By Jason Keidel
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Both our baseball teams embarrassed us this week. The Yankees have won one game since September 27, and the Mets have been equally inept, their win on Sunday barely blunting their week-long nosedive into the playoffs.
But the Yankees can lose to Houston on Tuesday and they’re still the Yankees, they’re trophy case still bulging with hardware. They’re loaded with house money this year, anyway, as no one expected the epic production they got from Mark Teixeira or A-Rod, or the number of wins they got before they began their spiral last week.
But the Mets don’t have the house money or street cred for reflection or relaxation. There’s no assurance they will be here next year or the year after. WFAN host Craig Carton was right on Monday morning when he asserted that this recent, messy slate of games mattered.
You may recall I implored the Mets to kick in into playoff gear before the playoffs actually began. Among the endless reasons were mojo, momentum, home-field and giving fans the sense that they mean this.
Instead of going full throttle the Mets jerked on the brake and then backed into October, scoring 10 runs in six games — including some all-time futility against Max Scherzer. There’s no doubt that Scherzer was sublime, but he got ample aid from the enemy dugout, which whiffed at nearly every pitch. The Mets struck out in nine out of their last 10 plate appearances.
Sure, the Mets were sitting the bulk of their starters. But that’s kind of the point. The Mets were actually leading the race for home-field advantage in the NLDS. Until they sprayed the booze and laid an egg in Philadelphia, including that grotesque affair on September 30, which SNY analysts Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling said may have been the ugliest game either has ever seen. It was three hours and 59 minutes of baseball follies, in which the Mets blew a 5-0 lead and spawned this slide into Los Angeles.
SNY play-by-play man Gary Cohen told us that the road team has won more deciding games of the NLDS and ALDS than the home team has. But we can’t rely on obscure data to carry these Mets, who were already facing the two most poisonous pitchers in the sport in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. And now they must face them in Los Angeles.
The Mets could learn a lot from Tom Coughlin and his New York “Football” Giants. A few years ago, the Giants hosted a meaningless regular-season game against the unbeaten and, presumably, unbeatable New England Patriots.
On paper, the Giants had nothing to gain by winning, or even trying. But sports are too often subjugated to stats. Coughlin knew that sliding into the playoffs would thwart the team’s unity and confidence. Instead, they started, battled, lost by three and … well … you know the rest.
Don’t tell us the Mets wouldn’t gain from making the Dodgers travel 3,000 miles for the first two games, from the warm beach to the cold dusk of Queens. Don’t tell us there’s no benefit in trotting out their two young guns at home, especially when the splits are so vivid for Noah Syndergaard (2.46 ERA in 12 home starts, 4.23 ERA in 12 road starts). Don’t tell us home cooking isn’t warmer, the fans aren’t louder and the dimensions aren’t cozier.
It’s all moot. The Mets must now board the team charter and huff off to the other coast, where they will face 1 and 1A, Cy Young and Cy Young Jr, in their ballpark. Maybe the Mets flip the orthodoxy and sweep the two games at Chavez Ravine. Baseball is odd like that.
The Mets have an incredible opportunity to knock the Yankees off the back page, bogart the bold ink and open a portal to a new era of baseball in Flushing.
But it’s more likely they limp home to Queens, down 2-0, with Matt Harvey pitching for Lord-knows-how-long. His limit may be a metaphor for the Mets’ limitations in 2015. If so, we can say the end came long before the playoffs began.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.