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

Ready Already

Earl Weaver, were he still among us, would likely be impatiently reaching inside his custom-made jersey [1] for another cigarette, and not because his successor in Baltimore held out his best reliever in Toronto while the Orioles’ season went up in smoke [2]. Weaver, between puffs of his filthy nicotine habit (having to stressfully rely [3] on Don Stanhouse [4] when he didn’t have a Zach Britton [5] available probably clouded his otherwise Hall of Fame managerial judgment), was famously heard to say [6] of baseball’s rhythms, “This ain’t a football game, we do this every day.”

It’s hard to remember that truism when the National League Wild Card Game has been making us wait around for kickoff like it’s the last week in January.

Going an extended period without baseball between baseball games is already unnatural. especially when it’s not raining. A year ago around this time [7], we were enduring four sunny Metless days as we transitioned from the regular season to the Division Series. The reward for our patience, however, was bountiful: a best-of-five set to determine who would play for the pennant. When this year began, there was an ESPN-instigated glitch that had us playing on a Tuesday [8] and Friday [9], yet idling on a Wednesday and Thursday. But that was also ultimately all right, because the Friday in question was the third game of the season, and it had 159 games beyond it.

This thing we’re going through until nine minutes after eight o’clock tonight is off-kilter. We’re waiting around so we can play exactly one game of mammoth consequence and then find out if there will be more baseball in our immediate future.

Weird. We’ll take it, mind you, because we couldn’t get the same see-ya-in-the-NLDS deal as last year, and it’s inarguably preferable to counting down to April 3, 2017 [10]. Still weird, though. This ain’t a football game, but after 48 hours exposed to lineup projections, first baseman debates and a little too much starting pitcher mythology, I’m beginning to wonder.

This isn’t how baseball functions, except for whichever Wild Card game they save for second. So I guess this is how baseball functions, at least for us and our San Francisco Giant counterparts. One group of devotees will wait a little less than 48 hours for another three or more baseball games, the other will wait close to six months.

I hear San Francisco is lovely for waiting this time of year. They should go do that there. We should keep playing. That’s a load of should, which doesn’t translate to will. We will know our respective fates tonight.

At last.

As the regular season was winding down, and I was giving Stephanie (whether she was dying to hear it or not) my quarter-hourly update on how the Met/Giant/Cardinal dynamic was unfolding and where it seemed to be heading, my lovely wife said she remembered that one time the Mets were in this situation previously. Ah, I said, 1999 — yeah, that wasn’t the same thing. Well, it was, but it wasn’t. See, the Mets and Reds tied and had to play a one-game playoff to move on to the first round, but now, there’s a one-game playoff, and we have to get there and win it so we can move on to the first round…which sounds like the same thing, but it’s not, even though it is, even though it’s not, mostly because MLB prints and sells t-shirts for getting this far [11].

I could have Metsplained the differences in greater granular detail, but I realized delineating between a sudden-death regular-season play-in game and a scheduled postseason play-in game was like navigating Penn Station. I know how to get where I’m going, but despite decades of commuting, I’ve yet to develop the language to clearly express foolproof directions to anybody else.

We did win that 1999 game [12], though, and we did go on to play Arizona for four games [13] and Atlanta for six [14]. Though we would have liked to have played more that fall [15], it was a representative sample. In eight previous postseasons, the Mets have never played fewer than seven games. That’s a pretty substantial proving ground.

This is one isolated game, which we’ve been told all our lives proves little, but it will have to do. When we were three games in back of the Marlins, three-and-a-half behind the Pirates and five-and-a-half to the rear of the usually unassailable Cardinals, the concept of making it to October 5 loomed as quite attractive. It was just a concept then. The idea that the Mets could host this win-or-go-home one-off, never mind play in it, was practically fantasy. For that honor, we sat seven-and-a-half games behind the Dodgers, who were then the First Wild Card of record.

As you know, we reincarnated the spirit of 1973 [16] and passed everybody in the aforementioned paragraph, except for the Dodgers, who traded places with the Giants, and we passed them, too. Now we have to pass them one more time in order to play three or more games against the Cubs.

Got that? I knew that you would.

My projection for tonight is I don’t know. This ain’t football. We aren’t conditioned to project single games that aren’t flanked on at least one side by something contiguous. Within a series, you can draw conclusions. Without one, you can shoot craps. There’s no such thing as an “upset” over the course of one baseball game, just as there’s no such thing as what’s “supposed” to happen, regardless of the identities of the participants. I’ll have faith in Noah Syndergaard [17] and whoever plays first base and everybody else who’s a Met, and I won’t be frightened by Madison Bumgarner [18] and the tales of postseason invincibility that accompany him wherever he alights on a given October evening.

We have Thor. We will cede nothing when it comes to starting pitcher mythology.

Otherwise, there is no sign to guide us. There is no precedent worth the pixels they are typed in. Al Leiter [19] shut out the Reds in 1999. The Jays, wearing blue caps in their own ballpark, turned away Wild Card visitors clad in black and orange Tuesday night. Encouraging examples, but probably not useful, certainly no more telling than 2016 being an even year and what that is alleged to imply where Giant patterns are concerned. Nobody’s eliminated the San Franciscans from the business end of October since Luis Castillo [20]’s Marlins in 2003. Maybe we should invite him to throw out the first ball. Or catch it for a change.

Mets in one. Wrigley on Friday. Or, at worst, t-shirts on discount at Modell’s on Thursday. All I know for sure is it’s good to be playing ball tonight.