Hi. My name is Howard and I'm a Mets fan. Like with any 12-step redemptive program for various uncontrollable abuses and addictions, it seems necessary to preface any article about Met fandom with a public acknowledgement of my weakness, much as someone might do in a support group like AA.
Like many Met fans, this addiction got started early in childhood and has persisted deep into my adult years despite all logical arguments to the contrary. It's the kind of thing that has you watching last Sunday's third Mets-Yankee game hoping for the guys from Flushing to pull-out at least one win against the hated Bronx Bombers. It has you watching this while outdoors at a beachside bar with a bunch of other similarly afflicted guys when more well-adjusted folks were taking in Vitamin D on their chaise lounges and listening to the idyllic crash of the surf. It's the kind of thing that has you watching the Mets play on Tuesday night in Tampa Bay with nary an expectation of victory in the world and seeing them devastate the Rays 11-2. It's the kind of thing that has you buying a ticket package to a bunch of home games knowing full well that very many of these games will not be victories.
Met fans experience emotions that whipsaw from agony to ecstasy at speeds analogous to the mood swings of a newly menopausal woman. Hot flashes followed by rapid crashes are not uncommon in either situation. But while there are medicines that act as palliatives for women in their later stages of life, there's nary a solution for the Met-afflicted, notwithstanding the advertised properties of beer.
The truly serious fan will actually wear a Met hat (or other article of clothing) out in public. This typically elicits comments of sympathy, commiseration, pity, incredulity or when administered by Yankee fans, a Rodney Dangerfield-esque dose of "no respect." And after last weekend's drubbing of the Mets at the hands of the aforementioned Yankees, any baseball bragging rights in New York were most assuredly forfeit by the abysmal conclusions of each of those three games played by the Mets.
Although the Mets are playing above .500 to the surprise even of avowed fans, there are maddeningly humiliating defeats that cut fans to the quick. There are reasons for many of these losses and they start with the bullpen -- the Mets have the honor and distinction of having the worst-performing relief squad in the major leagues, clocking in with an ERA of over 7.00 -- the relievers can be counted on to choke in must-hold situations, to flat-out extract a defeat from the jaws of victory by literally handing a slew of runs to a team the Mets had been leading for six or seven innings or to ensure a dramatic collapse in the ninth. One of the only ways to ensure a win is to let starters like Johan Santana or R.A. Dickey pitch for an entire game -- something that occurs only 3.4 percent of the time these days in the majors but far more often for the Mets. (I'm convinced that Major League Baseball "goosed-up" the game by institutionalizing and beatifying the "100 pitch count" for starters so as to make the games more exciting and utterly unpredictable by using more inferior relievers to battle the perception of baseball as being slow and boring that existed before the 90s -- but that's another column...)
Inconsistent pitching has plagued the Mets for about a decade now. Some years the starters are good and the bullpen bad (like this year), some years it's the exact opposite and some years both groups of pitchers are a misery.
Sometimes there is an inexplicable and maddening loyalty to position players who can't hit their way out of a batting cage. Two cases in point are first baseman Ike Davis and left fielder Jason Bay. Davis has been in a hitting slump that aside from a homer here and there has him batting about .170. In the National League, where pitchers bat, Davis has been an assured second guaranteed out along with the hurler at the bottom of the rotation. That Davis continues to start most every game, let alone that he's not been sent down to the minors for some hitting therapy is inexplicable.
The hapless Jason Bay -- who went 0-14 between Friday and Tuesday and is batting around .190 -- is another guaranteed strikeout, ground-out or fly-out. As of Tuesday he had only three homers and five RBIs for the whole season. In three years with the Mets he's only produced 21 home runs in contrast to the 36 he delivered for the Red Sox just in 2009. Bay is costing the Mets $66 million over a four-year deal. Maybe the Mets feel they have to get their moneys worth by playing him. If that's the case there are probably 50,000 Met fans who would pay the Mets $10 each just to have Bay benched in favor of a hungry, hard-charging up-and-comer. I would venture that most Met fans would help pay for a trade to any other team that the Mets would have to subsidize -- just to end the misery.
This week the Mets have to get through the Rays who have some of the best pitching in baseball, then the Reds who are in first place in the NL Central, followed by the resurgent Baltimore Orioles who are having their first winning season in 20 years and are number two in the AL East. No challenges there. If they emerge victorious through most of these contests it will be the triumph of irrational exuberance over the forces of pure logic and statistics -- and next weekend the Mets get another crack at the Yanks, this time at home.
Having said all this (and I feel better for getting it off my chest, thank you) back in late February I penned an article called "The Fight for Second Place," where I predicted even before Spring Training that the Mets would be contenders for second place in the NL East and so far this prediction has been pretty accurate which is all the more amazing considering that everyone had the Mets pegged to be in dead last - and herein you see fully manifested a Met fan's dependency and addiction, so help me, someone please stage an intervention.