The spark that bled

Think of it this way: If someone told you in March that by the first of July you’d be rightfully pissed that David Wright isn’t starting the All-Star Game, well, you probably wouldn’t be pissed at all.

And if that same prognosticator could tell you then, with certainty, that Johan Santana would get left off the All-Star Team despite being worth more this season than every pitcher on it except Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey, you’d probably grip him in a massive bear hug right there, and maybe dance a little in awestruck giddiness. After all, you’ve just met some sort of soothsayer, and he brings very, very good news.

Of course, it’s not March. It’s July and you already know that Dickey and Santana are having fantastic years and that Wright has had just about the best half-season of his career. So if you’re mad that Santana and Wright did not get the recognition they deserved, and if you’ll be mad if and when Dickey isn’t named the game’s starter, that’s understandable.

But isn’t it great to feel feelings again?

The All-Star Game, in its current incarnation, is stupid. Someday, long after the rules have changed and once the breadth of the stupidity has set in, we will look back on this and smack our heads and wonder how in hell it happened. Fans vote to choose the All-Star starters, but then the All-Star Game counts for something. It doesn’t count for that much, mind you, and it’s not like the way World Series home-field advantage was determined before This Time It Counts was any less arbitrary. It’s just… why?

Not-stupid things include the 2012 Mets, no matter how they looked last night. The 2012 Mets are still in the thick of playoff contention here on the first of July. The 2012 Mets have overcome their own awful defense and miserable bullpen to outscore their opponents by 22 runs, playing — for the most part — decent and exciting baseball with a strong flair for the dramatic.

They have won despite the early loss of Mike Pelfrey and with his spot in their rotation occupied for much of the year by guys who make us miss Mike Pelfrey. They have won despite prolonged slumps from Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis, guys expected to be among their best hitters. They have won despite injuries to just about everyone they’ve used at shortstop, and they have won despite underwhelming production from Josh Thole, Lucas Duda, Andres Torres and, whenever he’s been healthy, Jason Bay.

The Mets have won because Wright has carried their offense for half a season. Check this out: The Mets have a .722 OPS on the year, right around the middle of the pack in the National League. Take out Wright’s production, though, and by my math it drops to .690, above only the Padres, Cubs, Pirates and the suddenly miserable Dodgers. Replace Wright with the median third baseman and the number ticks up slightly, but not by much. Wright is the difference between a decent offense and a crappy one.

And the Mets have won because their starting rotation is good. Dillon Gee has pitched better and deeper into games. Jon Niese appears to be making good on his solid peripherals. And Dickey and Santana have been wonderful. Literally wonderful. Dickey is doing things with a knuckleball that no one ever has, and Santana is pitching like Johan Santana after a surgery that ruins lesser careers. The Mets have two pitchers that inspire wonder.

It is all enough to add up to a 43-37 start for these Mets, and the hope that with a little more offense from Davis, Murphy and Duda in the second half and any sort of improvement in the bullpen, they might even actually… man, I don’t even want to say it. Hope! Legit hope.

Has it really only been three years?

I can’t speak for you. But I can identify the watershed moment for me when my desperate Mets-fan optimism awoke from its long slumber and shook out the cramps prompted by three unfortunate seasons bookended by frustrating offseasons. It’s Mike Baxter slamming into the wall to save Santana’s no-hitter a month ago yesterday. Baxter crashes against the wall and nowhere in my conscious mind exists any concern about the team’s financial future or ticket sales or crummy defense. He hangs on to the ball and I could care less about the latest stupid fire-sale column or who said what on Twitter.

And I know a no-hitter is just one game, and they’re frivolities decided in large part by luck, and that Baxter, in giving himself up in the midst of a strong season, might have cost the Mets more than he provided. It’s not a rational thing. It’s that brief, unencumbered, wrenched-stomach feeling — nerves and joy — of thinking that you’re watching something special, that you’ve got some small part in something awesome. And even knowing that baseball is entertainment and its outcomes are, in truth, more or less meaningless, you feel Citi Field rumble with excitement for maybe the first time ever and realize that you’re hardly alone.

I want that again now. Again and again. And maybe I’m blinded by that hope, but now I can look up and down the Mets’ roster, and without even squinting or straining or rationalizing I can consider the several ways in which they might produce the greatest and longest-lasting version of that satisfaction, no matter what anyone says.

Which is to say: Screw the haters. Love the Mets.

10 thoughts on “The spark that bled

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