By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Last week I did a spot on my friend’s podcast, a 365-day sports buffet, called “Sully Baseball.”
During the hour-long chat, my boy, Paul Franics Sullivan, asked me the collective state of the Mets fan. I said “nervous.” Despite the bulging lead over the Nats, despite the epic surge in the standings since the end of July, and despite their conveyer belt of divine young arms, the Mets have made their fans anxious.
Sully understood. As a native Bostonian and Red Sox fan, he could relate to the haunting sense of self, and the apparitions that come with a wretched baseball past. Millennials can’t really fathom the Bambino’s hex, as they only endured a few years of it, if any.
But the fledgeling Mets fan doesn’t have any championships this young century, the rebuilt history of three rings since 2004. Neither does the middle-aged or geriatric Mets fan. So the world west of the Hudson chuckles at the dark neuroses that follow you to Flushing.
Why are you so fidgety when you’re down to a single-digit magic number?
Because you’ve been here before, of course, and gagged a few leads in the final weeks. You have 2007, 2008, and some Yadier Molina in ’06. Until the Mets clinch a spot, you have the image of Carlos Beltran gawking at that perfect pitch on eternal loop.
You have the forlorn Marlins saying they would have walked across a field of broken glass to ruin your season. You have Tom Glavine ending his Mets career by surrendering seven runs in the first inning.
How do these things happen? The baseball alchemy is intricate, but it probably starts by not being fully devoted to dominance. Like pulling Matt Harvey after five innings. Part of the master plan.
What is the plan, anyway? Not that you’d have any reason to believe it. The Mets have mutated so many times, uttered so many conflicting messages, endured to many clashing impulses, that it makes sense for the Mets devotee to watch this final stretch with one eye open.
Harvey had surrendered no runs, faced just 18 batters in five innings, allowed two to reach base, and tossed just 77 pitches on Sunday night. He had seven strikeouts and one walk. Only four hitters hit the ball out of the infield.
But with a pennant to be won, and the hated Yankees to be vanquished, he was safely tucked far away from the mound in the sixth inning. The bullpen then yielded eight hits, six walks, and 11 runs, in four stellar innings. The Yankees had to be dancing in the dugout when they realized Harvey wasn’t around, drooling over the idea of facing the tender underbelly of the Mets’ bullpen.
This is why Mets fans are insecure. It feels like it took no time to get the magic number down to 10, but has taken weeks just to squeeze it down to 8. Why? Some poor, recent play? Sure. But you never get the sense the Mets have that assassin’s instinct, the muscles to slam the lid on the enemy. And, of course, that once-biblical 9 1/2-game bulge is now down to 6.
As I wrote last week, the Subway Series would probably come down to Harvey, the “Dark Knight,” who has ditched his superhero attire and persona for a more muted approach to pitching. It’s about prudence and protection now, about an abstract innings wall that is rising before us by the day. What happened to the fastball-wielding wonder who would do anything to help his team?
It’s quite a metaphor. Just the symbolism alone is enough to make the Mets fan shiver. The fact that a team with a desolate history of blowing leads had to pull their ace with the Subway Series on the line. Well, they didn’t have to. They wanted to.
And that’s the problem.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel