Avoid The Jinx: How to Keep the Good Vibes Flowing
My life was much different back in 1988. I wouldn’t meet my wife-to-be for another year and while I dated, I had no serious relationships going on. I had an entry level job with the organization I eventually would spend another 20-plus years with, but their purchase by a Fortune 500 company and the first of my several promotions was years away. Even further in the future was the birth of my son. I was still adjusting to a personal upheaval that had required me to change most of the people and places in my life. Looking back, I was then in the middle of several transitions, all of which with the benefit of hindsight, turned out quite well. In 1988 however, their outcome was very uncertain. I didn’t have much going on in my life, financially, socially or romantically.
But I had the Mets. And these where certainly heady times: the team had sprung, seemingly out of nowhere to win 90 games in 1984. They got even better the next year and then with me in attendance at Game 7, won the 1986 World Series. No team had repeated for nearly ten seasons, so I conceded 1987, but was very confident in 1988; especially when they romped to another division title and took two of the first three games in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
I had tickets for Game Two of the 1988 World Series at Shea, which by the top of the 9th inning in Game Four of the National League Championship Series, seemed like a foregone conclusion. The Mets where about to go up three games to one on Los Angeles, setting up a 1973 World Series rematch with the mighty Oakland As. I couldn’t wait. I had vacation days put aside and cash saved up for the Series games and memorabilia that I was sure I would be seeing and buying.
Then the roof fell in.
No sooner had broadcaster Tim McCarver mentioned that he thought Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden was tiring, then did Doc walk John Shelby and give up a game-tying homer to Mike Bleeping Scioscia. The Dodgers went on to win the game in extras, tying the series. They eliminated the Mets three games later. I have seen this described as a kind of Continental Divide in the story of the 1980’s Mets—the night their expected baseball dynasty changed direction and headed into a permanent decline instead of another World Series berth. Looking back, you could feel the shift as soon as Scoscia’s shot cleared the right field wall. In less than two years that entire team was nearly completely dismantled and the long losing streak of the 1990’s began. If only Davey Johnson had brought in Randy Myers to close in the 9th!
I have been through a lot of heartbreak with the Mets since and have experienced some gut-wrenching (and gut-turning) developments, but nothing, not the Generation K flop, not the Kenny Rogers walk, not the 2000 Subway Series humiliation, not the Adam Wainwright curve, not the 2007 collapse (or its 2008 echo), not the post-Madoff retrenchment era, nothing, hurt as bad as the 1988 NLCS loss. I was emotionally vulnerable back then and this unexpected loss to a clearly inferior team hit me as hard as if there had been a death in my immediate family. My work supervisor even pulled me aside after the carnage to make sure I was “alright.” My apparent maturity/cynicism since then has shielded me from taking further blows as hard as I took that one.
So let’s fast forward to this season, which to date has been the entire 1980’s in a microcosm. There’s been a fast start (Joe Torre had the 1980 Mets near first place in mid-July of that year), a period of despair and offensive ineptitude matching that of 1981-83, the rise of young pitchers, a promotion of a highly touted draft pick outfielder and a big trade for a major offensive piece, all crammed into an incredible four-months of baseball, with a potential crescendo looming in the final 50 or so games.
And that’s what has me nervous. These are the Mets we are talking about after all. While their history isn’t quite as bad as that of say the Jets, they have certainly have given their fanbase more than their fair share of angst. Re-read the paragraph just above the previous one in case you don’t believe me. Already, I am hearing some brash fan-boy bluster from talk show hosts, fellow bloggers, broadcasters and a few beat writers—the latter which may be doing it on purpose.
Now I get it, this is Mets Today, founded by a baseball instructor and coach (we miss you Joe) and we take a very analytical, straight talking approach to this game. But, superstition is just as big a part of baseball as batting practice. So I’m begging my fellow Mets fans: please don’t jinx this. We might be on the verge of something special, a season we’ll long cherish—with a lot of special moments that don’t come along too often, at least for us. Don’t offend the baseball gods with some loutish, moronic behavior, tempting them to deal us yet another blow to our collective solar plexus. All hail, oh venerated gods! I suggest Mets fans might want to consider a quieter and subdued approach to the remaining schedule, going for the ride instead of trying to set the pace. I admit that some of this concern dates all the way back to that cold October night that Mike Scioscia killed off much of my innocence, but with my tongue somewhat planted in my cheek, here is how I advise taking in the rest of the regular season:
- One Game at A Time: No looking ahead (or behind). Yes they will need a spot starter or two and those pitch counts might become an issue. GM Sandy Alderson’s inability to improve the team over the winter left them shorthanded for half the year, resulting in some frustrating losses, games they eventually may wish they had won. There are six games with Washington left on the schedule. Fred and Jeff Wilpon, Alderson and Terry Collins are still at their posts. But once the game starts there is magic in between those white lines, so…
- Savor Every Moment: Get into the games, enjoy them with friends and family. We Met fans don’t get many opportunities like this one: a team on the rise, lots of charismatic personalities and a new hero almost every night. The last time this happened was 1984-85. A year ago, to be sitting so pretty like this seemed improbable. Unfortunately, as fast as they have risen, they can also fall. Be thankful for what is happening and enjoy it.
- Respect The Nats (And the Yanks): This is a tough one. Washington is full of unlikeable characters, both on and off the field. They have made some very bold statements, several that they might be regretting. Some Yankees fans seem to think post-season games are their birthright. It’s easy to enjoy their suffering and even crow about it. Remember however that the Mets haven’t proven anything yet and both teams are in a position to do some real damage to our hopes. What good is talking trash if you later have to eat it? If Matt Harvey can stuff it, then so can we. And please, enough talk about “taking back the town.”
- Don’t Count Magic Numbers (Yet): I have already seen them posted. Why? I can recall them all over the place in August of 2007, along with Gary Cohen’s gleeful ramblings about “sustained success.” Remember the outcome that year? Living in the middle of Phillies country, I sure do. Unless those final three games against the Nats are rendered meaningless, this practice needs to be avoided.
- Save the Post-Season Roster Speculation: There was a thread started over on NYFS on this topic that included a lively discussion about whether or not Jerry Blevins should be included. A day later Blevins “slipped” off a curb and re-injured himself (no word if he spilled his beverage). That was a warning. Take Alderson’s comments about the best 25 players at face value for now.
Now, I admit that I have indulged in some speculation myself. So, putting my more analytical Mets Today hat back on for a moment, I took a look at the 2007 Mets roster and compared it to today’s team. A comparison between the ’07 Phils and the current Nationals team was similarly enlightening. So here’s hoping the advanced stats don’t lie. Should the Mets make the playoffs, then we can then kick out the jams and root loud and long.
But in the meantime, shhhhhhhh.
let them knock you around
let the good times roll
let them make you a clown
let them leave you up in the air
let them brush your rock and roll hair
let the good times roll
let the good times roll
let the good times roll
LET’S GO METS
September 25, 1998.
The Mets lost their last 5 games to miss out on their first playoff appearance in 10 years, killing what had been a feel good story with Olerud hitting .354 and Piazza hitting .348 since joining the team.
In their first of 3 games to close out the season in Atlanta, the Braves beat the Mets 6-5 while using all their worst pitchers. With the Mets rallying to within one run in the 6th, Mike Piazza batted with the bases loaded and two outs. Some scrub (I had to look it up — 44-year-old Dennis Martinez, in the last regular season appearance of his career) got Piazza to chase three sliders down and away and that was that.
In looking the game up, I also see that, in the 8th, another Mets rally died when Jay Payton, as the tying run, was thrown out trying to go first to third on a two-out single. I didn’t remember that, but I did remember the feeling that our season was over. And indeed, it was.
1999 NLCS Game 6
Ozzie Guillen’s game-tying single off Benitez looked like a routine grounder off the bat, the sort of ball that the spectacular Mets infield had been turning into an out all year long. But it was perfectly placed between Fonzie and Olerud, and the incredible comeback the Mats had mounted finally hit the brakes.
And then, yeah, Kenny Rogers.
2000 World Series Game 1
Benitez’s pitches weren’t sharp and his body language was poor and the Mets really weren’t going to blow saves and still win this series. Yeah, the tying hit was just a sac fly, but this was a pitcher who’d averaged 13.7 K/9 for the last 2 years, and he couldn’t get a K when he really needed one.
Timo Perez’s baserunning blunder and Jose Vizcaino’s marathon AB really made it clear which team was playing up and which team was playing down. Piazza letting Clemens chuck a bat shard at him didn’t help.
August 31, 2005
On the previous night, the Mets had rallied back from a 4-1 deficit against the Wild Card-leading Phillies on a dramatic, 3-run, 8th-inning homer from Ramon Castro. This put the Mets a half game out of a playoff spot a mere one game from the season’s final month. Despite Reyes’ growing pains, Beltran’s down year, Matsui’s flop, Cameron’s broken face, Piazza’s decline, and Vcitor Zambrano & Kaz Ishii going a combined 10-21, this plucky team on the rise was somehow still in it, winning 10 of their last 14. A feel-good story was shaping up. My friends were on board. I was hesitant, crossing my fingers, thinking, “Well, if we can win the next night against the Phils, we’ll be in the lead, and maybe this wasn’t just a fluky hot stretch… and if we sweep them, then this team is for real!”
The Mets lost to the Phillies the next night. And the next. And then lost the next 2 to the Marlins. And lost 13 of their next 15 to effectively end their season.
2006 NLCS Game 2
1999’s great lineup and bullpen made for some exciting late comebacks, but the 2006 team was probably the most clutch Mets squad I’ve watched. Their run differential was only that of a 91-win team, but they played like a juggernaut, making all the big plays. That script lasted from Day 1 of the regular season all the way through Game 1 of the LCS. After that game, Pujols made a point of saying he wasn’t impressed with Tom Glavine. The Mets came out in Game 2 and showed they weren’t impressed with Chris Carpenter, batting him around for 5 runs in 5 innings. With a 6-4 lead in the 7th and all the momentum on their side, the Mets looked poised to dominate the Cardinals the same way they’d dominated the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Then, the manager (Randolph) went with a reliever (Mota) who’d joined the team in August and hadn’t been part of all that clutch play, and had also been worked hard lately. This made me nervous, but Mota managed to get two outs before facing an easy matchup in Scott Spezio, a dead fastball hitter who had no chance against Mota’s diving change-up. After getting up 0-2 on 2 change-ups, Mota shook off another change-up. LoDuca let him throw the fastball. Spezio drilled it. Shawn Green got there. Every Mets fan knew that this was clearly a play the 2006 Mets made. But Green, another late-season addition to the team, continued his recent trend of awkward defense, and couldn’t quite time his convergence with ball and wall to make a tough catch. The ball hit the wall and bounced away for a 2-run triple.
With the Mets’ bubble burst and their lineup getting dominated by marginal rookie Josh Kinney, of course So Taguchi took a gassed Billy Wagner deep to win the game for the Cardinals. The 2006 Mets were done being the 2006 Mets and it was anybody’s series.
2006 NLCS Game 7
Everyone remembers Beltran looking at a curve that he couldn’t hit. Here’s what I remember:
1) After Endy’s great catch in the 6th, the Mets got runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in the bottom of the inning. Then Valentin overswung at strikes 1 and 2, and flailed helplessly at the best curveball Jeff Suppan has ever thrown in his life for the second out. Endy then swung at a neck-high fastball for a routine fly out.
2) Aaron Heilman didn’t look his sharpest, but when one of his change-ups away floated a little bit high, it didn’t seam like a big deal. The Cards’ light-hitting catcher pulled a fly ball, and I thought, “Routine out.” But then it just kept going. Homerun.
3) In the bottom of the 9th, rookie closer Adam Wainwright had no fastball command. The first two batters singled, and up stepped Cliff Floyd, pinch hitting. Cliff got two fastballs right down the middle, pitches he would have launched over the wall to win the game when he was healthy and locked in. Unfortunately, he was coming off injury and his timing was off. Once he got to two strikes, the curve got him for out number one. Wainwright still looked awful, though, and the next batter, Reyes, smoked a line drive to center.
Right at Jim Edmonds. Out number two.
Molina’s fly ball goes over the wall and Jose’s liner finds a glove? What’s going on here?
LoDuca followed with an excellent AB. Wainwright missed his spots by plenty and walked Paul. Now up comes Beltran. There are two outs, but the tying run is on second and the winning run is on first and this pitcher hasn’t gotten anyone out yet (Floyd got himself out, and Reyes hit a bullet) and his pitch count is soaring. Beltran has been swinging at the first pitch all year long in RBI situations, so I pray he gets another fastball down the middle. Wainwright does indeed throw the ball over the middle of the plate, but it’s a change-up, maybe the first one he’s thrown in the inning. First pitch change-up? Whoa. Gutsy call by Molina. I can’t decide whether I’m irate that Beltran just took a pitch he could crush, or whether I’m happy that he took such a surprise pitch which he might have rolled over if he’d thought it was a fastball.
Pitch number two was a fastball, not down the middle, but looked hittable to me. Foul ball. Now it’s two strikes and I know Beltran can’t hit a curveball and he was lucky Wainwright didn’t just throw him three of those, but now it’s too late.
August 30, 2007
The Mets had been 14-9 in August before going to Philly for a 4-game series. The Phils trailed them by 6 games, and pretty much needed a sweep to make up significant ground. The Phils won the first 3 games of the series, and took a 5-0 lead in the 4th game. But then the Mets came back, and took a 10-9 lead into the 9th. Then, Billy Wagner, pitching his second inning, allowed steals to Werth on back to back pitches. The next batter drove Werth in to tie the game, stole a base himself, and scored to win it. The Phillies were now 2 games back, and even though they slumped horribly in early September, they still had confidence against the Mets, who they swept again in mid-September to make it a race again.
September 30, 2007
It took Tom Glavine one inning to complete probably the second-worst team choke job in baseball history. The Mets finished the season 1-6 against two awful teams with nothing to play for, plus a make-up game in which Pineiro threw the game of his life.
September 24, 2008
With the Mets poised to move 1/2 game back of the Phils 1 game ahead of the Brewers, Daniel Murphy led off the 9th inning of a tie game with a triple. Up came David Wright, the lone Met hitter who was locked in at that particular moment. Bobby Howry threw him nothing but fastballs away, and Wright eventually chased one off the plate for strike three. Howry then got out of the inning, setting up yet another of the bullpen losses that plagued this team down the stretch. With 4 games remaining, the Mets never came back in the division or wild card races.
I recently made a comment elsewhere that the Castillo missed popup game inexplicably remains in the heads of Mets fans everywhere as one of the most memorable/painful losses of all time. This list should put such notions to bed. Yet it probably won’t.
Collins’ use of Parnell, Cuddyer and Murphy, among other things, doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about this team’s chances to get that far this year. But the enjoyment is good, as long as we don’t start expecting it.
So I’m with Dan. Enjoy the moments; don’t get ahead of ourselves.
It’s less cool to say I enjoy seeing the Nationals lose, but there it is. I haven’t ruled out that the Braves made Johnson and Uribe available to the Mets because they don’t want the Nationals to win, either.
I was disappointed by 1988, but at the time, I thought it was a solid enough team that my attitude was “we’ll get ’em next year.”
So ok, it was a longer wait than expected. Life as a Mets fan.