It's hard to believe that a playoff contender could fall so quickly, looking so overmatched after playing competitive – if not world-beating – baseball for much of the season.
When the Mets were gearing up to take the field on Aug. 31, New York needed just one victory over the Phillies for a chance to step into the lead of the Wild Card race. Smiles were flashed everywhere, the ripple effect from Ramon Castro's game-winning three-run homer less than 24 hours earlier.
The Mets were thinking postseason, even dispatching interns to Xerox and distribute hundreds of credential applications for potential National League Division Series games to be played at Shea Stadium – the first time since 2001 such an exercise was even necessary.
Alas, it went all for naught, in frustrating – if remarkably brief – fashion. The Mets lost that night to Philadelphia, then lost again, then went to Florida, lost again, again…
Suffice it to say, no one is keeping up with the Wild Card race anymore. New York fell a distant 5-1/2 games out with their 3-2 loss at St. Louis on Sunday, their fifth straight loss and the 11th in the last 13 games. The Mets have exactly as much chance (and perhaps, as much business) playing deep into October as the Milwaukee Brewers, also 5-1/2 games out with four teams to jump.
More frustration: the Mets are also now one game under .500 at 70-71; unthinkable for a team that just recently reached a high-water mark of eight games above .500.
We'll stick with the original spring training prediction of four games over .500 at 85-77, although it might take those last three games against the doormat Rockies to actually get there.
At least there has been some postseason action with the Mets' minor league affiliates, although one series has already ended and two more appear on the brink of elimination.
Following the suit of Gary Carter's Gulf Coast Mets team, which was swept in a home-and-away, best-of-three series by the Tampa Yankees, the Norfolk Tides (AAA) and Hagerstown Suns (A) are teasing on the brink of elimination in their respective league playoffs.
After splitting the first two games in front of incredibly sparse crowds at Norfolk's Harbor Park – the combined attendance for both contests was 5,172 – the Tides fell in the third game of the best-of-five set on Saturday, dropping a 4-2 decision in front of a sellout crowd in Toledo.
As for the Suns, they've forced a decisive Game 3 to be played Saturday night at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium, eking out a 7-4 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds Friday in the South Atlantic League playoffs.
Most of Hagerstown's talent, the players who helped them to a first-half championship, have long since been promoted to High-A St. Lucie, and the Suns played like it in Game 1, losing 13-3.
"I haven't been a part of this since 2001," Al Leiter was saying again in front of his locker at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
'This' … you mean, meaningful games in September?
It's a shame. The Mets finally got back to playing meaningful September games, but just couldn't win enough of them.
As for Leiter, in one of the worst-kept secrets in New York, the likable lefthander is heavily leaning toward retirement after this season. It appears that he'll do the rest of his work out of the bullpen for the Yankees, and happily so.
"When I first got here, I was in a position of no position," said Leiter. "So when I say that I'm happy to be here, it's not some form of Nuke La Loosh nonsense. It's for real, man."
It looks like Mike Piazza is back on track to play at least a few more games in September for the Mets (he caught Tom Glavine's bullpen session and took batting practice on Saturday).
This is a plus if only for the fact that fans will have a chance to give the one-time franchise player his proper sendoff.
If you're a print subscriber to Inside Pitch, you've probably read the bang-up feature Marty Noble contributed to our September efforts – one fan, Barbara Taylor of New Windsor, N.Y., had this to say:
- "Whatever way it goes down and wherever he may be in the new season," Taylor wrote, "may Mike know how grateful all of his Mets fans are for his many, many contributions during his Met years, which certainly outweigh his last few years with injuries, etc."
Thanks for the note, Barbara. Now, get out to Shea and show Piazza how much he's meant.
Inside Pitch managing editor Bryan Hoch appears every Friday with Clubhouse Confidential, an inside look at the New York Mets organization. Contact Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.