I would like to take this opportunity to speak out to Mets fans everywhere.
Last night was probably difficult for a lot of you, having our division rivals claim their first championship in 28 years.
First and foremost, I would like to extend a congratulations to that organization and their fans.
All this talk about how hating the Mets provided additional motivation to not only Philadelphia but to the rest of the National League East shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
I hate being the bearer of bad news, but Mets' fans, it's pretty simple:
We weren't as good as they were, and frankly, we weren't as good as we thought we were.
In 2006, under Willie Randolph, the team developed a confidence that borderlines on cockiness; however, because the Mets won more games (97) than anybody else in the National League, it was accepted.
A first-round sweep of the Dodgers set up a Championship Series with the Cardinals, who barely finished above .500 and appeared to be little more than an appetizer to the Mets team that felt as though they were destined for a World Series main course.
As you're well aware by now, 2006 ended in disappointment, as a miraculous catch by Endy Chavez in Game Seven only gave the Mets a temporary stay of execution, as they would go on to lose the game and the series when Carlos Beltran didn't take the bat off his shoulder with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Games Six and Seven of that series provided that Mets team with its first real test, which, of course they wound up failing. They lost to a less-talented Cardinals team and came up short again when it came to getting a clutch hit late in the series' seventh and decisive game.
Fast-forward a year, and in 2007, after months of coasting, the Mets would go onto to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games left to play, once again failing to answer the bell when the going got tough.
Consequently, the tough did get going, marching a few hours south in Philadelphia, as the Phillies swept in and claimed their first division crown in more than 15 years.
Knowing changes needed to be made, the 2008 Mets, still led in the dugout by Randolph and still led on the field by the same core players, seemed to forget the season had started, which cost their manager his job in June.
Over the next two-and-a-half months, the team rebounded to reclaim first place, playing with that same confidence they had shown in seasons past.
They built up a three-and-a-half game lead with 17 games left, and heading into the final weekend of the season, needed only to win two of three against Florida to at least clinch a tie for a wild-card berth.
For the second straight year, the Mets found themselves with a must-win final game of the season, and for the second straight year, they had Florida in their way.
Well, wouldn't you know it, Florida, for the second straight year, finished them off, forcing the team's management to go back to the drawing board.
Herein lies one of the biggest problems with both the New York Mets and their fanbase, myself included.
Our confidence became hubris that was both self-destructive and unwarranted.
The team seemed to have this mindset that they were better than everybody else, regardless of result.
I don't know how else to describe it, but through two consecutive collapses, all we kept hearing about was how the team was better than they were playing and better than their competition, and how by the last game of the year they would step up and take what was rightfully theirs.
But while the Mets were dreaming those dreams, the Phillies were living them and making them a reality.
If you want to debate talent, the Mets, from 2007 to 2008, were essentially the exact same team, the exception being Johan Santana.
And while the Mets did add somebody many would agree is the best pitcher in baseball, they failed to address any other needs, notably their bullpen.
The Mets relied on a bullpen led by Billy Wagner, who wound up missing the final month of the season with surgery that might end his career.
The Phillies, last year, took a big chance on Brad Lidge, trading for him and signing him to a pricey contract, and all Lidge did was go perfect in save opportunities during the regular season and throughout the postseason.
Even the Ryan Madsens and J.C. Romeros came up big, while the Mets' equivalents (take your pick from Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano) ended up being as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.
The old veterans barely contributed in New York (think Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Pedro Martinez), while in Philadelphia, Jamie Moyer won 15 games, while other veterans (not quite as old), like Pat Burrell and Pedro Feliz, ended up playing huge roles in the Phillies' championship run.
But above all, the Phillies showed the kind of grit and guts the Mets never did. The Shane Victorinos and Jimmy Rollins showed they wanted it more when the games got more important.
And the bigger the games got, the better the Phillies' big bats played, notably Ryan Howard, who might be looking at a second consecutive MVP.
In contrast, David Wright and Jose Reyes, the Mets' cornerstone pieces, disappeared down the stretch for a second consecutive season.
The Mets went out and got Santana to make sure 2007 wouldn't repeat itself, and while Santana did all he could in trying to prevent another collapse, his signing ended up being nothing more than a band aid to the gunshot wound the Mets weren't able to recover from.
I wish I could feel differently, but going into 2009, I can't help but feel hopeless regarding the chances the Mets have in the National League East, as they have not only done all they could in offending the rest of their division, but as a fan, I have trouble figuring out how I'm supposed to care about the first 145 games they play.
Two years and two 17-game collapses, despite a combined lead of 10.5 games?
And in looking to fix this situation, the Mets will head into the 2009 with the same general manager responsible for acquiring most of the players on the roster.
They will have a manager who has been in the dugout during three consecutive season-ending disappointments and the same core of players responsible for being nowhere to be found when needed most.
Of course, free agency begins in two weeks, and pitchers and catchers don't report for another three-and-a-half months, so plenty can be done between now and then to improve our beloved but beleaguered ballclub.
Sadly, not only do I feel as though we have the wrong man in charge of making the necessary moves, as well the wrong man in charge of putting those men in a position to win, but most importantly, we have the same core group of players who has become more comfortable collapsing than they do rising above any late-season adversity.
I love Reyes, Wright, and Beltran. They're as good at their respective positions as anybody, but when you look at the way Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard performed at the end of the last two seasons, I'm left jealous and quite confused. I can't figure out what they're getting fed in Philly that our guys aren't in Queens.
And making matters worse, it hasn't been our winning that has served some form of inspiration for our biggest rivals, but our misplaced sense of entitlement along with being reliable in only being unreliable down the stretch.
I have no idea if the Mets are going to be able to overcome the setbacks they've suffered during the previous two seasons (and I'll throw in the '06 NLCS), and watching the Phillies do exactly what they needed to—which is exactly what we've shown no ability to do—I can't help but feel discouraged.
If I'm coming off as somebody who doesn't care as much about the Mets as you do, think again.
I've been going to Shea for more than 15 years and invested more of myself into that baseball team than I have my schoolwork or my friendships over the years.
The problem is, as I've been waiting to feel the way everybody in Philadelphia felt last night, the clearer and clearer it became just how far away the Mets are from sniffing that sort of accomplishment.
While teams like Philly and Tampa may appear to have come out of nowhere, nothing in baseball happens by coincidence. Those teams showed a passion and a resolve that winning teams always display when closing in on a championship.
The Mets, on the other hand, lack those intangibles and will likely continue to lack them until a change in culture takes place.
Unfortunately, that doesn't appear likely anytime soon.
Neither does any October baseball in Queens.
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