Friday, September 28, 2007

Uncanny Mets

With things going this bad, you start looking over you past for moral failings, superstitiously asking what you could ever have done to deserve this. Magical thinking sets in: a week ago, the author of this blog put on a Mets hat, and, when they won, kept it on until they lost on Monday. This initial reaction is a rebellion against the realities of the situation: that the fan is completely powerless and there is no correlation between the fan’s desire and the team’s success, perhaps even no correlation between a team’s desire and their success, that, finally, the outcome rests on chance and convergences and levels of complexity, that, perhaps, no individual can fully control or imagine.

Of course, it is hard to argue that if the Mets were simply a better ball club they wouldn’t be in this position. If the bullpen was simply better pitchers, who recorded a few more strikeouts, the four games that they need to clinch the division might have been won long ago. Perhaps, sadly more to the point, if Jose Reyes were simply a better ball player, if he had spent more of the last month on the base baths, things could very easily have never reached this stage. The MVP chants that greet Wright have a sinister subtext: they hint that Reyes has been playing poorly.

The fact that the team’s folding has coincided with a Reyes-funk cannot be overlooked. When the team is playing at its full potential, Reyes is unquestionably their MVP. When the team has succeeded lately, it has come from the RBI abilities of Wright and Alou-- both are great hitters and valuable players. However, when he is playing well, Reyes single-handedly opens up a dimension of the Mets that no other team in baseball has, and gives them an enormous advantage against almost any opponent. In their optimal state, Reyes is the engine that drives the Mets; in the month of September, Reyes has stolen five bases, and been caught four times.

Indeed, in the long run, Reyes is the reason that, no matter what happens in next three days, it still won’t be insane to think that the Mets might win a World Series in the not too distant future: the running game can be a huge asset in the post season, when pitching is superior and runs are at a premium. Reyes’ ability to conjure runs out of very little could be decisive in the playoffs…if the Mets get near the playoffs, and if Reyes ever fucking gets on base again.

The Mets had been in first place for the better part of two years, yet to suddenly share it with the Phillies, to replace nervous optimism with a sense of impending doom, feels weirdly familiar, like a return to native state. Indeed, Freud associates an unpleasant feeling that he refers to as ‘the uncanny’ with a sudden regression to an earlier state of psychological development; one of the frequent features of these earlier states is magical thinking, the belief that wearing a hat might influence a ballgame.

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