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We Pray For October

I’m as happy as a Puig in slop that the Tigers [1] and Dodgers [2] won on Wednesday. It means the daily baseball express rolls on.

While the Mets and 18 other clubs scattered to golf courses far and wide as of September 29, the good teams kept on playing. The A.L. Wild Card tie between the Rays and Rangers was broken on September 30. The next day the government shut down. The day after that the Pirates shut down the Reds. The day after that the Rays did the same to the Indians. The day after that the playoffs began in earnest, and thanks to staggered scheduling and just enough competitiveness to ensure each matchup is brought either to the brink or to the brink of the brink, we’ve had a game every single day. We have the Tigers and Red Sox tonight and are guaranteed a continuation of the NLCS in St. Louis tomorrow night and some more ALCS the next night.

Plus the government started operating again today, so it’s practically win-win.

I shouldn’t use language too strong for what I’d do to have the Mets be part of this or some near-future October lest a clever prosecutor cross-examine me and ask me to confirm, under oath, “Isn’t it true you said you’d ‘kill’ to have the Mets make the playoffs?” But who among us wouldn’t figuratively go ape, even if it meant a judge ordering us to consume multiple bananas on the witness stand, if it were the Mets taking on the Dodgers or the Cardinals or any opponent handy? As much as I enjoy that somebody’s playing big-time baseball against somebody else (and neither somebody is the Yankees), goodness I miss being a part of it all [3]. It’s really beginning to hit home how rarely we’ve stormed or wheedled our way in.

Twenty teams have been around since 1962 or earlier. The Mets have participated in seven of the 51 postseasons that have been conducted in what we’ll call the Metropolitan Era. You know how many of their cohort — not counting the clubs that came along later — have been in more?

Almost all of them, for crissake.

Tell ya what, let’s lop off 1962 to 1968 when it would have been unreasonable to expect the Mets, Astros, Senators or Angels to finish first among ten teams (despite the Halos’ surprising run at an A.L. title in ’62), and start with 1969, since that signaled the beginning of divisional play and provided definitive proof that an expansion team could eventually grow up to be a full-fledged champion of something. In the 44 fully executed seasons that concluded two-and-a-half weeks ago, excluding strike-shattered 1994, the Mets have still made the playoffs only seven times.

Making the playoffs fewer times among their 19 established brethren:

The White Sox (5)
The Cubs (6)
The Rangers formerly known as Senators (6)

And that’s it. Then it’s the Mets and Tigers, with 7 apiece, and it moves up the frequency ladder to the long-dormant Indians (8 times, all since 1995), the expansioneer Angels and Astros (9 each) and a few franchises that have experienced oases of dominance amid endless dry spells (Pirates, Giants, Orioles and Twins, 10 apiece). From there you get all those teams that the unaligned fan probably finds himself instinctively rooting against sooner or later because nothing exceeds like success:

The Reds (11)
The Phillies (12)
The Dodgers (13)
The Red Sox and Cardinals (14)
The A’s (17)
The Braves (19)
You don’t want to be explicitly reminded (22)

For the record, of the teams that came into existence from 1969 forward, it goes, from top to bottom, Royals (7), Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Padres (5), Brewers, Rays and Mariners (4), Rockies (3), Exponentials/Natspos and Marlins (twice apiece). The Mets at least haven’t been outflanked by their juniors — and maintain a little something to hold over the head of the Windy City should that become a priority [4]. (It might prove useful should an argument over pizza styles require a digression.)

All of this is to say I’m used to seeking succor in October baseball that isn’t synonymous with Mets baseball. It’s not just better than nothing. It’s better than most things. It’s October 17 and the summer game will be televised nightly through October 20, perhaps October 21 and then, following a short break, hit the airwaves again October 23. I’m well-versed in immersing myself in seemingly random matchups of Dodgers and Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers, Whoever and Whoever. I can take a side [5], I can choose a foe, I can change my mind or I can just sit back and admire.

But I sure wish I’d had the opportunity to have been overwhelmed by the presence of the Mets in October more than seven times in my 44 postseasons to date; more than three times in the past 24 postseasons; more than once in the past 13 postseasons [6]; and more than not at all in the past 7 postseasons.

I wish I had a problem on my hands like Yasiel Puig. I’d love to have a guy that talented on my team breaking unwritten rules left and right in games that are tallied toward championship consideration. Or, I suppose, I’d love for my team to be carping at a guy [7] that talented from the other dugout right about now provided they were getting him out as often as the Cardinals have.

I’ve listened to and read a lot of opinions on how Puig plays the game during this NLCS. What I’ve noticed is that he is literally playing the game while most others in his sport are pursuing wildlife and/or fish in presumably sportsmanlike fashion. If “excitable” or “emotional” or whatever code words are applied to Puig’s non-grimness is how the kid rolls, and his manager doesn’t find himself trying to demote him while being called a sucker of some kind [8], then he doesn’t bother me.

Besides, my unwritten [9] rule — though I’m apparently writing it here — is if a Met does something at odds with convention, it’s probably OK, whereas if it’s being done against the Mets, it’s a horrible affront to all that is sacred and thus requires retribution or a tantrum of some kind.

The Mets, as mentioned, aren’t playing. Do what ya want, Yasiel.

I also wish I had a problem on my hands like inconvenient starting times for my Mets playoff games. For years the gripe of choice has been playing too many games too late. It will probably be regriped during the World Series. There was also, going back nearly twenty years, what I considered a very legitimate concern regarding concurrent scheduling. In the mid-’90s, baseball’s best minds concocted a plan in which all four division series would run simultaneously but no more than one would be beamed into a given market — likewise the first five games of both league championship series. That strategy was known as The Baseball Network, a splendid 1995 answer to the afterstrike question, “How do we keep as many of our fans in the dark as possible?” Fortunately, TBN lasted only that one postseason.

About a decade later, it was decided the bulk of the LCSes should be played at the exact same time, with one featured on Fox and one shifted to a (then totally obscure) cable outlet known as FX depending on where you lived. If you were in New York, which was understandably caught up in the 2004 ALCS and its excellent outcome, chances are you saw next to none of the equally legendary Cardinals-Astros showdown that made Carlos Beltran a bankable commodity. Baseball got over that foot-shooting thinking, too.

We have ten teams instead of eight in the playoffs for the same reason we have eight instead of four and four instead of two: more television programming, more television money. Fine with me. I’m already paying too much for cable, so it might as well include lots of baseball. Naturally you have to occasionally squeeze in a game here or there away from prime time, which is also fine. It’s baseball. October. Daylight. Sun. Shadows. All that. The tradeoff is it’s not perfectly timed to everybody’s comings and goings in this world. But that’s always been the tradeoff. Go curl up with some Ken Burns if you weren’t sure.

I assumed we knew that. Yet because Los Angeles is in the tournament, their 4:07 PM Eastern start Wednesday was, locally, a 1:07 PM Pacific start. I can see where that would be inconvenient, particularly for the Dodger fan who cannot escape his job or his class or other daytime commitment. I can see where, as suggested [10], it’s not optimal for the baseball viewer on either coast or in between for the same reason.

To which I say, oh, please, give me an inconvenient start time of 1:07 PM local for my Mets playoff game. Or 11:07 PM as was the case in 1999, live from Phoenix. Or five in the morning should the Mets ever draw the Hanshin Tigers in a real World Series. When your team has made the playoffs sporadically at best in your half-century of living, you don’t complain too loudly about when you have to show up or tune in. You go with it. You don’t wish to give the networks and other powers that be (though I guess the networks are the ultimate powers that be in baseball) too much rope with which to tie up your productivity and responsibilities, but if your team is in the playoffs, you’re pretty much a willing hostage to the process. Otherwise why would you sweat out 162 games to get to this cherished apogee of life?

TV isn’t having any more weekday afternoon games this year anyway. We get one more Game Five, a pair of Game Sixes and, if we’re good, a couple of Game Sevens. And then another four to seven between this weekend’s winners. Then, when those are over, we’ll all be in the same baseball-less boat.

Could be worse. We could all be from Chicago.