As I sat on the train on the way back to Manhattan after Game 7 of last year's NLCS, the most depressing, quiet, catatonic train ride of my life, I turned to Harold and said "I can't do this again." I wasn't going to allow myself to invest emotionally in a baseball season the way I had in the 2006 Mets because I couldn't let myself get crushed like that again. I, like many other Mets fans, spent the next 5+ plus months replaying that 9th inning over and over again in my head, hoping that this time Willie would bunt instead of sending Floyd up there, picturing Reyes' line drive sailing over Edmonds' head instead of into his glove, and begging Beltran to at least swing the bat. You would think that the bitter ending to last season would have had me counting down the days to the new season, eagerly anticipating their chance for a fresh start. Instead, I was almost dreading the new season because it was too daunting: to think they had to play 162 games, win a round of the playoffs and win 3 games of the NLCS just to get back to exactly where they were an hour before that train ride last year was too high a hurdle, especially when considering that this time they would be expected to do it. And so, unlike previous years, Opening Day totally snuck up on me this year. All of a sudden it was here and there was a baseball game on and the Mets were playing the Cardinals. There's something special about baseball though, which unless you really love it, you can't appreciate it. Because as soon as Chris Carpenter fired the 1st pitch of the season to Jose Reyes (a ball - good eye Jose, way to work the count, gotta be more patient at the plate this year)...I was back.
So, the Mets swept the Cardinals. What does this mean for them? It means they're 3-0. Not much else. My mom would try to convince you that the Mets are now likely to finish the season with a record of roughly 162-0 ("An 'A' student is always an 'A' student". ) My mom doesn't understand baseball. I try not to get wrapped up in the outcomes of games this early in the season because the baseball season is just too long. Still, there is something satisfying about sweeping the Cardinals in their building and doing it by a combined score of 20-2. Does this make us even? It very much does not. Nothing ever could. Even if the Cardinals were to go 0-162 for the next 10 years and the Mets were to run off with 10 straight World Series wins, we wouldn't be even. There is nothing that could happen that would take away the pain of Game 7. Nothing. A sports fan never forgets those games (for me, in order: 2006 NLCS Game 7, 1998 AFC Championship game, 1999 NLCS Game 6, 1994 NBA Finals Game 7.) Ask any Red Sox fan if beating the Yankees in 2004 made the memories of Aaron Boone or Bucky Dent any less painful. It doesn't. It never goes away.
So what can we take away from this 3-0 start?
1. This lineup is damn good. They were scary last year, but it seems they might be even better this year.
2. The starting pitching has been very encouraging. Not so much the combined 2 runs they gave up in the series, but more so that their starters have gone deep into games, which they'll really need this year with a weakened bullpen. John Maine's performance tonight was particularly encouraging because he is one of the players I have labeled as an "x factor" for this year. We know what we're gonna get out of Glavine and we know what El Duque can do when he's healthy. And the back end of the rotation will probably be a typical back end (the rookie and the hit or miss guy.) But John Maine could be the difference between the Mets having a "good enough to get by" rotation and a truly formidable one. If he can be the pitcher we saw flashes of down the stretch last year, most notably in Game 6, and then again tonight,
the Mets are gonna be tough to beat in the NL East.
3. Whatever chemistry last year's team had seems to have carried over to this year so far. The way they were able to just turn it on after a nervous spring is indicative of this. Or maybe they were just pumped to play the Cardinals. But I prefer to think that it means the team is just very good and well constructed. We'll see, I guess.
4. This lineup is damn good.
So that's what we can take out of these 3 games. Right now, it's hard to conceive a scenario under which the Mets could lose a game this year. But as the saying goes, "momentum is as good as tomorrow night's starting pitcher." And we have Oliver Perez (6.55 ERA last year) going Friday night in Atlanta. But for right now I'm gonna relish this feeling. Because baseball is back and I couldn't be happier. And the Mets are off to a 3-0 start to boot. And even if it doesn't really mean anything or change anything and we probably won't even remember this, for one night, we got our "revenge" on St. Louis.