A Hell Of A Ride

So that’s it.

The Mets ended their season today with a 1-0 win, beating the Nationals for their 90th win of the season. The last time they won 90 was 2006. That was a good year. This one is better.

Sandy Alderson took a lot of heat for his ambitious 90 win goal last year, and barely less this year, but he kept it up. It’s only fitting, I suppose, that the win that, to this point, defines Sandy’s tenure is a 1-0 shutout, with all the pitchers contributing and Curtis Granderson, who Sandy grabbed despite the protestations of many (including myself). When Granderson batted .229 last year, we thought we were right. We weren’t.

It’s even more fitting, I think, that this season, a high point in Sandy’s tenure so far, ends a 1-0 win. Sandy came in in 2011, took a year to look around, and made some moves before 2012. The first game of the 2012 season was a 1-0 win. It was Wright instead of Granderson who drove in the run. It was Frank Francisco instead of Jeurys Familia that had nailed down the save. It was Johan Santana instead of Jacob deGrom who had a scoreless but ultimately aborted start. That team was a fun team. They flirted with contention. Were, at one point, 46-39, 4.5 games back of the Nationals.

2012 – what a fun year that was. Wright batted .415 in April, Tejada was batting .320 until he slumped through September, Scott Hairston came from nowhere to hit 20 home runs, R.A. Dickey, of course, came from the same place to win 20 games and the Cy Young…that was a fun year. We didn’t win anything, but I swear, I thought we could have. Delusional? Probably. Fun? Absolutely.

But the Sandy Alderson era goes back even further, back to 2011, when Sandy came in, brought in superstars like Willie Harris, Ronny Paulino, and Chin Lung Hu, and sat back to evaluate. In the first two months of the Sandy Alderson era, I went to three games – all Jon Niese starts, all wins. Niese beat the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers, the Phillies…and then, for good measure, Dickey capped off 2011 with seven strong innings against the Phillies, on 9/24/11, the day of the immediately immortal Pascucci Blast. That was a fun year too. It’s baseball. It’s always fun.

2012, returning for a moment, was fun for another reason as well. When it started, I was away, camped out in Maine for the summer. Well, not camped out – we were in senior bunk, so we had TV and everything. Thank god, too – how else would I have known, on July 26th, to yell to the one other Mets fan in the group, “Harvey’s got 10 strikeouts through five!”? Yes, 2012 saw the emergence of Matt Harvey, drafted by Omar Minaya, watched by, well, everyone, and impressive at every level. I saw Harvey live that August, when I got home, against the Rockies. He went six, allowed one run. A typical Matt Harvey no-decision. Ramon Ramirez, one of those Alderson acquisitions who just didn’t work out, gave up two, and Frank Francisco gave up two more. With two down in the ninth, the Mets down by three, and two men on, Ronny Cedeño came up. Ronny Cedeño never hit home runs.

Ronny Cedeño got one in the air, down the left field line. It was deep. Citi Field was deeper. The ball died on the track, and the Mets were three run losers.

Welcome to New York, Matt Harvey!

Then came 2013, a quiet, ho-hum, not much there season that I loved just as much as the one that preceded it. I was in attendance the first Sunday of the year. Aaron Laffey pitched. He was just about as good as you’d expect him to be: he went 4.1 innings, gave up three runs, and left. He’d pitch in four games for the Mets that season. His opposition? A young righty that the Marlins had rushed up straight from A ball, named Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez was good that day. He pitched four scoreless. Anthony Recker – he’s still here, good for him – doubled home Tejada in the fifth, and Fernandez left. Murph homered off AJ Ramos in the 6th to cut the deficit to 3-2. That’s how it stayed into the ninth, which is around the time that I noticed my fellow Shea Bridge Report blogger sitting in the section one over from me, a few rows down.

How’s that for luck?

Sometimes, you just know. When Steve Cishek hit Tejada with a pitch after inducing a deep flyout from Duda, I knew. When Nieuwenhuis moved him over to third on a single and went to second on the throw, I knew. When Mike Redmond brought the infield in, I knew.

Marlon Byrd knocked one right past the drawn-in infield. Two runs scored. The Mets won. Hey, maybe we’ve got something here!

We didn’t. It was much of the same that year. I saw a victory over the Yankees (yeah, we swept ’em), a loss to the Cardinals during which I was berated by my friend for overestimating Jeremy Hefner’s fantasy baseball value, another typical Matt Harvey loss (7 IP, 1 ER) to the Cardinals, Matt Harvey’s final start before his surgery, and one last game, from up in the promenade, pitched by a young Georgian named Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was good. The offense wasn’t. The Mets lost again.

Who cared? We were going places.

2014, also known as “when stuff started to get interesting,” started with two new faces: Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. Combined age, 72, combined weight, who the hell knows. Sandy had brought them both in. I didn’t like the moves at the time.

If nothing else, it’s proof that I can be wrong occasionally.

My 2014 started with three losses. Then three wins. A loss, another win, another loss, another win, two losses, three wins, two losses. That’s the season in a nutshell. Outside the nutshell, there was more. Dillon Gee started on Opening Day (jeez, remember him?), Wheeler continued to impress me, and on April 19th, I saw one of the most thrilling two run losses of all time.

The Braves were the opponents, back when the Braves were good. The Mets were down 4-3 going to the ninth. Jose Valverde came on. Before the season, I’d thought that he might be good. My good will had already worn off by this point. Jordan Schafer reached on a bunt, Valverde walked Freddie Freeman intentionally, and Justin Upton hit a three run homer. It’s so simple.

Well, not so simple, actually. Kimbrel came on in the ninth. Up four runs, not a save situation. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t ready.

Omar Quintanilla (another guy who I would love back the next time we’re really bad) grounded out. Eric Young Jr. was hit by a pitch. Murph singled. Wright, the notorious Kimbrel-slayer, doubled to deep right. Tying run at the plate.

Granderson struck out swinging, but Chris Young – I don’t want him back ever – singled to center, and Murph scored. Wright moved to third. With Duda at the plate, Young stole second. Kimbrel walked Duda. Tying run in scoring position.

Kimbrel was out. Jordan Walden came in. D’Arnaud at the plate. D’Arnaud fell behind 0-2. Walden delivered home once again. D’Arnaud swung.

From up in the promenade, I was right behind the plate, and I saw this ball perfectly. I was certain, absolutely certain, that it was going into left field. Then I remembered that Andrelton Simmons was the Braves’ shortstop. He picked it, no trouble, and threw over to first. Ballgame.

Well, who cared? Jose Valverde would be gone soon.

After that loss, when we eliminated the Braves from playoff contention that September, it was doubly sweet.

And that brings us to 2015, where anyone who’s anyone knows the story. The Mets were really good. Then they weren’t. Wright was gone for a while, but came back with a bang, literally. They weren’t doing so well, so they brought in a few nice hitters from the Braves. They almost brought back a former Met, who provided some nice moments in Shea Stadium’s sunset years, but they didn’t. Wilmer Flores proved that there is crying in baseball, and we love him for it. Instead of Gomez, they brought in a monster. A raccoon-parakeet monster. A guy who you just can’t help but love, even if he occasionally makes you nervous with that underhand flip that he seems to have patented.

They brought up a young outfielder from Oregon who goes to all fields with a swing that is almost mellifluous. Their closer went down – for a while, probably, because no one likes a juicer – so they brought in a new guy. He may be the best closer in Mets history.

Atta boy, Sandy.

So that’s where we are now. This team, planned for years and thrown together over a few months, has played better than anyone (besides myself and Logan, based on our spring predictions) had a right to suspect. It’s nigh on NLDS time, and Citi Field will be rocking. Maybe it’s not Shea, but hell, we’ve got other things to worry about right now.

So here’s to the captain, for sticking it out and giving us his all. Here’s to deGrom and Harvey and Syndergaard, for showing us the value of intimidation, and here’s to Matz for showing that we might have yet another formidable mound presence. Here’s to Familia, for being straight-up dirty, and here’s to Bartolo, for showing that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Here’s to Johnson and Uribe, for reminding us what professional hitters can do when you’ve got Mayberry batting cleanup, and here’s to Conforto, for making me swoon with the beauty of his opposite-field home runs. Here’s to Robles and his quick-pitch, Gilmartin and his brief tenure as a 1.000 hitter, and Duda and his raw power and comedic level of humility. To Granderson, for going from burned out to spark plug. To Murph, for having the same season as you’ve always had. To d’Arnaud, for showing us that maybe offensive catchers are not a thing of the past. And to Lagares, Niese, Cuddyer, Tejada, Flores, Recker, Plawecki, Reed, Parnell, and everyone else who I’m sure I’m forgetting – you all did your parts, and we thank you for that.

So on to LA, and the NLDS. Maybe we’ll win. Maybe we won’t. It’s been a hell of a ride either way.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 New York Mets.

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