If the season had ended on July 9, the New York Mets would have been the undisputed second Wild Card in the National League, a status that could not be applied to them again until nearly two months later, last night, September 8. So it’s good thing the season didn’t end, because it would have deprived us of the thrill of coming back after falling behind. Plus, we’re kind of sticklers about getting all of our 162 games.
When the Milwaukee Brewers — swell fellas, every last one of ’em — demolished the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, 12-5, it shoved the Redbirds one half-game behind the idle Mets. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was quite impressed that I knew what idle meant. I learned it from radio sportscasts. “And the Mets were idle last night,” they’d say the mornings after the Mets didn’t play. I didn’t need much more tutelage from there to put four halves and four halves together.
We also studied fractions in second grade, but I had a leg up on my classmates on that subject from my immersion in the standings. How was it the Mets, Cubs and Pirates could be separated by a half-game? I knew nobody was quitting in the fifth inning. I figured something complex was going on. Sure enough, two teams had the same amount of wins, but somebody had one fewer loss. Or same number of losses, but the wins didn’t align. Something like that. With a little guidance from my dad, who was good at explaining and great at never condescending, I got it: you averaged the distance in wins and the distance in losses and got Games Behind (or, if we were lucky, Games Ahead). Eventually 162 evened everything out, but while the Mets and their rivals were in the midst of fulfilling their schedules, half-games would dangle like participles.
In September, they tend to be the object of our desire. Thanks to those wonderful Brewers, we eyed a half-game advance Thursday and we took it — that and sole possession of something that is necessarily temporary while the season is still in progress. If we’re not owners, we are determined renters of the second Wild Card spot. Movin’ on up to the first one is more desirable, and son of a gun, we’re only a half-game from that adorable split-level, which at the moment is being lived in by the San Francisco Giants, who were also idle last night. Tonight, in addition to toasting the Brewers, we shall idolize the Arizona Diamondbacks, who when last we saw them we demonized for having all but euthanized  our quest for these very prizes.
That was a different season. That was 2016. This, the one we’re presently soaking in as if dispensed from a bottle of Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid by Madge the Manicurist …this season is 2016. You get the difference. You feel the difference. You know that the Mets, so dead in Phoenix a few weeks ago, have risen from their ashes in that city to be alive and hissing at whoever dares cross their path. This week it was the Reds physically and the Cardinals numerically. This weekend (with a little help from our serpentine friends) it can be the Braves and Giants. Forty-seven years ago tonight, a black cat who liked us strolled in front of an ursine pack on our behalf. Those particular Cubs were never heard from again.
Whatever is done to the Giants or Cardinals, including by one to the other when they get together for four games that will only aid the cause we hold dear, it is ultimately up to the Mets to commune with their inner BTO and go into overdrive . Only the Mets can take care of the business that requires their signature.
It must be written with the figurative blood of Atlanta Braves, signed on a dotted line constructed of bricks from the rapidly disintegrating structure known as Robert Edward “Ted” Turner III Fieldiseum. That’s not really its official name, but Turner Field — christened for the man and not the network — really is where the Mets will play a series for the final time. There was a time when that kind of scheduling fact instinctively struck terror into our souls as prelude to stuffing games inside our loss column.
No more, no more, as the Braves decided a while ago that not competing is the better part of valor. Atlanta is tanked solidly in last place and will soon not even be in Atlanta, or at least the part of Atlanta that’s actually Atlanta, though they will still be the Atlanta Braves. Confused? Join the club of those who view a perfectly viable twenty-year-old facility and can’t grasp that it’s being abandoned .
Of course, the Mets fan of even modest tenure is dancing on Peachtree Street (of which Atlanta boasts 71 ) at the thought that the ballpark that is inevitably billed on second reference as “the house of horrors” will be extracted from the National League map in 2017. Indeed, if this were 1998 (0-6), 1999 (1-5, plus 0-3 in the NLCS), 2000 (2-4), 2001 (5-5, accented by an extraordinarily painful fifth loss), 2002 (3-6), 2003 (3-7), 2004 (2-7) or 2005 (1-8), I’d be quivering like Quilvio Veras getting a big lead off first. For that matter, if it were 2008 (1-8), 2009 (3-6), 2010 (3-6) or 2012 (2-7), and the echoes were awakened by jeering Eddie Perez’s name, I would be clenching for the worst .
The big secret of Turner Field as it approached its end is that except for small bursts of retro ineptitude (three-game sweeps in the summers of 2014 and 2015) the Mets have done all right for themselves there. Over the past four seasons, they’ve compiled a record of 20-16 at the Ted. For that matter, throughout their history of submitting themselves to the cringiest of punishments, they’ve often prevailed. The Mets have won 65 games at Turner Field since their first visit in 1997. True, it doesn’t negate the 105 losses, but if you had to guess at the particulars of the all-time Mets’ Turner Field ledger, you’d probably have gone with 6-817.
According to Ultimate Mets Database , there are actually thirteen ballparks in which the Mets have played to lower winning percentages than they have at Turner (.382). Several exist in the realm of small sample sizes, but if you’re going to assume the Mets “never” win somewhere, know your data. The Mets literally never won at the Metrodome (0-3 in 2004) and Tiger Stadium (0-3 in 1997) and won little at Mile High Stadium (3-6), Safeco Field (2-4) and Estadio Monterrey (1-2, where San Diego set up shop for a weekend in 1996). They won less at Colt Stadium in Houston, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan and, for that matter, the Polo Grounds in Manhattan (56-105; home was where the harsh was in 1962 and ’63). They’ve managed to lose more briskly at Petco Park, where they play the Padres about as badly (.364) as they did that one series in Mexico.
It’s an urban myth — soon to be a suburban myth when the Brave scene shifts to Cobb County — that the Mets couldn’t win at Turner Field. They could and they did. Just not that often. But when they did, it was memorable. Or it should have been. It’s easier to go with the “house of horrors” line. It saves a person the trouble of remembering with accuracy.
The den of delights. The teepee of triumphs. The house of honors. Go ahead, try those on for size. These are heady days in Metsopotamia, where the bright side shines in through the kitchen window. Things are going so well, that you can look at Turner Field through Howie Rose-colored glasses and put it in the books after Sunday without necessarily wanting to burn every page to a crisp.
In acknowledgement of turning off our share of the dim lights and hopefully leaving the Braves in the dark at Turner Field this weekend, here are the twenty greatest Mets wins at the place we’ll never have to dread again.
20) April 6, 2004: Mets 7 Braves 2
Kaz Matsui and T#m Gl@v!ne were terrible ideas, but they both get 2004 off to a rollicking start. On Opening Night, Matsui belts the very first MLB pitch he sees for a home run and Gl@v!ne — who’d been too busy setting up Mike Glavine at first base the year before to do anything versus his old team — earns the win with six innings of two-run ball. Would wonders ever cease? Of course they would, but not after one game.
19) September 1, 2007: Mets 5 Braves 1
Sure, September 2007 doesn’t end well, but how about that beginning? Mike Pelfrey gets his first win of the year, Lastings Milledge hits his fourth homer and the Mets extend their lead over second-place Philadelphia to three games. The next day, the Mets sweep and get on their way to putting the Phillies seven games in their rearview mirror with just seventeen to go. Ah, good times.
18) June 25, 1999: Mets 10 Braves 2
Mets snap an eight-game losing skein at Turner Field while stretching their real-time winning streak to five. Rick Reed gets the first win credited to any Met pitcher in the state of Georgia in 23 months. It remained lonely for the rest of 1999, but a fun Friday night in Dixie cannot be denied.
17) September 2, 2010: Mets 4 Braves 2
Johan Santana pitches five effective innings, but leaves in discomfort. Santana is termed day-to-day afterwards. The days pile up. His next start will also be against Atlanta…on April 5, 2012 at Citi Field. But at least he goes out the first time he has to go out for a long time a winner.
16) September 11, 2002: Mets 5 Braves 0
An attempt to annoy the Mets by scheduling a day-night doubleheader on the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks backfires. The Mets get a small measure of satisfaction by taking the night half of the twinbill, Al Leiter throwing the shutout, the visitors wearing their first-responder caps in memory of the fallen heroes back home.
15) June 25, 2016: Mets 1 Braves 0
Kelly Johnson is an old friend to everybody at the Ted tonight. He’s been a Brave three times. He’s a Met for the second time, having been traded back from Atlanta a few weeks earlier. He’s at home in Georgia, but his uniform says New York. His loyalties lie across his chest. Kelly steps to the plate in a scoreless duel to start the eleventh and homers off former Met teammate Dario Alvarez to put his old/new club ahead by a run. Jeurys Familia makes the sole tally hold up. In addition to exposing Southern bullpens and making Northern friends, Johnson does something unusual. The Mets have won three 1-0 games on the road in their history on extra-inning solo home runs. There was the one Johnny Lewis pulled off in 1965 when Jim Maloney was no-hitting them, the one Darryl Strawberry clocked against Ken Dayley in a pennant race in 1985 and, now, Kelly, coming up with the one that shows there is only one team on which he truly belongs.
14) September 18, 2011: Mets 7 Braves 5
The Braves’ comfortable Wild Card lead over the Cardinals keeps dwindling, so every game is important. This one they lead, 5-4, going to the eighth. The Mets score two in that inning, another in the ninth. Braves lose, Cardinals pick up a game. Ten days later, St. Louis wins the Wild Card by a game. This, as much as any, can be identified as that game.
13) April 12, 2015: Mets 4 Braves 3
The Mets are in modest turmoil. They’ve lost two in a row. They’ve lost their closer, Jenrry Mejia, to a positive PED test. They are under .500. They could really use a win. They get one, from Bartolo Colon. From Atlanta, they fly home and win their next ten to tie a club record and push this no longer murky season in a sparkling direction.
12) May 3, 2013: Mets 7 Braves 5
Who says you can’t touch Craig Kimbrel? The reigning best closer in the National League is hammered by David Wright for a game-tying home run in the ninth. Jordan Walden gives up two more in the tenth. The save — his first in the majors — is picked up cleanly by rookie Jeurys Familia.
11) April 3, 2001: Mets 6 Braves 4
Robin Ventura can’t hit John Rocker…or so it is assumed by Bobby Cox, who sends the shall we say controversial lefty to the mound with one on and one out in the eighth to replace Tom Gl@v!ne, who’d been locked in a 2-2 tie with Al Leiter. One on, one out. The next item to be described as out is the second pitch Rocker throws Robin. It is OUTTA Turner Field, as the Mets take a 4-2 lead. Sadly, John Franco and Turk Wendell give up two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but there’s a reason Newsday’s back page the next day hypes “The First Robins of Spring,” plural. Ventura socks another two-run homer, this baby off Kerry Ligtenberg to put the Mets ahead in the tenth. Armando Benitez comes in to set down the Braves in order, saving an Opening Night victory that portends well for the defending N.L. champs.
10) July 10, 1997: Mets 10 Braves 7
The Mets and Braves are 0-0 against each other at Turner Field. It’s their first ballgame in the former Centennial Olympic Stadium. It turns into a 3:24 marathon, the Mets falling behind, 5-1, in the fifth, but sprinting to lead, 7-5, in the eighth, and breaking the tape, 10-7 in the ninth. Manny Alexander, just off the DL, triples, homers and scores three. Todd Hundley smashes a three-run home run off Mark Wohlers. John Franco strikes out the side to ensure the gold medal. The Mets are literally unbeatable in this joint.
9) April 17, 2011: Mets 3 Braves 2
How badly does new manager Terry Collins want/need this game? Bad enough to insert not one, but two starters — Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey — in relief to fend off further futility. The Mets enter this Sunday 4-11. Collins isn’t going to let them leave town mired any deeper in last place. They hold on for dear life and slowly but surely begin to generate a little more life. From this game forward until late July, the Mets go 51-40 and resemble a major league team. Maybe Collins can manage more than a meat market after all.
8) September 21, 2014: Mets 10 Braves 2
Nail meet coffin. By kicking the Braves when they are down (20 losses in 30 games), the Mets eliminate Atlanta from their last wisp of a prayer of postseason contention. And in sweeping their once-mighty nemeses, the once-humble Metsies pull to within a half-game of second place, which isn’t much, considering that both teams are destined to finish under .500, but it’s a step up for New York, which will finish tied with those now-discredited Braves one week later. Completing his season’s work on this Sunday is Jacob deGrom, who strikes out ten and basically seals his forthcoming Rookie of the Year award.
7) May 23, 2003: Mets 6 Braves 5
Chipper Jones can kill the Mets in so many ways, but not with his feet. No, siree Larry. Almost, but not quite. It’s the ninth inning. The Mets are clinging to a 6-5 lead. Armando Benitez, closer for the visitors since 1999, does what he does. He gets an out. He gets another out. He walks a Jones (Chipper). He walks another Jones (Andruw). He gives up a hit to Julio Franco. Into center it rolls. Charging the ball is 2001 cult figure Tsuyoshi Shinjo, now in his second tour as a Met, the one in which nothing transcendent has happened yet and nothing transcendent will happen again. But on this Friday night, Shinjo — who came on for defense in the eighth — charges Chipper’s ball and throws it. It doesn’t occur to the first Mr. Jones that anything will stop him from scoring. But Shinjo does. Tsuyoshi fires a one-hop strike to Vance Wilson and it results an 8-2 putout, Chipper and the Braves OUT at the plate.
6) April 6, 2002: Mets 11 Braves 2
For all the years that were gonna be the year the Mets dethroned the Braves, you couldn’t blame them for believing 2002 was gonna be the year. It’s a 2-2 game in the ninth early in the season. Bobby Cox deploys his closer, John Smoltz, to preserve the tie. Bobby Valentine unleashes waves of Metsian fury. A triple. A single. Two more singles. A balk. An intentional walk. A single. A bases-loaded walk. Cox sees enough of Smoltz, who gets two outs but surrenders four runs. In comes Aaron Small who comes up not big. Rey Ordoñez and Joe McEwing deliver back-to-back doubles and the Mets take an 11-2 lead. Nine runs in the top of the inning Armandoproof the evening. The reloaded 3-2 Mets open a one-game lead on the stale 2-3 Braves.
5) July 13, 1997: Mets 7 Braves 6
It is time for America to meet the contenders. In the Sunday Night Baseball finale of their inaugural four-game series at Turner Field, the thus far surprising Mets (50-39) trail 6-0 after one as Bobby Jones doesn’t show his All-Star form. Yet Bobby Valentine leaves him in and his starter shows All-Star grit…and tells Atlanta the Braves can kiss his…grits, that is. While Jones hangs in for seven innings and gives up absolutely nothing more, the Mets’ bats roar back. With Todd Hundley on first, Butch Huskey homers versus Denny Neagle in the second. Huskey homers off him again in the fourth, this time with two runners on. In the fifth, Manny Alexander doubles and John Olerud grounds to second baseman Mark Lemke who doesn’t make a play. Alexander scores. The feisty Mets, nipping at the Wild Card-leading Marlins, tie it at six. We go to the tenth, which is when Alex Ochoa takes Mike Bielecki deep. The Mets lead, 7-6, and hand the outcome to John Franco. A couple of runners find their way on base, but neither make it home. The Mets hold on, keeping within one-and-a-half of Florida and capturing three of four at the hospitable new stadium.
4) June 18, 2013: Mets 6 Braves 1
The afternoon half of the split doubleheader was essentially billed as an opening act. Matt Harvey, in his Harvey Day prime, got the matinee as prelude to the much anticipated debut of locally sourced sensation Zack Wheeler. Harvey whetted appetites suitably, holding the Braves hitless through seven. He wouldn’t get a win, but the Mets would, 4-3. Then the night comes, and Zack from Smyrna lives up to the excitement he’d been stirring for two years since the Mets obtained him from San Francisco for Carlos Beltran. Six innings, seven strikeouts, four hits. Five walks, too, but Rome (neither Italy’s nor Georgia’s) was built in a day. On this day, however the downtrodden Mets sweep a pair of games and position a pair of phenoms as the aces for, hopefully, an imminently and eminently brighter future.
3) September 13, 2015: Mets 10 Braves 7
The division title is just a matter of magic-number reduction at this point, but why get into bad habits? After winning the first three games of this quartet in Atlanta, the Mets appear sluggish before turning into sluggers. Down to their last out in the ninth and trailing by three runs, Juan Lagares lofts a fly ball to center fielder Cameron Maybin. Maybin seven Septembers earlier caught the final out ever at Shea Stadium. The ballpark gods get even: Maybin fails to catch a catchable ball and Juan is credited with a double. Next, Curtis Granderson walks and Daniel Murphy homers. Just like that, the Mets have tied the damn thing at seven. Gary Cohen frames the red hot Mets’ modus operandi perfectly: “You’ve gotta be kidding me! This team just doesn’t know how to lose!” No kidding, Gary. To confirm the announcer’s exclusive report, the Mets score three in the tenth and leave Atlanta with a sweep of four and a magic number of eleven.
2) April 10, 2005: Mets 6 Braves 1
First it is a classic because of how good both pitchers are: John Smoltz, restored to the starting rotation toys with the Mets, strikes out fifteen through seven innings, yet leads only 1-0 because glamour import Pedro Martinez has struck out and given up only two hits in the same span. His only faux pas was a run-scoring double served up to Johnny Estrada in the fourth. Martinez has command, but Smoltz is in command. Until the eighth, that is, when it morphs into a different kind of classic. Jose Reyes singles to lead off. Miguel Cairo bunts him to second. Carlos Beltran — the other enormous investment the Mets made in the offseason — belts Smoltz’s 113th pitch of the day over the wall. The Mets take a 2-1 lead and dispatch Smoltz from the proceedings. Ex-Met Tom Martin comes on and surrenders a homer to Cliff Floyd, then a double to Doug Mientkiewicz. Roman Colon comes into pitch next, lets loose a wild pitch and then a gopher ball that finds David Wright’s bat. The three homers and five runs provide plenty of cushion for Pedro, a veteran who does not depart on a day like this. He finishes what he started, a two-hitter that can be said in a very real sense to have changed everything. The Mets came in to this Sunday 0-5, the worst they’d started a season since 1964. Though it’s not a perfectly vertical rise, better days are ahead, and the Mets end 2005 with their best record since 2000. Pedro will be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Smoltz in 2015. The Mets will wait longer than that (possibly forever) for another April complete game victory on the road.
1) July 28-30, 2006: Mets 27 Braves 13
This is technically three games, but the combined effect is that of one long, ecstatic Metgasm. Even before this Atlanta weekend, the Met-Brave tables had been turned in the National League East. The 2006 Mets built a five-game lead after twelve games — unprecedented in divisional play — by beating the Braves at Shea on April 17. They underscored how different the season was going to be when Paul Lo Duca’s solo shot provided the only run in a 1-0 victory on April 29, ensuring the Mets their first Turner series win since 2003. They took back-to-back one-run games in Queens on May 5 and 6, the first an 8-7 fourteen-inning seesaw affair, the second barely thirteen hours later, 6-5, almost all of it on amazingly resilient bullpen strength (Victor Zambrano left with an injury in the second). But this, the three-game series at the end of July in Atlanta, is something most special. This is the first sweep the Mets ever execute at Turner Field, and make no mistake: it is an execution.
• Friday night, 6-4, Pedro Martinez emerges from the DL and, after a rough first inning, looks as good as ever over the next five. Jose Reyes and David Wright each homer.
• Saturday afternoon, 11-3, punctuated by a seven-run seventh, highlighted by Carlos Beltran’s three-run bomb.
• Sunday afternoon, 10-6, with the Carloses — Beltran and Delgado — joining forces for six hits, three homers and eight RBIs.
When it is done, every last ghost of Turner Field past is buried, at least for the time being, because some ghosts make a habit of loitering in baseball subconscious. Still, it is clearly high noon amid the new day that dawned in 2006. The Mets lead second-place Philadelphia by 13½ games and third-place Atlanta by fifteen. At this moment, nothing is wrong in the Mets’ world.
Then they go to Miami, and Duaner Sanchez gets a hankering for some Dominican food, but that’s another story involving another dratted franchise and another stadium we never have to look at again .
For now, goodbye Ted. It’s been nice knowing you 65, perhaps going on as many as 68 times.