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We Inevitably Pass This Way Again

The Mets lost to the Brewers at Citi Field on Saturday night, 8-6, in an ugly game [1] made briefly attractive before it reverted to hideous. Noah Syndergaard [2] pitched badly, Travis d’Arnaud [3] caught badly and Jeurys Familia [4] thought badly. In between, Pete Alonso [5] provided a powerful antidote to the mounting blahs, but nothing anybody did well could overcome everything everybody adorned with dollops of ineptitude.

And now the Mets are a .500 ballclub, 13-13, steadying the record of the franchise since the founding of this blog at 1,147-1,147, thus marking the 53rd time Faith and Fear has, whether from above or below, reached .500 in its lifetime. It should be a familiar sensation to us, because the team we root for calls itself a .500 enterprise at some point every year of its life, save for a handful — not counting 0-0, wise guys.

In 1985 and 2007, seasons that ended a couple of hairs shy of thick and luscious, the Mets soared above .500 to start and were never pulled back to flat ground, not even for a day. The rest of Met time, .500 has proven either a way station or, early on, an elusive aspiration (though, strangely enough, never an 81-81 destination). Our pioneers spent all of 1962 through 1965 yearning to have won as many as they lost, but otherwise all Mets sans ’85 and ’07 have pulled in at 1-1 or the like as they began to fill their 162-box bingo cards.

Perhaps the current year, fueled by Alonso Unleaded, struck you as containing the potential to be one of the aviating outliers. We launched 2-0, then 5-1, then 9-4, then hung in clear to 13-12. Alas, 2019 will consistently defy gravity no longer. For 25 games, these Mets were nothing but winners in the winning percentage sense of the concept. Eventually, though, 50-50 odds catch up with you. It happens every spring. Or summer, in the case of 1991, when .500 didn’t track the Mets down until August 15 (57-57). The 2018 Mets, it will be recalled with minimal memory strain, shot out of the gate like a house on a fire until they went down in mixed metaphorical flames. The team that ascended to 11-1 and maintained a cruising altitude of 17-9 at this very stage of last season, finally discovered itself .500 after 50 games: 25-25. Two games later, they were 26-26; two games after that, 27-27. Then…well, let’s just say .500 looked pretty darn desirable by the halfway mark.

Conversely, teams we remember for extending their years joyously experienced a moment or more of stumble and humble. Your October-bound heroes from 1986 and 1988 bottomed out at 2-3. The 2015 club not only held that same drab five-game record but were no better than break-even after 84 games. The 1999 and 2000 Mets each dropped their Openers and reluctantly revisited territory beneath .500 somewhere down the road. The indomitable 2006 edition missed out on claiming wire-to-wire distinction by pausing at 1-1 (and sitting a half-game out of first for a blink). Our most recent playoff entrants, from 2016, not only lost their first regular-season game but found themselves looking up at .500 deep in the heart of August. Their spiritual ancestors [6], the 1973 Mets, famously climbed to first place and .500 simultaneously, hitting 77-77 on September 21 in a National League East that was more comfortable shopping at Korvettes than it was Saks.

There was this one April ages ago when the New York Mets were doing what they were known to perennially do: lose more than win. After engineering the modest self-esteem boost of a 2-1 start, those Mets slipped to .500, then below it, then characteristically far below it as quickly as they could. Those Mets were, at various plot points on their graph, 3-7, 6-11 and 9-14. It was a huge historical deal when they proceeded to win nine of their next thirteen and scaled their way to the highest peak commonly imagined for them: .500.

Oh, those 18-18 Mets were hot stuff in the eyes of their traveling press, the members of which had never seen a literally not bad edition so late in a Met season. Witnesses to the big clubhouse celebration were few, however, because most of the Mets weren’t celebrating. A winning percentage of .500, their best player scolded the media, was nothing to celebrate.

After which, the Mets lost five in a row to fall to 18-23, ha-ha.

After after which, the Mets won eleven in a row to rise to 29-23, and whether because you already knew the salient details or you’ve been paying a scintilla of attention all your life, you know I’m talking about the 1969 Mets, currently our fiftieth-anniversary darlings, forever the avatars of anything being possible. There was a time, however, when they weren’t “the 1969 Mets” yet, except in name. They might as well have been any other Mets to date based on their sub-so-so record. But records are forever subject to change while a schedule plays out, and a whole lot of games are waiting to be won beyond April. Tom Seaver, the Met who advised reporters to go find another story, knew that. Gil Hodges, who’d been convincing his charges since St. Pete that not bad wasn’t their ceiling, knew that. Soon, the whole world turned savvy.

Not every Mets team that touches .500 uses the most level of platforms as a trampoline — and three losses in a row maybe has us fearing we’re about to excavate rather than elevate — but let’s have faith that 2019’s next bounce takes us sky high and keeps us suitably aloft. What goes up can always come down some other year.