Friday, September 12, 2008

Not-So-Sweet Seventeen

There are 17 games left in the Major League Baseball regular season. For most fans, this just means that the only have to ignore their team's crappy season for two more weeks before they can move on and focus fully on the NFL. For some, it means that they only have two more weeks to see if their boys can pull it out and get into the playoffs. For Mets fans, after what happened in 2007, "17-games left" means a little something different.

As a sports fan, particularly as a baseball fan, there are many numbers that stick out in my mind. 755 was the home run record. 41 was Jackie Robinson's number. Cy Young won 511 games. Cal Ripken, Jr. played in 2,632 consecutive games. Nolan Ryan had 5,714 strikeouts. Pete Rose had 4,256 hits. Then there are the landmarks: batting .300, the 30-30 club, 100 rbi, 300 K's, 300 wins, 3000 hits, 500 homers.

As a Mets fan, I have my own list of numbers: 1962, 40-120, 1969, 1986, Game 6 and many others, but sadly the number 17 has been replaced on my used to stand for Keith Hernandez.. Plaxico Burress did his best trying to give it positive connotations for me by scoring the Super Bowl winning touchdown with a 17 on his shirt, but sadly, the number is still tainted.

I have a friend who is another Mets fan, who is one of those people who wants everyone fired all the time. He can't stand anyone on the team; they are all a bunch of primadonna chokers. No heart. No fire. No talent. Over-the-hill. So when this guy whined throughout the second half of 2007 that the Mets were gonna blow it, I always had to take it with a grain of salt. "They have a huge lead and they are playing fine...not great...but fine," I thought.

My wife works with this guy and she would come home occassionally and ask me what was wrong with the Mets because the guy had been particularly nuts that day. I can specifically remember one conversation with her in the beginning of September, 2007. She asked how far behind they were, and I said, "Behind? They are way out in the lead! He is nuts. He hates Willie Randolph for being too calm when everyone loved him for that same trait last year. The Mets are fine. They're in the playoffs for sure; they may not win it all, but they are in."

It has been pretty well documented that with 17 games left, the Mets had a seven game lead in the East and then the wheels came off. They had played mediocre baseball for most of the season leading up to that point, and finally they bored the baseball gods enough that they turned on the team and everything went wrong. Within days, you could feel this momentum building as the season plumetting down the tubes.

Still I reassured my bride (and possibly myself), "They are still way out in the lead. They would need to lose a game every other day to miss out and they'd still probably get the Wild Card. They are in the playoffs." As it turned out, they pretty much lost a game every other day and on that last fateful Sunday, the ball (and season) rested in Tom Glavine's experienced left hand. Then that bastard completed the sobatage he had been serruptitiously working on since arriving in Port St. Lucie in 2003.

I was working at CBS on their NFL coverage that last day and was trying to figure out if we had a satellite available so I could watch the Mets game. Sadly (or perhaps, luckily) there was no way to get the game on since we were recording all of the NFL games for the show. So I had to follow along with the Mets game on the internet. Glavine allowed 73 runs in the top of the first inning to the Florida Marlins, a team that had was 3-158 on the season (don't quote me on those stats).

In their last 17 games, the Mets allowed the Division to be stolen out from under them, and now with 17 games to go this year, the Mets again sit atop the East with the Phillies on their heals. Only this time the lead is only three.

From an objective point of view, I can see that the collapse of 2007 and the subsequent mistrust of the number 17, are the kinds of things that make sports great. They are the reasons we root in the first place. It is like getting your heart broken by a girl - you need that in order to really enjoy the good times later. But from a subjective point of view, I will tell you right now that if they blow it again, I am going to punch Tom Glavine in the face, steal a crane from Citi Field and raze Shea Stadium to the ground.

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