Congratulations, fellow Mets fans, we did it. We made it to September and we still have standings to pore over (don’t “pour” over them; they’ll just get wet). On Sunday morning, September 1, the 2019 Mets are four games removed from a playoff spot with four weeks to go in the regular season. It’s four large games, considering the three they recently lost to the team in possession of that playoff spot, and there are a few too many competitors for comfort as we peer out across this final month, but it’s September and we’re in it. As we were reminded last couple of Septembers, that’s a baseball joy only intermittently accessible to the likes of us .
For the privilege of saying “four games out” this fine Sunday in New York, we can thank several Mets from a lovely Saturday in Philadelphia, none more so than Wilson Ramos , four-for-five, and now on a 24-game hitting streak. This would have tied the Mets’ single-season record had Moises Alou not shattered the standard set by Hubie Brooks in 1984 and matched by Mike Piazza in 1999  by hitting in 30 straight in 2007. I phrase it as awkwardly as I do because I find relatively few of a diehard bent join me in having any recollection that Moises Alou hit in 30 consecutive games as a New York Met. But he did. Moises was 41 and on practically his last legs — his last everything, really — but his bat was eternally young and inextinguishably hot. Alou may have invented the fire emoji. He may have invented fire. I tell ya, that guy was old.
The collective incognizance of Alou’s feat a scant dozen seasons after the fact probably has something to do with the circumstances in which he forged it. The date it began, August 23, 2007, the Mets were in first place by a sizable margin. The date it crested, September 26, 2007, they were barely hanging on . On the first night in a month that Moises took an ohfer, the Mets found themselves with unwanted Philadelphia company at the top of their division. The next night, the Mets found themselves in second place. Two days later, that, and not in the playoffs, was where the Mets’ season ended.
Rest assured, however, the Collapse of 2007, the tertiary details of which you may have reflexively repressed from your memory, would not have occurred had the Mets had a few more Alous in their employ that September. Moises slashed and burned at the rate of .403/.445/.588 over his thirty games of hitting without pause. His accumulation of age and his absorption of mileage made the heat his lumber generated all the more remarkable. Moises Alou was out much of 2007. He’d be out most of 2008 to the point of disappearing by the middle of June. He’d been plying his craft on behalf of nearly half the member clubs of the National League since 1990, which was longer ago in 2007 than 2007 is long ago in 2019. What I remember most about the hitting streak, beyond the fact that it happened; that it was impressive; and that it alone couldn’t stave off disaster, was that the new Met record-holder conveyed the sentiment that he wished it wasn’t necessary. When Kevin Burkhardt interviewed him about how well he was going, Moises didn’t resort to clichés about seeing the ball well or being happy to help the team. Practically gasping for breath, Alou admitted he was, in so many words, gassed from playing every single day. I could feel him eyeing the bench longingly and lovingly .
Assured rest seemed to be what Moises craved most. After Game 162, he and his teammates would be granted an offseason’s worth of it. After 135 games of 2019, Wilson Ramos and the rest of the Mets are still striving to play more than their scheduled allotment. Good for them. The untimely lull in their fortunes versus the Braves and Cubs that erased so much of their encouraging progress killed neither them nor their desire to keep going. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s made them stronger, yet for two games they’ve effectively outmuscled the Phillies, one of the several obstacles that stands in the way of their full recovery within those nice, dry standings we continue to pore over because we’re a part of them, too.
On Saturday, our spiritually indefatigable Metsies stuck it pretty good to the Charmless Brycemen of the Delaware Valley , prevailing, 6-3, on the strength of the many.
• On the aforementioned Buffalo at his Moisesiest.
• On five sound innings from Long Island’s Own Steven Matz , who hung in south of the 631 until LIOSM realized in the sixth that he was totally out of his area code.
• On “old friend” Jason Vargas , whom we may have unfriended when we traded him, yet he definitely did us a solid by being VERY VARGAS as the Phillie starter and reliable pin cushion (4+ IP, 9 H 3 BB, 1 HBP).
• On critical middle-innings relief work from a bullpen whose setup component no longer automatically connects at Citizens Bank Park to a bright red button marked IMPLODE.
• On Six-Out Seth Lugo , who lived up to the nickname Mickey Callaway and I are determined to pin on him.
• On a calm and stable two-RBI double from Joe Panik , who now and then proves more of a San Francisco treat than Rice-A-Roni.
• And on Todd Frazier , national spokesman for those presumed dead but aren’t yet. Todd followed his two-homer performance from Friday with three hits, two runs driven in and a leaping grab of a bases-load liner struck by Cesar Hernandez that could have completely changed the tenor of this column. Legendary Little League veteran that he is, Todd seems to respond positively to playing in the same state that encompasses Williamsport.
The Mets not only arrived in September 2019 reasonably vital, they fended off a trip back in time to another September that may ultimately be their destiny. When they were losing their sixth in a row this past week, I was convinced I knew where they were going.
They were going to 2005. The 2019 Mets were the 2005 Mets incarnate. They still may be. At this moment, they even have the same record as them: 69-66 after 135 games. It’s the same record achieved at this juncture by the Mets of 1971, 1976 and 2016, but the similarity I’ve sensed in the present is of a piece solely with 2005.
Two-Thousand Five is so long ago that Moises Alou was still in his thirties and only on his sixth team. It is so long ago that one of the San Francisco Giants who was playing alongside All-Star Moises Alou (.321/.400/.518 at age 39) was Edgardo Alfonzo. Alfonzo was in the third year of a four-year deal I still stubbornly resented the Mets not giving Fonzie, even though Fonzie was never quite the force with San Fran that he was in Flushing. On Friday, we hit the twenty-year anniversary of Fonzie’s 6-for-6, three-homer night in Houston, a milestone rightly celebrated and praised on SNY. With Edgardo ensconced as the Cyclones manager after serving as a Mets ambassador, it feels as much like Fonzie never left as it does Alou was never here, a sensation I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed in 2002 we’d ever glean again. Some Mets should never be out of the fold. Alphabetically and otherwise, that list begins with Alfonzo, even if it doesn’t wind its way through Alou. (Apologies to Agbayani, who oughta be up there, too.)
I digress, and that’s fine, because it’s Sunday morning going on Sunday afternoon and the Mets don’t play until Sunday night. The only good thing about the Mets playing Sunday night is I can write on Sunday morning and not feel certain nobody will read what I wrote come 1:10 first pitch. So relax and keep reading. The larger point embedded in my digression is that in 2005, the Mets were not only 69-66 like they are in 2019, they alighted there in a disturbingly similar fashion. For most of 2005, the Mets didn’t much foreshadow 2019. The 2019 Mets were hopeless for months on end, then incandescent. The 2005 Mets were equal parts promising and frustrating. When I say “equal parts,” I’m being absolutely accurate. The 2005 Mets held a .500 record on 27 separate occasions, 25 of them in the first two-thirds of the season. Every time we thought they were ready to fade away, they took off. Every time we thought they were ready to take off, they stalled.
Then they got going enough to make us believe (oh, that word) that maybe they’d figured out how to win. The 2005 Mets grew so hot in late August that Moises Alou would have thought twice about touching them. These were the days of Mike Jacobs and Victor Diaz torching Bank One Ballpark so badly that the Diamondbacks had to rechristen it Chase Field; of Steve Trachsel emerging as a welcome sight from the disabled list and bolstering a starting reputation fronted by future Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine before the latter changed the spelling of his name ; of emerging wunderkinder Jose Reyes and David Wright; of Cliff Floyd being such a hard act to follow that the Mets would two Novembers hence sign the one and only Moises Alou to follow him.
The Mets were doing really well. They got to eight games over .500. They took on the Phillies in a crucial Wild Card race matchup at Shea. Ramon Castro hit a dramatic home run. The Mets moved to within a half-game of “if the playoffs were to begin today” glory. Visions of a September to Remember™ danced in our heads.
Suddenly, the music stopped. After the Castro bomb detonated, the 2005 Mets commenced to fizzle, losing the last two games of that Phillies series and continuing to lose. They got to September in decent enough shape, but by the time the kids in Steven Matz’s neighborhood were grimly gathering at the bus stop for another year of school, the baseball season had gone shapeless. On September 8, the team that had been eight games over was a .500 enterprise again: 70-70 and trending both downward and backward. It began to feel a lot — A LOT — like the preceding Septembers. Septembers 2002, 2003 and 2004 were relentlessly depressing. So was September 2005. As of September 15, the Mets were 71-75, and nobody in these parts was any longer tracking the standings.
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to cruelest oblivion. The 2005 Mets came back to life. Not enough to create the kind of ending that doesn’t require recounting fourteen Septembers hence, but rewarding in the moment. The Mets got their act together again and inflicted inconvenience on everybody they played. Pedro shut out the first-place Braves. Glavine, or the Manchurian Brave as he we used to call him before we settled on Gl@v!ne, tossed a complete game against his first and future ballclub. The Mets would beat the Marlins a couple of walkoffs when the Marlins were in their last weeks of behaving like a normal franchise and actually attempting to contend. The same Mets who dissipated shortly before Labor Day reached .500 at 77-77 and kept going. They even managed to thoroughly spoil the Phillies’ Wild Card aspirations — and the Phillies were just as annoying in 2005 as they’d be in 2007, if not yet as good at it.
It was a grand Metropolitan finish, a rise from the depths of 71-75 to a plateau of 83-79, the official record of so-so Mets teams, previously inscribed into the book of franchise life by the 1970 Mets and 1971 Mets, the epitome of so-so Mets teams. Those were the teams that cemented my Mets fandom following 1969, so I was fine with so-so. I thought 83-79, after 71-75, after 68-60, was splendid.
More splendid was what happened after 2005 — 2006 happened. I don’t know that there was an absolutely inarguable throughline from finishing strong after falling apart in 2005 to the blazing start that never cooled in 2006, but in 2006 I thought so. Changes for the better would be made during the winter in between, but to me, the 2006 Mets were the 2005 Mets enhanced, the 2005 Mets matured. To me, the 2005 Mets, once their loftiest goals proved unreachable, were a dress rehearsal for the 2006 Mets. To me, despite the notoriety associated with a certain NLCS Game Seven, the 2006 Mets are the best Mets I’ve seen since taking up blogging…which is something we did here in 2005, which might be why that swoon and subsequent resuscitation stay with me so vividly.
It may not be September 2005 in September 2019. It could be a superior September, a September that establishes a precedent we invoke in a far sunnier context in some later September. I’d prefer the downward and backward trending inherent in losing 19 of 22 between August 27 and September 15 be completely avoided. I’d prefer to keep poring over the standings for more than historical reference purposes. After these last two games in Philly, I’ve stopped giving up until further notice.
But if all the September 2019 Mets can do is point me toward next year the way September 2005 did…well, fellow Mets fans, rest assured, I will take it.