David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Here in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, let's be real. This winner-take-all Game 5, back at Dodger Stadium, against a well-rested Zack Greinke, is not the dream scenario for the Mets.
No, that was Tuesday at Citi Field, with the Long Island kid, and the ballpark off Flushing Bay prepared to burst from years of pent-up frustration. Even the Mets had imagined that moment, the chance to spray champagne on their fans, then rest up to wait for the Cubs' arrival in New York for the NLCS.
But that would have been too easy. And as we all know, the Mets don't do easy. They're expertly schooled in the Hard Way. Even the '86 goliaths, who won 108 games during the regular season, came within a Buckner glove-length of being viewed as chokers instead of champions.
So for all those who haven't slept since The Kershaw Redemption, obsessing about what might have been if only Daniel Murphy was able to barrel up that 3-and-2 cutter, we have good news. Yes, beating Greinke, under these conditions, is a formidable task. Many figure that the Mets' best shot to get to the NLCS already was extinguished Tuesday night in Game 4. Even with Jacob deGrom, their true ace, getting this Game 5 do-or-die assignment.
Those people, however, didn't wear Mets uniforms this season. And won't be on the field Thursday night.
This group can roll with a punch, and rebound from broken bones.
"We showed it coming off the loss here, with all the drama that took place," Terry Collins said Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. "We came back the next day in New York and played great. I think we're going to be resilient enough."
This was the same manager who suggested human sacrifice to lift the Mets from their June swoon, just to remind you how bad things were at points during the year. It was a great line, but Collins was truly exasperated after the Cubs stomped around Citi Field and kicked the Mets to .500 (40-40) with a three-game sweep. It was so demoralizing that deGrom punched a Gatorade cooler, wisely using a mitt to cushion his pitching hand, and we put Collins on the clock.
There was speculation whether Collins would even survive the subsequent West Coast trip, with Kershaw and Greinke lined up to provide a potential knockout blow. In a year of wildly oscillating highs and lows on the 10 scale, that Citi spiral was a minus-2.
Naturally, the Mets defied conventional wisdom by winning the two series against the Dodgers and Giants, then sweeping the Diamondbacks at home before the All-Star break. Because it's the Mets, however, rescuing the manager and saving the season had to be balanced by the shocking loss of Steven Matz, who began a six-week DL stint as soon as they got off the plane from the West Coast.
It's how these 2015 Mets operate, motivated by the highest degree of difficulty. Just when we're enjoying Sandy Alderson's mocking "Panic City" narrative, they flip it upside down and win seven of nine or 10 of 12. We should have seen it coming for a team that opened with a perfect 10-game homestand, only to lose its captain (David Wright) and big-bat catcher (Travis d'Arnaud) before escaping April.
We buried these Mets so many times, "The Walking Dead" should be the title of their 2015 highlight DVD. The Justin Upton dagger between two soul-crushing rain delays. The Wilmer Flores tear-jerker, a deadline doozy that floored even veteran Mets observers who believed they had seen it all. Despite shrinking leads, and creeping anxiety, the Mets repeatedly squashed the Nats like a Coke can on the sidewalk.
"We want to make it to the World Series, and this is one step toward that," DeGrom said Wednesday. "We never give up."
It's our job to probe weakness along with celebrate the strength. And to get to this deep in October, one win away from the NLCS, we can say with certainty that these Mets took as many bullets, both on and off the field, as any team in the sport. They still won 90 games and a division title, by ignoring the noise and doing everything we insisted they couldn't.
We're sure the Mets are looking forward to doing it again in Game 5.