“How did you go bankrupt?”
“Two ways: gradually, and then suddenly.”
-Ernest Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises
Thank you, Queens.
Thank you for doing the impossible.
Thank you for flooding the headlines and monopolizing the morning news.
Thank you for securing your own special spot in history and diluting ours.
Thank for liberating us from the stigma that has been emblazoned on our psyches since October 21, 2004.
And mostly, thank you for finally disencumbering us from the toxic ownership of “the biggest collapse in Major League Baseball history.”
I know how you feel.
But I also know how Yankees fans felt for the past 159 days, subjected to all these hopped-up Mets fans spitting vitriol at the seemingly hapless Yankees. If I hadn’t had to listen to the unprovoked jeering and ribbing issued by cocky Mets fans for three-quarters of the season, I would let sleeping mutts lie. But the fact is, they poked at us with giant foam Number #1 hands, while we hoped against hope the whole “Just you wait til after the All-Star break!” battle cry wouldn’t be in vain.
So while my sympathy for the Mets and their fans is marginal at best, I still owe them gratitude for doing what I didn’t think would ever happen in my lifetime. They lifted the cross Yankees fans have been bearing since 2004. And while so many will still try to strap it back on us, insisting our choke was worse, it’s a moot point. When it comes down to it, I’d take the disgrace of the 2004 ALCS Yankees collapse in a heartbeat over the 2007 Mets debacle. In a heartbeat.
Witnessing the Mets collapse unavoidably brought back flashes of 2004, and as painful as it’s been for the last 3 years to even think about that time, I couldn’t look away. On Sunday afternoon, the pull of the proverbial car wreck proved stronger than the need to stay on top of my football bets and fantasy players. From the second my mom called and spurted, “Turn off the Jets and put on the Mets ASAP. You gotta see this,” I was mesmerized.
I watched as New York Mets fans experienced the unbridled hell of not only saying goodbye to their season, but having to do so in the face of a cataclysmic choke. At home. After being in first place since May 15, for 75% of the regular season. While the Phillies, THE PHILLIES, celebrated their new division title less than 100 miles away.
By the 6th inning of the game, the announcers had launched into the unnerving and foreboding countdown no fan on the brink of season termination ever needs to hear: “They’re now __ strikes/outs away from the end.” By then, the camera men had completely lost interest in the game in favor of capturing the faces of utter devastation lining Shea. The lights-out, too-little-too-late, 13K, 1-run plugging job from the Mets’ bullpen meant nothing to a long-muted stadium.
As I stayed glued to the TV and continued to ignore the Yankees last regular season game and the flurry of football action, I had to wonder how this could really be the end to the Mets’ dominant season. I had to wonder if the baffling brawl on the previous night hadn’t happened, if the Mets would have been playing a less incensed Marlins team. And I had to wonder if this really could, in fact, usurp the title as Worst Choke Ever. Did the Mets really have it in them?
Turns out they did.
Yankee-haters will purport til they’re blue in the face that the Bronx Bombers still retain the rights to this dubious distinction, but as far as I’m concerned, the curse has been lifted. Not just because I want an excuse to escape the harrowing monkey on our backs, but because, after weighing all the evidence, I realized a few things:
1.) The Mets were the favorite.
The Yankees headed into the ALCS as the underdog. We were never the favorite to win, unlike the heavily favored Mets. This is why, among many other reasons, that the Mets will never be “New York’s Team.” They just don’t know how to reign because they’re too uncomfortable at the top.
It’s like in “Teen Wolf” when nobody-high-schooler Scott Howard becomes a supernova with his werewolf alter-ego. He’s flying high on life and leaving his old second-tier buddies in the dust, until he gets too uneasy in his sovereign role. So he opts to shed it all at once, losing the hot blond cheerleader, the lead in the play, and all the other special perks that come with the ability to grow a pelt and fangs at will.
Like the teen wolf, the Mets don’t seem to feel at home at the top. They just don’t know how to be a juggernaut (unless their roster is built of juvie hall alums, a la 1986.) Their very nature can’t accommodate dominance and power, so they revert to the anemic, torpid National Leaguers who are as threatening as an acorn.
2.) The odds were staggering.
The odds of the Yankees losing with a 3-0 lead on the Sox were roughly 19 to 1. Which, by my count, is less than the 500 to 1 odds of the Mets blowing a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play. We lost 4 games in a 7-game set playing one team. The Mets played 4 different clubs during their collapse, some of which were barely hanging off the bottom of the standings. The Sox had the same chance of a 4-game comeback as I have buying a scratch-off card and winning a buck on it. The Mets had the same chance of disintegrating as there is of an asteroid attacking the earth within the next 25 years.
3.) They relinquished the title–no one stole it.
If I dated a guy who cheated on me and ultimately left me for another woman, I’d be hurt and angry and embarrassed. But if I found out years later that he ended up marrying this woman, I’d realize that, hey, it obviously was meant to be. The Sox killed us and then finally got their damn WS ring. It was their year, and 2004 was more a testament to their talent and resilience, from the ALCS comeback to the MACH3-speed World Series set. The Yankees were just a casualty along the way.
The Phillies weren’t surging ahead or going on 8-game winning streaks. While I give the Phils credit for seeing an opening and jumping at it, they didn’t win the division as much as the Mets lost it. In their final 17 days, the Mets were outscored 115-98, left 141 runners on base (an average of 8.3 per game), and made 21 errors, with the “best shortstop in NY” sporting a hefty .187 BA. These gems are egregiously more glaring then the stats streaming from Utley, Rollins, and Howard. The Mets have no one to blame but themselves.
4.) Both the fans and the team took the arrogance too far.
The Yankees themselves aren’t arrogant, and if they are, they’re smart about hiding it. They don’t run their mouths off. They don’t showboat. Yankee fans, yes. But as Stinger tells Maverick in Top Gun, “Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.” Yankee checks don’t bounce because we got 26 rings in the bank.
The Mets were cocky jackasses all season. Delgado even said, “We have so much talent on the team, sometimes it gets boring to play.” (What does this even mean? Why would it be boring to play with a skilled club?) I’m thinking now that his aforementioned boredom is nothing compared to having your October schedule prematurely cleared for you.
Their fans were just as bad, if not worse. All year I had to listen to those manic imbeciles clucking about the messy state of the Yankees. Every kind of fan has had their turn in telling me the Yanks suck, but it NEVER bothers me as much as when it comes from a Met fan. If for no other reason, the fact they’re in the freaking National League! It’d be like Squints Palledorous giving A-rod batting tips. Know your role, Mutts.
5.) The Yankees made the playoffs.
I got to see the Yanks clinch the division on the final home game of the season with a Bernie Williams walk-off in a comeback win. I watched them come back from getting shut down by Santana in Game 1 to win the next 3 games in the ALDS. I watched them take down the Sox in 3 consecutive games, and then watched 3 more amazing ball games before the gut-wrenching Game 7.
Unless your team finishes with a World Series Championship, the end of the season is devastating, whether it ends in a dramatic implosion or an anticlimactic fizzle. There are few things I hate more than the prevailing emptiness that defines Day 1 of the offseason. I remember going to Game 7 of the NLCS last year and being crazy jealous of all the Mets fans: they were watching their team chase a championship. Yankee fans were watching the new Fox fall lineup.
See, the only thing worse than the season ending is having to watch other teams still play on. Baseball season only lasted 4 days beyond our collapse. Mets fans have to suffer through another month of this. It’s like trying to pull off some inane Senior Prank, getting caught, being put on probation for the rest of the year, and then having to watch all your friends go to prom and graduation and engage in all the other Dazed and Confused-esque end-of-year hijinx, while you rot away in solitary confinement/detention.
6.) They fell from 159 days of superiority.
Our fall was much shorter. There was one day when we thought we were a lock for the World Series. ONE. DAY. The time from the 19-8 rout in ALCS Game 3, to the final moments of the 12-inning, 4+ hours-long Game 4, when a walk-off from Ortiz started extinguishing our spirits while igniting theirs.
The Mets had an entire season of slicing through the NL. No one could come close to catching them, in the standings or on the basepaths. They were flying through the season like Super Mario with star-induced invincibility. Months of hope and excitement and delirious anticipation—killed. Shut down like a weapon-less little Mario in Bowser’s castle.
Similarly, the Yanks’ decline itself only lasted 3 days. It was brutal but swift. We barely saw it coming, and when we did, it was too late. Mets fans had to suffer through an entire month of watching them unravel, of marinating in the fear that they very well may blow the season. Why didn’t Willie Randolph do anything sooner? (My sister’s boyfriend’s theory, “I think he just looked at Torre and thought, `Ok, Torre just sits there and does nothing–seems to work for him! I’m gonna try it.'”)
Those final weeks were slow and agonizing and disturbing. If 2004 was like the bird that flew into Randy Johnson’s fastball during Spring Training, then 2007 is like the squirrel my parents’ 108lb cat drags into the house, renders semi-dead, and then just bats around til the squirrel has been completely stripped of its physical faculties, dignity, and will to survive before ultimately flatlining. Not unlike Glavine, I guess.
And it’s for all these reasons that the 2004 Yankees have passed the scorch of a broken season onto a new generation of chokers. There is, however, one aspect of 2004 that edges out 2007.
Outside of the Bronx, everyone hates the Yankees. The reason that collapse was so powerful and monumental and profoundly tragic was because it was like Bastille Day all over the country. When the Mets lost, a melting pot of emotions emerged, running from amazement to sympathy to vindictive bemusement. There wasn’t quite the same celebratory backlash as there was in 2004:
Ambiguous MLB fan #1: Geez, how bout those Mets, huh?
Ambiguous MLB fan #2: Yeah, I wonder how Long Island Joey is taking it. We should call him!
AMLB1: Nah, I don’t want to rub it in.
AMLB2: Yeah, wait a week. Poor dude.
AMLB1: HOLY CRAP.
AMLB2: I KNOW! Let’s call Yanktank. Now. And sing “Sweet Caroline” and chant 1918 and “Yankees Suck” in a symphonic medley of hate.
AMLB1: I already did, dude.
AMLB2: Ok, then let’s call again!
AMLB1: I tried. Her mailbox is full.
AMLB1: Wanna try again anyway?
AMLB1: It’s all deadly.
When I woke up this past Monday morning, I thought about Mets fans. I thought back to Friday, October 21, 2004, the morning after I had to leave Yankee Stadium for the last time that year, with the deafening Boston cheers underscoring the Bronx’s misery.
I knew what Mets fans were feeling as they oscillated between calling in sick and pulling themselves together for work. (And even though I had tried to be responsible, my boss had ultimately waved me away after 2 hours in the office: “I don’t know anything about baseball, but I know something bad happened to the Yankees last night. You look like you got hit by a bus, and you look like hell. Just go home.”)
“Just go home.” Those same words have now ushered the Mets out of playoff contention and into the unforgiving and stale offseason. Gradually, and then suddenly.
I know how you feel.
So thank you, Queens, for outdoing yourselves. For throwing the trump card on the year the Evil Empire struck out. You did it, and you should take comfort in the fact that this historic choke gave you something you’ve always wanted–
The Mets finally beat the Yankees.