All season long, the 2008 Mets have been invariably compared to the 2007 version that lost a near-certain chance at the playoffs. Every series, particularly against Philadelphia, the team that benefited from New York’s late collapse, has been inspected for signs of a return to last year’s disappointments, or definitive proof that the Mets had moved beyond their 2007 failings.
But in the two-game series with Washington Tuesday and Wednesday night, which New York swept, 10-8 and 13-10, the Mets did more than just win a pair of important September games. If one didn’t know better, it would seem that the Mets were determined to actually relive last season’s worst games, and this time, get them right. The Mets received 2007’s pitching—but both games, this time, had a 2008 result.
In 2007, New York had six of its final 14 games against Washington, and with the Nationals floundering near the bottom of the National League East, the Mets figured to have an easy time of it.
But Washington won five of those six games, often in heartbreaking fashion. The Mets would take a lead, but Washington would fight back, and the Mets seemed unable to counter a Nationals’ rally. The Mets held leads of four runs or more in three of the five losses to Washington. New York averaged better than six runs per game in the six contests against the Nationals, yet went 1-5.
In both games this week against the Nationals, last year’s early pattern held. Tuesday night, the Mets jumped out to a 5-2 lead; Wednesday night, New York held a 7-1 advantage. But neither lead held, with both Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey, both of whom have been dominant for months, surrendering plenty of runs and leaving early, just as Mets starters did throughout last year’s collapse. On Tuesday, a 5-2 Mets lead turned into a 7-5 Washington advantage; Wednesday night, 7-1 became 7-7.
Last season, each time the Mets would lose a lead, the team seemed unable to recover. But a mark of the 2008 Mets has been an ability to respond, both in-game to lost leads and the game that followed a particularly difficult loss. It is this resilience, as much as the inadequacies of the bullpen, that came through during both games against the Nationals.
On Tuesday, after Washington took a 7-5 lead in the top of the fourth, the Mets came right back and tied the game at 7-7 in the bottom of the fourth. Washington then went ahead 8-7 in the fifth; the Mets took the lead for good with three runs in the sixth. The results were no different on Wednesday. After blowing that 7-1 lead with Washington scoring in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, the Mets responded with four runs in the seventh inning.
The Nationals countered with three runs in the eighth inning. Just as in 2007, a middle infielder that is no power threat did much of the damage—last year, Ronnie Belliard, this year, the first multi-homer game of Cristian Guzman’s career. Once again, after Guzman’s second home run cut New York’s lead to 11-10, the Mets answered, with a two-run home run by David Wright to provide the final 13-10 margin.
In the three games against Washington late last season that saw New York blow leads of four runs or more, the Mets lost their advantage relatively early in each contest—they had 14 innings to respond in those three games. New York combined for exactly one run over those 14 frames.
Last year, Washington was 5-1 against New York in September, but just 10-11 against everyone else. The Nationals faced the Phillies seven times in September, and posted just a 2-5 record.
This year, Washington came into the series with New York having won 10 of 13, and beat Philadelphia two of three just last week. The Nationals’ offense had been extremely potent over the past several weeks, averaging six runs per game in their last 13 contests. In 2007, the Nationals only scored in double figures six times all season—three times in September against the Mets.
New York has four more games against Washington next week, and though they a 3 ½ game lead over Philadelphia, they can’t celebrate just yet. After all, the Mets now have 17 games to go—exactly the amount of contests left in 2007 when New York lost its seven-game lead over Philadelphia.