Jul 27, 2012
By Howard Barbanel
For the first time in 10 years – and that would be back in 2002 – the Mets were swept in all six games of a six game home stand. Worse still, the Mets have dropped 12 of their last 13 games. They have a .190 batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) over that stretch and their bullpen – already the worst in all of Major League Baseball with an ERA over 5.00, has an ERA of over 6.00 since the All-Star break.
At one point earlier in the season the Mets got to eight games over .500 and were in second place in the National League Eastern Division. Their starting pitching was on fire as was their clutch hitting, but since a week before the All-Star Game, the Mets have staged yet another epic mid-season collapse – something that is not a new phenomenon – it happened last year and the two years prior. If it is at all possible, the bullpen’s ERA is actually a full point worse in 2012 than they were at this point in 2011 and that’s after General Manager Sandy Alderson shook-up, sacked and replaced much of last year’s pen.
The Mets are 11.5 games behindWashingtonfor first place in the NL East and somehow are in third place in the division by virtue of the fact thatMiamiandPhiladelphiahave played even worse through the season. The Cubs, the Braves, the Dodgers and the Nationals have all advanced in their respective rankings thanks to pummeling the Mets.
As of Thursday, July 26th, the Mets are four games under .500 (47-51). They’ve played 98 games of a 162-game season. That means only 64 games remain to be played. To even have a remote shot at the new second wild card spot the Mets would have to win at least 40 of the next 64, or 62.5 percent of the upcoming games. To say Met fans are skeptical this can be accomplished is an understatement.
For the past several years I ascribed the locus of the Mets’ bad karma squarely on the shoulders of former Center Fielder Carlos Beltran who set in motion no end of agony from that moment at home in 2006 when he struck out looking in the bottom of the ninth with two outs against St. Louis in the seventh game of NLCS. This is not to say that Beltran is or was a bad guy. Heaven forbid. It was just from that moment in 2006 onwards, nothing he or the team did seemed to work as defeats, disappointments and meltdowns in the second half became endemic. In fact, the Mets have collapsed in each of the last four years in the second half of the season like clockwork. It’s as though they run out of gas in the middle of the highway and then become road kill.
Although the Mets did purge themselves of the aforementioned Mr. Beltran (and its been better for his career now that he’s in St. Louis) and some of the other dead wood that had been harvested by former General Manager Omar Minaya, it still seems as though there are some bad omens that plague the Mets. Omens are not statistics or empirical evidence, they are feelings, and baseball is just as much about luck as about stats. The first of these black cats is embodied in the person of Left Fielder Jason Bay. One of the last of Minaya’s grandiose Madoff-money acquisitions, Bay had hit 36 homers in his last season with the Red Sox. It seemed like he was going to be a power hitter inFlushing. Au contraire. In each of the past few seasons when not injured, Bay can be counted on to be an automatic strikeout, ground-out or to hit into a double play, especially in clutch situations. He is costing the Mets $66 million over four years with a year to go. This year he came back from the DL right after the All-Star break and his .184 batting average has been a drag at the bottom of the lineup. But its more than that. Bay’s hangdog face and demeanor bring everyone else down. He brings the other players down because they resent his starting game after game when he can’t hit his way out of a paper bag. Right Fielder Lucas Duda (who didn’t have a $66M contract) got sent back down to the minors for less. Fans resent Bay because they know the outcome of his at-bats in advance and because management is sticking with him in the face of the obvious diminution of his offensive skills – and fans can’t stand that management won’t acknowledge that fans can’t stand Bay in the lineup at all.
The other bad omen is one that is more physical, structural and even more existential. No, I’m not talking about the Wilpons. I’m talking about CitiField itself. The exterior of the ballpark, beautiful though it may be, is a modern-day resurrection and spitting image of the long-gone Ebbet’s Field (go ahead, Google the images) which was the 44-year home to the also long-departed Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers never had a whole lot of luck at Ebbet’s, From 1913 through the 40s the Dodgers were perennially in the cellar of the NL East and when they finally started winning in the 50s they were only able to wrest one World Series title out of several tries against the hated Yankees. The Dodgers themselves have had a much better winning record inL.A.than they ever enjoyed inBrooklyn. But Fred Wilpon is fixated (like many guys who were kids in the 50s) on the loss of their beloved “Bums” to Tinseltown – a first-love spurning (the Dodgers toBrooklyn) that some people have never been able to get over. But Wilpon had the money and the wherewithal to conjure up the dead, and thanks to his real estate prowess, he constructed a memorial to his boyhood, transplanted toFlushing. Inside he even had an “Ebbet’s Club,” which drew much derision from Mets fans (the name of this club has since been changed). The rotunda entrance is a shrine to the late, great Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers. Most of the graphics as you enter CitiField are photos of the 50’s-era Dodgers. One could be forgiven if you thought you were going to a Dodger game. What Wilpon may have resurrected with the architecture of Ebbet’s Field could also be the decades of bad luck that enshrouded that ballpark.
An exorcism (figuratively speaking) is called for. Robinson needs to be exhumed and removed from the rotunda and relocated elsewhere and Mets images put in that place. (In fairness, the interior of the park is much more Met-like lately). Something dramatic, aside from the flaying ofJasonBayand changing the rotunda also needs to happen and management needs to step-up and do it.
It is unconscionable to subject fans in a market likeNew Yorkto the kind of perennial heartbreak and heartache the Mets dish out. Maybe you can get away with it in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, small-market towns with just one team but New Yorkers live in The Empire State – we expect, no, demand that we win at everything. Constant losing is an anathema to New Yorkers. It doesn’t matter that the food is better and the beer is cheaper at CitiField than Yankee Stadium – fans want to be in contention and not be humiliated for being fans. AndNew Yorkhas another, winning baseball team.
Now that the Mets are playing under .500, I’ve switched to wearing my New York Giants hat. Not that I’ll ever become a Yankee fan (you’d have to kill me first) but there’s only so much abuse a healthy, well-adjusted fan can take. On Monday evening more than 20,000 die-hard fans sat through several rain-soaked innings in the vain hope the Mets might pull out a victory from a late-inning tie. The bullpen, true to form, choked. If this continues, come September, ticket-holders or not, fans will just stay home in similar situations.
Filed Under: Howard Barbanel
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