Friday, August 12, 2016

Don't Count A Candidate Or A Baseball Team Out -- Comeback Players of Other Years

Harry Truman trailed Thomas Dewey by five points in the final Gallup Poll of 1948.

The New York Giants fell 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in the summer of 1951 [in August].

I somehow passed geometry in ninth grade.

Stories of extraordinary comebacks are woven lovingly into the American tapestry. A few stand out as legend. Y’know why? Because they don’t happen all the time.

On August 11, 2016, a former [Republican] Speaker of the House invoked Truman ultimately defeating Dewey to suggest his favored presidential candidate of the moment isn’t necessarily in fatal electoral trouble. [How much have you to bet Newt?] “Usually,” a trenchant Twitter observer countered, “the part of the campaign death rattle where partisans cite Truman & 1948 comes later.”

That this extreme example emerged on the 65th anniversary of the sure-thing Dodgers expanding their lead over the Giants to its largest margin of the 1951 season may be an innocent coincidence or a harbinger of god-knows-what. That it also arrived on the very same day the Mets seemed to implicitly concede their 2016 campaign — or at least suspend active pursuit of the second National League Wild Card — perhaps reminds us how infrequently extraordinary comebacks come together.

I’m no geometrician, but the only angle I see that will connect the Mets to the playoffs is the line about it not being over till it’s over — which, conveniently, was drawn up in-house at Shea Stadium, so we have every right to cling to it. Again, though, that’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of legend doesn’t pop up every day.

You know who pops up every day? Met batters. They also strike out, ground out, fly out, and, if appearances are any indication, give up easily. I doubt they’re consciously throwing in the towel or waving the white flag, as both actions would require effort, but their collective demeanor does not inspire faithful fervor, let alone a modicum of confidence

On Thursday afternoon, the Mets lost to the Diamondbacks, 9-0. Noah Syndergaard wasn’t great. Jon Niese wasn’t good. The offense wasn’t present. I’d make the forfeit joke, but it’s been made already. I didn’t think we’d descend into are they even trying? territory in 2016, but their manager sort of went there in his postgame remarks, so we as mere fans don’t have to be overly polite.
The Mets looked beaten against the D’Backs the way lousy teams looked beaten against the Mets a year ago. Arizona, despite stealing away like the love child of Ron LeFlore and Robbie Dupree, is not roaring toward a Western Division title in case you were wondering. They reveled in a delightful (for them) three games at Citi Field, but otherwise they’ve endured a dreadful season. The Mets, meanwhile, front-loaded their joy into April and selected portions of May, June and earliest July. They’ve been nothing but dour since.

The “won” and “lost” columns contain absolutely equal quantities: 57 apiece. The Mets were nine games over .500 on July 7. They are nine games under .500 five weeks later. There’s a law of averages lurking somewhere inside those numbers, but a team that is 0-7 in its last seven one-run games seems determined to find a way to not win every chance it gets. They have famously not directly followed one win with another in more than a month and haven’t taken any of the past five series they’ve played.

Their relative proximity to the Wild Card — three games as of this writing with 48 to play (or ten games closer to Miami than old New York was to Brooklyn with 44 to go) — continues to tantalize, at least until you watch them conduct their on-field affairs for a month. The best that you can do between the moon and sullen Citi is attempt to conjure a scenario in which a procession of healed and hearty Mets march forth from the DL and into the lineup, proceeding to power themselves and their simultaneously rejuvenated teammates to heights the lot of them had forgotten they were capable of reaching. Reyes comes back, Cespedes comes back, Cabrera comes back, Wheeler comes back, the whole darn shootin’ match comes back. The Marlins, the Cardinals and the Pirates all find themselves stuck in the completive mud while the Mets hijack the first hovercraft they see and whoosh right by them.

It could happen. It could. It probably won’t, but it would be irresponsible of us not to entertain such a fantasy, just as it would be negligent of us to not consider that three out with 48 to play is simply another plot point on the downward graph that will have us six out with 42 to play, 10 out with 35 to play, whatever out with however many to play until sub-mediocrity lands upon its inevitable level.
You can blame the manager, because managers are hired to be blamed. You can absolve the manager, because though the manager wears a uniform, he does not swing ineffectually, pitch without fluidity or forget to go through the motions of holding opposing base runners on. It’s probably partly Terry Collins’s doing that the Mets have been avoiding awesomeness for weeks on end, though it was probably also probably partly Terry Collins’s doing that the Mets soared above most of the N.L. pack for a spell. I almost wish I could rub two rhetorical sticks together and offer you a flaming hot take on the matter. All I will tell you is I don’t take other people’s livelihoods lightly, thus I’m probably not temperamentally suited to lead a #Fire Terry torch patrol. Then again, I’m not exactly prepared to go all Tiananmen Square in his defense.

If the Mets as currently constituted were good enough to not be swept soundly by the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks, any manager could have guided them to a 1-2 record in their past three games. They’re not that good. Maybe they will be before it gets too late. Truman caught Dewey. The Giants caught the Dodgers. I eked out a 70 on the New York State Geometry Regents of June 1978, which served as my adolescence’s veritable Shot Heard Round the World. I wasn’t a witness to the first two miracles, but I can assure you I wouldn’t have bet an isosceles nickel on myself with 48 days to go in that particular school year.

Yet here I am today, complaining about the Mets, just like I did in ninth grade. Yes, that Regents Diploma really took me a long way.