What Johan Santana did today for the New York Mets was nothing short of amazing, and this is a franchise that knows from amazing.
Much the same way he pitched a gem when the Mets needed a win at the end of the 2008 season, Santana came up huge a day after the Mets saw another eighth-inning lead disappear, only to have their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, arrested for assaulting his father-in-law near the clubhouse after the game.
Do we have a Flushing Zoo on our hands?
Thursday afternoon's game was an afterthought for many in the media, who took the K-Rod incident and the blown game Wednesday to sharpen their knives and call for the heads of Jerry Manuel, Jeff Wilpon, Fred Wilpon, Omar Minaya, and just about everyone connected with this team short of Mr. Met and the Cowbell Man.
Meanwhile, Santana (who has his own personal issues to worry about) took the ball and went to work. Set-up man? Closer? He didn't need them. In a game where the Mets desperately needed a win, to win a series and to get back to .500 and keep alive whatever hopes they have of staying in the playoff hunt, Santana did it all. Nine innings, four hits, two walks, 10 strikeouts, 115 pitches. No runs.
It was the Mets' 17th shutout of the season. Again, as I said yesterday, that a team with 17 shutouts is only .500 tells you all you need to know about how bad the offense has been, especially lately.
But it wasn't just Johan. Coincidentally, Carlos Beltran went 3-for-3 and had an RBI sac fly. Jose Reyes had two hits and scored a run. And, wouldn't you know it, the Mets won. Think those factors had anything to do with it?
It was a tremendous win. Beltran showed signs of life. But the big story was K-Rod, who is on the restricted list for two days and could likely be suspended by the team as well.
If there wasn't blood in the water, it's crimson now. If people weren't burying the Mets before, they're piling on the dirt in spades.
I expect it from the media. Objectivity is a quaint relic these days. It's all about opinions, second-guessing, bluster and bombast, and who can yell louder than the next guy. It's about pushing people's buttons and polls and number of page views and blog comments.
What bugs me the most is how many Mets fans seem to revel in the bad news. It seems that if the Mets aren't good—and when I say "good," I mean unquestionably good—these kinds of fans would prefer the Mets to be horrible, so they can freely rage at the organization and its players. Quick to bury them, to dump them, to call for people's jobs and demand trades.
If the Mets are somewhere in between, like they are now (.500 is the definition of in between), these fans can't handle it. We can't revel in the team's superiority, but the team isn't awful, either, and with 48 games left, there's still a chance they can make a run...
Nah...let's just bury them. It's simpler that way.
To me, these people aren't fans. They're critics. They're cranks.
I follow the Mets and watch their games to enjoy them. If the team is bad, it's bad. If it's great, it's great. If it's somewhere in the middle, I watch and root for them to get in the race. I cheer for my team. I boo the opposition.
I can't see how fans who are so quick to bury and belittle and tear apart this team—their team—get any joy out of being a Mets fan. There's no belief. No hope against hope. Just miserable people wallowing in their misery. They should all hang out together with Joe Benigno with T-shirts emblazoned with their credo: "Oh, the pain!"
I'm a realist. I understand that it's a tall order for the Mets to rally back and make a playoff run. This team has holes that management refused to fill. It's far from perfect. They need a bunch of guys to collectively get their acts together, and soon.
But the Phillies and the Rockies and other teams in recent years have shown that you can make up games in a hurry. Seventeen shutouts gives me hope. Santana gives me hope. The possibility of Reyes, David Wright, Beltran, Angel Pagan, Ike Davis, Josh Thole and (hopefully) Jason Bay finding their groove at the plate together gives me hope.
Quick story: I was a freshman at Boston University when the Mets won it all in 1986. I remember watching Game Six in a friend's dorm room with a bunch of people, and when Boston took the lead late, the Sox fans—real and bandwagoneers—took off for Kenmore Square to celebrate.
I stayed and watched with my pal Tim, a Sox fan. He anticipated Boston's first World Series in 69 years. I had nothing but hope.
What a feeling it was to stand outside the elevator doors on our floor later in the evening, after the Mets rallied to win, waiting until those doors opened, to see everyone who ran out to celebrate slinking back. Oh, how good it felt to stick it to those who thought it was over.
That's kind of how I feel now. It may not happen, but how good will it feel if the Mets somehow do put it together and make the playoffs? To stick it to everyone who said they were done?
Santana isn't giving up anytime soon. Neither am I.
As for whether we have a Flushing Zoo, you'll recall there was a Bronx Zoo, where the manager hated the team's star player, where the star and the captain hated each other, where the owner made as many headlines as the team. That team won two World Series.
I've always liked the zoo.
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