Forget how it ends: What the Mets have done these past few weeks is one of the rare things we ever see around here, which is to take a season that had already been helplessly, hopelessly given up on and inject it with real hope, real life.
We have written plenty about the ’73 Mets, who went from last place in the NL East on Aug. 30 all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, and they are the patron saints of these lost causes. But every now and then, they produce heirs, in baseball and elsewhere, that remind us: Whenever you think it’s totally irrational to wait for the big winning streak to salvage the season …… sometimes it’s not so irrational.
Here are some of our favorite in-season comebacks, in no particular order:
(NOTE: We don’t include, for instance, the ’51 Giants and ’78 Yankees because though both came from way back to win pennants, even at their lowest point they were still winning teams that were simply being outpaced by better ones.)
- 2018-19 Nets: On Dec. 5, they blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead to Oklahoma City in Brooklyn to fall to 8-18 — actually a half-game worse than the Knicks, who were 8-17 at that moment. The Nets promptly won seven in a row and 9 out of 10, finished 42-40, won a playoff game against the 76ers and positioned themselves for one of the great offseasons in team history.
- 2002 Jets: The Jets started 1-4 and 2-5 then turned to Chad Pennington to take over for Vinny Testaverde. A funny thing happened: The Jets have spent 48 years as a member of the NFL; they have won a division title exactly twice. One of them came because, sparked by Pennington, the Jets finished the year 7-2, got some help from the Patriots (of all teams) on the season’s last day then beat the Colts 41-0 in only the franchise’s third (and most recent) post-merger playoff home game.
- 1995 Yankees: After the feel-good ’94 team was snuffed out by the strike, the Yanks failed to get anything going for much of the 144-game schedule the following year. On Aug. 28, the Yankees were 54-59 and 12 ½ games behind the Angels, the team they would ultimately eclipse for the wild card, with 31 to go. All they did was go 25-6 and nearly slip past the Mariners in the ALDS, their first playoff appearance in 14 years.
- 1999 Knicks: In a lockout-truncated season, the Knicks were 21-21, in a three-way tie for ninth place in the East, with eight games to go. Ernie Grunfeld had been fired, Jeff Van Gundy was sure to join him, and one last precious year of the Ewing Era was about to be wasted … except they finished 6-2 to eke into the eighth seed (by one game), stunned the top-seeded Heat in the first round and kept winning all the way to Game 5 of the Finals.
- 2001 Mets: What most people remember is the Mike Piazza home run 10 days after 9/11 that still can conjure goose bumps. But the defending NL champs sat at dismal 54-68 on Aug. 17, 13 ½ games out of first place with 40 games to go. But they proceeded to go 22-5 and were three outs away, two days after Piazza’s homer, to pull within 2 ½ of the Braves. But Armando Benitez armandobenitezed, and that was that.
Does it make me a full-blown, get-the-hell-off-my-lawn, grumpy grouch if I mention that I deplore these Players’ Weekend baseball uniforms? As Jeff Greenfield pointed out on Twitter: The Mets look like a bunch of painters!
I’ll tell you what I tell friends looking for podcast recommendations: The two most irresistible ones for me are “The Rewatchables,” which breaks down the most addictive movies by Bill Simmons and his gang over at The Ringer, and “The Woj Pod” on the NBA, brought to you by the one Bonnies fan more rabid than your humble narrator.
I am pretty sure that I like sports a lot … and then I listen to John Jastremski on WFAN and am ashamed by how little passion for them I apparently have.
Just think about how intimidating the Iron Horse, the Sultan of Swat and the rest of the ’27 Yankees would’ve looked if they’d gone with the men-in-black look the ’19 Yankees are sporting this weekend.
Whack Back at Vac
Bobby Smith: If you want to use college football as a model to “fix” the NFL preseason, try this: Play the four non-conference games as the first four games of the regular season. (They are the least important on the schedule because tiebreakers are not involved.)
Vac: I’d sign up for that. How about y’all?
Bill Anton: The black cat in 1969 … the ball that bounced back off the left-field wall in ’73 … and now Wilson Ramos beating out an infield single. Special things equal special times.
Vac: Of all those things, I think Ramos’ was the most miraculous.
@Avery Wilkins17: Maybe Tom Brady can go with “Tommy Boy” now, if the Chris Farley Estate doesn’t control that?
@MikeVacc: I’d say the decision to keep “Tom Terrific” away from No. 12’s exclusive playpen probably reinforced most right-thinking Americans’ belief in the justice system.
Brendan Murphy: Loved your column on Amed Rosario. I also possess these special powers that you speak of. I remember somewhere in Eli Manning’s first season as a starter, looking at my wife after a particularly bad interception and saying, “I don’t think this guy has what it takes.” You’re welcome, Giant fans!
Vac: The key is using these powers for good, as opposed to ill.
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