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30 August, 2015

Sandy and Elmo

   When my oldest son was a toddler, CinderElmo was his video of choice. We must have watched it 100 times. Early in the movie Elmo is bummed because his stepsisters are going to the ball and he's not. Elmo wishes on a star and instead of getting a fairy godmother, a temp fairy godperson named Frank shows up. Frank tells Elmo that he doesn't care for the idea of a fairy godperson flying in one's window and helping out when things get sticky. He goes on to tell Elmo, if you want to make something happen you have to do something, which leads to him singing a cute little ditty about just that, doing something.
   As the baseball trade deadline approached this summer and I considered the Mets place in the standings, I couldn't get that song out of my head.
Frank's words rang in my ears

"If you've got a dream... do something.
Aint enough to dream... do something."

  I was saying it and people with much larger platforms than me were saying the same thing, do something!  Even though the Mets were hovering around .500, they weren't a spec in the Nats rear view mirror like everyone expected them to be. The race was close and a fan base that was tired of being the CinderElmo to the Phillies and Nats wicked step-brothers in recent years, had a glimmer of hope. Sure, the offense was abysmal and stars like David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud were forging strong relationships with doctors and trainers, but the pitching was excellent. Just get us some bats, Sandy!
  But Alderson was playing it cool, like Shane checking out all the bad guys when he walked into Grafton's saloon for the first time. Alderson said things like "the market is still developing," and when asked if the trade deadline would be considered a failure if they didn't make a deal he replied, "Not as long as we've worked as hard as I think we need to and have worked the process as hard as we possibly can." Mets fans were were screaming for Sandy to fire his gun but all he wanted to do was buy some jeans and drink some pop. 

   With the less-than-thrifty Wilpon's holding the purse strings, there was no reason to believe the Mets would do anything. Besides, 2016 is supposed to be the year. What's the rush?  But here's the thing; From 2000 to 2007 when I was working on Baseball Tonight, every time the deadline approached, our analysts would talk about how doing something, anything, for a team in the hunt sends a message to the locker room that the front office believes in them and is as invested in winning as they are. Those former players and managers on our show were adamant that it makes a difference.
   Does it always work? Of course not. Would it work for the Mets? It was worth finding out because most guys in the locker room hadn't been in pennant races nor had they been in a locker room that added pieces for the stretch run. Give them a boost and see what happens. 
   And then it happened. Uribe and Johnson picked up from Atlanta. Conforto gets called up. Wilmer cries and stays. Cespedes arrives. Since then, it's been the Mets world. Suddenly Terry Collins wasn't hitting John Mayberry Jr. cleanup but equally as important, they didn't have a bench of Darrell Ceciliani, Johnny Monell, Danny Muno and Eric Campbell. No more AAAA players but professional hitters who have been around the league. They also have a plethora of interchangeable parts. Terry Collins can mix and match and has a strategic advantage the likes of which he has never had before. It reminds me of the late 90s Yankees when they had veterans like Raines, Strawberry, Fielder and Leyritz on their bench. 
   And now, September is here.  Ah, September. It's been a while since the Mets played, as Fred Wilpon once called them, "meaningful games" in September. In fact, the last time they did, it didn't go well. The El Foldos of 2007 and 2008 still linger. Mets fans whimper when someone says Tom Glavine. We are still wiping the tears from our eyes from the last game at Shea. Not just because the stadium closed for good that day, but so did another season of unfulfilled promise. 
   As this September approaches it's hard not to look back at the calendar and count up all the Amazin' moments that have made for an in-progress collection of highlights for a great season-in-review DVD. 
The 11-game winning streak in April. 
Matt Harvey's triumphant return from Tommy John surgery. 
Jacob deGrom's "lookie what I can do!" All-Star game performance.
The arrival of Thor, Noah Syndergaard, the hard-throwing rookie who gave the Mets and their fans a glimpse at what could be an absurdly good rotation in the years to come (or maybe even this year!). 
The first ever 3-homer game at home by a Met, turned in by once released then reclaimed, sub-.200 hitting Kirk Neiuwenheis. 
A comeback win in Tampa when they trailed entering the 7th, 8th and 9th inning. Something they had never done before. 
Lucas Duda hitting 9 homers in 8 games. 
A sweep of the Nats at Citi Field to pull into a tie for first place.  A sweep that came on the heels of a brutal, kick-to-the-groin loss to the Padres. A sweep that started with a walk-off homer from newly crowned cult hero "Wil-mer Flor-es" (clap clap, clap-clap-clap) and was capped by a 3-homers-in-5-pitches assault of Jordan Zimmerman on national TV. 
There was the road trip to Baltimore, Colorado and Philly where they went 8-1, bashing 24 homers. They scored a franchise-record 73 runs in the last 7 games of that trip, all wins. 
Also during that trip they got their captain back and all David Wright did was blast a ball to the moon with his first swing of the bat. 
That was the first of a franchise-record 8 homers in a game. The trip concluded with the second of two wins in Philly when they trailed by 5 runs in a game. 
To cap it all off, Carlos Torres and Daniel Murphy teamed up for the Kick-Snag-Flip heard 'round the world. That DVD is going to have a few bonus discs.
  In the first half of the season we were trotting out stats about the Mets being 41-5 when they scored at least 4 runs. How they had lost 9 games in the first half when their pitchers allowed 2 or fewer runs. Then Sandy Alderson did something and everything changed. During their 7-game destruction of the Rockies and Phillies the fewest runs they scored in a game was 5. 5 runs in a game in May would have been Eutopia.
  Certain words and phrases will dominate September for the Mets: Magic number. Inning limits. Choke. Mets fans certainly hope see the first phrase run out beofre the second phrase does. As for the third, like I said, 2007-2008 are wounds not yet healed, so Mets fans will likely be watching games with their hands over their eyes while peaking at the Nationals score as well. And yet, there is something about this team. The collection of moments and miracles have piled up like a stack of chips when you are on a roll at the poker table. 
  No one saw this coming. And it may have never come if Sandy Alderson didn't do something. Thankfully he did. Perhaps he is the Mets fairy godfather and they're going to get to go to the ball afterall.