Wednesday, October 05, 2005

These Are Better Days

Games 153 through 162 – Mets

Mets 6, Nationals 5
Mets 6, Phillies 5
Mets 3, Phillies 2
Phillies 16, Mets 6
Mets 11, Rockies 0
Mets 3, Rockies 2
Mets 3, Rockies 1
Rockies 11, Mets 3
Record: 83-79, 7 GB Atlanta, 6 GB Houston for Wild Card
Tied for 3rd in NL East and Wild Card Standings

Phew. Take a breath, people. I can’t believe that summer is already in the rearview mirror and winter is just over the horizon (autumn, the Mid-Atlantic’s best season, is on the endangered list these days), but when I think of the baseball season we just completed, there’s not one iota of “Where did the time go??” The 162 games the Mets and I just plodded through didn’t fly by for any of us; rather, they arrived to much fanfare, hung around, drank all my beer, entertained the guests, fell down the stairs, and stayed way past their welcome, but then offered a redemptive, heartfelt adieu before heading out the door. And now we relax.

We can relax now (and clearly, in light of my silence, I have been relaxing) because the Mets played themselves right out of the postseason with that 3-15 public pants-wetting around Labor Day. That putrid stretch inevitably elicited a bevy of what-if musings after the Mets’ final fortnight of resuscitation, but despite the disappointment, there is so much to like about the 2005 season that I’m going to keep wearing the blinders I donned in my initial prognosis for this team.

First of all, though the new-millennium Mets seem destined to incorporate one sizeable stint of stank into every 162-game schedule, the silver lining is that this seems to be happening later and later each successive season, making the viewing enjoyable for a longer duration every summer. In 2006, I expect a final-week plummet to miss the playoffs, or if we’re lucky, a first-round sweep. Two years later, though, we might even see the free-fall pushed back until the following spring. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Looking ahead to the future used to be a way to damn the Mets of the present and dream irrationally of a better day. Now it’s a realistic reason for excitement. It’s being pleasantly surprised with some of what’s gone on with an eye on bigger things around the corner. It’s the last line of The Bad News Bears. (The original. Please.) Roll call: David Wright; Jose Reyes; Mike Jacobs; Aaron Heilman; Juan Padilla; Victor Diaz; even Anderson Hernandez, who, though he went 0-for-17 before notching his first big-league hit in the ninth inning of the last game of the season, has that magic word “promise” attached to his scouting reports. It’s enough to preserve that shrug-and-smile “you never know” attitude throughout Mets Township for most of the winter, and that’s a big, big change from the discontent of winters past.

Speaking of the last game of the season, although the Mets were routed by the rubbish Colorado trotted out there, it was as enjoyable a final loss for a team that fell short of its goals as I can conceive. The fans at Shea were in A-plus form, giving the tingle to our heroes and giving the finger to our zeroes. Danny Graves got a moderate hailstorm of boos; lesser bodies of supporters might’ve gotten complacent on the last game of the year and let him off the hook, but not this steady group. Meanwhile, in addition to cheering on the normal rootables like Cliff Floyd – who homered to cap off an utterly impressive season (not sure what stands out more, the 34 HR’s or the 550 AB’s), the Shea faithful gave a special series of ovations to one of the greatest Mets of any era, Mike Piazza. Mike . . . you get your own paragraph.

What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Mike Piazza? The guy has maintained an unparalleled level of humility, understanding, and appreciation for his place since Day 1. To hear him last night in the Yankees-Angels telecast was to understand why denizens of the Township have every right to deify the man. He says the right things with a sincerity foreign to all too many professional ballplayers of any era, let alone the present batch of perspective-deficient self-aggrandizers. The Mets are only 43 years old, but they’ve seen an array of superstars don the colors; with Piazza, though, it goes well beyond the record-setting numbers. With the parabolic arc of Piazza's numbers flattening over the past few years, Mets fans have needed to gravitate to Mike Piazza the guy over Mike Piazza the athlete, but he’s always brought more to the table than the majority of his peers. That “Thunder Road” came on my iTunes shuffle (1 out of 12,016 songs) as I was typing this paragraph is amusingly fitting. Here’s hoping that, like Springsteen, Piazza enjoys a surprising resurgence in the twilight of his career, one that begins next spring. May he continue to be exciting to watch perform, worth the price of admission, and capable of cranking out hits when the masses clamor most for them. (Unless the Yankees sign him; then I hope he’s lousy. Sorry, Mike.)

Anyway, the Mets fans gave Piazza a reception to remember as the season came to a close, and my beloved 2005 Extra Innings Package concluded with a montage of Piazza moments as “These Are Days” by the Empire State’s own 10,000 Maniacs provided the accompaniment. (What, you thought something Piazza-related wouldn’t be a touch cheesy? Come on now.) Like Mike alluded to last night in the booth, the Mets and Mike Piazza in 2006 are plainly two great tastes that don’t go great together, but you just never know what might work out. Though there isn’t a single logical argument to be made for his return to the Mets, I find myself kind of hoping he does. This is reason # 749 why I’m not a big-league GM.

Back to the season in a nutshell . . . (I’ll refrain from making a comment at the expense of my tiny friend across the aisle.) There were plenty of reasons to cheer this year, from the continuing ascension of the young talent to a 12-game betterment over last year’s record to – especially to – a heretofore unseen amount of heart on the club. Seriously, for the first time since MLC’s inception I was able to use words like “scrap” and “mettle” and not be referring to Fred Sanford (perhaps in the context of “People Who Could Outrun Mo Vaughn”). The reinvigoration within the New York Mets spread throughout the Township, and that’s what made this season so thoroughly more pleasing than its predecessors. But there’s still one fascinating success this season that I haven’t mentioned. Something that, to borrow from a certain Boston Beaneaters fan, has made all the difference.

On April 2, 2005, Rob wrote:

Pay attention now, as the next sentence is as close as you'll get to a season preview from this side of the MLC table. I'm picking the Sox for another 98-win season in '05. They have the talent to win more, especially if Wade Miller is healthy, but the uncertainty surrounding Miller and Curt Schilling is enough to keep me balanced in my assessment.
On April 4, 2005, Whitney wrote:

I have clear images in my head of Beltran in the middle of the pack, Pedro on the DL, Piazza tailing off even more. Again, I'm not sandbagging this bet with Rob, but 83 wins is as high as I can see the Mets finishing. Maybe it's this pessimism that has biased my prediction, but I just feel like we've been here before. Game on. Now that I've established that I don't believe in the '05 Mets, it'll take exactly one pitch before I revert to my old self.

Pitch 1: A called strike to Jose Reyes.

The Mets are going all the way this year. 85 wins is the bet. Wild Card. World Series. It's all there for them.
98 – 85 = 13, for you math majors. The Sox finished with 95 wins, while the Mets came in at exactly 83, my initial prediction before I was strong-armed into 85. That 12-game difference means that for the first time, I win The Case Bet against Rob Russell.

And there was dancing in the streets.

Add these 24 Brooklyn Lagers to the pair of cases Rob owes me for foolishly questioning my knowledge of quotable philosophy (NB: “The unexamined life is not worth living” goes back a wee bit further than Thoreau) and there’s quite a party happening in the Lester household before too long. There might have been but two people fixated on this exhilarating battle between the Mets and Red Sox to close out the 2005 season, and one of them probably paid more attention to the more publicized, less significant pennant race instead. But if you were paying attention, you witnessed one of the Great Moments in Betting History.

Coupled with the relatively pleasant, positive outcome to the Mets’ season, this has made me extremely all right with the way things worked out this year. We're a long way from the elation the other half of Misery Loves Company experienced last October, but we're also a long way from . . . well, from Misery. A more “unexamined life” in the last two Mets seasons would have proven wiser, but riding the daily ups and downs alongside my talented peers in the Mets blogosphere (not to mention my uber-capable cohort here at MLC) this time around has made sustaining the life of this project a far more worthy endeavor.

See you in March, friends. God bless the Township.

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