Two of my best friends are Mets fans, so in the aftermath of Thursday’s exhilirating Game 5 win over the Dodgers, I texted both congratulations. Their reactions were telling.
One was happy the Mets would play four more games, but fearful of the Cubs’ young power; he sounded as if he didn’t expect his team to win any of them. The other, appreciative of the Cubs’ history, sounded as if he was making plans for World Series watch parties. If Leo Durocher’s Cubs could blow a 10-game lead over the Mets 46 years ago, what chance do this year’s Cubs have?
The fan experience does that to almost all at this time of year, when the partisan watch every pitch hoping for the best but anticpating the worst. It makes the optimist cocky, and the pessimist meek.
The outcome of this year’s NLCS will probably be somewhere in the middle. The casual fan is just happy to see two newcomers — the Cubs haven’t been in the NLCS since 2003, the Mets since 2006. Each lost, and each had moments of ignominy, Steve Bartman’s reach for a foul pop, Carlos Beltran taking the final strike of Game 7.
The 1969 race wasn’t repeated, but this one may well be, and a half decade from now, the casual fan might be as agitated by the presence of the Cubs and Mets as they are by the Cardinals today, or the Yankees and Red Sox of yesterday. The Cubs have baseball’s best young hitters, and the Mets have its best young pitchers, which makes for an interesting matchup for the nonpartisan among us.
(Let the record show the aformentioned pessimist Mets fan drafted Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber directly ahead of Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard in our fantasy playback league. Sentiment has no place when it’s your pick.)
The 2015 Mets had already beaten expectations, so what trouble were Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke four times in five games. In midseason it seemed the Mets could barely score at all, but they added Yoenis Cespedes to their lineup and Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to their bench, called up Michael Conforto from the minors and returned David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud from injuries. In October they scored just enough to three times beat the pitchers who will be two of the top three in the Cy Young race next month.
Never mind how. The Dodgers left third base unproetcted — you would think after the seventh inning in Toronto, everyone would be extremely mindful of their envirnoment on throws back to the pitcher — and caught a foul ball they might have dropped. Daniel Murphy didn’t just fool the Dodgers, he fooled the TBS broadcasting crew, too, which was busy showing a replay of ball four. “Look at Murphy,” shrieked play-by-play announcer Ernie Johnson, but like the Dodgers, the viewers couldn’t until the deed was done.
There’s something alluring about the 2015 Mets, even to those who normally detest all sporting things New York. Whether it’s their power pitching, their resilience after losing their shortstop, or their manager Terry Collins, 66 years old, never played a game in the majors and in the postseason for the first time, fearlessly asking closer Jeurys Familia to get the final six outs (to show how tactics have changed, A’s closer Rollie Fingers averaged 2.1 innings per appearane in beating the Mets in the ’73 Series).
Or maybe it’s that they’re not the Yankees.