This Mets collapse doesnt have to end like the others

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On the subject of Mets collapses, it was easier to assign blame in the bad old days. When people were tired of ripping into Fred Wilpon, his son Jeff was always available to absorb some well-earned shots to the ribs.

Now, things aren’t as black-and-white. The new man in charge, Steve Cohen, projects a can-do vibe that runs counter to the Wilpons’ loserville touch and deserves a fair-and-square chance to build his program. But on Friday night, before his team lost for the seventh time in nine games and fell out of first place for the first time since May 7, this one 4-2 in Philadelphia, perhaps the rookie owner made a rookie mistake.

“How about a little positive energy for this weekend?” Cohen tweeted. “I’m feeling the offense is going to get it going.”

The offense delivered two runs and five hits in a loss that handed the Phillies control of the NL East. It’s never a good idea for any Met to predict a run of crunch-time prosperity, not when there’s been so little of it over the years.

It’s official: The Mets are indeed collapsing. They held a five-game divisional lead in late June, and a four-game divisional last week, and now they are just another second-place, 56-53 club. If the regular season had ended after Friday night’s games, the Mets would have missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

The good news? The only good news? The Mets still have time to do something about it.

No, that wasn’t always the case for this franchise. Toward that end, the Mets’ 2007 face-plant took the cake.

Those Mets became the first team ever to blow a seven-game divisional lead with 17 games to play, delivering an epic choke job down the stretch while facing three teams (the Marlins, Nationals, and Cardinals) that finished a combined 42 games south of .500 and a combined 41 games out of first place. The Mets played their final seven games at home and lost six of them, including a must-have finale defined by the seven first-inning runs the Marlins scored off a man with 303 victories to his name, Tom Glavine, who recorded only one out. The Mets handed the division to the white-hot Phillies, and didn’t even qualify for the wild card.

“Just a tough life lesson in baseball,” said their manager, Willie Randolph.

The Mets always led the league in tough life lessons. The following fall, after Randolph was fired, manager Jerry Manuel’s Mets blew “only” a 3 ¹/₂-game divisional lead in September and again missed the playoffs by losing a home series to the Marlins, who won the last game ever played at Shea Stadium on back-to-back homers in the eighth. With the score at 2-2, Manuel made a highly questionable decision to start the eighth with reliever Scott Schoeneweis, who surrendered the decisive leadoff homer to Wes Helms.

“Obviously,” Manuel said afterward, “[when] the guy hit the ball out of the park, I said, ‘Damn, what am I doing?’ ”

The Mets then strung together six consecutive losing seasons before finally returning to relevance in 2015, advancing to a World Series they lost to Kansas City. That was supposed to be the start of something big, but the Mets haven’t won a playoff game since.

This season felt different, at least until Jacob deGrom went down. The Mets still have enough talent to win, and surely enough potent hitters to score a lot more runs than they’ve been scoring. But Friday night’s fourth inning explained why the Mets just surrendered their three-month hold on first place. With the bases loaded and no outs, Marcus Stroman followed manager Luis Rojas’s orders to keep the bat on his shoulders and accept the strikeout to stay clear of a double play. Great strategy, until Brandon Nimmo (you guessed it) bounced into a double play.

“We’re just in a little bit of a rut,” Stroman explained.

Before the game, asked if he found it important emotionally and psychologically that his team stay atop the division, Rojas said he wanted no part of his players feeling that burden.

“That can’t get in our heads,” he said. “That’s just outside what we have to do here. … If we go into the game just thinking of the standings and what are we losing, it’s just not healthy, I think, for what we want to accomplish in tonight’s game.”

The Mets didn’t accomplish anything in Philadelphia, other than infusing the home team with more confidence.

“It sucks,” Nimmo said. “It’s not fun at all.”

Collapses usually aren’t.

Nimmo said the Mets’ mission now is to recapture first place, starting Saturday. At different points during the season, the Mets have been called tough, resilient, even magical. They now have 53 games to prove that wasn’t all a crock of you know what.

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