I have struggled over the past few days to verbalize how I feel about the current state of the New York Mets. When I woke up on Thursday morning, they held a 3.5-game lead over the second place Phillies, and there were 17 games left in the season. But this wasn't no ordinary number (Boys, Geto). As you might recall, the Mets held a 7.5 game lead over the Phillies in September of last year. With 17 games left to play. And we all remember how that ended.
So you can forgive Mets fans if they had some minor trepidation going in to this past weekend's series against the Braves. Yes, the heart of the order was hitting its stride (depending on how they finish, I think there might actually be a compelling case that David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado are all viable MVP candidates, but that is for another post). Yes, the Phillies were set to play four with a very good (if struggling) Brewers team. Yes, the Braves are awful this year. Yes, the bullpen has pulled it together. Sort of. But these were the Mets, the team that has blown more saves than a racist lifeguard at a swimming pool in Harlem. Yes, you could forgive Mets fans a certain sense of discomfort going in to the weekend.
And now, just five days later, here we go again.
The Mets lost two of three to the Braves on Saturday and Sunday, despite leading all three games in the 8th inning or later. The Phillies swept a four-game series against the suddenly awful Brewers. And then on Monday, the Mets - looking terrifyingly similar to the lethargic, unmotivated team that let it all get away in 2007 - mailed it in against the AAA Nationals. The Mets now lead the NL East by the thinnest of margins (0.5 games, one in the loss column, even in the win column), and the comparisons to September of 2007 seem on the verge of boiling over into full-blown hysteria.
Yet with the stars re-aligned for another September to forget, I think I have expended all of the mental energy that I can on this team. I still watch as many games as I can, listen on the radio if I can't watch, and check regularly on my blackberry if I can't listen. I like this team (more than I thought I would after last year), I think Jerry Manuel is a good fit; I want them to do well, and I will celebrate with my friends if they can pull out a playoff berth and make a run in October.
But the truth is this: I have never cared less about a first-place Mets team than I do about this one. When they lose it doesn't get to me as much, and when they win I am not as encouraged as I used to be. In my life, the Mets have been in first place maybe seven or eight times this late in the season (I am too lazy to look it up). They won the division in 1986, 1988 and 2006, there were a few close calls in the late 1980s and the late 1990s, and then of course there was 2007, and now 2008. In each of those seasons - including last year - I was elated with a September win, and devestated by a Setpember loss (that was a little bit of hyperbole, but not much). Some people would say that, as a 30 year-old professional with a wife and a job, it is high time that I stopped getting so fired up about something as meaningless as professional baseball. Maybe. But
I don't think that this is just about "growing up" or getting older. Either way, my experience as a Mets fan is noticeably different this year.
A few of us have theorized that the Giants' Superbowl win (and now their 2-0 start) was so exciting that it cushioned any blow the Mets could deliver. That could be a part of it. But I think it has more to do with last year. That was supposed to be the one where we got to see the real October Beltran. The one where he avenged that curveball from Game 7 of the NLCS. It was supposed to be the one where the 2006 Mets blossomed into the 2007 Champions. And it was just all wrong all year, almost from the very start. After a strong April, the Mets were a boring, mediocre team for months. They played ugly baseball, lost games they could easily win, and had no heart when they needed it most. Watching that team implode in September was devestating, but in a way it made perfect sense - that was where 2007 had been heading all along.
I think the 2007 season managed to compress ten or fifteen years of sports disappointment into a six-month period. It put our collective sports maturation in a time warp, and accelerated what may be a natural tendency to grow less and less intense about "your team."
For years, I could not understand why my dad, a huge Boston Red Sox fan for his entire life, could not get himself more fired up about the 2004 team. They were a miracle, and he got to see it. I offered to buy him tickets to the ALCS games in the Bronx, and he declined. I invited him to come into the city and watch the games with us, but he wanted to stay home. I would ask him what he thought of a particularly close play in the eighth inning, and he would say he went to bed in the seventh (in fairness, he watched all of game 7). But he was 62 years old in 2004, and he had seen the Red Sox let him down so many times, that I guess it just wasn't worth letting himself get too excited again. And I think I might be getting there with the Mets. And it sucks.
But I'll still watch the game tonight.