Saturday, September 29, 2007


Post #6 Topic: The Mets Re-Maine in the hunt

Summers are long. With nothing other than baseball going on over the course of the summer, everyone becomes a big fan, so long as their respective team is somewhat competitive. Baseball is by no means my favorite spectator sport, as I stand by my word that nothing quite matches the intensity of a hockey game at Madison Square Garden. IN fact, as a 24 year old, I still get chills down my spine everytime I walk through the Garden atrium; the place truly is special.

But during the summer, I’m one of the millions guilty of hanging onto every pitch. The great thing about baseball is that regardless of how far ahead one team may be, come end of the season there’s almost always some chase going on. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my heart/liver), these chases usually involve the Mets.

Three years ago the Mets were in the hunt, only to mortgage the future in exchange for Victor Zambrano. That year the Mets experienced a major collapse and found themselves far on the outside looking in. That summer, Mets fans gasped everytime Braden Looper was handed the ball. EVERY PITCH WAS A NAILBITER. And even as the season unwound, that small inkling in the back of my head that suggests that “there is a chance”, kept me glued to my screen.

Last year the Mets were the odds-on favorite to win their division, and return to the playoffs for the first time since losing to the Yankees in 2001 (I managed to sneak into Shea for game 6 of that series. My seat was the last seat in the last row in the last section, and from my vantage point, Piazza’s modest pop-up seemed destined to be an apple-popper). Nonetheless, I sub-consciously submitted myself to watching the season wind down, as the Phillies made a historic run towards the playoffs. Although the Phils were eventually denied, over the course of several weeks those who for the rest of the summer had been “casual fans” had almost overnight become baseball fan-atics. Baseball truly is the magic of summer.

This year has been no disappointment. Half a month ago the Mets seemed unbeatable. Their offense was clicking, their pitching was coming together, their bullpen was fierce, Billy was throwing heat, Pedro was on the mound in the minors, Alou was showing why he was worth 8 mill. Delgado had regained some pop, and the leadoff combination of Reyes and newly acquired Luis Castillo were scoring runs by the barrel.

A quick sweep against the Mets by the Phils showed some weakness, but the Mets recovered. They swept the next two series and had re-amassed a lead of 7.5 games; things looked peachy. Then in typical end of summer fashion baseball got interesting; my nails got shorter; my beer expenses got higher and my lack of confidence in my team reared its ugly head for the first time in several seasons.

Reyes wasn’t getting on, and when he was, he was being thrown out at 2nd. Delgado got hurt. Duque got hurt. The Mets couldn’t piece any rallies together. The bullpen collapsed taking Billy’s steam with it and the Mets started looking more than beatable. 14 games later, yesterday, the Mets awoke to find themselves tied with the Phillies for that last spot in the playoffs. A 3-0 shutout on behalf of the lowly, division foe Marlins and a 13 K performance by Cole Hamels for the Phillies sent the Mets from the Ritz to the Holiday Inn of the national league. Fortunately for the Mets and Mets fans, it was a holiday inn express, because today, the Mets looked damn Sharp.

Watching the last three games prior to the Mets drubbing of the Marlins (9/29), every pitch was intense. I can not count on my five extremities how many times I thought Beltran was going to bust that game-tying homer; the Lo Duca was going to leg out an infield single with his injured calf; that Reyes was going to turn a 2 out, no men on inning into a great scoring chance by legging a double into a triple; that Billy’s fastball would give the Mets one more chance in the bottom. NONE of these wishes came to fruition.

But there is something magical about baseball at the end of the summer. Until your team is OUT, you simply won’t buy that they’re out. Things can change, momentum can swing, and with every pitch a team has a million chances to change their (mis)fortune in time for the playoffs. Sometimes it takes a special player, sometimes is takes a special play. Today for the Mets it took nothing more than a team doing what it had done all last year and had been expected to do all this year: PLAY FANTASTIC BASEBALL.

John Maine pitched a gem. As well as Pedro has been pitching since his return, this was the single best Mets pitching performance of the year… HANDS DOWN. For a pitcher not known for his fierce power or darling finesse, John Maine pitched circles around what happens to be one of the most talented line-ups in all of baseball (strong but supported statement). Maine threw 7 2/3rd innings without giving up a hit, throwing 14 strikeouts, a number unmatched since Al Leiter threw 15 in ’99. 5 Mets players had two or more hits and 4 more had 1. Carlos Gomez came off the bench to show why he’s projected as an eventual starter/star, (he is no Alex Escobar/Ochoa). Lastings Milledge gave two reasons why we shouldn’t care that he raps about cutting girls during the off-season (or at least should forget about it for the day), with two bombs to opposite field. Strangely, Mr. Reyes was the only met with a below average day, committing another stupid base-running error, and continuing his unprecedented cold-streak. But what Reyes did today is evidence of how good this team can be; when the Gotays and the Greens of the world pick-up their teammates shortcomings.

So now with 1 game to go I resume my position on the edge of my seat, where every pitch can make or break the season, every at bat could signal the beginning of a hot streak, and every substitution could be the one that makes Willie a NY hero…again. And now I’m locked in, and for a few more weeks that which makes our summers away from hockey, basketball and football bearable, resumes centerstage, as my Mets look to show that 9/10 pre-season predictions couldn’t be wrong; that the Mets are the best team in the NL.

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