"There's no way they will choke again this year."
Ah yes, the naivete. That was the thought on mind of every Mets fan who sat and watched them completely fall apart in 2007. That and, "We got Johan Santana."
But just as it does on the field, bad luck always seems to find you if you truly are afraid of it. Most fans will probably admit that their confidence in this team entering the 2008 season was simply hiding the scars left by 2007, and most fans will also probably decide to be true to themselves this year and not ignore the fact that it could happen again.
But when you think about it, was 2008 really a "choke" job? Or is everyone just so quick to call it so because it happened exactly twelve months earlier? Perhaps the term is being used a bit loosely, and here's why...
The New York Mets began the season 34-35 under Willie Randolph, which prompted his firing after a 9-6 victory over the Angels on June 17. Whether it was actually Willie's fault or not is debatable, but the distraction surrounding this team 24/7 while he was there undoubtedly had a negative affect on this team.
Under Jerry Manuel, however, the Mets were 55-38.
After leaving his April 1 start against Florida early because of an injury, Martinez did not pitch again until June 1.
Losing your #2 starter that early in the season won't exactly ruin your chances of making the playoffs, but it does put a strain on the rest of your rotation and forces you to find another arm quickly.
This is one of the reasons for the Mets' early-season struggles.
Say what you want about him, but this guy can flat-out hit. His bat was sorely missed all season long, and it forced the Mets to use a platoon of players in left field in hopes of getting at least some production in that position.
Alou would only play 15 games with the Mets in 2008.
Although Pagan, Murphy, Tatis, Evans, and Chavez did a decent job filling the void, the loss of Alou was damaging nonetheless.
Prior to suffering his second concussion in just months, Ryan Church was putting up All-Star caliber numbers. The loss of the Mets' second outfielder made yet another hole that needed to be filled.
Once again, the platoon players did a decent job in doing so while he was gone, but who knows what kind of production the Mets would've gotten out of Church had he not been concussed?
Although he would return late in the season, his numbers were just not the same.
Losing one of your best pitchers during a critical stretch is never easy to overcome. During a time when the Mets were already decimated by injuries, John Maine was placed on the disabled list and would not pitch again in 2008 because of a shoulder injury.
Maine carried this team on his back in August and September 2007, but now he had to watch from the dugout as guys like Jon Niese, Brandon Knight, and Nelson Figueroa were called upon numerous times to make a start.
Not only were did the Mets have holes in the outfield and the bullpen, but now their starting pitching was falling apart.
Two words that will scare the heck out of any manager: Tommy John. And thus the book of Billy Wagner was closed after the only bit of stability in the Mets' bullpen was placed on the DL for the remainder of the season. Losing a reliever is one thing; losing a closer is almost like losing a quarterback.
Give credit to Luis Ayala for trying his best, but he and the rest of the Mets' relievers who were marched out to the mound in the ninth inning just could not get the job done.
It's not that they choked, they just weren't good enough for that spot.
Even with Billy Wagner, the middle relief guys in this bullpen were just awful. Did they choke? Yeah, maybe they did...or maybe they just weren't that good in the first place.
How much should be expected from a rag-tag group of guys who can't even throw strikes?
The only arms out there worth saving were Feliciano, Sanchez, Smith, and Stokes, but with Feliciano being near the top of the league in appearances and Sanchez showing signs of fatigue in his first full season since 2006, two guys aren't much to rely on.
Perhaps expectations should have been a bit lower.
2007 was a major collapse because they squandered a seven game lead with just 17 to play. However, in 2008 the biggest lead the Mets obtained was a 3 1/2 game lead on September 10.
With 19 games left to play anything can happen, and of course we all know the story from there.
Things were looking good at one point, yes, but to say they choked is a little unfair.
Mets fans don't like to say it, but it's true; the Philadelphia Phillies were the better team in 2008. It simply cannot be argued that a team that fell short of the playoffs is better than the World Series Champions.
The Mets may have won the head-to-head battles, but when it came down to it they were able to pick up more wins against Florida and Washington.
In other words, good pitching beats good hitting any day.
From day one there was only one thing on the minds of the New York media: will the Mets choke again in 2008? It's what people wanted to watch, it made the ratings go up, and nothing would have been more profitable for the media except the Mets winning the World Series.
Plain and simple, the New York media created this monster. They wanted them to choke. Rather than admitting that the team was simply just not a good one because of injuries and a horrible bullpen, they chose to blame people like Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya.
Yes, the Mets fell short once again in 2008, but they did not choke. They just weren't the better team.