The last nine games have altered everything. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. The closest thing I’ve seen to it in recent Mets history is the now largely forgotten almost comeback of 2001. Oh, people still remember Piazza’s homer in the first game after 9/11, but many seem to have forgotten that starting at the end of August, the Mets went on an 18 out of 21 streak that almost took them past Atlanta, almost redeeming a disappointing season after a pennant-winning year. A few decent outings from Armando Benitez in a crucial series against Atlanta, and the Mets might have pulled off a miracle that would have been historic on a great many levels, a miracle that might have been a new myth for us to live on for a few decades. But it didn’t happen.
The closest analogy to all this in earlier Mets history was 1973. That did happen. We were having a garbage season and then we did something like we’re doing now. Everything came together all at once and we won the pennant and went all the way to the seventh game of the World Series.
What ’73 and ’01 and ’08 have in common is a sense that there is suddenly a new team on the field, a team that has nothing in common with the team that disappointed us. Yeah, they have the same names and faces but the similarity ends there. There is that sharp, audible crack in Carlos Delgado’s bat, there is that sense once again that Jose Reyes is such a unique talent that he will always be finding new records to break, there is that sense that the bullpen will hold, that the bench will shore us up, and there is that sense that for the first time in two decades, we may be able to enjoy that greatest of all Mets pleasures: the dawn of a pitching superstar.
What’s most fun is having what we had in ’73 and ’01: that sense, that although we were heading for the exits, we have to get back to our seats. We were, as you may remember, just about ready to turn our attention to the other things is our lives and worlds. Now the Mets are back, better than ever, it almost seems, possibly better than any team in the National League this year except maybe the Cubs. I’m sorry to have to qualify everything I’m saying, but you understand why I need to do that. We’ve been burned a lot lately. We’ve got a ways to go before we can feel confident in our hope.
But here we are at the All-Star break, 51-44, a half game out of first. A month ago, you would not have thought it possible. 67 games are left. If we can win 39, losing 28, not a tall order for the team we see now, we’ll win the 90 that will probably get us the division title. Hope for the Mets is no longer just a passionate existential assertion. It is, kind of rational. Isn’t it? Don’t you like what you see? Don’t you get a kick out of Jerry Manuel’s remarkable cool? Don’t you get a sense that David Wright is no longer trying to swat something he knows is there but he can’t see? I think I know what I’m looking at. I’ve seen games like Pelfrey’s been pitching before. I remember what it feels like. I think I know what it means.