Russell: Mets Wild Chase Like ’98

Because they clinched the division early last year, the Mets will be playing vital games in the final week of the season for the first time since 2008.

The three-team wild card chase the Mets find themselves in is similar to the final month of the 1998 season.

Right now, the Mets, Giants, and Cardinals are battling to get into a one-game playoff with the reward being a division series matchup with the Cubs. Eighteen years ago, it was the Mets, Giants and Cubs fighting for one wild card spot.

If the season ended today, the Mets would be in the playoffs. Guys playing through pain, like Asdrubal Cabrera, can provide a lift to a team at the end of a long season. “What it just shows you, it really teaches you how to be a pro,” Terry Collins said before Saturday’s game. “As Cabby said, ‘I’ve got a lot of time to rest.’ We’re on a mission. He’s one of the guys, he knows he’s playing good, he knows he’s swinging the bat great and he knows he needs to be in there.”

The wild card was still fairly new in 1998, and there was some criticism as the Mets, Cubs and Giants seemed to be playing a game of ‘I’ve got it, you take it.’ Sound familiar?

The Cardinals are inconsistent, the Giants have floundered since the All-Star break and just when the Mets start to look good they get swept by the Braves.

There is a big difference when it comes to the Mets starting rotation. The 1998 team used a six-man rotation while the current team has been challenged to find five. Collins is now flirting with the idea of giving Steven Matz some bullpen work. The manager was asked if the southpaw could pitch in relief in the postseason. “You’re talking about a playoff situation where we don’t even know if he can pitch right now. So there’s too many other variables that we gotta take a look at,” Collins said. “Obviously he’s a guy you’re not gonna get up real fast and get ready.”

Fans have been figuring out what would happen if there’s a three-way tie, and who would play who after the season ends.

In 1998, the Mets had a one game lead for the final playoff spot with five games to go. They lost all five, including two at home to the Expos. Then they went to Atlanta and were swept by the Braves. Had the Mets won any one of those five games, there would’ve been a three-way tie. The Mets would’ve played the Giants at Shea Stadium and the winner would’ve hosted the Cubs. It was a moot point when Armamdo Reynoso was clobbered by the Braves in the house of horrors known as Turner Field to end the season.

Now the Mets look for some wins in the final week of the season, a week which is rarely kind to the Flushing faithful outside of 1999.

For some reason, the final five games of 1998 are rarely mentioned among the dark moments in Mets history. The only moments from that season that seem to have lasted are trading for Mike Piazza, Piazza’s home run in Houston off Billy Wagner and Mel Rojas giving up a homer to Paul O’Neill in the first Subway Series game at Shea.

This season will be memorable whether it’s because of injuries, making the playoffs, or both.

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