I have a confession to make.
I've been watching the Mets in April.
Oh, I promised not to. I promised that I would boycott this team until the Madoff-tainted baseball-inept Wilpon family sells the team. That was an easy promise to make, with the Mets universally picked for a last-place finish.
But then something happened.
The ragtag band of scrap-heap rejects, not-yets and never-wases started to actually play baseball.
The starting pitching staff, consisting of the newly-reassembled shoulder of Johan Santana, Renaissance man R.A. Dickey, new $25 million man Jon Niese, Z.Z. Top fashion statement Dillon Gee, and until recently, the million dollar arm and ten-cent head of Mike Pelfrey --a guy who every time he plays looks as though he'd rather be having a colonoscopy without sedation -- started showing that they can actually pitch. Santana is the rare case of a pitcher who missed a full year being reborn. Niese is already earning his new contract. Dillon Gee has been mostly great. And until a season-ending injury, Pelf was Pelf -- occasionally brilliant, maddeningly inconsistent. The bullpen is still questionable, but the offense, never expected to be anything special, shows signs of becoming something more than what Ike Davis has looked like in the first month. Perhaps most astonishingly, the Curse of José Reyes isn't coming to pass, with Reyes hitting .205 for the currently last-place Marlins and Mets rookie Ruben Tejada hitting .310. But more importantly, there are signs of life from three sluggers who had started the season in terrible slumps. Worst Acquisition Ever Jason Bay went on the DL after showing a few tiny signs of breaking out of his slump, but callup Kirk Nieuwenhuis has not only come up and hit .310, but has made some stellar outfield plays. David Wright is shining in his new role as The Guy now that he's not overshadowed by Reyes, and the deliciously-named Lucas Duda, whose name already has him called "The Big Lebowski" in some circles
and "The Dude" in others, is a plate monster already, and might be a great player if he can learn how to catch an easy fly ball.
A few weeks ago I caught "Shea Goodbye", a film made at the end of the 2008 season. It isn't until you watch a compendium of Mets lunacy over the years that you realize that there is something about this team. Maybe it's the enduring legacy of Casey Stengel, the goofiest man ever to manage a baseball team. Maybe it's some kind of weird karma that hangs over the outer boroughs ever since the Dodgers and Giants decamped for points west. But there is something about this team, this organization, that doesn't change no matter who owns it, who manages it, or who plays on the field.
This team does not play baseball. This team plays Goofball.
Mets baseball isn't like anything else in the major leagues. Other teams play baseball. But when they play the Mets, anything can happen. 19-inning July 4 games where the fireworks are set off at 4 AM the next morning
. Black cats show up on the field not once
, in different stadiums, bringing wins to the team both times. (Funny, though, that orange cats, who sport one of the team colors, do not bring as good fortune
.) In the 1980s there was the "K" corner for Dwight Gooden's strikeouts, and the Coneheads when David Cone pitched. There was the woman rolling her hands behind home plate at the 1986 World Series, a tactic that you still see around the majors but with less effect. And the players play Goofball. It's multi-inning, four-hour marathon games. It's players going into vapor lock on the base paths. It's dramatic come-from-behind wins -- a Mets specialty.
Yesterday saw a vintage game of Goofball. After going into the 9th leading 4-0 in a game where they should have been leading at least 8-0 but intead leaving thirteen men on base, Tim Byrdak served up a fat one to Todd Helton, who promptly hit it over the fence with the bases loaded to tie the game. The way this team was expected to perform, that was the time to switch the channel to Holmes on Homes
. But this is the Mets. And sure enough, in the 11th inning, the slumping Ike Davis drove in David Wright in the 11th and Ramon Ramirez, after giving up a long fly ball that was just barely snatched by Nieuwenhuis, won the game.
As I write this, The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are in a tie for first place, with the suppoesd Worst Team in Baseball just a game back.
When John Franco was the Mets' closer, they used to call him "Heart Attack Johnny." They were wrong. This is an entire Heart Attack Team -- no matter who's in the bullpen or who's in the lineup. When the Mets play, you don't know what kind of crazy-ass stuff is going to happen. Because the teams they visit, the teams that come to town, think they're there to play a baseball game. But what they really should be brushing up on is their Goofball.
Labels: Baseball, New York Mets