There is something to be said for a team that has a difficult time finishing. This can play out in a single game, a series or an entire season. If you’re familiar with the recent history of the New York Mets finishing is a sore subject. The 2006 Mets couldn’t finish the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. One year later, the Mets could finish the regular season. In 2008, same thing: strong start, failure at the finish line.
The 2012 Mets are having their own struggles trying to finish.
The Mets bullpen, collectively, have 16 saves and 12 blown saves. No one pitcher — or coach — is to blame. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch have blown three saves, Bobby Parnell and Ramon Ramirez have each blown two save opportunities and Manny Acosta and Tim Byrdak each have one blown save. When it comes to finishing a game, there’s been plenty of blame to go around.
Tuesday, in Washington, the Mets showed us one example of what the failure to finish can looks like — and, maybe, more importantly, what it feels like when a team doesn’t finish. Trailing 3-0, the Mets fought back and took a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning only to blow the lead — the first time. The game went into extra innings and, again, the Mets took the lead 5-4 in the 10th. Three outs and the Mets would have secured a win in the series opener against their division rival on the road. If the Mets could hold the lead — if the could finish — they would have momentarily taken over first place in the National League East; a psychological win, if nothing else.
Parnell relieved Francisco but the Nationals scored before Parnell could get three outs. The Mets couldn’t finish — again. Same game, second time. But give the Mets credit, they battled back again, taking a 6-5 lead in the 12th inning. Maybe the rookie Elvin Ramirez could finish the Nationals? No such luck. He couldn’t find the strike zone. He blew the lead and, eventually, the game, when Bryce Harper delivered a two-out, base-loaded single. The Mets had the lead three times, but couldn’t get the last out.
One day earlier, the Mets were at home playing the final game of a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. With three wins in their pocket, and a series win secured, the Mets had an opportunity to sweep the series. The Cards led 1-0 in the fourth inning; the Mets tied the game one-half inning later. St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 in the seventh inning; the Mets answered, tying the game in the bottom of the seventh. After the Cards added two more runs in the eighth, the Mets fought back, put the tying run at third with two outs in the eighth, but couldn’t finish, losing 5-4.
The whole concept of trying to finish games can become demoralizing. If a team fails to finish often enough everyone, the players, fans, media, you name it, develop a stigma. No matter how well a team plays everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. You can feel it sometimes — and it’s a terrible feeling.
Losing 14-5 (vs. Toronto, 5/18) or 18-9 (vs. Colorado, 4/27) will happen. Even the best teams get blown out once in a while. You accept it and turn the page. The games that define a team’s season aren’t found in the handful of lopsided wins and losses, but a team’s performance in games that are close, late; games like Monday and Tuesday.
Finishing is one of the intangibles that made the 1986 New York Mets, not good, but great. Granted, compate the talent of the ’86 Mets team to the ’12 Mets is unfair, but desire is not a physical gift. Having a “killer instinct” is a mindset. The confidence and expectations of each player was so high, winning was no longer enough. The ’86 Mets — Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, Len Dykstra types — found satisfaction in finishing off opponents. When the ’86 Mets took a 2-0 series lead, they would take great pride in stepping on the opponents throat. Win a series? Good. Sweep the opponent? Finished.
The Mets concerns problems are deeper and wider than the dysfunctional bullpen. If the bullpen were Sandy Alderson’s single concern standing between the Mets and a World Series he would find a soultion. For the Mets, finishing — or the inability to finish — is a result of poor relief pitching plus, lack of bench depth, inability of left-handed hitters to hit left-handed pitching and poor fundamentals.
What do the Mets have to show for all their ineptitude? Third place with a 32-26 record trailing the N.L. East leader by one-and-one-half games.
Not bad for a team unable to finish.