January 3, 2014

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

June 12, 2009 is a date Mets fans want to forget, but will unfortunately long remember.   Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, brought in as the solution to the bullpen collapses from the year before, was on the mound.  Jeter on second. Teixeira on first.  Two outs.  Another high wire act from our new and expensive closer.  Rodriguez deals a fastball.  Alex Rodriguez swings - and it's a harmless looking pop up toward short right field.  A-Rod slams the bat to the ground. K-Rod pumps his fist in exaltation.  Luis Castillo, a three time Gold Glove winner, drifts toward the right field line . . . and he keeps drifting . . . and drifting.  And then, the unthinkable.  The ball pops out of Castillo's one handed grasp and falls agonizingly to the ground. The camera pans to home plate. Jeter has already scored the tying run. Mark Teixeira crosses the plate with the winning run.  A kick in the stomach from which the franchise yet to recover.

Before that play, the Mets were 31-27.  As a result of that play, they went 39-65 the rest of the season.  In the three and a half seasons before The Drop, the Mets were 285-239: a combined yearly average won/loss record of 88-74.  Since that date, which will live in Mets infamy, they are a combined 343-409 - exactly the opposite yearly average: 74-88.

Few teams have their fortunes so distinctly tied to such an inflection point.  Some teams struggle and maintain respectability before they go from good to bad. With these Mets, it was like a light switch.   Calamities known by the names of the participants - Bernie Madoff, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and yes, Luis Castillo - mark the era.

How does a team and a fan base recover from such a debacle and its aftermath?  There is only one salve for healing these wounds: winning.  When Dwight Gooden was on the mound striking out sixteen with a blazing fastball and a devastating curve, Mets fans snickered at the days gone by when Pat Zachary toed the rubber.  When Mike Piazza, in June of 2000, scorched a line drive over the left field wall to put the Mets ahead 11-8 after falling behind to the Braves, no one minded that Junior Ortiz was once the everyday catcher.  When Tom Seaver ended a game against the Padres in April of 1970 by striking out the last ten batters (19 overall), who remembered that just five years earlier, the 1965 Mets pitching staff included a 44 year old Warren Spahn (4-12) and a 20 year old Tug McGraw (2-7)?  That team lost 112 games.

As we endure the freezing cold of another winter, we have the time to reflect on such things. There may come a time in the not too distant future when Harvey and Wheeler and Syndergaard are mowing down the opposition and Mets fans can look back on The Drop as another comical episode in Mets history.  Until then, we will be haunted by the play and still painfully mystified by Castillo's miscue. We will also morosely recall that, in addition to dropping an easy pop up, when he picked up the ball - he threw to the wrong base.

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