George Steinbrenner once took pride in having the baseball team in town that stole attention and stirred emotion, in more ways than one. Yet this season, his New York Yankees were overtaken and significantly one-upped.
They were no match for the Mets, in terms of losing.
It wasn't even close. The Mets "won" this contest, stole the show from Opening Day to the bitter end, trumping the Yankees. Their crash sent more splinters, their thud was more seismic, their collapse more dramatic than the one by the boys of the Bronx, who once owned the exclamation point around here.
The Mets went down harder, and if you're going to lose in New York, you might as well be entertaining about it. Might as well do it better than the other team.
They fired their manager in June, although Willie Randolph is probably laughing his Yankees cap off now, because in hindsight the Mets didn't have a managerial problem as much as a stomach problem. As in: They don't have any guts, or at least didn't show any the last two Septembers. Randolph must also be chuckling over how ownership can't wait to reward Jerry Manuel with a contract extension after the Mets just blew a 3 1â2-game lead in the NL East with 17 to play, while a year ago, the same ownership wanted to crucify Randolph after he blew a seven-game division lead with 17 to play.
Wow, 3 1â2 games make a big difference in perception. And unlike Manuel, Randolph didn't have Johan Santana down the stretch.
At the same time, while in exile, Randolph had to cough up his cornflakes after watching Carlos Delgado turn into Mickey Mantle from July on. This same Delgado, an alleged team leader, had no love for Randolph and spent the first three months hitting into double plays and striking out in big spots.
Given how Delgado's improved production was curiously timed with the managerial change, it's fair to wonder if he let his team down in April, May and June. It's fair to wonder if the Mets would have had the extra win or two they needed to make the playoffs had Delgado stopped sulking and started hitting earlier.
Delgado was hardly the cause, just a symptom, and he did rally in a big way. But the bullpen couldn't save a swimmer in shallow water. And even though the Mets and Yankees each finished 89-73, at least the Yankees were chasing the Rays and Red Sox. Another big plus for the Mets in this battle of local losers.
"It's not one person," general manager Omar Minaya said, assessing the damage Monday. "It's a team effort."
So true. The team especially bailed out of the final weekend, against a Florida team with nothing to play for, in a three-game series in which the Mets needed to win only two. But if not for Santana, they would've been swept. Swallow that for a second. The Mets needed a huge effort from Santana just to avoid getting skunked.
"How can you only score five runs?" Minaya said of the weekend, and that answer is easy enough. David Wright and Jose Reyes gagged in the clutch. Those who are the so-called future of the Mets still have yet to produce in the present.
This is how the Mets sometimes operate. When they win, they win big; when they lose, well, you know. They either produce a Miracle in 1969 and a Comeback in 1986 or they crash (2007) and burn (2008).
As for 2008, all they won was an infamous turf battle with the Yankees. Rest assured, that's one championship banner that won't fly with the fans, or in Citi Field next year.