Monday, August 08, 2005

Still In the Race, Still Off the Pace

Games 107 through 111 - Mets

Brewers 6, Mets 4
Brewers 12, Mets 9
Mets 9, Cubs 5
Mets 2, Cubs 0
Mets 6, Cubs 1
Record: 57-54

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. (By the way, what do you hear more, people using that quote or mostly the same people slagging that film heartily.) After the Mets "stepped to the facilities" in the final two games of the Brewers series, our collective confidence in their ability to maintain anything beyond a "fair-to-poor" result had just about evaporated. So, I threw myself into enjoying a baseball-free weekend at the beach with all of the extreme vigor and revelry . . . that I reserve for this trip every year. Then, behind my back, the Mets duplicate their unlikely sweep of the Cubs from late last year; this year's nail in that Wrigleyville postseason-hope coffin wasn't the final one like in '04, but it was a pretty serious spike. Memo to the Cubs: might not want to look past the Mets next year.

Meanwhile, the Mets' own chances for season elongation got another call from the governor in the wee hours. By taking three from the Cubbies, the Mets find themselves still in last place in the NL East, but only 6.5 games back of the Braves. In the wild card race, they're just 3 games behind the Astros -- as well as everybody else in the NL East except the Braves. The division is tight, somewhat evenly-matched, and all solid; five of the top seven teams in the National League are in the East, and the Mets are at least one game better than every team in the West. What does this all mean?

Well, for one, it means that as much as the Braves have been living up to everyone's assessment that they're still the class of the division, they aren't out of the woods yet. All four teams are hovering around the outer perimeter of "striking distance," and if Atlanta stumbles in the near future (though it's a near future plush with NL West daisies to pluck), chances are that one of those four teams should make a run. And the Braves, after starting to pull away, have lost 4 of 7. Something to watch in the periphery, even as the eyes focus more actively upon the wild card standings.

Okay, before I continue to overstate things, the division is probably about four teams deep for the rest of the season. The dream inaugural season for the Washington Nationals has been interrupted by the wake-up call of reality. They're cooked. The Mets commenced the Nats' 8-22 run back before the Break, and there may be no limit to this free-fall. The only solace Frank & the boys -- and the D.C. fans -- can take is that their closest neighbor and future A.L. rival, the Baltimore Orioles, are somehow falling with a greater velocity, with a messier splat a-coming.

Back to the Mets. The biggest problem with any of us getting riled up after a three-game sweep is that the Mets are still only three games over .500. I mean, if through 108 games, a team is 54-54, doesn't that pretty much tell the story of that team? As opposed to, say, the last seven games, in which the Mets are 5-2? True, teams do pull off streaks without any warning, like the Marlins and Astros of '03 and '04, respectively. It's just that the Mets don't. It doesn't seem like it's in them. Take those past seven games: they plunked a two-fer of total squander amid five games that were scattered with excitement, rally, and dominance. Hang onto a pair of leads against mighty Milwaukee and you've got the type of seven-game winning streak that would really fire up the Township. As it stands . . . our heroes have done just enough to keep me interested. Yet again. But I can't complain too loudly; the Royals have just tossed ten in a row into the L column, doing just enough to keep the KC faithful rewinding their Beta tapes from 1985.

* * *

Oh, and speaking of yesteryear reminiscence, my weekend wasn't entirely baseball-free. On Saturday, Rob and I cracked open a few beers and hunkered down to play out the 1986 World Series, Strat-o-matic style. The series only lasted two games, in part because there's only so much geeking-up a beach-and-booze trip can endure, and in part because of the unbelievable (not hyperbole, not even close), nature of the Game 2 finish. Check this out.

After Rob's Clemens-led Sox beat my Mets in a Game 1 that saw Gary Carter suffer a horrible, nether-area injury that would shelve him for the series, the second game came down to the final at-bat. Down a pair of runs going into in the 9th inning, the Mets faced closer Calvin Schiraldi. Normally I'd have been licking my chops at such a proposition, but Rob had used Schiraldi the Sweatmeister to nail down Game 1 in easy fashion, mimicking historical precedent. After fanning pinch-hitter Danny Heep, though, Schiraldi gave up back-to-back doubles to Len Dykstra and Wally Backman. 5-4, Sox, Backman on second, Keith Hernandez at the plate.

For all of the smack-talking Keith has done in the name of calling a spade a spade from the booth since his playing days ended, he didn't get the job done. He whiffs, and the Mets are down to their last out. Have a smoke, Keith. If the Mets don't plate the run, they go down 2-0 at home and there's probably no way they come back from that. (Howls of derisive laughter.)

Anyway, they do plate the run when Darryl Strawberry cracks a double of his own. 5-5, and the Mets fans go wild. (That'd be me, and the Wheelhouse's Jerry, who was watching and serving as a technical consultant.) After intentionally walking Ray Knight and unintentionally walking Kevin Mitchell, Schiraldi hits the showers, unable to get that final out -- in one of a series of beautifully déjà vu moments. Enter Al Nipper. About that time, Jerry calls it. "Grounder to Buckner," he announces. Somewhere in the excitement, Rob Russell had forgotten to bench Bill Buckner, which is so rife with irony that it's too rich to get into. [In truth, we learned that statistically Dave Stapleton wasn't a much better fielder than Billy Buck, but Rob just knew better; Buckner had already made two errors in two games, including a costly one earlier in this contest.]

The roll is 4-11, which is . . . a grounder to 1B. Uncanny. And, of course, there could be no other possible fate than the ball getting through, the runner scoring, and the Mets winning, 6-5. Technically it was ruled a single, but it's still too perfect, it's why Strat-o-matic is such a good game, and it's why we left the game as it lay and threw back cheap suds the rest of the night.

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