October 01, 2007

Shea It Ain't So

Even hockey's Ottawa Senators haven't choked like the New York Mets. There is heartbreak in Queens tonight. A late season collapse of epic proportions means the Mets are not going to the playoffs.

I love Major League Baseball's playoff marketing strategy - "There's only one October." They're absolutely right. The New York Mets apparently took October for granted and instead of gearing up for playoff baseball they're sailing into the sunset of an excruciatingly long off season.

What a collapse.

On September 12th the Mets had a seven game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. A seven game lead, with only 17 games left to play. Their final seven games were home dates, and they lost six of them. The Mets matched the largest division lead ever blown in September.

Shocking, absolutely shocking. What else can you say? The Mets had the division lead pretty much all season but they couldn't hold on when it mattered the most. For those people out there that say the baseball season is too long and too many games are meaningless, take a look at the boys from Queens. It all came down to the final day of the season, and they couldn't get the job done. It's true - every game counts, every game matters.

It's hard to believe the Mets could actually pull off a choke-job like this one with the lineup they have. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine.

Speaking of Glavine, if this was his last game as a major leaguer, what a way to go out. The Mets needed the 300 game winner to pitch them into the playoffs, and he did the opposite. He punched their ticket to the sidelines. Glavine got one out in the first inning and was pulled after getting tagged for seven runs on five hits, including a hit batsman. Who did he plunk, you ask? Dontrelle Willis, the Florida Marlins starting pitcher, with the bases loaded no less. After the first inning the Mets were down 7-0 and it was clear the life had been sucked out of them.

I'm not sure who's to blame. Everyone has to man up and realize that it was a complete team failure. A seven game lead in September should be more than safe.

In the aftermath of the Mets' collapse, praise has to be given to the Philadelphia Phillies. They never gave up. They went out and played hard in September, even though they needed a miracle. In baseball, anything is possible, and they got their miracle. One hot streak can get you into the playoffs. The Phillies went on a run at the right time - a run like the one I kept dreaming the Toronto Blue Jays would make. The Phils won 13 of their final 17 games and, coupled with the Mets losing 12 of their final 17, are division champions for the first time since 1993 when they went to the World Series (where, I might add, they lost to my Blue Jays).

Back in spring training Phillies superstar shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted his team would make the playoffs. He was laughed at and ridiculed. I'm sure some of the Mets laughed at his comments as well. Even I thought Rollins was off his rocker. It's ok to believe your team will make the playoffs - I know all about that, I'm a Jays fan after all - but to come out and say it publicly? Easy, Jimmy.

Well, Rollins and the Phillies needed every last game out of the 162 on their schedule, but they did it. They're off to the playoffs, and Rollins got the last laugh.

The Phillies, however, don't know who they'll be facing in the first round of the playoffs. I'm sure they don't really care, either. I'm sure all the Phillies, to a man, are pretty hammered tonight. As they should be.

Philadelphia will host the winner of Monday's wild-card tiebreaker between the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies. It should be a great game. There's nothing like a one game win-or-go-home playoff with everything on the line. For the Rockies and Padres, the first 162 games didn't matter. Only game number 163 does.

It's a privilege to play baseball in October in the big leagues. Only the truly great teams, still standing after a grueling six-month long season, get to play on. The New York Mets were thought to be a sure bet to make the playoffs by all the baseball pundits out there. They were labeled a playoff team, 100%. In the end, they were a playoff team, but only on paper. There's only one October and the Mets, like me, will be watching the playoffs on tv...