There’s a world of difference between good teams and great teams. There is a vast disparity between being a winner and being a champion. The 2008 Mets are a good team, not a great team. They are winners, but definitely not champions.
Many people this season have accused this club of having no heart. This weekend, I believe, the Mets showed that to be the case. After Johan Santana breathed life into a dying team on Saturday, the Mets rolled over and were officially read their last rites on Sunday by the Florida Marlins.
After falling short in our quest to dethrone the division champion Phillies, we were ready to accept the consolation prize of wild card. At the start of the year, no one would have expected that on the season’s final weekend we would be scoreboard watching to see what the Brewers were doing. And as we battled for the last post season spot, how did we respond? By scoring 5 runs in 3 days. That’s not what champions do. The Mets should have taken charge of their own destiny and not left our fate in the hands of the Cubs.
In all the years of rooting for the Mets, I can honestly say that this was one of the most frustrating, aggravating and disappointing seasons in recent memory. We’ve had better seasons and we’ve had worse ones. But I never remember a season that was an unending struggle all year. With the exception of the emergence of Mike Pelfrey and Santana’s dominance, there were not a lot of bright spots on this club.
What made this season difficult is one simple fact: This team had too much talent to play this poorly. Yes, we had injuries and yes, we had an overworked bullpen. But those are excuses. Again, that’s what separates the good teams from the great teams. Good teams make excuses but champions find a way to win.
The 69 Mets were so overmatched in the post-season, it was almost embarrassing. But yet, when all was said and done, we went 7-1 en route to our championship. It was called a ‘Miracle’ for a reason. In 73, we went into the post-season with the lowest winning percentage in history at the time. But we managed to defeat the legendary Big Red Machine in 5 and pushed the Oakland A’s, in the midst of their dynasty, to 7 games before losing…with the tying run at the plate in the 9th inning. Even in 86, we had great players. But great players alone were not enough. Game 7 of the 86 Series made us winners. But it was Game 6 that showed the heart that team had. If one of the players on the 08 team would have hit that slow roller to Buckner, they would have stood in the batters box waiting for the ball to roll foul. (Ok, that’s an exaggeration but you get my point.)
The Mets have prevailed over some of the best pitchers in the history of the game in life and death situations: Jim Palmer Mike Cuellar, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Roger Clemens. But yet, Sunday it was Scott Olsen who limited us to 4 hits and shut down our offense. Is our hitting that bad? Was Scott Olsen possessed by the spirit of Cy Young? Or did we simply fail due to a lack of heart? I cant picture the Mets team of 69 or 86 getting bewildered by a Scott Olsen.
After Sunday’s loss, the Mets closed the door after 45 years at Shea. The post-game ceremony featured appearances by Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Buddy Harrelson, Ed Kranepool and Jerry Koosman just to name a few. The final pitch ever tossed at Shea was thrown by Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza. The difference between winners and champions has never been so apparent. As we paid tribute to our past heroes, our past champions, the 2008 Mets cleared out their lockers and made excuses to reporters. The only real champions at Shea on Sunday were on the field long after the final out was recorded.