Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meet the Sisyphean Mets

Game 162, 2008
Marlins 4
Mets 2

Game 162, 2007
Marlins 8
Mets 1

It came down to the last day of the season.
The Mets lost.
It came down to the last day of the season.
The Mets lost.

I was absolutely deadened by the loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon. As lifeless as the expression on Michael Cera's face when he delivers a punch line. I crawled under the heavy made-for-winter comforter on my bed (the one that my girlfriend absolutely hates all summer long) year-round and laid there, in and out of fevered sleep as the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium took place on SNY. I was exhausted. I was a little sweaty. I was a little drunk. I'd been at Shea the day before. I'd watched Saturday's Cubs/Brewers game in a bar in midtown after emerging from Penn Station. I'd even gotten up at 6:45 a.m. to run a 5K race on Sunday morning for charity. Mostly because I thought the karmic boost might help the Mets. It didn't. The Mets lost. On the last day of the season. To the Marlins. Again.

Much ink has been spilt about the game. About the obviousness of the bullpen imploding. About the ways in which this group is flawed. About the ways in which it should be altered. It's all true. I'll no doubt chime in with my thoughts on how to shake up and/or break up this club. But I'm not entirely ready to talk about baseball moves. About option years. And free agent signings. Not yet. Before we can talk hot stove we need to talk about Greek mythology. First we need to talk about Sisyphus and his boulder.

Sisyphus was the son of Aeolus, the king of Thessaly. He was cunning and ambitious, filled with confidence and an absence of respect for the gods. He was credited as the founder of Corinth, a city-state on the narrow stretch of land connecting the Greek mainland with the Peloponnese. He had it all. His piece of Corinthian real estate pushed many a traveler past his door. Sisyphus famously murdered and took advantage of those on the road or upon the sea. He was deceitful and violent when it came to gaining wealth and protecting it. Among the many crimes committed by Sisyphus was revealing a secret of Zeus. Not surprisingly the secret had to do with some illicit loving.

Zeus, seeking recompense, sent Hades, lord of the Underworld, to take Sisyphus in chains to the kingdom of the dead. Upon arriving at Sisyphus's place, Hades was tricked by his should-be captive into trying on the very chains he brought with him. The clever Sisyphus feigned such interest in the workings of the binding instruments that his would-be captor actually demonstrated how they worked. On himself. With near-Olympic quickness, Sisyphus locked the cuffs and left the god in the coat closet for a time. And, just like in a certain Family Guy episode, the finality of death was stopped while Hades was imprisoned. During this interlude, the ever-plotting Sisyphus told is wife that upon his death she must not bury him. She probably didn't know what he was talking about but probably also hated the guy so she did as he asked. It was surely less hassle for her not to have a funeral. Especially for such a jerk. Eventually, Hades was loosed. Sisyphus died and was brought the Underworld.

Upon arriving in the underworld, our wily protagonist had one final trick up his robe. Remember, there were no sleeves to hide tricks in back then. Anyway, he lamented to Persephone, the wife of Hades and queen of the underworld, how unfortunate it was that his own beloved wife had never performed the traditional funerary rights over his corpse. It was a sob story of the highest caliber. And, like her gullible beau, Persephone fell for it. She permitted Sisyphus to return to the land of the living to see that his wife burried his body properly. Of course, Sisyphus had no interest in being properly sent off to death. He was back on the mortal coil to party it up while he could. And, boy did he ever. Some of the stuff he pulled would have made Zeus blush. And, that guy impregnated people while impersonating livestock. Eventually, though, Sisyphus was dragged back down to Hades. Needless to say, the Greek gods were less than pleased with him. He was sentenced to eternal frustration and hard labor. He was given a mammoth boulder and forced to push it to the zenith of a mountain. The trick was that every time he about to reach the peak the boulder would roll right back down to the bottom. Sisyphus had no option but to start over each time. Forever. Each day, year and season was the same. Sisyphus would push that boulder up the mountainside only to be thwarted at the last moment.

Sort of like the Mets these days. After the second consecutive year of missing out on the playoffs on the campaign's final day, it is clear these are the Sisyphean Mets. The ballclub and its fans have been fated to relive the same painful ending over and over. In each of the past three seasons we've almost rolled the boulder to the top of the mountain. Only to see it roll back down at the penultimate moment. It is the same thing. Over and over. And, these have been potentially the first few years of forever. Forever ever.

In the second-to-last game of the 2007 the Mets received a dominant (near no-hitter by John Maine) pitching performance and survived to fight on the final day. On the morning of the final game it felt like the momentum had finally turned. It felt like the team would get the boulder to the summit. But they didn't. They lost to the Marlins. And the boulder rolled down as the other team (the Phillies) won. In the second-to-last game of the 2008 season the Mets received a dominant (three-hit complete game by Johan Santana) pitching performance and survived to fight another day. On the morning of the final game it felt like the momentum had finally turned. It felt like the team would get the boulder to the summit. But they didn't. They lost to the Marlins. And the boulder rolled down as the other team (the Brewers) won.

To take this a step further (and at this point, why not?), almost every single game that the Mets play at this point is a Sisyphean challenge: The Mets score in the early innings to move the boulder up the mountain only to see the bullpen surrender the lead late in the game, sending the burden crashing back down the incline. That's a happened a few times.

The real question is not whether or not the club should fire GM Omar Minaya (YES!), rather the most important question to ask is what was the Mets trespass that angered the baseball gods so much? Perhaps it was the hubris engendered by the magazine covers that Minaya and his multicultural clubhouse garnered in the first years of his reign. Perhaps it was Minaya's vanity and his positioning of himself as some sort of bilingual revolutionary. Perhaps it was the team's confidence going into the 2007 season. They carried themselves as if they had already won the World Series from the first day of Spring Training. Whereas all they had really done was lose in the second round of the 2006 playoffs. Perhaps this is punishment for the disgraceful way in which former manager Willie Randolph was fired in the dead of night in Anaheim. Or, could the way in which the Mets brass used their late-night axe in hopes of deceiving the newspapermen back in New York be what has brought this blight upon us? Maybe angering the back-pagesters by trying to circumvent, even if just for 24 hours, their platform is the modern-day equivalent of tricking Hades and chaining him up in the closet.

Whatever the particular demerit that brought this punishment upon the organization, it must be noted that there is some blame to be laid on the shoulders of all us Mets fans for the club's Sisyphean fate. The blame must partly carried on our shoulders because we've failed to notice Sisyphus's boulder all these years. We failed to notice the boulder until it was too late, even though the engine of our punishment was in Flushing long before the 2008 denouement. And long before the 2007 collapse. It was there all along. Since the inception of the franchise it has been lying in wait for its fated work in the final days of Shea Stadium. It's been counting the days until it would roll back upon us. And, we cheered it. And, we loved it. Not seeing this damning boulder for what it was. You could say the boulder was our mascot. Because it was. The Sisyphean boulder has been with us all along. It's been atop the neck of Mr. Met. We are truly doomed.

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