When the Mets receive a really good start, as they did on Tuesday night, or plate a whole lot of runs, as they did on Tuesday night — or if they do both (Tuesday night  again) — then they’re pretty damn unbeatable. I guess you could say that for any club in receipt of those happenstances, but we’ve seen it enough lately when Dickey or Santana or, increasingly, Niese pitches so that it’s almost a Met thing. Same for when they get such a plethora of two-out hits that you don’t notice the runners left behind when the third out comes.
But when the Mets get a start that’s really good and then just…stops; and when the Mets get hits but not enough of them in succession; and when the other team’s pitcher is the last guy you want to see show up in the middle of the season almost being owed a win for his trouble; and, finally, when Miguel Batista…
Miguel Batista. Tim Byrdak. Jeremy Hefner. These men and their companions are more or less the Budweiser bullpen, for when you’ve said the names of multiple Met relievers in recounting how a sixth-inning 2-0 lead became a nine-inning 9-2 loss, you’ve said it all.
The record will show it was Chris Young who had the lead and lost it along with the game when he allowed two too many flies. While Keith Hernandez was marinating lamb and consigning half the population to salad duty, Ron Darling was eerily prescient in letting us know Young was about to be skewered by a Phillie lineup that had seen enough of him to grill him but good. Out went Young, the Mets trailing, 3-2. In came Batista, like that would be a solution to anything. Then Byrdak, asked to do something besides retire one lefty. Then Hefner, who is no longer with us in the Metropolitan sense.
Then it was 9-2, with New York abstaining (courteously) from scoring since the fifth and that, as Thomas Jefferson assured John Hancock 236 years ago yesterday in some city relatively nearby, was all she wrote .
Ya wanna be a pal about it, and not spit too much marinade over an ostentatiously crummy final score that’s kind of an outlier in the feelgood context of what the first 50.6% of this season has been. Plus, sooner or later that fella on the mound in the offending colors was going to change that conspicuous “0” of his to a “1” where the W’s are concerned. His name is Clifford Phifer Lee and the loss column is not his home.
I looked up after five innings and noticed the Mets had totaled two runs on seven hits, with one of the hits being a solo home run, meaning too few runs were being produced in conjunction with so many hits. That might have been a function of the Mets not taking advantage of opportunities — or it might have been a function of Cliff Lee extricating himself from potential trouble before remembering how to avoid danger altogether. You can tell yourself the Mets are averaging 6.5 runs per game in this series and you wouldn’t necessarily be kidding yourself.
But there’s no excusing that bullpen, where the cast changes but the sense of dread as the final act opens never dissipates. Out goes Justin Hampson. Out goes Jeremy Hefner. In comes Pedro Beato. Back will come Frank Francisco soon enough. Parnell will have his ups and downs. Byrdak will have his ups and downs. Rauch will have his downs and ups. Ramirez…you know how every couple of winters we get some “sleeper” or “hidden gem” in whatever deal occupies our attention for 20 minutes? That was supposed to be Ramon Ramirez. I knew it wouldn’t be. I’d love to provide a link to prove I knew this in December, but the acquisitions of Ramirez, Rauch and Francisco didn’t seem worth commenting on, because I knew at least one of those guys would be hit and miss, the other would be stop and go and the third would just suck out loud. Since all the smart money was on Ramirez to be “the steal” in the Andres Torres deal, I assumed it would be him.
It’s always that guy. It’s been that way since Gene Walter was going to be death on lefthanders and it stayed that way clear through interesting weapon/real find/however they overhyped Sean Green. Ramon Ramirez? In through the out door, buddy.
The subject of Miguel Batista speaks for itself.
Even the bullpens we remember with revisionist fondness required injections of helium to stay afloat in the Julys and Augusts of their discontent. The 1999 Mets of relatively sainted reliever memory actually needed Billy Taylor badly enough so that they traded Jason Isringhausen 300 saves ahead of his time. It (like obtaining the ineffective Chuck McElroy) wasn’t crazy, it just wasn’t thought through. The Mets were loading up on bullpen help a year later despite the pretty good unit of Benitez, Franco, Wendell and Cook, reaching out for Rick White. The ’06 Mets, whose bullpen was, in case you’ve forgotten, a strength as they were building an insurmountable lead, were likely going to grope around for an extra arm even if Duaner Sanchez hadn’t hailed that cab in Miami. Duaner had stopped being invincible by late July, same for Heilman. You know one way or another Omar Minaya was going to find a reason to lunge for and come up with Roberto Hernandez redux and/or Guillermo Mota.
I seem to be off on one of my historical rambles here, but the point is even good Met bullpens need reinforcements if there’s any hope of contending, let alone winning — and this isn’t a good Met bullpen.
Oh, and as for contending, let alone winning, I have to confess I’m still grappling with that concept where our favorite baseball team is concerned. On a day like the Fourth of July, one was tempted to think it’s a bad bullpen that stands between us and Washington or us and leading the Wild Card pack instead of being jammed within the first tier of challengers. That’s until you look around at the catching and the outfield and the persistent question marks or at least ellipses that define much of the infield at any given moment and, oh yeah, Chris Young and that six-inning problem Ron Darling told us about in the seventh when he should have told Dan Warthen about it after six (though that would have meant earlier exposure to Batista, so who knows?).
The larger issue is the Mets…contending? The Mets…maybe winning? The Mets…seriously?
It wasn’t until we arrived at the halfway point of the schedule having won several more games than we’d lost and having lost many fewer games than most of the league that I was forced to do something it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might have to do: take the Mets seriously.
It’s a strange situation for a Mets fan to be in or at least to realize he’s in. The whole point of these baseball seasons is to want your team to win so often that of course you’re thinking about them winning it all. That’s the goal. That was the goal for me when I was a kid and not such a kid anymore. I always thought in those terms, certainly in a desired outcome sense. Even in the truly awful years, I wanted, in February, to see my way through a thousand obstacles to October, no matter that I’d be disabused of my most fanciful notions by the second week of April.
With these Mets at 44-37 after 81 games (now 44-38 after one more) and every day in proximity to a playoff spot, how could I not be thinking that there’s at least a possibility of greater things? I look at the standings. I check the schedule. I think about advancing at the close of every night’s business.
Yet honest to god, I really haven’t considered that it might lead where you’re supposed to be focused on it leading. I haven’t considered that by having one of the two best non-division title records in the National League, we’d be in the playoffs. I understand it statistically but I haven’t made sense of it. I see us within striking range of the Nationals, and I want us to make up ground on them, but I haven’t really put the pieces together in such a way to understand that that would mean we’d be in first place, and if we stayed there, we’d be a division champion and in those playoffs. Forget about calculating that a playoff berth qualifies you to keep playing and keep winning.
There’s a disconnect here. I’ve seen these Mets win at a respectable pace. I don’t see any other team being demonstrably better. I see Dickey every fifth day and Santana every fifth day and Niese every fifth day and Young for six innings every fifth day and Wright every darn day and a net positive from all those other guys who don’t seem to add up to much, yet there they are more often than not getting the job done…and I still don’t see it.
I want to see it, I think. I say “I think” because the bigger deal to me is not that I haven’t seen it but that I hadn’t even allowed it to enter my mind until 81 games were played.
As best as I can figure, I’ve never fully gotten over the denouement to the 2007 season, the spillover effect into the first half of 2008, the way the conclusion of 2008 sequeled 2007’s, the destruction of Shea, my initial dismay with Citi, everything about 2009, much about 2010, the sense I was being sold a bill of goods during 2011, all the Madoff stuff coalescing to make retaining Reyes prohibitive and those stupid Underdog shirts  in Spring Training this year. The accumulated avalanche of ill will buried my “We Can Do It!” instinct to the point where digging it out didn’t seem worth the bother.
This season’s refreshing and resilient breeze, however, blew enough of the debris away so I was able to find my Met enthusiasm and feel it in ways I hadn’t since roughly the first half of 2007, yet the instinct’s been pretty badly bruised. I’m cheering mostly without inhibition again. I’m cautiously upbeat again. I now and then notice I’m expecting the Mets to win again, which is so much better than waiting for the next thing to go wrong. But I can’t quite push myself into believing they will continue to win enough so that “winning it all” remains in sight. It transcends the second-half dropoffs of recent vintage. It’s looking at the Mets and not being capable of seeing a team that you automatically take seriously in accordance with a seriously not bad or dare I say good record. Perhaps five years of self-defeating performance on, off and around the field has infected my instinct to believe. How could the Mets possibly win a playoff spot, a playoff series, a pennant or more when they’re…you know…the Mets?
I’m trying to catch up to my team. I just hope my enthusiasm doesn’t well surpass their reality by the time I do. Trust me, it’s more than a bad bullpen that’s holding me back.