The playoffs are strange. Take the emotional swings that come with baseball’s regular season and compress them into a span of one, five, or seven games, and the results are understandably nerve wracking. Individual swings, at-bats, pitches, errors, and great plays are magnified far more than they ever would be over the course of 162 games.
The Mets went on a tear over the course of the late summer, one of the most enjoyable stretches of success the team has had in a regular season, to get to the five-game series. With victories in Games 1 and 3 of the NLDS, the Mets had a chance to eliminate the Dodgers last night at Citi Field, but they lost. Tomorrow night, both teams with have the opportunity to eliminate each other.
Before all of this, it had been nearly a decade since the Mets were in the playoffs, which means that this run of success has not made Mets fans spoiled. But it has been a while since the Mets played a game in which a loss would have truly threatened the existence of their 2015 season.
The Cardinals, Yankees, and Pirates have already been eliminated, the Blue Jays faced elimination twice before forcing Game 5, and the Royals were nearly eliminated before beating up on the Astros’ bullpen and forcing a Game 5 of their own. Several fan bases are already dreaming about what their teams should do in the offseason, and a few others have been through this do-or-die scenario this week.
It’s easy, and not unique to any specific team’s fans, to get down thinking about the worst-case scenario. Having been at the game last night, the mood leaving the park wasn’t good, aside from a few upbeat fans spouting positive lines about the rest of the series: "let’s go Mets!" or "see you on Saturday."
The Mets’ 2015 season will eventually end, perhaps in glorious fashion, but the fear and anxiety here and now is that the joy of watching these sorts of Mets games will be gone too soon. Playoff games are no longer an abstract concept or distant memory. We’re getting to watch the Mets play for a real chance at a championship, rearranging our personal calendars to prioritize games, meeting up with as many Mets fans as we reasonably can to experience the ups and downs together—and it is a blast.
Regular season games sometimes reach that level, as the Mets’ sweeps of the Nationals in August and September did for Mets fans this year. But that sense of occasion is inherent to every single playoff game, and it’s damn addicting. A win in Los Angeles on Thursday night guarantees the Mets’ season lasts at least four games longer—and that the offseason will be shortened by at least a calendar week.
The Mets weren’t supposed to be here, but they are. They have to beat Zack Greinke tomorrow, and that fact might have everyone picking the Dodgers to win the series. But the Dodgers have to beat Jacob deGrom, too. We’re not supposed to be watching baseball in Queens on Saturday night, but maybe we will be.