We all remember or have heard the legend of Ya Gotta Believe. How the 1973 Mets, racked by injuries all season, in last place on August 30, went on a blistering tear in September and broke the tape by the thinnest of margins. Their 82 wins were tied for the worst ever to qualify for the post-season, and just enough to clinch the NL East one day after the regular season was scheduled to end.
So it occurred to me: this team facing similar circumstances to ‘73 needs their own rallying cry to supplement Yo’s awesome walk-up music, The Circle of Life (you will remember the ‘99 team adopted as its theme, Who Let the Dogs Out). And it wasn’t until about the fifth time I uttered it to myself as events unfolded over the last couple of weeks that the realization came upon me: The slogan for this team has been hiding in plain sight:
Hey, You Never Know. (kudos to the NY State Lottery).
I mean, with 80% of our once-in-a-generation stable of young rotation studs on the shelf, and 7 of 8 opening day starting players missing huge chunks of the season, we shouldn’t even be in the running right about now. I don’t really want to even get my hopes up for a trip to October.
But…..this Seth Lugo kid actually looks OK – how could he have put up those nightmare numbers in Vegas? Where the heck did this guy Robert Gsellman come from? Is Joe Hardy (of Damn Yankees fame) on his way?
Is Jose Reyes really injecting new life into this team? Are Grandy and Bruce ready to really, finally break out? Is Wilmer actually hitting righties? Is this team actually doing some timely hitting? Is their swagger back? Their run of 12 wins in 16 games begs these questions.
But is all this enough for them to scratch and claw their way to a single elimination game and a chance to play up with the big boys?
Hey…you never know, now do you?
After the ‘73 Amazins’ iced their trip to October with a victory before a reported 1900 fans (though it was likely closer to 500) at Wrigley Field (scene of many a Mets’ conquest over the years), no one remembered all the injuries or cared that they had staggered through five dismal months, or even that they had a woeful offense typified by the lightly regarded (read AAAA-quality) Don Hahn in the leadoff spot and CF.
No, they only cared that the Mets were en fuego at just the right time, and that they had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack lined up to face the Big Red Machine and, hopefully, the defending champion A’s, giving them a punchers chance against clearly superior teams. They rode that wave all the way to the 7th game of the World Series.
Is a puncher’s chance not the perfect description for this team’s pursuit of the playoffs right now?
Sure, even with an entirely enviable schedule the rest of the way – only three games against winning teams, as opposed to 15 for the Cardinals – the team could revert to its historically bad situational hitting. The only two reliable guys in the bullpen could get worn out. The “ReplaceMets” chariots could turn back into pumpkins. Of course, in amazing Mets fashion, this trio has formed an acronym identical to the most primal team cheer – LGM – no longer standing just for Let’s Go Mets, but for at least the immediate future, Lugo, Gsellman & Rafael Montero.
It’s becoming conventional wisdom that whatever Frank Viola is endowing these young pitchers with in that pitchers’ graveyard in the desert, where what happens in Vegas – in a pitching sense – apparently doesn’t stay in Vegas, well, as per When Harry met Sally, we’ll have what he’s having.
September is generally replete with minefields, but you never know, because you only need to be hot right now, without regard to either the future or the past. It’s all about the couple of dozen games dead ahead.
You never know, because last year this same group, or close to it, in the lineup, bench and bullpen, came up huge when it counted the most.
You never know, because this is a franchise defined by being an underdog. Not because they haven’t had strong, even powerful teams, but because underdog is in the franchise DNA. They were overwhelming underdogs last year. In fact, they have been underdogs, by my figuring, for all but seven of the 54 years of their existence (1970, ‘86-’88, ‘92, ‘07, ‘16).
Admittedly, it requires a mental adjustment for a team favored to win their division (and their fans) to embrace the role of the little engine that could, but at this point, it’s whatever gets you through the night, and on to the promised land.
Analogies to ‘73 and history in general are, of course, only so instructive, because historical facts can often turn out to be just historical anomalies, and are not necessarily normative or predictive. As a simple example, the Red Sox were never going to beat the Yankees when it counted or win a World Series again…because they had not done either in 86 years. Then 2004 happened. Since this is a presidential year, one might remember back to when Gerald Ford was surely going to beat Jimmy Carter in a presidential race because a shorter candidate had never beaten a taller candidate. But Carter won, and nobody discusses height any more in presidential races. Because what was once true is, well, no longer true.
Whether you believe history repeats itself, or, per Henry Ford, that history is bunk, embrace this team, once considered a powerhouse but now reduced to an upstart. A division title is not in the offing, but it was only two years ago that the last team in, the second wildcard (the Giants) won the World Series. And just ten years ago, the Cardinals went all the way after winning a paltry 83 games. Don’t we remember.
Hey, you just never know.