Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004. Before that he worked for eight years at the NY Daily News, where he was best known for the headline "Clueless Joe" when the Yankees hired Joe Torre. He is also responsible for the lesser-known headline "Yanks Top Tribe in 10." Show More

The sign was unveiled in the centerfield bleachers with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. One out to go until the Mets beat the Nationals on Opening Day.

It was white and had a huge black "90'' with the words "To Go'' under it in Mets blue and orange. The 90 was designed to tear away once Bobby Parnell recorded the final out, when an equally huge "89'' would be revealed.

As in 89 wins to go to meet Sandy Alderson's self-described "challenge'' to his players of an improbable 90-win season.

But it's still 90 to go. Parnell didn't get that out until the Nationals had tied the score at 5 on a double by Denard Span. And the sign didn't make another appearance as the Mets went on to a 9-7, 10-inning loss at Citi Field.

That's the problem for the Mets: It's hard to get to 90 wins when you have 80-win talent. Talent that was assembled by Alderson. Almost everything has to go right. How often has that happened for the Mets?

You had to admire the inventiveness of fan Darren Meenan, the producer of the sign. Meenan, 33, is well known among Mets fans as the owner of The 7 Line, which makes and sells Mets-themed T-shirts.

Alderson's 90-win declaration has been mocked ever since word leaked that he made it in an organizational meeting. The general manager lamented the leaking Monday while clarifying that 90 "wasn't a guarantee. It wasn't a prediction. It was a challenge.''

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Meenan, a Douglaston resident, later said in an email exchange that he wanted to embrace Alderson's "bold'' message. Mets fans are nothing if not resilient. They have to be.

Unlike the sign, which was visible for only a little while, one of the Mets' weaknesses was on display once starter Dillon Gee left the game in the seventh inning. In this case, it was the bullpen, which Alderson has yet to get right in his time at the helm.

With the exception of Jose Valverde, Mets relievers were awful Monday. Carlos Torres and Scott Rice each faced one batter and walked him on four pitches.

Parnell, still working his way back from neck surgery, blew the save in the ninth. Jeurys Familia allowed the go-ahead run in the 10th, and Long Beach's John Lannan gave up a three-run homer to Anthony Rendon later in the inning.

Combined, the Mets' pen was charged with five runs in 31/3 innings, and that includes Valverde's electric 11/3 innings with three strikeouts.

The day started ominously when the first pitch almost was thrown without the Mets having a first baseman on the field. Symbolic enough after the tepid Ike Davis/Lucas Duda competition?

Davis later said his brief absence was "illness-related.''

And, as if the gods of comedy were trying to throw one right down the middle, parking at Citi Field was limited because of a circus in one of the lots. Big top and all. Turns out the Cirque du Soleil is running outside the ballpark, though not Monday.

It was Graig Nettles who once said of playing for the Yankees: "When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I accomplished both.''

These Mets aren't as interesting as a circus or "The Bronx Zoo'' Yankees of the late '70s. Those teams had larger-than-life personalities, but they also had top-tier talent.

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The Mets simply don't, and without a heck of a lot of luck, neither a challenge from the GM nor supportive signs from plucky fans changes that. As the sign still says, 90 to go.