By Ernie Palladino
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No matter how well the Mets perform in this early stretch of September, they can’t chase away the ghosts of 2007.
Only an exorcism will accomplish that, and for the Mets that means a division title. Until then, when the math alone dictates that the Mets are untouchable, those mischievous specters will hover over the schedule, haunting every happy thought and positive action surrounding New York’s newest favorite team.
The great collapses do that. So why would this surging squad of enthusiastic youngsters and productive veterans be immune to the historical comparisons to one of — if not THE — worst folds in baseball history?
To summarize 2007: The Mets went into the final 17 games with a seven-game lead over the Phillies. They lost 12 of those, and four of six to the fourth-place Nationals. The lead evaporated entirely on Sept. 28 as they fell into second place, but pulled into a tie with Philadelphia the next day.
With a chance to win it all, or at least force a playoff, the Mets lost 8-1 to the Marlins as Tom Glavine allowed seven runs. The Phillies beat Washington 6-1 for the division title.
Memories like that don’t fade, not even after eight years. Not even after a near-total changeover of the roster.
David Wright stands as the lone survivor of that sinking. Perhaps Wright’s perspective will be strong enough to keep the phantasms at bay.
“It’s very similar, but the team is different,“ Wright told the media Wednesday as he compared the feeling of two hopefully distinct seasons.
A lot hast changed, certainly. Many young faces who care nothing about history, much less the supernatural forces that often seem to control a team’s fate, populate the roster. The personality is more pitch than hit, even as the offense has improved ten-fold since July turned into August.
It is unlikely that Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard or Matt Harvey will be moved by any tales from the 2007 crypt. If any thought about collapse entered Michael Conforto’s head as he struck his home run in Wednesday’s win — or as Ruben Tejada raced around the bases on his bloop inside-the-park home run — they kept it to themselves.
Yoenis Cespedes, who banged his 10th homer in 30 games since coming over from Detroit, is too new to be affected by the distant past.
It’s too much fun being a Met these days to ponder the dark side.
Yet the ghosts hover, and with them the questions.
Was Harvey’s dehydration and lack of sharpness Wednesday an isolated instance easily remedied by fluids and rest, or was it a crack in the wall?
When will the white-hot Cespedes cool off, and will that chilling be so profound as to turn him invisible just when they need him most?
Was the left quad discomfort that forced Daniel Murphy out of Wednesday’s game after three innings temporary, or an aggravation of the strain that knocked him out for 22 games in June?
Will Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz — the young arms whose arrogance kept the Mets in it as the offense slumbered — bear up under the pressure if Washington suddenly comes alive and thins the lead?
The current signs point to the positive. The offense has started to bail out the pitching staff. The presence of Cespedes in the lineup has made every hitter a danger. Old Bartolo Colon has caught a second wind in two scoreless starts and a relief appearance since his 3 2/3-inning, seven-run debacle Aug. 21 in Colorado.
The standings look much the same heading into the Labor Day weekend series against the Marlins as they did the year of the great collapse. With 29 games left, the Mets are in fine shape to win the division, a necessary task because the wild cards will be coming out of the NL Central.
In other words, it’s win the division or start the vacation early.
Until the numbers say otherwise, the questions — and the ghosts — will continue to hover.
Only a division title will exorcise them.