AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ninety-nine percent of the things I write on this website will be from the unbiased, subjective perspective of Jason Pafundi, journalist. But the following is written by Jason Pafundi, the lifelong Mets fan.
Like NBC’s Thursday night lineup of the ‘90s anchored by Seinfeld and Friends, New York Mets games have become ‘Must See TV’. You have to watch until the end, because you don’t want to miss something amazing and unexpected. With all due respect to the 2006 NL East champion Mets, this year’s team is the most exciting Mets team of the last 10 years.
As a Mets fan since birth (my dad grew up in Corona, a stone’s throw from Shea Stadium), I’ve had the highs of winning the World Series in 1986, pouring a bucket of ice water over my head after Robin Ventura’s ‘grand slam single’ in 1999, the Benny Agbayani walk-off in the 13th against the Giants in the 2000 NLDS, Mike Piazza’s homer against the Braves in September 2001 and Endy Chavez making the best catch in franchise history in Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006. I’ve also had the lows of losing to the Dodgers in 1988, the dreadful years of Carlos Baerga and Co. during the mid 90s, the Kenny Rogers walk-off walk in 1999, nerdy Jose Vizcaino winning the World Series for the Yankees in 2000, Carlos Beltran watching a called third strike in 2006, and of course, the collapses of 2007 and 2008.
Very rarely do Mets fans begin a season with such low expectations, but that is the way this season started. No Johan Santana, an unknown in the ‘back from surgery’ Carlos Beltran and the ‘back from anger management’ Francisco Rodriguez. As the season went on and the injuries started to mount, first David Wright and then Ike Davis, expectations were even lower. “Heck, as long as the Mets don’t lose 100 games, I’ll be happy” was something I said to friends.
Well, fast-forward to the middle of August. Beltran and Rodriguez have been traded, free-agent-to-be Jose Reyes is back on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, nobody really knows what is actually wrong with Davis’ ankle, Santana has finally started pitching in the minors, and low and behold, the Mets are above .500 and playing an exciting, edge-of-your-seat brand of baseball nobody could have seen coming.
What makes this so much better is that since I don’t expect much from this team, when they play games like the last two come-from-behind wins against the, albeit lowly, San Diego Padres, it makes it that much sweeter. Years ago, when future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine laid an egg against the Marlins, I was upset and stunned and frustrated. Or when Beltran would make an out in a big spot or Pedro Martinez would get hurt or Carlos Delgado would hit into a double play or Billy Wagner would blow a save. These guys were stars, guys who had huge contracts and to go with it, huge expectations.
But if Lucas Duda strikes out with two runners on base, I don’t get frustrated, and you know why? Because I didn’t expect Duda to ever be at the plate with two runners on base in mid August. If Willie Harris dives for a ball in right field and doesn’t make the catch, I don’t get mad. I applaud the effort and realize that I never thought Harris would be starting in right field for the Mets in August.
Having no expectations makes games like these last two against the Padres so much more exciting. Mike Baxter (who?) with a double, Ronny Paulino with a sacrifice fly, Jason Pridie with a single, Justin Turner with a single and then Duda with a walk-off base hit off Padres closer Heath Bell. Contributions from Scott Hairston, Harris, Ruben Tejada, and heck, even Jason Bay now and then. These were games I expected the Mets to lose, but actually, since these are the new Mets, the ‘never say die’ Mets, maybe my expectations need to change.
Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson, in less than a season, have totally changed the culture around this team. Losing under Jerry Manuel was almost considered okay, whereas Collins understands that the team will lose some games, but he isn’t okay with it. The team plays hard for all nine innings, they never give up, and they fight until the final out. If the Mets are losing by three in the seventh inning, I cannot change the channel, because I now know that the game isn’t over. Perhaps Duda has some magic in his bat, or Tejada, or Turner, or Hairston.
As a fan, the way this Mets team plays is something to be proud of and something to admire. It makes games in August and September, games that have little meaning in the standings, fun and exciting to watch. They play as though they have nothing to lose. And really, they don’t. Well, maybe just some games that I expected them to lose anyway.
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