My mother asked me what I would to do on the occasionof my 30th birthday. I said I was going to take it easy. Chill at home, play with the baby, have a beer or two, and watch the Mets beat up on the Pirates.
I got to do all but one of these things.
Watching the Mets this year is an exercise in frustration. It always seems like you, the fan at home, are expending more energy watching the game than the Mets are expending in actually playing the game. Since they’ve been in first place since May, and their lead has hovered around 3 games most of that time, the team is obviously and sickeningly complacent. It’s one thing to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of pressure; it’s quite another to act comatose in the face of impending fucking danger (ie, the Phillies and Braves, who play games like they actually care about the game of baseball).
I would say that the Mets are acting like ostriches, sticking their heads in sand. But they aren’t even that proactive. At least an ostrich is performing an act, however futile, that he thinks will help himself avoid catastrophe. The Mets yawn as they stumble straight into a
This is especially disheartening because the 2006 Mets were such an exciting team to
watch. Regardless of the outcome of an individual game, you never thought anyone on the team was dogging it. Not to descend into meaningless Joe Morganisms, but everyone on that team came to the ballpark to play. This year, they are surrounded by a shroud of
I loved last year’s team. I tolerate this year’s team, like a college roommate I have to keep begging to do his share of the dishes.
As an exercise in fan nerd-dom, I decided to look back on all of the games played on my birthday since I’ve been born. In so doing, I’m pretty sure that this year’s assing away of a 5-run lead to the worst team in the National League is the worst Birthday Loss in my lifetime. To prove it, I’ve tried to place each year’s game in the context of its season.
Judge for yourself, if you dare.
You’ll notice no particular pattern. These games are quite random, which you would expect from an unscientific sample across a wide gulf of time. Sometimes, a great team falls to a bad one, or vice versa. Sometimes a team that couldn’t hit it’s way out of a paper bag hangs up a 10-spot, sometimes a slugging team gets shutout by a nobody. So it’s a lot like
the rest of baseball. And the rest of life.
Pat Zachry pitches a complete game for the victory, but can never change the fact that he was traded for Tom Seaver. Thanks a lot, Dick Young, you wrinkled sack of shit. This win was meaningless, because the Mets had already doomed themselves to failure for years to come, thanks to the infamous Midnight Massacre. This was when the Mets transformed from a simply bad team to a fucking embarrassment. The team owners at the time were the DeRoulets, heirs to Joan Payson. Whereas Payson was a kooky baseball-loving socialite who helped bring the National League back to New York, the DeRoulets were bunch of cheap assholes who wanted ballboys to take foul balls and wash them so they could be reused later. They also tried to introduce a mule mascot named Mettle so their daughter could ride it on the field at Shea. Seriously.
Jerry Koosman gives up a grand total of two hits, and the potent Mets offense stakes him to a 1-0 lead. Kooz leaves with one out in the ninth after giving up a double to Dave Winfield, whereupon reliever Skip Lockwood comes in and gives up a 2-run homer to Derrell Thomas. (If you’re wondering who the fuck that is, join the club.) Mets go quietly in the bottom of the ninth. Mets go quietly into the night for the second straight season.
Mets score 5 runs in the top of the 8th off of future Hall of Famer Phil Neikro, thanks to what looks like some horrid fielding. The Retrosheet box score contains bizarre play-by-play descriptions like “On a bunt Taveras singled to third [Flores to second]; Trevino singled to center [Flores scored, Taveras scored (error by Bonnell) (no RBI)…Stearns reached on a fielder’s choice on a sacrifice bunt.” You know, the kind of plays you normally don’t see outside of Little League. I should point out that in 1979, the Braves were the only team in the National League that could rival the Mets for pure hopelessness.
In 1980, Craig Swan was one of the Mets’ very few serviceable pitchers, probably their number 1 starter if they were forced to rank them. Not on my birthday, though. The future world champion Phils beat the living shit out of Swannie, who gives up 7 runs in only 3 2/3 innings of work. Four relievers combine to give up 4 more runs. Mets leave 10 runners on
base. I have a 1980 Mets yearbook with a Gallo cartoon on the cover, showing Joe Torre cooking up something good for the coming season. The Mets cooked up 95 losses, although they also added the spiciness of Mookie Wilson to the bland mash they’d been serving.
Pat Zachry, somehow still in a Mets uniform four years after the Seaver trade, does 6 solid innings of work for the win to improve to 2-0 on The Birthday. Catcher (and future coach/hilarious phrase coiner) John Stearns steals a base, somehow. A reliever named Boitano throws 2 innings in relief; I had to click on his name to make sure his first name wasn’t Brian. Following the midseason strike, the Mets played only four games under .500, easily their best showing in years. Regardless, this season dooms Joe Torre’s tenure as manager. The DeRoulets were okay with the Mets’ struggles, but the new Doubleday/Wilpon ownership was not (remember when Torre was a terrible manager?). Mets begin their (very) slow ascent from the muck and mire of suckitude.
Mets have an off day, which is just as well, since at this point in the season they are 16 games under .500, 16.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals, under the indifferent leadership of George Bamberger. The next day, they’d get pounded 9-2 in Cincinnati.
Craig Swan goes 0-for-2 on my birthday. The Mets manage only six hits, all singles. An extremely young Darryl Strawberry goes 1 for 4. Some signs of hope, with Mookie, Strawberry, and the reluctant addition of Keith Hernandez, but still a bit too much of the ancien regime’s cheap, bad players in the everyday lineup for the team to be even close to good.
Another day off. This is Doc Gooden’s rookie year, Davey Johnson’s first year at the helm, and the first time in 11 years that the Mets so much as sniff the postseason. At this point in the season, the Mets sit only 2.5 games behind the equally surprising first-place Cubs. They would fall just short in the end, a common refrain in Mets history.
Ed Lynch gives up 4 runs, and the Mets threaten a few times, but reliever Doug Sisk gives up another 3 runs to put the game out of reach. The first year I collected baseball cards, Doug Sisk was the first card I saw in every god damn pack I bought. Doug Sisk sucked. In the bottom of the 7th, Rusty Staub (in his last year) hits a pinch hit single. Davey Johnson wisely decides to pinch run for the slow-footed Staub. But amazingly, he does so using pitcher Ron Darling. If either New York manager did that nowadays, he’d be murdered in the press. Despite the loss, the Mets are only a game behind first-place St. Louis. They would fall short in the last weekend of the season.
Trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth, Lee Mazzili hits a solo home run to send the game into extra innings. Roger McDowell gives up 2 runs in the top of the 11th. In the bottom half, the Mets get the first two batters on, but the next two batters fly out, and Strawberry strikes out to end the game. No biggie, as the Mets still hold a comfortable
lead in the NL East. Twenty-one and a half games, to be exact. A rare cruise to the finish, followed by a postseason for the ages.
No, that’s not a football score. The Mets jump all over Greg Maddux to the tune of 7 runs in 3 2/3 innings (even in retrospect, beating the living shit out of Greg Maddux makes me happy). The Cubs get 4 runs off of Ron Darling in the bottom of the 4th to make things far too interesting. So for good measure, the Mets score a total of 16 runs between the 5th and
8th innings. Cubs reliever Drew Hall was responsible for 10 of those runs. Chicago scores 6 more over the course of the game (including 4 off of Jesse Orosco), but still don’t come within sniffing distance. The Mets are in third place at the time, 3.5 back of St. Louis. They’d get as close as 1.5 games in the final weeks of the season before (say
it with me) falling short yet again.
Mets score 9 runs in the top of the first, 7 of them off of the awesomely named starter Atlee Hammaker, who records only one out in his day’s work. When you balk while throwing to the second batter of the game, you know it’s not your day. Doc Gooden pitches 7 solid innings. Well traveled reliever Bob McClure gives up 4 runs in the 8th, but it’s not nearly enough to throw away the game. After a slow start, the Mets win the NL East easily before losing a tough NLCS to the Dodgers in 7 games.
Not much to report from this one, except looking at the box score, you can see how quickly the ’86 champs had been disassembled. Juan Samuel is playing center field; he’d been traded from the Phillies for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to play the outfield (even though he was a second baseman, and even though they only needed a center fielder because they were getting rid of Dykstra), in one of the most idiotic swaps for a team with a rich tradition of idiotic swaps. Keith Hernandez does not start. Gary Carter is batting 7th. Keith Miller is playing second. Ugliness is once again on the horizon, though they’d manage a respectable second place finish this year.
If the ’89 lineup is upsetting, the ’90 is downright bizarre. There’s some guys here whose memory completely escapes me. Kelvin Torve at first? Darren Reed in right? Mark Carreon in left? The hell? And behind the plate, Mackey “Double Clutch” Sasser, whose career eventually imploded in an almost Rick Ankiel-like fashion (except not quite as dramatically, and without the triumphant comeback). On more familiar ground, Ron Darling gets the win and Met-in-perpetuity John Franco gets the save. In 1990, the Mets get off to a terrible start, fire Davey Johnson, and replace him with the likeable but completely overmatched Buddy Harrelson. They make a stab at the division down the stretch in 1990, but the Pirates elude them. And contention would elude them for many years to come.
Sid Fernandez gets the loss, giving up 5 runs. However, only one of them was earned, as the Mets commit a staggering 5 errors. Catcher Rick Cerone had a tough day; an error in the fifth and passed ball in the sixth accounted for at least 2 Pirate runs. I have a scorecard from this year with Rick Cerone on the cover. That should give an indication of just how far the Mets had fallen already. Buddy Harrelson is fired with 7 games remaining in the season, which you will see in your cliché dictionary next to the definition of polishing the deck chairs on the Titanic.
A not-at-all-well-deserved day off for The Worst Team Money Could Buy, a team jam packed with malcontents, sociopaths, and firecracker enthusiasts. Jeff Torborg managed this year and somehow resisted the temptation to take a bath with a toaster.
A rare win for this squad, which would only notch 59 of them all year. Sid Fernandez gets the victory and Mike Maddux (!) gets the save. Jeff Torborg was driven out of town after 38 games, replaced by Dallas Green, who did just as badly while also managing to ruin a lot of young arms in the process.
The Players’ Union strike, begun four days before my birthday, ended what would surely have been another dreadful Mets season. It also ended an awesome season for the first place Expos, who’d already won 74 games when the work stoppage began. They would
never seriously contend again before leaving for Washington. So I guess things could be far worse.
The Mets only manage three hits, but scratch out a run in the fourth for the only run they need. Bill Pulsipher, member of the ill-fated Generation K, throws 8 shutout innings. Franco gets the save. Looking at this lineup is a lot like looking at a current lineup for, say, the Nationals. You wonder how a professional team could field such mediocrity. The only players of note are Jeff Kent, who sucked as a Met, and Carl Everett, who was mostly notable for denying the existence of dinosaurs and being accused of beating his kids.
Apparently, the Padres played home games in Monterrey, Mexico in 1996. They also apparently employed Fernando Valenzuela, the winner of this game played in his native land. I remember neither of these things, probably because my interest in baseball at this point was at a low ebb. Starter Robert Person gives up 9 runs in 3 1/3 innings, and the bullpen chips in 6 more. The Mets are down 15 to 3 when they come bat in the 9th, and
put together a 7-run rally (4 of those runs scoring with 2 out). But all the offensive outburst really does is make the final score look slightly more respectable than it really should have. It was typical of this team, which had some fine individual performances from the likes of Lance Johnson, Todd Hundley, Bernard Gilkey, Edgardo Alfonzo, and even Rey Ordonez, but somehow never translated that into winning baseball. Bobby Valentine was installed in the pilot’s seat before the end of the year.
Somehow, both Fonzie and Rey Ordonez committed errors in this game, both of which led to runs. The Mets scored a run in the ninth on a Matt Franco pinch hit single to pull within two, but Crazy Carl Everett (representing the tying run) hit into a double play to end the game. The Mets flirted with contention down the stretch in 1997, but never quite threatened anyone. But after 6+ years of awful baseball, sort of kind of almost coming close felt nice.
Remember when Hideo Nomo was The Shit? By the time the Mets got him, he was just Shit. This was his tenth loss of the season. The Diamondbacks get their first run on a steal of home (in case you needed reminding that Mike Piazza was never a very good catcher). The Mets’ lone run against starter Omar Daal comes on a solo run by Jermaine Allensworth. (Yeah, I don’t remember him either.) They’d get their revenge by beating up on Daal in game 3 of next year’s Division Series. This year, they’d almost force a three-way tie for the Wild Card before assing away a postseason berth in the season’s final week, adding a few more gray hairs to Bobby Valentine’s head.
The Mets take a 2-0 lead on solo homers by Piazza and Rickey “Third Person” Henderson. The Padres go ahead on a 3-run homer by Phil Nevin, hit off of Octavio Dotel. The Mets scratch out a run in the 8th to tie the score. Alfonzo hits a go ahead homer in the top of the tenth off of reliever Jeff Cunnane, whose last name sounds like it should either be an Irish folk hero or a slur for some part of the female anatomy. Armando Benitez works around a walk in the bottom half to get the save. The ’99 Mets hold a place in my heart as the team that got me back into baseball. This was how they played all year, one gutsy come-from-behind win after another. After nearly blowing a chance at the postseason yet again, they forced playoff for the wild card with the Reds, won that game, beat Arizona in the Division Series on a walkoff homerun by backup catcher Todd Pratt, and after falling behind 3-0 in the NLCS against the Braves, won games 4 and 5 at Shea in ridiculously dramatic fashion.
Then they erased deficits of 5-0 and 7-3 in game 6 in Atlanta, and went ahead–twice!–only to choke up the lead both times and lose on a walk-off walk. Fuck you in the pants, Kenny Rogers.
The Rockies jump all over Glendon Rusch–but then again, who hasn’t?–for 6 runs. The Mets score 4 in the 8th to make things interesting, but go quietly in the 9th. I’ve always considered the 2000 Mets vastly inferior to the 1999 Mets. They had slightly better pitching, as in noted educational expert Mike Hampton, and that’s about it. And yet, the 2000 team went to the World Series and the ’99 team did not. Lesson: Life ain’t fair.
Trailing 4-0 going into the sixth, the Mets score 5 runs to take a lead. But reliever Rick White gives up a 2-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, and Trevor Hoffman closes it out in the ninth. For some bizarre reason (I’m assuming injury and/or fatigue), the Mets put out a weak starting lineup containing the likes of Joe McEwing, Desi Relaford, and Vance Wilson. Typical of the 2001 Mets: bad start, hot streak down the stretch, only to (yup) fall short in the end.
Mets go ahead on a Ty Wigginton homer, Dodgers tie it on a Paul Lo Duca RBI single (aided by a Roger Cedeno error). They regain the lead on a Timo Perez RBI single, only to lose it on a 2-run homer on Marquis Grissom. Eric Gagne sets the Mets down quietly in the ninth. Starting lineup includes such awesome talents at Tony Tarasco, Jeromy Burnitz, and Mo “You Gonna Finish Those Fries?” Vaughn. Bobby Valentine would be gone by year’s end, because obviously it was his fault that Steve Phillips assembled such a shitty team.
Ah, the excitement of the Art Howe era. Mets touch up Shawn Chacon to the tune of 8 runs. I’m pretty sure this kind of offensive outburst was a rarity for the Mets in 2003, as was winning ballgames. Looking at the box score, the only bright spot you can really see (other than the result) is Jose Reyes starting at shortstop. He had two doubles, a single, and scored 3 runs.
Day off for the Mets. The day before, they were shut out by Randy Johnson 2-0. The next day, they’d lose 6-4 to the Rockies in Colorado. The 2004 Mets always did just enough to lose, and in the dugout, Art Howe always looked about as fired up as Perry Como. This was also the team that deluded itself into thinking it was a playoff contender, and traded away Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, yet another Idiotic Swap to add to the pile. At least the Kazmir Debacle paved the way for the GM tenure of Omar Minaya, and the management of Willie Randolph.
Kris Benson beats his former team, going 7 innings and giving up only 2 runs. I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, this team could have done some great things. But looking back at the starters in the lineup–Miguel Cairo, Victor Diaz, Gerald Williams, Chris Woodward–I was clearly as deluded as the Mets were the year before.
Jon Lieber pitches a complete game shutout. Glavine goes 7 strong innings but has only a loss to show for it. The Mets didn’t get shut out too many games in 2006. But it was okay. They had a commanding lead in the NL East and were surely going to cruise to the World Series. Right?