Adam Wainwright’s curveball. Back-to-back September collapses. Payroll uncertainty after the Madoff scandal. Watching homegrown shortstop Jose Reyes walk in free agency. Matt Harvey’s Tommy John surgery. Six straight losing seasons. And I’m just scratching the surface of the insanely cruel ride Mets fans have been on since the end of the 2006 season. However, with Jeurys Familia’s strikeout of Jay Bruce on Saturday, a weight was lifted from the collective shoulders of a tortured fan base. The Mets are the champions of the NL East, somehow.
Such a scenario seemed improbable just a couple of months ago. After a red-hot start to the season, the Mets struggled to keep their heads above water through July, mostly because their makeshift offense simply couldn’t do enough to support their excellent starting pitching. Meanwhile, the team’s captain, David Wright, was sidelined with spinal stenosis, which drove fans to WebMD to come up with their best guess at a timetable for his return. Would he make it back this season? Would he make it back at all? Eric Campbell again, really?
Clinching the division was a formality going into the top of the ninth inning on Saturday. Matt Harvey pushed his innings limit controversy aside, at least for one day, sticking around for his longest outing since August 11. The suddenly-hot Lucas Duda gave the Mets an early lead with a grand slam in the first inning while the big-ticket free agent acquisitions of the past two winters — Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer — later added some insurance. The Mets got the first two runners on against Burke Badenhop in the top of the ninth inning, which made some fans antsy that the Phillies-Nationals game would end first and potentially make the bottom of the ninth inning moot, but that all faded to the background when Wright slugged a three-run homer over the center field fence at Great American Ball Park.
Sports are often a random sequence of events, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to draw meaning from them. We love the narrative, for better or worse. But sometimes it just fits, damn it. Of course Wright would do this. This is the guy who homered in his first at-bat back from a broken pinkie finger in 2012. He did the same thing in his first at-bat back from spinal stenosis on August 24. Wright’s home run was just icing on the cake in the box score, but it was the perfect coda to nine years of pain and this astonishing late-season run. The guy who was here at the beginning and has been through so much since is telling you that it’s time to move on.
Wright said during the team’s post-game celebration that he’s not going to take this NL East title for granted. Not this time. It’s good advice for the fans who have been along for this bumpy ride over the past nine years. There will be things to get angry and cynical about again. It’s inevitable. It’s sort of how we roll. How much will Harvey pitch in the postseason? Can the Wilpons afford to keep Yoenis Cespedes even if they want to? But for one day, it’s OK to forget about all that. For the first time in a long time, there’s something real to celebrate. There will finally be playoff baseball at Citi Field, with a packed house and a chill in the air. It’s still an abstract concept in my mind, but it’s a beautiful one to contemplate.