M-E-T-S! Perhaps that's an acronym for Miserable End To Season. The team that has gone from underachievers to overachievers back to underachievers again all in the same 162-game season. Now the team finds itself on the brink of not making the postseason because of an "amazin'" late season collapse that has included a seven-game losing streak at the most inopportune time. Hmm...sounds familiar, doesn't it?
If this sounds strikingly familiar to what happened at the conclusion of last season's campaign don't be alarmed: it already happened.
Last season, New York dropped several critical games to a supposedly pushover Montreal team before floundering against the Braves; in total, five consecutive losses to end the season when only one win would have gotten them into the postseason.
As a consequence, the Mets narrowly missed out on the Wild Card spot by just one game to slugger Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs.
Back-to-back 88-win seasons just didn't get it done, especially in New York.
So, prior to the 1999 season, New York beefed up its lineup with several key acquisitions.
General manager Steve Phillips resigned catcher Mike Piazza to a lucrative, long-term deal. He signed third baseman Robin Ventura and traded for career stolen bases leader Rickey Henderson, now in the twilight of his career. And he traded for once former-Met Bobby Bonilla, whose second time around with the Mets this season was almost as big a bust as his first.
In a controversial move, he brought in closer Armando Benitez, infamous for his wild pitch as a Baltimore Oriole that hit New York Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, ultimately inciting a brawl at Yankee Stadium. With this retooling, New York's roster payroll ballooned to $63.5 million, still decidedly smaller than the league-leading $85 million of its cross-town rival.
So, with all these moves in place, the Mets seemed primed for, at the very least, a wild card spot with the chance for an N.L. East title if all went perfectly for the ballclub, and with Braves first baseman Andres Galarraga out for the season, it appeared as if New York's window of opportunity had been forced wide open. But, with expectations as high as they had been since the Mets last made the playoffs in 1988, New York struggled at the outset, especially during an eight-game losing streak spanning late May-early June.
Then came the dog days of summer (or fall) as the Mets failed to drive in enough runs to win any of the seven games against Atlanta or the atrocious Phillies last week. The question now becomes, do the Mets have enough heart to save their season now at the eleventh hour or will they peaceably fade into the offseason as they did a year ago with another long winter to ponder what might have been?
While the Mets and Astros have been struggling to put a clamp on postseason berths, the Cincinnati Reds have been on a tear, winning seven of their last eight games behind the success of power hitter Greg Vaughn, who tied a major league record in August with 14 taters in the month.
The fact is, the Braves, baseball's version of the Buffalo Bills, play clutch and win games when they matter most; that is why they are the team of the 90's, even, ironically, if they've won only one World Series this decade (in 1995). Yet, every year, it seems as if a N.L. East title for Atlanta is a foregone conclusion. And so it's no surprise that in the showdown series last week with the Mets, Atlanta came out on top in all three games. Evidently, New York left their brains and their bats at Turner Field as they were pounded by the Phillies in three straight games, including one in which they blew a late game lead and Bobby Valentine was criticized for making some questionable late-game decisions with his pitching changes.
The Mets have the strongest defensive infield in baseball and possibly the most potent lineup in the National League. But, none of this will matter if they are sitting at home come mid-October.
How quickly things can change in pro sports. A week ago the Mets were four games ahead of Cincinnati for the Wild Card spot, challenging the Braves for the N.L. East crown. Now they find themselves in jeopardy of not making the postseason at all, a tragedy that would hurt Bobby Valentine's job security the most.
"I can't believe it's going that bad. I don't believe it's happened," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said Tuesday night after his team's seventh straight loss, 9-3 to the Atlanta Braves.
If they don't wake up, Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra and the rest of the world will watch "deja vu all over again."