’Flaherty and Torres be pink-slipped, thrown in prison or shot into the sun? Should Terry Collins [7] be fired immediately because askl34391!$%@AS;SCszddf!@?

(If you think I’m overdoing it, well, go back and look at Mets Twitter. It was like my phone was having a nervous breakdown.)

After the game, Collins was asked some good questions: With the Mets within two, why not go to Sean Gilmartin [8] or Addison Reed [9], who needed work anyway? Where was Hansel Robles [10]? Erik Goeddel [11]?

Collins’s answer began with a quiet acknowledgment of Parnell’s struggles, which I found interesting. He’d brought Parnell in to face the bottom of the order, hoping he’d get through the inning and that would give him a lift. It hadn’t worked, and things had snowballed from there.

I don’t intend this as a particularly robust defense of Collins, because I groaned when Parnell came in and was hiding behind the couch when the inning finally came to a merciful conclusion. But we ought to try and think along with the other guy before we call for the executioner. So, in that spirit, two things:

1) The aspect of baseball we know the least about and couldn’t measure even if we did is what happens in the clubhouse. From a cold-blooded standpoint, it’s easy to say Bobby Parnell [1] should be kept away from any baseball situation that matters until he’s more effective, which might be never. Except Parnell’s a veteran on the team, respected in the clubhouse, and just agreed to a phony DL stint rather than seek his fortune elsewhere. There’s a loyalty to him for his tenure and his track record and how hard he’s worked to get through two miserable years ruined by injuries. Again, you can’t measure that — but just because it can’t be measured doesn’t mean it isn’t there and isn’t important to the players.

Terry went to Parnell. It didn’t work. Oh boy did it not work — it could only have been worse if Mel Rojas [12] or Rich Rodriguez [13] had shown up. That’s inarguable. But the reasons why Terry went to Parnell aren’t as cut-and-dried as they may seem to us while we’re tweeting in a rage from our living rooms or booing madly in the Pepsi Porch.

2) I know it doesn’t feel this way, but it’s still early.

Those of us who lived through the collapses of 2007 and 2008 and have endured the awful stretch since then are haunted by ghosts and jumping at shadows. We’re simultaneously euphoric that the Mets are playing honest-to-goodness meaningful games in September and terrified that only means the disappointment will be more crushing. It’s simultaneously deeply irrational and absolutely understandable.

But the Mets themselves don’t think like this. Only four Mets date back to the finale at Shea in ’08 — the aforementioned Niese and Parnell, plus Daniel Murphy [14] and David Wright [15]. And only Wright was around for the ’07 disaster. Michael Conforto [16]? He was friggin’ 14 years old when Tom Glavine [17] lectured reporters about the difference between “disappointed” and “devastated.”

Yes, it’s September. But the Mets have 30 games left and a 6 1/2 game lead. No, that’s not a safe lead. They can lose it by futzing around with the shallow end of the bullpen, absolutely. But they can also lose it by stepping on the accelerator too early, burning out relievers and exhausting players who are undoubtedly wearier than we think they are.

It’s Collins’s job — among others — to not do that, and he has more information than we do in making those decisions. Which, granted, doesn’t ensure he’ll make the right decisions.

Over the next month there are going to be nights when Yoenis Cespedes [18] and Travis d’Arnaud [19] are sitting and Kirk Nieuwenhuis [20] and Anthony Recker [21] are in the starting lineup. We’ll scream about that on Twitter, particularly when the Mets lose by a run or two and Cespedes’s only role is to pinch-hit. The Mets have bullpen roles to figure out, and that’s going to mean some auditions that go pretty badly, as well as the usual ups and downs suffered by every reliever. We’ll scream about each and every one of those missteps, demanding the exile of relievers we insisted had to come in a few days earlier. The Mets will skip starts for Matt Harvey [22] and Noah Syndergaard [23] and probably Jacob deGrom [24]. We’ll react by screaming about how Steven Matz [25] isn’t ready and Logan Verrett [26] is really Brian Lawrence [27] in disguise. (Matz was 16 on the last day of ’07; Verrett was 17.) Starters will have bad outings, perhaps two or three in a row. We’ll scream about them, just like we’re screaming about Niese now, just like we were screaming about Bartolo Colon [28] a couple of weeks ago but now aren’t because it’s time to scream about Niese instead.

It’s all a normal part of being a baseball fan, and inevitable in a pennant race — in a twisted way it’s part of the fun. But if we scream about September 1 decisions like they’re September 21 decisions,  we’re going to have nothing left by the time the Nats roll into town for that final series.

Let’s not do that to ourselves. Because it doesn’t sound like any fun at all.