John Maine vs. the Dodgers
Just when we thought our greatest fears had been realized — that Pedro would miss the postseason — El Duque followed him to the sidelines. Before, there was concern that Steve Trachsel might have to pitch in a playoff game, but now, we can’t imagine what we’d do without him — and even he is somewhat questionable after a mysterious trip home that kept him from making his tune-up start and doing his throwing sessions.
Amazing how quickly things can change — the Mets went from the out-and-out favorite to plow through the NL playoffs to a 30-1 underdog in a matter of 48 hours.
Strangely, I like it.
As a Mets fan, I have to echo the feelings of Matthew Cerone, who recently said in his blog the following:
“…this frazzled, worried, sort-of-underdog vibe that surrounds the team right is something i am far more comfortable with…i’m not used to being a fan of the ‘class of the national league,’ as so many experts have been saying…i’m not used to seeing my team as the favorites…
…i’m far more comfortable having my back against the wall, and pulling off miracles for timeless memories… ”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. To be a Mets fan is to be the antithesis of the Yankee fan: expect nothing, love your team regardless of on-field performance, and maybe be returned with some unbelievable joy once a decade.
True Mets fans were not the ones booing Carlos Beltran and Jorge Julio during Opening Day ceremonies. Rather, they are the sons and daughters and grandchildren of Mets fans who once winced through Marvelous Marv Throneberry losing a grounder in the sun, watched Jimmy Piersall trot around the bases backwards on a home run, and suffered with Roger Craig through 24 losses in one season. All through the bumbling and incompetence, the original Mets fans cheered with passion, turning nondescript players into their own lovable heroes. Only the Mets could field a team with a Choo Choo and a Hot Rod, a Rusty and a Tug, a Mookie and a Kong.
Are you a true Mets fan? If you associate the word “franchise” with Tom Seaver before McDonald’s, identify “the Hammer” as John Milner rather than Hank Aaron, remember Frank Thomas as a white outfielder rather than a black DH, and Tim Leary as pitcher rather than a doctor dropping LSD, then you’re probably a true Mets fan. If you once believed Doug Flynn deserved a Gold Glove, Jose Oquendo would never hit, and J.C. Martin should have given his World Series share to his shoe shiner, then you’re most likely a true Mets fan.
We, as Mets fans, are more accustomed to finishing in 8th place one year, then surprising everyone as World Champions the next. We prefer to win a division with an 82-80 record than with wins in the triple digits. We like to go to the World Series as the wildcard entry. Even when the Mets dominated in 1986, it was necessary to fall behind in both the NLCS and the World Series … otherwise, it just wouldn’t have felt right.
That’s why, after pulverizing the competition in 2006, Pedro had to go. El Duque had to go down. Steve Trachsel had to disappear. Cliff Floyd needs to hobble. Without the adversity, there can be no magic … and without the magic, they can’t be the Mets.
If Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez were 100% and throwing bullets, Omar Minaya had pulled off a deal for Roy Oswalt or Barry Zito, and Cliff Floyd had just finished a season like 2005, this would not be a true Mets team going into the posteason … it would be another overpaid, obnoxiously talented New York team expected to blast through the underprivileged rest of the league. New York must have two teams — the Yankees and the Mets — and there must be differentiation between the two. Thus, the Yankees must be, well, the Yankees, and the Mets must be the lovable, overachieving, magical underdogs.
Which brings us to John Maine. He fits the story perfectly. When was the last time a Game One starter for a New York team took the subway to the game? Maine is inexperienced, unassuming, and ordinary. Even some Mets fans — albeit casual fans — don’t know who he is. He throws an average fastball, an average changeup, and an average curveball. Fittingly, he’s pitching at four o’clock, a time when most baseball fans are still at work, and few expect him to still be in the game by the time they get home. If he is, he might not be noticed, as fans will be busy preparing and/or eating dinner. In all likelihood, he’ll be removed from the game just as the pizza guy arrives, and when you finally sit down in front of the TV, Chad Bradford will be pitching. And you’ll look at the score and see Mets 4 Dodgers 3, and wonder how the heck the Mets pulled that off. Not an issue, though, as you’ll find out later via ESPN, SNY, MetsBlog, and/or the DVR. Naturally, the Mets bullpen will mow down the Dodgers in innings seven through nine, and John Maine will emerge as the unknown hero.
How will Maine do this with his average repertoire, his ordinary skills? Magic — Mets Magic. True Mets fans wouldn’t have it any other way.