We've seen this before
On final day, Mets have berth on line after late-season collapse
We've all seen this before. Mets fans, especially, have seen this before. And if there's one thing certain on this final day of a season that's been filled with anything but certainty, it is this:
Mets fans don't want to see this again. Not if it's going to turn out like last year, they don't.
The Mets' year-long quest to put last season's collapse behind them has come down to a stunning, and a little bit disturbing, case of déjà vu. It's positively spooky, some of the similarities between last year and this one.
The stumble through the final days of the season. (Both the '07 Mets and this version tripped to 3-5 records before the last game of the year.)
The convincing, spirit-lifting, must-have win on the Saturday of the final weekend. (Last year, a 13-0 tromping of Florida behind John Maine. This year, Johan Santana's complete game 2-0 beaut against Florida.)
The high-stakes showdown, again with the Marlins, on the last Sunday of the season. (Last year ... don't ask. This one ... well, we'll find out.)
Yes, there are differences. This year, the wild card is all that the Mets can hope for, having already blown their chance at the National League East title. Tom Glavine, who started last year's final fateful game -- if you want to call that much of a start -- is long gone. So is the Mets' manager, Willie Randolph, fired weeks ago for fear that the team would land just where it is.
But the idea is the same. A loss Sunday could ruin everything. Especially on this particular Sunday, on the last scheduled game at Shea Stadium, with such former franchise greats as Willie Mays, Rusty Staub, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver and many others in attendance.
If the Mets blow another late-season lead, lose again on the last Sunday and fail again to make the postseason, this franchise could be feeling the repercussions for years and years to come.
"I would be really surprised if we aren't walking on a cloud tomorrow," interim manager Jerry Manuel said. "There are going to be some tremendous former players here and a tremendous history. It's a great opportunity."
These last few weeks have turned into an uneasy, if not entirely unfamiliar, trek for the Mets. Everybody knows the problems of the team's bullpen, which has scrambled to keep games close all year long, especially since closer Billy Wagner went down with a damaged ligament in his elbow early last month. The Mets' bullpen, which has blown 29 saves, has been a wreck for a long time.
But there have been other failures, too. Leadoff man Jose Reyes is having his second straight underwhelming September (.242, .318 on-base percentage). The starting pitching, a strength for much of the season, has struggled mightily. In the last two weeks, in fact, the ace Santana has won three games. The other Mets' starters have combined for one (Brandon Knight, on Sept. 17).
Yet here the Mets are, still hanging on, tied for the NL wild card with the Brewers (both teams are 89-72. With a win Sunday and a loss by the Brewers, the Mets will capture the wild card and put aside all talk of chokes. Even with a loss, all is not immediately lost. If the Mets lose and the Brewers lose to the Cubs in Milwaukee, the two teams will play a one-game playoff for the wild card Monday at Shea.
Whatever, the been-there fans of the Mets are bracing themselves. If this thing turns out like last year, if the Mets lay an egg in Game 162 as they did in '07 (Glavine lasted only one-third of an inning in an 8-1 loss) while their rivals win (the Phillies beat the Nationals last year on the final day of the season to take the East), things are not going to go well in New York.
The Mets' general manager, Omar Minaya, probably will be safe from any fallout. He recently agreed to a four-year contract extension. Manuel is highly thought of, and he is 55-37 since taking over for Randolph, going into the last day of the season. He could come back, too, even with a loss.
But if the Mets end up dead on the last day again, something's got to give. Something will give.
Nobody will want to see that same, sad story again next year.
Stud of the Day
Imagine the pressure of playing for a huge contract on one of the biggest stages in the sport in a must-win game on the next-to-last-day of the season, going way outside of your regular pitching routine to do it and doing it with, in effect, no backups to catch you if you screw up. That was the Mets' Johan Santana on Saturday at Shea Stadium against the Marlins. And he volunteered for that duty.
Santana's performance -- a complete-game three-hit shutout with nine strikeouts, 117 pitches worth of changeup genius on short rest for just the second time in his career -- is one that should go down in Mets' lore for years to come. Of course, it may well be forgotten if something bad happens on Sunday.