“With (Santana), now, I have no doubt that we’re going to win in our division. So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat.”
In February of 2008, that statement emanated from the mouth of Carlos Beltran, better known to Phillies fans as “that idiot on the Mets”. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer, since the moniker applies to everyone who suits up in white, blue, and orange. But Beltran is one of the more well known “idiots” to us. After he hits eight home runs in the 2004 postseason, he soon after flew the coup in Houston for a rather lucrative contract in Queens, NY. As a Phillies fan, you can’t help but sneer when your most intensely hated competition lands a premium talent like Beltran. But given that from 1994 to 2001 that we really had nothing to cheer for except the rise of Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins, sometimes we took our pleasure in watching the Mets collapse under the weight of high expectations.
We’re petty like that.
So when Beltran made his comments, he had reason to crow: his team had just signed Johan Santana, a pitcher who had been a blossoming flower in a little-viewed garden in Minnesota. He was now planted into the media-frenzied spotlight in New York, where he would get plenty of face time. And most importantly, he could shut down any batter put in front of him. In other words, Beltran said in so many words to Phillies’ fans what a nice big middle finger would have indicated.
Except what happened was this: the Phillies won the division on the final weekend (again!), the Mets missed a chance at the playoffs despite high expectations from all (again!), and the Phillies added a twist for this go-around: they won the 2008 World Series. That’s right, while the Mets were still as speechless as Taylor Swift having her moment hi-jacked, the Phillies conquered the baseball world and claimed its top prize.
The fallout was expected. Changes would be made in the off-season. There would have to be. They would be drastic and swift. Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya, and Jerry Manuel were not about to rest when their arch-nemesis was parading around with the World Series trophy. Every time Chase Utley’s expletive laden speech at the Phillies’ championship parade was referenced, it had to be a spike into the spine of the Mets kingdom.
Changes? Oh, they were made. First up, the reigning American League saves-champion Frankie Rodriguez was poached from the Angels with an inflated contract. JJ Putz was brought in to set up for Rodriguez, a man who could be a closer on 75% of the teams in the league himself. Disappointments like Aaron Heilman and Endy Chavez were shipped away. Alex Cora was signed to add field generalship. And to further sweeten the pot, veteran home run collector Gary Sheffield was signed just ten days before opening day. When added to the likes of Beltran, Santana, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Luis Castillo, this was clearly a team that was ready to contend, if not challenge for the World Series trophy, if not win it.
As a Phillies die-hard, I watch what the Mets do in the same sense that the Reagan administration observed the Soviet Union’s activities. While remaining confident in my team (they ARE the champions, after all), I had to admit that the Mets were doing everything conceivable to spoil the chances of a repeat title run. And I HATE giving the Mets credit.
So with their new stadium, Citi Field, opening, the Mets were poised to christen it and their 2009 season with a magnum opus performance. After a 9-12 April, they rebounded in May to bring their record to 28-21, ending the month only a half a game out of first place, held by the Phillies. All of this had the makings for an intense summer of one-upsmanship and jockeying for position. Surely there’d be the same level of intensity as in previous seasons, with fans of both teams spewing venom and disdain toward one another, right?
Both teams had their issues in June, and the month ended with the Mets still in striking distance (2 ½ games) of the Phillies’ lead. But what that doesn’t indicate is that the Mets went 9-18 over the month, winning just a third of their games. They lost their last five games of the month, three to the Yankees and two to the Brewers. Injuries plagued the club like some demented swine flu outbreak. With two weeks to go in the regular season, David Wright is the only player on the entire team that has played more than 100 games (103 as of this writing). Johan Santana, their surefire ace, lost three starts in the month. They were swept by those pesky Phillies, including now-shaky closer Brad Lidge scoring two saves on the enemy. The Mets limped into the All-Star break resembling the victim of a minesweeping expedition. They then lost six of their next eight games coming out of the excursion while Tony Bernazard, the team’s VP of player personnel, was fired in the midst of reportedly challenging several Mets’ minor leaguers to a fight. Yes, an honest-to-goodness fistfight. Meanwhile, the Phillies had gone 20-7 over the month of July, and were watching the Mets fade away in their rear-view mirror.
Do we really have to discuss August? Or can I just write here that the Mets went 10-19 over the month, that injuries further albatrossed the team, and not pontificate further as to let this poor team have some dignity?
September? Forget about it. It took until September 6 for Frankie Rodriguez to get his 30th save of the season. The Florida Marlins swept them. The Phillies took three out of four from them. Joke pitchers like Nelson Figueroa, Bobby Parnell and Tim Redding are losing games instead of star players like Santana winning them. Johan can just watch from the disabled list while this team that he was named the ace for, this polarizing franchise where you either love them or hate them, has self-destructed in a cloud of injuries, costly losses, and failure to meet their highest expectations.
My Phillies? It’s September 21. They have fourteen games to play, with an eight-game chokehold over the NL East. They win six games, they win their third straight division title. The Mets aren’t even close enough to look in to see how the Phillies fare when (if?) they make the postseason. They’re 23 games out as of September 21, with a 65-85 record stamped on their foreheads like a scarlet letter.
Ever since Carlos Beltran opened his mouth some nineteen months ago, the Mets have had nothing but disappointment and bitter feelings. Many fans and teams experience this, but not with the expectations they had for themselves. On paper, it was a roster that could win 100 games without anyone being surprised. But the games, as we know, are not played on paper.
And if the Phillies win it all again, the only thing tainting the victory is knowing that dangling it in the Mets fans’ faces won’t have that same glorious effect.
When he isn’t watching WWE, TNA, or his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, Justin Henry can be found writing. It is his passion as well as his goal in life to become a well-regarded (as well as well-paid) columnist or author. He tweets at twitter.com/notoriousjrh and facebooks himself at http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh.
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