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Hapless Fifth Anniversary

Crazy how the baseball schedule sometimes does this:

On Thursday afternoon, August 30, 2012, the New York Mets finished a series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

On Thursday afternoon, August 30, 2007, the New York Mets finished a series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The circumstances surrounding the respective one-run losses that resulted from these coincidentally slated finales couldn’t have been more different, yet my mind shot directly back five years [1] as I paid half-attention to this year’s model, a 3-2 defeat that prevented a Mets sweep [2] and leaves the Mets one game behind the Phillies in the nonexistent race for third place [3] in the N.L. East. Jon Niese pitched OK, but not as well as Kyle Kendrick. Mike Baxter and Scott Hairston flashed some power but the bigger hits were spun by Kevin Frandsen and endless Ty Wigginton. Jimmy Rollins…

Well, Jimmy Rollins has been around a while now, hasn’t he? Five years earlier to the day, Jimmy Rollins was rolling up MVP points as part of the 17-hit attack that effected the harrowing 11-10 Mets loss [4] of that final Thursday afternoon in August, which ended a four-game series that gone 100% in Philadelphia’s direction. By slapping the Mets every which way but loose between August 27 and August 30, the Phillies pulled to within two games of the first-place Mets, scaring the complacency out of a fan base that snickered the previous winter when Rollins had the temerity to announce his team — and not our team — was the team to beat in our division. Rollins backed up his insouciance with a 9-for-19 series and, along with a raging hot band of Phillie teammates, seemed to knock the “in” clear out of the Mets’ inevitability.

Then, for two blissful weeks, it was as if it had never happened [5]. The 2007 Mets, so prone to lethargy since the end of May, got their act together and swept Atlanta in Atlanta, took two of three in Cincinnati, swept the Astros at Shea and then won two of three at home from the Braves. The New York lead returned to a rightful bulge of seven games with seventeen to play.

We know what happened directly thereafter and what hasn’t happened since. The Mets became distressingly and perennially evitable, the Phillies won the division and the Phillies kept winning divisions. Though there was a gap between the August 27-30 sweep and the collapse that commenced in earnest the weekend of September 14-16, when the Phillies came to Shea (accompanied for the very first time by their fans) and swept three more, I think it’s fair to say our world changed five years ago today. Or at least it offered evidence it was about to change for the much, much worse.

As for Rollins and the Phillies, five division titles, two pennants and a world championship is a pretty good half-decade’s work. That’s all ending for them now, as they, like us, are light years removed from the 2012 pennant race and it would take about six Worst Collapses Ever to catapult them into contention at this late stage of the season. Rollins could do no wrong five years ago at this time; he left that to the likes of Billy Wagner, who blew the save that would have salvaged the series for the Mets and maybe held off history for one more year or, if you’re a baseball romantic, forever. If the Mets emerge from that Thursday, August 30, with a win, it’s as possible as it’s not that they repeat as N.L. East champs in 2007, go to the postseason and who knows? Instead, we do know.

Jimmy, by the way, isn’t contending for MVP honors this year. As he’s gotten older, he’s somehow grown less mature. On this Thursday, August 30, he loafed to first base on an embarrassing dropped infield popup in the sixth and kept his head hidden well up his rear as he got tagged out in a rundown between second and third in the same inning. Charlie Manuel reintroduced his veteran shortstop to the bench shortly thereafter.

None of which helped the Mets in 2012 and none of which reverses the fortunes from 2007. But strange that the same teams were playing on the same day of the week at the same time of day on the same date on the calendar in the same ballpark so close in the same standings, and that Jimmy Rollins was once more at the heart of the story.