Monday, August 21, 2006

The Happiest Days of Our Lives / Mother . . .

Games 119 through 123 – Mets

Phillies 3, Mets 0
Mets 7, Phillies 2
Mets 6, Rockies 3
Mets 7, Rockies 4
Mets 2, Rockies 0
Record: 75-48

The formerly even-keel Mets have undergone an unsteady patch of late, and while it’s not extremely unsettling, I look forward to a return to the “take two of three with cautious optimism” pattern that the Mets followed for four-plus months. While the coaster-car sped uphill over the weekend, news that a few spokes might be out in a valley below have us residents of the Township a little on edge.

The Mets capped off a wretched trip to Philadelphia (Rob would argue that there’s no other kind) with an impressive Thursday afternoon win. It was a soothing salve to the almost worrisome stumble the Metmen took over the first three games of that series. It’s funny what power the first and final games of a series can carry; tones for the games that follow are definitively struck, and the return to Shea – and all of the weekend hoop-la that was in store – was made on a significantly brighter note after the four-game sweep was thoroughly thwarted on Thursday.

By “hoop-la,” in case you missed it, I mean the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1986 championship team. I generally dismiss such events as contrived and sometimes awkward remembrances, and I eyed this weekend’s in exactly that way. I was wrong.

After a lead-in to Saturday’s game that consisted of a flurry of ’86 Met-related pieces on Sportsnet New York (which I was able to see and record thanks to my long overdue activation of the full sports package on the satellite), the Mets geared up to play the Colorado Rockies while donning their primo 1986 uniforms. (“The piping” was mentioned in nearly every ounce of coverage.) Before they did so, however, each of the available members of the championship Mets appeared from the stands, was announced, and came onto the field to be recognized. The old Mets were consistently portly, sporting far less hair, and beaming from ear to ear across the board. God love ‘em.

As opposed to the half-hearted attendance that some of these anniversaries manage, nearly every guy on the 1986 club, from GM genius Frank Cashen to part-timer Ed Hearn, showed up and embraced the night. (Missing were Davey Johnson, Ray Knight, Roger McDowell, and Dwight Gooden; McDowell’s the Braves’ pitching coach – for now, and Doc’s in prison; don’t know where Davey and Ray were, but it was their loss.) After the gathering of Kid, Straw, Mex, Nails, El Sid, Mookie, and all of the other guys we loved and they hated, the game began (after a little rain) and the SNY booth – ordinarily manned by two among that crew, received inning-long visits from many of the old gang. The highlight, predictably, was Dykstra. Still love that dude. Somehow the evening superseded the hoop-la, the hype, and the sensational NYC media coverage that usually dwarf such moments.

For Red Sox fans who lived through the ’86 Series, it surely would have agitated; for indifferent fans, it probably mildly interested; for young Mets fans, it certainly intrigued; for we who died a painful death or two in 1986, only to be resuscitated and taken to unbelievable heights . . . it was awesome. The memories of that year linger somewhere in the back of our minds like an overstuffed couch, exceedingly comfortable but often unremarkable. The elevation of these recollections to the collective conscious provided thrills all over again in a way I’d not figured would happen.

Rob has a horde of still-fresh thoughts about the Sox’ 2004 experience even as he curses his way through the current chapter of Boston baseball. He should rest assured that even if the Red Sox are working on another ugly drought of titles two decades from now, what went down two years ago can still be tugged to the surface with ease, ushering in that same excitement and contentment with an added twist of nostalgic “where I was back then” fondness.

Doesn’t reduce his ire today one iota, but it’s a far cry better than a trail of all angst.

Oh, and as if it mattered, the Mets went ahead and played the game Saturday night. As if orchestrated for ratings, New York went down 4-0, only to rally on a succession of alternately bizarre and clutch plays. Terrible Rocky errors coupled with a Met tandem of patience and aggressiveness resulted in a six-run inning; Lastings Milledge topped off his brilliant, image-inverting (to me, at least) night with a bomb to left to pad the lead. Winning the game in the same find-a-way fashion that carried the ’86 team was thrilling; that word risks overstatement but comes in under the wire.

Comparisons of the current roster to the Mets club that was honored Saturday night are cursory and dangerous; watching the coverage over the weekend underscored how rife with talent that squad was. To win you have to be good, well coached, and lucky. The ‘86ers were sublime on all counts. The ‘06ers are . . . well, they might qualify in each category, but not by as decisive a margin.

In the postseason, Gooden-Darling-Ojeda-Fernandez versus Martinez-Glavine-Trachsel-Hernandez? It’s not a whitewashing, but it’s a fairly solid win for the old fellers. Willie Randolph doesn’t appear to be the next Davey Johnson, though he’s not a real liability, either. On the plus side, the luck has appeared to go the Mets’ way all season – that is until recently. And on that note, the first comparison in this paragraph gets asterisked.

All of the good vibes of celebration weekend came grinding to an expletive-filled halt yesterday as I saw the following text appear on the ESPN ticker:

Tom Glavine is having his pitching shoulder examined for a possible blood clot; he felt coldness in his ring finger after Wednesday’s start; season-ending surgery could be required

Son of a bitch. With Pedro already on the DL (again), the Mets’ short staff rotation would currently look a bit like this:

Trachsel-Hernandez-Maine- uh . . .
Mike Pelfrey? Dave Williams? Brian Bannister? Oliver Perez? Aaron Heilman?

Oh, my. The New York lineup is stacked, but not that prodigiously. The jury is still out on the injury, and the Township now crosses its collective fingers for Glavine – fingers also grown cold, as the blood seems to have drained from our extremities as we wait for the news.

And yet, we’ll not let this half of this space fall into self-pity. A lot can happen between now and October – and since we fully expect to be playing into that month, we’ll hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and be glad this news hits us in summer rather than autumn. The Met train shall roll on; here’s hoping that Tom Glavine has his usual seat in first class for the ride.

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