Well this is odd. I mean, I’m not upset about it. After all, I’ve spent two years writing silly columns in The Oppy with a reference to the Mets in my bio. Clearly, I’m a fan.
Ok, maybe not so much a fan as a zealot or devotee, a blind follower who inextricably links his mental state to the current place in the standings for the New York Metropolitans. I cannot fathom a life well-lived if it doesn’t involve eventually seeing another World Series title in Queens.
Anyways, I’m burying the lede here. The Mets are good. I think. Like, really good. In the first month of the Major League season, the Mets have displayed a deep lineup, a superb starting rotation and a bullpen that, with the exception of a miserable afternoon against Atlanta last Wednesday, has been good enough. That recipe led to a sizable early lead in the NL East and a mere six consecutive series wins to start the season, something this franchise, in 61 years of professional baseball, has never done.
So, it begs the question: Are the Mets, at long last, finally really good?
Now, the seasoned baseball observer might bristle at the idea that Metsdom has really been so miserable for so long. After all, the Mets are only seven years removed from winning the pennant and followed up with a second-consecutive postseason berth a year later. But those seasons are a magical oasis in what has been an extraordinarily dry stretch of baseball for a team that plays in the richest market in the country.
After all, the 2006 Mets, which somehow lost a seven-game NLCS to a St. Louis Cardinals team that won 14 fewer games in the regular season, is the only other edition of the Mets to earn a postseason berth in the past 22 years. The rest of it has been, if I can pay homage to a classic Onion article, a large-scale psychological experiment in just how much heartbreak a statistically-significant population sample is willing to endure.
Evidently, the answer to that question is “a lot.” There are the 2007 and 2008 Mets, each of which completed historic, statistically-implausible September collapses. Then there’s the ensuing five-year stretch of fallow years in which we were totally excited about a core of Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Frankie Rodriquez leading us to the promised land. In 2018, the Mets started the season 17-9 and found a way to finish eight games under .500 and 13 games out of first place. The 2020 New York Mets managed to miss the postseason even though MLB expanded the playoffs to 16 teams due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Even the highlights have been tough to swallow. In the 2015 World Series, the Mets lost in five games to the Kansas City Royals despite leading in the eighth inning or later in three of their four losses, an experience that, as I often tell friends, I definitely don’t think about at least once per day and am totally and completely over. In the meantime, I’ve watched the Nationals and Braves, a franchise that haunted my childhood like none other, win championships in two of the past three seasons. The Mets are the only team in their division to have not won the World Series this century.
So, really, it’s been a rough go for my pal Mr. Met and me, but somehow I’ve managed to find satisfaction in the belief that tomorrow might be a brighter day. Also, I’ve amassed quite the bobblehead collection, which my wife loves and doesn’t consider embarrassing at all whenever we show friends our new house.
All that said, though, this feels different. Francisco Lindor looks like the player the Mets traded for a year ago. Jeff McNeil continues to spray hits all over the field while Pete Alonso’s power stroke remains intact. Offseason acquisitions Mark Canha and Starling Marte have been impressive contributors while Edwin Diaz’s slider looks as nasty as advertised when the Mets acquired him four years ago. Max Scherzer looks every bit the pitcher we were hoping for, and diamonds in the rough like Travis Jankowski are buoying a crowded outfield. The current Mets have stormed out of the gate and done so with a lineup and style of play that looks deep, multi-faceted, and sustainable, and they’ve done it all without Jacob deGrom, who, when healthy, is generally considered the best pitcher on Earth. While I hesitate to get too excited, it’s hard to fight the idea that…maybe this is for real?
Don’t get me wrong. There are roughly 135 games left to play and three-plus decades of experience is telling me this is unlikely to last. But is that just an irrational feeling informed by years of heartbreak rather than an honest assessment of the probabilities?
I’m not ready to say yes…but I’m not ready to not say yes? After all, the 2022 team is almost certainly more talented than the one that won the pennant seven years ago, and while a long season has bumps, the Mets have already built up a healthy buffer to insulate some of the potential damage down the road. I can’t expect them to lead the defending champions by six games forever.
But for now, I’m cautiously optimistic. After all, there have already been one or two of those moments that make you wonder if it’s going to be a special season. In my one trip to the ballpark so far this year, my wife had warned me that after an exhausting week of teaching, she might not be game to sit through nine innings. Luckily she found the strength, because, wouldn’t you know it, the Mets tossed the second no-hitter in franchise history that night, an event I had dreamed of witnessing in person for literally decades. Who cares that it was a combined no-no? History is history when it’s only happened twice in 9,588 games.
The only thing that could have made the night better is if you got a hilariously customized souvenir with a joke that surely even non-sports fans would get.
Then came this past Thursday. The Mets, a team always on a slippery slope to fourth place, appeared headed for a second straight loss after going down 7-0 early to Philadelphia. The hole was so large that I did the unthinkable and changed the channel. Then, in the ninth inning, the Mets got a hit. And another. And another. Suddenly, seven runs were in, and the Mets had one of the wildest regular season wins in team history.
So dramatic was this comeback that one business school student, I won’t say who, but some business school student might have interrupted a phone call with his mother about making Mother’s Day plans to describe what craziness was unfolding. It’s also possible that this business school student left the following sequence of notes to his editors on the first draft of this article:
No-hitters are no great signifier of destiny. Really, they’re statistical flukes. Same with seven-run ninth inning rallies. The last time the Mets pulled that trick 25 years ago, they didn’t make the playoffs. But sometimes special things portend special things, and maybe these were two of them. In the twenty-something other games the Mets have played this season, they’ve already compiled a resume that makes you wonder just what could be possible. Ya Gotta Believe, right?
Whether or not you do is immaterial. The Mets are deep, talented, and finished April in a strong position as the next five months play out. There is real reason to be excited and think that this will be a year worth watching even if it doesn’t turn out to be the year. For the first time in a while, I put games on the TV with a strange bit of confidence, and the unusual feeling that, for the Mets, things are finally looking good.
I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Photo credit: Todd Kirkland/GettyImages