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Business Taken Care Of

Like any rightly prioritized Mets fan, I spent Wednesday evening watching the UltiMet Classic airing on SNY, the three-hit shutout [1] spun by Johan Santana on Saturday, September 27. It was the final Mets win in the history of old Shea Stadium and, maybe, the end of an era in another way.

When Johan induced a deep fly to left from Cody Ross for the final out, “Takin' Care of Business” blasted from the loudspeakers. It became a tradition in 2006 and it stayed a tradition, outlasting some mighty seedy business in 2007 and 2008. It was a tacit acknowledgement that the Mets envisioned themselves essentially the same team from the year they dominated the Eastern Division to the moment they were desperately trying to stave off their second consecutive premature elimination.

Within a couple of hours of the rebroadcast, the music stopped playing for the Mets of that era. I think we've moved on, and I'm not talking just from Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

The Mets have dramatically altered their cast of characters, trading a trio of featured performers from the TCB era in a moderately epic transaction [2] that clearly looks ahead. It's hello, J.J. Putz, legitimate closer turned Francisco Rodriguez opening act. It's hello, two other guys I've heard of from the Mariners, Sean Green (whose name will inevitably be misspelled) and Jeremy Reed. It's a three-team, twelve-player deal that also waves some serious goodbyes.

Goodbye Joe Smith. Goodbye Aaron Heilman. Goodbye Endy Chavez.

Goodbye to 2008 and 2007 and 2006.

The bottom line portion feels strongly net-positive because our last conscious thoughts, to channel Douglas MacArthur [3], have been of the pen, the pen and the pen. This pen needed a Putz as opposed to what it's been filled with lately (go ahead, get it out [4] of your system). Yet it's strange. Learning the guys who are no longer Mets were no longer Mets took me by surprise.

I'd gotten used to Joe Smith, even if it's only been two seasons. Smith was a nice story, the youth and the sidearming, the vague gee-whizness about him yet the guts to punch out one big-time righty after another. He was the only reliever I trusted by the end of 2008, which is a sad commentary on the state of Met relievers considering Smitty was a specialist, but he earned that trust. He takes it to Cleveland, the other corner of this triangular trade.

I'd gotten used to Aaron Heilman, even as I kept thinking I should get to a doctor and see about having him removed. There was a lost opportunity, maybe two, with Heilman. That endless hum of chatter that perhaps he should be a starter was not without merit. He worked hard to become a good one — anybody remember that one-hitter [5]? — and he was moved for the good of the team. Nobody with tenure ever does anything for the good of the team, save for the occasional exceptional Craig Biggio type. Heilman moved for the good of the team to the pen, whether he wanted to or not. He was nasty for a while. Then he was hurting and immensely ineffective. I saw Aaron more as pitiable than pitiful. I saw him as a Met since 2003. I saw him give up a monster of a home run to Barry Bonds and survive to beat the Giants anyway. I saw him keep the Cardinals at bay, tightrope style [6], in the twelfth and the thirteenth and the fourteenth until Albert Pujols got the last word in on him. The last word for Aaron Heilman and the Mets should be somewhere north of “boo.” I hope his next words are “…and starting for the Seattle Mariners.”

I'd gotten used to Endy Chavez and his continuous loop [7]. You'd think Endy [8] had done only one thing in a Mets uniform. He never had to do anything else, but he kept contributing as best he could and as frequently as asked, which was mostly in tops of ninths when the Mets led and somebody inexperienced or brittle needed to be removed from left. That final-ever Shea Stadium win that ended with a deep fly? That fly landed in Endy's glove, inserted minutes earlier. No big shock. We all know Endy Chavez's glove is where homers went to die. Now Endy Chavez's glove and all the rest of him go to Seattle. He'll catch everything there, too. Other outfielders can only envy Chavez.

Smith, Heilman and Chavez (plus Jason Vargas, Mike Carp and two minor leaguers utterly unfamiliar to me) are all gone. They may not have been the signature players of the past three seasons, but they left their mark on this era that feels, every day, like another era. Not saying that's a bad thing. Watching that final win of 2008 Wednesday night twisted me up good inside. Part of that was the drama of the game [9] itself, part of it was knowing what followed [10] the next afternoon. We know the Mets lost that Sunday and didn't make the playoffs just like they lost on the same Sunday in 2007 and didn't make those playoffs. But that's not what was twisting my insides.

When the Mets didn't win Game 162 again, it ended Shea [11], yes, and ended the season, sure, but it also ended these past three years, the three years of “Takin' Care Of Business” every day. This is not a musical rumination. Mets games were a lot of fun to be at since 2006. Yeah, morons sat behind me and yeah, idiots booed, and you bet, three graspable World Series refused to be played before my eyes, but it was an exciting time, I swear it was. Even with the attendance figures inflated beyond rational belief, Shea was a lot more filled than not. The fans were a lot more happy than not. We were always in it. There was always something at stake. It curdled in mid- to late September twice, it came up a scooch short in October once, but it was a great thing to be a part of. Before 2006, it was only intermittently like that.

Every era of Mets baseball is my era, I like to say. It's why I was so touched when those 43 Mets [12] walked onto the field after Shea's final out. Except for the few guys whose Met careers completely predated my awareness, every one of them set off an electrical charge for me. In an instant I was back in their seasons, watching their teams. Those were my seasons, my teams. Smith and Heilman and Chavez…those guys, too. They're 2008 and 2007 and 2006, the whole vibe that the Mets were so close to the promised land. Even if it revealed itself as a misguided notion [13], it brought me to a state of constant roar. It might surprise you to learn that's not my default setting. And it surely gave me a lot to write about in this space.

Let's not get too carried away with our bon voyages. Smith and Heilman and Chavez are gone, but Wright and Reyes and Beltran and Delgado are still here, as are a few others who have filled supporting roles in our most recent seasons of boisterous contention. The goal is to have that core, in conjunction with St. Johan and our merry band of closers, touch off a whole other era — ideally an even better era in what's intended to be the most worthy of settings.

That would be fantastic. But it won't be what we've had. What we've had needed revision very badly in spots, niches that have been, as far as can be told from the vantage of December, beautifully addressed. Yet I wouldn't lightly dismiss what we've had. We've had a pretty high time for three years. Three Mets who had a hand in it are no longer Mets. It is no longer their team, their time. That is not necessarily to be mourned, but it is to be acknowledged. So, too, it is emphasized, in case we forgot, that our favorite game is a business. Sometimes, no matter what's come before, business has got to be taken care of.

And speaking of business, Metstradamus [14] made quick work of any and all sentimentality one is tempted to attach to the career of Aaron Heilman with a stunning video tribute here [15].