My feeling is changing a lot. It’s never great but it wavers between frustrated and resigned.
Last night I was first worried a lot about losing embarrassingly (historic upset in terms of records) and not making as much progress in showing up the Yankees as much as we’d hoped we could. Those sorts of frustrations though are really peripheral. Losing game 7, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, down two, with one of your stars at the plate, is the way to lose. As my condolence offering Tiger fan friend pointed out to me immediately, it was exactly Casey At The Bat, it was the signature baseball failure and heartbreak. It was tough, but it was the way one goes heroically down in baseball. It was tragedy in the oldest sense of the word. It was a noble failure with Cliff Floyd up there saying “homerun or failure.” It was losing grasping for greatness.
So, I can handle it aesthetically. I can handle the place in history, painful as it is some moments. I’m even adjusting a little to watching a tiny bit of the Cardinals celebration footage which I missed entirely when it happened (changing the channel IMMEDIATELY as I did). I don’t LIKE this Cardinals team and would feel better tipping the cap to them if I believed they really were the better team and not just the one with a better starter in games 3 and 7. I do not mean to be hypocritical and abandon my usual stance that whoever wins demonstrates they were in fact the better team. But 83 wins? Even including the postseason the Cardinals only have 90 wins cumulative and the Mets are up to 103. That part is what stings. If the Cardinals had 5 less wins? okay. 7 less? Well, at least they’re a 90 win team. Even an 88 win team maybe. But 83 wins? Against our 97 win Mets? That just is extraordinary and impossible to dismiss and say we really got beat by a better team. At some point the other team is not better but your team choked and didn’t live up to its betterness while another team maximized its potential.
Nonetheless, the Cardinals deserve all the praise in the world for maximizing their potential, playing to the best of their abilities, and giving themselves every chance to win that way, for being a team that always answered a scoring inning with one of their own, and always retook the momentum in a series that should have seen them blown away any night. They won because they played like the best team they could be and forced the theoretically better to play to its superiority to win. And the theoretically better team didn’t live up to the extent of its capabilities and so, in the end, where it counts, on the field and not in theory, proved the second best team in the series. In that way, I can handle saying, the Cardinals deserve it and are the better team. They may not be an overall more capable and powerful team, but they were better at doing what they COULD do and that is all any one can ask of a team.
And there can be no excuses by the Mets about pitching. Our ERA for the series was under 4. Our offense didn’t show up and our bullpen, valiant as it was for most of the series, got beat. The Cardinals beat our strengths instead of exploiting our weakness. So there is no excuse that we didn’t have the starting arms when they silenced our bats and beat our bullpen in the two games that absolutely determined the course of the series—game 2 which abruptly and shockingly turned off the Mets’ steamroller and game 7 which ended it all.
And ultimately, it was as I predicted before the postseason started—-our starters were not going to be what was decisive in our winning or losing but our offense. I said it then and it bore out that we would get enough pitching if our streaky hitters get hot and we will not get enough pitching if our streaky hitters don’t. We would lose the low scoring games and win the high scoring ones. And over our 10 postseason games, that was often what we saw. Our offense, as great as it can be, is streaky, and showed us, for the most part, how ineffective it could be in slumps.
But assessing this postseason and what went wrong and how to take it aesthetically and in what light it will be seen historically aside—-the question is how to feel. And to me, what to feel is entirely about whether this is the character building extra heartbreak to prime us for accomplishing and appreciating sustained championship success or whether this will tragically wind up being our one missed chance.
I feel like if this is our 1985 Mets or 1991 Blue Jays or 1995 Yankees or 1999 Mets or 2003 Red Sox—–then okay, this will all be okay soon. There’s often a REAL heartbreaker as prelude to a real champion. But, what is scary is that this year felt particularly special and unusual. This team yearlong had that window of momentum and that unanticipitable luck of chemistry and feeling of magic and destiny.
Sure, looking carefully at our roster and our prospects for the winter, we not only might but undoubtedly should anticipate a better team on the field next year since we have players who are only improving and places where there can be nothing but upgrade to expect very reasonably. But the division will get much harder with the Phillies and Marlins maturing the way they did this year. I don’t know if it will be a walk again, I don’t know if there will be chemistry and momentum the same again . I don’t know if we missed our moment to strike. OR if we were like those other preliminary collapsers I mentioned who found the ability to go further the next year and in all cases but one win it all. And sometimes to win it multiple times.
If this was the statement of our arrival and the growing experience we build on as the opening chapter of an incredible story, then okay. It will all be good in no time. Floyd, Valentin—-these become characters who aren’t mainstays on the eventual winners but guys we remember fondly as helping out the groundfloor, more patchwork, organic, early, happy days when the winning had just started before we finished putting the long term machine together. I hope that will be the hindsight perspective here.
But if this was our window and we missed it, then this will only hurt more in years to come because it will be The missed opportunity of this decade. So, I waffle about how to feel as my thinking about what the future exactly holds keeps reassessing. Unfortunately, the future is cloudy and too hard to see.