Mets poised to make another big mark in their history
They can be Amazin' like they were in 1969, or remarkable and tenacious as in '86
NEW YORK -- Though we've had one almost every year, the World Series never gets old. It remains wonderful, special, entertaining, exceptional, terrific, breathtaking, nostalgic and extraordinary. And every so often, we get one that's even better than all of that.
We need only to think back 40 years to see Carlton Fisk urging a baseball to straighten up and fly right in the 12th inning of Game 6 at Fenway. Or 14 years to see the unbounded joy of Luis Gonzalez after his soft single beat Mariano Rivera in the desert. Or 59 years to see Don Larsen catching Yogi after Yogi had caught Larsen's unblemished nine innings.
Even Fall Classics that are less than classic wrap our brains in bunting, fill our memories and satisfy our souls.
Generations of Mets fans can attest to that. In the decades since its humbling beginning, New York's National League franchise has participated in four World Series, winning twice. And each experience was distinctive, two of the four outrageously so.
Now, as the Mets prepare to engage the Royals beginning Tuesday in Kansas City (7:30 p.m. ET airtime, 8 p.m. game time on FOX), we can only imagine how they might entertain us, what lengths they might go to to keep their surprising October run alive and bring home another Commissioner's Trophy. What might the Mets of 2015 do to leave a mark comparable to the marks left by their World Series predecessors?
Can Terry Collins' team pull off an upset comparable to that of the Miracle Mets of 1969? The Royals are a comprehensively sound team with more than ample experience in the month Reggie claimed as his own 38 years ago. They unquestionably pose a greater challenge than the Dodgers or Cubs. Would a Mets championship match the epic proportions achieved by Seaver, Koosman, Agee and Swoboda in '69?
The Mets' first World Series championship was extraordinary to the nth degree, and not only because the team stunned the baseball universe by rising from a deep pile of ashes. By any measure, they had been the game's foremost losers from their inception in 1962 through 1968. Moreover, they distinguished themselves by steamrolling an elite team -- the Orioles of Earl Weaver, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson and all that pitching.
The World Series has given us no greater upset in the past 75 years, not the Giants over the 111-victory Indians in 1954, nor Mazeroski's Pirates over the M&M Yankees six years later. Not the Reds' sweep of the A's in 1990 nor the Marlins over the Yankees in 2003. Gil Hodges' Miracle makers disposed of the powerful O's in five games, winning via dominant pitching, a shoe-polish smudge and favored treatment by the unseen hand.
Collins' team has the pitching to slow -- not stop -- the Royals' deep batting order. And with Daniel Murphy filling the role Donn Clendenon played in 1969, it has a means of supporting its pitchers. The Mets' defense may become a liability against their opponents' make-contact offense. And whether the Mets' good fortune carries into the best-of-seven series is another issue.
They've had their share thus far. "Throughout the year, we've caught breaks and had things go in our favor that seem like, when you're not winning, very rarely go in your favor," David Wright said on Saturday. "Fate is a strong word, but we've gotten some good bounces, gotten some breaks. We've had things go our way that seem to go your way when you're playing well and playing winning baseball. I think we've had some luck for sure."
The Mets' other World Series championship, against the Red Sox in 1986, became an indelible memory for even the most casual fan because of Game 6. Billy Buckner became Bill E. Buckner for the same reason. Until Super Bowl XLIX this past February, the climax of Game 6 in 1986 stood as the most stunning ending of a postseason game. And to think, the detectives on "NYPD Blue" referred to an uncomplicated case as a "ground ball."
What distinguished the Mets' second foray into October's final act, in 1973, was the team's remarkable late-summer renaissance replete with the "Ya Gotta Believe" battle cry Tug McGraw borrowed from his boss, M. Donald Grant. The Mets' opponent, the "A" team, was the defending World Series champion and represented a challenge comparable to the Orioles in '69.
But with McGraw bellowing his mantra nearly every day beginning in mid-August, the Mets created a backstory that captured the imagination of the nation. Because of their power, depth, excellent pitching and precious mettle, the A's were favored. But the Mets were underdogs -- imagine that, a team from New York cast in that role -- and became favorites of a different sort. And they nearly pulled it off in a good seven-game series.
Likewise, the Mets' fourth and most recent World Series experience was a high-profile confrontation before a pitch was thrown. New York hadn't staged an intracity Series since the days of the 15-cent subway token in 1956. But there it was in the first October of the millennium: N.Y. vs. N.Y. The Yankees dominated, winning in five games.
But even though a Subway Series gave the rest of the country no team to root for, it assured the Big City of a parade, a chance to legally litter its streets. Whatever coats your float.
And now the Mets are again in pursuit of the big leagues' ultimate prize. The Canyon of Heroes is beckoning. To the surprise of anyone who witnessed their shlep through early summer and strain to keep their winning percentage on the right side of .500, their current coordinates -- at the intersection of Fable and Fictional -- are stunning. What more can these Mets accomplish?