I've been using analogies from other forms of entertainment to put the Mets' collapse this year in some kind of perspective, as I did in my last post with the movie "The Heartbreak Kid". This could be because we Mets fans have suddenly found ourselves with an unexpected gaping hole in our October entertainment schedule. If Tommy Lasorda comes by to shake my tree, I'm dropping something heavy on his head. It may be Judy's duty, but it sure as hell isn't mine.
This time, it's the quirky ABC show "Pushing Daisies", which Mrs. NostraDennis proclaimed as "excellent" a mere thirty seconds into the premiere episode Wednesday night. It would take way too long to do a description of this oddball show justice, so here's the thumbnail sketch. Our hero, Ned, can bring the dead back to life. But only for 60 seconds, which comes in handy if you're a private eye and the dead person was murdered. As a bonus, confirmed Mets fan and diminutive hottie Kristin Chenoweth plays Ned's neighbor and employee at the diner he owns, the Pie Hole. (When the place close up at night, could you say they shut their Pie Hole? You could, but I wouldn't.)
Now imagine if we could put the CPR paddles to Mets '07 and take a minute to ask "Who killed you?". Aside from the obvious answer - "I'm so talented and somewhat distracted that I wasn't paying attention to who killed me" - it'd be interesting to pin down an exact cause of death, and even a specific killer, or at least a "person of interest".
The Phillies are the prime suspect, but by no means the only one. Of course, the Mets lost a dozen games to the Phils this season. But they also lost four times to the Padres, four times to the Rockies, and three times to the D-Backs. A Mets win in any of those twenty-three games would have meant at least a wild-card tie.
When you lose the division by a single game, any one of the Mets' 74 losses, if turned into a win, could have meant something for us to watch this week besides eight other teams we don't much care for. But these particular twenty-three losses must be tagged as exhibit A in our autopsy report. There's no real need to slog through twenty-three game recaps, but a few interesting factoids emerge if you do.
The "Evil 23", as I'll call them, were a true team effort. No Mets pitcher can be singled out as the culprit in this stack of losses. Heilman, Pelfrey and Perez each lost three of these games. Brian Lawrence, Mota and Sosa each dropped a pair. And eight different pitchers lost one each: Feliciano, Glavine, Hernandez, Maine, Schoeneweis, Smith, Vargas and Wagner. In many cases, pitching wasn't the problem. The Mets scored two or fewer runs in 12 of these 23 losses.
Disclaimer: no single game exists in a vacuum. One loss turned into a win does not a successful season make. There's no guarantee that if we could go into the past and tell Alou to play a few steps in, or make sure Wagner comes right at the next guy instead of pitching away, that the rest of the season would just fall into place. That said, though, I'll boil this messy scale full of dead innards to eight games which, in hindsight, ate at me the most:
D-Backs 5, Mets 1 (June 1) - It was tough to pick which loss to the D-backs stung the greatest. In each of their three losses to Arizona, the Mets scored a single run. In this game, though, they wasted a good start by John Maine - 6 innings, two earned runs, seven K's - and Mota allowed three eighth-inning runs to seal the loss.
Phillies 4, Mets 2, 11 innings (June 5) - Glavine goes seven, giving up only two runs, but Feliciano allows two in the eleventh. Chase F. Utley homers and drives in three for the pesky Phillies. Yes, back in June, they were just pesky.
Phillies 4, Mets 2 (June 6) - Déjà vu all over again, though this one took only nine innings, and featured a waste of six shutout innings from El Duque. Heilman serves up a three-run homer to Jimmy Rollins, blowing the save and taking the loss. Oh, yeah, and Endy Chavez tears his hammy, too.
Phillies 6, Mets 3, 10 innings (June 7) - Delgado, Wright, and LoDuca hit back-to-back-to-back homers, but it's not enough to avoid back-to-back-to-back losses to the Phillies. Wagner has his first blown save of the season, and Schoeneweis loses it in the tenth.
Rockies 6, Mets 2 (July 2) - Glavine allows a six-pack of runs early to the Rox, including a two-run single to pitcher Jason Hirsh, he of the .024 career batting average.
Padres 5, Mets 4 (July 18) - The Mets' offense waits until the late innings to wake up, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth. But Joe Smith gives up two hits, a walk and the winning run in the bottom of that frame.
Phillies 3, Mets 2 (August 29) - Marlon Anderson is called out on interference while trying to break up a double-play to end the game. Endy had crossed the plate with what would have been the tying run, but second-base ump C.B. Bucknor said Anderson crossed the line when he barreled into Tad Iguchi with arms raised.
Phillies 11, Mets 10 (August 30) - Do we even need a recap here? If you're a regular Mike's Mets visitor, probably not. Just in case, here goes. Mets come back from 5-0 deficit to tie. Mets come back from 8-5 deficit to take a 10-8 lead, Wags gives up one run in a rare eighth inning appearance to get the BS. Wags gives up two more in the ninth to get the L.
Notice that all of these stingers happened before The Collapse. I'm not saying the Mets' world would have been sunshine and lollipops if one of these results had been reversed. I'm simply illustrating the razor-thin difference between success and failure. What killed the 2007 Mets? Dozens, hundreds, thousands of things. Inexperienced starters who shouldn't have been thrown out there. A lack of timely hitting. A shortstop who ran out of gas as the season wound down. Middle relievers who hung like a Homer Simpson-filled hammock between the starting rotation and our mostly lights-out closer. A Hall of Fame pitcher whose last start ever might well have been his worst start ever. Injuries. More injuries. Still more injuries. No, this carcass was a victim of multiple causes. The eight noted above were simply a few sharp stabs that continued the months-long bloodletting.
I, for one, am looking forward only to next March. The eight surviving clubs can do their battle royal for the next three weeks. I might tune in, and I might not, probably moreso to root against a team than to root for any of them. I prefer rooting for a team, though, and I'm looking forward to the clean slate that will be 2008.