The Mets always find a way to disappoint. It’s their hallmark. The team that plays in Flushing has a way of taking a fan’s hopes and whooshing them down into the sewer.
In the past decade, Mets fans have endured a few different kinds of disappointment. There’s the water torture of teams that lose their way into irrelevance by the end of July. The more acute disappointment of good teams that can’t break through to the playoffs, and the crushing variety that comes after a historic collapse.
Then last season there was a breakthrough with a Mets team that won the NL East and made it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Getting rolled by the Royals last October was a new, better kind of disappointment for Mets fans. Yes, their favorite team finished the season with a loss, but the Mets made it further than all but one other team, and there was a genuine feeling that they would be back very soon.
And why not? As the 2016 season started, the Mets pitching staff was the envy of baseball. Its four young aces and one chubby 42-year-old made up if not the best rotation in baseball, then the most exciting. The lineup was less of a strong suit, but with the way Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom were expected to pitch, they’d only need to score one run to win anyway.
But then the season started, and expectations, as is so often the case in baseball, were trampled by reality. Key players were injured or underperforming. In mid-June, David Wright had season-ending surgery. A couple of weeks later, Michael Conforto was demoted in what was supposed to be his breakout season. In August, Harvey, who’d pitched more like the Joker than the Dark Knight, underwent season-ending surgery. All the while, the Mets were losing, and fans were making podcasts calling the season the “most disappointing ever.”
Then the turnaround began. After losing two games to the Giants and falling two games under .500, the Mets won back-to-back games and evened their record out again. From there, they won 27 of their final 40 games, making up a 7.5-game deficit in the Wild Card standings and earning the right to play in the playoffs.
More remarkable than the turnaround itself is the cast of nobodies who pulled it off. With so many of the team’s expected contributors on the shelf, the Mets reached into their farm system for starters who could ride the 7 train to Citi Field without being recognized. They relied on contributions from T.J. Rivera, a 27-year-old rookie whom the team desperately avoided putting in the lineup, and Ty Kelly, a utility infield with no utility at the plate. In the second half, they were the team’s third- and fourth-best hitters, respectively.
The Mets’ unlikely late season run had a way of erasing the disappointment of the first half and restoring what felt like the rightful place for the defending NL pennant winners. The Mets were in the World Series last year, of course they should be in the playoffs. But this was not last year’s team.
Still, the Mets were confident last night. Syndergaard told a reporter before the game that he was already thinking about the Cubs series that would follow a win over the Giants. He didn’t pitch like someone who was overlooking the opponent, though. Syndergaard was every bit the ace the Mets needed him to be against the Giants. In seven scoreless innings, he struck out ten and gave up only two hits while lighting up the radar gun with pinpoint control.
The problem last night wasn’t Syndergaard. It wasn’t the Mets’ batters, either. The problem was the pitcher who took the mound for the Giants, Madison Bumgarner. The left-handed country boy did what he does in the playoffs and fired a complete game shutout. He gave up only four hits, three of which came to the castoffs who carried the Mets to the Wild Card birth.
Mets fans desperate to blame someone for the loss will find an easy target in Jeurys Familia, the closer who gave up the game-winning homer to San Francisco’s own nobody, Conor Gillaspie. But the way Bumgarner was going last night, he could have pitched nine more scoreless innings if he had to.
With their loss last night, the Mets at least gave their fans a new type of disappointment to chew on. This is the one felt when expectations are high in April, reduced to rubble by August, revived by a thunderous comeback in September, and squashed in October. The roller coaster is stomach-churning, but it’s also worth riding.