It’s September 1, 2018. The Mets entered the month 59-75, 15 games removed from any stratum of playoff action. The kind of context that gives September its juice eludes us. We have an individual honor to root for where Jacob deGrom is concerned. We have an unfortunate soap opera to sort out where David Wright is concerned (such a drama queen, that one). We have the usual minutiae to mark down given the expansion of the roster. As soon as we see the newly promoted Eric Hanhold make a pitch, some of us will channel our inner Homer Simpsons and emit a WOO-HOO! because it will give us 55 Mets in one season, a record. Anybody else who shows up, we’ll mark them present, too.
But mostly it’s a September when an eleven-inning, 2-1 victory  steered by Steven Matz  for the first seven (eleven strikeouts) and brought home on a combination of strong relief (Lugo, Blevins, Gsellman), enough offense (Nido, Flores, Frazier) and a touch of glove (Nimmo) is…fine. Now we’re 60-75. We pick up a half-game on the road to nowhere.
We’ll take what we can get, and if a win is what we can get on a sunny Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, we’ll raise a thumb in its honor and anticipate Sunday afternoon’s ballgame. We have only so many of those left.
It’s September 1. It should have more to it than this. It should have stakes. It should have tension. It should have hope, or at least the illusion thereof. It should have a pennant race or playoff chase or whatever one wants to call it in the Wild Card age. September 1 should loom as the launching pad to a grand climax. Instead it’s the continuation of an extended denouement, except with a couple of more players lingering on the bench and in the bullpen.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Sometimes our team enters September with stakes and tension and hope and no less than a conceivable shot at October, which is what it’s all about. I mean, yeah, it’s about green grass and blue skies and family and friends and all that…but that’s subtext. The story of choice in a given year is winning enough so that you get to this point and you think you’ll win it all.
We’ve been there. We haven’t always won it all. Sometimes we haven’t won very much from this moment forward, but we made it through five months with the promise of a sixth that might lead us to a seventh, and if you’re playing when most of the rest of baseball has gone home, then you know you’ve had a helluva season.
This year, “hell” and “season” have gone together chummily and fiendishly. Other years, the words pair very differently, as in we’re having a helluva season. I count 23 of them where we’ve said that with some degree of sincerity and accuracy when August is done, 23 years when we arrived at September 1 dreaming big and thinking deep. When we get one of those, we are Mets fans first, whatever else in the background. There’s nothing like one of those Septembers.
This is nothing like one of those Septembers.
As a reminder of how it works when it is, I decided to try to remember those other Septembers. The Firsts of those Septembers, at any rate, when life was neither slow nor oh so mellow. Join me as we tour the subconscious of Mets fandom when September comes in like a lion and we’re ready to roar.
It’s September 1, 1969.
Having split a doubleheader at Candlestick, the Mets enter the month 76-54, already with more wins than they’ve ever had in any one season.
After all these years, our Mets really are Amazin’.
Tom Seaver just notched No. 19, tying Jerry Koosman’s mark from last year.
Cleon Jones is batting .351, for goodness sake.
We trailed the Cubs by 9½ less than three weeks ago and now the deficit is down to four.
We’re a little more than a week from Chicago coming into Shea.
Anything is possible, right?
I swear I don’t know how Gil Hodges has done it, but he seems to be doing something.
It’s September 1, 1970.
After sticking it to the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Mets are 68-64 and in a real dogfight, in third place, but only a game-and-a-half behind the Pirates and a half-game behind the Cubs.
Seaver’s lost a few in a row, but he still has 17 wins, seems a lock for 20 and another Cy Young.
Sure wish we were hitting more, though.
Agee’s at .291 and Shamsky’s flirting with .300, but Cleon is more than 70 points off his final average from last year.
Ah, last year.
Tough act to follow, but we are closer to first this September 1 than we were last September 1.
It’s September 1, 1973.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t think we’re out of it.
It was a horrible summer, but as Labor Day approaches, look at us, only 5½ back — and nine under, at 62-71 — but out of last place.
Fifth place doesn’t look so bad when everybody is bundled together like this.
Look, we just beat the first-place Cards.
McGraw, who’s mostly sucked, got the win with four innings of relief.
His ERA is still over five, but relief pitchers’ ERAs don’t necessarily mean anything.
The other important thing is we seem to have a healthy, representative starting lineup.
I’m telling you, this division is there for the taking.
It’s gotta be.
It’s September 1, 1975.
We’re hanging in there.
Lost the last two in L.A., but still: 71-64, a manageable five games back of Pittsburgh, only one behind Philly and St. Louis.
Speaking of managing, Roy McMillan’s making a difference, isn’t he?
Nobody wanted to see Yogi go, but it was time for a change.
Gotta love the change brought by Mike Vail.
Roy stuck him in left and Mike’s responded by batting .381, including his last seven games in a row.
See what happens when you play the kids?
Well, one of the kids.
Rusty’s no kid, but he’s driving in runs like crazy.
Felix is no kid, but he’s out there every day.
Seaver, who’s also no kid, goes for No. 20 tomorrow at Shea versus the Buccos
He has a chance to strike out his 200th, too, for the eighth year in a row.
We have a chance to make up ground in this series.
1969…1973…1975? Why not?
It’s September 1, 1981.
The strike was terrible, costing us something like 60 games when all is said and done, but you can’t complain about the aftermath.
Instead of being buried below four teams and barely fending off the Cubs for last, look at us now: a full-fledged second-season contender.
What else do you call being 2½ out entering September, tied with the Cubs of all teams for third, behind only first-place St. Louis and second-place Montreal.
It’s up for grabs.
We’ve won 11 of 21 since they started playing again and there’s no reason Joe Torre can’t figure out a way to get us even more momentum.
It won’t take much more.
Sure wish Ellis Valentine would get it going and that Pat Zachry could find some consistency (and that Lee Mazzilli would finally get off the schneid; what happened to him?), but Hubie Brooks is batting over .300 and Mookie Wilson isn’t far off.
It’s anybody’s ballgame.
Might as well be ours.
It’s September 1, 1984.
I haven’t given up hope yet.
Admittedly it looked much better a month ago, before we made a habit of losing to the Cubs, but even taking that sweep at Wrigley into account, we’re within reach, just 5½ back at 74-59.
Obviously this is the best we’ve been in a very long time.
We can get better.
We have them in for three in a week and go out to Chicago a week later.
They’re the Cubs.
They haven’t won anything since 1945.
They sure as hell didn’t win in 1969.
I’m kind of counting on form holding where that’s concerned.
I’m also counting on Dr. K, who goes for his 14th in the opener against the Padres today.
Man, that Gooden kid’s been on fire.
They also say Calvin Schiraldi, who Davey Johnson is starting in the nightcap, is supposed to be real good.
Look like we’re going to activate John Stearns, too.
Nobody deserves a real pennant race more than the Dude.
I hope we can start closing the gap here.
What a shame it would be not to win it this year.
Then again, we do seem well positioned for next year no matter what.
It’s September 1, 1985.
This has got to be the moment this franchise’s life has been leading to.
What a year…what a team!
Doc’s basically the greatest pitcher ever, Carter’s taping his knees and holding things together, Keith is slumping but he’s still Keith and Darryl’s gonna keep getting better (he’s only 23, you know) — yet here we are, two games behind the stupid Cardinals.
Twenty-four games above .500 at 76-52, yet we can’t get into first place to stay.
Doc’s winning streak even came to an end.
He’s 20-4, so maybe we’ll overlook yesterday’s loss.
We need everything we can get.
Paciorek’s been a disappointment and Bowa hasn’t done anything.
After the finale of the series in San Francisco, it’s off to San Diego, then Los Angeles, then home for St. Louis.
Gotta keep pushing.
This is our year.
I can feel it.
It’s September 1, 1986.
For the first time, we enter the final month in first place.
The Mets are 87-43 and lead the second-place Phillies by 19.
We have a video (“Let’s Go Mets”).
We have a Magic Number (14).
We have a month to go and it’s a formality.
This, to understate the case, is great.
I could do this every year.
It’s September 1, 1987.
What is it Starship keeps telling us on the stations that aren’t 1050 Sports Radio WFAN?
“It’s not over ’til it’s over.”
How can it be?
We appeared dead in July (10 out at one point), but we’ve kept making up ground.
Then we lose ground.
But we ain’t dead yet, not at 74-57 and the Cards only 5½ ahead.
This last West Coast trip is off to a good start and, before you know it, we’ll have the Redbirds in our sights at Shea.
We’ll have our pitching intact, we’ll have momentum…you’re gonna count us out after what we did last October?
I don’t think so.
It’s September 1, 1988.
Have we shaken off the Pirates for good yet?
They gave us all we wanted (not that we wanted it), but it appears they’re chasing only our dust.
Even with yesterday’s loss to the Padres, we seem to have this thing in good stead: 78-54, a 7½ game lead and, oh look, a whole new weapon in Gregg Jefferies, who’s batting .429.
Mookie’s been tearing it up since Los Angeles, Darryl’s gotta be the MVP and we’re gonna have some playoffs again.
I missed those.
It’s September 1, 1989.
Quite the scramble in the East, huh?
We’re tied for second with the Cardinals, 2½ in back of the Cubs, with the Expos, for whom Mark Langston maybe wasn’t the big differencemaker, only three out.
I wish I felt more confident, but I have the sense we made our big move in August, not just getting Viola but then edging to within a game-and-a-half of first.
Then Don Aase gives up that home run to Willie Randolph two Sundays ago at Shea and shades of Terry Pendleton and Mike Scioscia began to descend.
Still, we swept the Dodgers on the Coast (revenge!) and we’re part of the race, so you never know.
Plus Doc might be coming back at some point.
It’s September 1, 1990.
We’ve reloaded for the home stretch, picking up Tommy Herr, Charlie O’Brien and, for when the bases are loaded, Pat Tabler.
Plus we’ve called up Julio Valera to take the Saturday start against the Giants (sorry, Ron).
Honestly, I thought we would have pulled away by now, considering how Buddy Harrelson lit a fire under this bunch in June.
Instead we’re sitting here tangled up with the Pirates, 74-53, a half-game back.
Losing Kevin Elster was a bigger deal than I imagined.
So, in retrospect, was never fully replacing Gary Carter.
Magadan’s done the job succeeding Keith, though, and a rotation of Gooden, Viola and Cone oughta be unbeatable in September.
We’ll see, I guess.
It’s September 1, 1997.
Maybe I’m nuts, but I think we still have a chance.
Granted, seven games out with 27 to go is asking a lot, but I’m keying in on those four in Miami the second-to-last weekend on the schedule.
The Marlins won’t pull away with the Wild Card and I figure the Giants and Dodgers will beat each other up in the meantime, clearing the way for us to make a charge.
After taking three of four, including those last two in Baltimore, I’m not surrendering yet by any means, but I will concede being en route to our first winning record in seven years — 73-62 as we speak — is its own reward.
I had no idea Bobby Valentine was this much of a genius, but anybody who could weave so many spare parts into a fairly legitimate contender deserves the title.
I don’t know if we deserve the Wild Card.
That you have to earn (geez, I sound like Fran Healy).
That’s what September is for for us for a change.
Beats the hell out of what September’s been like at Shea most years of late.
It’s September 1, 1998.
Some days I can barely breathe from this Wild Card race.
Where are we now?
After beating the Dodgers last night (Reeder with his 16th), we are tied with the Cubs for the Wild Card, both of us 76-52, the Giants two back.
Don’t mind me speaking in the first-person plural.
This has been the kind of season to take very personally.
On one hand, Leiter’s been amazing, Olerud is hitting like he did for Toronto and Mike…Mike seems to have calmed down.
He can breathe.
On the other hand, Bobby V has to do a lot of mixing and matching.
It’s like the NBA used to have with foul shots: three to make two.
I love Fonzie, but he’s not quite what he was last year.
I tolerate Franco, but geez, he does not contribute to relaxed breathing.
Nevertheless, deep breaths are in order.
We’ve got a month to get back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
We can do this.
It’s September 1, 1999.
I’m having the time of my life, I’m pretty sure.
True, my life would be better without the Braves in it, but other than them, it’s been as dreamy a season any this side of 1986.
More like 1985, I suppose.
The ups, the down.
Lots of them.
Hard to believe they were ready to fire Valentine.
Hard to believe we kind of came back to earth a little after that 40-15 surge he promised and delivered.
Here we are, entering this final presumably crazy month of this already certified crazy year 80-53, 3½ behind goddamn Atlanta, but three up on the Wild Card field.
This infield doesn’t make errors.
Ventura’s like an MVP.
So is Mike.
Hell, Fonzie went 6-for-6 the other night at the Astrodome.
The starting pitching could use a little length (good thing we picked up Kenny Rogers), but the bullpen is solid.
I think we’re gonna do it this year.
Not sure what “it” is yet, but we’re gonna do something.
It’s September 1, 2000.
I don’t want to alarm anybody, but we are in first place.
The first-place New York Mets, 79-54, leading not just the hated Braves (albeit by a half-game), but everybody in baseball.
Well, we’re tied with the White Sox for best record in the sport, but never mind them.
We went 20-9 in August.
Mike made the cover of SI, and I’m not even nervous about that.
Benny threw a ball into the crowd — a live ball — and we won anyway.
Hampton’s come around, Bordick’s been a pro, Rick White’s enhancing the relief corps.
I’m almost too calm about how well things are going for us.
But also very excited.
It’s September 1, 2001.
All right, I know.
It’s a long shot.
Of course it’s a long shot.
We’ve spent practically the entire season under .500, looking dreadful for massive swaths of it.
But so did the 1973 Mets.
Possibly, but consider this.
Even though we’re 64-71, we’re hot.
We’ve won 10 of 13 and we’ve whittled the divisional lead to single digits.
The Wild Card may be out of reach (go figure), but do either the Braves or Phillies look like worldbeaters to you?
We have three at the Vet after we finish these two with the Marlins at Shea and six — SIX! — versus the Braves later in the month.
I understand the odds, but what if it is 1973 again?
I gave up repeatedly from April until the middle of August.
Why give up now?
It’s September 1, 2005.
This is a real “why not us?” moment, don’tcha think?
The Wild Card is as up for grabs as in any year we’ve been one of the teams doing the grabbing.
Being 69-63 is good for fourth place in this little playoff derby, but it puts us only 1½ in back of the Phillies.
The Astros and Marlins have the nerve to insinuate themselves between us and them (with the Nationals hanging a half-game behind us), but it’s all there for us if we win this afternoon.
It would have been far better had Pedro not been off his game last night, thus depleting the momentum Ramon Castro provided us the night before — and it would have been fantastic had we simply kept playing at Arizona, where we swept four and combined to beat the Diamondbacks, 32-5, in two of them — but Willie Randolph has us in it, and that’s all we can ask for.
Whatever happens, it’ll be good experience for the kids.
Wright, Reyes, Jacobs, Diaz, welcome to the pennant race.
It’s September 1, 2006.
We’re 82-50, 15½ up on the Phillies, a Magic Number of 15.
We’ve got Beltran posting MVP-type numbers, Reyes running wild and Lo Duca making us if not forget then not miss Mike Piazza.
We could probably use a little more pitching depth, but when isn’t that true?
Otherwise, we have few worries.
Helluva year to this point.
Can’t wait to see what awaits several weeks from now.
I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but what a 20th anniversary present for 1986.
It’s September 1, 2007.
I’d like to think we’ve taken the most resounding punch the Phillies can give us and we’re still on our feet.
That four-game sweep at Citizens Bank this week was brutal, but look at the bright side.
We remain in first place, two games up on them.
If we were really teetering, we’d be ready to fall into a tie with them ASAP.
Instead, we won last night in Atlanta, plus we’ve got Pedro coming back when we get to Cincinnati on Monday.
It’s not quite as up there as maybe we projected when were running away with this thing three months ago (when we were 33-17), but how many years do you get to run and hide from your division?
I haven’t even looked at that the Wild Card standings in case the unthinkable happens and I’m not going to.
Think positive thoughts.
It’s September 1, 2008.
In between my bouts of melancholy over the impending closing of Shea Stadium, I am allowing myself to enjoy our unusual first-place standing — 76-61, a game ahead of Philadelphia — without rancor or remorse.
How can I stay mad at the Mets for tearing down my ballpark when I’ve got Santana rounding into Cy Young form and Delgado slugging like crazy since late June, roughly around the time Jerry Manuel took over.?
How about Beltran with that grand slam to beat the Marlins last night?
As ever, there’s a few too many injuries nibbling away at the roster, but Murphy and Evans have filled in nicely and no doubt reinforcements are on their way.
I don’t know much about Jonathon Niese (that’s how he spells it), but he’ll start in Milwaukee and maybe he’ll help.
We miss Maine and Wagner, but then again, I already miss Shea.
Sure would love to send it out in style.
It’s September 1, 2015.
It’s not like us to buy in to the Mets being good, but they’re getting to the point of no return.
Or no returns, if you like the retail metaphor.
I understand how they let us down in their most recent playoff chases, but this isn’t one of those teams.
These are the Yoenis Cespedes-injected Mets, 73-58 at the moment, 21-11 since we found out he’d be donning one of our uniforms.
That’s what I’d call an impact player.
I’d also call the 6½-game lead over Washington sturdy.
Anything can happen, of course.
Usually that implies anything bad, but I don’t believe that’s gonna be the case the rest of the way.
We slew a few ghosts at Citizens Bank this week, sweeping both the 2015 Phillies and the specter of 2007.
At the risk of riling up the gods, the Nats don’t seem that great and we…we seem pretty darn good.
Not just Cespedes, but the rest of us.
I’m ready to creep out on that limb and suggest not even Terry Collins making weird calls to the bullpen will knock us from our perch.
Well, maybe I should wait until the three-game series in DC to speak in certainties.
But I’m feeling good.
Feeling better, for sure, than I have in a very long time where this team is concerned.
It’s September 1, 2016.
I’m as surprised as you are that we’re here, in the thick of the Wild Card race, a game-and-a-half back of St. Louis for the second ticket to potential paradise.
San Francisco’s two ahead of them, and we’ve still got the Pirates and Marlins nipping at our heels, but considering where we were a veritable blink ago — 60-62 and barely hanging on — I’ll take it.
After winning nine of eleven (two better than Jeri Ryan territory), our record is a very respectable 69-64, and in the age of double Wild Cards, very respectable can get it done.
Besides, we took two of three at Busch after the winning the last two in San Fran.
Could it be we’re actually the best of the middling lot?
Again, that’s all it takes sometimes.
We’ve stopped sucking.
Cespedes has resumed slugging, as witnessed by his walkoff homer over the Marlins the other night.
I had my doubts about Reyes, but he’s been a decent third baseman.
Cabrera’s been a godsend.
Actually, we’re getting by on a lot of godsends.
Two Riveras I’d never heard of before.
Justin Ruggiano, though I guess he’s out for the season now.
And who the hell is Robert Gsellman?
Just keep giving Terry pieces.
He’ll make ’em fit and maybe we’ll make it back to October after all.