A decade of “Wait til next season” begins again

2015 World Series, Game 5
2015 World Series, Game 5

watched Carlos Beltran’s bat stay perfectly still as the ump called strike three, ending the Mets’ 2006 postseason campaign and probably convincing the Cardinals that they could hack into another team’s computers and no one would care because, St. Louis, you know?

As I waited to meet a friend to take the subway ride back into the city, it fittingly started to rain. We were wet, cold, and mentally and physically exhausted by the time we reached our lodging for the night at 2 AM, dejected but hopeful that this squad could put together another gutsy postseason campaign. And so I watched in 2007 as the Mets made the counter-intuitive decision to sign only players older than 35, but still somehow build a seven-game lead with 17 games left to go.

As is well known in New York lore, the Mets of course collapsed, losing 12 of those last 17 games, and sending their archrival the Phillies into the postseason on the last day of the season.

The 2008 offseason was highlighted by the Mets trading for Johan Santana, who figured to cure the Mets’ pitching woes. That season, Santana finished third in the Cy Young voting, while the Mets put together another terrific September collapse. Santana bookended his time in Flushing by becoming the first Met in team history to pitch a no-hitter on June 1, 2012, and has yet to pitch a meaningful game since.

The 2009–14 seasons were a hodgepodge of spring optimism and late spring resignation. 2009 saw the opening of Citi Field, a welcome change from the cavernous and avant-garde Shea Stadium. 2012 saw R.A. Dickey become the first Met to win the Cy Young Award since Doc Gooden won it in 1985. Dickey was promptly traded to the Blue Jays that offseason in a rare moment of foresight that I’ll get to later. 2013 saw the Mets host the All-Star Game and the emergence of pitcher Matt Harvey, who was going to bring catharsis to Met fans still traumatized by the 2006 rotation of Tom Glavine, El Duque, Steve Trachsel, and Oliver Perez. Harvey started the All-Star Game but promptly injured his UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2014 season.

2013 All-Star Game

2014 saw the flickerings of something promising, as Jacob de Grom received the call-up in May and ended the year as the National League Rookie of the Year, the first Met to win that award since Doc Gooden in 1984. And yet, the team again failed to finish above .500 for the seventh straight season.

Finally, we come to 2015. With a healthy Matt Harvey, an unexpected ace in de Grom, and a third promising pitcher in Zack Wheeler (acquired for the remains of Carlos Beltran in 2012 from the Giants, in another uncharacteristically shrewd move), the Mets were just two or so bats away from fielding a contender. Of course, the Mets being the Mets, Wheeler was shut down for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March, and the Mets’ closer, Jenrry Mejía, drew a full-season suspension for PED usage.

Still, the Mets raced out of the gate to a 13–3 record, and, for the second straight year, a hard-throwing rookie emerged in May, when Noah Syndergaard, who the Mets received from Toronto as part of the R.A. Dickey trade in 2012, made his debut. With a bad early summer run and the team in need of a big bat, Wheeler and Wilmer Flores were dealt to the Brewers for ex-Met Carlos Gomez, with Flores finding out he had been traded while he was still in the game.

Flores

The Mets, never missing the opportunity to be the laughingstock of New York, backed out of the trade, and instead acquired Yoenis Cespedes and his custom at-bat song from the Tigers two days later, based solely on Cespedes’ 2013 Home Run Derby performance at Citi Field. Flores would hit a walk-off home run that same day, and the Mets finished the season on a tear, winning their first division title and securing their first postseason berth since 2006.

With three big aces, the Mets had the makings of a perfect October story, despite their middling offense, with de Grom outpitching Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLDS. Things took a turn for the worse in Game 2, when Chase Utley, proving you can take the player out of Philly but you can’t take the Philly out of a player, broke Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg with what appeared to be a crowbar hidden in his pants.

But then Daniel Murphy, suddenly remembering that he was in a contract year, exploded by hitting a home run in six straight games, to propel the Mets to their first World Series since 2000 and a date with the Kansas City Royals.

It was a match-up of red-hot pitching vs. contact hitting, but the Series opened inauspiciously for the Mets, with Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar smacking the very first pitch from Matt Harvey for an inside-the-park home run. The Mets would build several leads over the next four games, only for the Royals to claw their way back to win in heart-rending fashion. What easily could have been a 3–1 series in the Mets’ favor was instead the opposite as the calendar changed to November.

And so, with the Mets on the verge of elimination, I was there again, nine years later, Kevin Millar’s chipper mantra from Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS playing in the back of my mind, hoping to witness a miracle.

Matt Harvey pitched a gem, holding the Royals scoreless through eight innings. With the whole stadium behind him, he begged Terry Collins for the ball in the top of the ninth to close things out and take the series back to Kansas City. But the storybook ending wasn’t to be. After a lead-off walk, Harvey got the yank and it was again up to closer Jeurys Familia to try to hold onto the slimmest of leads, with Eric Hosmer dancing off of third.

Mike Moustakas, last seen bravely cursing at Syndergaard from his dugout, hit a grounder to Flores that David Wright inexplicably cut off instead of holding Hosmer on third. With no one covering third and the Royals’ keen scouting revealing that the Mets’ infield defense was terrible, Hosmer took off for home.

And so a Series full of mistakes and almosts came down to a first baseman making the only routine throw a first baseman actually has to make. But fortune did not smile on the Mets, as Lucas Duda, instead of throwing calmly to home to get Hosmer out by a good three feet (and sending the talking heads into a frenzy making comparisons to the Royals holding Alex Gordon on third in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series) did his best impression of Chuck Knoblach and threw the ball away. Game tied.

On the TV broadcast after plays like that one, they always pan to the fans with their hands behind their heads or over their mouths in shock. I personally went for the old standard: the arm cross.

A sense of doom, disbelief and quiet mutterings fell upon Citi Field, as we waited for the inevitable. When it finally came in the top of the 12th, there was almost a sense of relief that it was over, our team again wresting defeat from the jaws of victory for the last time this season.

I have to admit that these last nine years I haven’t exactly been the best Mets fan. Some seasons I tuned out altogether after a lukewarm start. Even this season, the first one in seven years actually worth following, I only went to one game before the postseason and only because a friend from out of town wanted to go to Citi Field for the first time. During the postseason, I hesitated before buying tickets to each round, not wanting to witness another disappointment. But given the gap between postseason appearances, it seemed worth the risk to potentially witness something amazing.

Hope always springs eternal for the baseball fan. As Mets fan and terrific Late Late Show substitute host Adam Pally put it:

adam pally on Twitter

Mets are a year ahead of schedule, and still in the World Series. If I was MLB, I’d be terrified! #LGM 🍎🎩

There’s always next year.


Originally published on Medium.


 

 

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