Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Game 131 - Mets
Getting X-ed Like the O's

Marlins 5, Mets 0
Record: 60-71

A few weeks ago, in an all-too brief moment of concession after lauding the Orioles' soon-to-be-halted success, I mentioned their 4-32 finish to the 2002 season. (Aside: two of those four wins came in one three-game series at Fenway. Maybe Rob can be justified in his Oriole irritation.) The O's, 63-63 on August 23rd of that year, were clearly overachieving, but very few knew to what degree. While 0-21 to begin 1988 still receives notorious mentions on a regular basis, 4-32 from a .500 team was only slightly less . . . impressive, for lack of a better word. To rip off 8-, 10-, and 12-game losing streaks (that's 30 games worth of streaky suckitude) in just 32 games is stunning. That it didn't cost manager Mike Hargrove his job really says something, though I'm not sure what. Either it clearly was beyond his control, or Baltimore's upper management had their heads up their inner harbors, or he had naked pictures of Peter Angelos (is there vomit on your computer screen right now?), I don't know. That despite this cliff-dive the Orioles still finished 11.5 games ahead of the Devil Rays is possibly even more startling. It was all remarkable, noteworthy, and quite obviously the most interesting thing in one long, boring Oriole season.

You must realize by now why I would bring up this dreadful finish. Yes, your New York Mets may well be on their way to an equally brutal, monumentally poor close to the 2004 season. Don't think so? I grant you that the '04 Mets roster is nearly to-a-man better than the '02 Oriole club -- check it out, it's wince-inducing. Only Buddy Groom as a middle reliever had a better season than his Met counterpart. But Hargrove was a solid manager who'd led his squad to performing way above their heads for 126 games, and even he couldn't muster up any more magic. Meanwhile, the Mets have Arthur Howe, a fine, grandfatherly (so the players say) man whom Mike Hargrove could out-manage with one hand tied behind his back. (Which would mean he could only call lefties or righties in from his pen, which would certainly make the game more interesting.) Howe's had the Mets on auto-pilot for some time now, and the last month of the season could look like Airport '04. (We here at MLC will at least try to lampoon it into Airplane! III: The Trilogy.)

More than the absentee managing, there have been the frequent injuries, the tired melodramas, and the poor performances. (Hey, are we on General Hospital?) We've go the no-name offense, the no-defense defense, and Fire Marshal Bill in the bullpen. The players just seem to want to get the season over with, a sentiment that corrodes winning percentages in the final months like little else. With an aged pitching staff on the verge of total collapse after carrying the club for 2/3 of a season, box scores featuring more rookies than an NFL preseason game, dwindling faith in the decision-makers throughout, and the team's heart having been Temple of Doomed about a month ago, here's what you'll see: close games interspersed with lopsided laughers. The laughers, of course, will all be losses, with the other team doing the laughing. The close ones will find the Mets on the butt end roughly four times out of five. That's about one win out of ten, which is about the same pace as the Baltimore Special Eds had two years ago. Keeping in mind that the Mets already have Chapter 1 under their belts, having dropped nine of their last ten, look for more of the same to come. More clever newspaper headlines, more comedic commentary, more ownership vilification, more mid-60's-win finishes. And Art Howe keeps his job.

In early August the Mets were just three games under .500 and still pretending to contend after sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee. What an unfortunate coincidence that the Old Milwaukee slogan -- also toasting something wasn't exactly top-of-the-line -- was "It doesn't get any better than this." It certainly has gotten no better for the Mets, but it could get far, far worse.

No comments: