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We Just Knew

Before the Internet, original thoughts were easier to enjoy. Nowadays, thanks to all manner of instantaneous communication, you realize that clever thing that just occurred to you organically occurred simultaneously to others, perhaps many thousands of others. Gosh, you tell yourself, maybe I’m not so clever or original.

But it doesn’t mean your thought wasn’t right, or at least accurate. Wednesday night, while the Mets breezed along with their fairly comfortable lead in Philadelphia — built on the offensive exploits of Jeff McNeil [1] and Dominic Smith [2] and the pitching that’s better than his talking [3] from Jason Vargas [4] — I thought that this lead isn’t safe; that eventually it will be entrusted to the bullpen; and that the bullpen will hand the game over to the Phillies.

I know this wasn’t an original thought. It was expressed widely on social media and electronic message boards and probably published in textbooks used in every Introduction to the Predictable community college class from coast to coast. If you were watching the Mets in the company of an actual human being who had also watched the Mets in 2019, that person would have volunteered the same thought.

The bullpen will blow it. The bullpen always blows it. If I weren’t already a Mets fan, I’d have rooted against that outcome because groupthink is a turnoff and precedent doesn’t necessarily dictate results. For example, it only seemed extremely likely that obtaining a longtime American League All-Star second baseman leaning into the other side of his prime would wind up verging on disaster simply because it had happened before. We didn’t know it for sure even if nearly everybody who knew anything was quick to recite the names “Carlos Baerga” and “Roberto Alomar” before the sentence, “The Mets have acquired Robinson Cano [5]…” was completed.

Sometimes this is too easy. Cano has indeed extended that particular second base narrative (expensively, too!) and the bullpen won’t stop being the bullpen, meaning it won’t stop giving back leads and games.

Wednesday’s culprit was the heretofore revered Seth Lugo [6]. Seth could no wrong in our eyes. Even when he had a bad outing, we shrugged that it wasn’t really on him. We were grateful for his oasis of clear blue competence in a desert of sweltering ineptitude. He was the one reliever who was immune to whatever ails his colleagues. My theory is he used a different bullpen in which to warm up. I guess the Mets forgot to pack his private accommodations. (The MLBPA needs to forward a sternly worded letter of protest to 41 Seaver Way ASAP.)

Lugo being less like Lugo and more like everybody else around him in the seventh inning wasn’t good, and before SNY could show more footage of Philadelphians chowing down on cheesesteaks, the Phillies were tying the Mets. Once the game was tied, we all knew — knew — it would be lost. And it was [7], 5-4, in the tenth. The last pitch was thrown by Stephen Nogosek [8], who can consider himself properly indoctrinated. It was driven to deepest center, past former Gold Glove fielder Juan Lagares by Jay Bruce [9], which might have served as an unforeseen twist if you hadn’t encountered Justin Turner in a Dodgers uniform at any point in this past decade.

Ex-Mets beating the Mets. That’s another one we’re all sure is gonna happen. After an ex-Met did, in fact, beat the Mets, who’s to argue?

The season’s now halfway done statistically and 99% fried competitively. The Mets are 37-44, maybe not quite incredibly crummy in the context of all Met first halves (it’s four games better than last year’s), but surely getting there every time Ricky Bones answers the phone in lieu of Chuck Hernandez. The ranks of incredibly crummy first-half Mets clubs who arose from their morass and made the playoffs is a lonely one. If it cheers your morale a bit, I will share this nugget with you: those 1973 Mets who set the thus far unreplicable example for lousy teams to follow were in last place after 81 games, 11½ behind the Cubs, or a half-game further from the Braves than the Mets are now. After 81 games of their schedule, the 1973 Cubs had the same record the 2019 Braves have at this juncture. The Cubs commenced to falling apart and the NL East dissolved into the mediocrity scramble history would come to recognize it as.

So if the Braves play all day games at home and rely too heavily on aging players, the division might turn so up-for-grabs that a rival buried deep in fourth place that starts to surge could come roaring back in the second half and thrill us to our marrow. The 2019 Braves, however, equipped as they are with lights and fueled as they are by youth, probably don’t fit the 1973 Cub profile. And the 2019 Mets still have the 2019 Mets bullpen, which now includes Seth Lugo succumbing to peer pressure and acting a little too much like one of the gang.

In 1973, there was no Wild Card. Today there are two of them. The Mets do not sit an inconceivable distance from one. They’re only 5½ in back of the baseball equivalent of a dollar and a dream. The problem is that there is a plethora of would-be contenders sitting on top of them. In ’73, we had to pass five teams. Forty-six years later, there are literally only five teams we don’t have to pass: the three division leaders plus the Giants and Marlins. Everybody else is an obstacle to our prospective success. You know, like our bullpen and Robinson Cano.

On the other hand, Jeff McNeil is batting .351, Pete Alonso has 27 home runs and nobody’s audibly threatened violence against anybody in the Mets clubhouse since Sunday. What the hell, eighty-one games of baseball remain, or eighty-one more than winter brings. If we can’t all think good Mets thoughts together, here’s to the isolated contrarians out there who can.