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The Long Of It

Hard to fathom that baseball grapples with a pace-of-game problem when a season that you could swear just started is almost three-quarters over.

It goes quickly, doesn’t it? There are 44 games remaining in this one, not counting anything that gets added on for good behavior. You know it was a veritable five minutes ago that we were counting down the days until Pitchers & Catchers, then the hours until Opening Day. By the end of this week, 75% of that same season for which we waited forever and a day to commence will have been crossed off the pocket schedule

This is a familiar August lament. Summer’s too short. Back to school ads (even for those of us decades removed from the looseleaf binder and pencil case demographic) beckon unbelievably quickly. Fall previews are churning out as we speak. It’s as predictable as it is sickening.

Yet let’s not kid ourselves, no matter our certainty that baseball and life whoosh too briskly by. It gets long out there. It’s a season that goes six months and 162 games and it tends to squeeze every drop of motion and emotion out of its contents.

As evidence, I present the first 118 games of the 2015 campaign.

• Opening Day. Mets win. They haven’t lost, ergo they can never lose.

• The first loss. Well, there goes the magic carpet ride.

• The third game, a.k.a. the first Harvey Day. Harvey’s back! Harvey’s unbeatable! We’re unbeatable!

• Two days later, two losses in the books. Groan, groan, groan.

• Eleven games later, the Mets literally can’t lose. How many World Series tickets should I order?

• Strangely enough, the Mets can lose and often do. Their eleven-game winning streak is snapped and their brand of unbeatable ball reverts to distressingly ordinary for a spell. Not much of a season, huh?

• We kicked the Phillies’ ass! We were swept by the Cubs! We scored ten runs in one inning versus the Brewers! We split with the big, bad Cardinals! We were swept by the Pirates! We swept the Phillies! We’re good! We’re bad! We’re…what are we?

• For a while we can’t hit, except when we can. We pitch like crazy, but what good is that if we can’t hit like professionals? Have you seen these lineups we’re trotting out? And now we can’t win at all. We’ve just lost seven in a row…DOOM!

• We swept the Reds. WE’RE BACK!

• We were swept by the Cubs. AGAIN.

• Oh crap, we have to go to California and play the Dodgers and Giants and that’s gonna be the end of us…hey, we won four out of six and THEN came home and swept the Diamondbacks. Maybe we’re not so bad!

• What a gauntlet after the All-Star break. Lose two in St. Louis, then win a really long game in St. Louis, but because it dragged so interminably, it didn’t really feel like much of a win, so we can’t count it as such. Then our all-or-nothing showdown in Washington, where Harvey (whatever happened to him?) gets lit up early and we split the first two and blow the third, and then it’s home to play Los Angeles and it will be more of the same.

• Until it’s not and we make some moves and we throttle the Dodgers one night and we come back against the Dodgers the next day and we shut down San Diego and everything’s great…except we lose to San Diego and ultimately inaccurate rumors swirl and the press is awkwardly briefed and we look ridiculous and we lose another to the Padres in embarrassing fashion, and what was going to be a good season is rapidly swirling down the drain unless that no-account GM of ours makes another move.

• That no-account GM of ours makes an astounding move just in time for another all-or-nothing showdown with Washington, and this one is real and it’s spectacular and there’s no stopping us, mostly, until the Pirates come to town and beat us two close ones and pull away in the third one [1], despite the gritty efforts of that Harvey fellow, who’s totally back.

All of these sea changes have occurred in the course of the very same baseball season. The Mets have led their division by as many as 4½ and they have trailed their division’s leader by as many as 4½. Strengths have been weaknesses and weaknesses have been strengths and foes thought formidable have proved flimsy and those we’ve wished to immediately dismiss have revived themselves nicely — same as us when we’ve considered ourselves practical goners.

A long season encompasses so much baseball and, with it, a surfeit of temporary permanents. Sunday the Mets gave little indication they’re a first-place club, but they remain a first-place club. As recently as Thursday they appeared invincible. As recently as Saturday they appeared comparable to the National League elites. It’s Monday and we’re hoping they can pull themselves together when next they play on Tuesday.

This is normal, this is natural, this is the way we are. Maybe the only hitch in our mood swing is that we don’t realize it. Seasons encompass twists, turns, spinouts and straightaways. You’re sure you’ve figured it out only to realize it eludes comprehension because there are 162 opportunities capable of completely baffling you.

The Mets, though, are a first-place club. They do lead the presumed mighty Nationals by 4½ games. The Nationals looked D.O.A. in April and resembled a lock by the Fourth of July. They are, as we speak, the hollowest of logs, the paperest of tigers. The Giants swept them [2] like the Pirates swept us, except the Nats were barely present for their series, whereas the Mets didn’t mentally head for the exits this weekend until the vengeful Citi Field tarp briefly covered the infield with distressingly awful juju.

What I think we’ve seen, after 118 games, is that we root for a pretty good team capable of playing some very good ball, but also prone to exposing its flaws, which isn’t a crime, because flaws are inherent in both baseball players and human beings. Their primary rival is one enormous flaw wrapped like a rubber band around a wad of counterfeit hundred-dollar bills. We could’ve sworn the Nationals were legal tender. Maybe they still will be. It’s a long season for them, too.

In the meantime, the Mets could use a little tightening. Get Duda back, because Cespedes without Duda isn’t much better than Duda without Cespedes (and we saw how well that worked for four months). Get Wright back, because Uribe is a helluva fill-in but a little too irregular to be a regular at this stage of his career. Leave Parnell’s name off the travel manifest to Baltimore and beyond if at all possible. One hopes they minimize the flawfulness that’s going to arise in the course of 44 games and maximize the skill sets that set up them up pretty darn nicely across 118 games.

The first-place Mets are a reality. The division champion Mets can be a reality. But there’s still a long way to go.