That old feeling. It was there Tuesday.
No, I don't mean thrilling come-from-behind wins  against Hall of Fame (c)losers in which everybody has a hand in triumph, after which you look up and realize your team is in pretty darn good shape.
OK — that, too. But something almost better because it's been missing more than I realized.
With Carlos Beltran locked in more securely than anybody east of Garret Anderson , Howie Rose noted how when Beltran's hot, he's unstoppable, but when he's cold, he essentially gets himself out. So true, I thought.
Well, Carlos is locked in and he is unstoppable and it is a big help, to say the least. When he came to bat in the eighth with the Mets down by one and runners at the corners, I thought this first:
“Oh boy! We have exactly who we want up right now!”
I thought this second:
“If what Howie said earlier is accurate, that means at some point Carlos will cool off and a situation like this that comes down to his hitting with runners on won't be desirable. That will be very sad.”
I thought this third:
“Shut up, stupid.”
And this matters…how? I'm not sure. I just know that most of this season I've worried about thinking the wrong optimistic thought  and having it karmically backfire. Last night I instinctively went the other way, looking ahead to when something on some date to be determined will go wrong, as if whatever's going on at this moment is going undoubtedly right.
It was, in my occasionally overwrought way of rooting, the most reassuring sign that 2007 might turn out well after all. The five-game lead and such is a decent enough indicator, I suppose, but sometimes you can just feel something turn to the good and familiar. I remember after Piazza hit the homer that capped off the magical ten-run inning in 2000  that Rob Emproto mentioned to me the camera angle on one of the replays: Mike would swing and everybody on the first base side would turn en masse to watch his ball wave bon voyage. Rob said he grew used to that angle in 1999 when that sequence and reaction were regular occurrences, but to that point in the next season he hadn't seen it at all. Seeing it again was a relief to him.
That's how I felt worrying that the Beltran we got Tuesday night wouldn't always be that very Beltran, the one who tore up the league last week  and is threatening to do the same this week. It felt good to think in those “this is so pleasant I don't want the sensation to end” terms that were a dependable part of my thought process in 2006.
Oh, right…Beltran's at-bat. He singled in the tying run. You probably knew that, but it seemed worth mentioning.
The Mets fell behind again, but when Lastings Milledge returned the favor by singling off Trevor Hoffman  to start the ninth, you just kind of knew, didn't you? We didn't fall to Hoffman. We didn't fall to Heath Bell who was probably salivating at the chance to make us regret his departure. We gave back leads but we kept the game. It was a very first-place thing to do.
Bell was hardly the goat and Luis Castillo — game-winning hitter after Milledge, Mike DiFelice, Marlon Anderson and Jose Reyes did their ninth-inning parts — wasn't the only clutch performer, but I found their roles in this passion play of a baseball game instructive. These are two guys who seem to represent something to a good-sized segment of Mets fans.
• Heath Bell was the Overlooked Reliever who never got a chance from management who didn't understand what they had.
• Luis Castillo is the dreaded veteran who gets too much of the benefit of the doubt when in fact there is little in his current portfolio to merit it.
Nonsense I say to both dogmatic characterizations.
Castillo has vindicated my relative faith  in him, though I imagine there will be nights when he pops up four times and I ask what the hell Omar saw in him. Likewise, Bell may very well come in the next two nights and yield nothing to Beltran and make me wonder why we wasted him and Royce Ring on Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson.
But those are the actual ballplayers Heath Bell and Luis Castillo. They'll have their ups and downs. There will be nights when I'll be proven dead right about both — I didn't ever want to look  at Heath Bell in a Mets uniform ever again after his multiple callups between 2004 and 2006 yielded little in the way of substantial performance and I was reasonably happy to have obtained Luis Castillo because I'm not at all convinced of the specialness that many have assigned to Ruben Gotay — and there will be nights when I will be proven dead wrong. That's baseball and that's fine.
What I don't get is the need by some fans (and I'm not necessarily referring to anybody in particular, just a lot of what I've read online in my 2-1/2 years of blogging) to slot guys such as Bell or Castillo into their preconceived notions of player value judgments, for lack of a better phrase.
“The failure to give an unsung pitcher like Heath Bell a longer look is symptomatic of…”
“The reliance on aging infielders like Luis Castillo shows…”
Statements that begin with clauses like those are some of the most unfun sentiments in this great game of ours. They're right down there with “This week's Power Rankings say…” and “Hi, this is Jon Miller with Joe Morgan…” Unless you're vying for a general manager's job somewhere, I'm not sure what the big kick is in aching to be right rather than happy.
My blogging partner came up with a great line ten years ago, one he's probably forgotten. He had predicted the Mets would lose a hundred games in 1997. They were doing nothing of the sort that summer, as I like to point out once a month . In baseball, Jason said, sometimes there's nothing as satisfying as being proven wrong.
I sense there are Mets fans who would rather see Luis Castillo (or other vets who don't meet with their seal of approval) fail so it validates some abstract theory on player procurement. I hope whoever they are have been watching him field his position and handle his bat these last few weeks because he's been doing exactly what Omar Minaya acquired him to do and the Mets and, by extension, we are the beneficiaries. Rooting isn't a Henry Clay proposition . It's way more fun to be wrong and happy than it is to be right and miserable.
As for Bell, my feeling that he wasn't going to make it as a Met (based on 81 mostly ineffectual appearances across three seasons) doesn't look terribly valid because he's sure done well as a Padre. Maybe we could have gotten that out of him here. Or maybe he needed that ever popular change of scenery and a different pitching coach. I do know that if he were still a Met and was succeeding as he has for San Diego, I'd happily post three times a week, “My goodness, I was SO wrong about this guy and ain't I glad?”
Esoteric topic to chew over in the face of a rousing walkoff victory? I suppose. But the mind tends to wander when the Mets are winning. That, too, is a very good sign.