Why The Mets Are This Year’s Darlings

If you want to know why New York has become the Mets’ city, don’t look at today’s standings. Look at today’s pictures – the pictures from last night’s 5-4 Met win over the Giants at Shea Stadium.

Predictably enough, there were a lot of smiling faces around home plate last night after Carlos Delgado won the game with a 12th inning homer. The Mets have had a lot to smile about in recent weeks, so in some ways, the pictures from last night’s game are a variation on a cheerful theme.

But those pictures tell another story, if you look closely enough. One smiling face stands out: Oliver Perez. The 25-year-old lefty started the game for the Mets and pitched effectively (save for those three solo homers he gave up) for seven innings. He didn’t get the win, but it was another quality start for a young man who has resurrected his career in New York.

Here’s the interesting thing about Perez: In the picture I’m staring at, he’s in the middle of the Met mob – in uniform — waiting for Delgado to cross the plate.

Starting pitchers sometimes hit the showers when they’re done. Heck, these days, some of them (er, one of them) may even leave town after a hard six innings.

Oliver Perez stuck around right through the end, and was one of the first to slap Delgado on the head in the bottom of the 12th.

As a longtime Met fan and Yankee detractor, I’ve spent the last decade insisting, much to my surprise, that the Joe Torre Yankees were a likeable team. It’s easy to despise Yankee fans, who believe they are entitled to the services of any major league player with above-average skills. It’s easy to mock the absurd frontrunner John Sterling. But the players? How can you not like Derek Jeter? How could you not like Bernie Williams? Paul O’Neill? Torre himself?

But Yankee likeability, like the team itself, just ain’t what it used to be. In Queens, however, there’s a lot to love. This edition of the Mets probably will not put together a run like the Yankees had from 1996 to 2006. But players like Perez, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Endy Chavez are going to be putting smiles of the faces of Met fans for years to come.

It helps, of course, that the team is terrific. But terrific teams aren’t always lovable. Terrific teams don’t always have the spirit and joy of the Mets’ dugout. Terrific teams don’t always have starting pitchers who wait around until the 12th inning to celebrate with their teammates.

Take a look at those smiles from last night. Take a look at the faces of New York baseball.

Why The Mets Are This Year’s Darlings