Here we go again.
It’s mid-September, and while some of the numbers and names have changed, the New York Mets are once again stumbling and clawing their way toward the finish line, inducing heart attacks and headaches for everyone who ever said “you gotta believe.”
But what’s been a panicked month for those of us decked out in blue and orange has been a punch line for sports writers and rival fans elsewhere. In their urgency to broadcast this September as “The Collapse Part II,” everyone has overlooked one very simple fact:This is not 2007. These are not the same Mets.
There was no seven-game lead to blow this year. There was no promised and privileged playoff spot waiting for us. This batch of Amazins are tough-as-nails men and survivors of managerial drama, key injuries and the stifling, choking presence of the New York sports media.
If the Mets lose the pennant this year, it won’t be due to a lack of effort. Let me take you back to late June. General Manager Omar Minaya decided 3 a.m. was a great time to call up then-skipper Willie Randolph and tell him to pack his bags. Enter Jerry Manuel, whose first taste of New York-media love came in the form of a New York Post headline reading “Meet the Mess!”
So what do Manuel and his reeling charges do? They respond by winning 10 games in a row, including a pivotal sweep of those damn Phillies.
Last year, the Mets fell off the pace, dropping game after game to the NL East’s bottom-feeders, virtually handing the Phillies a pennant. This year, the crew from Flushing Meadows had to catch fire just to make the division a contest.
Collapse? This Met bunch hasn’t led the division by more than 3.5 games all year.
Do you know how tight this division has been during the entire second half of the season? You see the space between the “t” and the “i” in the word “tight”? Exactly. That close. That close from a Mets team with more holes in its pitching rotation than the Metzger Apartment construction plans.
Pedro Martinez has been banged up all year long. John Maine might come back in the bullpen, maybe. We hope so. We’re praying. That close from a team with no closer. Billy Wagner’s season, and possibly his career, are over. If anyone even thinks the names Luis Ayala or Aaron Heilman, I will come find you, and it won’t be pretty.
The Mets shouldn’t be a playoff team. They don’t have the personnel or the managerial experience. But they’re standing on the edge of October, and they’ve got a chance. These guys are fighters. They’ve taken more punches to the mouth than Rocky Balboa, and they’re still standing.
Sounds like movie magic, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. It’s the last season at Shea Stadium, the last chance to bring the beautiful, chaotic charisma of October baseball to the five boroughs.
After the infamous collapse at the end of last season, I wrote the following words in The Signal: “I don’t believe anymore, and I don’t know if I ever will again.”
Well the 2008 Mets believe. Once again, I believe. So it’s real simple.
You gotta believe.
We all do.
James Queally can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org