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.