Sunday, September 28, 2014

Into The Sunset

It was a sublime final act for the 2014 Mets this afternoon. From Bobby Abreu's final hit and exit off the field and into retirement, to Bartolo Colon's fine season-ending effort, to the influx of Casey Stengel, to Lucas Duda's show-stopping 30th Home Run to cap off a season-ending 8-3 Victory over the Astros, Sunday's season finale couldn't not leave every Mets fan with good feelings all around heading into the offseason.

The closing day crowd was in a mostly festive mood, which was good to see. I feel like I've talked a lot more about the finality of the final weeks of the season, like the end of the season has come up quicker than normal and seems to be striking me differently. There are many reasons for feeling this way; one such reason is Hope. After 6 seasons in the wilderness, there's actually a number of pieces in place that can legitimately make the Mets fan feel a little positive. There's still a lot of work to be done in order to legitimize that hope, but nonetheless, there's a lot more of that word being thrown around here now than there's been in years. So, perhaps, this closing day is going to mark the closing of the door on a truly terrible era of Mets baseball.

As I'd mentioned, I was in attendance this afternoon, the 14th time in the last 20 years that I've been to closing day (and 4 of those were missed because I was in College and not in the City), and for the 3rd year in a row, I was accompanied by my other half to my final game of the season. The games aren't necessarily as enjoyable for her as they are for me (We moved yesterday and I had to essentially roll her out of bed in order to get her ready for the game), but she still comes and sticks it out with me. The lure of a 2015 schedule magnet helped, as well as the Casey Stengel Bobblehead (whom she insists is my long-lost Grandfather). I, on the other hand, will show up even when nothing is being given away, so my presence at the game was long since assured. How could I not be there? It's my last chance to see the Mets up close until April 13 of next year.

So, there we were, and there were the Mets, sending Bartolo Colon to the mound on the season's final day, which seems fitting since it seems like I saw him substantially more often than other pitchers on the roster (this was the 5th time he started in my 17 games), against Nick Tropeano for the Astros, a Rookie with Long Island roots and the large rooting section to prove it. In the 4 previous Colon starts I'd attended, the Mets had not just won, but won fairly easily, another good omen for the day. Early, it didn't seem as though this game would necessarily follow suit; the Mets scored in the 1st inning when Matt den Dekker led off with a double, advanced on a Bobby Abreu ground out and scored on a Daniel Murphy Sac Fly. The Astros responded with a pair of Ground-rule doubles in the second from Jon Singleton and Max Stassi to tie the game. The Mets went back ahead in the 3rd, only to see the Astros tie the game again on an RBI double from Jose Altuve, who wasn't supposed to play, but tweeted his way into the lineup and justified his presence by picking up two hits and the AL Batting Title.

Lucas Duda took matters into his own hands in the 5th inning, first by hitting a 2 out, 2-run double off Tropeano. This rally was started by Bobby Abreu, who inside-outed a pitch into Left Field for a single, which was immediately followed by an extended standing ovation, because we all knew what was coming. Abreu hadn't played much, if at all, of late, and he announced Friday that he would be retiring after the game today. Obviously, he earned the start this afternoon based simply on that fact and once he got one final hit, he'd get his ovation and be removed from the game. True, Abreu's career was spent mostly with the Phillies, but in his 16-year career, he established himself as a fine player well worthy of the respect of Mets fans, and you could tell he appreciated that. Abreu departed for pinch runner Eric Young Jr., stepping off the field and into retirement. Following that, Murphy walked, setting the stage for Duda to line a shot down into the Right Field corner to score both runs easily, and also brought Duda to the magic 90 RBI plateau.

But Duda wasn't done. Though the Astros drew back to within a run on another Stassi RBI, Duda came up in the 8th inning with Murphy aboard, facing the Astros' Fidrych-like reliever Michael Foltynewicz. Certainly, with the Familia/Mejia Report doing their thing, this stood to likely be Duda's final at bat of a fine season, and everyone kind of had the sense that maybe he'd be swinging for the fences with the 30-Home Run mark sitting right there for him. Foltynewicz kept trying to jam Duda, but eventually made a mistake, and Duda jumped all over it, smashing the pitch out over the bullpen for that 30th Home Run, earning himself perhaps the day's loudest ovation and even a Curtain Call in acknowledgement of his breakout year. Who the hell would have thought that back on Opening Day?

Ruben Tejada closed out the Mets scoring for the season with a Home Run of his own, his 5th of the year to make the score 8-3, and Jenrry Mejia very quickly set the Astros down in order in the 9th to close out the season and send the Mets off for the winter with one final wave and some caps tossed into the seats.

So, after a pair of 74-win seasons, the Mets ticked slightly upward, finishing with a record of 79-83. This record, amazingly, was good enough for them to finish in a tie for 2nd place in the division with the Atlanta Braves, and if you want to get technical about it, they do finish ahead of Atlanta based on the fact that they won the season series. After so many years of 4th place finishes, 2nd place seems a hell of a lot better, even if it's not good enough for the Mets to make the Postseason, it represents a step in the right direction. A lot of things that happened this season represent a step in the right direction.

But now the conversation has to change for the Mets. They've done about as much rebuilding and retooling as can be expected, now it's time to get some payoff from all this work. There's great pitching in place and some decent offensive parts. Now, Sandy Alderson & company need to put up or shut up. This stands to be one of the more interesting offseasons the Mets will have in many years.

Coming up, my annual Mets report card (if I can get my act together), some more thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers, and odd observations of the MLB Playoffs.

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