Halfway through the 2010 season, the fans of the New York Mets are feeling very good, hoping very hard, and running a little scared.
We’re feeling good because the Mets are playing better than anyone predicted. They’ve won 45 games at the midpoint. Did any one of you predict that the Mets would win 90 games? They’re feeling good because the Mets have unexpectedly come up with three starting pitchers who have been playing at ace-level and who no one saw coming. We would have been happy with Pelfrey having won 6 games at this point. He’s won 11. We would have been happy with Jon Niese developing into a relatively reliable fifth starter. We now have some substantial reasons to think that he is a lot more than that. We had no idea who R.A. Dickey was. Even if we were minor league wonks and knew who he was, we weren’t that impressed. Now we are.
We’re feeling good because David Wright has come all the way back. David has established by this point is that for an astoundingly consistent ballplayer, he never makes anything look easy. Watching David hit, at various points in this first half of the season, was more painful than watching any other hall-of-fame level hitter has ever been. But look at the results. David has 64 rbis at the mid-point.
We’re feeling good because in the last month, Jose Reyes has been all the way back. When he’s on, he’s the most exciting position player (we’ve had a few equally exciting pitchers) the Mets have ever had. And we’re feeling good because we have a solid line of hitters after Reyes and around Wright. None of them are spectacular, but all of them are doing things. All of them (Pagan, Bay, Davis, Francoeur, Barajas) can make us excited when they come to the plate. We’re feeling good because the relievers have generally been doing just fine. They are no longer the team’s largest, bloodiest open wound. We’re feeling good because extras and back-ups like Carter, Tejada, Cora, Thole, Blanco, and Rodriguez are fun and hungry, and they contribute.
We’re running a little scared because the two superstar pitchers who were supposed to have brought us the 2008 and 2009 pennants are pitching in ways that suggest that they’re still good but they’re not superstars. We’re a little scared because Jose Reyes should not get so hurt from a swing of the bat in batting practice. We’re scared because until we win another World Championship, every time we have success we are going to compulsively think of all the times we should have gone farther but didn’t. It shouldn’t be this way. I don’t approve of it being this way. But that’s the way it is. We’ve come too close too many times to be able to believe any longer that we are ever close. We will not, alas, think we’re close again until we get there.
We’re hoping hard because although Atlanta is also playing much better than anyone predicted, no team in our division, or league, is good and healthy enough to run away with it. We’re going to be in this to the end. And while there may be Mets who will not be as good in the second half as they were in the first half, Bay and Beltran will almost certainly be better. That is a lot of nearly guaranteed improvement.
We’re also feeling good for the most important reason. We love this team. Although it still has the best players of the gang that blew the ends of the 2007 and 2008 season, it also has a lot of youth, a lot of new guys, and a lot of dash and class. It is a team with its head screwed on straight, playing excellent defense, and fine fundamental baseball. They make us feel confident. And the fact that they seem so much at home in the new theme park in Flushing is gradually changing the way I feel about the place. If the Mets are at home at Citi Field, I will be at home at Citi Field, as long as there is enough to remind me of the fun decades I spent at Shea.
Winning a lot of ballgames makes everybody feel good and/or better. My own private worries, as always, are about us. We are still the walking wounded and we have developed a few pathologies that we should be careful to try to cut out before they become a part of us. Frankie Rodriguez is allowed, guys, to blow a few games. Every closer but Mariano Rivera does. And if he likes, like Johnny Franco, to have a little company on the bases when he closes out ballgames, we should tolerate it as long as he gets the job done. Let’s not turn him into Armando Benitez unless he gives us really good reasons to do so. Psychologically, that is the hardest job in baseball and he needs our help. Jerry Manuel, I admit, is kind of crazy and I don’t understand a lot of his decisions, particularly when it comes to using relievers. Still, all successful Mets managers have been a little crazy and hard to figure out, except, people say, for Hodges. But Hodges at this point is a myth from another era. If he was managing now, he might look crazier than he looks in the haze of myth and memory.
There are times when Mets fans need to complain, when the Mets treat the fans badly, say, or when they forget to put anything in the stadium to let anyone know who plays there. We should ridicule hype when it’s cynical. We should ridicule authoritarian decisions that don’t take us into account. We should complain about the garbage programming we have to listen to at most hours on WFAN. But we are right now at the stage where the guys on our team with the rough patches need our encouragement, and where the team as a whole needs our love and belief. And our love and belief need a little of what people used to refer to as constancy and fidelity. Stop for a second and remember how filled with despair and bile and venom everyone was when the Mets started the season going 4-8. Wasn’t that stupid? Wasn’t that wrong? Don’t do that again. Ignore the temptations of despair. Or save it for when we start a season going 40-80.
I don’t know where this team is going and neither do you. Bay could hit 30 homers in the second half. Mejia could come up and win ten games as a starter. Josh Thole could become the rookie of the year. None of these things are likely but all are as likely as things that have actually happened in this magical first half.
It’s going to be good baseball, fun races between flawed teams. It’s going to be, I predict, an August and September to remember.
And who knows what else?
Happy Fourth of July everybody!