On Being Not Quite Good Enough

More than anyone I know, even among the hardest-core of Mets fans, I subscribe to the Ya-Gotta-Believe philosophy.  I always believe.  As the 2014 season wound down, with our guys 5.5 games out of the wild card with 16 games left, I genuinely believed that we would make the playoffs.  During the World Series last year, up until Wade Davis entered, I thought it was ours for the taking.  And when David Wright went down for the umpteenth time, I believed with all my heart, and still do, that he will return to the top of his game.

This unerring belief in believin’ is why I found my lunch with a friend so strange.  My friend is a token follower of baseball, if that; like many other New Yorkers, he got caught up in World Series mania, but that didn’t last.  His lunch with me was, in all probability, his first check on the Mets since last November.

“Do you think the Mets will make the playoffs?” he asked me.

“No,” I said.  “They’re done.”

At the time, I thought nothing of it.  In hindsight, it was far more important.

I’ve never given up on a Mets season before.  Never has there been a season with expectations high enough, but reality low enough, that I’ve had to pronounce it over and done.  I’ve always believed we’ll be better than common sense says we will: never before have I had to say we’ll be worse, when common sense says we may still be fine.

“They don’t have the energy they had last year,” I continued.  “I just don’t see it.”

True, and true.  And of course things could still change: that’s what makes baseball great.  I just don’t see it happening.

Does that make me a turncoat?  A traitor?  A false fan?  I, for one, think not.

As far as the playoffs go, to be completely honest, I don’t mind much.  What am I supposed to do?  Complain that we should have been better than we were?  We’ve been split limb from limb by injuries and slumps.  We’ve lost Conforto, Harvey, Wheeler, Cespedes, Lagares, Duda, Cabrera, and, of course, Wright.  There’s nothing to be done about that.  We got lucky with injuries in 2015: now, that luck is turning on us.  And there’s no need to be particularly angry about that.

Like any solid baseball fan, I love the playoffs, but that’s not why we’re here.  We’re here for games one through 162, and haven’t they been good ones?

We’ve seen Thor develop from solid rookie to mound menace.  We’ve seen Bartolo homer, walk, and continue to pitch.  We’ve seen Cespedes and Walker hit 22 homers each.  We’ve seen the return of Jose Reyes, which canceled out the negativity of the return of Jon Niese.  We’ve seen Jacob deGrom continue to excel, and Steven Matz take steps towards doing the same.  We’ve seen Brandon Nimmo’s exuberant smile, Jeurys Familia’s 40 saves, and Addison Reed’s unerring dominance.

It’s been a whole lot of fun, in other words, even with a .500 record.  And I just can’t make myself get upset over missing a few extra games.

Now, here’s another things: I could be wrong.  And when we’re looking back from the other side of a nine game winning streak, you can tell me how wrong I was.  But I don’t think it will happen.  All the better if it does.

Opening the broadcast of the San Francisco series’ opening game, Keith and Gary talked about watershed moments.  The May 1st game against the Giants was certainly one of them.  The Mets were hoping, Gary said, that today was another, in the opposite direction.

Today was a watershed moment for me, as well.  In both directions.

“It’s like 1987,” I explained to my friend, expanding on my prediction that we would miss the playoffs.  “They won the World Series in 1986, then 1987, nothing went right, and they didn’t even make the playoffs.”

And then I explained what had happened in 1988, and why I thought 2017 would be even better.

“Next year, everyone’s back,” I said.  “Next year, we’re going to go back to the playoffs.”  And as firmly as I believed my earlier, less positive prediction that we would miss the playoffs this season, I believed my uplifting one, that we would make them next year.

Next year, we’ll be back, to quote from a much less uplifting season, and we’ll be better.  They’ll write us off, and we’ll take the league by storm.  We’ll race out of the gate and we won’t look back.

We’ll have everyone.  D’Arnaud and Duda, playing full seasons and hitting like All-Stars.  Walker, signed to an extension, and Cabrera and Reyes, splitting time.  Wright, finally getting some good luck and playing a full season.  Conforto, Nimmo, Lagares, Granderson, Cespedes…whoever they are, making up for this season’s crummy luck by slugging us back to the playoffs.

The pitching staff.  Harvey, eager to win back the city.  Wheeler, ready to return from two full seasons on the shelf.  DeGrom and Thor, continuing to dominate, and Matz, ready to take the next step to full ace-hood.  Familia sealing the deal.  Reed shutting down the eighth.  Edgin getting the lefties.  Robles taking tough spots.

I meant it, and I wasn’t just saying it to cancel out my uncharacteristically negative prediction.  We’re going to shock the world in 2017.

So, a watershed moment it was, for the good and the bad.  I had never given up on the playoffs before, especially with a postseason appearance still so plausible.  And similarly, I had never expressed such optimism, and such sincere optimism, about a future season, before it even began.  Not even in 2015, and not even this year: I’ve never entered a season with such high expectations.  Barring disaster, which I’m prepared to do, I’ll enter 2017 expecting our Mets, as scrappy underdogs, to take the division, take the pennant, take the title.

And after all of this, not much changed.  We finished lunch, watched The Office, eventually separated.  I killed time until the game started.  And then I watched Justin Ruggiano have his moment, with no mental energy directed towards scoreboard watching or wildcard-chance worrying.

Like I said, I’m here for the regular season, games 1 through 162.  This is 121.  163 through 183, I’m not too worried about.

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