Before beating Washington last night, they were losing mostly by small margins, mostly to bad teams, and mostly because their best hitters stopped hitting just as the wretched state of their bullpen was fully exposed. It's no wonder so many scented the stink of death on the Mets. They were losing ugly.
Curiously, though, given the apocalyptic feel of the situation, they weren't losing that much. On September 4, the Mets held a three-game lead over Philadelphia in the National League East. A pair of losses to the Phillies over the next two days commenced the death spiral, which started with a pair of wins over Washington, a series loss to Atlanta, and then a pair of losses to Washington.
If you're counting, that's a 4-6 run that left the Mets, going into last night's game, a half-game out of first place in the division and a half-game up in the wild card race. That's not much of a death spiral, no matter how few style points they picked up over those 10 games. One might even say that Mets fans were being a bit whiny about the whole thing; a spate of depressingly mediocre play against depressingly mediocre teams is not the same thing as a meltdown.
For a real collapse, look to Milwaukee, which is, along with the Mets and Philadelphia, one of three teams chasing two playoff spots. They lost four straight to their top rivals over the weekend, fired their manager, and then lost a gut-wrenching game at Wrigley Field, with ace C.C. Sabathia losing his first game in the National League and Prince Fielder, having hit two home runs already, ending the game staring at a curveball with the go-ahead run on base. The Mets can't compete with that.
This may be the very best reason for hope here: The enemy will have their say, and as determined as the Mets have at times seemed to be to give the whole thing away, the Brewers have seemed even more so. Another way to put it might be that even if the Mets do commit yet another act of epic, flailing choking, they may well be outdone. This is the cheery thought to which Mets fans should cling. One runner here may be heading toward the finish line with a bullet in each knee, but the other is heading toward it with both legs hacked off with a chain saw.
If we're being honest, the Mets are on a free roll right now anyway. They're lucky even to be in a position where they might actually melt down at all. Not only are they down a closer, a no. 3 starter, a left fielder, a backup left fielder, and a second baseman, among others, but the replacements on hand for these players are almost uniquely unqualified. Still, the team has been winning enough to not only be a playoff favorite, but to actually have been qualified for a playoff spot as of the start of last night's action.
Annoying as it may be to watch Pedro Feliciano, who's recorded more than one out in a game once this month, saunter toward the mound; irritating as it may be to watch David Wright swing at every pitch near the strike zone as if he were trying to actually force it through the outfield wall, rather than gracefully drive it as he does when he's going well; maddening as it may be to watch the Phillies win yet again with some preposterous bit of heroics from some irksome, swaggering star, all of it is part and parcel of rooting for a team in a pennant race, where nothing is guaranteed and every out down to the last of the season will have meaning.
Something is at stake here, and that magnifies every failure and can make someone like Duaner Sanchez seem momentarily like one of history's greatest villains when things go wrong. Such is the price of winning. If you exulted days ago as Carlos Delgado hammered balls into Long Island Sound, if you convinced yourself that Jon Niese was a future Cy Young award winner after his first start, and if you accept that the games the bullpen managed not to blow count in the standings just as much as the ones they did, then you know how the stakes can make every bit of success feel like it took place in the bottom of the ninth in the last game of the World Series.
Miserable, screaming failure may well be the Mets' destiny, and if it is, good enough. For now the highs are very high, and the team is very much alive. What more anyone could want, I can't imagine.