Thursday, June 08, 2006

New Sensation

Game 58 – Mets

Mets 9, Dodgers 7
Record: 35-23

These Mets – the new, new Mets – have demonstrated a noticeable difference from their predecessors, but the change is twofold: half of it is the conspicuous improvement in win-loss results, while the other is harder to articulate; it’s an intangible sort of divergence from recent years that, until two minutes ago, I’d been languishing at fully deciphering. It was only when I was beginning to type this recap that it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here’s how my post began:
Extend the Mets good will, and you shall be rewarded. After yesterday’s show of
support and faith in the New York nine, the boys went back to what they’ve been
doing all season: rescuing a win from the well-trod, downhill path towards loss.
The Mets seem to be responding to a little confidence in ways they never have .
. . [epiphany hits]
There were a handful of consistent occurrences in the Met seasons of 2003, 2004, and 2005, as chronicled here in a fashion more painful and awkward than in a thousand teenage blog-diaries/desperate pleas for help. There was commonality even between seasons with a 17-win differential (’03 & ’05), mostly in things like a fat losing streak that undoes all the progress, a sadly serious interpretation of “Who’s On First?”, and a bullpen sponsored by Maalox and the APA. More constant than any of these facets, the Old Faithful of aggravating aspects if you will, was an unfailing, sure-as-shit kind of law of the land that toed the line between uncanny and truly paranormal. Oh, and it was exasperating as all get-out. By now, you members of the devoted MLC readership know exactly what I’m about to type. Here was the rule:

If I support the Mets, they will lose. The more I believe in their ability, the
more they will lose. The more I follow their progress, meticulously examining,
analyzing, and expounding upon their play, the more they will lose and lose
badly. The more I dedicate myself to championing the Mets’ cause, the more they
will make me wish I had instead dedicated myself to punching myself in the face.

Conversely, as soon as I write the Mets off, they will become
resuscitated and win. If I declare them dead in the water, they will instantly
make me look the fool (late August and September games excepted). If I swear off
watching games, reading articles, and writing about the Mets, they will engage
in a winning streak of some stature. Just enough to lure me back into a state of
confidence and enthusiasm about the team, at which point paragraph one kicks in
like clockwork.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Here were Exhibits A through C of evidence; E through JJJ will remain in the archives at right for the purpose of (relative) brevity:

Did you ever have a girlfriend who played mind games with you? If you were affectionate and doting, she'd push away, but brush her off and she was all over you? I can’t stand those girls.

This pattern was kind of funny for a while, but it's just excruciating now. When I step away, the Metropolitans thrive as if they were a real baseball team. After I'm sucked back into it, they wilt. It seems like this scenario could not possibly be reality. How could my optimism continually yield poor play while my pessimism and/or apathy renders drastic improvement?

Elaborated upon:

No. We've tried this before, and the evidence is mounting. When I follow the Mets' progress closely, they lose. When I hunker down and tune in for the duration, they lose badly. If I were to go to a game, they might fold the franchise. And the level of vitriol therein is directly proportional to the level of solid play soon thereafter. It's beyond uncanny. It's odder than The Odd Couple, it's weirder than Weird Science, it's stranger than L'Étranger. It's not just bizarre, though, it's painful.

More fully explained:

And on it went, forming into a full contagion that had Rob and his Red Sox in identical effect at times. This year, however, the unpleasant fog over my love of the franchise seems to have faded, giving way to a more symbiotic relationship. Yesterday I shook aside some of the more manic barbs aimed at the Metmen and saw the silver lining. The Mets rewarded my encouragement with a nice win – nicer than a cursory glance might indicate.

Okay, first off, let’s address the one downside of this contest: Tommy Glavine was putrid. It was his worst outing in recent memory, and the first time he didn’t go six innings in 27 starts. He gave up six runs in five-plus, and didn’t look comfortable from the outset, as evidenced by Rafael Furcal’s leadoff bomb. TG squandered the most run support he’s had in eons from the Metbats. A more worrisome kind of fan might fret mightily about consecutive shabby performances from the Mets’ #1 and #2 pitchers – on a staff where #1 and #2 stand above the rest like the Glimmer Twins tower above the remaining Stones. Not I. Just wasn’t his night, I repeat (hopefully for the last time in a while). And I might know why it wasn’t his night.

The confidence – and maybe that’s not the right word for it; perhaps it’s “zeal,” or possibly “positivity,” to borrow from my counterpart – of which I spoke has to remain tempered at all times for fear of cosmic retribution. [What, you read through the paragraphs above and you still don’t think that there are forces beyond our control impacting what goes on “inside the V” (a little used expression meaning “on the baseball field” for those unfamiliar with the vernacular)?] A man’s got to know his limitations, and avoiding any semblance of jinxing your guys takes precedence over expressing positive vibrations. Over at The Metropolitans (a more than worthy stop along the blogway) yesterday, Mike looked forward to last night’s rubber match with Glavine on the hill with a declaration that seemed to cross the line: “Money in the bank.” Toasty Joe, another fine author within the ‘sphere, admonished him in a comment: “Prepare to be called out for laying the jinx down if Glavine lays an egg.” The beauty of last night’s game is that Mike was able to take a valuable lesson in restrained hex avoidance, yet the Mets still won. It was like watching an episode of Fat Albert.

The minor miracle – and my inappropriate use of “miracle” reminds me of an obscure Richard Lewis (who was in the crowd Tuesday night, just to digress even further) television moment in which he challenged the casual use of “miracle” by explaining that miracles are things like the burning bush, or Moses parting the Red Sea, or the fact that “Benson” was on the air for seven seasons – of last night was that the Mets were able to pick up Glavine with one of the least threatening lineups they’ve used all year. Examine:

C. Woodward SS
P. Lo Duca C
C. Beltran CF
D. Wright 3B
J. Franco 1B
J. Valentin 2B
L. Milledge LF
E. Chavez RF
T. Glavine P

These are not your first-place New York Mets. But with Reyes still sore, Floyd still gimpy, Delgado getting a day off, and the team’s consistently solid second baseman still a figment of our imagination, this eyesore was what Willie drew up last evening. As Howie Rose and Ron Darling (the SNY booth was also missing a couple of pieces in this series) announced it, I winced, but clearly I had underestimated what a little show of faith could do to propel this makeshift squad into offensive overdrive.

After the first two Mets of the game were retired, Beltran and Wright singled. After they stole second and third, Julio Franco hit a crucial comebacker into center to begin the two-out scoring. A Valentin double and a Milledge triple (bad baserunning but great wheels to squeak into third) later, it was 4-0. It wouldn’t be enough for Glavine, who would go on to have hisself a little ac-cident, but it was a hugely opportunistic start against Odalis Perez.

After Furcal’s poke and another Met run in the second, Glavine continued to labor. A walk and a pair of singles plated one run for L.A., then Furcal (he of the 2 HR’s entering the game) smacked another one out to tie the score. In 2006, Tom Glavine does not blow 4-0 and 5-1 leads unless something of a higher authority is pulling strings.

The Metros would manufacture a couple more in the 4th, marking an end to Perez’s night. As if not to be one-upped, Tom Horrific allowed another gopher to the offensively anemic Jose Cruz Jr. He’d leave in the sixth, up 7-6 and struggling painfully. Just not his night.

Amazingly, considering Glavine’s track record of run support since coming to New York, not only would the bullpen machine of Bradford/Heilman/Sanchez/Wagner pick him up, but the hitters would continue to back him -- and the defense even stepped in to lend a hand. Lastings Milledge’s blast to left made it 9-7, and his rifling of an ill-advised stretch by Nomar gave Duaner Sanchez’s uneasy inning an out to start rather than a double. It all worked for the Mets at that point, and it all worked out.

All of this isn’t to say that there won’t be valleys in the Mets’ topography to come, despite our optimistic outlook amid the Township. Nor is it to say that I’ll be sporting the rose-colored specs throughout; there’s still a good deal of mockery to be made at the Mets’ expense if and when they tumble. For now, though, I'm locked in on the Mets and this doesn't seem to be singularly crippling their chances for success. In the world of the new, new Mets, this is the newest and most vastly different experience I've encountered yet.

* * *

A quick aside to wish my little buddy across the MLC aisle a happy 36th. This makes him as old as Jose Valentin, and despite Jose's prowess at the plate of late, I'd still rather have Rob at 2B on our softball squad. Pound for pound, he drinks Valentin under the table, for starters.

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