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Saving the Worst for Last

The Mets have lost six in a row for the first time all season and have fallen five games below .500 for the first time all season. It is said you shouldn’t necessarily trust everything you see out of a team in September, yet I find it surprising we didn’t see this kind of downward spiral manifest in all its utter ugliness until now.

It’s also said you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing. But the Mets have looked bad for a very long time; they just somehow once in a while avoided losing. That brand of luck appears to have been pulled from the shelf.

It will get worse before it can possibly get better. The Mets are likely to taste the nadir of their profession when the team they’ve considered their primary rival for the past four seasons clinches its fourth consecutive division title in their faces. It could happen Saturday night if the Braves lose their afternoon game in Washington. If not Saturday, then Sunday. The Phillies’ magic number is 2. After observing these two franchises for four seasons, to say nothing of nine innings Friday night, can you possibly doubt a clinching isn’t in the immediate offing?

The Phillies play to win, and they won. The Mets play until they don’t have to anymore. They have nine games remaining. If someone told them they could stay out on a field and plow through 81 consecutive innings to fulfill their contractual commitment, I honestly think they’d take a deep breath and bear down as much as they are capable of bearing down until they grounded into 243 outs if that’s what it would take to get their season over any quicker.

Among the many things one can find to irritate oneself from watching the Mets have the string played out around them these days, I took particular note of comments made by Jerry Manuel before Friday night’s inevitable loss [1]. The subject was the impact a series like this — played in such a raucous atmosphere — might have on his young, impressionable players. Manuel went on about how it would be good for them to see what it’s like to compete inside the steaming cauldron that is Citizens Bank Park when a potential division-clinching is on the line.

It wasn’t so much Manuel agreeing with the premise, as posed by Kevin Burkhardt, that got me — it was that the Mets are suddenly going to learn about this now? Like this should be a novelty for them? They’re the New York Mets. They shouldn’t have to go to Philadelphia or anywhere to learn what it means to be hard-nosed or psyched up or whatever you want to call it. It wasn’t that long ago (though it feels like an eternity) when the Mets would occasionally blame a letdown in a place like Miami on their not being used to empty ballparks because they were so accustomed to more dynamic surroundings. The Mets would put a charge into Shea, Shea — we — would put a charge into the Mets and the collective energy level would reach as high as the Keyspan sign in left [2].

So now the Mets arrive from No Life Stadium, where they were swept in environs befitting their tepid pulse rate, and Philadelphia is supposed to provide some kind of lesson in how to get fired up. And they lose again anyway. The Mets don’t win when nobody (other than the Pirates) is on hand and nothing is at stake, and the Mets don’t win when they’re taking on a chronically motivated opponent in front of 45,000 red-clad brayers tased out of their minds on success.

Geez, whatever. Whatever the excuse of the night is, throw it on the pile.

Much was made afterwards Friday night about the hard, chippy slide Chase Utley took toward the body of Ruben Tejada in the fifth inning in the midst of a 5-4-3 double play. If this were an era in which the Mets also slide hard and chippily, it would have probably gone unnoticed, yet because the Mets lack familiarity with playing to win, it came off as unsporting or worse. Tejada, to his everlasting credit, not only turned the double play (despite a lousy throw from David Wright) but brushed the whole thing off as baseball being baseball.

If the Mets are pissed off about it, as their postgame quotes [3] indicate, great. Go out and find the other team’s second baseman. And when you’ve done more than not saying “pardon me” by Mr. Utley on our way to high tea, keep it up elsewhere. You don’t have to start throwing elbows or knockdowns every other inning, but don’t treat getting riled up like it’s that suit you only put on for special occasions. Every game is supposed to be a special occasion. Every game is an occasion to get riled up. Every game is a game to play to win.

After Chase sent Ruben heels over head, the Mets “began yelling at Utley from the bench,” according to Andy Martino [4] in the News. That I do find surprising, for it indicates the Mets actually watch the games they’re nominally playing.

If we’re sitting here in some future September examining yet another Mets win and we’re poring over quotes from battle-tested veterans like Tejada and Thole and Davis about how it all started for them that night in Philadelphia in 2010 — when they were rookies getting regularly pulverized and posterized until it dawned on them how the game was supposed to be played because they saw Chase Utley take nothing for granted…then I’ll believe the business about this being a good experience. For the time being, it’s just more of the same: The Phillies won and the Mets landed on their ass.

And if former second baseman and current Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman happened to be watching the postgame show, how far do you suppose he threw his TV when Wright said “cooler heads prevailed” and “we’ll re-evaluate the way we go into second base”? Enough with the cooler heads and the Committee to Re-Evaluate Slides, David Wright, chairman. Just shut up and take somebody out already.

As for R.A. Dickey, he could have pitched more effectively, but he had another MVP [5] night when it came to offering analysis of why the Mets lost. Words and phrases R.A. used in a sentence as he stood by his locker answering questions:

• etiquette
• grotesque
• refined palate
• culture
• deem
• formidable
• Petri dish
• oblivion
• vortex

Granted, “that sure was a good no-hitter I just threw” would have sounded better than any of that, but barring unforeseen events like the Mets winning games the rest of the season, R.A. Dickey’s Every Fifth Day Impromptu SAT Prep Course is the best, last reason to stay tuned to this team.

As if we don’t do this sort of thing everyday, Jason and I collaborated on a “Dear John” letter kissing the 2010 Mets goodbye at Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew [6]. You can feel our scorn and read us spurn here [7].