By Jason Keidel
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No matter how cold it got last autumn, the city was sweating with Mets fever.
Behind the thunderous bat of Yoenis Cespedes and the almost instant maturation of a young, wildly gifted pitching staff, the Mets shocked the world by not only winning the NL East, but also by beating the favored Dodgers in five games and then whipping the heavily favored Cubs in four games.
And if not for a few late-inning gaffes by an otherwise bulletproof bullpen, the Mets may very well be defending World Series champs, not just NL champs.
But alas, Matt Harvey didn’t finish the job. Neither did Jeurys Familia. Daniel Murphy’s sizzling stick cooled off. And thus the Mets fell just short of becoming the most cherished club in franchise history.
And it was all set up for a redux. The Mets crowbarred open their historically frozen wallet, re-signed Cespedes and brought back their blessed young arms.
But the injury bug — heck, biblical plague — ravaged the Mets this season, making them a walking triage since the spring. No need to parse the particulars. We could devote an entire column to the Mets’ injury report.
All year we’ve lamented the Murphy gaffe, slapped Gary Cohen’s “net negative” assertion on eternal loop. We all wince while watching the second baseman and longtime Met practically post Triple Crown numbers not only for another club, but for the hated, first-place Washington Nationals.
Would Murphy’s bat have helped the Mets? Of course. But it wouldn’t have kept Harvey and deGrom on the mound. It would not have kept the lineup from sinking down the lower rungs of the National League in every salient batting statistic. Wouldn’t have made Jay Bruce remember he’s a professional baseball player.
Bruce, who is batting a galling .176 with four homers and 39 strikeouts since being acquired in an Aug. 1 trade with Cincinnati, was benched for the finale against the Braves on Wednesday night because he had managed just three hits in his previous 38 at-bats. Bruce isn’t the cause, but a perfect microcosm of how a perfectly rendered season can be flipped on its head a year later, even with mostly identical parts.
The Mets weren’t the ’61 Yankees last year, yet still played past Halloween. And that’s largely due to their golden arms. They’re largely gone now. And hence it’s safe to say these Mets, though scrappy and resilient, are done.
Sure, they can sneak into the wild card. If they wind up playing the Cubs in a division series, they will get smashed. If they don’t play the Cubs, they will get smashed.
Do you really care to see Bartolo Colon face Madison Bumgarner? Would you beam with confidence if Robert Gsellman opened the NLDS at Wrigley Field? Or maybe Seth Lugo against Max Scherzer? How about Daniel Murphy launching Mets pitching into the autumn night?
Yours truly was the CBS conductor of the 2015 Mets bandwagon. Trolls bogarted my Twitter feed. Called a traitor, my social media boiled with vulgar rants. (You can fit much profanity in 140 characters.) For all the class and pride of pinstripes, some Yankees fans couldn’t handle two months out of the limelight.
But largely the city was spellbound, a wide group hug that stretched from sidewalks to sports bars. It was the best kind of run, reminiscent of the 1996 Yanks. The Mets were hardly the chalk or talk of baseball. They went from afterthoughts, flopping in mediocrity on June 30 to streaking darlings from August through October, an organic, enchanted journey along the No. 7 line.
While last year framed the sweet, cinematic nature of baseball at its best, this year shows the precarious nature of sports. While NFL players drop like stones from the brain-and-bone crunching violence of football, baseball is supposed to be more free-flowing, equal parts athletic and poetic.
But even with exponential progress in nutrition and training, elbows are snapping like dry twigs. If you rest your pitchers (Washington’s Stephen Strasburg), you lose. If you trash pitching counts (Harvey), you still lose.
There’s no math to this. It was just the Mets’ turn to lose. If the Mets are struggling against the Twins and Braves, what hope do they have against a rested Cubs club that will have moonwalked to 100 wins?
Games like Wednesday’s didn’t happen last year. The Mets didn’t blow three-run leads after the seventh inning. When Cespedes hit a blast to center to win the game, it didn’t get snagged, like it was by Ender Inciarte’s perfect leap. The Braves don’t win six straight at Citi Field last year.
It’s time to wave the white flag. Not because they can’t make the playoffs. But because it doesn’t matter if they do.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel