SPidge Tales

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mets are the New Red Sox

The Mets are the new Red Sox. The Boston Red Sox are championship contenders, and New York Mets fans have slid into the vacated role of baseball pessimists. Life is upside down right now; Kevin Federline is the good parent; the Republican frontrunner for President is twice divorced and cross dresses; 40 is the new 30; and the Boston Red Sox have become the New York Yankees. Yes, the Red Sox, those perennial heartbreakers, are just three years removed from breaking the Curse, and they’ve become what Sox fans always hated. The hot girl in blue jeans and a tight Varitek T-shirt is now as ubiquitous as her clone in the tight Jeter T-shirt. Theo Epstein throws money around like George Steinbrenner, matching every Hideki Irabu and Jason Giambi spending spree with a Dice-K and J.D. Drew splurge of his own. Curt Schilling’s mouth matches anything blurting from the lips of the Boss. Rooting for the Sox against the Yankees is no longer like rooting for David versus Goliath. It is no longer secretly hoping Screech gets a girl over Zack and Slater. Rooting for the Sox against the Yankees is like rooting for Exxon versus Mobil, rooting for Microsoft versus Dell, Zack versus A.C. You can’t root against your mirror image.

The Red Sox may have turned to the Dark Side. They may have joined Darth Vader and the Evil Empire. But the Force still lives. The Mets are the new Red Sox and the spirit of Obi Wan, Yoda, and Luke now resides in Flushing, New York. This was not always the case. From 1962 until October 18, 2006, we Mets fans lived with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Mets fans did not suffer heartbreak like the Red Sox. In 1962, the Mets were lovable losers, setting an all-time loss record and residing endearingly in the hearts of fans forever. Most of our history consists of losing seasons, with enough winning campaigns spread throughout to save us the ignominy of Chicago Cubs fans. We had the Miracle Season of 1969, upsetting the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series in only our eighth season of existence. We had the “Ya Gotta Believe” 1973 team, a squad that won its division with a mediocre 82-79, but caught fire in the playoffs, advancing to the World Series before losing to the powerhouse Reggie Jackson led Oakland A’s in 7. We had the 1986 frat-boy Mets, a team so good, anything less than a World Championship would have rendered us underachievers (thankfully the Red Sox prevented that). Until October 19, 2006, the Mets never really broke their fans hearts. They never lost a championship they should have won. The ’73 team was lucky to be there. The 2000 team lost in the World Series to a superior Yankee team. Even in 1988, when we were better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser turned into God; no one could have beaten him.

As Mets fans, we’d always been playing with house money. Yeah, we had some disappointing losses. But we never blew something we were supposed to win. Until October 19, 2006, Mets playoff races felt like Cinderella at the fancy dress ball. We were not cynical Cinderella, waiting for, expecting, the clock to strike midnight and ruin the party. We were early evening Cinderella; after wearing dirty rags, cleaning the house for our wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, and keeping our sanity by listening to talking mice, we were just happy to be dancing. Wearing a beautiful gown and waltzing with Prince Charming was beyond our wildest dreams. Then, October 19, 2006 happened.

October 19, 2006 will forever stand as the day I popped my baseball fan cherry. Considering I started watching the Mets in 1991, this is a long time. But 2006 marked the first time since 1988 the Mets had a real chance of winning a World Series. True, they went to the playoffs in 1999, valiantly battling back from a 3-0 deficit (with Robin Ventura’s grand slam single) to extend the National League Championship Series to six games before falling to the hated Atlanta Braves. And, they had that World Series appearance in 2000. But those teams had just Mike Piazza and smoke and mirrors.

The Mets were far and away the best team in the National League in 2006 (97-65). But come playoff time, veteran pitchers El Duque and Pedro Martinez got hurt. The mediocre (record: 83-78) St. Louis Cardinals pushed the National League Championship Series to a seventh game. The first five tension packed innings of game seven produced a 1-1 tie. But in the sixth, with one out and one runner on base, the Cardinals’ Scott Rolen laid into Mets pitcher Oliver Perez’s fastball, sending it towards the left field bleachers, bringing almost certain death to the Mets season. But like spring and Easter, out of death comes life, and Mets leftfielder Endy Chavez redeemed the season and saved the Mets chances of advancing to the World Series with the Greatest Catch of All Time. When Chavez extended his glove hand an arms length over the fence and robbed a certain homerun, I had absolutely no doubt the Mets would win that game. That catch revitalized the Mets and demoralized the Cardinals. But somehow, someway, with Karma on their side, and probably Destiny, Mystique, Aura, and every other pole dancer rooting them on, too, the Mets lost. My sunny optimism disappeared. This was like a kid finding out the truth about Santa. My baseball innocence died. As a fan, I popped my baseball cherry.

What do you call it when a death redeemed by resurrection is followed by a second death? A tragedy? A farce? It’s like the nerdy pretty girl in a high school movie who suddenly gets popular when she lets down her hair and takes off her glasses. Once she begins enjoying her newfound popularity, she feels that tinge of guilt from alienating her original friends in the geek crowd. Maybe we Mets fans should have shown the proper pity towards lowly Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans. Maybe we selfishly reveled in our own team’s escape from mediocrity. Maybe I’m overanalyzing. This loss not only ruined the 2006 season, its aftereffects ruined 2007, as well. The September 2007 collapse would not have happened if not for that damned game.

The Mets had a seven game lead with 17 to play, and I just knew they would choke. I knew it. I knew it when the ESPN talking heads had to mention how no team ever blew a lead that big. I knew it when the Philadelphia Phillies swept a three game series, their eighth straight win over the Mets. I knew it when the Mets returned to Shea to close the season with a seven game homestand, 2 ½ games ahead of the Phillies. I knew it on that final Saturday, when John Maine almost threw a no-hitter, the Mets won 13-0 over the Florida Marlins to pull into a tie with the Phillies, and they started dancing as if they already won the division. We Mets fans in pennant races, since that awful Game 7, no longer feel like early evening Cinderella, just happy to be at the fancy dress ball. We Mets fans, since that awful Game 7, treat every playoff-intensity baseball game like we are Cinderella at the end of the night, well aware of midnight approaching, just waiting for the other slipper to drop, the dress to turn back into rags, and the stagecoach and horses to turn back into pumpkins and mice.

The Mets are the new Red Sox. We expect them to turn certain victory into defeat. We expect them to blow a seven game lead with 17 to play, even if that entails the Mets not only going 5-12, but the Phillies catching fire and finishing 13-4. Like Luke Skywalker, we can no longer live comfortably with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Owen and Beru are dead. The Force is upon us, whether we like it or not. Like the Red Sox of old, we must face the Evil Empire. But, like Mark Hamill, the Mets are poor actors, unable to win anything. If we are to turn into the 2004 Red Sox, we need Han Solo (Johan Santana, maybe?) to appear, and fast. Otherwise, we will face a third straight season of midnight striking too early.


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