Let's not soft-soap it. The collapse of the New York Mets was ignominious and exhaustive. There are various ways of measuring whether a losing team's disintegration was the worst -- or, from the other perspective, whether the winner's comeback was the best -- of all time, but any way you look at it, the Mets are right up there.
We're getting to be connoisseurs of collapse, we baseball fans. Last year the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers met in the World Series after both had nearly missed the playoffs because of epic September swan dives. The 2005 Chicago White Sox almost gagged away their playoff spot before holding on and then going all the way.
In 2004 the New York Yankees had a 3-0 lead over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and you may have heard a thing or two about what happened next.
Coincidence? Or is there something about the current state of baseball that engenders late-season pratfalls by leading teams?
Or perhaps the Mets were trying to capture some of that White Sox/Cardinals late-season swoon to World Series title mojo and simply miscalculated.
They led the Philadelphia Phillies by seven games with 17 to go, then they went 5-11 while the Phillies were going a very good but not spectacular 12-4, leaving the teams tied atop the National League East Sunday morning, the last day of the season, each playing a home game against a division rival with a losing record.
But wait, it's worse than that. The Mets downfall included three straight wins over the Florida Marlins last week, an apparent righting of the ship that left them two and a half games up with seven to play. Then they didn't win again till Saturday, when, having fallen a game behind Friday, they pulled back into a tie with the Phillies by pounding the Marlins 13-0.
The Mets started their game at home Sunday against the Marlins a few minutes before the Phillies started theirs at home against the Washington Nationals.
By the time the Phillies took the field, the Marlins had KO'd Tom Glavine and taken a 7-0 lead. If you're going to go down, you might as well get the style points for going down in flames. The Marlins coasted to an 8-1 win in front of an increasingly glum assemblage at Shea Stadium. Two Mets fans and a horse walk up to the concession stand. Hey, guys, why the long faces?
A few minutes after that game ended, Brett Myers struck out Wily Mo Pena in Philadelphia, then flung his glove into the air and waited for his playmates to join him for an underdog pile. Measured this way or that, the 1964 Phillies set the gold standard for late-season collapses, and now the 2007 version had done the opposite.
But it may not even have been the best comeback that was completed Sunday.
The Colorado Rockies won a jaw-dropping 13 of their last 14 games, including a taut 4-3 decision over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Denver Sunday, to finish in a tie for the wild card with the San Diego Padres. When the Rockies went to bed on Sept. 15, the night before they began an 11-game winning streak, they were in fourth place in the wild-card race, four and a half games out.
They didn't make up as much ground as the Phillies, but they didn't get as much help from up top either. The Padres went a respectable 9-6 after Sept. 15, though over the weekend, when one more win would have done it, the Padres lost twice in a row in Milwaukee, an extra-inning heartbreaker and then a rout.
So the Rockies survive for a one-game playoff -- technically a regular-season game -- against the Padres at 7:30 p.m. EDT Monday in Denver. The winner travels to Philadelphia for the first round of the playoffs. The other playoff matchups are the Chicago Cubs vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League, and the Los Angeles Angels vs. the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees vs. the Cleveland Indians in the American.
The Mets' loss removed the possibility of what had been the doomsday scenario for traveling secretaries and people bad at doing word problems: four teams finishing with the same record, creating the need for a three-day tournament to figure out which two of them would make the postseason.
That tournament was so complicated it would have made "The Usual Suspects" look like a game of hangman. Here's an excerpt from just one part of the instructions, courtesy Yahoo Sports:
"If the Rockies choose to stay at home, the Phillies (if they lost to the Mets on Monday) or Padres (if the Phillies beat the Mets) would choose to play Tuesday at the Rockies, then (if they win) Wednesday at home against the Padres or Mets, OR simply play Wednesday at the winner of Padres-Rockies or Mets-Rockies."
OR, to put it another way (if the Bombers meet the Taco Pods): What?
Never mind. The Mets made sure we don't have to worry about all that. Now it comes down to one game to complete the field. The Padres are suddenly without two major players, outfielders Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron, but, thanks to manager Bud Black's wise decision not to throw him Sunday on short rest, they're with Jake Peavy, who won the ERA title by nearly two-thirds of a run and will get the start. Josh Fogg will pitch for the Rockies.
If a seven-game playoff series is a crapshoot, a one-game playoff is a coin flip. These teams have played 162 games and they have the exact same record. They've played each other 18 times, with the Rockies winning 10, the Padres eight. At Coors Field in Denver, the Rockies have won five, the Padres four.
You could argue that the Padres have the advantage in this even matchup because they're not just an 89-win team when Jake Peavy starts. They're 23-10 when he takes the ball, the Rockies only 14-14 when Fogg does. Or you could counter that argument by pointing out that the Rockies are the hottest team in baseball, and that they beat the Padres a week and a half ago in a game Peavy started.
Or you could admit you have no idea what's going to happen next, which is how we roll around here.
The White Sox and Cardinals reminded us in the last two years that a team doesn't have to finish strong to win the World Series. The opposite is true too. Last year the Padres won nine of their last 11 and the Los Angeles Dodgers entered the postseason on a seven-game winning streak. They went a combined 1-6 in getting bounced in the first round.
Which is one round further than the Mets got this year.
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