Praying For the Angels

Do you believe in Angels?

If you’re a Met fan, you have to.

And, Angel fans on the west coast?

If you’re wondering who in New York might support your team in its quest to accomplish the unexpected in the Bronx this weekend (winning a Game 6 as well as a Game 7 against C.C. Sabathia), look toward the suffering fans of New York’s other team, which just completed its worst season in six years, finishing 23 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, the defending world champion Phillies, otherwise known as one of the reasons Met fans are on your side for at least one more game in this year’s American League Championship Series.

Met fans have reason to search for something to cling to this October after enduring one of the most brutal years in their team’s 48-year history. It was a season of ineptitude and bad luck, of off-the-field issues and poorly handled public relations.

The Mets had a relentless string of injuries to seemingly every other player they put on the field this year (including freak ones, like second baseman Luis Castillo injuring himself walking down the dugout steps during a game). They lost games in which Castillo dropped a routine pop-up, turning the final out of a win into an excruciatingly embarrassing loss, and in which the right fielder they traded out of New York (Ryan Church) failed to step on third base, costing the Mets a possible winning run in Los Angeles. There was the firing of their former Vice President of Player Development, Tony Bernazard, who reportedly challenged players of the Mets’ minor league affiliate in Binghamton to a fight, while shirtless, in the locker room. And, there were the stammering, incoherent, bumbling press conferences of the man who is supposed to represent the face of the Mets’ franchise, general manager, Omar Minaya.

To top it all off, the Met faithful are just one more New York Yankees’ win from ending their nightmare of a 2009 baseball season with a World Series matchup between their two most hated rivals: the Phillies and the Yankees.

It’s easy to realize Met fans’ natural loathing for the Phillies once Philadelphia replaced Atlanta as the Mets’ latest nemesis in the NL East division. Ever since the Mets were one big hit away from the World Series, losing in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies have been everything the Mets have not.

Philadelphia has been clutch, largely homegrown, and hugely successful, while the Mets have been chokers, failing with imports via ill-advised trades and misguided free agency moves. The sentiment among most Met fans is that the success which the Phillies have been enjoying over the past three seasons could have, and perhaps should have, been that of the Mets. And, perhaps they’re right.

The Mets had the biggest collapse in Major League Baseball history in 2007, finishing 5-12 while the Phillies went 13-4 to overcome the Mets’ once-thought insurmountable 7-game lead with just 17 regular season games left that year. The following season, the Mets were again passed by the Phillies, having blown a 3½-game September lead, while stumbling to the finish line with a 7-10 mark, setting the record for the biggest consecutive September collapses in major league history. After a pair of successive seasons like that, 2009, with the rash of injuries, a myriad of fundamental mistakes, and a leadership circus, seeing the Phillies back in the World Series, defending last year’s championship, is too much to take for Met fans.

Likewise, the disdain for the Yankees among Met fans is equally understood. With only two championships in their team’s history, and none since 1986, the mere thought of the Yankees’ comparative success often makes Met fans cringe.

Already hearing frequent Yankee fans’ boasting of their team’s 26 world titles (including a run of four in five years in the late 1990’s and 2000), seeing the Mets’ cross-town rivals back in another World Series this year might be cause enough for Met fans to skip viewing this year’s Fall Classic altogether.

As one caller on New York’s Mega sports radio station, WFAN, a self-described diehard Met fan put it this Thursday afternoon, “I’d root for Al Qaida before I root for the Yankees.”

Yes, when it comes to baseball in New York, the emotions run that deep, especially when a New York baseball fan’s biggest rivals are involved.

A Met fan’s second favorite team is usually whoever is playing the Phillies or the Yankees. So then, what does a Met fan do if those two teams play each other in Major League Baseball’s biggest series?

Alas, Met fans, there may yet be hope for you this October.

Remember 2004? Of course you do. You know, the moments that if they were pitched to Hollywood in a script, would have been denied for not being plausible enough? The Boston Red Sox, down three games to none after a blowout 19-8 home loss to the Yankees in Game 3, go on to win four straight games, with Curt Schilling and his iconic, bloodied red sock in Game 6?

Well, tell me you weren’t thinking the same type of thing is possible this year after the Angels’ comeback tonight in Game 5 of this year’s ALCS.

Should the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim not pull off such a series comeback (and they don’t deserve to with a ridiculous name like that), the conundrum of Met fans is that there would be no October bandwagon to hop aboard next week. Nope, no darling Cinderella team to knock out the hated Phillies or the despised Yankees. No wild-card Florida Marlins to stun the Yankees in six games as they did in 2003, after the Mets finished just 66-95. And, no scrappy, overachieving Tampa Bay Rays to root for to beat the Phillies, as Met fans did during last year’s World Series.

Tell me honestly that when the Yankees wiped out a 4-0 Angels’ lead with a 6-run seventh inning after Angels’ starter John Lackey, who had been cruising along for six innings, you didn’t say, “Damn Yankees! They did it again! NOW, who do I root for, or should I just skip the Phillies-Yankees World Series and hope that Omar somehow figures it all out in the offseason?”

And then, when the Angels stormed right back with three in the bottom of the seventh, to win 7-6, and send the series back to the Bronx, weren’t you thinking about 2004 all over again? And, were you justifying it by thinking, “Well, sure, the Yankees have followed up the majors’ best home record of 57-24 this year with a perfect 4-0 at the new Yankee Stadium, but so what?! The Red Sox were down 3-0 in 2004 and THEY did it! This is only 3-1! Let’s go Angels!”

You know, you thought it, Met fans. I know I did, as I’m one of you.

So, Met fans, do you believe?

Do you believe in Angels?

If you want to stomach watching this year’s World Series, you should.

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons).Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship).He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

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