For a team that has made an art out of turning great players into no-names, of not leading high society but being bilked by it, and of finding new and creative ways to drop fly balls, the Mets are remarkably resilient. Each year, they break out the bats and balls again, and every few seasons they bring in something new to stir the fan base.
But this year, the Mets looked as bad coming in as they've ever been. Put those 60-something-win seasons aside and consider the fact that the Mets had managed, over the past few years, to damage more than one season of baseball this time. With Fred Wilpon's leadership and Bernie Madoff's (disappearing) cash, the Mets had hamstrung themselves for a good half-decade or more.
The 2012 Major League Baseball season has been known as much for teams that haven't performed up to expectations (Red Sox, Angels for a while) as it has for teams that have (Orioles, Pirates so far), but the Mets don't really fit into those types of categories. This isn't about banding talent together to produce runs or get outs. The Mets are on a different level, because they appeared to be the living version of how to destroy a baseball team.
Possibly the most exciting player in the club's history, Jose Reyes, left without so much as a complimentary keychain. The Mets couldn't afford to re-sign him, couldn't afford to give him an offer — and at some points couldn't afford to pay him or his teammates their regular salaries last year.
The Mets weren't shopping this winter, and things already seemed so bad that fans were looking ahead to when New York's remaining star, David Wright, would be bartered away over the summer for spare parts to keep the Mets machine chugging for another day.
The Mets were a team with no future, a team with no plan, a team looking for consolations and moral victories. This year promised to be the kind of despicable season that would feast off the fans the Mets know they'll always have.
But baseball is a beautiful, strange game. The sport is measured nowadays by its statistics and strategy, but across its wealth of at-bats and innings thrown, there will always be the human element. Sometimes good hitters don't hit, pitchers can't prevail and teams that don't have the numbers end up winning.
That's the only explanation for the Mets this year.
(There's also the old theory of "heart," but didn't the Mets sell their heart when they let Reyes go? Or was that their soul?)
Maybe the Mets will fall back to earth. Or maybe, after years of hiring supposedly sterling management and wasting so much money on players who were meant to take the team to the next level, they'll keep playing above their ability now that the team has been stripped down.
With just spare parts and the idea that this year was a sabbatical until management could recover enough from the Madoff situation to spend again, the Mets entered the season expecting to post Cubs-like numbers.
But New York won four straight to start the year, then kept an even record. The Mets haven't had a losing record yet this season, and not even a three-game sweep in the Bronx earlier this month could dim their spirits. They've gotten nothing out of the overrated Jason Bay and the underrated Ike Davis, and they've had nights where Mr. Met looked like the best option at shortstop. But the winning continues. They're 36-32 going into Tuesday's game.
A winning season isn't the only thing fans have had to enjoy this year. It can be argued that 2012 will go down as one of the most special in Mets history thanks to the three crown jewels the team has kept amidst the rubble.
Johan Santana, who never quite lived up to his billing as savior of the franchise, went out and pitched the first no-hitter in the club's history. Wright, rather than being trade bait, has carried the team with a .353 average and 38 RBIs. And R.A. Dickey, a 37-year-old journeyman who was plugging the gaps when he first came to the Mets in 2010, has been doing things no other pitcher in history has done.
Dickey's knuckleball has worked its way through two one-hitters this year. But above that, Dickey has redefined the power of a one-pitch man. The legends may have lived off of their fastball or racked up their strikeouts on the curve, but Dickey's knuckler has given him a 0.13 ERA and 88 strikeouts over his last 11 starts, when he's compiled a 9-0 record. His 2.00 ERA and 103 strikeouts lead the majors.
In what was supposed to be a lost season for the Mets, they instead have one of the greatest single-game pitching performances in the sport and one of the best stretches of dominance from any pitcher. And to boot, they've also got that old winning record and Mr. Wright.
The numbers may catch up with the Mets, but so far the team has done what Mets leadership couldn't have managed, even if they'd tried. The Mets have created a season to remember, ranking among all other great seasons in team history.
"Only God could script a narrative like this," Dickey has said. "It's really incredible."
Incredible. Unbelievable. Amazin'.
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