Pitchers and catchers have yet to report … indeed, it’s not even Christmas yet … and the Mets – Phillies verbal rivalry has already begun.
Perhaps ignited by Cole Hamels’ admission that the Mets are “choke artists”, recently signed closer Francisco Rodriguez pronounced that his new Mets are “the team to beat”.
Unfortunately, that phrase was already used by Carlos Beltran, who whispered it last March. Beltran, of course, stole the words from Jimmy Rollins — who originally made the proclamation a year earlier.
The verbal sparring is wonderful for the media and exciting for some fans, as it helps to stoke the rivalry between the Mets and Phillies — which in turn sells tickets and newspapers and drives up the blog comments and website pageviews. A win-win for everyone in this down economy, in fact.
But the crux of the matter is this: for every Mets fan that gets riled up by K-Rod’s quote, there are another ten who wish the players in orange and blue would simply keep their mouth shut. The more the Mets talk, the more pathetic they look in the end, when they can’t close the deal.
Aside from the 1986 Mets, there haven’t been too many Flushing squads (if any) who had both the talent and the fortitude to see through such brazen declarations. Looking back, that cocky bunch spoiled us, and helped open the lid on big mouths in sports.
Today, however, the Mets do not have the talent to steamroll over the rest of baseball. It looks like they’ll have a good team, one that can compete for the NL East title. I’m not saying they won’t run away with the flag next year — I’m saying that right now, they don’t appear to have an exceptionally dominating team.
Further, K-Rod and J.J. Putz by themselves will not drastically change the mentality in the clubhouse. The Mets remain a leaderless team, and devoid of the “killer instinct” necessary to throw their opponents down to the ground and stomp on their necks. Again, it doesn’t mean they can’t win in ’09 — it simply means they don’t have any business making public announcements regarding winning or talking trash. Not yet, anyway.
In retrospect, Beltran’s utterance last spring was all-too-revealing. It was said off the cuff, after taking some BP, with a laugh, and seemed he was half-joking. From the Daily News:
“Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we’re going to win in our division. I have no doubt in that.
“We’ve got what it takes. We have good chemistry as a team. He fits great because he’s a great guy. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. Who doesn’t want to have him on any ballclub? Without him last year we did good, until the end of the season. So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat.”
With that, Beltran walked off, amused and chuckling as he told unnerved P.R. man Jay Horwitz, “Have a happy day.”
Judging by what happened (again) in the last weeks of September, perhaps Beltran WAS joking.
The irony, of course, is that Beltran’s last at-bat of the 2006 NLCS — the one where an Adam Wainwright yellow hammer froze him and ended the Mets’ season — is symbolic of the team’s reputation as chokers, making Beltran’s quote all the more embarrassing now. More damaging is that not only did the Mets not deliver on Beltran’s preseason boast, but that they choked again.
So when Cole Hamels agreed that the Mets were “choke artists”, we fans really had no response — except to bow our heads and nod in agreement. And when K-Rod comes out and starts the cycle all over again, we Mets fans want to run and hide, cover our faces, muttering “please, not again!”.
It’s kind of like watching a TV show or a movie, and the lead character (Archie Bunker comes to mind) is about to say or do something you know he/she is going to regret — you yell at the screen, “no, don’t SAY IT!”. Or when you’re sitting around the Christmas tree, and conservative Uncle Bob has had too much egg nog, and he’s about to start talking politics with liberal cousin Joan. Some things should just be left unsaid, before everyone is embarrassed.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the idea of a rivalry between the Mets and Phillies. But let’s see it erupt on the field, not in the headlines. Instead of continuing to talk about how great and unbeatable you are, please, New York Mets, take a page from the Nike book and just do it.