If you’re looking for something positive to take into the Mets’ four-game series with the first-place St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field this week, it’s this: Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals pitcher whose Bugs Bunny curveball left Carlos Beltran motionless in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, will not be making an appearance. He’s a starter now, and he pitched yesterday for the Cardinals, earning the win to finish a sweep of the Kansas City Royals.
There aren’t many remnants of that 2006 series left on the Cardinals side: Manager Tony La Russa, All-World hitter Albert Pujols, starter Chris Carpenter, outfielder Chris Duncan, reliever Josh Kinney, catcher Yadier Molina, and, of course, Wainwright. Everyone else is new. But that won’t erase the awful memories the mere presence of the Birds on the Bat inspire: As we noted before, that was a definitive game in Mets history, and one could argue the team still hasn’t recovered from the loss. As Greg Prince of the great Faith and Fear in Flushing blog put it, “the Mets dug themselves into a hole from which they’ve never climbed out. It’s always October 19, 2006. Ownership and general management has proceeded as if this is forever a World Series club in every sense but that of accomplishment.” The Cardinals aren’t necessarily the Mets’ biggest rivals, but they occupy a considerable place in the franchise psychology. (Note: As many of you know, I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. If it’s any solace, I think it’s possible Albert Pujols might be a Met in three years.)
The Cardinals swept the Mets in St. Louis in April, right before the Mets ripped off to their best stretch of the season, winning eleven of their next fifteen. It hasn’t been too pleasant since then, and this month has been particularly rough; the Mets are 6–12 so far and are still hanging around the National League East race only because the Phillies have been nearly as bad. But a loss tonight would drop the Mets to .500 for the first time since May 6.
They’re also catching the Cardinals at the wrong time; after an offensive meltdown at the beginning of this month, St. Louis is red hot right now, having won five of six to reclaim first place in the National League Central. Leading the charge, of course, is Pujols, who is having his best season of an already Hall of Fame–worthy career. He had two more homers yesterday, and if the Mets are smart, they’ll walk him at least eight times in this four-game set, probably more.
Considering the schedule after this week — they only have one game left before the All-Star break against a team with a losing record — the Mets could really stand to win this extended series; a split might not be enough, and losing three of four, or worse, could be disastrous. By the time Thursday afternoon comes around, featuring an epic pitching matchup between Cy Young winners Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana (who looked fine this weekend, so breathe easy), Mets fans will either be pulling their hair out … or celebrating the turnaround of their season against their longtime tormentors. The time to turn this around is now, and there’s probably no more ideal opponent. October 19, 2006 grows further away every day.