Mets’ brutal stretch allowing fans to care — and rage — again

We hint at normalcy when the games simply happen again, as they have for baseball (at least for the time being), as they now have for basketball and hockey. Truth is, though, we’ve been divorced from normal for so long by now that it’s hard to even define it any more.

Although, as sports fans, we know it when we feel it.

And the last few days, thanks to a three-game losing streak they brought into Saturday that had attacked all manner of their fans’ sensibilities and sensitivities, the Mets may have welcomed everyone back to what normal is really about, at least in sports.

It is about caring enough to rage again.

It is about caring enough to fume again.

It is about caring enough to forfeit hours of sleep again. And at least judging by my inbox and by a few text threads I maintain with friends of mine who are Mets fans … well, things seem so normal now it’s almost hard to remember when they were abnormal.

I always go back to the afternoon of Sept. 23, 2001. Two days earlier, Mike Piazza had hit one of the most glorious home runs of all. Liza has high-stepped her way through “New York, New York.” There were tears and cheers and a magnificent supply of feel-good at Shea Stadium. Sports were back in New York after the horrific circumstances of 9/11. They didn’t solve anything, but they offered a salve.

But it wasn’t until Sunday when things started to feel real again. That day the Mets were a strike away from sweeping the Braves and moving to within 2 ¹/₂ games of first place, after they’d been buried less than a month before. Friday at Shea was amazing, but Sunday was a party. In Foxborough, the Jets were beating the Patriots (who needed to turn to a scrub QB named Brady when Mo Lewis nearly killed Drew Bledsoe). In Kansas City, the Giants thumped the Chiefs. In Baltimore, the Yankees beat the Orioles. One more strike from Armando Benitez and it really would be some kind of triumphant day for New York …

Benitez blew the save. The Mets lost in extras. And the most glorious sound accompanied Benitez back to the dugout that day: Boos. Long, sustained, angry, furious boos. Just a week earlier it felt impossible to ever care about something as trivial as a baseball game again. And, well …. it turned out we were wrong.

Nineteen years later we have the Mets, again, to remind us — for as long as baseball lasts, anyway — that caring is an essential part of our normal, and so is sporting heartache. Twitter on Friday night — when the Mets blew leads of 8-2 and 10-5 and lost in Atlanta 11-10 — was the equivalent of a boundless therapy session.

This came on the heels of a a pair of feel-bad losses to the Red Sox in which the Mets had ample opportunity to rally late both nights, but could never get a big hit. I got a sense of how rapidly normal was resuming when I sent out what I thought was an innocuous Tweet about Michael Conforto (who on both nights struck out in huge spots) and the Mets waiting patiently for him to “figure it all out.”

Now, by this time, I should be smart enough to know that summarizing a thought in a tweet is a dangerous game. What I really meant was, there were some who have projected Conforto should be a perennial MVP and batting champion contender by now; I confess to being one of those. The truth is he isn’t either; a separate truth is that still makes him a fine ballplayer. I didn’t think much of it, though. Does such baseball minutiae really rile folks up in this odd year?

Actually, yes: both sides. The debate lasted a full day. Great points were made on both sides. Mostly, though, they were passionate debates. Arguing about Michael Conforto mattered to an awful lot of folks. It was, honestly, refreshing, even hearing from the folks who think I’m an idiot.

It felt, in a word: normal.

I suppose the aftermath of Saturday’s NHL playoff openers will generate similar feelings for Islanders and Rangers fans. I suspect Yankees fans will suffer and bleed over every one of the six losses they’ll accrue over the 60-game schedule, if they make it to 60. Mets fans can tell them: An absence of sports might’ve been hard to take. But it never kept you up at night.

Vac Whacks

If you are a friend of this column then you are likely a friend of Ricky Cobb, whose Twitter account @Super70sSports is in my the greatest things available on the internet. You may also know that account was horribly hacked this week, and so as many folks who can alert @jack and @TwitterSupport, hopefully he can have that feed up and running again soon. We need more laughter in these days, not less.

Speaking of laughs … did anyone else appreciate the profound commitment to social distancing the Nets and Magic displayed in that lid-lifter Friday afternoon?

Hockey in August? It sounds like a sequel to the great Pete Hamill novel “Snow in August.” But sign me up, in full.

There is no sadder sight in sports than the almost apologetic look Jacob deGrom has on his face every time he has the temerity to allow a run.

Whack Back at Vac

Vic Copello: Do you think that James Dolan will have Charles Oakley’s cardboard cutout or digital replica removed from the Garden if somehow he gets by security at the Garden for a Knicks home game next season?

Vac: I do believe we have identified our first important Knicks storyline of the 2020-21 season.

Alan Hirschberg: The Baltimore Orioles should be re-named the Washington Generals.

Vac: The Yankees should start taking infield practice at Camden Yards to “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

@CouchPotatoCop: In regards to the ’72 Tigers (86-70) beating out the Red Sox (85-70): I always wondered why that result was allowed to stand, with no mechanism for the Sox to tie for the Division. It seems wonky, at the least. Now with sports talk & social media, no way fans/media would accept it.

@MikeVacc: The only argument for MLB back in ’72 was that it made clear after the strike was settled that this was how it was going to be, and this kind of thing could happen. And, of course, it did.

James Formato: I really like Tom Thibodeau, he seems just what the Knicks need. Add a couple of good pieces to this strong young group we have and I’m excited. I just hope they give him the time and the players? Dolan is my only worry.

Vac: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 99.3 percent of all Knicks correspondences contain one of those sentences.

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